Category Archives: legislature

Cabinet Speculation

Hey, I’m awful at predictions, but why not speculate on cabinet postings.

Premier Alison Redford has discussed the possibility of some repositioning of portfolios and the possibility of a downsize to cabinet. It is quite likely that we will see 20 ministers in the cabinet including the Premier. As far as responsibility juggling, we could see something done that would help coordinate seniors housing options which is currently spread over three ministries: human services, health and seniors. We might also see a combination of Tourism, Parks and Recreation with Culture and Community Spirit as a way to downsize cabinet by combining some smaller ministries that are justifiably related.

But people tend to be more concerned about who will be in cabinet and so let’s get to that.

First off, let’s look at ministers that will definitely remain in cabinet:

  • Alison Redford (Calgary-Elbow) will be Premier.
  • Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert) is competent and popular. He will remain in cabinet and he is likely to remain as deputy premier.
  • Dave Hancock (Edmonton-Whitemud) will surely continue in his role developing the new Human Services ministry.
  • Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West) will remain in cabinet since Redford will need representation from South of Calgary.
  • Cal Dallas (Red Deer North) will likely be returned to cabinet to bring representation to central Alberta. He is also likely to be given the opportunity to continue building his new ministry of Intergovernmental, International and Aboriginal Relations.
  • Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon) has proven to be competent and should be returned to cabinet. It is quite likely that she may also be promoted. Energy might be a good fit for this oil patch area representative.
  • Verlyn Olson (Wetaskiwin-Camrose) is also quite competent and widely respected, so it is likely he will remain in cabinet and as justice minister.
  • Frank Oberle (Peace River) will bring some northern representation, as will
  • George Vanderburg (Whitecourt-Ste Anne) brings rural representation and could head up realignment of housing services for seniors.
  • Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary Greenway) proved himself as a junior minister and will help represent cultural diversity in the new government. Look for him to be promoted.

Secondly, which newcomers are likely to be added into the mix:

  • Bridget Pastoor (Lethbridge East) will be added to cabinet to bring as much southern representation as is possible.
  • Ken Hughes (Calgary-West) was handpicked by Redford to run and as former Alberta Health Services chair will surely be added to the inner circle.
  • Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity) is also a friend of Redford’s going back to the Joe Clark days. She represents the new brand of Progressive Conservatism that the party is trying to brand itself as. Her work around integrity will be valued by this partially stained PC government.
  • Don Scott (Fort McMurray-Conklin) will likely be included as one of the Fort McMurray MLAs will need to be added to cabinet and he seems to be the more experienced of the two.
  • Other newcomers that could get cabinet postings include Christine Cusanelli (Calgary-Currie), Ron Casey (Banff-Cochrane), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar) and Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West).
  • Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Naresh Bhardwaj (Edmonton-Ellerslie) and Janice Sarich (Edmonton-Decore) are sophomore MLAs that could get a bump to cabinet.

Finally, experience is likely to come from these ministers who are likely to get reappointed, but bumps in their last files may provide uncertainty around their placement:

  • Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainright) proved popular on the leadership trail especially amongst progressives, but his spat with AUMA chair Linda Sloan could cost him.
  • Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castledowns) is a very strong messenger and has proven himself as loyal to the premier, but problems with passing the Education Act could jeopardize his reappointment.
  • Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) tried hard but wasn’t fully able to bring confidence to one of the most important portfolios in cabinet. He will likely be reinstated to cabinet at a lower posting.
  • Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater) and Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton-Glenora) have no points against them, but haven’t made a big splash either. They could go if Redford has other people in mind for cabinet.

And finally, since I am not afraid of being proven wrong, here is a firm estimate of people and positions from my point of view. I am certain there will be some restructuring, but I will place people into the old set of portfolios anyway.

Alison Redford Premier
Doug Horner Deputy Premier, Treasury Board
Dave Hancock Human Services, House Leader
Donna Kennedy-Glans Energy
Verlyn Olson Justice
Ken Hughes Health
Thomas Lukaszuk Finance
Fred Horne Education
Greg Weadick Advanced Education
Bridget Pastoor Agriculture
Cal Dallas Intergovernmental Affairs
Doug Griffiths Municipal Affairs
Diana McQueen Environment
Don Scott Transportation
Jonathan Denis Public Security / Solicitor General
Frank Oberle Sustainable Resources Development
George Vanderburg Seniors
Jeff Johnson Infrastructure
Manmeet Bhullar Service Alberta
Sandra Jansen Culture
Naresh Bhardwaj Tourism

What it means to be a progressive.

Happy New Year everyone. Welcome to 2010. Is it everything you thought it would look like?

I remember the new year of 1990 very well. I was 10 and it was the first time in my memory that we were celebrating the start of a decade. I remember vividly thinking about the future – the nineties – and what they would hold. I think that was the first time I really thought about the year 2000.

As a ten year old dreaming about ten years into the future, your imagination runs wild with possibilities. Sure there are no flying cars, but I do remember imagining boxes that sat on your hip that could do anything you needed it to. It was a phone, a calculator, a watch and a walkman; whatever you wanted it to do, it could do it. I think it was even a candy dispenser and a grappling hook. I’m so glad those geniuses at Apple keep thinking about the future and all its possibilities. (I can’t wait for the grappling hook app to come out!)

Nonetheless, there is a point to me telling you about how I was a nerdy kid with a vivid imagination, because I want to talk about what it means to be a progressive and the most important thing about being a progressive is dreaming about the future and imagining all of the possibilities it brings. I also think that being a progressive means understanding that we are all in this world together and thinking about others.

Planning for the future.

A progressive takes the long range view on issues, assessing what the needs of society will be in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years. We look at the world that exists today and compare that to the world that we want our kids to grow up in. We understand cause-and-effect relationships and consider the consequences of our decisions.

In the context of Alberta today, progressives think seriously about the long range implications of energy management. We have a clear understanding that burning fossil fuels negatively affects our environment and we, as living creatures, depend on our environment to sustain life. We also understand that we are lucky to be sitting atop the amount of oil that we do and that that oil will be in greater and greater demand as global supply decreases. In other words, the oil under us will be worth more in the future than it is now and therefore we shouldn’t be in such a rush to get it out of the ground and sell it off at the lowest price.

Planning for the future also means making smart investments that you know you will need down the road. First off, that means investing in education. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our children is to ensure that those children are as smart as they possibly can be. The world is changing rapidly and the rate of change is increasing. The issues of tomorrow will be solved by the children of today. But smart investments also includes public transportation and sound urban planning. Through migration and reproduction, Alberta’s population is exploding and most of those people will live in our cities. We need to plan today for Calgary and Edmontons of 2 – 5 million people. But we can’t keep expanding out because we need to maintain and invest in agriculture – that many people need lots of food. We need to look at major centres around the world to see how they have managed large populations and large population densities.

We are all in this together.

The politics of us and them is over. The world is a finite space and we are approaching 7 Billion people. The population density of Canada is 3 people per square kilometer, but the global population density is 45 people per square kilometer. We have one world that we increasingly realize is a place that we have to share. We can no longer afford to think about our friends and enemies, because we need to think about all of us.

The advent of the internet and cell phone have allowed us to understand how close we are to one another as human beings. Last year, millions of North Americans had the ability to join an uprising on the streets of Tehran via Twitter. A conflict half way around the world was humanized through the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, recorded on a cell phone and delivered to our desktops. Real people connected in real time.

Progressives understand this deep inter-connectivity of humans, whether its within our communities, cities, province, country, region or world. Facebook allows us to share our lives with hundreds of our friends and acquaintances all the time and it allows us to rally around causes and issues with the click of a mouse. There are multiple layers of community that exist and regardless of our differences, we have to live together and look out for one another.

Understanding that we are all in this together means replacing politics (which is about power) with processes for collaboration (which is about problem solving). Progressives are looking to step past the Cold War rhetoric of us versus them, east versus west or capitalists versus socialists and are looking to talk about how to establish meaningful systems to solve the problems that impact our lives.

Thinking about others.

If you have a sense that everyone is in this game of life together, you start to think about how you are the same as others and how you are different. Progressives think about the plights of others and think about those that have a different path or perspective on life. We understand that there are two types of issues: issues for individuals and issues for the collective.

Issues for individuals are those matters of personal choice for which your choices have little to no impact on others. While it is difficult to explore this area in its entirety, I am referring to issues related to religion, sexuality, morality, censorship and personal freedoms. To speak very generally, progressives feel that individuals should be free to do what they wish, so long as they are not bringing harm or risk to others. In short, issues for the individual should be settled privately and should not be part of public discourse.

I think its important at this point to talk about the progressive value of diversity and how it relates to citizenship. At some point, given the size of the global population and the variations in population density, we must understand that Canada will be a destination for many for a very long time. Progressives understand this and value the diversity and varied perspectives that immigrants (and other minorities) bring. We go past the ideas of tolerance, acceptance and melting pots to the values of respect, understanding and multiculturalism.

Issues for the collective refer to those issues where public value or public impacts exist. On these public issues, debate needs to occur in order to come to settlement on the issue. As I said, today’s progressives understand and appreciate differences and individuality and therefore recognize the value of open, honest and respectful debate. Settling issues is not about power, it is about searching for the common good and determining solutions to help get us there. It also means that those people who are “in-power” have an obligation to use it wisely, to consult and to respect the perspectives of the minority opinion.

Finally, progressives understand that matters for the public interest which have costs associated with them, need to have those costs adequately funded. We do not begrudge paying reasonable taxes because we recognize that they fund important programs that benefit all of us like, roads, schools, hospitals and policing. I believe as well (although I am loath to attach this belief to other progressives) that these obligations should be borne to a greater extent by those of greater wealth. I believe this simply because they are in a better position to afford the expense and they will benefit through the economic well-being of others.

It is not easy to try and describe what it means to be the person you are. In many ways this felt like writing the executive summary to my manifesto. Ultimately, many of the ideas I expressed in this post have not been fleshed out, but hopefully I can do that over time on this space.

Thanks for reading.

New party or no party?

I want to take another opportunity to thank everyone for Reboot Alberta. I originally had the names of those four wonderful pioneers and the two hard working associates written here, but I don’t want to assume that they have come out completely.

At two points this weekend, I had to make a difficult choice about two conversations of which I could take part. In a nutshell, one conversation had to do with creating a new party for progressives in Alberta and the other one had to do with creating a broad movement for progressive change. Both times, I chose to join the movement conversation and now I want to use this post to sum up my thoughts on that issue.
First off, I want to be clear. I have great respect for everyone who decided to sit in on the new party group and in particular, for all of the people that are working so hard to develop the Renew Alberta concept. I hope that those people will take this critique in the spirit of which it is intended, which is an examination of the pitfalls that can lie ahead for that group. Secondly, I want them to know that I am very interested in the concept and will likely find myself at home in that party.
The main reason we need a new party in Alberta is because we have a strong and complex system in place that needs changing – and the traditional legitimate way to achieve that change is by supporting a party that can achieve it. Furthermore, between here and fundamental change there will be elections and I will need a place to park my vote and direct my efforts.
Thus, my conundrum. As I tweeted incessantly, the party system is part of the problem, but the party is the vehicle with which that change is most likely to occur. Partisan politics has gone awry. The single biggest issue in our parliamentary system is the position of caucus whip. Members cannot engage in meaningful debate about how they truly feel on the floor of the legislature because the caucus will have already voted on each issue. There is no point listening to the points brought forward by the opposition because you are not allowed to change your mind. Legislature debate is an absolute farce and everyone in the system knows it.
I remember the day in social ten when we had a class debate. I remember how everyone studied the issue came in to class with points prepared and chose which side of the room to sit on based on their preconceived stance. I remember how we politely (for the most part) listened as each person presented their points of view. I remember students getting up and moving to the other side of the room because of some passionate points being presented from the opposition.
Maybe I’m still too idealistic, but what is wrong with that? What is wrong with having an open and honest debate about the direction government should head, being humble when we triumph and being proud when we lose.
The problem is the parties are too worried about losing the pockets of power that they have already established and they have party whips to maintain their appearance of strength and solidarity. The floor of the legislature is seen as a vicious battle ground and you better ensure your troops are in line.
The idea of forming a new party is very seductive. Hearing from across the room the birth of what could be the next big party in Alberta was like being one of the Argonauts hearing the sirens on the rocks.
But all too often ambition is inversely proportional to the distance one is from power.
Which makes it very hard for the party to change the system that they just used to obtain power, right Mr Harper?
In the meantime I will be proud to be part of the group that works to keep the party pioneers honest.
PS – Alberta Liberals doomed in an un-party state, in today’s Edmonton Journal is a great piece with impeccable timing. Happy Reading!

Progressives gather to Reboot Alberta.

What do you get when you put 100 progressive thought leaders in a room?
Actually, what you get is a number of absolutely incredible discussions about what Alberta should look like and how we should get there.
I have relished in the opportunity that Twitter has given me to discuss issues of importance to Alberta with a diverse group of people. I am now so happy with the opportunity that Reboot Alberta has given me to meet those people (amongst many others) and have a deeper more interactive discussion.
At Friday night’s reception, I kept asking the question, “what hopes or expectations do you have for this event?”
The general answer was “not much” or “a good conversation.” Good answers.
The spirit of the event has been about getting together without pretenses or defined outcomes and find out where our commonalities lie. We came into the room as progressives, but we all came with diverse definitions of what that meant.
The morning featured a nice breakfast and an exercise in determining the 15 themes that would make up the discussions for the morning. I found myself in conversations about engaging youth, open and honest government and bridging the urban/rural divide.
The discussions were meaningful, respectful and diverse. In essence what democracy should be about. The focus was on creating the best Alberta that was possible. In my mind, the goal now is to create a governance system that achieves what Reboot has. A system that enables meaningful, respectful and diverse dialogue on making Alberta the best place it could be for all citizens. We have great potential and politics too often get in the way.
The challenge, as the afternoon discussions revealed, is to come up with a vision for the change we wish to pursue and a strategy to obtain it within the contexts of the system that currently exists.
There is much work still to be done.

Debunking the low taxes myth.

Albertan premiers have for a long time convinced Albertans that Alberta is the tax haven of North America. The last guy we had loved to talk about the Alberta advantage. The new guy wants us to think we have the freedom to achieve and tells us things like, “we have very low tax rates for people working in the province.”

Either one of two things are happening for Premier Stelmach: he is trying to mislead us or he has no sense of what “working” people make.
He must not be talking about people who make between 30 and 80 thousand dollars a year. Because they could move to BC or Ontario and pay less in taxes.

This graph shows the amount of provincial personal income tax paid in 2008 by someone making $30,000, $50,000 and $70,000 of taxable income. If you’re making $40,000 in Alberta you would pay $2,383.90 or 6% of your income to the province. Meanwhile, in BC you would be paying 4.2% and in Ontario you’re paying 5%. (All data is calculated from Revenue Canada tax returns with only the personal deduction claimed)

In fact, as income levels rise, Albertans pay more tax than Ontarians until they start making $80,000. British Colombians save on taxes until they start making over $120,000.

The main reason for this, of course, is that Alberta has a flat income tax rate, while BC and Ontario have progressive tax rates. In fact, Alberta is the only province (and one of only a few jurisdictions) to have a flat tax.

We have it because we were duped.

In 2001 King Ralph moved Alberta to a flat tax and combined it with a tax cut. We bought the idea of a flat tax, because we liked the tax cut that happened to come with it. In actuality, the ones who really save with flat taxes are the wealthy.

To further support my claim that Alberta has revenue issues, this chart shows the 2008 personal income tax paid in 6 provinces, depending upon a person’s taxable income.

In all of the other provinces as an individual’s income level rises, the proportion taken for provincial taxes also rises. Except for Alberta, represented by the blue line, where the more you make the more you save.

There is an Alberta advantage alright – it’s just felt most by those people who make the most money. Here are the tax levels for people earning $150,000 and $200,000 in the various provinces:

So while the Albertan making $40,000 is paying $693 a year more in taxes than his counterpart in BC, the Albertan who makes $200,000 is saving $3,874.

This provides for me two interesting alternatives. We could cut taxes for 6 Albertans by raising taxes on one siginificantly wealthier Albertan with no affect on the treasury. Or we could tax him at a level that all of the other provinces deem to be fair and save our public services.