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Rick’s Blog

4th
August

The soil from which wealth grows

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In South Korea and Nigeria, per-capita GDP appears to have been somewhat similar in the 1950s. Both countries were incredibly poor. Today, according to the World Bank, South Korea has the 11th largest economy in the world (Canada is 10th), while the majority of Nigerians live on less than $2 a day.

Why? What happened? How can one country have created so much wealth and become so rich, while the other remains so poor?

South Korea’s newfound wealth is not attributable to resources. The nation is relatively resource poor. Nigeria, by contrast, is resource rich. In addition to being one of the world’s top oil countries, Nigeria has natural gas, tin, iron ore, coal, and more. Yet the World Bank says that South Korea’s GDP per capita stood at C$34,500 in 2016, while Nigeria’s was about C$2,729.

The widely different financial outcomes in these two countries are the result of economic policies and political decisions. Think of it this way: If you want to grow mushrooms, you don’t focus on the actual mushrooms. Instead, like the Edmonton-area farmer who grows vast quantities of the tasty delights, you create an environment that mushrooms like, and they grow as a natural consequence.

Similarly, a key responsibility for any government, regardless of political stripe, is to cultivate policies that facilitate the creation of wealth. It’s the only way to better provide individuals with an enhanced economic capacity, thereby caring for themselves, their families, and others.

Good economic policy requires a genuine understanding of the wealth creation process and a willingness on the part of government to uphold the rule of law, respect people’s property (including personal income and private finances), and permit individuals, families, and businesses to pursue their own economic self-interest. In simple terms, it means low taxes, security of property, minimal interference from governments (including the wage scale), and trusted laws that apply equally to everyone—no cronyism or favours for the government’s friends.

In a supply-driven recession such as we have, where the oil industry and others are struggling to find a way to invest capital profitably, our province needs a more deliberate focus on creating a better investment climate. This includes a fiscally responsible and disciplined government that balances its budget and restrains its desire for higher taxes and more regulation. Such a climate not only attracts investment, it encourages investors to stay. Governments seen as intrusive—raising taxes, hiking regulations, and needlessly interfering—create disincentives and encourage people to invest elsewhere or move away.

Historically, Alberta governments have done well at attracting investors, which have employed vast numbers of Albertans. Some years, provincial resource royalties have been three to fourteen times what our neighbouring provinces collected in sales tax. These previous Alberta governments knew how to create the right investment climate. The problem was that the ensuing funds could be mismanaged. (One newly-elected premier increased government spending in a single year by more than 20%.)

Today, the current Alberta government is failing on both these counts. It has spoken out against our resource sector and appointed individuals who’ve done the same to key positions, thereby denigrating the investment climate. At the same time, it has knowingly set the province on a more reckless and dangerous fiscal path than any previous administration ever considered, steering us toward a $70-$80 billion debt by 2020.

 

28th
July

Shaping the future

Rick's Blog

Lloyd was a small businessman. As he approached fifty, he decided to reshape his future. He enrolled in university to obtain a law degree, completed the articling process, was admitted to the bar, and then opened a one-man law office in his hometown. He worked as a lawyer for more than twenty years, loving every minute of it.

“The future doesn’t just happen,” Lloyd often said. To young people, he talked about shaping the future. To older people, he talked about reshaping it.

Lloyd was active in politics. He said that whether we like it or not, politics is the vehicle that shapes a country or province. “No province has a future apart from politics,” he’d say, adding that elected officials are like legislative traffic cops who point the way.

Regardless of the political party we choose to shape our future, there are a number of things common-sense Albertans can agree on. The first is debt. Every adult with a credit card, mortgage, or car loan understands debt. We also know the difference between debt from an appreciating asset (like a house or farm), and debt from a credit card bill after a month of too much beer and pizza.

Most Albertans likely agree that wealth never mysteriously shows up on its own. It must be created before it can be consumed or redistributed. Despite what some people believe, even oil in the ground isn’t wealth. Only after investment, transportation, labour, and processing are completed and essentially paid for does it become wealth. Someone must invest their own money (risk capital) and then add good management and effective labour to the process—extracting, transporting, and processing the oil. This is what gives it value.

All wealth is created in much the same way—whether it’s growing a new crop of calves, a field of canola, or manufacturing a useful gizmo people can buy at a local hardware. Someone invests their savings (essentially their saved-up labour) and then adds creative labour that increases the value of the resource or product.

It’s important to note the crucial distinction between economic activity and wealth creation. The two are not the same. Using a credit card to buy something you don’t need is economic activity. Adding value to something and increasing its worth is wealth creation.

When a government borrows, overspends, or uses money in a cavalier fashion, it engages in economic activity, but it’s not creating wealth. Governments that overtax, borrow, and run deficits actually hinder wealth creation.

Think of it this way: Contrary to what the prime minister says, budgets don’t balance themselves. Albertans will owe $70-$80 billion by 2020. The yearly interest (and repayment of the principal) is money that will be funnelled away from Alberta’s own wealth creation process—sent to moneylenders on Bay Street or elsewhere. Every dollar will come from the pockets of Albertans, who will be unable to use that money for personal savings, investing, creating new wealth, or financing schools and hospitals.

As Lloyd said: “The future is shaped. It doesn’t just happen.” To be sure, there will always be immediate problems that the government and legislature must address. Yet at the same time, what Alberta will be ten, fifteen, and twenty years from now will be shaped by government policies that we establish today.

 

5th
July

Strong and free for 150 years

Rick's Blog

From coast to coast, in hamlets, town and cities, Canadians celebrated the 150th birthday of our nation. Canada is considered a proud nation that has one of the highest qualities of life anywhere in the world by most accounts. That reputation has as much to do with the people that reside here as it does the opportunities and resources that enrich this country.

Canada Day 2017 in Alberta was highlighted by parades and festivals that included recognitions of our countries original inhabitants, the people of the first nations and our latest inhabitants, immigrants who have recently landed on this country’s shores. The cross section of Canadians came together on a day that we can show off to visitors and the rest of the world why Canada has one of the world’s highest qualities of life.

The Canadian quality of life is appropriately referred to in our country’s national anthem “the true north strong and free.” Canada’s strength is in its people, people who came to this country with hopes and dreams of a better life. They come, they work hard and they contribute to the strength and freedom we all have the privilege of benefiting from.

Of all the people who came and sought their dreams, none are more deserving of our thanks than our Canadian Veterans who stand on guard for thee! The military in this country have played a large part in battles that shaped the world we live in today. The sacrifices and contributions made by those Canadians on foreign soil have allowed us to live with the freedom we benefit from and enjoy every day.

Canada’s 150th birthday celebration is special and something we should all be proud of as a nation but it’s as important to remember our past as it is to look towards our future. Parade routes around Alberta were lined with people who served in defense of our country’s freedom that ask for nothing special in return.

Whether it’s Canada’s 150th or 151st anniversary as a free country there’s a debt of gratitude that is owed to those who made it all possible, our veterans and service men and women. While we’re celebrating, while we’re going about our daily lives, while we’re safe in our homes, they’re standing on guard for that freedom we prosper under.

Canada Day is special for this country and it would serve us all well to remember that without our brave men and women that have served in our military there would be no true north strong and free.

Thank you to all of our veterans for keeping this country strong and free for 150 years and counting.

 

28th
June

What’s the goal?

Rick's Blog

“A Journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” This famous proverb by Chinese philosopher Laozi describes how an involved complex process starts with a relatively easy task. Conservatives in Alberta have been on the fairly complex and contentious task of trying to unite the majority of Albertans into one consolidated effort.

Much of the effort to unite Albertans has been concentrated on moving towards one conservative entity; however, there is something that has yet to be clearly defined. What is the ultimate goal of unity?

While politicians want unity, ordinary Albertans want more than that. Albertans want a government that facilitates their dreams and fosters an environment that is conducive to developing their full potential. Before the journey of consolidation of conservatism in Alberta begins, it’s vital that we know what direction we need to turn, to start that journey.

In seeming contradiction to Laozi’s intuitive words, a journey must begin with a direction. Like any mission we set out on, it’s important to know as we pull out of the driveway, which way we need to turn to get to our destination. Many of the discussions around unity have revolved around the journey instead of our ultimate destination.

Equally important to our destination, is an examination of where we’ve been and where we’re beginning our journey from. Conservative Albertans have been hindered by a lack of direction and a lack of a defined goal due to leadership that has been at times, counter-intuitive and self-serving.

The success or failure of unity will in large part be directly related to the vision of the leaders we chose to guide us through the process. Ordinary Albertans need to step up to the plate and verbalize what the goal should be and what it should look like. This is a case where free speech needs to take control and controlled speech must be suppressed.

A lot of the Albertans I have discussed unity with, have related to me how they feel disconnected and disaffected by the process that has led us where we are today; which is obviously not where we want to be as conservatives. As we watch the government ranks swell, as we lose freedoms and as we see our overall tax burden for Alberta families rise, we realize how important it is to get this province back on the right track.

At this point in the process it is important that ordinary Albertans like you make their feelings known. It’s important that the direction of where the people in leadership attempt take us is where we want to go.

There are a number of individuals vying for the leadership of a new conservative party. The grassroots have yet to define what that goal will look like in the end. That’s where the politicians need to step back and the people need to step up. The goal of where the people need to go can only be defined by the people.

The goal must be more than power; it must be to guide Albertans where they want to go.

 

21st
June

A strong Conservative alternative

Rick's Blog

The need for a consolidation of Alberta conservatives that provides a strong, stable, competent, conservative alternative for Albertans is needed now more than ever before.

In order to provide that alternative Albertans are looking for, it will mean that leadership must provide the change that conservative Albertans are looking for. Over the last few years Albertans have realized that there are consequences to out of control spending and poor fiscal planning, both of which have had very real consequences. One of those consequences was Alberta’s fifth credit downgrade with lenders in the last two years. This comes with real substantive monetary costs.

2015 saw Albertans vote for an alternative government that was a response to the leadership of both the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose parties that had avowed themselves to self-serving and disrespectful behaviour that neglected to consider what the average Albertan could and would accept. Their failure was the back room, closed door decisions to try to corner the political market in Alberta with no consultation and no consideration for anyone outside of their internal circle of unelected management.

In its purest form, Grassroots democracy is meant to be the most basic level of an activity or organization. In Alberta, it has become the most ignored and worked-around element of organizations. Any attempt to move forward towards any kind of unification without prior full consultation with members of both parties would simply be a continuation of a journey down the wrong path, as was the lesson we learned in the 2015 election. Traveling around the province, it’s becoming clear that Alberta conservatives are interested in unity and they express that desire everywhere without hesitation.

There is an opportunity to create a new unified party based on strong sound principles of personal responsibility, limited smaller government, free markets, and individual liberty. The goal should not only be these principles but can be achieved while ensuring people are given access to the tools that allow people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals and become self-sufficient. It’s only through Grassroots input from ordinary Albertans that we can achieve the model Albertans are looking for.

In order for a return to Alberta’s conservative roots, forward progress can only be built on a foundation of sound policies that provide a strong, reliable and capable platform that is driven by Grassroots Albertans.

The coming weeks and months are going to be historic in Alberta’s path forward. More than just a cosmetic change is needed to right the ship and avoid more costly calamities for Albertans. I encourage all Albertans to get involved and have their say about how we move forward. You can get involved by contacting either the Wildrose or Progressive Conservative Party offices by phone or online.

 

14th
June

Farmer’s day

Rick's Blog

For most people Agriculture has been associated with the production of basic food items we all consume. Agriculture’s role as an economic process and contributor to the overall financial and social health of our country and Alberta is often overlooked. There are a host of other occupations that are ultimately related to farming and agriculture that also play a significant role in our economy.

For over 50 years in Alberta the second Friday in June was a provincial holiday known as Farmer’s Day. Communities throughout the province observed the importance and impact agriculture plays in the everyday lives of Albertans. Sadly, Farmer’s day is no longer recognized as an official holiday however the impact the farming community has is still widely recognized and appreciated by a great many people throughout Alberta.

The United Farmers of Alberta cooperative understand how important the farming community is to the social fabric of the province and chose to continue to celebrate this day and acknowledge the hard work and contribution of Alberta’s farmers and their families. On June 9 UFA locations showed their appreciation to their local farmers and communities by hosting several farm store events.

This past year Alberta farmers have seen a host of incredibly trying circumstances beyond their control that have negatively affected their ability to produce crops and sustain their operations. Late season rain and the onset of an early winter left almost a million acres unharvested in the central Alberta region.

My Wildrose colleague and MLA for Little Bow David Schneider delivered a Member’s Statement recently in the legislature that summed up how the Alberta government has been exacerbating the issues farmers are facing;

“While Mother Nature is as unpredictable as ever, what hasn’t been is how this government has been treating rural landowners and farmers. The vague, ill-conceived patchwork of legislation that is Bill 6 has done nothing but create animosity and distrust as this government stumbled through botched consultation and ignored the very people it purported to be helping.

To compound matters, a carbon tax was dropped upon farm and ranch operations, and the government seemed genuinely shocked that anyone would question its impact. The fact is that the brunt of calls I get are from agribusiness operations that cannot be competitive on the world stage because of this punitive tax.” -David Schneider, MLA for Littlebow

Congratulations to the United Farmers of Alberta for showing the corporate social leadership in recognizing the vital role their customer base plays in everything that is Alberta. June 9th may have been the day designated as “Farmer’s Day” but their contributions are visible and play and important role in all our lives every day of the year.

On behalf of the entire province of Alberta I would like to extend our heart felt appreciation for the contributions of everyone in the agriculture industry for everything they do.

 

 

 

8th
June

The myth of social license

Rick's Blog

A license is a permit from an authority to own or use something, do a particular thing, or carry on a trade or action. A license comes with restrictions and limitations that are typically limited by jurisdictional boundaries. As an example, if you were to hold a license that permits the holder to carry a firearm in Canada, that license possibly would not be recognized and you would not be permitted to carry a firearm in other countries.

Under the guise of what is turning out to be a fictitious form of licensed permission, the Alberta government introduced Bill 20, the Climate Leadership Implementation Act on May 24th, 2016. The Act was sold to Albertans by making claims that it would allow us implied permission to build the pipelines required to get our natural resources to market. One year later this claim is turning out to not be worth the paper it was written on.

The Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan, which average Albertans know now as the Carbon Tax, has had a financial effect on virtually every single purchase we make. Besides the obvious direct cost on everyday consumer items, the plan has had an adverse effect on Alberta’s energy sector which is obviously not in the provinces best interests.

The social license claims that accompanied the passage of the Alberta government’s plan has apparently not been accepted by their British Columbian brethren, who have teamed up with the BC Green Party, who “are determined to immediately employ every tool available to the new government and stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline” from being built. What we have learned is that licensing agreements that are expected to cross jurisdictional lines must have universal approval by the government, where the license is attempting to be used; something this Alberta government obviously did not do.

To say the social license myth being sold to us by our Alberta government has been a failure is an understatement. MLA for Chestermere Rockyview, Leela Aheer delivered an impassioned Member’s Statement that captured what the government’s social license has amounted to.

“For two years this government has been imposing ideological tax hikes and caps on our oil sands, all in the name of social license. The Premier conned Albertans, undermined the authority and integrity of our national energy regulators to excuse her long-held radical environmental agenda.” –Leela Aheer

The Alberta government have created an unspoken pact with the LEAP Manifesto and environmental radicals like Tzeporah Berman, who after the BC NDP and Green Party announced their coalition government, celebrated on Twitter by saying “this a turning point for BC.” This is hardly a productive attitude coming from a member of the Alberta Oilsands advisory group.

It appears that social license is nothing more than the snake oil its perceived benefits are turning out to be. The cost to Albertans for this snake oil is real and it can be measured in financial, job, and investment losses. It would serve the Premier and the Alberta government well to stop working for the environmental radicals, quit perpetuating the myth of social license, and start working for Albertans.

 

31st
May

Conservatives, strong and free

Rick's Blog

As the MLA for Drumheller Stettler, and one of five Wildrose MLAs who refused to cross the floor in December 2014 to join the Progressive Conservative Party led by Jim Prentice, once again I find myself in a situation where I am compelled to ask: “Where do we go from here?”

When I got involved in the Wildrose Party, I wanted to provide strong conservative leadership to put pressure on a PC government that had become herd bound. At the time, the PC government was chewing its cud on record-high oil prices, yet it was weighed down by a bloating bureaucracy.

Originally, Wildrose was the party of the little guy. It was led by Paul Hinman, who was replaced by Danielle Smith. In 2012 the party won 17 seats, replacing the Liberal Party as Official Opposition. Our mandate was to defend property rights, reduce bureaucracy and curb excessive government spending, all the while opposing corruption in every form.

In time we learned that just as exposing something to intense light can reveal imperfections, being too close to power can bring out character flaws in people. It isn’t that closeness to power changes people; it openly reveals a person’s underlying thinking or motives.

This closeness to power led many of my Wildrose colleagues to assume they could do anything they wanted. They further assumed that they’d never suffer an electoral defeat for doing so. The majority of the caucus crossed the floor, joined the PC Party, and sat as PC MLAs. The result was that all of the former Wildrose caucus’s motives were soundly rebuked by the electorate.

Many argued that these floor-crossers were responsible for the election of the NDP government, and in turn, for the financial calamity the province now faces. Have any of these floor-crossers publicly apologized to the people of Alberta for their breach of trust—for their willful defiance of propriety?

Today I look at Alberta’s fiscal landscape and see that by the time Rachel Notley must again face the electorate, the province will be nearly $70 billion in debt. I also realize that no matter who wins the next election, the debt will continue to escalate for several years simply because it is not possible to quickly turn around the finances of something as large as our provincial government. Alberta’s debt could rise well above $100 billion before the borrowing can be stopped.

Today Alberta has many people inside two conservative political parties that are vying for a reconciliation that will remove the NDP. During the next few months, as Albertans form a new political entity, they have an important opportunity to ensure that the grassroots is heard.

Vigilant Albertans need to be active now more than ever, or as William Aberhardt said “They can suffer some more!!”

Pundits, talking heads and unelected backroom operatives need to be fully scrutinized by democracy!

Let’s start on a unified mission to a fully democratic, shrewd conservative Alberta, strong and free – something we can all rightfully be proud of!

 

 

24th
May

Framework agreement for conservative unity

Rick's Blog

Strong Conservative grassroots members and supporters have propelled Alberta through good times and bad, and today, we’re stronger than ever before.

After the last election, however, many Albertans told us they wanted to have a conversation about uniting principled conservatives in the Wildrose and PC parties – not for the sake of power, but to do what is best for Alberta.

Recently, we paved the path forward on an agreement in principle that will give the members of both the Wildrose and PC parties an opportunity to vote to create one united conservative party in Alberta.

The foundation of the agreement pursues unity in a way that maintains our grassroots way of doing things. The founding principles of the agreement honour the principles that represent our party’s membership-driven, common sense values and ideas.

The new society that would be created is based on the legal framework that has empowered our grassroots since the creation of Wildrose.

The voices of both the Wildrose and PC Party will sit as equal members on the interim board, policy, bylaw, nomination and election committees to ensure our voice is loud and clear as the next steps of unity take shape.

The new agreement ensures that all existing Wildrose funds will be used in a meaningful way that is productive and respectful of the everyday Albertans who generously donated them.

The agreement also ensures that our party’s belief in open nominations, board structures and annual general meetings is maintained.

As it should be, this agreement is now in the hands of the members of both the Wildrose and PC parties. Wildrose will be hosting a special general meeting this July so party members can decide our path forward.

All members and all Albertans who want to be involved in this process will have options available to them to do so and I encourage them to do exact;ly that. You, the people, are in charge of our province’s future.

Being a Wildrose MLA is one of the greatest honours and privileges of my life. Every single day I’m lucky and proud to serve a the people of Alberta and insist on putting you, the people our great riding, ahead of anything else.

I was originally drawn to this party because of its fundamental belief in grassroots democracy and the protection of property rights, and that has not changed. So I’m proud to hand the critically important next steps over to you, Albertans, to decide what comes next. I know there will be many tough questions ahead, which is why we’re asking Albertans to come to us with their concerns.

Above all else, this is about doing what is right for Albertans – the everyday folks struggling to make ends meet, our parents and their parents, whose hard work and self-determination once made us the envy of the world, and the future generations, who are counting on us to get this right for them.

I look forward to the process ahead, and the many good discussions I will undoubtedly have with the most important people of all – citizens of Alberta.

 

 

18th
May

Loyalty and integrity

Rick's Blog

As an MLA, I am privileged at this time of year, with the very special honour of attending and participating in the high school graduation ceremonies that take place across the Drumheller Stettler riding. The significance of the graduation of these young people is something that holds a special place for me.

The new chapter young people start after leaving high school is something that acts as a milestone worthy of recognition and often remains a noteworthy milestone for their entire lives. A new chapter full of opportunity and hope unfolds after graduation, which in many cases determines the path our life takes.

At many of the ceremonies I am asked to address the graduating class and deliver a message or advice for these young people to carry into the future. This year’s message without question for me to deliver is loyalty and integrity.

The last year and a half in Alberta politics has been challenging and unpredictable to say the least. My Wildrose colleagues-Drew Barnes, Pat Stier, Heather Forsyth, Shayne Saskiw, and myself held to our integrity and loyalty that we first were elected on. As the political world around us appeared to be crumbling, five of us weathered a storm that, at times, seemed to be powerful enough to sweep us into political oblivion.

The recent election illustrated that Albertans have a desire for loyalty and integrity. Loyalty to the platform and the integrity to stand behind it was something constituents repeatedly told me was what they demanded from their representatives. It also turned out to be the key components in the re-election of the Wildrose candidates that ran again, Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and myself.

As dark as things seemed when the historic Alberta Legislature floor-crossing took place, something I said to graduates last year stuck with me;

“Loyalty and integrity in many cases will overcome numbers.”

It stuck with me because as part of a small group, I have faced off against a large organization before, the Chretien government. The small group of 13 farmers that took on the Chretien government to fight for our property rights prevailed for the same two reasons-integrity and loyalty.

As part of a small group of five MLAs that were determined to remain the official Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, the odds at times seemed insurmountable. This past election took the Wildrose from 17 seats in 2012 to 21seats in 2015. Without question this is in part due to the integrity and loyalty shown not only by the MLAs, but the members who believed in a movement.

The message I would like to leave graduating classes is that I am privileged to address and focus on the loyalty it takes to be part of a successful organization, big or small, and the integrity that legitimizes not only an organization but its members.

My message to the graduates is simply this, we all want loyalty, integrity and somebody who won’t quit. To get that person, you have to be that person.

 

 

 

11th
May

Volunteers with a capital “V”

Rick's Blog

May 7th to the 13th is Emergency Preparedness week in Alberta. The need for being prepared was brought home in no uncertain terms to yours truly just this past week. On Thursday, May 4 a fire started just north of our farm near Altario that consumed about half a section and threatened our home.

The point of Emergency Preparedness week is to serve as a reminder that emergencies can happen at any time for any reason. This past week also saw the Alberta Legislature’s Members from all parties recognize the anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire that decimated that area. The effects of which are still being felt. Members from all parties expressed the heart felt gratitude that residents and all Albertans have for the emergency personal that responded to the wildfire.

With the help of neighbors along with the Altario and Consort Volunteer fire departments, which worked and fought so hard to contain the fire, they managed to get it contained before it could reach our farm. Words can not describe the gratitude we have for the sacrifices and the huge courage our Volunteer firefighters show every day while protecting our property and our lives. Albertans are fortunate to have Volunteers from every corner of the province that selflessly put themselves in harms way. In this case everything turned out alright, but if not for those who stand at the ready every day, this situation could have been a complete disaster for our family.

The most ironic thing about the fire this past Thursday was that I was scheduled to be in Donalda that evening to present Provincial Emergency Service Awards, and it was a pleasure to recognize the recipients. If nothing else the strange coincidental set of circumstances gave me something to talk about at the awards ceremony.

Retiring Fire Chief, Frank Sutton and his daughter Tasha an emergency services worker herself, were presented awards for outstanding community service to the Volunteer fire department of Donalda. It was not only a pleasure but an honour to recognize two of the Albertans that work so hard to keep us safe.

As mentioned, this weeks Emergency Preparedness should serve as a reminder to all of us to be prepared. It’s important that everyone understand what emergency services you have in your area and how to contact them should you encounter an emergency situation. A lot of times we neglect these important details but they inevitably become critical should the need arise.

The Alberta government has events and information on their website through the Alberta Emergency Management Agency department. These are useful links to events and information that could just save a life:

http://www.aema.alberta.ca/events

Use this week to check your first aid kits, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment to ensure it is all in adequate working order.

 

 

 

 

3rd
May

Avoidable collapse

Rick's Blog

Family is the link to our past but it is also the bridge to our future. With talks of unification of conservatives dominating conversations across Alberta it would be wise to remember but not dwell on the past.

On a hot August day in 1907 what was supposed to be one of the greatest engineering wonders of the world turned quickly into one of the biggest disasters in history. The Quebec Bridge was a cantilever style structure that was designed to span over 1,800 feet of the St. Lawrence River connecting Sainte-Foy and Levis Quebec.

In their haste to complete the much needed infrastructure trade corridor some noted engineering design flaws were overlooked and ignored. On August 29th, 1907 the bridge collapsed claiming the lives of 75 workers. The Quebec Bridge was finally completed in 1919 but not before a second disaster befell the project that saw another 13 lives lost in the attempt.

The Quebec Bridge disaster has served as a symbol to new engineering graduates to remember the past. In a ceremony called the “Calling of an Engineer,” graduates are presented with an iron ring that serves to remind them to uphold the principles of professionalism and it symbolizes the humility and fallibility of engineers. Contrary to the urban myth, the first rings were not made from iron from the collapsed bridge however it did lead to the tradition of the Iron Ring.

Being a professional is tending to the little things that can add up to a much bigger problem. Remembering our faults serves to remind us to be cognizant that we are not infallible. To move forward towards a successful unification it would serve all Albertans to have the humility to recognize the mistakes of the past.

As conservative Albertans work towards bringing back the Alberta advantage which includes smaller government, lower taxes and more personal freedoms, we would be wise to consider where things got off the rails. Losing sight of these principles ultimately caused the breakdown of capable governance in the province.

An old adage “those who do not recognize the mistakes that were made in the past will inevitably be doomed to repeat them.” This will help to avoid the inevitable collapse that typically precedes failures that are completely avoidable.

The engineering profession in Canada has consciously reminded all of their new graduates that they are indeed fallible and subject to error. It would be prudent for Conservatives in Alberta to take a page from the engineering community’s book so they are not subject to another situation that will ultimately end with an equally catastrophic political collapse.

 

26th
April

You are the Grassroots

Rick's Blog

In recent years many political parities and politicians have used the term “grassroots” to describe the most basic levels of their organizations. The ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization’s membership create policy and principles that will ultimately be the platform for the organization.

The involvement of what the grassroots of political parties has become a vital element in what is considered the foundation of democracy. That foundation is most often comprised of some basic principles that include social equality, majority rule, minority rights, freedom and integrity. By its very nature, grassroots can be protection from central control while being loyal and self-sacrificing. When it is properly implemented it has the potential to alter an entire culture that better suits the citizens that it serves.

The input of Albertans is critical to the choices that they will have at the ballot box. In board rooms across Alberta individual Albertans donate their time, money and effort to creating the platforms of the parties they support. The people that give of themselves are ordinary Albertans that feel passionate about what kind of province they want to live in.

In its annual exercise of democracy and grassroots the Wildrose Drumheller Stettler constituency association recently held their annual general meeting. Dedicated residents of the riding came together and establish their board of directors and its officers for the coming year. Their work will no doubt be full of challenges as conservatives discuss a possible unification.

The AGM was highlighted by a presentation by Wildrose MLA for Calgary Foothills, Prasad Panda on economic development and infrastructure required to more efficiently move Alberta’s and indeed Canada’s wealth of products to the various world markets. The presentation outlined the Wildrose plan to achieve the economic goals that will benefit all Albertans.

It’s always refreshing to see people eager to provide input into the democratic process. As we move forward I encourage all Albertans to provide their input to the process regardless whether it’s on a provincial, federal or municipal level. To a government that is acting in the best interest of taxpayers, grassroots input can and does act as the compass for which decisions should always be made.

Many of the positions this Wildrose MLA establishes in the Legislature are heavily influenced by the input we receive and the opinions of the Constituency Association boards. The good news is that if you’re a resident of Alberta you are eligible to provide that input because ultimately you are the grassroots of this province.

The opportunity to provide input is not reserved to only those who participate within political parties. In order for the elected representatives to voice your concerns you must first voice them to your elected representative.

Your input is always welcome and considered valid. Please feel free to contact your local Constituency Associations and elected representatives to provide input and opinions on the issues that concern you.

Thank you to all the Albertans that give their time, money and effort selflessly.

 

19th
April

Making it work

Rick's Blog

April 13th marked the 47th anniversary of one of the greatest stories of overcoming adversity and just plain making it work. On April 13th, 1970, the Apollo 13 space module sustained an onboard explosion that caused all of their systems to shut down stranding them 200,000 miles from earth on their mission to the moon.

Astronauts Jack Swigert, James Lovell, and Fred W. Haise had little choice and very few options with how they would get their craft back in operation in what became a rescue mission. With the help of the engineers at NASA mission control they patched it back together and made it back home.

One thing that stands out in rural Alberta is the “make it work” spirit you get when adversity hits. Adversity is just part of life when you’re miles from anywhere and a bump or a boulder lie in the road ahead.

One small Alberta community in east central Alberta met the challenge when facing the closure of their small rural school at the end of June. New Brigden is a farming community that is situated a short distance from the Saskatchewan border. Parents and Members of the Prairie Rose School Division put their heads together and met the challenge head-on. Residents in the area raised an incredible $72,000 to keep the four classroom school open; the school will be offering grades 1 to 4 in the fall.

Enrollment had dropped to four students but it will see that increase to 6 this fall with nine other children enrolled in the Kindergarten and Pre-school classes. Keeping the school open will avoid adding an extra 80 kilometer round trip to Oyen; their next closest schooling accessible.

With some innovative and creative planning, the parents also found another way to make the school more affordable to operate. The parents will be contributing by doing routine maintenance such as mowing the grass and plowing snow. This is the innovative spirit that thrives in rural communities across this province. When things appear to be the darkest, rural folks pull out the portable floodlights and get to work.

The people in the New Brigden area have proven to be the epitome of making things work and figuring out how to make it stick. Rural communities have seen a stark decrease in population over the last two decades but its things like keeping a school open for local families that make remote rural Alberta more livable for families.

The residents of New Brigden have reminded us that making it work is something rural Albertans excel at. Rural Albertans are critical to the lifeblood of the Canadian agricultural industry’s success or failure, because it just doesn’t happen without these people.

The astronauts of Apollo 13 ultimately “made it work” to save their lives, while the concerned citizens who cared about a little 4 room school on the prairie “made it work” to preserve their rural way of life.

 

12th
April

The spirit of Alberta

Rick's Blog

Recently it was my privilege to attend along with many of my Wildrose colleagues the Olds College Gala. The Gala is an occasion to celebrate and recognize the values that Olds College has represented for over 100 years in Alberta. It’s a gathering of those who have become supporters and partners in the success and legacy of the College.

Every year members of our caucus proudly support this worthy agricultural event. One of the highlights of this gala is the live auction of a steer, cut and wrapped through the meat-cutting course offered by Olds College. My colleagues and I were fortunate enough to pool our resources together, winning the bid. It was truly one of the highlights of the entire evening for all of us which we enjoyed our opportunity immensely.

The absolute peak of this evening was the generous donation of $16 million by Alberta entrepreneur, oil field industry leader, and dedicated philanthropist David P. Werklund and his partner, Sue Norman. This gift is historically unprecedented and is the largest ever personal donation to an Alberta college or technical institution. Their generosity begins with an initial $2 million cash donation, followed up by $4 million in a matching component.

Most importantly in order to ensure this great institution’s success and sustainability, he has provided for $10 million as a gift from his estate. This donation will result in the creation of the Werklund agriculture institute, which will specialize in smart agriculture. This institute will engage students, researchers, and industry in smart and sustainable agriculture and agribusiness solutions.

David Werklund is known throughout Canada for his innovative thinking and generosity that exemplifies the spirit of Alberta. David is a homegrown Alberta boy who grew up in the Grande Prairie-Smoky area of Northern Alberta. In fact, my colleague’s family still owns and operates farmland in the area David grew up in. His ties to agriculture and the energy sector span many years and stretch across this entire province.

One of the greatest things about this province is the spirit and determination of the people that attracts so many seeking opportunities and a better way of life. It’s an intangible something that gives Alberta its uniqueness and surrounds us like an aura. The aura that surrounds us comes from the selflessness we see across Alberta on a daily basis and our compassion for those in need.

We tried unsuccessfully to convince David and Sue to attend the Legislature so that we could formally recognize and acknowledge this significant act of generosity, but true to Albertan form they quietly declined.

David Werklund’s actions serve as a reminder of why this is one of the most sought after places in the world to reside. Opportunity, generosity and selflessness are all the qualities that have created the Alberta spirit that makes this one of the most sought after destinations for so many.

While they may not have been in the chamber to be honored in person I would still like to acknowledge David P. Werklund and Susan Norman for their wonderful gift to Olds College.

 

5th
April

Securing our own mask first

Rick's Blog

Prior to taking off, airlines are required to do a pre-flight protocol that includes a demonstration of the safety and emergency features. When the flight crew instruct the passengers on the procedure that follow the deployment of the oxygen mask it always begin with “ensure your own mask is firmly in place before attempting to help other passengers.” Becoming an additional victim in an emergency will instantly take a person from being an asset to a liability in the outcome.

Alberta is incurring new record debt levels that have been outlined in he recent provincial budget without a solid repayment plan that is sustainable or affordable for Alberta taxpayers; present and future. Adding further to the record debt, the Alberta government plans to borrow an additional $2.2 billion over four years to cover losses from power purchase agreements. The Alberta government claims the deals are no longer attractive after they themselves raised the carbon levy.

In an attempt to offer fiscal guidance to the government, Wildrose MLA for Calgary Foothills, Prasad Panda, is preparing Motion 505. The Motion’s purpose would be to encourage the Federal government to create infrastructure and policies that would favor Canadian and more specifically – Alberta oil. The proposal would seek advocacy towards much needed pipelines that would make Canadian oil more affordable to Canadians. Ensuring competitive stability to our own oil within our own country would also serve as security to our own supply chain.

With new record deficits being expected both federally and provincially, at some point looking after our own interests becomes the prudent option. The down-turn in world oil and gas prices has most definitely been a factor in the increased debt numbers but refusing to help ourselves only exacerbates an already difficult situation

As we’ve seen in recent years, Albertans step up to help one another as well as fellow Canadians. Alberta and Canada are heading towards a debt emergency and the prudent move would be to make sure we’re fiscally secure before we attempt to help others. With a high enough cumulative debt, it will all but eliminate our options to help anyone.

Motion 505 is a tool that could be used to change the culture of how Albertans are governed. It would serve Alberta’s government to acknowledge that the they should always show preference to what is good for Albertans now and in the future. Working toward a more fiscally self-sufficient Canada is a goal worthy of pursuit by all provincial governments.

With a projected debt of over $71 billion by the time a provincial election is expected, it’s fair to say we’re heading towards a fiscal emergency if we have no means for repayment. The financial oxygen masks have dropped and the Alberta government needs to make sure our masks are secure. It’s never too early to work towards preventing an emergency and Motion 505 could be a step towards achieving that goal.

In the coming weeks we will be debating this Motion in the house in an attempt to keep Alberta from becoming a fiscal casualty of poor policy.

 

 

29th
March

Eliminating squatters’ rights, Bill 204

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Your rights to own property are not protected in the way most Albertans believe they should be. In recent years, we’ve seen flawed legislation come into effect that does not protect Albertans’ rights to own property and that gives government sweeping powers to negatively affect landowners who get in the way of its centralized land-use plans.

In Alberta, a lesser known negative still exists known as adverse possession, or squatters’ rights. In Alberta property law, squatters’ rights allow individuals with no legal or moral right the ability to claim possession of another individual’s property. This can be achieved simply by an individual who does not have title or ownership occupying or using a portion of land for a legally specified number of years. They can then claim legal use to that portion of property.

Currently, only Alberta and Nova Scotia have a law like this on the books. In 2014, the Alberta Property Rights Advocate recommended scrapping this law and just last February, a Wildrose motion on abolishing squatters’ rights received all-party support from a Legislature committee. There is a strong will to get this done for Alberta landowners.

Recently, Wildrose Livingstone–Macleod MLA Pat Stier introduced the Protection of Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, 2017, an enhanced Bill to protect property rights that would remove squatters’ rights from Alberta law.

“It’s high time we caught up to the rest of the country and abolished squatters’ rights in this province,” Stier said. “This is the big issue that so many hardworking landowners have been waiting patiently to see fixed. It’s time for the NDP to put its money where its mouth is and get this done for Albertan landowners.”

Bill 204 would accomplish other good things for landowners like amending Bill 36, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), which has been categorized by legal experts as “draconian.” The ministerial powers that exist within ALSA are so sweeping and all-powerful they’ve been dubbed the “Henry VIII clauses.”

Under section 19.1 of ALSA, landowners impacted by regional planning saw their rights to seek legal remedy through the courts eliminated completely. If Bill 204 passes, this will no longer be the case.

Bill 204 will also protect the rights of statutory consents (such as forestry permits, intensive livestock operation licenses, oil and gas leases, and grazing leases) to recover financial or property losses through the courts should they be negatively impacted by regional planning decisions. The Bill also proposes amending the Responsible Energy Development Act to incorporate the rights from section 26 of the Energy Resources Conservation Act so that owners of private land will be properly notified of access requests, learn and challenge the facts supporting an energy resource application and be fully involved with the hearing.

The NDP used to support property rights and oppose Bill 36, but since they’ve been in power, we’ve been slow to see any effort to fix these issues in Alberta property law.

As the Wildrose Shadow Minister for Property and Surface Rights, I’m proud to support Bill 204, and I urge the NDP government to do right by landowners and support the Bill too.

Wildrose will continue to fight for property rights to ensure the future protection of Albertans’ ability to create, maintain and accumulate their own earned wealth.

You can read Bill 204 here:

 http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_29/session_3/20170302_bill-204.pdf

 

 

 

 

22nd
March

The orange glow

Rick's Blog

Something that has always been one of the simple beauties in life is a spring sunrise. With an orange hue that almost makes the landscape come alive! Spring is also a time for renewal, for starting from a new perspective that encompasses the lessons learned from the past. Spring just so happens to be the time for the Alberta government to release its financial budget for the province that reflects projected spending and expected deficits. The lessons of the past have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

The lessons from the past that should act as a guide in financial decision making have been ones of uncontrolled spending and expenses that have lead to some very real consequences. Albertans watched PC governments for a number of years run up unprecedented deficits that infrastructure and adequate funding of social programs was unable to keep up with demand.

In the past, Albertans have seen how quickly things can change, but the NDP government evidently did not learn from those hard lessons. The problem with long term debt accumulation is that at some point something has to break. The real problems will begin when the cuts must be made as opposed to where they accurately should be.

With a projected deficit expected to hit $10.3 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year it appears that the orange we see on Alberta’s horizon may be that of a fire heading towards us, a fire that will arrive in the form of a $70 billion debt by the 2019-20 fiscal year.

When faced with financial adversity, average Albertans reign in their spending and re-establish their financial priorities, especially when the banker calls to tell you that your credit rating is in jeopardy—which ultimately results in driving up the cost of borrowing. To add insult to injury, Albertans are paying a carbon levy the government is claiming will curb carbon usage but is appearing that it will likely be a way to subsidize their overspending with a new source of revenue, supplied by Albertans.

Last weeks NDP government’s provincial budget sets the credit bar to an even lower standard than that of their predecessors.  2016 saw Alberta’s credit rating dropped three times by Standard & Poor’s, DBRS and Moody’s which will ultimately increase the cost of borrowing.

Substantial warnings are being issued by the ratings agencies in response to the continued climbing deficits in Alberta;

 “Alberta’s rapidly rising debt burden, protracted deficits and above-inflation expense growth continue to put significant pressure on its rating.”

Moody’s March 17, 2017

“This erodes Alberta’s low debt advantage relative to provincial peers. In the absence of meaningful action to address the budget deficit and to slow debt growth, Alberta’s debt may exceed levels acceptable for the current ratings.”

DBRS March 17, 2017

Unfortunately that expensive orange glow we see on Alberta’s horizon is a fiscal fire instead of the beautiful spring sunrise and new beginning we’d all prefer.

 

9th
March

As The Tide Turns

Rick's Blog

The following article was sent to me from a friend and colleague Mr. Stuart Taylor from Hinton, Alberta. With his permission I would like to share his article with you.

In 2007, Australians elected a Labour government that’s the down-under equivalent of Canada’s NDP. Almost immediately, its climate change policy took off.

The ambitious plan was to commit the country to emissions trading schemes and mandatory renewable energy targets. In Southern Australia, the target for renewable energy was set at 50% of overall capacity. Coal-fired electricity, though reliable and cheap, was eliminated in that region.

Ten years have passed and the chickens have come home to roost. Recently, as summer temperatures have pushed their way well above 40 degrees C, homes and businesses in Southern Australia have faced blackouts. (Australian heatwaves are not new or rare. Years ago, temperatures never fell below 45 C in one part of the country for six weeks, with the maximum hitting 53 C.)

This month, thousands of homes in Southern Australia lost power because the renewable electric system relies on wind, which doesn’t work when the wind stops blowing. It stopped.

The Australian Defense Department, unwilling to trust the electrical system, has committed itself to developing massive standby generation capacity for its needs. Plus, the electrical system is said to be a threat to the very important shipbuilding industry. Meanwhile, homeowners are out buying standby generators that run on gas or diesel.

Another serious fallout for Southern Australia is the impact on investment. Who wants to invest in a region where you can’t trust the on-off switches?

The irony is that the Aussies have abundant coal supplies that can easily produce low-cost, reliable electricity. The country could embrace new clean coal technologies, yet for political and ideological reasons, coal is not an option in Southern Australia.

Ironically, Australia ships huge quantities of coal to Pacific Rim countries, which allows them to produce low-cost reliable electricity. In fact, Australia is responsible for nearly a third of the world’s coal trade. In 2011, it was the largest exporter of metallurgical coal and the second largest exporter of thermal coal. Major customers include Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan.

The market for Australian coal is not just profitable, it’s secure. Japan recently announced that it’s building 45 new coal-fired electrical plants. China, which is by far the world’s biggest coal consumer, says it’s increasing its consumption in the next few years by nearly 20%.

Another irony is that Australia is out of step with the rest of the world. This week in the Financial Post, Jack Mintz from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary noted that “governments everywhere are starting to back away from anti-carbon policies.”

Germany is returning to coal power. Green subsidies have been cancelled in the UK, Portugal, and Spain. The US has committed itself to defunding the UN’s climate machinery, and to expanding the American coal and petroleum industries. Ontario’s anti-coal policy has seriously hurt its economy and created energy poverty. There are now Ontarians who have to choose between eating or paying for heat.

There are two lessons here for Alberta: First, electrical policy rooted in the ideological opposition to coal won’t be implemented without a steep and unnecessary price. Second, despite the rhetoric, the world’s biggest coal users are not buying into the high-cost anti-coal doctrines.

At the same time, many nations that moved much further down the renewables road than Alberta are turning back, recognizing that the financial and human costs are simply prohibitive.

Stuart Taylor, Hinton

 

22nd
February

PROPERTY & FREEDOM

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Part six in a six-part series on property rights

Being that I am the property rights critic in the legislature, the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association enabled me to preview a copy of their soon-to-be-released publication Property & Freedom.

A key message in the publication is that poverty is not a mystery. Poverty has little to do with location, geography, or even the availability of natural resources. At the end of the 20th century, major wealth creating nations on the Pacific Rim with dynamic economies but without significant natural resources included (and still include) Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

The reason so many countries are poor, and have been poor for a long time, is that their governments are corrupt and the people have no property rights. When property rights are secure and the rule of law enforced, new wealth emerges. People find ways to be innovative, to create, to invent, to add value and worth to things that can then be sold. Property rights ensure that ordinary people have a personal stake in what’s occurring.

One extensive section of the publication is by Alberta businessman and rancher, Marshall Copithorne, based on a speech he delivered at the Western Stock Growers Association. According to Copithorne, when it comes to the property rights of Canadians, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was the country’s best champion. In an effort to address deficiencies in property rights protection, Diefenbaker had drafted and enacted the Canadian Bill of Rights, which Copithorne refers to as the only real written reference to any concept of property rights in Canadian history.

The 1960 Bill of Rights protects the right of individual Canadians to “life, liberty, security of person, and the enjoyment of property.” Unfortunately, the term “enjoyment of property” turned out to be too nebulous. Diefenbaker didn’t go far enough. He didn’t clearly refer to property ownership. The Bill of Rights certainly provides some consideration for property owners, but nevertheless, it didn’t succeed at establishing property rights in law.

Copithorne says that as odd as it sounds, Pierre Trudeau unwittingly carried out something very important for Canadians. Not once does the Charter for which Trudeau was responsible make a direct reference to private property rights. Even so, the 1982 Charter did establish a division of power between the provincial legislatures and the federal parliament on the issue of property rights.

Section 92 says: “In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated, that is to say, (13) Property and Civil Rights…”

Thus the opportunity to entrench the legal rights of property owners lies with each individual province. Alberta today has the legal authority to call on Ottawa to amend the Canadian constitution as it applies to property rights in our province. The permission of no other province is needed.

“Canadians, in general — and Albertans, in particular — do not have any property rights that they can rely on in any ongoing sense,” Copithorne said. “Alberta property owners are [therefore] at the mercy of… jealousy, envy, injustice, moral decay, and big government want.”

Even today, there is nothing stopping the Alberta legislature from passing a motion calling on Ottawa to establish constitutional property rights for Albertans. Clearly, as Copithorne says, the consistent failure of the Alberta Legislature to identify property rights as a proven requirement for a peaceful, long-lasting, and secure future is a tragedy.

 

 

15th
February

Property & Freedom

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Part five in a six-part series on property rights

Many people know that in addition to being the MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, I am the Shadow Critic for Property Rights in the Legislative Assembly. Because of this responsibility, I was recently given an opportunity to preview a soon-to-be-released publication called Property & Freedom, published by Grassroots Alberta.

More than twenty years ago, at a meeting of the Western Stock Growers Association (WSGA), rancher/businessman Marshall Copithorne delivered what for some people was a life-changing speech on the subject of property rights and freedom. I know a Youngstown-area rancher who was at that meeting, and who said many years later that being there genuinely changed his life. (Grassroots Alberta courtesy of Copithorne and the WSGA is printing the entire presentation.)

Copithorne points out that rights are given by God, not by government, and that for each of us our God-given rights include the right to life, liberty, personal property, and their enjoyment. The recognition of these rights forms the foundation of western civilization, with these ideas being traced to Moses and the tablets (and to Hammurabi in the 18th century BC who also established property rights).

Throughout history, freedom has always been advanced by individuals and societies who have defended the individual’s right to life and right to property. Indeed, many would argue, the purpose of government is to protect these two basic rights.

The narrative quotes the famous book, “Mainspring of Human Progress,” which refers to Moses and the Ten Commandments as the greatest document of individual freedom in recorded history. Interestingly, each of the Commandments is addressed to the individual as a self-controlling person responsible for his or her own thoughts, words, and actions. And they freely recognize that freedom and property are inherent to human nature.

The sixth commandment stresses the individual’s right to life—a right that must not be violated by another. The seventh establishes the principle of contract—that a contract, whether written or spoken, must not be broken. The eighth (“You shall not steal”) recognizes the individual’s right to own property. The tenth (“Do not covet what belongs to others”) emphasizes the right of ownership, indicating that not even in thought should one person violate the property rights of another.

As a society, we have moved a long way since the Stone Age. Today almost everyone depends for his welfare—for his very life—upon exchanges of ownership of property, whether that property is in the form of money, possessions, or our own labour.

Property rights are human rights. They don’t belong to the property; they belong to the individuals who hold the property. If a society is to be prosperous and free, private property rights are a fundamental and necessary condition. Private ownership encourages good stewardship, and apart from private ownership, freedom of choice would become meaningless.

The publication’s narrative recognizes that the clash between the power of government and the rights of the individual was addressed by the Magna Carta in 1215. And points out that to avoid a revolution, the Church of England recommended to the king that he recognize that the people possess certain rights. The king conceded, and the Magna Carta was proclaimed. Subsequently, there were numerous charters in England and continental Europe based on its ideals. These events, in effect, established early procedural safeguards for persons and property. In time, developing into what is now known as the Common Law.

 

 

8th
February

The Property Rights of a Grain Grower

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Part four in a series on property rights

Though I am the Property Rights Shadow Critic in the legislature, I have to admit that I was over forty before I fully realized that the term property rights applies to much more than farmland and real estate. My education in that regard started the day I was asked: “Who owns a farmer’s grain?”

Some years ago, Manitoba farmer Andy McMechan went to jail because he believed he owned his own barley. Andy farms in the southwest corner of Manitoba, a couple of miles north of the U.S. border. His wife Pam grew up on a farm a couple of miles south of the border. They married, and in time, ran both farms.

As with any family farm operation, it was pretty normal to take machinery, cattle feed, and one thing or another from one farm site to the other.

To export barley at that time, a farmer was supposed to obtain written permission from CWB bureaucrats and pay a steep fee. Andy, believing the barley belonged to him and not to the Wheat Board, refused to pay the fee or go along. He continued moving barley between his farms.

When Canada Customs tried to seize Andy’s tractor, saying he’d used it to illegally transport grain from one farm to the other, Andy simply drove away. In the end, the government put him in jail for 155 days due to his sudden departure and other related charges.

After Andy’s imprisonment, a group of Alberta farmers realized that the bigger issue behind what had happened to Andy was property rights. “Does a grain grower have a property right in what he grows?” they asked. “And should the farmer control the sale and transport of his product, or should a government bureaucrat do that?”

Believing the federal government had an obligation to declare whether the farmer or the bureaucracy owned and controlled privately produced crops, thirteen Alberta farmers took various amounts of grain they’d grown on their farms, and in defiance of the CWB, moved it across the U.S. border. I was one of the thirteen. So was Jim Ness, who farms in the Oyen region. Jim carried a sack of barley over the border and then donated it to the 4-H kids in Sunburst, Montana. He and I later shared a jail cell.

Today, the CWB monopoly is gone. The Prime Minister of Canada personally apologized to all thirteen farmers for what had been done, and pardoned each one—no criminal records.

Happily, what remains for all Alberta farmers from that time is the assurance that their property rights are secure when it comes to the crops they grow on their farms. No bureaucrats will interfere with them or demand an exorbitant fee when they sell it.

Last week I mentioned that I’ve been previewing a soon-to-be-released publication by Grassroots Alberta called Property & Freedom. The publication quotes Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, who said: “The power a multi-millionaire might have over me and over my property, whether he is my neighbor or my employer, is much less than what’s held by the smallest government bureaucrat or agent, who wields the coercive power of the state, and upon whose discretion it depends whether and how I am able to live, work, or make decisions.”

 

 

 

1st
February

Property shapes behaviour: Surface rights

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Part three in a series on property rights

As the Property Rights Critic in the Alberta legislature, it is also my task to keep an eye on surface rights issues. This being true, I was recently given the opportunity to preview a soon-to-be-released publication called Property & Freedom, published by Grassroots Alberta.

The publication affirms that property rights and human rights are the same thing, and explains why. Quoting economist Walter Williams, it states: “If we buy into the notion that property rights are less important, or are in conflict with, human or civil rights, we create false distinctions and play into the hands of those who seek to control our lives.”

One section of the publication is written by Edmonton-area lawyer Keith Wilson, one of Alberta’s foremost defenders of landowner rights. Wilson says the federal government first acquired legal authority over the lands that now make up Alberta back in 1870. Seven years later, an Order-in-Council declared that homestead lands in western Canada would reserve the mineral rights for the Crown.

About forty years later, in 1930, a federal-provincial agreement then gave the Alberta government ownership and control of 86% of the province’s minerals. As development of these lands occurred, it was to be expected that one party owning the minerals and another owning the surface would lead to disputes.

Wilson says an important legal dispute was settled when the court ruled that the mineral owner possesses a common law right of surface entry, stating that apart from surface access owning minerals would be meaningless.

Yet an important question arose, namely: Who is lawfully responsible for compensating the surface owner for intrusion, loss of use, and much more?  Wilson says that question was settled by the courts in 1988 when an energy company claimed that its cost provisions in Alberta’s Surface Rights Act discriminated against oil companies. The Alberta Court of Appeal reviewed the surface rights legislation, and then ruled that whenever private land is encroached upon by the mineral owner, the surface owner is entitled to compensation.

The court said that farms in Alberta were largely obtained by homesteaders on a take-it-or-leave-it basis (they had no say over the loss of mineral rights), and that they paid for those homesteads with sweat, rather than treasure. The court also said that when a well-driller arrives the farmer would see him as a surface intruder/taker, no different from those who might take land for a pipeline or highway project. The Court thus affirmed the Surface Rights Act as a means to provide justice for the landowner.

Wilson’s chronology about landowner rights and surface rights legislation ends just prior to the provincial government’s introduction of a series of land bills (2, 19, 24, and 36), each designed to trample the legitimate rights of ranchers and farmers.

The publication’s unfortunate conclusion is that over the past ten years, landowner rights in Alberta have been greatly diminished at the hand of government. Ranchers and farmers no longer have the statutory right to a hearing when an industrial project is imposed upon private land, and the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (Bill 36), gives the bureaucracy (by authority of Cabinet) final say over what a piece of private land may or may not be used for.

Historically, only the Legislature could make or amend Acts during public sessions of the Legislature. Now, under Bill 36, Cabinet can in effect make property law and amend it from the secrecy of the Cabinet room.

 

 

26th
January

Property shapes behavior

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Part two in a series on property rights

As the Property Rights Critic in the legislature, I was recently given the opportunity to look at a soon-to-be-released publication called Property & Freedom, published by the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association.

The publication’s theme is that human beings are property creators, and that the ability to organize a civil and prosperous society will always be based on respect for property rights. The narrative is especially careful to point out that although the word “property” refers to farmland and real estate, it applies to much more. Property also includes a person’s labour, their inventions and creations. It includes improvements we make to things that occur naturally and that we obtain lawfully—oil is refined, minerals are processed, grain is grown, calves are born and raised, etc.

The text quotes Russ Brown, a former Alberta law professor who in 2015 was appointed Justice of Canada’s Supreme Court. Shortly before his court appointment, Brown discussed property rights on an Alberta talk show.

When asked to define the term “rule of law,” Brown’s response was precise and clear: “The rule of law, in its essence, means that we are governed by laws and not by people.”

Asked to explain the connection between the rule of law and property, Brown carefully pointed out that the law protects not just the property a person holds in land or investments, but the property we hold in ourselves—in our own persons. He said: “Property is one of those things that the law has existed to protect from the get-go. The earliest common law legal notions were notions of property, and the state, in its original form, was established to protect those rights that we have. And not just in property, but also in ourselves—in our physical bodies.”

Brown continued: “So we have, in essence, two fundamental rights. We have rights in ourselves. We have rights in our property. And where government interferes with those rights, it has to do so in a way that conforms to law. The rule of law is that governments must govern in accordance with the law, just as we live our lives in accordance with the law.”

The Grassroots publication then moves on to explain how in civil societies, individuals and businesses are constantly exchanging property rights.

When a man puts down money to buy milk from a grocer, he is essentially saying, “I hold title to these three dollars and I recognize that you (the grocer) hold title to the milk.” It’s a commercial transaction, but it’s also a transfer of property rights. The agreement they make is for the man to transfer his property right in the money to the grocer in exchange for the grocer’s property right in the milk.

The narrative then explains why the free market is the most effective way for people to willingly transfer and trade property rights. It points out that the words “free market” don’t mean that individuals and businesses are free to abuse people or act without standards. Instead, it means people are able to make free choices, exchanging the property rights they hold in money, goods, land, or labour, for other things that then become their property.

The process is summarized in a quote from U.S. President Calvin Coolidge who observed: “Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing.”

 

18th
January

It’s actually about you

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

This past week, I received some preliminary information about Freedom & Property, a soon-to-be-released publication by the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association. It contains an excellent series of articles on the subject of property rights. I’m the Property Rights Shadow Minister in the legislature, and I’ve always had a keen interest in the issue, so I paid attention to the material.

The publication says that to understand property rights, you don’t begin by talking about land or real estate. Instead, the starting point is to recognize that we each own our own lives. Your life is your property. It doesn’t belong to the government or to anyone else. That kind of basic freedom, many would say, is God-given.

The publication points to Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who successfully made his way north to the free state of Massachusetts prior to the U.S. Civil War. At the time, a vibrant anti-slavery movement was in full swing. Douglass, a naturally gifted orator, was often invited to speak at these rallies and at anti-slavery church meetings. He began his presentations by standing patiently before the crowd. Then he would say: I stand before you this night as a thief and a robber. See this head, these arms, these legs, these hands. I stole them from my master and ran off with them.

Douglass knew that the most basic thing any of us owns is our life. We each have a property right in who and what we are, and because we do, our labour belongs to us too.  If someone steals your car or pickup, they’re not just stealing your vehicle; they’re taking the half-a-year’s labour (or more) that you expended to buy it. Your vehicle is property, but so too is your labour. You have the right to both of them.

Another way to understand the crucial role of property in the building of civilization is to imagine some of the earliest days of human interaction. If a hunter fashioned a tree branch into a well-balanced spear, everyone would have known it was his property. If he used it to kill a bear, everyone would also have known that the meat and hide were his property.

If the hunter traded his bear hide for a primitive farmer’s wheat, it’d be an exchange of property rights. The hunter would transfer his property right to the hide, and the farmer would transfer his property right to the wheat. Their understood right to property would enable each of these men to create or acquire something useful, adding wealth and prosperity to the entire community. The development and acquisition of property always does this, which is why property in all its forms is the basis of wealth creation.

The Grassroots booklet summarizes property rights by describing how human beings are property creators and property producers. It further explains that the principle of property rights recognizes and ensures that we’re each entitled to our labour, our ideas, our hopes, and our dreams. It then reminds us that while the principle of property rights certainly applies to farmland and real estate, it has as much to do with many other things that people don’t normally think of as property.

 

 

11th
January

Free speech?

Rick's Blog

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall who was quoted as saying;

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,”

Hall clearly understood the true spirit of free speech and how important the role free speech plays in a democratic society.

Democracy is the tool that safeguards free societies from tyranny of a minority; the role of the opposition in a democracy is to ensure it does not become two wolves and sheep deciding what to have for dinner.

In Canada we have an Official Opposition, in Alberta, that legislative role is currently held by the Wildrose. The role of the opposition is to ensure all viewpoints are brought forward for consideration. Having been in an opposition role not so long ago, this is something the NDP should understand, but they have clearly forgotten.

My colleague in the Wildrose Official Opposition and MLA for Innisfail Sylvan Lake, Don MacIntyre, has been targeted by the NDP for comments he made that do not align with their “NDP world view.” His comments offered an opinion that is contrary to the NDP’s view on climate policies and for that they are demanding his removal from the Electricity and Renewables critic portfolio.

The widespread debate over climate has a variety of opinions and experts that the NDP “world view” didn’t consider when they developed their economy-killing carbon tax. For a party that has the word “democratic “in it, they seem to have little to no understanding of what that word actually means or how our legislative system works in Alberta.

The reaction of the NDP to this opposing view is alarming when you consider what they seem to be advocating. It appears anyone that has an opposing view to the Alberta government should not have a place at the table, regardless of whom the citizen/taxpayers of Alberta feel belong at that table.

The reaction of the Notley government seems to suggest that the “NDP world view” doesn’t include defending the right of free speech, free thought or the expression of an opposing view; this position is very disturbing. Regardless of the opposing view, the only people that should decide the seating arrangement should be the electorate of Alberta, not an off-kilter “world view” that oppresses an opinion.

Imagine if the house was populated by members from only one party, with no oversight. By suggesting that the Wildrose sanction Don MacIntyre they are effectively suggesting that they should be the only voice in the Legislature. That would be no different than having one party rule in the Legislature.

This is not how true democracy works. If the NDP want to show Albertans that they will defend democracy, Premier Notley needs to seriously consider sanctions for anyone who brings forward this type ludicrous attack on free speech and democracy.

The legislative role of the Official Opposition is a very important one which my colleagues in the Wildrose and I take very seriously. In order for us to fulfill the role given to us by the electorate of Alberta, free speech, free thought, and an opposing view – regardless of its nature, must be defended by every member of the Legislature.

 

5th
January

Grassroots Democracy?

Rick's Blog

Growing up we all had foods that didn’t exactly appeal to us for one reason or another. These were typically the foods that our parents would tell us were “good for us” or “this will help you grow to be big and strong.” It’s no surprise to any of us that the same tactic wasn’t employed when it came to dessert. In fact it was often held back as a reward to convince us to eat our veggies.

Like a desperate parent trying to get their children to eat their vegetables, our Alberta government is currently trying to convince us that a carbon tax will be good for us. Unlike a parent, they’re taking the money from us (approximate $8.9 million) to pay for an advertising campaign to promote a tax that will leave Albertans further behind financially.

With the best of intentions, parents try to instill the value of proper nutrition and eating habits that contribute to a healthier life. As we get older the sage advice we’re given becomes obvious and, if unheeded, that also becomes obvious. In the case of the Alberta government’s carbon tax, the answers will come in and the consequences could be profound!

Our government is sprinkling sugar on the tax by telling us, some will be eligible for a rebate; a rebate that is only made possible by paying this non-voluntary tax. The claim that the rebate will lessen the burden on Alberta families is erroneous when the cash pool they “will be creating” paying the rebates originate from the very people getting the rebates! Rest assured the benefits will not equal the amount paid in carbon tax by the rebate recipients.

Albertans will start the New Year with a tax that will literally be a tax on everything, including items that were previously out of reach of conventional taxation. Tax-exempt consumer goods, such as life-saving drugs will now carry some form of carbon taxation because as we all know, everything has a fuel surcharge added to it due to shipping. Is a carbon tax good for us? The answer to that is something, as members of the Wildrose Official Opposition, we will be pursuing.

The Notley government is forcing a plate full of what they claim will be good because it will help us gain social license within world markets. No guarantees have been forthcoming from any of the issuers of social licenses, that they will buy our products with the added costs, instead of cheaper goods from jurisdictions that disregard this social license and have no carbon taxation.

Reasonable questions taxpayers are asking are, if this is good for Albertans, shouldn’t we see an increase in trade and exported goods? Shouldn’t we see our social license gain us status and move us to the top of preferred suppliers list? Or will we find out that this is just another source of revenue for government to squander?

If this was truly good for Albertans, the government would put this to a referendum and let us decide.

It’s called Grassroots Democracy.

 

16th
December

ELECTRICAL PRICE CAP: REALITY OR ILLUSION?

Rick's Blog

The following article was sent to me from a friend and colleague Mr. Stuart Taylor from Hinton, Alberta. With his permission I would like to share his article with you.

A letter from an NDP MLA about regulated price caps for Alberta’s electrical consumers recently appeared in the Hinton Parklander.

The MLA asserts that a price cap of 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour will protect Alberta families, farms, and small businesses from the consequences of the NDP government’s electrical policy. This is false.

The flagship province that Premier Notley is looking to for green energy leadership is Ontario. Yet this summer, Vic Fedeli, a member of the Ontario legislature, clearly indicated that Ontario now has the highest electrical rates in North America. Until recently, Hawaii was the only Canada/US jurisdiction with higher rates.

The genesis of Ontario’s green energy policy started in 2003 with the Ontario Electricity Restructuring Act, which created the Ontario Power Authority. The eventual result of that process was the Ontario Green Energy Act.

It wasn’t until this summer, almost eight years after the legislation was implemented, that Ontario’s electrical prices reached the top of the chart. The mayor of Oshawa recently complained that in one aspect of his city’s electrical bill, the monthly charge for electricity was $3,600, while the actual power bill was $150,000. The extra $146,400 is for transmission charges and the cost Ontario “green” electrical policy that Notley and her caucus now want to pursue in Alberta.

Silvercrest Dairy Farm in Avondale, Ontario, recently received a monthly electrical bill of $93 for one of its projects. Yet, after adding transmission charges and the Ontario equivalent of its “green energy fees,” they had to pay $2,300.06.

The NDP’s idea that they can pursue these same policies and protect Alberta consumers just by capping the electricity charge is a non-starter. The MLA specifically state in the letter that “the [Alberta] price cap is on electricity charges only. Service fees will not be impacted by this policy.”

Therefore, the promise of a four-year cap won’t do the job. The heaviest cost to Albertans won’t be a genuine market price for electricity, but green subsidies (similar to Ontario’s Global Adjustment Fee), transmission costs, and other non-electrical charges.

According to the Ontario Auditor General, since its green policy was implemented, electrical consumers in that province have already overpaid for their electricity by $37 billion. By 2032, that overpayment will reach $170 billion (an amount roughly equal to $160,000 for every family of four in Alberta).

The NDP’s proposed price cap will last four years. Big deal. As happened in Ontario, it will take longer than four years for Albertans to experience the dramatic price escalations that they rightly fear. And when those prices do escalate, to a great degree it won’t be for raw electricity, but for the offsets, subsidies, and the actual cost of the policy. Additionally, in Alberta, our coal plants have to be fully phased out before we experience the coming higher electrical rates.

Surely the NDP recognize that no government can directly control the production cost of electricity any more than it can control gravity. When Alberta’s “green” policy eventually drives the cost of producing electricity above any government-set price cap, the consumer’s electrical bill might be capped, but the power-generating company still has to get paid, and that payment will be from the government. And the only place governments get money is taxpayers.

In other words, if the real cost of producing electricity isn’t on a person’s utility bill, the government is simply going to take it out of that same person’s back pocket through the tax system.

 

 

7th
December

Being Albertan

Rick's Blog

Anyone that has lived or traveled to Alberta realizes that the residents of this province are as resilient and unique as any citizen in Canada. The people of Alberta have epitomized the freedom and entrepreneurial spirit that has attracted so many that make this place their home. Something else we’ve learned about ourselves is how when the chips are down, we always respond to those in need.

Examples of how Albertans respond has been exemplified over the last few years with the 2013 flood in High River and the fire this past spring in Fort McMurray. The overwhelming response from around the province when calamity strikes our own is something each and every one of us should be proud of.

Ranchers in the east central Alberta community of Jenner are experiencing a crisis every bit as serious as those in High River and Fort McMurray. The crisis that threatens their very way of life stems from a single positive test for bovine tuberculosis in the U.S., which was traced back to a local ranch. The situation has become serious with families facing quarantines and an escalating number of ranchers are facing full destruct orders for their entire herds.

Like true Albertans, in spite of all the serious issues these folks are going through, these people have put their neighbours’ and friends’ welfare right along side their own. A large number of Alberta ranches remain under quarantines and the number continues to rise as testing is being done.

With no long-term and only partial measures being proposed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to compensate for the estimated 10,000 head of cattle currently under order to be destroyed, producers are left wondering what the future holds for them and their livelihoods.

Cattle producers in Alberta have a reputation for providing some of the highest quality beef available anywhere in the world. Not only is this important to the reputation of the province, it also plays a significant role in the economy that goes beyond our borders.  Alberta’s 1.8 million head per year output is responsible for 69% of the cattle production in Canada.

With approximately 50 ranches currently under quarantine and people’s futures at stake, it is our responsibility in this Legislature to ensure that these operations remain financially viable for generations to come. The Wildrose Official Opposition will work diligently to make sure the Alberta government has a plan that ensures Canadian Food Inspection Agency follows through with the commitments they have made to producers to help them through this crisis.

If you’ve ever wondered what the compassionate enterprising spirit is that makes this province great, it’s openly the spirit of being an Albertan.

 

1st
December

Laws without consequences

Rick's Blog

Like all fundamentals, the law of consequences is based on simple truth; actions always produce outcomes, or at least they should. You may ask what the law of consequences is, to put it in simple terms-cause and effect.

The law of consequences states that every result or effect happens for a reason, that’s better known as the cause. Everything we do will result in some form of outcome and the possibility of adverse consequences of those actions can act as a deterrent and guides us to choose a different path.

In the Legislature, we are responsible for presenting and passing Legislation that eventually becomes the laws of the land. In order for a law to have any meaning, there must be consequences or deterrents that come as a result of the actions taken. The consequences can be financial, they can result in suspension of a privilege or they can, in more serious cases, result in incarceration.

During the spring session, the Wildrose Official Opposition filed a breach of privilege regarding carbon tax ads that cost over $5 million. The Speaker of the Assembly brought his ruling to the house recently and ruled that the NDP government was in contempt of the Legislature with the carbon tax advertisements they were broadcasting prior to the Bill even being voted on by MLAs in the house. There is irrefutable evidence that there was a breach of privilege committed; a breach that unfortunately carried a price tag of over $5 million taxpayer’s dollars.

So now that it’s been determined that the law was broken, now what? The pursuit of that answer has been met with abject silence from the government bench.  Wildrose House Leader, Nathan Cooper has requested that the matter be put before an all-party committee for further discussion and potential sanction, in order to prevent such abuses from happening again in the future.

The deterrent that should act as a guide for the government to not repeat this $5 million breach is obviously lacking in the Legislative Assembly if this is allowed to go without sanctions in some form. After all, it’s not like they can “unplay” these ads, the damage, or in this case, the money has been spent.

Imagine if you were driving down a divided highway with a posted speed limit of 100 kilometers an hour, a car goes by you at twice the speed limit. The next thing you see is an RCMP officer in pursuit. After finally getting the car pulled over, the officer is limited so no further action can be taken in this matter; no fine, no license suspension or any other form of deterrent. What would be the point in having the law, the sign or the officer patrolling the road?

As puzzling as this is, unfortunately it isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed this type of situation in the Alberta Legislature. The Wildrose Official Opposition will continue to pursue this matter and press the government to put deterrents in place, so when breaches such as this happen, there is effect that will guide people to making better choices in the government.

 

23rd
November

Albertans have final say

Rick's Blog

With permission we are submitting a column composed by MLA Drew Barnes, Cypress Medicine Hat concerning events of this past week.

Just under two years ago, on a cold December evening, I found myself at a small town Christmas concert in southern Alberta speaking with a despondent constituent. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she had just sent a $20 donation to the ex-leader of the Official Opposition, Danielle Smith. I know for some, it doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but I got the sense that it meant a great deal to her. It was a sacrifice for a cause and principles she believed in.

That concert was one of my first public events after a whirlwind day that swept nine of my former colleagues to the then government benches. The hurt, the sorrow and, yes, even anger were palpable. However, the shock eventually subsided after Albertans definitively had their say at the polls that they would not tolerate or support this type of backroom dealing. Today, that event has been relegated to merely a sad footnote in Canadian history.

It’s been said that in politics, absurdity is not a handicap. As I watched Premier Notley embrace PC MLA Sandra Jansen and welcome her over to the government side, I started to see why that may be true.

Once upon a time, the leader of the fourth party NDP said that those floor crossings represented “a betrayal to a number of different voters” and that “both leaders are equally guilty of betraying the people who voted for them.”

Ms. Notley campaigned, in part, on an explicit mandate to end these type of politics. But this week, here was this same person, now as Premier, embracing an avowed opposition critic while welcoming her into the government fold.

In the coming days and months, Premier Notley will have to justify if she is comfortable with such “betrayals” of democracy as long as they come in more palatable doses.

The fact is, this NDP government is building up an impressive record of empty promises and broken trust. From trying to break decades old power contracts, bringing in a carbon tax and now this.

As with my former Wildrose colleagues who crossed the floor, I’ll leave the business of untangling the intellectual knots they’ve tied themselves in to those now on the government benches. They are ultimately accountable for their actions, and as in 2015, I know Albertans will definitively give judgement on the actions of all those involved.

Albertans are honest people. They believe in the honour and unspoken contract of a handshake. It’s no different at the ballot box. Albertans work hard and expect their politicians to stay true to their word. Is it any wonder that voters disengage from the democratic process when their trust is repeatedly violated like this?

After all the NDP government’s new taxes, added debt, and actions against business, for an opposition MLA to pack up and move across the aisle won’t sit well with a growing number of Albertans who want stable conservative leadership.

The reality is between election cycles, many people have bills to pay, mouths to feed and households to maintain. Party affiliation should tell voters clearly what principles and values an individual stands for and was elected under.

It’s why I am proud to stand with Wildrose. More than any party, we have proven to be resilient, principled and committed to maintaining the trust of voters. We stand for democratic reform, fiscal conservatism, and an economy spurred by the principles of free markets and more efficient government.

Regardless of how difficult that December was two years ago, it has been one of the greatest privileges in my life to represent the people of Cypress-Medicine Hat. My first priority, as it should be for any politician, was to honour their trust by listening to them and respecting their wishes. I stand with what I’m sure is the majority of Albertans who do not believe members of the NDP government can say they have done the same.

Drew Barnes, MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

 

9th
November

Another form of heroism

Rick's Blog

Each year in Canada, citizens gather to remember those that laid their lives on the line for our freedom. Some of those people paid the ultimate price for our freedom while others suffered untold trauma that they carried with them for the remainder of their lives.

It is with great pride that I share the story of a Drumheller man who has given a whole new perspective to what it means to honour the veterans who have come before us. Eric Dahl has had his share of hardships in his life but it hasn’t clouded his perspective when it comes to what we as Canadians have to be thankful for.

In spite of the wet and cooler fall weather, Eric has spent his days over the last month doing restoration work on Military graves at the Drumheller cemetery, with all the care of a direct relative. Most of the headstones mark the resting place of people Eric has never met; many were casualties of war years before he was born.

His perspective is that of a grateful Canadian, “To show these veterans, to show veterans we still have alive today, that I do truly honour them, November 11th is every day.” The work is hard and tedious but that doesn’t deter Eric from lovingly restoring these markers to their previous glory, “I am not going to stop. I am going to make sure that every veteran in here is taken care of. They are family. This is somebody’s family. It is not just a name on a stone.”

In honour of their sacrifices, we pause on November 11th to remember the more than 116,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our great nation. Eric Dahl has shown us all that paying tribute to our service people should not be a one-day-a-year thing, remembering them should happen every single day that we enjoy our freedom.

Regardless when they served, every one of our veterans have been fighting for the same purpose, they have all contributed to the peace every Canadian enjoys. Some sacrificed their lives, and some returned home changed by their experiences in the line of duty. Ultimately, all of them have been important in defending our freedom and liberty.

One of our proudest Canadian traditions is the many young men and women that have answered the call of duty to our nation. Their commitment to these values has been carried on by the brave young men and women that currently serve our great nation.

Heroes come in all forms, the work Eric is doing reminds us that heroes sometimes are those that show us the way. “To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have cared if anyone noticed,” he said. “I’m continuing on with what I’m doing for me.”

Thank you to all of our Canadian heroes who gave of themselves so we can continue to hold the torch of freedom high. And thank you Eric for showing us the way.

 

 

 

2nd
November

An extraordinary gentleman

Rick's Blog

On November 11th Canadians from coast to coast will come together to pay homage and give thanks to some of the most courageous and brave Canadians – our war veterans. For many Canadians, Remembrance Day is an important and significant occasion, as it serves to remind us of the sacrifices our veterans made to protect the freedom and democracy that makes this country so great.

Mr. Charlie Fielding, age 98, a resident of Hanna, is one such special veteran. Charlie served with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the Governor General’s Foot Guards in Europe, as a Recovery Tank Sergeant. In his 29 years of service in the Canadian Army, 4 ½ of which was in World War II, he saw death and he saw suffering. And yet many of the stories Charlie chooses to tell focus on the humanity that was found in the midst of these trying times, stories of great hope amid incredible loss.

They are stories of the people he met on both sides of the battles and of the little children who were caught in the crossfire. Charlie’s effect on the community that surrounds him has been almost as profound as his contribution to the Canada we know today. In his younger years, Charlie and his wife Mabel made a point of educating school children on Canada’s rich military history. He is credited with founding the Legion school presentations in the communities of Cessford, Youngstown and Hanna.

During one of those Remembrance Day school visits a curious young student asked him, “Mr. Fielding I just don’t get it, why did they have the Grandpas fight in the war? Why didn’t they make the young guys fight?” Realizing the children needed more information, Charlie assembled a huge display complete with pictures and memorabilia that the veterans began traveling with, in order to help the young students understand that the soldiers were in fact very young men and women when they so bravely served our country.

The sense of gratitude and pride that these veterans have towards Canada is awe-inspiring and an example that every young person should experience. On more than one occasion, Charlie and Mabel brought along fellow war veterans from Royal Canadian Legion Branch #25 to talk to the school children and to instill the sense of what great value their service has meant to our nation.

With the honour and heart of a soldier, he said that the students gave him and the other veterans more than he and his men ever provided the students. Charlie talks about the day he was on his way home from Cessford after the annual school visit with one of his fellow vets, a tough, crusty guy. His old friend began to silently weep like a little baby. When asked what on earth he was crying about, the old soldier confessed it was the first time he had ever shared memories of his experiences in the war. And it felt good.

So it turns out that these school visits on Remembrance Day are much more than educational. They are also a chance for those that served to be recognized and remembered as an important part of the history of this country. Canadians like Charlie have always answered the call to stand up for our freedom and democracy.

While we formerly recognize the contributions of these brave men and women once a year, I truly hope we appreciate their sacrifice and our incredible freedom every single day.

On behalf of the province of Alberta I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to all our troops and their families for holding the torch of freedom high. Thank you. We remember. Lest we Forget.

For more information on our veterans please visit the Memory Project Website:

http://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2443:charlie-fielding/

 

 

26th
October

Development versus activity

Rick's Blog

As your MLA, I have to confess that the thinking process that brought me to a better understanding of the difference between economic activity and economic development took me a wee bit of time to work through and fully understand.

Whenever someone is spending money, it’s easy to see the ensuing activity and assume that something good is happening. Yet, as I’ve watched the provincial government pour millions into various spending schemes (insisting that it’s doing so for reasons of economic development), I have to acknowledge that despite the initial burst of activity, the so-called economic development doesn’t take root or become firmly established in a way that’s profitably self-sustaining.

If I take my credit card, borrow money, and spend it, economic activity is occurring. But the idea that living on a VISA card is the same thing as economic development is silly. This leads to the obvious question: If something is silly for a normal person to do with his or her own money, by what stretch of the imagination does it become an excellent idea for a government to do exactly the same thing with other peoples’ money?

Albertans need economic development. We don’t need more government spending. The two should not be confused. Government spending is something that governing politicians are now doing through debt using our taxpayer credit card. The economic development Alberta actually needs is something ordinary people do with their own money, ingenuity, labour, and innovative ideas. It occurs when the investment climate and government regulations permit people to keep their own money (low taxes) and remain unhindered by bureaucracy and unnecessary regulation.

When the government doesn’t take away people’s money through excessive taxation, ordinary people have cash in their pockets. They look for ways to add value to things and make what they already have more able to generate additional wealth. They’re free to invest and improve their lives, while expanding their property holdings and assets. (Keep in mind that property refers to much more than land and real estate.)

The wealth of Alberta wasn’t created by government bureaus. It was created by individuals, families, and businesses who seized the opportunities before them and turned them into something new and valuable. They improved things, adding wealth and productivity to their farms, ranches, retail businesses, services, and much more.

Small government, low taxes, secure property rights/contracts, and the elimination of unnecessary regulations are the formula for wealth creation. These are the ladders of opportunity that ordinary Albertans require to create new wealth and facilitate true economic development.

The best thing any government can do is to create an environment that lets people do this. Unfortunately, rather than shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes the current administration has been doing just the opposite. In practical terms they should quickly move to stop borrowing, and refrain from spending our tax dollars on things we would never buy ourselves. A new, streamlined, fiscally focused administration could empower all Albertans while appealing to local and other investors.

 

 

19th
October

An old idea

Rick's Blog

Being open to new ideas sounds easy enough doesn’t it? How hard can it possibly be to keep an open mind? As Alberta’s Official Opposition, it is the role of the Wildrose to offer new and innovative ideas that benefit all Albertans.

During the 1990’s, Albertans faced a similar situation economically that we are now facing with low energy prices. At that time, the Alberta government took steps to create what we eventually referred to as the “Alberta Advantage.”  The advantage was attained by balancing budgets in spite of oil prices that are beyond government’s control.

Through the implementation of lower taxes and less government regulation, the government of the day positioned Alberta to be the destination for investment dollars. Facing the same economic dilemma, today’s NDP government has created not only increased government regulations, but they’ve also created new taxation that is clearly creating an environment that makes Alberta a less desirable investment destination.

The fundamentals that the Alberta government believed and followed back in the 1990’s still stand true today. Less government involvement in business for private entrepreneurs sends them the important signals that create the advantage they once invested in before, unfortunately no such signal is being transmitted, and in fact it’s quite the opposite.

It is abundantly clear that the belief of the Alberta NDP government is that they can tax and regulate their way to prosperity, and to support this theory, they have engaged themselves in what is known as “Confirmation bias.”  The bias is the tendency to seek out information in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, at the same time giving less consideration to alternative possibilities or new ideas, ie. Opposition Amendments to Legislation.

The intent of having an Opposition to government is often misunderstood but its importance to a balanced system is paramount to democracy itself. Being receptive to new ideas will require a new way of looking at things and an innovative perspective. Rather than treating amendments and suggestions as competing ideas, it would serve this government well to look at the idea itself rather than looking beyond it and viewing the presenters as would-be looters.

When confronted with new ideas, some people literally close up shop and throw down the blinds until a friendly and well-known suggestion knocks at the door. Despite the cool reception that our amendments and suggestions have been met with, the Official Opposition will endeavor to present common sense alternatives whenever the need arises.

Sadly, our once proud Alberta Advantage has disappeared. Albertans are on pace for record debt and the biggest tax hike this province has ever experienced. This is the sad continuation of a ten-year fiscal slide caused by bloated government that has no sign of coming to an end. The Wildrose Official Opposition is committed to pressing this government to cut the waste and favouritism while protecting the front lines. A smart conservative approach is not really a new idea; however, history has proven that it is simply the best approach.

 

 

 

 

12th
October

Dome Disease and the Alberta-NDP Disconnect

Rick's Blog

Say what you will about his politics, the late Premier Ralph Klein truly was a man of the people.

With a larger than life personality, he gave us a host of witty one-liners and analogies that remain a part of the Alberta lexicon even to this day.

One of his favourites was a condition common to politicians who spend too much time in the Legislature, known as “Dome Disease.”

According to Klein, “You know that… you’re fully consumed with that disease when you start to think that unless it’s happening under the dome, it’s not happening at all.”

It seems the NDP government could use a heavy dose of Premier Ralph’s homespun wisdom – there is a growing disconnect between the NDP government and the vast majority of Albertans.

Life under the Dome is pretty cushy for friends of the NDP these days. There haven’t been layoffs or even pay freezes for many of them. In fact, the NDP have gone out of their way to stack Alberta’s senior political ranks and new advisory panels with a tidal wave of NDP activists from Ontario, British Columbia and the failed NDP government in Manitoba.

Outside the Legislature, in the rest of the province, everyday Albertans face a much harsher reality. The steepest recession since the 1980s, layoffs and closures have already devastated well over 100,000 families.

Calgary’s unemployment rate has reached 9.5%, and may reach double-digits by Christmas.

Albertans in both industry and agriculture well understand the boom and bust cycles that accompany being one of the world’s leading energy providers and food producers. We have been here before. We also know that it’s a hand up – a business friendly environment – not a government hand out that’s needed to restore investor confidence to bring back jobs.

Over the past year the NDP have increased taxes in just about every way possible, and are planning massive new increases in the coming years. In the next 12 months the NDP carbon tax alone will see government take $3 billion from our struggling families to fund risky corporate welfare schemes. That is not the Alberta way.

Premier’s Notley’s disconnect with regular Albertans became even more apparent last week, when she advised reporters that NDP policies are not harming Alberta’s economy.

She should know better. An internal NDP government memo leaked in June shows the government’s carbon tax will precipitate a 1.5 per cent loss of GDP, a decline in oil exports, a $4 billion drop in household income, and a further loss of 15,000 jobs.

The Premier also seems to be selectively forgetting an internal government document that warned of the “significant job loss” that would accompany a rapid increase in the minimum wage.

At a time when so many folks are struggling just to get by, Albertans expect government to get to work on policies that will get them back to work. Yet the Premier seems fixated on talking points clearly out of touch with the present reality.

She is echoing her own echo. This is what Premier Klein would call a telltale symptom.

Folks, is this what the doctor might diagnose as an acute case of rapidly progressing Dome Disease?

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; and DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

 

5th
October

The spider and the fly

Rick's Blog

““Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly,” this is the opening line of a poem by Mary Howitt published in 1829. The poem relates a story of a cunning spider that traps a fly in its web through the use of seduction and flattery. The poem acts as a cautionary tale of the intentions of those who wish to convince us to act upon their will without revealing the very real consequences of their actions.

Agricultural producers in Alberta are facing some varying degrees of uncertainty; uncertainty that is being exacerbated by regulations and changes legislated by government. Through the hastily implemented regulations and legislation it is beginning to have an unintended negative cumulative effect on the bottom line for a lot of producers.

Recently one of Alberta’s largest feedlot operators in Alberta, Western Feedlots Ltd., decided to voluntarily wind down cattle ownership and cattle feeding operations. In their announcement they reveled that “poor political and economic environment” in Alberta were also contributing factors to this decision. Without a doubt other contributing factors also played a roll in this decision; among them is the existing high risk/low return environment. Economic indicators such as the move by one of the industries major players should be an indication that the market is facing challenges that will most definitely affect profitability and the future of the industry in Alberta.

The Alberta government has recently announced that they will be raising the provincial loan guarantee cap of $55 million to $100 million in a move to support the province’s cattle feeders. The Alberta government is failing to understand that the cattle feeders do not need them to hold their hand; they’d prefer the government clear the way for them to be self sufficient, in the process this would improve the “political environment.” Creating a new web of debt, particularly one that is backed by taxpayers is not a fiscally prudent move considering the long term consequences that history has shown to be completely unmanageable.

The spider in Howitt’s poem intentionally created the trap that eventually saw the fly’s demise, however whether intentional or not it has little meaning to the fly who ultimately still met its demise. In the case of Alberta cattle feeders it will make little difference if they are being seduced or whether the offer is made with the best of intentions, based on industry warning of a “poor economic environment,” the offer of more debt does not solve the market problems they face.

With the ability to do business unobstructed by government, private businesses have always had the ability to be the cornerstone of our economy. The trap of being caught in a web of more debt will not and can not create wealth, it can however act as a road block and create further instability. Debt itself can be considered the spider, with those who choose to enter into the parlor quickly finding no way out. Time and again the cost of government interference in commerce results in higher input costs, and in this case, the government itself takes on the roll of the spider.

 

 

28th
September

Necessity is the mother of innovation in Hanna

Rick's Blog

Most of us have heard the term “Necessity is the mother of invention” well in the town of Hanna necessity has become the mother of innovation. In these challenging economic times the parental input within our schools system has been essential to its success or failure.

J.C. Charyk School in Hanna is one of those success stories in the making. Local residents, Sean and Jennifer McCormick, have created an Internet-based local school division broadcasting project that educates students in media communications and broadcast technologies. The project has been a custom-fit for Hanna, even their motto, “worth a listen,” fits perfectly with town of Hanna’s motto “worth the drive.”

The program’s intentions are to give those living in the town of Hanna and surrounding area a portal to share their views, news and interests online in an inexpensive and cost-effective manner. The program gives students the opportunity for a technologically advanced education that imparts superior communication skills and prepares them for enrollment in the many communications programs available in post secondary education and our modern society.

Rural communities throughout Alberta are suffering from declining enrollment which requires the very type of innovation that the Hanna Radio project can help to curtail. The program is designed to sustain itself through the sale of on-air advertising, exactly the same way a commercial media outlet operates.

The station runs 24/7-365 days a year from an automated system with two hosted shows already on air and more in development. The content of the station is community and student-created programming only. This unique opportunity for students also allows for them to connect J.C. Charyk School more strongly with its surrounding community and vice versa; with students and community volunteers covering local sporting and news events using remote systems throughout the year.

The program also creates a source of new funding, not only to sustain itself but to augment other programs. One of the goals is to raise the necessary finances needed to move the automated station into the school, which is now located in the McCormick’s home on equipment they have generously donated the use of, which allows students the ability to completely manage this system via remote desktop software.  Eventually they would love to have Radio Hanna running on its own equipment in the school as a permanent student radio station. None of the advertising monies raised are being spent on station upkeep or salaries; it will all go towards buying tools that students can use to further their education and the program.

As small rural communities struggle with declining student numbers and financial challenges, it’s refreshing to see the birth of self-sustaining innovation that will assist in furthering the education of the students of J.C. Charyk School. A huge debt of gratitude goes out to Sean and Jennifer McCormick, as well as the other community members who support and assist in the success of this program.

radiohannalogo-transparent-color

For more information on the Radio Hanna program please visit their website at www.radiohanna.ca or call them on their toll free number at 1-888-552-3592.

 

21st
September

You need to look before you leap

Rick's Blog

We have all heard the expression “look before you leap,” it warns that one needs to consider the possible consequences to our actions or in the case of this Alberta government, legislate. This Alberta government has neglected to consider the combined consequences of doubling down on implemented new costs to employers. Costs that are going to have very real and substantial implications for the very people they claim they want to help.

The NDP government’s new minimum wage legislation will increase minimum wage at a time when Alberta’s economy is in less than ideal shape to handle the increased cost to employers. The new legislation combined with an impending carbon tax that will be in place as of January 1, 2017, which will mean employers will be facing some tough decisions.

On the surface a higher minimum wage can appear to be a solution to end poverty and a cure all to aid those trying to make ends meet. The assumption is that a business can afford the additional costs without any adverse effects; this assumption could not be farther from the truth.

Whether the additional costs come from an increase by a supplier or government Legislation, by creating higher upfront costs, more often than not, it results in the employer raising their rates to their customer in order to remain viable.

At this point Alberta’s economy is in a less than ideal position to absorb a combination of increased costs; in many cases the increased costs will have a profound negative effect on the very existence of many businesses across the province. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently released survey results asking business owners what actions they’d take to cope with the increases to their costs. 26% would reduce the hours of staff, and another 26% would cut down on the number of employees.¹

In a statement released by the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce they pointed out how this policy’s timing couldn’t come at a worse time for employers saying “The change was announced in the midst of one of the worst recessions to hit Alberta and adds significant costs to businesses that are less busy, yet paying higher tax rates, and higher costs on everything from the impending carbon levy.”²

The gravity of this situation is important to the Wildrose Official Opposition. At this time we are encouraging the NDP to hold off until they do a proper economic impact analysis. At this time the Wildrose feel it would be prudent to concentrate on fixing the economy and facilitating the creation of more jobs rather than creating new economic obstacles for employers.

It appears that the NDP government has not taken the time to “look” at what the stakeholders are indicating will be the result of these new policies before they took the “leap” that will ultimately affect the very people they claim they are trying to help.

¹ http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/cfib-documents/ab0723.pdf

² http://www.reddeerchamber.com/news/details/chamber-statement-on-minimum-wage-increase

 

 

14th
September

Happy harvest everyone

Rick's Blog

A good harvest is the result of plans made and work done many months ago. Traveling throughout the Drumheller Stettler constituency one gets to see the various results of those plans and the effort put in, as well as the impact of various forms of local weather. This could prove to be a very bountiful year for the farmers across the riding and Alberta that will no doubt still be chock full of learning experiences.

The delicate balance that is farming has a number of variables such as seeding misses, chemical application misses, weather, moisture levels, all of which can result in failure or success if the timing is correct. With all these variables the results or long term consequences only show up months after the event which yields not only crop but lessens we take forward into the future.

Thinking outside the box is an essential tool in agriculture that allows people to overcome the odds in the face of adversity. A hail storm that travels diagonally across a field for instance, leaves the farmer multiple crop choices and creates a myriad of problems or opportunities depending on the owner’s outlook.

The older hands at the process may be more conservative in their approach than younger hands but they can all learn from one another and collectively reap a harvest that benefits everyone in the chain. The experiences in agriculture give a person a rounded perspective politically and a better understanding of how working together creates a better harvest for all.

The profound knowledge that can be gained when considering both the seasoned and younger hands in agriculture gives one a more rounded perspective of how consequences occur. Consequences for actions taken or not taken, not necessarily recently, but months ago and how those actions will affect the future as well. The production methods that are considered during winter months for the culmination now are weighed based upon past experiences and gleaned information from farm journals.

Hopefully as all the producers and their helpers go forward to reap what they’ve sown in Alberta and locally in Drumheller Stettler they will do so with the greatest of care.

At this time of year it is important not only harvest the food that feeds the world but to take away the enriching learning experiences gained by the time invested by everyone involved. We need to be thankful for our opportunities and to learn these real things that agriculture can teach us.

Please be safe, learn, enjoy and most importantly understand consequences of your actions. Happy harvest everyone!

 

31st
August

Preparing to fail

Rick's Blog

Benjamin Franklin was best known as an inventor who changed the world as people knew it with his discoveries in the field of electricity. As a writer, a scientist, a politician and founding father of the United States of America ,Franklin made some very astute observations, none more powerful than this famous quote;

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

Albertans received an economically devastating first quarter update from Finance Minister Joe Ceci that reflects an obvious failure to prepare, despite the numerous and obvious indicators. Oddly enough his update mirrored the predictions that the entire Wildrose caucus made in the legislature during the spring session. At the time of these predictions the government Ministers referred to these dire warnings as “fear mongering” and suggested that they lacked factual information.

Last week Minister Ceci informed Albertans that their projected budgetary shortfall is $527 million higher than projected at the time they tabled their budget in the spring. Albertans are now projected to be on the hook for a whopping $10.9 billion deficit at the end of this fiscal year.

A large factor contributing to this enormous increased in the deficit is a combination of a dramatic drop in revenues from businesses due to the slowing economy and failing to properly forecast and budget for provincial emergencies. The spring budget saw the finance minister present a budget that had an incredibly low estimate for disaster and emergency response. Despite the ideal fire conditions across the province combined with previous spending numbers of $500 million in 2015 and 2014 and $200 million in 2013, it’s obvious there was a complete lack of honesty about the full costs for emergency responses in the 2016 budget

Where this tale of economic blundering takes an unexplained twist is that the Alberta government’s own Environment Minister Shannon Phillips has publicly stated that “Alberta is on the front lines of severe and catastrophic weather”.  Despite the dire warnings from one of their own high profile Ministers the Alberta government tabled a number that was obviously very inadequate based on the warning and the historical data.

The original budget deficit predictions of $10.4 billion will surely be eclipsed by more than the additional $527 million revealed in the quarterly update. When the dust settles under a government that is committed to an unsustainable tax and borrow approach, hopefully Albertans can see the fallacy.

With their own Environment Minister ringing the alarm bells and energy prices recovering slowly as predicted you have to wonder why this government did not adequately forecast for even an average forest fire season. It also brings into question how many other departments are economically unprepared for the coming fiscal realities set to befall them.

The Alberta government can not be held responsible for low oil prices or forest fires but by failing to prepare Alberta for the economic realities we face they are ultimately preparing Alberta to fail.

 

24th
August

Handicapping our political system

Rick's Blog

In the game of golf, a specific arithmetic formula that approximates how many strokes above or below par a player might be able to play a course based on their playing ability, is referred to as their handicap. The principle behind handicapping is to allow players to be competitive with each other even if they play at different skill levels.

Unlike golf, elections are not a friendly game that taxpayers expect the parties involved to be given a method to level the playing field. In a recent Special Ethics and Accountability committee meeting, NDP Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Rod Loyola proposed that political parties and candidates that get 10% or more of the vote would be reimbursed for 50% of their provincial campaign expenses. Essentially, his proposal would create a handicapping system to the one used in golf that would elevate parties unable to gain legitimate financial support to even- footing with parties who have gained the financial support from a large cross section of Albertans.

The motion tabled by the NDP MLA neglects to consider that the money that fills the government coffers belongs to the people and not to political parties; This motion would eliminate any party from having an advantage in spite of the platform they bring forward, regardless if they have legitimately earned that support.

The Alberta government has brought forward a motion that would also cap the amount candidates can spend in each riding at $40,000 and $70,000 for rural ridings. This should not be confused with contribution limits which keep those with the means from having the ability to buy influence with their provincial representatives.

If the constituents of a riding feel a candidate and their party are worthy of support, who has the right to tell them they will not be able to financially support a candidate to whatever level they see fit? Calgary Elbow MLA Greg Clark responded to the assertion that this will keep “big money” out of Alberta politics by saying “if you can get 1,000 people to donate $100 that’s not big money in politics,” adding that “You’re not going to buy much influence for a hundred bucks.”

Taxpayers have to ask themselves why the NDP government seems to be preoccupied with handicapping the more popular parties heading towards the next provincial election. If a candidate can raise more money because the constituents feel their candidate is the best choice, who has the right to say they can’t?

The ability of a political party to fundraise is in direct proportion to how appealing their policies, principles and candidates are to the electorate. Creating a system of handicapping parties and candidates would virtually eliminate the freedom taxpayers have to put their financial support with whoever best reflects their values and principles.

Handicapping in golf is meant to make the game more enjoyable by evening the playing field, evening the playing field with your taxes on the other hand, only creates an advantage for the people who don’t reflect your values and principles.

 

 

10th
August

Signing the front of a pay cheque

Rick's Blog

Anyone that’s ever run a business understands that it takes a careful eye for detail to be successful. Part of any business’s success is in large part due to diligence of managing the details; small details that can determine whether the venture is a success or a failure.

The reality of a free market is that without profit, a business will cease to exist. Some of the factors that business owners must take into consideration, are within their control, others however are not. Ensuring that profit margins are maintained will determine the long-term viability of any enterprise. The fine line between success and failure in business, in large part, is controlling your input costs to the best of your ability; costs that are always passed on to the customer.

It was astounding to see Lethbridge East NDP MLA Maria Fitzpatrick suggest that a local pub owner in her town was being selfish because he is considering cutting his staff by 50% and cutting services in the pub, due to the new minimum wage regulations, to avoid passing the additional cost on to his customers.

Of all the tasks that a business owner performs, none is harder or more difficult than being forced to make a choice between closing your doors or having to let staff go.  Regrettably, sometimes it’s the only option they have. In the case of the Lethbridge pub owner, a legislated 50% increase to the minimum wage has made for some very tough decisions.

Many Alberta business owners have had to deal with difficult economic times in the last couple of years with slumping energy prices, and the burden of additional costs are not making matters any better. On top of the wage increase, many businesses are looking at the impact the NDP’s carbon tax (effective January 1, 2017) will have on their input costs, these too must be passed on to the consumer.

If you’ve ever signed the front of a pay cheque, as opposed to the back, your perspective changes drastically on the importance of controlling input costs. The limits on how much a business can absorb combined with how much the customer can absorb in a slumping economy, is something that is not being taken into consideration by Alberta’s new government.

Plowing ahead in spite of the vocal concerns coming from Alberta business community, will no doubt have profound consequences for a great many businesses already struggling with existing negative market conditions. Government’s role in business is to create an environment that allows markets to thrive, not to create new entries on the cost side of the equation.

MLA Maria Fitzpatrick and her government don’t realize that piling more cost burdens onto employers is not conducive to a sustainable market. Something inevitably will have to give, if a business is unable to manage additional costs. Some will be left with only one alternative; and at the end of the day, bankrupt and closed businesses do not employ anyone. It’s not something you learn in the Legislature; it’s something you can only learn from knowing what it takes to sign the front of a pay cheque.

 

 

3rd
August

You can’t force ingenuity

Rick's Blog

The ingenuity of Albertans has always been one of the most valuable assets in the building of the province. The annual Starland County Summer Farm Tour took place recently and once again it featured more Alberta innovations and ingenuity that has become an economic trademark of Alberta. This year’s tour included solutions both diverse and straightforward, such as a solar livestock watering system that simplifies ensuring adequate water and lower input costs for producers.

United States General, George S. Patton was quoted as saying “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”  Patton’s quote describes the very thing that has allowed the province of Alberta to thrive in an environment that can be a lot less than ideal or hospitable.

The ingenuity and innovation in Alberta’s agriculture industry has resulted in the province being one of the highest agricultural per capita yield jurisdictions in the world. The presentation of ideas through tours such as Starland’s solar initiatives has allowed farmers to stabilize their electricity costs.

With ingenuity that makes sense, they have allowed a much more natural transition into the renewable energy field, offering cost-effective alternatives. As we see power prices escalating with no end in sight, producers are searching for stability when it comes to their input costs. Uncertainty has created unstable markets in energy-consuming businesses that can and has crippled businesses, by making them less competitive throughout the province of Ontario.

While the Albertan NDP government follows the path of Ontario’s government, producers are watching their input costs go up and their competitiveness go down. The implementation of technology is something that can only be successful if it has been adapted because it carries some form of benefit for its implementer.

The urgency that the NDP government is trying to implement wholesale changes to our energy needs, takes away any possible beneficial ingenuity, by telling Albertans “how to do things” rather than telling them what it is you want them to do. Ingenuity and innovation take time; they simply can not be rushed, even with carbon tax legislation.

Starland County is proposing a 12 acre solar farm that will allow them to sell power back to the grid benefiting the rate payers. The County has been experimenting with smaller-scale solar projects for the last twenty years and now has 10 county-owned solar facilities. 15 farmers in the County have installed solar systems.

The ingenuity and innovation in Starland County began long before anyone ever told them how to do things; it happened because they knew what it is they had to do to hedge the rising costs of power in their County. Nobody had to tell them how to do things.

If Alberta’s government wants the same type of ingenuity throughout the province, they need to allow the emerging technologies to take the market over naturally; something heavy-handed legislation will never accomplish.

 

 

 

 

27th
July

Who’s in charge of the henhouse?

Rick's Blog

Putting a fox in charge of a henhouse is a common analogy. The term is widely used to describe the delegation of authority to someone that has exhibited a clear conflict of interest.

The Alberta government has established an Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) that includes one of the authors of the controversial LEAP Manifesto as a co-chair of the group, Ms. Tzeporah Berman. The LEAP Manifesto outlines a plan to eradicate capitalism and to swiftly shift away from fossil fuels; and advocates stopping any new infrastructure that would increase extrication of non-renewable resources including pipelines. The OSAG will include three co-chairs and 15 plenary members in total who will report directly to the Alberta government, offering advice on the implementation of emissions regulations that have been legislated.

The appointment of Tzeporah Berman has created some very serious concerns with how objective and open-minded a person can be when they’ve spent most of their time protesting against Alberta’s energy industry. Ms. Berman openly referred to Alberta’s Oil Sands of being reminiscent of Mordor, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which describes an evil land full of fire and death. Her open celebrations of pipeline proposals that have been defeated also brings into question just how objective her opinions and actions within the advisory group will be.

“Appointing a co-chair to the OSAG who is vocally opposed and has made a career of opposing our oil sands industry is deeply disappointing,” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said. “Particularly in this time of economic uncertainty, we need to find a balanced approach of being both environmental stewards and ensuring the success of the energy industry while securing the economic wellbeing of our province.”

“What Albertans have long known is that environmental protection and growth of energy industry can go hand-in-hand, ”Wildrose Shadow Energy Minister Leela Aheer said. “To see that this NDP government have appointed an individual from Ontario who openly opposes Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and Energy East is deeply disappointing. Hardworking Albertans and their families deserve better.”

It is imperative that the economic well-being of Alberta be put at the forefront of this group’s discussions. But it appears there could end up being the odd chicken missing from henhouse in the end. Having a co-chair that has been openly at war with Alberta’s energy industry has the potential to create even more investment uncertainty within the already economically challenged industry in Alberta.

The balance between being environmentally and economically responsible at the same time can be very difficult, especially in these trying times. Ultimately our economic well-being will depend on the proper stewardship of our energy industry that takes more than one side of the equation into consideration.

Let’s hope that the Oil Sands Advisory Group members look at the broad reality of how important the energy industry is to Alberta’s economy, or the henhouse will be picked clean.

 

 

20th
July

Alberta’s Carbon Grab

Rick's Blog

The following article was sent to me from a friend and colleague Mr. Stuart Taylor from Hinton, Alberta. With his permission I would like to share his article with you.

The Alberta Carbon Tax Program will collect nearly $10 billion over five years. About $3 billion will be spent subsidizing low income people or be directed toward business rebates. That leaves $6 billion for the government to spend on green energy schemes. It is important to note three things. First, that Alberta is headed down a road that Ontario has been on for some years. Second, a tax, and a reduction in carbon dioxide, are not necessarily the same thing. Third, before any of us buy anything we always inquire about the cost, and then weigh the cost we have to pay against the benefit we see ourselves as receiving. Governments need to do the same.

In Ontario, the Toronto Sun did a news story a while back about an 88-year-old pensioner whose electrical bill for two months in a very small house, was $1695. A recent story on Global spoke of a low income individual near Ottawa who shuts off her water heater during the day, never uses air conditioning, and hangs her wash on an outdoor clothesline so she doesn’t have to use a dryer. Her power bill is over $300 month and she can’t pay it. What’s happening in Ontario is that people are being driven out of their homes because they can’t afford their power bills.

Manufacturers in that province are also being driven away because they can’t afford the electricity. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. The Ontario government says it is saving the planet. Homeowners are asking at what cost? No matter how concerned any of us may be, it’s a fair question that they’re asking. One Ontario organization recently pointed out that electrical bills there have gone up more than 300% since the last decade, and that they will continue to rise. Ontario’s Auditor General says by 2032, Ontario electrical consumers will have OVERPAID for electricity by $170 billion because of the province’s policies. (That’s about $160,000 for every family of four in Alberta).

While Ontario and now Alberta are shutting down fairly efficient coal plants, a story in the London Times says there are 2,500 new coal plants worldwide either coming on stream, or being planned right now. This is what’s happening in China, India, and elsewhere.

Not long ago at a Congressional Hearing in Washington, it was pointed out that if the United States eliminated all of its coal electrical plants, global CO2 would be reduced by .02%. (That is point zero two percent.) In response, one Congressional participant asked the head of the US Environmental Agency if the cost of destroying the American economy (they get nearly 40% of their electricity from coal) to get a point zero two global reduction in CO2 was a good trade off. Is it worth the cost he wanted to know. It’s a fair question.

I personally don’t have answers to a lot of these things. I did see a Troy Media article a while ago by analyst Ken Green. He said: “Alberta’s new climate plan, by the government’s own admission, will not lead to significant greenhouse gas reductions for many years, if it ever does” (His point is that a tax is a tax whether you call it a sales tax or a carbon tax. To assume that simply calling it a carbon tax automatically means it has properties different than a sales tax, is a bit of a misnomer.)

A two-minute clip of the video from the Congressional Hearing I mentioned can be seen at:
The Ken Green Troy Media article if you are interested is at:
http://www.newsoptimist.ca/…/alberta-s-carbon-tax-a-10-bill…

 

 

13th
July

Thank you Stephen and family

Rick's Blog

A sign that it’s Stampede time in Calgary is the annual BBQ hosted by Member of Parliament for Calgary Heritage, the Right Honourable Stephen J. Harper. As usual, it was a great night with the master of ceremonies, Member of Parliament for Crowfoot, Kevin Sorenson, and he did a great job once again.

Stephen Harper was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 under the Reform Party of Canada for the riding of Calgary West. After stepping down in 1997, he became the Vice President of the NCC (National Citizens Coalition), a non-partisan organization known for advocating individual freedoms and accountability in government.

Returning to the political arena in 2002, Stephen was successful in winning the leadership of the Canadian Alliance putting him at the helm of the Official Opposition as the Member of Parliament for Calgary Southwest.

In 2003 after the unification of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, the members of the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada selected Mr. Harper as their first leader.

His service as Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister spanned nearly a decade that began when he lead the Conservatives to minority government on February 6, 2006. After his first two years as Prime Minister, in 2008, the Conservative Party won the federal election increasing their number of seats in parliament to 143 – giving them another minority government. In 2011, Stephen Harper led the Conservatives to their third consecutive election victory and their first majority government.

His stable and conscientious leadership saw the federal tax burden achieve its lowest level in half a century. As a result of the budget being balanced in 2015, his Government was able to provide significant tax relief and increased benefits for Canadian families.

As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper led a Conservative government, with historic strong and stable economic policies that guided Canada through some very uncertain and challenging times felt around the world. During his time, Stephen Harper’s government focused on keeping taxes low, eliminating the deficit and building conditions suitable for long-term prosperity for all Canadians.

Stephen Harper led our great nation with the grace of a statesman that deserves the respect of every Canadian. We often forget the personal sacrifice that holding a high profile political position requires. Mr. Harper has earned that respect at home and abroad. In his time in office with his wife Laureen by his side, Mr. Harper created a legacy That he, and all Canadians, can be proud of.

His service to and sacrifice for Canadians deserves our thanks, but he isn’t the only one deserving of gratitude. His wife Laureen and his children, Benjamin and Rachel, also deserve our heartfelt appreciation for sharing their husband and father with our nation. The sacrifices they have made and the sacrifices all of our leaders’ families make, is something we should never overlook.

It is an honour to offer Mr. Stephen Harper and his family the appreciation and gratitude for his leadership of our nation on behalf of the Drumheller Stettler riding.

 

7th
July

A Canada Strong and Free

Rick's Blog

Canadian pioneers faced the near impossible task of building homes and communities from the ground up with little more than basic tools. Pioneering in Canada consisted of providing the basics of food and shelter in an unexplored wilderness wrought with challenges that many of us in this day and age couldn’t imagine. Before there were roads or railways, Canada’s new frontier meant isolation and hardship without a connection to modern communication or transportation of goods; something else many of us could not imagine today.

The pioneers who explored Canada’s northern wilderness blazed a trail that has led to settlements across the country, which created the social stability that allowed for the establishment of larger populated centers.

This past week’s Canada Day was celebrated across the country by citizens young and old. For many of us it evokes strong feelings of patriotism; for others it has a far more significant meaning. For some, Canada was a life raft in a sea of turmoil and strife, and it remains a bastion of peace – a reputation that is a source of pride for many Canadians.

As time goes by, our connection to Canada’s pioneering past holds even more significance as the starting point of one of the greatest nations in history. Without the sacrifice and courage of the pioneers who risked life and limb to establish communities throughout this country, many of the communities we live in simply would not exist.

Settlements throughout Canada served many different and equally significant roles in the success and habitation of much of western Canada. Some of the largest cities in the west started out as little more than trading posts that allowed for further settlement deeper into unmapped and unknown territories.

Like much of Canada, Alberta was inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous people before the first permanent settlements were established by Europeans. Alberta’s capital city is known to have been settled around 1795, when Fort Edmonton was officially founded around the present-day Fort Saskatchewan area. In 1875 John Glenn was the first documented European settler in the Calgary area, originally named Fort Brisebois after NWMP officer Éphrem-A. Brisebois, and renamed Fort Calgary by Colonel James Macleod. From these modest beginnings both cities have established themselves and Alberta as significant players on the world stage.

Canada’s pioneers and indigenous people are the true heroes of our modern-day Canadian society, working hand-in-hand to establish a nation that provides one of the highest qualities of life on earth.

July 1st, 2017, will mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, a significant milestone in our nation’s history. On that day, remembering those who made this nation what it is today, would be an appropriate way to celebrate all we have to be proud of and thankful for.

Canada Day is a day to remember our Indigenous people, pioneers, settlers, and military who have collectively created the place we are all lucky enough to call home. A Canada strong and free.

 

30th
June

Feeding Albertans for a lifetime

Rick's Blog

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The Special Areas Water Supply Project is a good example of teaching people to provide for themselves and give them the opportunity to create their own personal wealth.

The Special Areas Water Supply Project has long been studied as a potential agricultural irrigation project in the riding of Drumheller Stettler. The government agency known as the Special Areas was created in 1938, under the authority of the Special Areas Act. It became necessary as a result of widespread financial hardship brought upon most of south-eastern Alberta during the drought of the 1930s. In the dry land region of east central Alberta, irrigation is generally only dreamt about as a possibility to increase economic activity and create financial stabilization.

In this diverse, sometimes difficult, if not absolutely extreme area, the challenges of life can often be overwhelming. Recently, the social and human costs of these difficult times in the Drumheller Stettler constituency, near Hanna have been very high and have had serious long term negative consequences that will continue on into the future. These are the result of a combination of low energy prices and policies that create unintended negative consequences.

The real possibility of a very large Special Areas irrigation project is a subject very near and dear to the hearts of many agriculture producers who farm in these challenging areas. The residents of rural Alberta agriculture communities are close friends and neighbours that tend to take the wellbeing of each other seriously.

Like most regions of Alberta, the downturn in the oil and gas sector has had a very real economic impact on the area that this irrigation project would not only mitigate but improve. The downturn, when coupled with the impending phase out of coal plants will be a one, two, devastating financial blow against this region.

A lot of residents in the Drumheller Stettler riding have expressed genuine concern that if Agriculture takes any further sort of economic hit to add to these challenges, it could exacerbate already challenging financial conditions. That is why this vitally important economic project is so vital to southeast central Alberta.

This sustainable, renewable, job creating irrigation project could be the very lifeblood of renewed hope for this region. This project has the potential to provide economic leadership and become a shining example for much of Alberta and Canada in the field of renewable resources.

Responsible agricultural development such as this could be the new benchmark of broad future development and good environmental stewardship. Irrigated land also has the benefit of establishing reliable, increased plant growth that Dryland production conventional tillage cannot provide; therefore it leads to significantly increased carbon sequestration.

This is project has the potential to give the people of this agriculturally vital area of Alberta the opportunity to do for themselves while doing for others by providing safe, affordable, reliable food supplies that are shipped around the world.

 

 

 

25th
May

It’s not the solution, it’s the problem

Rick's Blog

On January 20, 1981, in his Inaugural address, former President of the United States Ronald Reagan said “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The concept of freedom and a free society must include the ability for citizens to self rule through or by democratically elected representation. Having liberation from the restraint of others is the ultimate goal of a people that strive to live in a truly free society.

In recent years Albertans have had to deal with unnecessary and costly regulations that have increased the bill taxpayers face for the cost of their government. Every burdensome regulation that is imposed comes with an equally burdensome cost.  The price of implementation, administration and enforcement carry an ongoing cost that has proven to increase as the bureaucracy within it grows.

Agricultural Producers having the freedom from regulatory burdens to sell their products where and when they want is essential in a free market society. The regulatory burden being dictated by Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, appears to remove the choice producers have when choosing insurance providers.

In question is the logic behind mandating an insurance provider (WCB) whose coverage ends when the work day ends, over private providers who provide 24 hour per day coverage for workers no matter where they are or what they’re doing. Eliminating choice of providers eliminates an employer’s opportunity to offer enhanced coverage to perspective employees.

This unnecessary regulatory burden will add not only cost for employers that want to offer an enhanced coverage to their employees; it effectively makes it very unlikely that it would be offered to an employee at all. Removing the freedom to choose will prove to benefit only the ever-growing bureaucracy that goes with government regulation. The upcoming consultation on Bill 6 will be conducted by six working groups appointed by the Alberta government; details have been vague on the mandates and parameters that will govern these consultations.

Also in President Reagan’s 1981 speech he added, “From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

Principled leadership is based on a set of values that have to be adapted to suit the will of the people being represented; they are not to be compromised away. Agricultural producers in Alberta at no time requested government remove their freedom to choose. This was based on an ideological belief not principled leadership.

Ideology is said to know the answer before the question has been asked; we can only hope that the questions being asked at the consultations are not rhetorical in nature. The Alberta government’s inability to govern themselves with Albertans best interests in mind during the Bill 6 roll out, clearly demonstrates their sole focus on ideology.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

 

 

18th
May

Chapter or footnote?

Rick's Blog

At this time of year when farmers are in their fields seeding their crops, it’s important that they remember weed control if they want a good crop. Just like in the fields across Alberta, if taxpayers want a good crop of choices come election time, it’s important to weed out those who wish to be Politicians and leave behind the Statesman that will give them a better chance of principled representation.

A Politician is a person who is experienced in politics and spends much of their time on political affairs; Statesmen on the other hand, are good managers of policy and its effect on the people they represent.  Not only are there differences in skill sets between the two, often their intentions can be polar opposite of each other.

Politicians will only debate the cost of a plan or policy; Statesmen question the wisdom and consequences of the plan or policies. Politicians spend a majority of their time justifying to their constituents what they’ve done; Statesmen don’t worry about justification, their only concern is guaranteeing a future for their constituents.

Politicians accept a party ideology without consideration for the long-term effects that it will have on the people they serve – good or bad. Statesmen often exhibit a great deal more ability in directing the affairs of government towards the best interest of their constituents. In matters of great importance to public issues, a Statesman will always put the needs of their constituents and their responsibility to them ahead of party or personal gain.

The 28th President of the U.S., Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you think too much about being re-elected, it is very difficult to be worth re-electing.” Politicians focus on what they think will give them the best chance of re-election; a statesman will take a principled stand even if that means standing alone.

The drastic political changes that have taken place in Alberta are indicative of a quest by taxpayers to find reliable principled leadership. True democracy is not distributed based on wealth, political status, social class, or alliance – each person in a democracy is equal. A true Statesman will not allow the anchor of cronyism to bog them down; regardless of whether it manifests itself externally or internally within a political party.

The people of Alberta will have a dilemma in the not too distant future. Their dilemma is making the choice of who can best provide principled leadership. The differences can be subtle in appearance but ultimately have proven to be profound in outcome. The rhetoric of power often blurs the role of a representative; focusing on the principles that brought them to public life goes a long way in overcoming the pitfalls of becoming just another politician.

Statesmen fill history books with chapters of accomplishments and accolades, while Politicians are relegated to being mere footnotes in the back pages. We have to ask ourselves whether we want a chapter or a footnote from the representation we choose.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

 

 

11th
May

Fort McMurray, a story of hope

Rick's Blog

The massive forest fire that has consumed an estimated 1,600 homes in Fort McMurray is now being considered one of the worst disasters in Canadian history. As it was, during the 2013 floods that ravaged Alberta, ordinary Albertans are stepping up and showing the residents of Fort McMurray that, as Albertans, we will always take care of our own.

The tragedy that has befallen Fort McMurray has taken center stage for most Albertans who are courageously and selflessly stepping up to lend a hand in every way possible. Stories of heroic acts of compassion are filling the internet proving once again that the spirit of Albertans will never be broken.

Wildrose official Opposition leader Brian Jean was one of those that lost his home, but in spite of his own personal loss, he remains focused on what’s important to all of us as Albertans. Jean credited first-responders saying, “you know what did make me happy is the fact that nobody was hurt. No animals were hurt. No people were hurt. As far as we’re aware, there have been no casualties in the town itself or around the city limits.”

Fort McMurray’s troubles have created a crisis that the entire province of Alberta has responded to with an outpouring of compassion reminiscent of the effort in High River 3 short years ago. Generous Albertans have offered free lodging, food, and clothing to those fleeing the devastation with some accepting complete strangers into their homes without the slightest hesitation.

The ongoing wildfires have shown that when the going gets tough Canadians across this country can put their differences aside and come together for the welfare of others. It’s at times like these that we put politics aside and come to the rescue of those who face uncertainty and devastating loss. It’s this sense of community that exists in Canada that makes it one of the best places to live and raise a family in the world.

It’s in times of disaster that we realize that Alberta is blessed with some of the best first-responders anywhere in the world. The commitment of Alberta’s first-responders is something that can only be described as selfless no matter the emergency, no matter the location, and no matter the danger – they are always there to help those in need.

The efforts of most of the heroes in the story of Fort McMurray will never be recognized publicly, their names will forever remain anonymous but their collective contributions are the foundation of hope that Alberta is built on.

In the days and weeks to come, there will be a lot of help required beyond just material loss  By the look of the response of Albertans in this first week, this effort will undoubtedly end up being another incredible story of altruistic sacrifice and bravery. The story of Fort McMurray will not be a story of tragedy; it will be a story of hope.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

4th
May

So God made a farmer

Rick's Blog

For many rural people the name Paul Harvey brings back memories of a story-teller like no other. His famous tag line of “and now the rest of the story” is still recognizable to millions of people throughout North America. Mr. Harvey, who captivated millions of listeners for nearly six decades with his homespun radio news reports and conservative commentaries, passed away in 2009 at the age of 90 but his words will live on forever. It’s clear that the inspiration for Paul Harvey’s timeless commentary came from being raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the heart of the American agriculture.

In what is considered his most inspirational address, he reminded us of the enormous commitment farmers make to our society. In 1978, Paul Harvey recorded his “So God made a farmer”¹ address, which was about the sacrifice, hard work and compassion it takes to be part of agriculture. He opens the commentary by saying “And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker. So God made a farmer.”

As you drive through rural Alberta at this time of year you can’t help but notice how the fields that line the highways come to life with the activity of the caretakers who grow the food we eat. This activity is not only important to our food supply, it is also very important to the economic and social well-being of Alberta.

As Alberta’s largest and most dynamic renewable resource, agriculture has become even more important as demand for our food products increases. Alberta farmers have the expertise to supply a range of safe, high-quality food products into domestic and world markets at competitive prices. Those markets are expanding as the world population increases and as more countries develop the ability to improve their standard of living, which includes safe and reliable food products.

In order to have a competitive agricultural sector it must be built around the actions of individual producers left free to decide what they produce and where and when they want to sell it, free of arbitrary social licensing. Government’s role should be to provide a positive business environment, to remove artificial barriers, and to administer proper regulations in a fair and equitable manner.

The role agriculture plays, even in a modern society, is as much about culture as it is about producing the food on our tables. It’s about the rural values that have been carried on for generations throughout farming communities around the world. But mostly, it’s about an honourable and necessary profession that people commit their lives to; that’s what Paul Harvey saw in the many farmers that were such an essential part of the community he grew up in.

As Alberta farmers tend to the laundry list of duties and responsibilities that we rely on for our health and well being in Alberta, we need to be grateful that God made a farmer. And that’s the rest of the story!

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

 

27th
April

Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!

Rick's Blog

One of the most famous sea battles of the U.S. Civil war was the Battle of Mobile Bay of August 5, 1864. During that battle, Federal fleet commander Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, issued one of the most famous orders in military history. Farragut’s order that is still used today in modern vocabulary, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” is used to describe a lack of consideration of consequences when rash decisions are made.

Farragut’s decision was considered rash and careless because he had just witnessed one of his ironclad ships unsuccessfully navigate the same minefield he had issued an order to head into at full speed. Farragut’s order in modern vocabulary refers to a careless and haphazard approach to a potentially dangerous situation.

Navigating the Alberta Legislature often times comes with its own hazards, not to life and limb, but to freedom, liberty and democracy. The Assembly is the forum where ideas are presented, challenged, questioned, supported, rejected, and then resurrected and debated all over again. The objections to the these financially aggressive ideological climate policies from Official Opposition members have for the most part fallen on the deaf ears of the government.

With the benefit of having data from governments that decided to aggressively move away from coal based energy productions, the Alberta Government has adapted a “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead’ approach regardless of the minefield of economic consequences that lay ahead. The acceleration of the government’s climate policy is simply not compatible with Alberta’s economic well-being.

This is not to say that environmental issues are not important, in fact they are one of our most important responsibilities as Legislators. That responsibility cannot trump the economic responsibility that fuels the very existence of the province. It would be completely irresponsible and potentially dangerous to ignore the role provincial economic well-being plays in funding many of the proposed green alternative energy projects. The fact that many of these alternatives at this point require subsidies creates a circle of responsibility that starts and ends with the funding only made possible by the stability of our economy.

The Alberta government’s rush towards the minefield is being driven by a need to gain what the Premier refers to as a “social license.” Guelph University Economics Professor Ross McKitrick, research chair in energy, ecology and prosperity at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, recently wrote “that well-intentioned people have come to think more is needed, namely approval from the self-appointed activists at the Social License Bureau. And thus has begun one of the costliest fool’s errands of modern times.”¹

The Premier has given the order to chase an ideological license through waters lined with mines that have already blown holes in the sides of Ontario’s economy, the scope of which is still unclear. As Ontario takes on water and its economy lists under the weight of careless ideological decisions, Alberta’s government sails on by with the cry of “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” coming from the Premier and her government.

¹ http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/ross-mckitrick-lets-stop-pretending-social-licence-is-an-actual-thing

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

20th
April

If everything goes according to plan

Rick's Blog

This past week Rachel Notley’s government released their 2016 Alberta budget and the plan is to set new record highs for consolidated deficits over the next three years. That is only, if everything goes according to plan.

A mere 7 years ago, in March 2009, Alberta had net assets of plus $32 billion. Since that time, successive deficit budgets have seen Alberta’s net asset value drop like a stone. By March 2019 the NDP have projected that Alberta will have accumulated enough debt that our net asset value will be minus $33 billion. Our net asset value is calculated by the total value of all the securities in our portfolio less any liabilities (debt, unfunded liabilities, etc.).

The Alberta government’s 2016 budget bottom-line will see a consolidated deficit of approximately $14 billion for the next fiscal year; by comparison, that is $3,000 per capita higher than British Columbia for operation and capital spending.

By 2019 Alberta will spend $2 billion in interest expenses alone, money that could be used to hire 26,000 Teachers or 22,000 Nurses, which would obviously be better value for Alberta taxpayers.

The Alberta government’s 3-year plan is carelessly gambling on the recovery and stability of world energy prices, a bet that past Alberta governments have made and lost. The projected overspending combined with a wager that Alberta governments have lost in the past, is being done at the expense of all Albertans and future generations. In only 3 years every Alberta household will be responsible for $19,000 of that debt.

In mid-January, Moody’s Investors Service (one of the world’s largest providers of financial research and credit ratings) changed the rating for Alberta’s finances from “stable” to “negative,” indicating that if the province’s NDP government didn’t take action to stop the financial hemorrhaging, the situation would get worse. The warnings were ignored and the inevitable has occurred again, which has resulted in Alberta’s 3rd credit downgrade in a relatively short 4-month period.

When faced with financial adversity, average Albertans reign in their spending and re-establish their financial priorities, especially when the banker calls to tell you that your credit rating is in jeopardy—which ultimately results in driving up the cost of borrowing. To add insult to injury, Albertans will be paying a carbon levy the government claims is designed to change people’s carbon consumption habits, but appears to be a way to subsidize their overspending. The carbon levy is a tax on literally every basic need from heating your home to the food you eat. Under the carbon levy, all businesses will see their costs rise, which as we know, are always passed onto consumers.

In the past, residents of Alberta have seen how quickly things can change but the NDP government evidently did not learn from those hard lessons. Now Rachel Notley finds her government in the fiscal position that they simply do not need to be in. Due to low energy prices, Alberta is suffering a revenue problem, but exacerbating it by overspending is just not necessary.

In Alberta, the real pain won’t materialize for a few years. That’s when services will have to be cut on a non-voluntary basis and the size and depth of those cuts will grow exponentially with the debt. It’s at that time that the habitual overspending by successive Alberta governments will result in serious consequences, that is of course, if everything goes according to plan.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka; MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley; DAVE HANSON, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills; DON MacINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DREW BARNES, Cypress Medicine Hat

 

 

13th
April

The Anti-Alberta Manifesto

Rick's Blog

Dating back to the 1800s Western Canada’s development and rich history revolved around transcontinental movement of goods. Our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, a conservative, knew this was the key to Canada’s future. Thus thousands of miles of steel rails mounted on wooden ties connected our nation and Canada flourished as access to markets was established.

Following rail came highways increasing the movement of goods across our nation, increasing our economic growth even more. Then in the 1950s transcontinental pipelines added their economic power to that of road and rail boosting Canada’s wealth even further.

Canadian’s have benefited greatly from innovations that create efficiencies in the movement of products that the builders of Canada’s rail system could not even have conceived. Those efficiencies have allowed every Canadian the ability to participate in the creation of sustainable wealth, most often without government subsidy or corporate welfare. These innovations have resulted in lower costs and constant improvement of safety and environmental records. Most importantly these efficiencies have allowed Canadian businesses to remain competitive in the globalized economy.

Unfortunately ongoing innovations that improve the safe and environmentally responsible movement of natural resources that make Alberta’s oil and gas competitive, have not been recognized in the past by Rachel Notley’s NDP government. To make matters worse, on April 10th at the NDP convention in Edmonton, delegates from across Canada voted in favour of the “Leap Manifesto”¹revealing their true intentions to “transform society.”

The Leap Manifesto is a plan to shift swiftly away from fossil fuels and would stop any new infrastructure that would increase extrication of non-renewable resources, including pipelines. Making a policy to stop pipeline development in Alberta’s largest revenue generating sector can most certainly be considered an attack on capitalism and Alberta, and most certainly will lead to continued nervousness among Alberta’s oil and gas investment community.

In 1933 the founding members of the CCF (precursor to the NDP party) adopted the “Regina Manifesto”²  that stated allowing the open market system to determine prices was a “cancer,” and further stated that no CCF government would “rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full program of socialized planning.”

In a recent television address, Notley told Albertans that her government would “take action to open new markets” that includes“building a modern and carefully-regulated pipeline to tidewater.” The Premier’s statement conflicts drastically with the manifesto ratified by her party.

The proposed Energy East pipeline³ would ship Alberta’s oil to Canada’s large industrial centers in the east reducing Canada’s reliance on foreign oil from despot regimes that violate human rights and ignore environmental concerns and would also create jobs right across the country. Pipelines are the modern day railroads that will build not only Alberta’s economy but Canada’s and increase our resource and tax revenues substantially.

The NDP have adopted yet another manifesto that is aimed at destroying capitalism, this time with Alberta’s oil and gas industry as a target. The words of the Premier that indicate an about-face on pipeline development from her pre-election stance are of little to no comfort to Albertans, considering the enormous obstacle her party has now erected to block the critical infrastructure needed to create jobs and generate the revenues Albertans and ten of thousands of Canadians rely on. The NDP are trying to force our nation to leap into big brother government and poverty, the very hallmarks of historical socialism.

¹ https://leapmanifesto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/leaplet_reading.pdf

² http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/election/en/view_image.php?image=45

³ http://www.energyeastpipeline.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Energy-East-route-map-Oct-2015.pdf

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, DREW BARNES Cypress Medicine Hat

 

6th
April

Giving taxpayers more authority

Rick's Blog

A referendum is the action of initiating a vote on a single political decision which has been put to the public in the form of a question. Referendum is a tool available to governments that allows the people a chance to express their opinion on a specific issue or policy.

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that on June 23, eligible voters will have the opportunity to vote on whether the U.K. will retain membership in the European Union or not. The E.U. is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. The specific question posed to voters will be whether they want to be in or out of the European Union.

In recent years the merits of the United Kingdom’s membership in the E.U. has been a very hotly debated issue. Prime Minister David Cameron has recognized that making unilateral decisions on this issue eliminates the ability for the people to have direct input on a very critical issue. Cameron has called for this referendum despite the fact he has publicly stated he is in favour of remaining in the European Union. Ultimately through this referendum, the people of the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to decide what they feel is best for them.

Unforeseen circumstances such as world market conditions occasionally arise in the period between elections and require decisions to be made outside what was included in a government’s platform prior to being elected. Unforeseen circumstances should never be taken as an opportunity to implement ideological or unilateral policies if the principles of democracy are to be respected.

Democracy is defined as government for the people by the people, in which begs the question, how can a government be for the people if you never ask the people the question?

The implementation of legislation establishing the essential democratic tools of citizen-initiated referenda and voter recall will allow the Albertans to be the custodians of the authority of government. Without consultation of voters, governments are unilaterally removing the authority that should be reserved for the people they are supposed to serve.

On March 10th MLA for Drayton Valley – Devon, Mark Smith tabled Private Member’s Bill 201, the Election Recall Act, which is a step towards ensuring Albertans have authority when it comes to their elected members. The process of Recall outlined in Bill 201 is an arduous process designed to avoid any frivolous claims. Recall is a very good first step towards accountability and an even bigger step forward to putting the power back in the hands of the Albertans.

In a healthy democracy, ultimate power must always reside with the people. This can only be achieved if there are legislated mechanisms in place that allow Albertans the opportunity to recall their representatives and/or initiate legislation that their representatives are unwilling to bring forward.

Recall and Referendum ultimately give more authority to Albertans when it comes to deciding what’s best for them and their families.

On April 4, both the NDP and the PC’s voted this motion down, a sad day for democracy.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

 

 

30th
March

Albertans

Rick's Blog

The story of Alberta is the story of economic enterprise. Throughout history, our economic development has always depended upon the risk-taking, creativity, and enterprise of individuals—whether trappers, buffalo hunters, ranchers, farmers, shopkeepers, or those who work with modern commercial corporations. It has also depended upon the development, trading, buying, and selling of resources—both renewable and nonrenewable.

In terms of permanent settlement (towns and cities) there wasn’t much to speak of in our province a couple hundred years ago. In the 1770s, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) built Cumberland House, its first western Canadian trading post. Also among the first were The North West Company’s Fort Augustus and the HBC’s Edmonton House. The purpose of these early trading posts was commercial enterprise—specifically, the harvest of natural resources. Back then, wealth was often measured in terms of pelts, furs, and hides—just as we now associate wealth with oil, gas, wheat, and beef.

An often-overlooked fact is that many of our earliest entrepreneurs were First Nations. Some tribes traded with the HBC as early as the seventeenth century, gaining access to trade goods, blankets, guns, and metal products, which they acquired in exchange for pelts, furs, and hides. As a result, these tribes were able to play an enhanced role in the emerging economy. Their newfound wealth enabled them to act as intermediaries, trading goods with individuals and tribes from greater distances.

The Metis also engaged in commercial enterprise. To be sure, the buffalo hunt supplied them with food, but hides were a valuable commodity for them to trade and sell. The Metis community at Tail Creek (near present-day Red Deer) was the most vibrant in the region, consisting of about 400 crude adobes and cabins. Around the buffalo hunts, its population would swell to over 1,000.

With the demise of the buffalo, Ottawa entered into treaties and agreements with various tribes, and the North West Mounted Police arrived in the 1870s. The big ranches followed in the 1880s—the Cochrane Ranch, Oxley, Bar U, and others—bringing cowboy culture and massive cattle herds from the south.

Also in the 1880s, the federal government passed legislation ushering in tens of thousands of homesteaders and their families. Not all of these homesteaders were farmers. Many came to run small businesses in the emerging communities. They were druggists, harness makers, blacksmiths, restaurant owners, lawyers, doctors, and other business-minded pioneers.

As our province moved into the twentieth century, oil and gas were discovered. Here, too, individuals harnessed natural resources, delivering them to people in a way that was usable and valuable. In the ensuing years, Alberta blossomed. Based on the willingness of men and women to invest their money, take risks, and apply their creativity to the harvesting of resources (be it oil, grain, beef, or otherwise) we became the economic engine of the entire nation.

Of late, we’ve seen a shift in Alberta. Many in government today assume that economic development flows from government itself—that growth occurs when governments tax people (carbon tax, income tax, etc.) and spend the money on political initiatives. They don’t seem to recognize the province’s historical relationship between resource development and wealth. They also overlook centuries of evidence that Alberta’s prosperity has always been based on the investment, creativity, and the enterprise of individual Albertans.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

 

 

 

23rd
March

Trust, it’s not just a word

Rick's Blog

Trust is one of the most important underlying principles in business, in government, and in life. Every life insurance company uses the word “trust” when talking to policyholders about their relationship with the company. It’s the same with those who sell mutual funds and investments. These companies know that retail investors are always afraid of losing their money.

Corporate commercial investors and the people who manage pension funds are no different. If they mistrust an investment climate or get spooked by accelerating risk, they go elsewhere. It’s why major corporate investors and investment managers deliberately measure these things. Prior to committing money, they do something called due diligence.

Due diligence means that investors calculate the risk associated with an investment opportunity. And they don’t only assess financial risk. They assess political risk. As best they can, they determine the potential impact of government policies on a province, state, or country, and in turn, on investment. The greater the risk, the higher the return they’ll demand.

In other words, investment managers want to know if a government is trustworthy and reliable, or if it might be erratic, blindly ideological, or unpredictable in the way it treats business. To the degree that they see a political administration as unreliable or untrustworthy, investors are likely to go elsewhere.

One Alberta MLA recently told the story of an oil company representative who stopped by his office. The representative, whose company has investments all over the world, had been ordered to assemble a risk management report on Alberta.

The oil man admitted that investment in Alberta will be difficult for his company. The province’s tax regime is higher than elsewhere. The proposed minimum wage law, though not reaching the executive level, will send ripples throughout the provincial economy, driving up costs and mid-level wages. The coming carbon tax will siphon billions out of the productive economy, transferring that money to government. And the decision to prematurely end coal-fired generation will needlessly spike electrical rates, possibly pushing them to levels that penalize users, which is what happened in Ontario.

The oil man said that all things considered, Alberta is not as attractive to investment as it used to be, especially when the new government’s overall negative attitude toward the business community is thrown into the mix.

In the eyes of these investors, other jurisdictions have a political and economic climate more trustworthy, stable, and business friendly than they believe Alberta to be. Companies are keenly aware that they can take their investment dollars and go anywhere in the world. Opportunities are crying out to them from Saskatchewan, Texas, North Dakota, and other global destinations.

In years gone by, investment and workers gravitated to Alberta because successive provincial governments created an attractive investment climate filled with opportunity. Even so, when a new government implements policies that squelch opportunity or break that sense of trust, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment can quickly disappear. And when the investors leave, the jobs leave.

As ironic as it seems, one Alberta Cabinet Minister recently told Albertans that they should go somewhere else to find a job. Her words demonstrate that even she—a Notley government minister—instinctively recognizes that for many people, the best opportunities may well exist beyond our borders.

 The attached article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

 

16th
March

Digging canals with a spoon

Rick's Blog

Some years ago, there was a story about a federal Cabinet Minister and an Opposition MP who got into some back-and-forth banter about jobs. The Minister insisted that he and the members of his governing party had singlehandedly created a large number of new jobs.

Rather than accepting the statement as fact, the Opposition MP asked the Minister to explain. How exactly had he and his government created the new positions? If they really did have a sure-fire formula for job creation, why had they stopped at 20,000 new jobs or 30,000? Why hadn’t they created 60,000 new jobs or even 100,000?

It soon became apparent that the Minister couldn’t explain where jobs come from or how they’re actually created. Neither did he seem to understand that employment and wealth creation are different things.

Not all jobs are equal. Some jobs consume wealth, while others create it. Wealth-creating jobs always add value. Paying someone to do work that doesn’t need doing can create a job, but if the cost of creating the position exceeds the value added, the job will actually consume wealth rather than expand or create it. In other words, there really are jobs that pay people to be inefficient or to do work that doesn’t need doing.

An example of this can be seen in a famous story told by a Nobel Prize winning economist who toured Asia. While there, he visited a worksite where a massive canal was being built. The economist was shocked to see that not a single piece of earth-moving equipment was employed. Instead, massive numbers of workers had been equipped with shovels.

 The economist turned to the government bureaucrat travelling with him to ask why machines and heavy equipment weren’t being used. The bureaucrat responded, “Oh, you misunderstand. This is a jobs program.” The economist replied, “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s more jobs you want, why didn’t you give these men spoons instead of shovels?”

The bureaucrat didn’t connect the ideas of jobs, value, and wealth. The economist did.

Historically, many governments have tended to view jobs as existing apart from value or wealth. The private sector is quite different. If a new job doesn’t facilitate the process of adding value and creating wealth, private companies won’t create new positions.

The fact is that governments, generally speaking, don’t create jobs. The best they can do is establish policies that allow private investors to create jobs. It’s a co-labourship. Government’s role is to be the midwife, creating an environment that enables human creativity to be exercised.

To attract investment, government has to restrain taxes; avoid unnecessary regulation; ensure that the rules are reasonable, predictable, and reliable; and stay away from vilifying business and industry. If the private sector feels it can trust the government, it will respond to this environment by risking its investment capital, thereby creating jobs.

Unfortunately, Alberta’s current government has spent almost an entire year erecting obstacles and sending negative signals to the business and investment community. The result is that many investors are pulling out. To be sure, energy prices are down, but energy prices are down everywhere. Yet only in Alberta do we see the kind of mistrust and animosity that has emerged between government and business.

 The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

2nd
March

Financial costs and human costs

Rick's Blog

Some things legislators vote on cost money, and only money. Other things demand a human cost, which can be a lot more difficult to evaluate. There is no hard-and-fast rule. Generally, it involves looking for ways to measure the pain, grief, and suffering that a hasty or poorly conceived government policy can create.

.One policy that’s imposing ever-increasing financial and human costs worldwide is poorly planned, badly executed electrical policy—specifically, green energy and the quest to stamp out carbon dioxide. It’s a well-intended initiative that the Alberta government wants to get into in a big way. The problem is that no one knows the total costs involved.

Originally, Ontario’s so-called green objective was said to be a good idea. Yet today, the province has the highest-priced industrial power rates in North America. Ontario’s Auditor General recently reported that consumers paid $37 billion above market price for electricity in a single eight-year period. That’s not $37 billion for electricity. That’s $37 billion more than the electricity was actually worth. Between now and 2032, consumers will pay an additional $133 billion over and above the actual market price. If you add it up, the overpayment is roughly equal to 25% of Canada’s National Debt.

To accumulate the national debt took two world wars and almost 150 years. Ontario did this to themselves with a single legislative policy.

According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, one in twenty businesses will close due to electrical rates. The problem has become so acute that some of the big industrial power users are moving away. As far as they’re concerned, neither they nor anyone else can afford to overpay for electricity to the tune of $170 billion.

The Ontario government’s own website says that low-income households are spending 10% or more of their incomes on electricity, forcing the government to think through and establish subsidy programs, which place a further drag on jobs and the economy.

These aren’t just economic costs. They’re human costs.

Clearly, cost-efficient renewable energy makes sense and should be pursued. But putting on blinders and marching off the green energy cliff is silly. (The height of Ontario’s silliness came in the conversion of a coal-fired facility to a biomass plant that only runs on imported Norwegian wood chips, generating energy at 25 times the average cost.)

Now it appears that Alberta has decided to follow Ontario’s lead. In its desire to put an early end to the use of coal (including clean coal technology), our government intends to prematurely shut down Alberta’s coal-fired electrical generation plants.

No one actually knows the policy’s cost—financial or human—nor do we know the effect it might have on the investment community and business sector. Based on the experience of Ontario and other jurisdictions, we do know that it’ll be expensive.  The additional billions flowing into higher-priced government-mandated electrical generation are billions that will be diverted from useful spending and productive investment.

For Alberta, this policy is going to affect individuals, businesses, and entire communities (e.g. Forestburg, Hanna). Even so, the government hasn’t consulted with any of these people, nor with Albertans as a whole. Instead, it’s assuming that its philosophical commitment to quickly ending coal-fired generation must take priority over dialogue, financial considerations, and the stark human cost that the policy will extract.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

24th
February

Self-imposed pain

Rick's Blog

Somebody once said that we should make sure our worst enemy doesn’t live between our ears. Walter Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, said much the same thing when he penned the most famous line of his career: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us!”

The point of the adage, and Walt Kelly’s point too, is that everyone is capable of short-sighted self-imposed decisions that can limit opportunity, waste money, and even derail people’s lives.

Governments are no different. They too can impose negative or hurtful decisions upon themselves and the individuals or families they govern. Whole communities can be affected by a single government decision, with the fallout—good or bad—extending over a generation or even longer.

The fact is that in 2016, the most acute challenge facing our province is self-imposed. We’ve been our own worst enemy. We’re not talking about self-imposed pain from individual Albertans, but from the governments we’ve elected.

Recently, B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor publicly pointed to Alberta as an example of how a province should never handle its money or manage an economy. High-ranking officials in the Notley government quickly agreed with the accusation, then blamed everything on past PC administrations.

What these officials overlook is that the successive PC administrations that used to govern the province are gone. The only thing that remains of them are the spending levels they established, which the current government now controls and has publicly committed itself to protect.

Essentially, the Notley government has publicly agreed with the accusations of foolish overspending levelled against our province, yet at the same time, has taken no steps toward correcting the problem. Instead, Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced that to maintain current spending levels (and even increase them), he intends to push Alberta’s debt to nearly $50 billion during the current government’s term of office.

This year, the difference between what the government spends and what it collects in tax and revenue (change in net financial position) is approaching $10 billion. If you get out your calculator and crunch the numbers, you’ll see that the overspending works out to $9,200 for every family of four. That’s Alberta’s real deficit. Recently, one online analyst pointed out that even if the province eliminated 30,000 jobs at $100,000 a year, it’d only net $3 billion, closing that gap by less than a third.

These current spending levels are unsustainable no matter which political party is in power. Even if oil comes back to $50-$60 a barrel, we still have an enormous shortfall.

Alberta has a decent credit rating right now, so we can easily borrow. But sustained borrowing by government will always have the same effect as an irresponsible teenager maxing out his first credit card on pizza and beer. When the crunch arrives and it’s payback time, there are no marketable assets, no equities, and no marketable bonds. The only thing you own is debt.

The fact is that it no longer matters who created the spending problem. It’s there, and it’s real. Alberta needs leaders who will take responsibility for it—who will rein in runaway costs and unsustainable spending. Borrowed money costs money. Debts have to be honoured. And any short-sighted refusal to address this fiscal calamity is only going to set up the province for even more self-imposed pain.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

17th
February

The “ethics” of government debt

Rick's Blog

Whether we like it or not, the world runs on a profit and loss—every country, every business, every home, and every government. When the profit or loss is ours, affecting only our own bank account, there’s nothing political about it. It’s strictly personal.

But when government runs a profit or loss (surplus or deficit), it’s different. It’s political. Elected officials make decisions that affect the finances and opportunities of others. That’s a pretty good definition of politics. But can the way that political leaders spend money also be an ethical consideration? After all, the money they’re spending belongs to other people.

In 1980, Saskatchewan elected the PC government of Grant Devine. Nine years later, that province was $15 billion in debt. Shortly thereafter, Saskatchewan’s finance officials met secretly with leaders in Ottawa to explain that their province was days away from bankruptcy. Ottawa quietly helped arrange a bailout.

What the PCs did had cost and consequences for every person in Saskatchewan. Their actions weren’t fiscally neutral or ethically benign.

Ontario’s NDP premier, Bob Rae, was much the same as Devine. In five years, Rae pushed Ontario’s debt to more than $100 billion—from around 13% of GDP to more than 30%. Today, Ontario taxpayers shell out roughly $1 billion a month in interest, enough to buy 600,000 brand new cars every year—year after year.

There’s nothing ethical about putting individuals and families in a situation where they are compelled to do this.

In Alberta, we’ve generally enjoyed fiscally responsible governments. Three premiers have been notable exceptions—Getty, Stelmach, and Redford. Getty ran seven straight deficits during his tenure as premier. By the time Klein took over, Alberta was paying $1.4 billion in annual interest, looking at a combined debt of $23 billion.

At that same time, Ontario was spending almost 11% of its total revenue on interest alone. Klein knew this. He cut Alberta’s spending so we could stop borrowing. Then he paid off the debt. He wasn’t a Grinch. His objective was to shelter Albertans from the impact of irresponsible fiscal policy. In time, he built a structured surplus into the budget that eventually reached $8 billion per year.

Then came Ed Stelmach. In his first year as premier, Stelmach erased Klein’s hard-won $8 billion surplus, hiking spending by over 20%. In his second year, he pushed Alberta into the red. There’s nothing creative or innovative about a government that wants to borrow rather than manage. That’s not good government.

Today, Alberta is at a crossroads. We’re running a real one-year deficit in excess of $9 billion, and annual spending has pushed past $50 billion for the first time. Fiscally, we’re in deep water, and it’s not because of $30 oil. (Klein balanced the budget with $20 – $30 oil.) We’re in trouble because successive Alberta governments have done the same as Devine, Rae, and Stelmach. Yet, our new provincial government says that it intends to borrow $50 billion during its term of office.

If the Alberta government believes it’s role is to help those who cannot help themselves, then it has an ethical duty to stay clear of debt. There’s nothing ethical or admirable about elected officials saddling individuals, families, and businesses with debt and massive interest payments. The fact is that debt is not neutral. It can be cruel.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

 

 

10th
February

Unwritten rules

Rick's Blog

There are rules about customer service. They’re unwritten. We all know them. We know that successful businesses genuinely care about customers and their needs. They never criticize people or argue with them. They treat people with respect. They want customers to feel certain—to know that they’re dealing with a predictably reliable business.

These same rules apply to government. Responsible governments work to beef up their province’s reputation and attract investment. They don’t criticize investors or make things difficult for them. Smart governments, like smart businesses, consider investor needs and avoid creating uncertainty. Uncertainty chases people and investment away.

This happened in Saskatchewan. Back in the 1930s, Saskatchewan was considered the prairie region’s economic hub. Most people believed that Regina, not Calgary, would be the western city of the future. Energy companies and major businesses established offices there. Even General Motors had a factory, rolling 150 vehicles a day off the assembly line.

Then Saskatchewan elected Tommy Douglas. Douglas represented a political party called the CCF (later renamed NDP), which aggressively declared that it wouldn’t “rest content until it [had] eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full program of socialized planning.”

Almost immediately, Saskatchewan businesses began to leave. Some energy companies reportedly left in the middle of the night, fearful that their precious exploration records might be seized. They headed west, causing Calgary, not Regina, to become the hub of Canada’s then-emerging energy sector. For the next 50 years, Saskatchewan’s young people also made their way west, following the jobs. In many instances, oil finds during the 1940s, 1950s, and beyond were made by energy companies and individuals that had arrived from Saskatchewan.

In the 1930s, Saskatchewan’s population was 930,000. Alberta’s was closer to 700,000. Thanks in part to Tommy Douglas, we’ve gained 3.5 million people, while Saskatchewan gained 200,000—even though Saskatchewan is oil-rich and has valuable deposits of potash, diamonds, gold, copper, bentonite, and much more.

In 2015, Alberta elected a government philosophically connected to Saskatchewan’s former political experiment. For years, Rachel Notley and her colleagues insisted that the province’s royalty structure takes advantage of Albertans. After being elected, they quickly called for a royalty review with a seemingly unpredictable timeline. These actions—along with the carbon tax, increased corporate tax, the elimination of coal-fired power generation and the refusal to stand firm on pipelines—sent all the wrong signals to the investment community, creating a climate of instability and uncertainty.

While Alberta wanted investors and industry insiders to take a government-induced cold bath, other more competitive regions like Saskatchewan and Texas rolled out the red carpet, publicly supporting and defending the industry and its jobs.

The damage that Alberta’s government MLAs were doing to the investment climate became undeniable. They acknowledged (without actually saying so) that they’d been wrong all along, and announced that Alberta’s royalty structure will essentially be left alone.

The real lesson in all this is that every government has an ethical responsibility to set aside party ideology to look for policies that create self-sustaining economic stability. Yes, energy prices are in the tank, but the industry still has money to invest, jobs to provide, and relationships now mean more than ever. For the sake of Alberta and Alberta jobs, government must treat investors and potential investors—regardless of industry—with the respect they deserve.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

 

4th
February

Good fences make good neighbours

Rick's Blog

Every one of us instinctively knows about fences. We trust fences. They give us a sense of stability and predictability. Not only do they define the rules, they also tell us that the rules apply to everybody.

The truth is that we need fences because we need boundaries. Civilization relies on boundaries. Like fences, they tell us where our own authority (or permission to act) stops and starts, and where the other person’s authority stops and starts. Where you have authority, your neighbour does not. And where your neighbour has authority, you do not.

Boundaries are equally important—in fact essential—when it comes to governing. In Canada, there are boundaries (legal fences) between the authority of the federal government, the authority of the provincial government, and the authority of a mayor or city government.

The federal government has authority over things like currency, national defense, and interprovincial transportation of resources. Provincial governments have authority over education, municipalities, and property law. Mayors and city governments have authority over sewer systems, city streets, and subdivision development.

Recently, provincial governments and big city mayors have been speaking out against interprovincial pipeline construction. Many Albertans have responded by calling the whole matter of equalization into question. But the problem is bigger than equalization.

According to University of Saskatchewan law professor Dwight Newman, the Supreme Court determined in 1954 that provincial governments cannot interfere with the federal government’s sole authority over interprovincial pipelines. Newman even points to legal provisions which say that provinces must make provincial Crown land available for federally approved interprovincial pipelines. He adds that the City of Burnaby’s notion that it can interfere with the federally regulated Kinder Morgan pipeline is absurd.

The same applies to the mayor of Montreal. In law there is an insurmountable fence—a legal Berlin Wall—between Montreal’s mayor and any decisions about a federally regulated interprovincial pipeline.

Currently, interprovincial pipeline construction is professionally and independently evaluated and approved by the National Energy Board (NEB)—an agent of the federal government that wields parliamentary authority. The NEB was created after one of the most famous parliamentary confrontations ever, known as the Great Pipeline Debate of 1956.

During the Great Pipeline Debate, MPs fought over the proposed route and financing of the first TransCanada Pipeline. Parliament turned to bedlam, leading to the defeat of the liberal government of Louis St. Laurent. Recognizing that Parliament could never go through that again, Laurent’s successor, John Diefenbaker, created the National Energy Board.

Today, Justin Trudeau wants to change the way interprovincial pipeline construction will be approved. He wants First Nations governments to be part of the process, which makes sense. But he also wants to pull municipal governments and anti-development lobby groups more formally into the mix, seemingly eroding the integrity of the existing legal fences between mayors, provincial capitols, and the federal government. (Imagine if the construction of the CPR had been left up to big city mayors. Canada probably wouldn’t exist.)

The basis of Canadian democracy and the foundation of Canada’s government is rooted in the principle that the legal fences separating the powers of various governments must be respected. When individuals seek to usurp or denigrate the rightful authority of the federal government, they’re not trampling on Alberta. They’re trampling on the integrity of the Canadian Constitution.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

27th
January

If you find yourself in a financial hole, the first thing to do is stop digging

Rick's Blog

Bankers have an old saying: “If you find yourself in a financial hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Everyone knows people who’ve been in dire financial straits. And everyone knows someone who’s gotten into trouble with credit cards or borrowing for vehicles and other mechanical “toys.”  When the banker calls to tell someone that their credit rating is getting into trouble—driving up the cost of borrowing—ordinary people rein in their spending and re-establish financial priorities.

In the past three weeks, two of the largest and most reputable credit agencies in North America told Albertans and the world that the Alberta government is in a financial quandary and is failing to act.

In mid-January, Moody’s Investors Service (one of the world’s largest providers of financial research, risk analysis, and credit ratings) changed the rating for Alberta’s finances from “stable” to “negative,” indicating that if the province’s NDP government doesn’t take action to stop the financial hemorrhaging, the situation will get worse.

This past week, for the same reasons, Dominion Bond Rating Service (another big gun in the financial research and risk analysis business) also downgraded Alberta’s long-term financial picture to negative.

On the heels of these warnings, instead of announcing that the provincial government will bring its spending into line, Finance Minister Joe Ceci foolishly said, “We will not make reckless cuts that would simply make a bad situation worse.”

In a press release, Ceci insisted that he and the government have “taken important steps” to ensure that the province comes out of this financial mess. Their solution? Increased government spending on infrastructure, including $34 billion in brand new expenditures—with borrowed money.

Ceci and the government believe that the remedy for Alberta’s ballooning debt and excessive spending is more debt and even more spending. According to Ceci, they’re perfectly comfortable if the province has debt equal to 15% of provincial GDP, which means debt of $50-$60 billion¹.

This is madness. There isn’t a responsible business or farmer anywhere in the province who (after being warned by his banker) immediately embarks upon a brand new massive spending spree, running it all up on credit cards.

This is the same approach taken by the Ontario NDP when Bob Rae surprisingly became premier in the 1990s. In one term of government, Rae took an axe to the integrity of Ontario’s finances, pushing its overall debt to more than $100 billion. And this was roughly the same time that Ralph Klein was paying off Alberta’s debt in full.

The Ontario treasury has now been looted and ravaged by Bob Rae—and by Kathleen Wynne—so much so that Ontario taxpayers are shelling out $11-$12 billion in interest every year. This is more money than all Albertans combined paid in personal income tax in 2014-15, money for which Ontario taxpayers get absolutely nothing.

In Alberta, the government is hobbling along, insisting it’s a victim of oil pricing. It isn’t. Most provinces collect nothing or next to nothing from annual oil and gas royalties, and Alberta collects more than those who do. So even with oil at $30 a barrel, Alberta has a financial advantage unavailable to other provinces.

In all truthfulness, our province’s financial crisis cannot be blamed on oil prices. It’s a fiscal dilemma that is entirely due to government overspending.

¹ https://www.albertacanada.com/files/albertacanada/SP-EH_AlbertaEconomicQuickFacts.pdf

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

20th
January

Left- and right-wing fiscal policies: How they affect jobs and the economy

Rick's Blog

The idea of a politician or political party being right-wing or left-wing dates back to France in the 1700s. Back then, members of the Assembly who supported the monarchy sat together on one side of the chamber. Members who opposed the monarchy sat on the other. As a result, when anyone said that a certain politician was “on the right” or “on the left,” it meant something to the listener.

This right-wing/left-wing idea still exists. Yet instead of telling us what a politician might think about the monarchy, it tells people what a politician’s general emphasis and priorities will be on key issues. For example, when it comes to the fiscal issues, most people agree that being “on the left” generally means that a person or party is prone to want larger government and higher spending, with the associated increase in taxes. Fiscal conservatives are usually said to be “on the right.” Even so, let’s keep in mind that like most things in life, there are always exceptions.

One of the biggest exceptions to the left-wing stereotype was the New Zealand (NZ) Labour government that some people say was one of the most fiscally conservative governments any country has seen in the past thirty-five years.

The New Zealanders who led that country’s Labour government in the 1980s publicly claimed to be left-wing, and even socialist, yet they set new standards for the world when it came to reducing the size and cost of government—far beyond anything Ralph Klein did in Alberta. In addition to slashing spending, they privatized whole departments and agencies of government, terminating thousands of employees and otherwise tipping public sector jobs into the private sector. Income tax rates were cut in half in favour of a GST. The agencies and departments of government surviving the purge were forced to run as competition-oriented bottom-line business enterprises.

In time, then-Finance Minister Sir Roger Douglas became much more than a budget balancer. Douglas also studied how different government fiscal policies affected the ability of people and business to create new wealth. He acknowledged that even the wealth government’s collect in royalties has to be created before it can be taxed.

Here in Alberta, this means that a private business must invest its own money, drill an oil well, build a mine, or harvest timber, before the government can collect royalties. Royalty revenue hinges upon private investment and commercial transactions.

High taxes scoop up dollars, hindering the ability that people and businesses have to invest. Government deficits do the same, chewing away at a province’s economic health. For example, Ontario has rung up so much debt that it’s now spending $11-$12 billion per year on interest. (God help them when interest rates rise.) That’s more money than every Albertan combined paid in personal income taxes during 2014-15—money for which Ontario taxpayers get absolutely nothing.

Some members of NZ’s 1980s Labour government openly admitted that their party turned itself into what some saw as a juggernaut for right-wing fiscal ideas. Yet they also drew attention to the fact that (at the time) the New Zealand government was broke. Finance Minister Douglas indicated that when anybody is unable to borrow and unable to pay the bills, there is no choice but to become a fiscal conservative.

In fact, when the money runs out, we all become conservatives.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

13th
January

Albertans need a government review process that has teeth

Rick's Blog

A popular U.S. president once said that the closest thing to eternal life any of us on earth will ever see is a government program.

Madsen Pirie, former adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told a joke about that same idea in a speech he delivered in Toronto. Pirie said that after the conservative-minded Thatcher took office, the first government program she eliminated had been created back in 1803, when the British and French were at war. Fearing an invasion, the British had paid a man to sit atop the Cliffs of Dover to watch for Napoleon. He was to light a fire if the French Emperor showed up.

“We eliminated that job in 1980,” Pirie deadpanned. He understood the tendency that bureaucracies have to perpetuate their own existence.

It is an awareness of government’s innate bias toward getting bigger, and staying bigger, that led numerous legislative assemblies to adopt sunset clauses—legal orders that say when a government program must end. If an agency or program is to continue beyond the termination date (sunset date), its existence must be debated and justified, and the legislature must then pass new legislation.

In the U.S., more than two dozen state governments have taken things even further. Instead of putting sunset clauses into certain pieces of legislation, to varying degrees they’ve adopted Universal Sunset Legislation that applies to everything they do.

In Texas, for example, every board, commission, and agency will be abolished within a specific time frame (usually twelve years), unless the state legislature specifically passes legal provisions for their renewal.  And it isn’t just the legislature that has a say. The state has a twelve-member Sunset Commission backed by an executive director and a thirty-member staff. These people scrutinize every government agency and program, determining which of them should be eliminated. So far the commission has carried out 500 evaluations, eliminated 83 government programs or agencies, and saved taxpayers more than $900 million.

In Alberta, past PC governments made a feeble attempt to establish a somewhat similar consideration. Yet rather than setting up something with teeth that can genuinely limit the size, cost, and growth of government, the PCs passed a law saying that every few years, public agencies in Alberta must review whether they have a written explanation of what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s called a Mandate and Roles Document. These “mandate” letters are supposed to be developed by the bureaucracy and the Minister responsible.

In places where people are serious about responsible government, the evaluation and review of government agencies is undertaken by competent, seasoned people who ask tough questions. They determine whether government agencies should still be operating. In Alberta, we order that a Cabinet Minister must review a mandate letter that is largely assembled by the bureaucracy itself.

This year, legislation forces the Notley Cabinet to “review” mandate letters for more than 300 provincial agencies. Unfortunately, this process is not designed to save money. Nor will it result in eliminating aspects of government that are redundant, or that could better be achieved through other means.

Additionally, there is provision in Alberta to have the actual operations of government agencies reviewed every seven years. Unfortunately, Alberta’s reviews are not impartial or independent. They’ll be carried out by the Minister in Charge, with assistance from the bureaucracy itself.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DAVE HANSON Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake,

 

6th
January

Empowering Albertans

Rick's Blog

Politics tends to be over saturated with buzzwords and phrases designed to catch the ear of the casual listener. Two words that have had ample workouts in recent years are “transparency” and “accountability.” Without real accountability being mandated, transparency holds little value to the taxpayer, with the exception of an election once every four years or so.

Imagine if you had an employee that failed to carry out their responsibilities every day but you lacked any course of action to correct their attitude except once every four years. Sounds absurd doesn’t it? Compiling a record of their contempt for this condition of employment would serve no purpose other than to aggravate you.

Politics in Alberta has evolved into a process that has become largely undemocratic without the ability of MLAs to vote freely in the Legislature or citizens to hold their elected representatives fully accountable. There are currently no free votes in the Legislature with the exception of the Wildrose Official Opposition.

Government MLAs are expected to ‘tow the party line’ without question, as we recently witnessed with the unanimous vote of all NDP government MLAs on Bill 6. Despite overwhelming opposition from their rural constituents, those chosen as the people’s elected representatives on the government side of the house, have given in to the will of their party.

The transparency of seeing MLAs represent their party and not their constituents is of little consequence to taxpayers without the ability to hold them accountable. Compiling a record of their contempt for this condition of employment would serve no purpose other than to aggravate taxpayers.

Sound democratic policies, if they are to be truly democratic, must empower MLAs to vote freely in the Legislature on each piece of proposed legislation with the best interests of their constituents. With the implementation of a mechanism such as Electoral Recall it gives voters the ability to hold their elected representatives accountable much more genuinely than waiting to do so once every four years.

The Widlrose party currently is the only party that not only allows free votes in the legislature, but as recently as the November 2015 AGM had it added to their constitution in an overwhelming vote. Free votes allow an elected MLA to advocate for their electors instead of a blindly following an ideological policy. Electoral Recall is also a policy that is held in high regard within the Wildrose.  This policy lead to the tabling of Private Member’s Bill 206, the Recall Act by Chestermere Rockyview MLA, Leela Aheer in the fall session. It unfortunately died on the order paper due to the abrupt end of the fall session.

Without the ability to vote freely, MLAs as we’ve seen recently, are acting in defiance of the wishes of their constituents; and voters are left with little recourse other than to compile a list for use at the end of the four year term. The simple solution is electoral Recall, by putting the power of transparency and accountability in the hands of Albertans where is should always reside.

 

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

30th
December

Striving for stability in 2016

Rick's Blog

2015 was certainly not a year that lacked political news in Alberta. It was a year that saw unprecedented political change, both federally and provincially. After 44 years of single party rule, Albertans took a jump into the unknown. A jump that is very much like skydiving; once you jump you can’t change your mind until you reach the bottom. In this case the bottom is still 3 -1/2 years away.

It’s said that “there is nothing that motivates an Alberta voter like good old fashioned anger.” The anger expressed at the polls in Alberta towards a 44 year old government, measured a 10.0 on the Richter scale that saw the scale tip from the right to the far left. The anger towards the Alberta government in most cases was justified.  It came from a tired and worn-out bureaucratized organization that simply lost touch with the average Albertan’s values.

Just like when an earthquake occurs, the landscape changes, sometimes it changes drastically. The drastic change we saw in Alberta appears to have changed the landscape from one unstable formation to another formation that is equally as unstable.

In the short time since the political landscape in Alberta has changed, we’ve already seen a few aftershocks that are showing just how unstable things remain. The failure of representatives to pay heed to the wishes of their constituents on Bill 6 has been causing unnecessary aftershocks that are causing damage to an already unstable landscape.

Not to be lost in the shaking and shifting of this new era in Alberta politics is the instability that has taken a firm hold in the energy industry. With prices already at lows not seen for decades, the Alberta government is adding to the uncertainty by delaying their review on Alberta’s energy royalties. The uncertainty is acting like a fault line that is moving Alberta further away from economic stability.

Alberta’s Wildrose Official Opposition is striving to be the voice that brings common sense and stability to the Alberta taxpayers. Collectively Alberta’s Opposition MLAs represent almost 60% of voters¹, voters that deserve to have their voice heard in the Legislature on matters that affect their lives.

As Wildrose Official Opposition members we are encouraged to express the views and opinions of our constituents by having the ability to vote freely in the house on Legislation without being tied to a party ideology. Wildrose remains the only party in Alberta that allows free votes in the Legislature.

The goal of the Wildrose Official Opposition in 2016 is to continue to hold the government to account and make sure that the 60% of Albertans are not drowned out by the 40%. In order to have democracy as it was intended, a voice other than that of those in power must be heard otherwise it is not democracy at all.

On behalf of the entire Wildrose Official Opposition caucus, we would like to wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2016.

¹ http://resultsnew.elections.ab.ca/orResultsPGE.cfm?EventId=31

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

23rd
December

A beacon of peace

Rick's Blog

The Christmas holiday season brings family and friends together.  It helps us appreciate the love and support we have in our lives that we can sometimes take for granted. During this season of giving, it’s important to take the time to enjoy the simple things in life and remember what is truly important.

It’s also at this time of year that we appreciate our friends and family that surround us, but it’s also important to be thankful for the peaceful nation we live in. People from around the world view Canada as a beacon of peace and prosperity. Canada’s beacon shines because of those who instilled the values that make us Canadian and the legacy they’ve left behind. What they left behind acts as the moral compass that guides our nation.

The stature of our nation on the world stage as one of the most peaceful and safest nations on earth is in large part due to the spirit of Canadians from coast to coast – past and present. This instilled-spirit of giving transcends our borders, which is why so many from around the world seek to become part of this great nation.

The pursuit of peace has been sought-after since the dawn of recorded history. Throughout Canadian History, people have captured the true spirit of what it takes to achieve the environment that fosters and nurtures the peace we enjoy today.

The story of an elderly Cherokee Elder that was teaching his grandchildren about life, gives a great perspective of how the spirit that exists in Canada is achieved. The Elder told his grandchildren, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil – he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too.”

The children thought about his message for a while and then one of his grandchildren asked him, “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather simply replied: “The one you feed.”

In many ways this story mimics what we all, in our own way, face everyday as Canadian citizens; most importantly as parents. At some point we are all faced with having to make the decision on which one of the wolves we intend to feed; which wolf ultimately contributes to the type of environment we will live in.

Wishing you peace, joy, and all the best this wonderful holiday Christmas season has to offer. May this incredible time of giving and spending time with family bring you joy that lasts throughout the year. May your wolf of good always be nourished and healthy every day of the year.

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

16th
December

Subamendment SA2

Rick's Blog

The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, better known as Bill 6, has resulted in the largest collective public protest in Alberta’s history. Rallies have taken place from the steps of the Alberta Legislature to the streets of small rural communities across Alberta. Freedom and the freedom to choose are the heart that beats within the passionate protests attended by the thousands of families concerned about their way of life.

Under the Act that will result from the passing of Bill 6, all farm employees would be required to have mandatory WCB coverage; regardless if they have existing coverage already in place through other carriers.

The Workers’ Compensation Board in Alberta has been criticized over the years for failing to live up to their responsibilities to injured workers. Some of the criticism of WCB came from Premier Notley herself in 2013 when she called it “the most miserly in the country” adding that because of this “working Albertans suffer.” It seems the Premier’s concerns about the underperformance of WCB have been completely forgotten.

In an attempt to advocate for farmers and ranchers, Opposition members one after another related conversations and stories of the realities of farming and ranching in Alberta. One of those stories related was about a feedlot that has about 25 employees. The MLA visited with the employees, asked them about this in regard to Bill 6 and what they thought about WCB. Did they feel that this government was trying to bring in WCB to protect them? They took the MLA through the insurance program that they have currently in place, and they pointed out that it was better and cheaper than WCB by a long shot. It also protected the employees 24 hours a day, which is another big difference. With WCB they would only be protected when they’re at work, private insurance covers them at all times.

The government has claimed that the intent of Bill 6 is to protect workers and ensure they have coverage should they be injured while at work. An Opposition subamendment SA2 to Bill 6 was tabled that would have allowed employers to maintain insurance coverage that; “provides benefits equivalent to compensation available under the Act, evidence of which has been provided in a form and manner that is satisfactory to the Minister.” The government soundly defeated the subamendment that would have given farmers a choice.

The program that the employees currently have at the feedlot gives them protection even when they’re sleeping in their bed, that’s the big difference when people have options. One of the major problems with Bill 6 is that they are eliminating any choice even for workers that have better insurance, and it forces them into sub-par coverage compared to what they already have.

If this government already acknowledges that there’s trouble with WCB, why would they want to force that suffrage on these employees and other ones across Alberta?

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

9th
December

Ideology before consultation

Rick's Blog

In Alberta there are a total of 87 electoral ridings. In order to be considered the governing party with a majority, you must hold 44 of those ridings. The PC party were the predecessors to the current government, we use the term “predecessors” because they simply lost sight of the fact that they needed to consider the will of the people that elected them.

The downfall of the PCs took the better part of 4-1/2 decades to collapse under the weight of ideological-based policies, as opposed to taxpayer-driven policies. The current Alberta government, on the other hand, has reached that same destination in less than 8 months.

Across Alberta, farmers and ranchers are rallying and showing up in droves at government organized meetings to express their displeasure with Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. The problem all Opposition MLAs are hearing over and over is that the Bill had no meaningful consultation with the people who are most affected before the Bill was tabled in the Legislature, that being farmers and ranchers.

Citing the same lack of meaningful consultation, the Alberta School Boards Association issued a statement on December 1¹ concerning Bill 8, The Public Education Collective Bargaining Act , a completely different Bill, with the exact same concerns. The failure to properly consult stakeholders on both Bill 6 and Bill 8 has created a great deal of concern with organizations across Alberta.

Almost exactly one year ago, as Opposition MLAs, Premier Rachel Notley and some of her current Ministers spoke openly in the Legislature about the PC governments heavy handed approach to legislation. Their complaints about how certain pieces of legislation were being rammed through were eerily similar to the concerns about Bills 6 and 8. As Opposition MLAs, the NDP were calling Bills tabled by the PCs “poorly written, and improperly consulted legislation”, adding that “We would like to see the legislation delayed. It’s been pushed forward too fast. Not everyone has had their voice heard.”

The Premier herself said on May 7, 2014 “they (the PCs) plan to ram through an omnibus bill without written briefings to Assembly members and without listening to Albertans” ², this was while debating the PC’s Bill 12, The Statutes Amendments Act that the PCs had failed to consult with Albertans on properly.

The Alberta government appears to be intent on putting NDP ideology ahead of the wishes of Albertans. An ideology only takes into account those who voted for it, but it neglects the stakeholders and affected Albertans. At town halls and rallies across Alberta the message from stakeholders is clear, they want to be heard prior to Legislation being passed.

A majority government is not a license to Legislate sweeping changes to lives of all Albertans based on an ideology without consultation. In order to know what taxpayers want, you have to at least ask them before you Legislate. Bills 6 and 8 haven’t been consulted according to the authorities on the subject of these Bills, the stakeholders themselves.

¹ ASBA Statement December 1, 2015

² Alberta Hansard May 7, 2014

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

 

2nd
December

This turkey just won’t fly

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

“In a strong enough wind even turkeys can fly” is an adage that is commonly used on Wall Street. What is meant by this is that when the financial winds are blowing especially hard, even the poorest investment vehicle can make money. This adage suggests that under the right conditions, poor ideas can take flight as if they were meant to soar, when in fact they are flightless and incapable of flight.

The Alberta government has recently tabled Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act¹, the act is vague with very few specifics on exactly what conditions will need to be met by Farmers and Ranchers.  There is also no specific methodology laid out as to how they will decide what rules will govern the farming and ranching industry. This uncertainty has caused a great deal of angst within the agriculture industry with the anticipation of what kind of flightless turkey could be created.

The overwhelming negative reaction from people in the agriculture industry across Alberta has been a sign that agricultural stakeholders are of the opinion that Bill 6 simply will not fly if their operations are going to be sustainable. The opinion of stakeholders seems to be that the haste in which this Bill was tabled and appears to be destined for passage, has not allowed for the due diligence such comprehensive Legislations demands.

Turk

A lack of accountability for overlooking the due diligence for Legislation that could have the kinds of unintended consequences that exist within the pages of Bill 6 can and should be eliminated. Private Member’s Bill 206, The Recall Act², which was tabled in the Legislature recently, will address the issue of accountability for MLAs that choose to act on behalf of their party rather than the will of their constituents.

Alberta currently has no mechanism in place to hold a member of the Legislature accountable to their constituents prior to the next general election. Bill 206 changes that. The Bill creates the mechanism for motivated taxpayers to hold their elected MLA accountable. The initiation and completion of this mechanism is an onerous task which eliminates frivolous and unwarranted use of recall.

Electoral Recall puts the will of the taxpayers back to the forefront where it belongs. The word “accountability” is often used as a buzzword to create an illusion but it lacks any substance without the possibility of some form of consequence.

The wind that carries poor Legislation and allows it to fly, in large part, comes from having immunity to any possible repercussions for government or individual elected representatives. The Recall Act can help eliminate the current conditions that create the wind that gives flight to poorly or vaguely drafted legislation and beyond the reach of stakeholders and taxpayers.

Judging from the response from the Farmers, Ranchers and concerned citizens of Alberta, not even hurricane winds can help the Bill 6 turkey fly.

¹ http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_29/session_1/20150611_bill-006.pdf

² http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_29/session_1/20150611_bill-206.pdf

 

 

25th
November

Putting the cart before the horse

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

Of all the departments the government administers in Alberta, Agriculture is without a doubt the most diverse. With this diversity come an endless list of scenarios that play out every day on Alberta’s farms and ranches. Legislating changes to a diverse industry like Agriculture requires a comprehension that takes into account the concerns and conditions of all sectors of the industry.

Safety on farms is of the utmost importance and the loss of just one life or any injury is simply one too many. For a great many Albertans, farming isn’t just a job – it’s their way of life. Farmers and ranchers put the food on the table that Albertans and Canadians eat each and every day; and they’re proud of that.

There is no farmer in Alberta who doesn’t want their operation to be as safe as possible. Nobody cares more about farm safety than the moms and dads who operate them and call them home. The gap between the NDP’s proposed Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act¹ and common sense Alberta Farmers, is that this bill is legislating first and consulting later.

Agriculture is a vital part of Alberta’s economy which makes it shocking that the government has decided to introduce legislation as comprehensive as Bill 6 without in-depth consultation with ranchers and farmers. According to their plan, they will be implementing this Bill and its wide-reaching impacts, in less than 45 days (by January 1, 2016).

The manner in which this Bill has been proposed has the appearance of making up rules on the fly. At the very least, Bill 6 should go to a Legislative committee so they can hear from actual producers and industry members in order to mitigate the possible unintended consequences.

This NDP government quite simply cannot afford to neglect consulting stakeholders prior to crafting Legislation. The Alberta NDP government must recognize the difference between a small family farm and a large commercial operation, which will help them gain an understanding that one size will not fit all. Our provincial neighbours have working Legislation models that make clear distinctions between large commercial operators and family farms that could and should be studied to understand what does and doesn’t work.

What is needed more than anything with the farm safety legislation, is the time to make sure we get this legislation right. Agriculture is Alberta’s second largest industry and it responsible for the livelihoods of thousands of Albertans; it is also responsible for the majority of the province’s renewable revenues.

It’s safe to say that all farmers and ranchers would agree that their livelihood is one that goes beyond 9 to 5 and that poses many challenges and risks. The dedication of the people who devote their lives to farming and ranching in Alberta deserve nothing less than the due diligence of proper proactive consultation on any legislation this important.

Drafting legislation and then consulting is simply putting the cart before the horse.

¹ http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_29/session_1/20150611_bill-006.pdf

 

 

18th
November

Intentions vs. outcomes

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs whom each week get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka:, MARK SMITH, Devon-Drayton Valley and DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

There are times when the outcomes fall well short of intentions that people are anticipating. How they react to those shortcomings speaks volumes about their ability to adapt. Governments are often victims of failed or flawed ideologies that result in varying degrees of shortcomings; they too must have the ability to adapt.

Government decisions that have created substantial barriers to building new pipelines are the continuation of policies that result in a higher risk method of transportation. The unintended consequence of shipping crude oil by rail is the substantially higher risk factor and a substantially higher carbon footprint that goes along with that.

It is 4.5 times safer to move oil and gas by pipeline than it is to move the same volume the same distance by rail in Canada according to a study released this past summer by the Fraser Institute¹. The study conclusions are based on data compiled over a decade from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada.

New regulations in North America are mandating that the DOT-111s railcars that were at the center of the Lac-Mégantic be replaced². The DOT-111s railcars that were at the center of one of the worst derailments in Canadian history, that resulted in the deaths of 47 people and destroyed half of their downtown area, must be replaced with a safer version by May of 2017. This does little to deal with the human error that was ultimately determined to be the cause of the disaster.

The fleet of designated crude oil transportation railcars in North America is estimated to be 87,500 by the end of 2015, which will bear a huge capital cost to rail companies to upgrade the entire fleet. The cost will be passed on to you, the consumer, as the cost of transportation rises accordingly.

The reported reasoning behind the rejection of the Keystone pipeline application claims it was done for environmental protection reasons. That was the intent, however, the data tells a different story. The U.S. State department’s own environmental impact study shows that emissions are 40% higher moving oil by rail as opposed to pipeline³.

Along with an increase in emissions the State Department’s study found that costs are substantially higher (three times) with rail transportation versus pipelines. These additional costs associated with the rejection of pipelines are a major contributor as to whether projects are economically viable, and that directly translates into unemployment numbers.

The intentions of those that oppose the building of more cost-efficient and environmentally safer pipelines have not been bolstered by the undesired outcomes based on the actual data.

Regardless of how genuine the intentions are, sometimes the outcomes can have unintended but overshadowing consequences.

Alberta’s Premier has fundamentally opposed the approval and construction of pipelines based on environmentally ideological beliefs that just don’t deliver the desired results of her intentions. The data also shows time and again that the outcomes of shipping by rail will have a far worse impact on the environment versus those of a pipeline.

Even with good intentions by the Premier, it will be an all around appalling outcome for Albertans.

¹ http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/pipelines-much-safer-than-shipping-oil-by-rail-fraser-institute-study-says

² http://www.fraserinstitute.org/blogs/pipelines-are-safer-cheaper-and-greener

³ http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/221198.pdf

 

11th
November

The efficiencies of pipelines

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake

After a 7 year battle to have the Keystone Pipeline approved, U.S. President Barack Obama, announced that it would not get the approval of his administration. The Keystone Pipeline was a critical step forward to getting more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta Oilsands which would connect with existing pipelines to specialized refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The obvious question is, now what? How does Alberta connect with the next step in the process for getting the product to market? The movement of products like oil creates an added cost to the production which in turn determines the viability of production. In times when prices are low, such as now, transportation of crude will undoubtedly factor into its viability. The assertion that inefficiencies in the movement of product will not affect employment in the energy sector is completely beyond reason.

The argument for some has been to point to the development of refineries capable of processing our own Oilsands raw bitumen. Theories like these are plagued with solving the most important step in building a refinery – cost. The other key factor in this equation, and probably the most important factor, is who pays for it?

Another important factor in the refinery discussion that seems to be left out of the conversation is the finished product. When you take into account that cost estimates for the 50,000 barrels per day Sturgeon refinery project are around $8.5 billion¹, the cost of a refinery with a capacity to handle 800,000 barrels per day would be simply cost prohibitive. There is also another important question that comes to mind when the subject of refineries comes up:  how do they propose to move the finished product to market? It’s the same logistics problem that exists with finished product as with the raw product.

The role of government in the market place is to create an environment that encourages safe and responsible development of our non-renewable energy resources. Describing Alberta as the “embarrassing cousin that no one wants to talk about,” is not fostering an environment that will lead to investor confidence to invest, but that’s precisely what Alberta’s Premier did.

When informed of the rejection of the Keystone pipeline Alberta’s Premier said that she was disappointed that President Barack Obama called Alberta oil “dirty” while announcing the rejection of its application². Being disappointed in characterizing our oil as “dirty” should be overshadowed by the implications to an industry that employs more than any other in the province.

The first responsibility of Alberta’s Premier should be the financial stability of the province: social programs and government services need revenues to operate. The lion’s share of revenue is generated in Alberta through personal and business income tax, along with energy revenues. Unemployed Albertans and non-profitable businesses do not have the ability to contribute to revenue streams.

Opposition members in the Alberta Legislature have their eye squarely on efficient transportation through pipelines of Alberta’s revenue-generating energy resources and understand the industries contribution of these industries to Alberta. Raising royalty rates in the current market and not supporting efficient transportation will inevitably contribute to rising unemployment and funding cuts to social programs.

¹ http://www.albertaoilmagazine.com/2014/11/high-price-adding-value/

² http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/notley-disappointed-obama-called-alberta-oil-dirty-while-rejecting-keystone-pipeline-1.3307800

 

 

 

4th
November

We might have to sell the barn

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

Many of us have heard the term “closing the barn door after the cows are out,” generally used to describe trying to repair damage when it’s too late. Such is the ongoing case with Alberta’s impending credit rating downgrade.

This past summer Ontario’s credit rating was lowered from AA- to A+ after years of unheeded warnings to get their spending under control¹. Within days of Ontario’s credit rating being downgraded, Manitoba suffered a similar fate when they were downgraded in a similar fashion².

The implications of credit rating downgrades apparently are being overlooked in favor of allowing the cows to continue to escape the barn. As the ratings drop, the interest rates escalate; that is the cold hard fact. The impact of a rating drop will be real and immediate when it happens.

After this past week’s budget, the Alberta government has chosen not to cut spending by incurring record debt that will hasten our downgrade. There is a growing probability that the long-term damage to Alberta’s credit rating will slip beyond our ability to repair it, should they choose to continue down this path.

Alberta’s economy is reliant on the confidence investors have in their ability to receive a return on their investment. As you can imagine, having our credit rating downgraded, will not contribute to building confidence in the minds of the investors it takes for Alberta to create optimum market conditions.

The day after the release of Alberta’s 7th deficit budget in 8 years, Moody’s, the New York-based bond credit rating agency warned “deep budgetary imbalances and heavy infrastructure investments will result in a deterioration in its credit metrics over the next 24 months.”³ This is due to the projected $47-billion accrued debt forecast by 2019-18.

The cows have been exiting the barn since 2007 with debt that is compounding and there is no sign that this government is even going to attempt to close the barn doors until after the inevitable downgrade. The plan, according to what was contained in the budget speech, is to continue to compile debt beyond the 24 months they’ve been given to get their budgetary imbalances back in order.

With a combination of low energy prices and a lack of spending restraints, the cattle may be miles away by the time any meaningful measures have been taken. The natural consequence of a downgraded credit rating is that it will cost more to build schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges.

The downgrade in Alberta’s credit rating is only a portion of what will create future budgetary restrictions. The continuation of compounding and accruing debt will play a major factor in getting a handle on this province’s finances.

Going too far down the road of debt that was presented by Alberta’s government will result in a futile effort to keep any of the cattle contained. In fact, if we go too far down that road, we may find that they’ve had to sell the barn to keep the house lights on.

¹ http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/ontario-downgrade-by-standard-and-poors-called-hardly-surprising-after-years-of-warnings

² http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-s-credit-rating-downgraded-due-to-growing-debt-1.3147120

³ http://www.edmontonsun.com/2015/10/28/albertas-credit-will-get-worse-says-moodys-investors-services

 

28th
October

Chasing a financial rainbow

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

The attempt to reach an unattainable goal is often referred to as “chasing rainbows.” It appears that balancing Alberta’s budget is becoming an unattainable goal.

The Alberta government campaigned on the promise that they would balance the province’s budget by 2017-18. After the election in May it was disclosed that due to a mathematical error the projected goal would be put back until 2018-19. With the disclosure of this government’s first budget mere days away it was revealed by Alberta’s Finance Minister that the day-to-day operating budget in fact won’t be balanced until 2019-20¹.

The problem with chasing this visual illusion we know as a rainbow is that it only exists when airborne water droplets are present in the air along with sunlight hitting it at the right angle. When you move towards a rainbow its position never seems to get closer, much like what is currently happening with Alberta’s finances. It appears that even though we are moving towards the projected date for balancing our budget, we never seem to arrive at the base of the rainbow.

The Alberta Legislature’s fall sitting is set to commence on Monday October 26th that will see the budget following the next day. The indication is that Alberta will be presented with its 7th deficit budget in the last 8 years, projected to be in the neighbourhood of $5.9 billion.

A long held theory in Alberta is that energy prices directly create deficit budgets. Well we’ve come to find out that this is simply not the case². After four consecutive large deficits in the early 90s, the Alberta government brought in fiscal reforms. They were able to run surpluses for 14 consecutive years, starting in 1994-95. These surpluses were achieved despite oil prices that were below $60 until 2004³. In 2007 the spending began to outpace revenues despite record oil prices.

October 25 Deficit vs Oil Price

And so begins the chase for the elusive rainbow that promises to magically balance the budget and allow no limits on spending. The reality of the financial rainbow is exactly the same as the rainbow that follows a summer rain. The closer you get to where it appears to be, the more you realize it just doesn’t get any closer. It appears the Alberta government is counting on a rise in energy prices to eliminate the deficit. Unfortunately the historical data suggests that chasing that financial rainbow is going to result in perpetual deficits without some form of restraint being shown with government’s expenditures.

In a span of less than six months the rainbow has moved further away by two full years, going from a goal of a balanced budget in 2017-18 to 2019-20. The fiscal reforms enacted in 1994 consisted of more than water droplets in the air that appeared as rainbows. They were concrete and substantial fiscal restraints that held spending in check and followed a formula that took into account actual revenues.

If the Alberta government continues to chase rainbows they’ll find out that the goal they’re reaching for is simply unattainable.

¹ http://www.calgarysun.com/2015/10/21/alberta-ndp-push-balanced-budget-promise-back-by-a-year

² http://www.financialpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=business.financialpost.com//fp-comment/dont-blame-oil-prices-for-albertas-deficit

³ http://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart

 

21st
October

Learning from the past

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, MARK SMITH Devon-Drayton Valley, DON MacINTYRE Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

In volume 1 (Reason is Common Sense) of his 5 volume series (The Life of Reason 1905) George Santayana coined a phrase that is considered timeless. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” A commonly used phrase to pay heed to past mistakes. This 20th century philosopher, and novelist’s observation remains as relevant today as it was the day he put his pen to paper.

Alberta’s governance, particularly over the last decade, has lead to a general mindset of “spend now, pay later.” This has created crushing debt and a rather large shortage of necessary infrastructure due to financial restrictions. The newest edition of the Alberta government has decided to use the same spending philosophy and have even upped the ante by indicating they’ll be coming to Albertans for more taxes to partially cover their financial spending shortfalls.

Continuing down the same fiscal road can only lead to repeating the failures of the past. By adding a slate of new taxes it will undoubtedly create an even heavier burden to the taxpayers of today and tomorrow.

Taxes, regardless of where or how they are applied, are always and inevitably paid by the end-user/consumer. A corporate tax is ultimately passed on to the user of the goods or services produced by the corporation being taxed; without exception. Claims that a tax on corporation lessens the financial burden on the lower and middle class could not be further from the truth. All taxes are passed on just as the cost of materials and labour is factored into the selling price of a product.

The province of Ontario and its philosophy of high taxation and spending beyond its means have earned them the dubious title ‘the world’s most indebted sub-sovereign borrower¹.’ Ontario’s spring budget shows a debt service cost of $11.4 billion². The past in this case isn’t really the past; it’s the current reality the people of Ontario face. It appears we have a case of an inability to retain any short-term fiscal recollection. In our case Alberta has the benefit of not having directly suffered the consequences of the plight being faced by Ontario taxpayers. This could be a temporary situation if the lessons are not carried forward.

Undeniably, you can dance all night, but you will have to pay the fiddler in the morning. Alberta’s government danced for the last 10 years and now it appears the new government is intent on keeping the fiddler’s meter running. While they continue to ignore lessons of the past and the present, it will be up to our children and grandchildren to pay the fiddler. Let’s not forget the longer the fiddler plays, the more those not responsible for the debt will have to pay.

Learning from the mistakes of others means you do not have to suffer the long-term consequence, that is, unless you wilfully ignore those lessons of the past and keep on dancing beyond what your financial resources can bear.

¹ http://business.financialpost.com/news/economy/with-twice-the-debt-of-california-ontario-is-now-the-worlds-most-indebted-sub-sovereign-borrower

² http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/ontarios-2015-budget-the-key-numbers-you-need-to-know-to-understand-the-fiscal-plan-released-thursday

 

 

 

14th
October

Put the shovel down

Rick's Blog

The following article was co-compiled by a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler;; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow; WES TAYLOR , Battle River-Wainwright; RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka.

The way to get out of a fiscal hole isn’t to grab a shovel and keep digging deeper. When your spending outpaces your revenues, you’re doing exactly that. Alberta’s fiscal hole has been the result of unsustainable fiscal practices that have been continued by successive governments.

Alberta’s Fiscal Management Act (section 2) requires government deficits to be matched by money drawn from Alberta’s contingency account. If the contingency account has insufficient funds the Act does not allow that government to run a deficit.¹ Estimates before the drop in energy prices would allow that the contingency account be drawn down to about $3.5 billion by March of 2016. That was of course before the slumping energy prices began to play a major role in this financial dilemma.

For the first time in decades, corporate and income taxes were raised, eliminating the benefit of what was once proudly referred to as the Alberta Advantage. Alberta’s Finance Minister is likely to table a budget on October 27 that is expected to have a debt in excess of $6.5-billion, creating a debt that hasn’t been seen in Alberta since the Getty days.

As incredible as it may seem, the Alberta government is considering rewriting the province’s balanced-budget legislation, signalling what could be record government spending. The Premier’s election platform said they were looking to return to balanced budgets by 2018, something that is obviously not going to happen if they proceed with the proposed changes to the Act.

Our new Finance Minister says “they intend on putting their stamp on the Fiscal Management Act.” This can only mean stepping on the gas towards more debt. Like their predecessors, the Alberta government is reaching for the gear shift and sending our accumulating debt into overdrive. They refuse to discuss cutting spending as a solution. This is short-term thinking versus long term thinking, selling our children’s and grand children’s future to banking interests.

Another issue at play is Alberta’s 15 year old AAA credit rating.² This ultimately determines the cost of borrowing, and its relevance cannot be overstated. If the Province’s debt is in excess of 15% of gross domestic product (GDP), our rating automatically drops.

The DBRS (Dominion Bond Rating Service) estimates Alberta’s debt to GDP was about 10% ($29.3 billion) for 2014. Jim Prentice had intended to spend nearly $30-billion on new schools and major infrastructure by 2020. The Premier has been suggesting she wants to spend that and more in a shorter period of time.

In a statement by Travis Shaw, vice-president of public finance at DBRS, he says, “we rate Alberta AAA with a stable trend for the time being; primarily that has been based on a strong balance sheet and low debt. It hasn’t been because of a well-diversified economy or being a great fiscal manager. To maintain that rating, we’re going to have to see an improvement in one of those two.” ³

Alberta’s debt has been accumulating in recent years and the newest edition of the Alberta government has decided to keep on digging. When you’re in a fiscal hole like Alberta is, it’s time to put the shovel down.

¹ http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/f14p5.pdf

² Financial rating by DBRS rating agency http://www.dbrs.com/

³ http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/alberta-ndp-considering-revising-balanced-budget-law/article26640531/

 

7th
October

The wisdom to know the difference

Rick's Blog

Alberta’s economy is once again being adversely affected by world energy prices. It has been in the past and surely will be in the future. It’s at times like these that the Serenity Prayer comes to mind, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Adding to Alberta’s economic adversity is uncertainty and reversal of definitive policies that could determine financial success or failure in the future. When investors have no clear indication of what future regulations will exist in a market place, there are very few that will stick their feet in that water. The water is being muddied, making it impossible to see if the water has harmless goldfish or piranha lurking just below the surface.

Alberta’s economy, more than most, hinges on government regulations and royalty rates. These can and do affect the outcome for a great many large scale employers. Alberta is five months past a provincial election and the water investors are looking into is even muddier than it was on May 5th when the new government took over.

The lack of a provincial budget brings with it a long list of questions about where the new Alberta government plans on taking the province. The proposed review of energy royalties, now delayed to the end of 2016, is exacerbating the affect a slumping energy market is having on our province. Uncertainty upon uncertainty causes more uncertainty. If it sounds confusing that’s because it is. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for any business to create a stable plan for developmental growth without clear regulatory guidelines.

While on her trade mission to Ontario, Alberta’s Premier invited her Ontario counterpart, Premier Kathleen Wynne, to lead a trade mission to Alberta. It’s been widely reported that Wynne says she will bring several Ontario investors on the mission to Alberta. Without any definitive long-term regulatory guidelines these Ontario-based potential investors will be facing the same uncertainty that many Albertan investors currently are.

Premier Notley said in a speech to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce that the government will phase out coal-fired electricity. “We will be looking for a strategy to phase out the use of coal as quickly as we reasonably can without imposing unnecessary price shocks on consumers or risking security of supply or unnecessarily stranding capital.” An open-ended statement like this without details creates another layer of uncertainty. Another layer we just do not need.

It would serve the Alberta government well to accept the things we cannot change (energy prices), the courage to change the things they can (explain and define policy, even release a budget), and the wisdom to act in Alberta’s best interest.

With no defined long-term business-friendly policy or provincial budget, Albertans and investors will have an uneasy feeling, when what we need now is stability.

 

 

30th
September

The greatest asset a politician has is trust

Rick's Blog

This article is a collaborative effort of Official Opposition MLAs, RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller Stettler and WES TAYLOR, Battle River Wainwright.

In 2008, as leader of the third party, while debating Bill 26, the Labour Relations Amendment act, Brian Mason said, “The government misled Albertans about that in the election. They never talked about the fat raises that they were going to give themselves with no justification, no additional work on the part of the cabinet members to justify the extra money”, ¹but yet this past February 2nd he argued against a motion that would have given those “fat raises” back.

On February 2nd of this year, during a meeting of the Member Services’ Committee, a motion was tabled that would have exhibited leadership by all MLAs in Alberta as we headed into some very trying economic times. With only four opposition members on the committee, the Wildrose proposed that the substantial pay hikes doled out by the Stelmach government for MLAs and Ministers in 2008 be rescinded. ²

In the February meeting, Wildrose tabled a motion rolling back the 2008 raises of 8% for MLAs and 30% for Ministers. This motion would have shown real leadership rather than the proposed flat 5% cut. Then, also, as an opposition member on the committee, Brian Mason argued strenuously against the motion.

The Wildrose motion, in part was due to slumping energy prices that were adversely affecting the provinces revenues. In his justification of the 2008 raises, Mr. Mason suggested that we shouldn’t let the energy prices be a determining factor in the compensation of MLAs. The cold hard facts are that Alberta’s financial restrictions are tied primarily to energy prices. Balancing Alberta’s finances has to take into account not just spending. Revenues are a very important part of the equation when balancing a provincial budget.

For years, oil prices were at or near historic highs, yet Alberta’s government repeatedly refused to show leadership when it came to handling revenues responsibly; well folks, here we go again. Barely 6 months in and the new Member Services’ Committee is handing upper level bureaucrats raises while our revenue streams slow to a trickle. In a vote of 7 government MLAs to 4 opposition MLAs, the committee saw fit to ignore the affect energy prices are having on our revenues.

In a time when many Albertans are facing uncertain futures, due in large part to energy prices, Mr. Mason’s colleagues voted in favour of 7.25% raise for bureaucrats that are currently making between $148,000 and $273,000. ³

Politicians enter into a moral contract of trust to act in the taxpayer’s ultimate best interest. They are expected to act in a fiscally responsible manner. In February the fiscally responsible thing to do was to roll back wages that reflected that economic climate.  It’s now September and the economic climate hasn’t improved, acting in a fiscally responsibility manner is still paramount.

In May, Albertans put their hopes in a new slate of MLAs, electing 70 new members to the house; unfortunately, it appears the same lack of fiscal responsibility is continuing.

 

¹ Hansard link June 3, 2008

file:///E:/Work/Work%20File%20Rick/Columns/September%202105/Raises%20Mason%202008.pdf

² Hansard link Feb 4, 2015

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/committees/ms/legislature_28/session_3/20150204_1400_01_ms.pdf

³ Hansard link Sept 24, 2015

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files%5Cdocs%5Ccommittees%5Clo%5Clegislature_29%5Csession_1%5C20150924_0904_01_lo.pdf

 

23rd
September

PHOTO RADAR, SCHOOL FEES, AND PAYING FOR A CIVIL SOCIETY

Rick's Blog

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

Several years ago, a couple of online articles appeared which stated that one of the most famous one-liners about taxes was uttered by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the guy who said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civil society.”

Holmes was a judge appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1902. Back then, Tax Freedom Day fell on January 21st. The tax bill paid to all levels of government added up to 5.6% of the average person’s annual earnings. (Canada’s tax rates were similarly low.) This was thought to be the price of a civil society.

The permanent U.S. income tax was established in 1913. Canada’s national income tax, which was supposed to be a temporary war tax, arrived four years later. Originally, the U.S. base rate was 1% on income above $3,000. Canada’s base rate was 4%, with differing exemption levels depending upon marital status. Wartime surcharges also applied to transportation tickets, telegrams, cheques, medicines, tea, coffee and much more.

As all these taxes were implemented, the cost of maintaining a civil society grew dramatically.

We know there are people today—including elected officials—who think Holmes’ words should encourage us to embrace bigger government. They assume that the more money a government spends, the more civil a society will become. It’s an unfortunate misconception, because although good government certainly involves spending, it also involves restraint, efficiency, and knowing when not to spend, tax, or borrow.

Government overspending puts pressure on individuals and families. It shows itself in many ways—some blatant, some subtle. As governments take on a bigger appetite for revenue, individuals and families are hit with increasing taxes, followed by an array of user-fees and add-ons.

Revenue add-ons can include many things. This month, one Alberta town disclosed its photo radar revenue. For those with an eye toward public safety and government revenue increases, the town’s website makes interesting reading. Last year, the town collected $2.5 million in automated traffic fees—almost $1.7 million of it from a single location. (This “lucrative” radar site covers the eastbound lanes of a four-lane highway at a point where the town’s residences drop off.) Locals and “pinched” motorists are openly wondering if the objective is traffic safety or gold mining.

Most people believe education and justice should come at no charge in a civil society. Yet this year, Albertans face escalating user-fees for schools, justice, and registry requirements. School boards will collect almost $200 million in user-fees. And in court, it now costs $50 just to file a statement of defense, $600 to set a matter for trial, and up to $250 a day in courtroom fees. Alberta’s registry fees are also climbing.

British Columbia has 4.63 million people. Alberta has 4.2 million people. Yet B.C.’s budget is $45.8 billion with no deficit, while Alberta’s budget is $50.2 billion with a real deficit of $9.1 billion. Can anyone credibly argue that Alberta is more civil than B.C., simply because we spend so much more? Hardly.

It’s true that taxes are the price we pay for a civil society. It’s also true that government overspending doesn’t purchase additional civility. Instead, it eats at the financial resources that rightfully belong not to the government of Alberta, but to individual Albertans and to their families. To view information resources for this commentary:

http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource6_091915.pdf

 

17th
September

KITCHEN TABLE TALK: SMILES AND PROMISES

Rick's Blog

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

Starting in the 1960s and 70s, there was a registered federal political party called the Rhinoceros Party that lampooned campaigning politicians as they trotted out promises at election time. The Rhinos promised Canadians that if elected, they’d build sloping bike paths from coast to coast, so Canadians really could “coast-to-coast.” They promised to sell the Canadian Senate at an antique auction in California, and to pave the entire province of Manitoba—turning it into the world’s largest parking lot.

In New Zealand, an equally satirical party promised that if elected, they’d cover every highway in the country with carpet, thereby creating thousands of jobs while ensuring that tires would last a lifetime.

The point these lampooning comedians made so well is that campaigning politicians often get carried away, making promises that they can’t or won’t keep. Ontario Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty is an example. He campaigned hard on a no-new-taxes pledge, was elected premier, and then hiked taxes. Jean Chretien repeatedly told Canadians that if we’d only make him Prime Minister, he’d eradicate the GST. We did. He didn’t.

Happily, Canadians have also enjoyed political leaders who have carefully delivered on their promises. These are men and women who recognized that campaign promises are the basis of a binding civil agreement or contract. They understood that they were duty-bound to honour their word, which is what Albertans are now expecting from their new premier.

Prior to the spring election, Rachel Notley released a 25-page book brimming with promises. She pledged more spending in virtually every category of government one could think of, and at the same time, further promised that by 2018 she would produce not just a balanced budget, but a multi-million dollar surplus.

In addition to surplus budgets, Notley’s book pledged honest government, money for transit, emergency rooms, education, job creation, mental health, school construction, school lunches, youth employment, childcare, hospitals, family support, shelters, rural health services, and rural bus services. She made these promises at a point when she was fully informed about Alberta’s massive annual deficit. She also knew that energy prices were in the tank. Everybody knew.

Notley further promised to chop school board user-fees. Yet today, school boards across the province are in the process of collecting nearly $200 million for “extras.” According to the Calgary Herald and a recent Statistics Canada Report, the out-of-pocket cost for sending a child to public school in Alberta has nearly tripled over the past five years. Elsewhere in Canada, over that same period, fees rose by a modest 28%.

The burden these fees impose merits an important legislative debate. But there’s a second issue here which is bigger than money. It’s ethics and accountability. Notley gave her word. She promised. Voters have a right to be told the truth. They deserve respect. And the only way an elected official can show respect for voters is to honour commitments and promises. Words, pleasant smiles, and platitudes are fine, but that’s not respect. That’s public relations.

Notley got elected by promising jobs, surplus budgets, expanded public services, and much more—including a reduction in school fees. Arguably, her promises establish a civil agreement (verbal contract) between herself and Alberta voters, who now have every right to insist that she deliver on what she has promised. To view information resources for this commentary:

http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource5_091315.pdf

 

 

9th
September

KITCHEN TABLE TALK: PIZZAS ON A GOVERNMENT CREDIT CARD

Rick's Blog

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

This past week, two members of the Notley government made public statements about spending and debt. The first came from Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who indicated that the government is going to spend $8-$9 billion more this year than it will collect in taxes, fees, and royalties. Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt said his calculations put the shortfall at $9.1 billion. Overall, Ceci said, the NDP plans to spend more than $50 billion.

No Alberta government has ever spent $50 billion. As recently as the fiscal year ending in 2007, provincial spending was less than $30 billion. The interest on provincial debt will cost taxpayers over $800 million this year.

When politicians and the news media start talking about the millions and billions that are being spent, borrowed, or sometimes wasted, many of us get lost in the numbers. Most Canadians don’t write million-dollar cheques. Individuals and their families buy farms, businesses, and homes—but not regularly. And very few of us even know anyone capable of writing a billion-dollar cheque.

The gap between spending a million and spending a billion is enormous. If a government department is spending at the rate of a dollar a minute, it takes 23 months to plough through a million dollars. Spending a billion dollars at the same rate would take 1,900 years. And remember, Alberta’s NDP government is running a one-year shortfall of $9.1 billion. At the rate of a dollar a minute, it would take 17,000 years to eat through that much money. At $100 per minute, it would take 170 years.

The one thing Minister Ceci never mentioned is that Alberta’s government has grown way too expensive. This year, the NDP will spend nearly $50,000 for every family of four in the province. (The actual number is calculated at $48,112.16.) Yet according to Ceci, there is absolutely no way that the Notley government will trim the size of Alberta’s civil service. Apparently, he thinks a top-heavy government should cause every Alberta taxpayer to heave a sigh of relief.

The second statement made this week about government spending and debt was trumpeted by Bruce Hinkley, the NDP MLA from Wetaskiwin-Camrose. Hinkley said that ordinary people get mortgages to buy homes (and think it’s an okay thing to do), so why shouldn’t the Notley government go into debt to spend money on programs.

Hinkley looks right past the fact that government debt and mortgages are worlds apart. When families obtain a mortgage they gain ownership of an asset that generally increases in value. Monthly payments build equity and pile up net worth. The property can be sold and converted to cash. Parents and grandparents can use the equity to pay for retirement, or else leave it to their estate. Their beneficiaries receive the accumulated value of the asset.

When governments borrow and spend, there’s no marketable asset. There’s only debt. It’s like using a credit card to buy pizza. Even when governments borrow to spend on bridges and highways rather than programs, the debt is still not connected to a marketable asset. It’s a liability. Mortgages can be liquidated. Houses can be sold. Who buys used government bridges and worn-out highways?

All things considered, it is irresponsible for the NDP to claim that government debt is the same thing as a home mortgage. It’s not. To view information resources for this commentary:

http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource4_090615.pdf

 

 

2nd
September

KITCHEN TABLE TALK: RESPONSIBLE GOV’T IS A PREMIER’S CHOICE

Rick's Blog

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

The economy changes. Employment changes. Nowadays, the average person holds ten jobs prior to the age of forty. Changing jobs and changing employers is part of a modern economy.

Years ago, major cities overflowed with livery stables employing tens of thousands of people. Today, there are none. Barrel-makers, switchboard operators, and milkmen have also been put out of business. Yet new jobs emerge. Ten years ago, no one had heard of an app developer, social media manager, or sustainability advisor. Today, these are high-paying careers.

There are entire departments of government that don’t exist anymore. Some of them employed a lot of people. Ottawa once had cabinet ministers (and supporting bureaucracies) for railways, canals, and colonization. And for more than sixty years, Alberta operated a Department of Telephones. These jobs have all disappeared.

Sometimes jobs are eliminated because it’s cheaper to hire someone than to do it yourself. For example, a family in need of a new concrete driveway won’t buy a redi-mix truck, hire workers, and go into the concrete business. Instead, they phone around, compare prices, check company references, and hire someone else to do the work.

Unfortunately, in a figurative sense, some governments will go out and buy the redi-mix truck, expanding the size and cost of government. In 1991, when Roy Romanow became Saskatchewan’s premier, his province was verging on insolvency. Previous administrations had spent too much and tried to do too much. Romanow eliminated twenty government programs, reduced the size of the civil service, and chopped program spending by 10%. It was the only responsible thing to do.

In 1992, Ralph Klein became Alberta’s premier, eventually facing a $23 billion debt—even more than Saskatchewan. The projected one-year deficit that he inherited was nearly $3 billion. The province was borrowing 25% of its annual revenue. Yearly interest on debt was $1.4 billion. Klein had two options—cut spending, or send Alberta down the same path as present-day Greece. He cut spending.

Many people believe Klein cut healthcare by double digit percentages. He didn’t. They also think he gutted infrastructure spending. He didn’t. Subsequent budget documents state that Klein’s fiscal strategy had been to cut the size of government by 20% over a four-year period, but there were never any across-the-board cuts. Numerous categories outside health and education were cut by 35-40%, but healthcare was trimmed by only 7.7% and education by a mere 5.1%. Klein’s infrastructure spending, averaged annually over the years he was premier, exceeded the national average.

Today, Alberta is again facing fiscal calamity. Our debt is within a stone’s throw of the $23 billion Klein had to address. Resource revenues are declining. Key commodity prices have crashed. Jobs are evaporating. Yet Premier Notley’s solution has been to hike government spending, borrow more money, boost the minimum wage, raise taxes on struggling businesses, and announce a royalty review.

Roy Romanow was an NDP icon, yet he chose responsibility over ideology. Now it’s Rachel Notley’s turn. Her options are to follow Romanow’s austerity path toward fiscal health, or to pursue an agenda similar to that of the Greek government, which recently referred to its own nation as a “debt colony.”

The fact is that cutting government spending is not a philosophic decision. It’s a responsible government decision. It reflects sound judgement, and it’s Notley’s duty to make the right choice.

To view resource material for this commentary see:

http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource3_083015.pdf

 

 

26th
August

Kitchen table talk: The track of debt

Rick's Blog

KT

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

There is a near-epidemic of provincial debt in Canada. B.C.’s debt is $65-$70 billion—nearly $60,000 for every family of four. Manitoba’s debt exceeds $33 billion—$100,000 per family. Quebec’s gross public sector debt, according to the Montreal Economic Institute, stands at $277 billion—$134,000 per family. And Ontario has the dubious honour of being the largest sub-sovereign debtor in the world. It owes $314.5 billion.1

Interest rates are low, so debt servicing costs are manageable. Yet interest rates are like oil prices. They fluctuate. (Many will remember 20% home mortgages.) Today, Ontario pays $11.4 billion a year to service debt. Yet if interest rates should rise into the 6%-10% range, debt servicing costs could climb near $20-$25 billion, which would put enormous pressure on their health and education programs. (Every dollar spent on interest is a dollar less to spend elsewhere.)

Between 1982 and 1992, Alberta piled up debt—about $23 billion. Based on our population at the time, the amount owed was roughly $35,000 for every family of four. Debt ate deep into the government’s ability to deliver core services. By 1992, nearly 10% of provincial revenue was devoted to servicing debt—an amount equal to 32% of health care spending, 36% of basic and advanced education, or 75% of the social services budget. Albertans were shelling out multiple billions in taxes for which they got absolutely nothing in return.

When Ralph Klein took office in 1992, the one-year projected deficit was $2.8 billion, and the province was borrowing 25% of its annual revenue. Debt servicing costs were $1.4 billion per year. Almost immediately, Klein started reigning in the size and cost of government. Some people complained, although it was obvious that this level of borrowing and spending simply couldn’t be maintained.

In 2004, twelve years after Klein became premier, Alberta declared itself debt free. Finance Minister Patricia Nelson said, “It’s over with. We can go home to our kids and our grandkids and say, ‘We have protected your future so you will not be carrying the burdens of the past.'”

The government of that era did a great service to Albertans. It ensured that tax dollars would pay for real government services instead of being poured down a black hole simply to cover interest on debt. Future taxpayers were assured that they wouldn’t be paying for government services already consumed by their parents and grandparents.

Today, Alberta is at a financial crossroads. Earlier this year, a financial report indicated that the province’s debt was on the cusp of $12 billion, with annual interest payments reaching $714 million. Nevertheless, instead of introducing a spring budget in the legislature that would have addressed the growing debt problem, the premier issued an internal order authorizing her government to borrow yet another $6 billion.

No budget. No debate. More debt.

Former Finance Minister Nelson was anxious for people to tell their children: “We have protected your future.” Rachel Notley is headed in the opposite direction. Thus far, her strategy for debt has been to accumulate more debt. But the real question she should be asking is whether Albertans ought to follow in the deep tracks of debt laid down by Ontario and Quebec, or forge our own path of fiscal responsibility by staying away from debt and controlling the cost of government.

1.To review information sources for numbers quoted in this commentary visit: http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource2_082215.pdf

 

19th
August

KITCHEN TABLE TALK: WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?

Rick's Blog

 

KT

Kitchen Table Talk is a forum consisting of a small group of Official Opposition MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler; DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

The years between 1590 and 1600 were good for the Spanish Treasure Fleet. These ships sailed the high seas carrying precious metals from New World mines to the coffers of Spanish royalty. Numbers vary widely, but according to an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior, over this ten-year period, the yearly amount transferred was equal to 16 million pesos on average.1

In modern currency (assuming the U.S. government source is accurate), over this ten-year period, these galleons likely hauled $250 to $300 million per year across the ocean—between $2.5 and $3 billion.

Since 2005, Alberta governments have collected somewhere close to 40 times that amount in resource royalties. Alberta has even had single years where, in addition to collecting taxes from individuals and businesses, we took in the equivalent of $10,000 per family from resource royalties. One year we took in $14.7 billion—nearly $18,000 per family.

To put this financial windfall in perspective, in 2006, B.C. collected just over $4 billion in what it called its Social Services Tax (PST). That same year, Alberta collected $14.7 billion from resources—more than three times B.C.’s sales tax revenue. To have matched Alberta’s resource revenue, B.C. would have needed a PST of around 24 or 25%.

This year, oil prices are down, yet Alberta Energy says we’ll still collect nearly $3 billion in resource revenue. Saskatchewan, which is considered oil rich, says it will collect $903 million in oil revenue.

The amount of oil money Alberta governments have ploughed through is staggering. From the budget ending in 2005 until today, Alberta has collected $117 billion in resource royalties. Resource money has poured over our legislature like tsunami waves. Yet today, the Alberta government gets by using a credit card. Even Alberta’s rainy day fund has been plundered.

Where did the money go? In March, Alberta Finance produced a graph that shows what would have happened, starting in 2006, if operational spending by successive provincial governments had been held to the rate of inflation, plus spending increases for population growth. The graph indicates that Alberta’s operational spending is $6 to $7 billion more per year than it needs to be.

Alberta has a multi-billion-dollar shortfall of this amount not because of oil prices, but because successive provincial administrations have knowingly boosted the size and cost of government at a rate that exceeds both inflation and any legitimate spending increase based on population growth.

For months, opposition MLAs have pointed to the need for responsible cuts to the overgrown ranks of Alberta’s government “managers.” Opposition Leader Brian Jean has said that 3,200 of the thousands of government management positions need to be eliminated. Unfortunately, the new Notley government refuses to act. Rather than restraining government growth, or even holding the line, Premier Notley has already hiked spending, and then, behind closed doors, arranged to borrow $6 billion.

In commenting on Notley’s unwillingness to cut spending and thereby control budget excesses, one pundit pointed out that Ralph Klein balanced Alberta’s budget with no sales tax and oil at $20-$30 a barrel. And Klein didn’t skimp on infrastructure spending either. Overall, it exceeded the national average.

The simple fact is that no matter what the price of oil may be, if government doesn’t control spending, the province will never possess or enjoy economic stability.

1.To review information sources for numbers quoted in this commentary visit: http://www.kitchentabletalk.ca/rsrcs/resource1_081515.pdf

 

12th
August

We’ve been in a league of our own

Rick's Blog

In 2014-15, New Brunswick expected to collect $94 million in resource royalties—all from mining and forestry.1 Royalties from oil and natural gas weren’t part of the province’s revenue. Quebec also expected to collect nothing from hydrocarbons, instead anticipating $1.1 billion from mining, forestry, and water-power royalties. Ontario’s budget pegged its annual royalty revenue at $262 million.

On a per family basis, New Brunswick’s royalty money equals $500 per family, Quebec’s about $560 per family, and Ontario’s about $77 per family.

In contrast, for the fiscal year ending 2014, Alberta collected almost $10 billion in royalty revenues—nearly $10,000 per family. Newfoundland with its offshore oil, B.C. with its natural gas, and Saskatchewan with its easily recoverable oil reserves don’t generate the annual resource revenue of Alberta.

graph 2

Alberta has vast petroleum resources. And the United States, the world’s largest economy, with its immense appetite for oil, is right next door. Currently, more than one of every four barrels of crude imported by the U.S. comes from Alberta. We sell more oil to the U.S. than Saudi Arabia.

Even when oil prices slide, Alberta collects more resource revenue than other provinces, and, on a per person basis, we spend above the national average on government programs. Today, with energy prices nearing the bottom of the cycle, Alberta’s resource revenue is projected at close to $3 billion—still more than three times Saskatchewan’s projected oil revenue, and hundreds of millions more than Saskatchewan will collect from oil, potash, and uranium combined.

For decades, we’ve been in a league of our own, enjoying a financial advantage that other provinces have envied. This advantage shifts as energy prices shift, but we remain one of the wealthiest and most privileged political entities in the world. Yet, effectively, Alberta is broke. Some claim it’s because we don’t have a sales tax. The evidence indicates that this is ridiculous. Per year, Alberta has often collected double in resource royalties what B.C. collects in sales tax alone, and B.C. has about 450,000 more people.

There hasn’t been a shortage of government money in Alberta. Instead, there’s been an absolute deluge of government spending and waste. Successive Alberta governments have been fiscal failures, and the new Premier, Rachel Notley, isn’t even trying to balance the budget. Instead, she hiked spending and is piling on debt.

This summer, the NDP used its majority to give themselves a brand new $6 billion credit card. That card will be maxed out before the end of this fiscal year, when they’ll be looking for even more credit and debt. This isn’t emergency money, or borrowing for a one-time crisis. This is cash for day-to-day incidentals and operations—like a normal person borrowing loonies on a daily basis just to head over to Tim’s for coffee and a doughnut.

Many analysts say that Notley’s level of spending and borrowing could easily bring Alberta debt to between $40-$50 billion by 2019 or 2020. Simply put, Alberta needs to get its fiscal house in order.

All responsible parents and grandparents want their kids to have more opportunities than they had. The notion of bequeathing a legacy of personal debt to their loved ones would be abhorrent to them. Yet this is exactly the situation that successive Alberta governments have created, and that the NDP government is now further advancing.

To review government data sources for numbers used in this commentary visit: http://www.rickstrankman.ca/weve-been-in-a-league-of-our-own-footnotes/

 

“Kitchen Table Talk” is a forum consisting of a small group of Wildrose MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler; Don MacIntyre, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

 

5th
August

Prosperity – How it works

Rick's Blog

Many people think running the government is mostly about financial management—collecting taxes and spending money. Actually it’s not. Financial management is certainly a key part of government, but there is a bigger consideration to be addressed.

Before any government can make spending plans—especially plans for long-term spending—it must recognize that it can only consume wealth (charge taxes and spend money) after someone else has first created that wealth. When a government spends without thinking through how that spending can be sustained, it makes decisions without conducting due diligence.

Wealth and prosperity don’t emerge spontaneously, the way moss grows on trees. Wealth and prosperity are created by individuals, family businesses, and corporations when they invest their money, creativity, and labour in response to an opportunity or incentive. Even financial experts suggest that good economics is as much about incentives as it is about money. This is true because money follows incentives in the same way that water follows the lay of the land. For example, everybody is quicker to pick up a $20 bill than a penny.

An example of a disincentive can be seen in the way people respond to bad government policy. Years ago, the British government charged a window tax. The more windows there were in a house, the more tax the owner paid. As a result, everybody started building houses with fewer windows.

Commodity prices (including oil prices) as they rise and fall in their natural cycles, will also affect investment. Yet in the long run, economic growth will always have as much to do with government policies that create incentives or disincentives, as it does with fluctuating prices.

The point is that every government has an obligation to consider the impact of its policies on wealth creation. When government establishes disincentives through high taxes, inordinate wage laws, and excessive regulation, individuals and businesses change the way they behave and invest. Their priorities shift.

In the 1930s, Alberta’s population was 750,000. Saskatchewan’s population was 930,000. Today, Alberta has 4.2 million people, while Saskatchewan has 1.1 million. Alberta developed rapidly and attracted population. Saskatchewan’s population remained stagnant for 70 years, despite having 1.3 billion barrels in recoverable oil reserves; an abundance of diamonds, salt, sodium sulfite, copper, bentonite, and other elements; as well as holding some of the most significant uranium and potash deposits on earth.chrt (1)

In Alberta, development rapidly occurred because successive provincial governments were forward thinking. They created incentives for entrepreneurs and business. They encouraged private investment. In Saskatchewan, the opposite was true. Successive CCF/NDP governments deliberately created disincentives, openly stating that major businesses with a profit motive were unwanted, and should be frowned upon. Many of these businesses moved to Alberta and invested in Alberta. Saskatchewan’s chief exports became wheat, young families, and entrepreneurs.

Ironically, Saskatchewan and Alberta are going through a kind of role reversal. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is forward-thinking, and is doing all he can to create a business-friendly investment climate. In Alberta, once the Notley government follows through on its announced plans to hike taxes and impose further wage regulations on provincial businesses (including hikes to royalty rates), the business-friendly incentive system for which our province has long been known, will become a thing of the past. What was once popularly known as the Alberta Advantage, may well become the Saskatchewan Advantage.

“Kitchen Table Talk” is a forum consisting of a small group of Wildrose MLAs who each week, get together to talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include GRANT HUNTER, Cardston-Taber-Warner; Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler; Don MacIntyre, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake; and DAVE SCHNEIDER, Little Bow.

 

29th
July

It’s like a potato

Rick's Blog

Every government, regardless of party affiliation, will have policies that lean toward either wealth creation or wealth consumption.

Alberta has had premiers who sought policies that enabled individuals and private companies to create wealth. They recognized that most problems Albertans face can be addressed more easily if the province, and its people, are wealthy. They encouraged and defended wealth creation. They recognized that invested private capital is a key ingredient in the wealth creation process, so they restrained tax levels and stayed away from government debt. They knew debt could, and would, jeopardize the future. They avoided it. They knew private capital would be invested, so they made sure the government didn’t take investment capital away from people through excessive taxation.

In contrast to these past Alberta premiers, successive Ontario governments have focused on wealth consumption. For years, Ontario governments spent every nickel they collected in taxes, plus they borrowed another $314 billion—and consumed it too. (This provincial borrowing is roughly $92,000 for every Ontario family of four.)

Most of us go through life never thinking about what wealth actually is, where wealth comes from, or how it gets created. We understand wealth consumption, especially what it means to spend money. But if a TV reporter with a camera crew randomly stopped a dozen people on the street, asking each one to explain where wealth comes from and how it’s created, what do you think they’d say?

Wealth is anything—tangible or intangible—that makes an individual, family, or any other group of people better off. In one sense, wealth is like a potato. You cannot eat a potato unless you, or someone else, first grows a potato. Wealth is the same. No one—including the government—can consume, spend, or borrow wealth unless someone, somewhere, first creates it.

When we drive through rural Alberta in the spring and see vast numbers of newborn calves, we’re looking at new wealth. Every fall, the wheat, canola, and barley that gets harvested is new wealth.

Modifying or processing a natural resource so people can be better off by using it creates wealth. Oilsands production would be an example. Turning barley into beer and canola into oil creates wealth because it adds value to these products. Transporting a useful product (say, raw timber) from a hard-to-get-to-place to an easy-access location creates wealth. Machines that cut timber into useful lumber facilitate wealth creation. They add value.

Wealth creation is one of the single most important considerations for any elected government to promote. This is true because virtually every human need can be met more effectively when wealth is present. Poor countries are filled with hungry people; wealthy countries are not. Poor countries cannot sustain or support social programs; wealthy countries can. Poor countries cannot afford to clean up polluted rivers or environmental contamination; wealthy countries can.

This summer, knowing the provincial treasury is out of money the Notley government announced that its borrowing $6 billion. It’s consuming that wealth (which amounts to nearly $6,000 for every family of four). All that’s left will be debt. This action, combined with the government’s previous commitment to still higher spending and increased taxes, indicates that Alberta is no longer a province that is directly focused on wealth creation. Instead, we are a province that is focused on wealth consumption.

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“Kitchen Table Talk” is a forum consisting of a small group of Wildrose MLAs who each week, get together to evaluate and talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. Editorial committee members include RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka, Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler. and Don MacIntyre, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

 

 

22nd
July

Rachel Notley and the Debt Treadmill

Rick's Blog

This month, Alberta’s new government passed an Order in Council giving itself the power to borrow $6 billion. For those who don’t normally deal in billions, think of a million dollars, six thousand times over. With this single decision, Rachel Notley has stepped firmly onto the debt treadmill.

Governments climb onto the debt treadmill when they borrow to sustain overspending that’s structural, and that significantly exceeds yearly revenue. It’s a governing approach that assumes overspending is either necessary or desirable. It’s similar to earning $5,000/month, and then maintaining a lifestyle that requires you to put another $1,500 on VISA every month.

Notley’s debt is referred to as government debt, but the fact is its taxpayer debt. Assuming four members per family, the Premier just put almost $6,000 on the credit card of every family in the province.

Other provinces have had debt problems. Two-term Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine created a fiscal catastrophe. Devine’s PCs were defeated in 1991, but before taxpayers could throw them out, the damage had been done. The new NDP Premier, Roy Romanow, inherited a massive annual deficit plus billions in accumulated debt—so much debt that, in 1993, Romanow’s finance officials met secretly with then Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, explaining that Saskatchewan was about to default on $15-billion in debt.

Mazankowski saved Saskatchewan. (The details of the deal have never been made public.) Significantly, Romanow quickly cut spending and balanced the books. Today, the business-friendly policies and surplus budgets of Premier Brad Wall have further set Saskatchewan on a firm financial footing, well-positioned for investment and growth.

Devine managed poorly, yet Canada’s Big Kahuna in terms of debt and mismanagement is undoubtedly Ontario’s Bob Rae. When Rae became Premier, Ontario’s debt stood at $38 billion. Five years later provincial debt exceeded $100 billion. Rae pushed Ontario’s debt-to-GDP ratio from 13.4% to over 30%. Thanks to Mr. Rae, and now the like-minded Kathleen Wynne, Ontario debt stands at $314 billion. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is brushing 40%. Annual interest is roughly $11 billion.

Ontario taxpayers also hold a proportionate share of Canada’s $620 billion federal debt. Ontario has 40% of Canada’s population, so its proportionate share of federal debt would be roughly $250 billion. Adding that amount to the Ontario provincial debt indicates that Ontario taxpayers are on the hook for $560 billion. Greece’s debt is US$350 billion. Ontario has a significantly larger economy than Greece, and about 3 million more people. Even so, the contrast is sobering.

Regrettably, Alberta is now knowingly following in these debt tracks. Prior to the election, the PC government said Alberta’s provincial debt would reach $31 billion by 2019. Since then, Notley has pushed spending even higher. As a result, some analysts believe that by 2019, Alberta could very well rack up debt of $40-$50 billion.

Rachel Notley is digging fiscal ruts. Her actions are more closely aligned with Bob Rae, rather than Roy Romanow. Rae boosted spending by over 10% in his first year as premier, and borrowed billions. Romanow did the opposite. Over three years, Romanow cut spending by 10%, and posted a surplus. In ten weeks as premier, Notley has already borrowed three or four times as much money as Romanow did in ten years. Plus she has boosted spending.

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“Kitchen Table Talk” is a forum consisting of a small group of Wildrose MLAs who each week, get together to evaluate and talk through a legislative policy issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. Editorial committee members include RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler, WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright, and DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.

 

13th
July

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Rick's Blog

The law of unintended consequences genuinely exists. It was defined, and explained, by Robert Merton. Merton was a founder of the modern study of sociology who received the prestigious National Medal of Science, with a citation that specifically mentioned his work on the law of unintended consequence.

Merton explained that individuals and policy advocates call for regulations and legislation that in the end, produce outcomes that are very different from what they claimed to be seeking. It occurs because the policy advocates will be unaware of the final effect of their policy, or the full range of that effect.

At one time, environmental lobby groups in the U.S. insisted that large tracts of forest be established as national reserves, and then protected from wildfire. They got what they wanted. The unintended consequence was a massive buildup of underbrush, ensuring that when fires did occur—as they naturally do—they were many times larger and more destructive.

A U.S. community decided it would be a good idea for all the light bulbs in local traffic signals to be replaced with energy efficient bulbs. There was an unintended consequence. The old bulbs gave off heat, which kept traffic signals defrosted in winter. The new bulbs gave off only light. When sleet and ice storms occurred, as they do in that region, traffic signals were obscured. They frosted over. There were even reports that some signals hung on wires strung across intersections, became so heavy with ice they crashed to the ground.

In Alberta, the government has launched a new minimum wage law. As a matter of social policy, no Albertan is going to be able to work for less than $15 an hour. The policy overlooks the law of unintended consequence.

One problem with such legislation is that some people don’t bring $15 an hour worth of value to a business. Under the new legislation then, the unintended consequence is that these workers won’t get hired. For them, the real minimum wage will be zero. Secondly, many small businesses have the ability to create jobs, but the jobs may not be worth $15/hour to the business. Under the new legislation, the unintended consequence is that these jobs won’t be created. Here too, for the people that are denied these jobs, the real minimum wage is zero. Businesses can raise prices. Yet if customers think prices are too high they don’t buy. The consequence is that the business gets zero.

In a recent letter to the Edmonton Sun, an Alberta restaurant owner explained that he requires 2300 hours of labour per month. The new law will cost his business $104,880 per year ($8,740 per month). Assuming a good year, he had been projecting a profit of $104,000, which was before he paid either himself or his debt. Due to arbitrary government policy, his restaurant will go from being profitable to being economically unviable.

Importantly, when minimum wage laws get pushed above the value a business-or franchise can justify, mechanization takes over. McDonald’s is installing thousands of touch-screen kiosks in its stores. The move will slash labour costs and boost efficiency.

Alberta’s new NDP government thinks it’s doing a good deed by implementing a far-reaching wage policy. Regrettably, it’s an initiative that ignores economic common sense, and looks right past Merton’s thoroughly documented law of unintended consequence.

“At the Kitchen Table” is a forum consisting of a small group of Wildrose MLAs who get together on a weekly basis to evaluate research and talk through legislative policy issues that affect Albertans. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited. The editorial committee members include RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler, WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright, DON MACINTYRE, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, and RON ORR, Lacombe-Ponoka.

 

5th
July

Applying curve ball tactics to the explanation of Alberta’s real debt

Rick's Blog

In 1867, Candy Cummings threw the first curve ball past home plate. He had discovered that by applying spin to the ball, he could create the illusion that the ball was headed in a different direction than it was actually going.

Cumming’s pitch was such a clever deception that people began using the word “spin” to describe any situation that was designed to trick or mislead people, yet stopped short of a lie.

Today, the most ardent users of spin often have something to do with public officials. The job of many press secretaries and media spokespeople is to turn the truth into a curve ball. They apply spin.

One famous apocryphal story about political spin concerns a well-known U.S. politician whose great-great uncle was hanged as a horse thief and robber. The only known photograph of the uncle has him standing atop the gallows. On the back of the picture, under his name, were the words: “Horse thief. Sent to Territorial Prison 1885. Escaped 1887. Robbed the railway express car six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives. Convicted in 1889 and hanged.”

Years later, the politician who knew all about spin tried to rehabilitate the image of his notorious relative. In a formal statement, he said his great-great uncle “had been a famous cowboy whose business empire grew to include the acquisition of valuable equestrian assets, and intimate dealings with the railway company.

Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, he passed away during an important civic function held in his honor, when the platform upon which he was standing at the time, collapsed.”

Can anyone imagine this kind of spin taking place in Alberta? Recently, it was reported that the NDP government had inherited a one-year budgetary surplus of over $1 billion from the PCs. The NDP said that was good. Wildrose immediately cried foul because in fact, Alberta ended the year with a cash deficit of $1.35 billion.

Here’s where the spin comes in: Former premier Alison Redford wanted to be seen as a fiscal conservative. Yet she refused to control spending, and therefore couldn’t balance the budget. Instead, she decided that spin would give her what she wanted. Redford split the government’s finances into separate, and different, budget components. One budget covers operational spending. A second covers capital spending.

To understand exactly what Redford did, imagine a one-income family with two budgets. The capital budget lists the car and mortgage payments. The operational budget lists day-to-day expenses. Now imagine that this family tells their banker that they have a $1,000 a month operating surplus, while failing to mention that the “surplus” is in the operating budget only, while the capital budget has a monthly deficit of $2,000.

This sort of “spin” budgeting was a shenanigan of the PC government. The NDP knew it. Yet, when told of the so-called $1 billion budget surplus (which is really a $1.35 billion deficit), the NDP made no attempt to clarify the situation for taxpayers. That’s troublesome, because no government that desires transparency would even think of cozying up to this kind of off-kilter financial reporting.

Like Candy Cummings’ curveball, it is designed to make people look in the wrong direction.

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The Wildrose Coffeeroom is an informal discussion forum made up of half-a-dozen Wildrose MLAs. On a weekly basis, these MLAs talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. Then as part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants. The editorial committee responsible for this commentary includes Wildrose MLAS, Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler and Wes Taylor, Battle River Wainwright.

 

28th
June

A stunt a day will keep capitalism away

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others. He added that the inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, while the virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

There are profound differences between capitalism and socialism. Capitalism stands for private ownership and uses the law to protect it. Socialism doesn’t. Anti-capitalists believe government should own and/or control a nation’s assets, including its natural and economic resources. That could even include ownership or control over things like wheat, oil, land, etc.

Interestingly, the world’s wealthiest and most advanced nations protect property rights, while the poorest countries have anti-capitalist economies that show little if any regard for property rights.

A Canadian example of anti-capitalist and anti-property rights thinking can be seen in the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), a former federal agency. The CWB made it illegal for an Alberta farmer to grow wheat and then sell it outside the country, or even to sell it to a Canadian bakery. The farmer had to obtain permission first, and then pay a huge CWB transaction fee amounting to several dollars per bushel.

I was reminded of the CWB this past week as events unfolded in the legislature. It seems that NDP Cabinet Minister Shannon Phillips played a key role in the editing and producing of An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away, a book that’s designed to fight capitalism.

The book’s author, Mike Hudema, is also an outspoken opponent of the oilsands. He said the book would not have been possible without Phillips. He wrote in the preface that, “She [now Cabinet Minister Phillips] pushed me to write it, edited my work, and contributed to its content.”

The book teaches activists how to organize public disturbances, engage in stunts, and commit acts of vandalism in order to hinder private investment and stop development from occurring. It suggests that activists can fill balloons and old light bulbs with paint, and then throw them at commercial billboards. It suggests that commercial billboards can even be chopped down. It gives tips on how to use false stories to undermine or mislead the media.

One Calgary writer referred to the book’s tone as designed to teach people how to topple the rich, shut down the oilsands, and harass politicians.

In the legislature last week, when someone asked Cabinet Minister Phillips whether an individual with her anti-capitalist perspective could function as a credible Alberta Cabinet Minister, NDP House Leader Brian Mason answered the question by pointing at me.

Knowing I was one of thirteen Alberta farmers who had exported their own grain to the United States, and then willingly gone to jail for our “crime” of disobeying the CWB (I later received a Prime Ministerial pardon), Mason insisted that there is absolutely no difference between the actions of a lone farmer protecting and defending his own personal property, and those of a recently appointed NDP Cabinet Minister who involved herself in a project that advocates the denial or abolition of property rights, counsels people to deliberately mislead the media, and calls for the deliberate destruction of property that belongs to other people.

As your MLA, this is just one of the issues that I find myself having to explain, and debate, in our legislature. The truth be told, I think all Albertans should find it worrisome that some in the legislature can’t tell the difference between these two very different sets of circumstances.

The Wildrose Coffeeroom is an informal discussion forum made up of half-a-dozen Wildrose MLAs. On a weekly basis, these MLAs talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. Then as part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants. The editorial committee responsible for this commentary includes Rick Strankman, Drumheller-Stettler and Wes Taylor, Battle River Wainwright

 

21st
June

Other people’s money

Rick's Blog

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was quoted saying “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” The concepts that follow the socialist mindset typically come up short on details of where and how the revenues they propose to distribute will come from.

MT

The first week of the new legislative session was a profound eye-opener for the Opposition members charged with holding the new Alberta government to account concerning the interim supply budget, Bill 3 Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act, being brought forward in the house by the NDP. The recurring response to the questions on allocations and rational being used were non-committal or non-existent. Responses like “I’ll get back to you” and “I’m not sure” left many on the Opposition side of the house dismayed and confused about what exactly the government’s true intentions are.

The Alberta government is responsible for the allocation of spending for all of Alberta’s social programs and operational budgets that keep Alberta functioning. Per capita spending in Alberta is already ranked among the highest in all of Canada; that unfortunately does not correlate with the level for value of services provided.

Increased taxes to Alberta corporations and individuals earning more than $125k/year will come up short of covering the new expenditures being proposed in Bill 3. The expenditures will cost an additional $624 million dollars on top of the $48.4 billion that was already allocated in the spring budget released just prior to the May 5 election. The increases in spending were done without the due diligence of finding saving within government; which is cause for concern for fiscally responsible Albertans.

Re-distribution of wealth is a tried and true route to failure that time and again ends in a fiscal wreck that does not benefit taxpayers. In order to distribute wealth, that same wealth is taken from one and given to another. Former Alberta MLA for Hanna-Oyen (elected 1975) Jack Butler, made the astute observation that the government must take in $3 to $4 for every $1 that is redistributed by government. The theory of wealth distribution is a socialist fairytale that increases the size and cost of government for the taxpayer.

Another former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill cautioned, “I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle,” which is eerily similar to what is being proposed with Bill 3.

WC

There are a litany of unanswered questions concerning where this new spending will come from and whether this will be another brick in the budget deficit wall that is obscuring the vision of a balanced budget here in Alberta.

Wildrose is proposing an approach of a more fiscal responsibility approach to budgeting which will allow Alberta to return to a balanced budget, avoiding the inevitable burden to future generations. By introducing new spending before establishing a position of fiscal responsibility, is a guarantee that we will not be living within our means.

 

14th
June

A weighty question

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Recently, a letter to an editor was inquiring whether breaking a federal law could ever be an act of courage, virtue, or integrity. Wow. Talk about a weighty question.

There’s irony to his question too. A stable society depends upon obedience to the law. Yet historians tell us that some of the greatest advances in human freedom have occurred at a point where people were prepared to challenge a law.

It is important to recognize that law breaking and civil disobedience are very different things. Law breaking occurs in secret. No law breaker wants to get caught, whether he’s speeding, stealing, or selling a banned product or substance.

Civil disobedience occurs in the open. It’s carried out by people who conscientiously object to an unjust law, and who therefore want to make a public statement about the law. There is never an attempt to be secretive or to hide, even though it involves breaking the law. Equally important is that civil disobedience avoids violence, and the destruction of property.

People who engage in civil disobedience never avoid punishment. They welcome the punishment because they believe that accepting the punishment is the best way to show others that a particular law really is unjust. They want the injustice to be seen.

Several years ago, thirteen Alberta farmers went to prison for engaging in civil disobedience. They broke the law. One of these men, a farmer from the New Brigden area, crossed the U.S. border with a 50-pound sack of barley. He gave the barley to a local pastor in Sunburst Montana, who promised it would be donated to the local 4H kids. The New Brigden farmer, Jim Ness, didn’t try to hide or cover up what he did. He was making a point. He wanted to be arrested. He wanted to be charged with a crime. He wanted to be sent to jail. He wanted to be able to show all of Canada, and the rest of the world, that Canada’s Parliament was fully prepared to mistreat and imprison western Canadian farmers for the crime of growing, and then exporting, their own wheat and barley.

Ness went to prison. Years later, he received a Prime Ministerial pardon and formal acknowledgement that the government’s actions had been wrong. Most people would say that what Ness did took courage. I am one of those people.

Mahatmas Ghandi relied heavily upon civil disobedience to bring about independence for the nation of India. Martin Luther King Jr. used civil disobedience to advance the civil rights movement in the United States. At the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII, many leading Nazis were executed or sent to prison because they didn’t engage in civil disobedience.

At the Nuremberg trial, leading German military and government figures asked how an international tribunal could find them guilty of any crime, because every step of the way they had obeyed the laws that had been drafted and enacted by a sovereign national government. Nevertheless, the Allies (which included Canada, although the judges were British, French, American, and Russian) executed many of these officials and imprisoned many more. On what basis?

The point is that regardless of what a law may or may not say, we each know right from wrong.

 

7th
June

All Albertans

Rick's Blog

This past Saturday, June 6th, marked the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Allies began landing on the coast of France at 6:30 a.m. and by midnight, over 150,000 British, US, and Canadian troops had landed on the beaches in Normandy, France. Despite the massive allied force, D-Day had a very real cost with about 9,000 Allied soldiers either dead or wounded.

The soldiers that stormed the beaches of Normandy on that early spring day in 1944 did so with the real knowledge that they may not make it through the battle. The courage, loyalty, and honour these brave young men exhibited, literally changed the history of the world. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history; the operation is considered one of the key operations that contributed to the Allied victory during World War II.

The honour and sacrifice of those that stood in the face of tyranny and injustice to preserve our rights, is something that should be honoured every day. Our fundamental right to democracy is the mechanism that preserves freedoms enjoyed by every citizen in that same coalition of allies that assembled forces on the beaches in 1944. The Loyalty and Honour that fuelled the young men who were willing to sacrifice their lives is unimaginable.

On June 1st 2015, one by one, the newly elected and re-elected MLAs were sworn-in using a traditional oath of office which was presided over by Chief Justice of Alberta, Catherine Fraser and Speaker of the Assembly, the Honourable Gene Zwozdesky. The oath pledges “that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law.”

An oath traditionally is a promise with wording relating to something considered sacred and is considered a sign of true loyalty. Knowing what to expect, having taken the oath in 2012, it gave me a chance to reflect on the significance of that oath.

The privilege awarded by the citizens of Alberta is something that deserves respect by all members of the Legislature and is something that should be in the forefront for every MLA. The purpose of the legislature is to carry out the wishes and act in the best interests of Albertans that chose us to represent them. That is why I felt it necessary to slightly change my oath adding “all Albertans.”

 

The swearing-in of the Members’ of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta is the conclusion of the democratic process that is made possible by the honour and loyalty of so many who made the ultimate sacrifice in democracies throughout the world.

It is once again an honour for me to loyally serve “all Albertans.”

 

31st
May

The ethics (and non-ethics) of how government spending is prioritized

Rick's Blog

In 1994, five premiers and 21 years ago, the Alberta government made a commitment to the people of Whitecourt. It said it would replace the community’s aging hospital. The old hospital has yet to be replaced.

Some years ago now, the provincial government also promised the community of Wainwright a new hospital. It hasn’t been built yet either. In fact, today, the Wainwright hospital is in such bad shape that one of the government’s own internal assessment reports says that healthcare at the facility is what they call “suboptimal.” The sewers back up, the roof leaks, it’s impossible to at times get hot water from the taps, and the doors and hallways are so narrow that it’s impossible to move modern equipment around without banging into door jams and walls (possibly damaging expensive equipment).

By the government’s own admission, the current Wainwright facility may be an accident waiting to happen. The Health Services Report warns that the current substandard conditions have “significant” IPC implications (Infection Prevention Control).

Why have the needs of these communities been ignored? Why are so many non-urban communities, which are in need of healthcare facilities, not on the government’s radar?

The answer has to do with the way previous governments prioritized infrastructure spending. For decades, the Alberta government maintained a very inefficient and biased approach to healthcare spending. At no time did the PC government try to establish a publicly transparent way to measure the needs of communities, categorize the results, and then publicly prioritize infrastructure spending on the basis of demonstrated need. If they had done something like this, the timing for the construction of hospitals, schools, and other government facilities would be as reliable as a Calgary Flames game schedule.

Instead, successive PC governments left these major spending decisions in the hands of the most powerful ministers, who tended to spend wherever they’d get the greatest political advantage. Many Albertans will recall that certain past PC MLAs would even publicly warn school boards and local communities not to criticize the government, suggesting that infrastructure spending might be affected if they did.

Clearly, the idea that billions of dollars in annual infrastructure spending decisions should depend solely upon the whims of a handful of high ranking politicians does not serve our province. Instead, Alberta requires a transparent needs assessment and a public review process that systematically prioritizes spending and establishes priorities. It’s the only way to get better economic efficiency and to get the politics out of the process.

Now that the NDP has assumed control of the provincial government, opposition members are already pressing for a reliable, publicly transparent process that lets every single Alberta voter and taxpayer know exactly what’s going on when it comes to the scheduling of government infrastructure facilities—including priorities, timing, and sequence.

If the Notley government really does want (as it claims) to turn over a new ethical leaf in the way that our government operates, then infrastructure spending is a key place to start. Conversely, if the NDP follows on the heels of what the PCs have done in the past, then voters, taxpayers, and municipalities are again going to be saddled with an approach to government infrastructure spending that is arbitrary, manipulative, politically self-serving, and unnecessarily expensive.

Co-composed by:

Rick Strankman MLA, Drumheller Stettler

Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Twitter: @RickStrankman

Website: www.RickStrankman.ca

Wes Taylor MLA, Battle River Wainwright

Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Twitter: @WesTaylorWRP

Website: www.WesTaylor.ca

 

 

24th
May

Cronyism or fair-minded democracy‏

Rick's Blog

Occasionally, voters will ask if they’ll be treated fairly if the MLA they elect is not part of the governing party. It’s a fair question. And as odd as it sounds, the answer is that it depends on whether the government you’re dealing with is ethical or unethical.

Cronyism is what occurs when elected officials inappropriately channel financial benefits to individuals and groups who offer political support in exchange for taxpayer-funded favors. When building schools and hospitals, ethical governments will establish transparent rules and processes that apply fairly and equally to everybody. They’ll develop ways to measure the need of each community, quantify results, and establish priorities. The evaluation and decision-making processes will be public. Backroom deal-making will be avoided.

Crony-style governments are quite the opposite. They’ll always make decisions in backrooms out of the taxpayer’s view. When determining infrastructure spending they’ll ignore communities with the keenest need and instead channel tax dollars into regions and projects that generate a greater perceived political benefit. They treat people unfairly. They treat regions unequally.

Crony-style government is most common in countries that are corrupt. It almost always emerges in political administrations where a single political party has been in power for a long time.

In Mexico, for example—where federal elections are held every six years—the political party known as the PRI won 12 consecutive elections. It governed for seven consecutive decades. In such a situation, cronyism becomes inevitable.

It’s the same in countries where a single President or Prime Minister stays in office for 30 or 40 years. Cronyism becomes part of the landscape. (The world’s longest serving national leader, who is non-royalty, assumed public office in 1975—four years after the PC Party took control of Alberta.)

Crony-style government is not so much about under the table payoffs as it is about favouritism and a lack of ethics. It definitely has to do with scheduling priorities and the way governments build public facilities like schools, hospitals, and the like. But it also has to do with the way government contracts are awarded, which is why sole source contracting is a key aspect of cronyism.

When crony-style governments buy things, rather than opting for open bidding processes they’ll often make agreements with friendly or supporter-controlled businesses, even for dollar amounts that can’t easily be justified. In 2013-14, the Alberta PCs spent almost $1 billion on sole source contracts.

A small example of how this works can be seen in the way the PC government awarded more than $200,000 in contracts from Alberta Health to a consulting company whose senior executives ran PC Party election campaigns. The contracts were untendered, personally handled by the Minister, and according to one report, contracted for “communication” services that weren’t even needed.

How the NDP will perform we have yet to see. Even so, the simple fact is if a political candidate from any party tells you there is a financial advantage to having an MLA that belongs to a governing party, what that person is actually telling you is that he or she would be prepared to manipulate the system in order to produce a benefit for one person or region, at the expense of another person or region.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what unethical government looks like, acts like, and sounds like. It is third world governance at its worst. It doesn’t belong in Alberta.

 

18th
May

Loyalty and integrity

Rick's Blog

As an MLA, I am privileged at this time of year, with the very special honour of attending and participating in the high school graduation ceremonies that take place across the Drumheller Stettler riding. The significance of the graduation of these young people is something that holds a special place for me.

The new chapter young people start after leaving high school is something that acts as a milestone worthy of recognition and often remains a noteworthy milestone for their entire lives. A new chapter full of opportunity and hope unfolds after graduation, which in many cases determines the path our life takes.

At many of the ceremonies I am asked to address the graduating class and deliver a message or advice for these young people to carry into the future. This year’s message without question for me to deliver is loyalty and integrity.

The last year and a half in Alberta politics has been challenging and unpredictable to say the least. My Wildrose colleagues-Drew Barnes, Pat Stier, Heather Forsyth, Shayne Saskiw, and myself held to our integrity and loyalty that we first were elected on. As the political world around us appeared to be crumbling, five of us weathered a storm that, at times, seemed to be powerful enough to sweep us into political oblivion.

The recent election illustrated that Albertans have a desire for loyalty and integrity. Loyalty to the platform and the integrity to stand behind it was something constituents repeatedly told me was what they demanded from their representatives. It also turned out to be the key components in the re-election of the Wildrose candidates that ran again, Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and myself.

As dark as things seemed when the historic Alberta Legislature floor-crossing took place, something I said to graduates last year stuck with me;

“Loyalty and integrity in many cases will overcome numbers.”

It stuck with me because as part of a small group, I have faced off against a large organization before, the Chretien government. The small group of 13 farmers that took on the Chretien government to fight for our property rights prevailed for the same two reasons-integrity and loyalty.

As part of a small group of five MLAs that were determined to remain the official Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, the odds at times seemed insurmountable. This past election took the Wildrose from 17 seats in 2012 to 21seats in 2015. Without question this is in part due to the integrity and loyalty shown not only by the MLAs, but the members who believed in a movement.

The message I would like to leave graduating classes that I am privileged to address will focus on the loyalty it takes to be part of a successful organization, big or small, and the integrity that legitimizes not only an organization but its members.

My message to the graduates is simply this, we all want loyalty, integrity and somebody who won’t quit. To get that person, you have to be that person.

 

11th
May

Back to work!

Rick's Blog

After the recent provincial election, a few Wildrose colleagues and I discussed how it’s not possible for voters to make a mistake when it comes to marking ballots at election time. Elections reveal what people think.

Almost 16,000 people in our Drumheller-Stettler riding cast ballots. Another 9,000 could have voted, but for whatever reason, didn’t. Province-wide, just under 1½ million people did mark ballots. Another million or more were eligible. They didn’t vote. It’s interesting that they didn’t because in every election, the margin of victory in many constituencies is so small that eight or ten thousand votes going one way or another could shift more than a dozen ridings from one party to another.

Small numbers of voters can have enormous influence. In one southern riding, the candidate won by only 12 votes. In our own riding of Drumheller-Stettler, the vote was 48% for Wildrose, 34% for the PCs, and 18% for the NDP.

As the Wildrose candidate, incumbent, and now MLA, I want to express my sincerest thanks to every person who did exercise the right to vote. I also want to say a big thank you to every volunteer no matter which party you supported. You help ensure there will be even greater public engagement in the process. Those of us involved in the Wildrose campaign worked hard. We also had lots of fun and enjoyed great times of laughter and friendship. Thank you so much to our Wildrose team of volunteers and party workers.

When the election was called, the Wildrose Party held five seats in the legislature. In this new session we will hold 21 seats. We are hoping that voters in the Calgary riding vacated by Jim Prentice might choose a Wildrose MLA as well. A by-election will be held in the next few months.

Overall, Alberta voters determined that Wildrose will be the Official Opposition. It’s a responsibility my colleagues and I take seriously because it’s an important part of good government. We will undertake this duty with the utmost diligence.

My sincere and best wishes to local candidates Jack Hayden and Emily Shannon; Rachel Notley, our new Premier; Brian Jean, Leader of the Official Opposition; and to each and every MLA who will be part of the next session of the Alberta legislature.

 

3rd
May

The DNA of the NDP

Rick's Blog

No other political party has a history like the NDP. Two prairie preachers were instrumental in the party’s birth. William Irvine was from Calgary. John Woodsworth was from Manitoba. In 1921, both were elected as Labour MPs.

In Ottawa, the two met regularly in Irvine’s office along with a dozen MPs from other parties. All were known as radicals. They craved a form of socialism they called Cooperative Commonwealth. They became known as the Ginger Group. They openly looked upon Russian socialism with favour.

In 1931-32, the Ginger Group hatched a plan to establish the CCF (later NDP) in Canada. The founding meeting occurred in Calgary in 1932. One year later, at the party’s first annual convention in Regina, a carefully worded policy platform was presented that explained what the party wanted to achieve. That document is called the Regina Manifesto.

(http://scaa.usask.ca/gallery/election/en/view_image.php?image=45.)

The Regina Manifesto said allowing the open market system to determine prices was a “cancer,” and further stated that no CCF [NDP] government would “rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full program of socialized planning.”

Canada’s first provincially elected CCF/NDP government was in Saskatchewan. That was in 1944. As a result of that election, Alberta and Saskatchewan took very different economic paths. Alberta embraced a culture of business and individual initiative. The Saskatchewan government was openly hostile toward private investment and private profit.

Prior to the CCF/NDP election, Canada’s fledgling oil industry had a significant presence in Saskatchewan. This was true because at the time, Regina, rather than Calgary, was seen as the natural economic hub of the prairie region. After the CCF/NDP was elected, that changed. The energy industry left Regina in convoys, setting up new offices and new operations in Alberta. [i] It is said that some of these companies even left in the middle of the night, fearing their precious exploration records would be confiscated. In Alberta, a year and a half later, Leduc #1 became known to the world.

For decades, successive Saskatchewan NDP governments viewed the private sector as competition. Rather than establish provisions that encouraged private investment, the NDP created dozens of Crown Corporations. They had a government brickyard, boot factory, blanket factory, box factory, and fish plant. There were literally dozens of government companies, all financed with tax dollars and debt rather than private investment capital. The economic outcome was disastrous. (Every company was run by government appointees.)

In the 1930s, 930,000 people lived in Saskatchewan. By 2001, seventy years later, the population was still under a million. During all the NDP years, Saskatchewan’s chief export was private sector investment and young people. The absence of significant private sector development meant few jobs. Government-run businesses meant massive debt and lots of bureaucracy. Industrious people moved away, many to Alberta.

Today Saskatchewan has a free-market government and is prospering through private sector investment. Elsewhere, people say the NDP has softened its anti-business stance. That’s a dubious statement at best. The only NDP government left is in Manitoba. In a recent survey, large numbers of Manitoba business owners indicated they’d never encourage their children to invest in Manitoba. And only 8% are confident that the NDP has any sense of vision for the role of business in their province.[ii]

Overall, the great strength of the NDP seems to be the way it speaks about social issues and fairness. At the same time, the NDP has consistently proven that it doesn’t understand wealth, where wealth comes from, how wealth is created, or the way fanciful government policy can impede, hinder, and even end wealth creating processes.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is a huge problem.
_________________________________________________________
[i] The National Film Board production called, “Keeper of the Flame,” the Story of Tommy Douglas, contains video of various companies leaving the province in the 1940s. Video of Imperial Oil leaving Saskatchewan can be seen at the 17 minute mark of that film. The entire film is available online at:
https://www.nfb.ca/film/tommy_douglas_keeper_of_the_flame
[ii] See: http://www.winnipegsun.com/2015/03/09/manitoba-business-community-not-sold-on-selinger

and http://www.cfib-fcei.ca/english/article/5745-wanted-government-vision-for-small-business.html

 

2nd
May

Following In the Tracks of the Big Borrowers

Rick's Blog

Most of us know what it’s like to run up debt on a credit card. We know what it’s like to get the bill every month, and see that interest has been added. We know the money we send the credit card company is cash we’ll never be able to use for groceries, clothing, or necessities. Government debt works the same way.

In 1993, due to mismanagement by a PC government, Saskatchewan was a breath away from bankruptcy. According to the Globe and Mail, Saskatchewan officials met secretly with then Deputy Prime Minister, Don Mazankowski, because the province was on the verge of defaulting on its $15-billion debt. Mazankowski engineered a deal to get the province through the crisis, the details of which have never been revealed.(1)

We all know about Greece and its debt. Many believe Greece will default this year, resulting in financial calamity. Pension funds and personal savings will take a huge hit. National unemployment already exceeds 25%. Debt default will make it worse.

Prior to joining Canada, Newfoundland was broke, at one point spending two-thirds of every tax dollar servicing debt. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, part of the deal was that Canadian taxpayers agreed to assume responsibility for Newfoundland’s debt. (2)

Recently, Ontario announced it will spend $11.4 billion paying interest on debt this year, which is $4 billion more than Alberta’s annual education budget. (3)Interestingly, in 2013, Canadian governments spent $62 billion paying interest on debt—more money than they spent on primary and secondary education in 2012. (4)

In Alberta, the Prentice PCs now want to follow in the tracks of these big borrowers, proving that today’s PC Party is not what it used to be.

In 1971, Peter Lougheed campaigned on a promise to balance the budget and eliminate healthcare fees. In the two years leading up to that election, the governing Socreds had small deficits. (5) Lougheed denounced them for it, claiming the PCs were the party of fiscal responsibility and new ideas. The PCs won that election. Lougheed became Premier.

Today, 44 years later, rather than fiscal restraint and tax cuts, the PCs are promising jumbo-sized deficits that will total $31 billion by 2019, plus 59 different tax increases. (By 2019, the yearly interest on this PC debt will cost nearly $2 billion.) (6)

Prentice says he can’t balance the budget, but that we needn’t worry because the PCs have a plan. Alberta’s last PC Premier, Alison Redford, couldn’t balance the budget either. She too said we needn’t worry. She too had a plan. Albertans were told that by 2015, the annual surplus would be $5 billion (7). Now it’s 2015—no surplus; big deficit.

There is one thing about every PC economic plan that has been entirely consistent, whether the Premier has been Ed Stelmach, Redford, or Prentice. Every PC plan is based on the assumption that the current PC government doesn’t need to balance the budget. Every PC plan has said that a deficit today is okay, because it’s the road that will lead to balanced budgets. Yet the balanced budgets never arrive.

In fact, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the PCs are financially irresponsible and fiscally reckless. They have been in power for so long that they are more interested in protecting their positions and defending entitlement, than they are with upholding the financial integrity of Alberta. 
____________________________________________________________

(1) https://cs.uwaterloo.ca/~alopez-o/politics/GandMarticle.html. 
(2) http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/nfldhistory/NewfoundlandJoinsCanada-Confederation1949.htm.
(3) The Alberta 2015-16 budget, indicates estimated education spending at $7.48 billion (not counting post-secondary).
(4) Fraser Research Bulletin (PDF), August 2014; The Cost of Government Debt in Canada.
(5) The Social Credit Phenomenon in Alberta by Alvin Finkel, page 198.
(6) Assuming it costs $1 million to pave a mile of road, $1.8 billion in annual interest is enough money to pave a highway every year that stretches from the steps of the Alberta legislature to the Mexican border.
(7) Alberta Budget 2012, Fiscal Tables, page 130.

 

1st
May

The definition of political entitlement

Rick's Blog

Last week Alberta taxpayers learned that while the Alberta government had been publicly boasting about its new “rigorous” policy of accountability and expense disclosure, behind the scenes, the truth was being hidden.

The government insisted it was posting all executive expenses online. We now know they weren’t. Behind the scenes the PC government had created a new secret expense category—called corporate events—that allowed ministers and senior government officials to hide $6 million in expenses. Apparently, the PCs believe they’re entitled to a slush fund.

Another backroom secret that was discovered this week has to do with the taxpayer-funded golf course west of Calgary. It seems the arrangement also includes a secret $15 million side-deal that nobody outside the upper ranks of the PC government knows anything about. Prentice and the PCs refuse to disclose details.

Hopefully, the Auditor General will investigate. The PCs obviously believe that in addition to a slush fund, they’re also entitled to secrecy.

Then just a few days ago, former Energy Minister, Ted Morton, spilled the beans on what could be one of the biggest economic boondoggles in Alberta’s history. Morton says the PC government committed the province (again in a backroom without whispering a peep to taxpayers), to what is being referred to as a $26 billion boondoggle.

“What began as a low-risk, low-cost project to encourage bitumen upgrading has morphed into a multi-billion dollar boondoggle with high risks for taxpayers,” Morton is quoted as saying. The backroom deal means every Alberta family is on the hook for $25,000.

Every one of these taxpayer-funded deals were made in a backroom by PC Cabinet Ministers who believed they were entitled to do whatever they wanted. No accountability. No transparency. No review. Not even a one-time opportunity for public evaluation.

Just prior to the discovery of these shenanigans, the PCs called an election even though the law specifically says there isn’t supposed to be an election until the spring of 2016. Here too, the PCs believed they were entitled to do what they wanted, even if it meant breaking the law.

Then this past week, in a full display of an entitlement attitude, half-a-dozen PC Cabinet Ministers met with the media to complain that they didn’t like the Wildrose Party’s budget proposals.

Don Braid, a journalist with the Calgary Herald said the PCs presented themselves as “humble candidates,” but he also indicated there was no mistaking that the PCs were trying to marshal the weight and power of government to criticize Wildrose economic policy.

Wildrose Leader, Brian Jean, responded by pointing out that the PCs have such an over-developed sense of entitlement, they don’t even recognize the impropriety of using the power of government to criticize someone during an election campaign, as opposed to speaking out on behalf of their own political party.

“These guys think the PC Party and the government are the same thing,” Jean said. “They have an attitude of entitlement.”

Other commentators responded to this week’s events by pointing out that in the world of political parties and government, entitlement and accountability are like air and water. No glass or cup can be filled with air and water at the same time. Similarly, a political party or government filled with an attitude of entitlement, can’t possibly, at the same time, have an attitude of accountability.

This commentary is a production of the Wildrose Coffeeroom. The Wildrose Coffeeroom is a forum made up of a number of Wildrose candidates and some MLAs. On a twice-weekly basis, these individuals get together to talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants. The editorial committee responsible includes STUART TAYLOR, West Yellowhead, RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler, and WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright. For background information on the Wildrose Coffeeroom visit us on Facebook.

 

 

26th
April

The definition of political entitlement

Rick's Blog

Last week Alberta taxpayers learned that while the Alberta government had been publicly boasting about its new “rigorous” policy of accountability and expense disclosure, behind the scenes, the truth was being hidden.

The government insisted it was posting all executive expenses online. We now know they weren’t. Behind the scenes the PC government had created a new secret expense category—called corporate events—that allowed ministers and senior government officials to hide $6 million in expenses. Apparently, the PCs believe they’re entitled to a slush fund.

Another backroom secret that was discovered this week has to do with the taxpayer-funded golf course west of Calgary. It seems the arrangement also includes a secret $15 million side-deal that nobody outside the upper ranks of the PC government knows anything about. Prentice and the PCs refuse to disclose details.

Hopefully, the Auditor General will investigate. The PCs obviously believe that in addition to a slush fund, they’re also entitled to secrecy.

Then just a few days ago, former Energy Minister, Ted Morton, spilled the beans on what could be one of the biggest economic boondoggles in Alberta’s history. Morton says the PC government committed the province (again in a backroom without whispering a peep to taxpayers), to what is being referred to as a $26 billion boondoggle.

“What began as a low-risk, low-cost project to encourage bitumen upgrading has morphed into a multi-billion dollar boondoggle with high risks for taxpayers,” Morton is quoted as saying. The backroom deal means every Alberta family is on the hook for $25,000.

Every one of these taxpayer-funded deals were made in a backroom by PC Cabinet Ministers who believed they were entitled to do whatever they wanted. No accountability. No transparency. No review. Not even a one-time opportunity for public evaluation.

Just prior to the discovery of these shenanigans, the PCs called an election even though the law specifically says there isn’t supposed to be an election until the spring of 2016. Here too, the PCs believed they were entitled to do what they wanted, even if it meant breaking the law.

Then this past week, in a full display of an entitlement attitude, half-a-dozen PC Cabinet Ministers met with the media to complain that they didn’t like the Wildrose Party’s budget proposals.

Don Braid, a journalist with the Calgary Herald said the PCs presented themselves as “humble candidates,” but he also indicated there was no mistaking that the PCs were trying to marshal the weight and power of government to criticize Wildrose economic policy.

Wildrose Leader, Brian Jean, responded by pointing out that the PCs have such an over-developed sense of entitlement, they don’t even recognize the impropriety of using the power of government to criticize someone during an election campaign, as opposed to speaking out on behalf of their own political party.

“These guys think the PC Party and the government are the same thing,” Jean said. “They have an attitude of entitlement.”

Other commentators responded to this week’s events by pointing out that in the world of political parties and government, entitlement and accountability are like air and water. No glass or cup can be filled with air and water at the same time. Similarly, a political party or government filled with an attitude of entitlement, can’t possibly, at the same time, have an attitude of accountability.

This commentary is a production of the Wildrose Coffeeroom. The Wildrose Coffeeroom is a forum made up of a number of Wildrose candidates and some MLAs. On a twice-weekly basis, these individuals get together to talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants. The editorial committee responsible includes STUART TAYLOR, West Yellowhead, RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler, and WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright. For background information on the Wildrose Coffeeroom visit us on Facebook.

 

 

20th
April

Bringing back the Alberta advantage

Rick's Blog

Not long ago, Alberta was the envy of the nation. Our provincial government respected taxpayers and showed its respect by balancing the budget. In 1998, oil dipped below $15. The budget was balanced. Some years ago, more than once oil dipped below $30. Budgets were balanced. During most of these years, Alberta’s infrastructure spending far exceeded the national average.

Today, that respect for taxpayers is gone from the PC Party. Wildrose is the only party in the Legislature standing against Jim Prentice’s 59 tax increases. We are also the only party with a definite plan that will balance the budget by 2017—without raising taxes, and without cutting frontline services. Some are asking, “How will we do it?”

Wildrose will eliminate 3,200 upper-level, loaded, government management positions. We’ll end corporate welfare. No grants or loan guarantees for corporations. None. We’ll eliminate sole-source contracts that have enriched so many friends of the PCs, and we’ll guarantee open-bidding processes on all major government contracts.

We’ll end “March Madness,” the bureaucratic spending spree that wastes millions when government departments and agencies empty bank accounts at the end of the fiscal year, fearing their budgets will be cut if they don’t.

The PC practice of running around at election time saying, “Vote for me and I’ll build you a _______ [fill in the blank] will be buried. Wildrose will require full public disclosure of infrastructure priority lists, including costs, and specific reasons for the timing of each project.

The PC Cabinet pay hike of 30% will be rolled back, as well as the 8% hike that was given to MLAs. All final votes in the Legislature will be free votes. We’ll ban MLAs from being elected under one party, and then crossing to another, without first facing their constituents in a by-election. We will implement recall legislation, and true fixed election dates. This manipulating of election dates for political advantage will be over.

Savings from cuts to extravagant AHS executive pay, perks, and severance, will immediately be used to cut healthcare wait times. Wildrose will expand patient-based funding because we believe funding should go with the patient, to the service provider of the patient’s choice. This could encourage community-based service providers and non-profits to enter the field.

Wildrose will pass a legislative motion to entrench the property rights of all Albertans into the Canadian Constitution—keeping in mind that the term “property rights” also refers to protecting legal instruments such as leases, licenses, and contracts, that according to recent PC legislation (Bill 36), Cabinet now has the power to extinguish, while denying people access to compensation and the courts.

For years, the Alberta government’s objective was to empower people so individuals, families, and businesses could save, invest, and prosper. What we all came to know as the Alberta Advantage was never necessarily about geography, or even about oil; the Alberta Advantage was always about fiscally-responsible government.

Regrettably, successive PC governments have deliberately erased the Alberta Advantage. Jim Prentice’s recent budget was the final installment in a ten-year slide carried out by irresponsible PC Premiers. Prentice now wants record high debt ($30 billion by 2019), the biggest overall tax hike Alberta has ever seen, and policies that protect and shelter government inefficiency, rather than expose it, and fix it.

It’s time for change

This commentary is a production of the Wildrose Coffeeroom. The Wildrose Coffeeroom is a forum made up of a number of Wildrose candidates and some MLAs. On a twice-weekly basis, these individuals get together to talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants. The editorial committee responsible includes STUART TAYLOR, West Yellowhead, RICK STRANKMAN, Drumheller-Stettler, and WES TAYLOR, Battle River-Wainwright. For background information on the Wildrose Coffeeroom visit us on Facebook.
 

12th
April

A new attack on landowner rights

Rick's Blog

As a member of the legislature, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Cabinet Ministers or PC MLAs talk about the need for a “balanced” approach toward property rights. Frankly, the idea is ridiculous. There is no such thing as a “balanced” approach to property rights. If something is yours, it’s yours—period; end of story. What’s to balance?  The “balance” is that you own it. Your neighbour doesn’t. The government doesn’t.

If Farmer Sam showed up at Farmer Joe’s door, saying he wanted to talk about a “balanced” approach to the ownership and use of Joe’s new combine, Joe would have every right to tell Sam to jump in the lake.  It’s the same thing when the government starts talking about a “balanced” approach toward things that belong to other people.

As far back as anyone can remember, when an energy company came on private land to drill a well, build a compressor station, or establish any other energy-related project, the landowner’s financial rights were protected by law. If the energy company didn’t pay annual compensation, the law required the government to pay the landowner.

The policy made perfect sense: The government uses right of entry orders that force landowners to allow companies onto their property. If the landowner doesn’t agree to the terms of the energy company’s offer, which includes accepting compensation at rates that are established by the government (who owns the oil and gas) then the government imposes a settlement that the landowner has no choice but to accept, even if he or she doesn’t want to. Due to the coercive nature of the process, guaranteeing payment to the landowner has always been a part of the Surface Rights Act.

Regrettably, this policy has changed now that the government regulator decided that landowners should just plain take it on the chin, if, and when, an energy company goes broke.

One of the province’s leading landowner rights lawyers, Keith Wilson, says if the government is no longer going to protect landowners from non-payment for annual compensation, then the government should immediately stop issuing right of entry orders to energy companies. “This is an outrageously unfair decision for landowners and ranchers,” Wilson said. Wilson recently spoke at a meeting in Trochu, which was attended by about 400 concerned landowners.

This government decision came as no surprise to many. Governments and political parties tend to either respect landowner rights, or trample landowner rights. There’s no in-between. It’s like being pregnant. Either you are, or you’re not. And the track record of the PCs is that they’re not at all interested in protecting property rights. Last fall in the legislature, PCs opposed a constitutional amendment to protect property rights.

The PC Land Bills—especially 24 and 36—decimated the legal and compensation rights of Albertans. Bill 36 gave Cabinet the power to deny compensation and even access to the courts. Then the government’s Bill 2 eliminated a landowner’s right to a hearing, if he, or she, objects to anything the government and an energy company want to do on private property.

Here too, the PC government’s idea that it’s doing all this to achieve balance is ridiculous. Trampling the longstanding legal and property rights of landowners has nothing to do with “balance.”  Instead, it has everything to do with government being a bully.

 

5th
April

Alberta’s second NDP budget

Rick's Blog

When last week’s budget rolled out, it was revealed that the fiscal lion Prentice had pretended to be, was in fact, a whimpering, six-week old kitten.

Three-years ago, Alison Redford tabled her first budget. It was an outrageous document that the National Post referred to as Alberta’s first NDP budget. Redford’s PCs opened the spending taps wide. Per capita spending in Alberta reached a record $10,800, compared to $9,000 in Ontario, and $8,400 in Quebec.

Redford projected a great big deficit, yet happily insisted it didn’t actually matter because the PCs had a terrific long-term plan. We now know that Redford’s long-term plan was a fraud, and that her budget was a calculated act of political irresponsibility.

Last week, Alberta’s second NDP budget was put forward by Jim Prentice.

Originally, Prentice travelled the province telling Albertans that the provincial government was too big, too wasteful, and too expensive. He insisted that the looming deficit demanded spending cuts. He hinted at tax increases—but promised spending cuts.

Prentice even ponied up $100,000 of our tax dollars to get on TV. On television, he said his government “need[ed] to get [its] costs under control.”

Regardless of whether people agreed with Prentice’s statements, his message resonated. Many Albertans recognize that government really is too big and too expensive, particularly at the very top of the bureaucracy.

Yet when the time came for Prentice to act upon everything he’d been saying, he utterly and absolutely refused to act. No courage. When his budget rolled out last week, it was revealed that the fiscal lion Prentice had pretended to be, was in fact, a whimpering six-week old kitten.

Rather than address the province’s genuine fiscal crisis that he had so accurately defined, Prentice instead made a last minute decision to embrace tax hikes and deficit spending on a colossal scale. He now wants to deliberately put Alberta deep into debt. This year he is going to rack up the single biggest deficit in Alberta’s history—all inclusive, that one-year deficit will be roughly $8 billion.

Prentice says by 2019, Alberta taxpayers will owe $31 billion.

The yearly interest on the Prentice debt will be $1-$2 billion, requiring taxpayers to shell out billions in taxes while getting absolutely nothing in return.

Prentice’s budget established new taxes or hiked the rates in 59 tax categories. By way of example, the cost to register a home with a $400,000 mortgage will quadruple, going from $290 to $1,230.00. The single rate income tax, which was a big part of the Alberta Advantage, is gone. Health care taxes will cost Albertans $400 million in this first year, the kicker being that the PCs have already admitted that its “healthcare premium” will not even be directed toward healthcare. Every tank of gas or diesel is now more expensive. Yet spending on MLA offices and MLA budgets is up $54 million.

Overall, spending is still rising.

Prentice’s budget, in a way that has never been seen in Alberta’s history, openly places a higher priority on protecting the size and cost of government than it does on upholding the fiscal viability of the province, or ensuring the advantages that for such a long time have been unique to Alberta.

Prentice is pushing the province deeply into debt, guaranteeing that taxpayers will be obligated to pay billions in interest. He’s creating an ongoing financial debacle that should cause every free-minded Albertan to shudder.

The editorial committee responsible includes KATHY MACDONALD, Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, DANNY HOZACK, Vermilion-Lloydminster, and SCOTT WAGNER, Banff-Cochrane. The Wildrose Coffeeroom is a forum made up of some Wildrose candidates, past candidates, and some MLAs. On a weekly basis, these individuals meet to talk through a specific policy or fiscal issue. As part of the process, a short commentary is compiled and then edited by a committee of the participants

 

31st
March

Democracy beauty: It ensures ordinary people have the final say

Rick's Blog

This past weekend was a landmark in Alberta politics. Brian Jean was elected as the new leader of the Wildrose Party. His election means Alberta has a new Opposition Leader.

Brian is a seasoned individual with a thoroughly proven track record. He has three university degrees—a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, a Law Degree, and a Masters in Business Administration. At his hometown of Fort McMurray, he worked as a lawyer for eleven years. He spent another ten years as a Conservative MP in Stephen Harper’s government, representing Alberta’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca riding. He isn’t just book smart. He’s also worked as a printer, logger, farmhand, and registered trapper.

Brian is the former chairman of the Children’s Health Foundation in Northern Alberta, and served as chair of the Alberta Summer Games. He also serves on the board of Health Partners International, a charity that sends medication and medical equipment into developing nations. He’s a local community guy who genuinely likes people.

The second thing that happened this past weekend is that Danielle Smith lost her bid to be named the PC Party’s candidate for the provincial riding of Highwood in the next election. It was a victory for democracy. Smith is the PC MLA who currently represents Highwood. She is also the former Leader of the Opposition, who last year deliberately abandoned her legislative responsibilities when she reneged on her duties and crossed the floor.

At the Calgary Herald, Don Braid reported that campaigning enthusiasm for Smith had waned early. He said PC workers—including seasoned campaigners—had given up on Smith, citing a complete lack of campaign organization, a shortage of local volunteers, and what was referred to as “Smith’s own peculiar resistance to sound advice.”

In response to Braid’s story, several in the Wildrose Party indicated that Smith’s unwillingness to receive sound advice from her PC colleagues was the same problem the Wildrose had experienced with Smith.  When Smith was part of Wildrose, she consistently refused to consult with people, and regularly rejected sound advice. As a result, Smith became increasingly isolated from many people who should have been her colleagues. That she eventually opted for an act of acute betrayal, in the end, didn’t surprise many who knew her best.

As people in the Highwood constituency were handing Smith her walking papers, a couple of other floor crossers were receiving the same treatment. Gary Bikman, the PC MLA representing Cardston-Taber-Warner, lost the PC nomination in his riding. Many people were not surprised to see Bikman defeated, because he had quickly become known as too quick to self-justification. Bikman seemingly lost sight of the fact that he worked for the people, for his constituents. His duty as an MLA was to be a representative—not a self-justifying boss.

A third sitting PC MLA and floor crosser, Rod Fox, also lost the PC nomination over the weekend. Fox is the MLA from Lacombe-Ponoka. Like Smith, Fox refused to listen to the good counsel of friends and colleagues. He crossed the floor and has now paid the price. After one term, his political career is over.

Democracy is not perfect. It can be messy, and at times frustrating. Yet in the end, its beauty is that it always ensures ordinary people have the final say. That’s what happened this weekend.

 

 

23rd
March

Duty is the baseline

Rick's Blog

Twice a week, members of the Wildrose Coffeeroom meet to thoroughly talk through a policy issue. Usually, about twelve people participate—one or two of them being Wildrose MLAs. A summary of the discussion is compiled, and then reviewed by an editorial committee made up of participants. This past week I was part of the discussion, and part of the editorial process. The subject of discussion was duty.

Duty is a debt-obligation that is more far-reaching than simply owing money. Duty is a moral and ethical debt that one person owes to another person, or to a group of people. In order to discharge the debt, it requires observation, vigilance, and performance. The captain who drove the Costa Concordia onto a reef, and then jumped in a lifeboat and took off leaving 4,000 people on a sinking ship is an obvious example of someone not doing his duty.

As Premier, Alison Redford’s responsibility was to act upon financial and ethical obligations she held toward Albertans. She didn’t. Some claim Redford was forced to resign because of her spending. That’s wrong. Redford’s real problem was that she viewed herself as entitled. She functioned without any sense of duty.

Jim Prentice’s PC colleague, Danielle Smith, also decided that she was entitled. When Smith abandoned her position as Opposition Leader, she treated all Albertans the same way the cruise ship driver treated his passengers. She reneged on her duty.

But here’s the catch: Prentice counselled and encouraged Smith. As Premier, Prentice’s first duty is not to his PC Party. His first duty is to the electorate—to taxpayers. That’s the baseline. If he gets that wrong, everything else will be wrong. By colluding with Smith, Prentice demonstrated that he was more interested in his own short-term political gain than the duty both he and Smith held as legislative officers. When Prentice deliberately decided to look past the duty he had to the legislature, and to the people, he pulled a Redford.

Prentice further demonstrated his propensity to ignore duty, and showed his willingness to counsel others to do the same, when he picked a public fight with the legislative committee that oversees the Auditor General (AG). The AG doesn’t work for Jim Prentice, or even for what most people would refer to as “the government.” The AG is an officer of the legislature. He works for the Legislative Assembly and is accountable only to the Assembly, whose senior officer is the Speaker. According to the law, what the Legislative Assembly and the AG discuss is none of Jim Prentice’s business.

Prentice next did a media interview where he again demonstrated an attitude of entitlement. He clearly and pointedly stated that if Albertans wanted to know who’s responsible for the government’s fiscal mess, all they had to do was look in the mirror. He conveyed no sense of duty. He believes it’s appropriate to blame ordinary people for the fiscal wreckage his own PC MLAs created, many of whom he endorsed or promoted.

True leadership is never about manipulating people, blaming people, or conspiring to gain advantage. Instead, it’s a calculated discharge of the moral and ethical debt-obligation leaders owe to the people, and is always associated with an understanding of duty.

 

15th
March

A barrel of pork

Rick's Blog

This past week, I’ve been speaking with a Wildrose colleague and friend, Stuart Taylor, about the way our government establishes spending priorities. After we finished talking, he shot back a written summary of our conversation and ideas. In part, here’s what we discussed: 

Years ago, before refrigerators were invented, in many communities a barrel of salt pork could be found in the kitchen. In time, it became normal for people to think about prosperity and pork as being the same thing. If the barrel was full, prosperity was said to be present. If the homemaker could look inside and see the bottom, things were said to be grim.
 
When Parliaments and legislative assemblies began to be established, occasionally, an elected member would have the opportunity to initiate a local project that would cost the community very little—maybe even nothing. It became natural to refer to these government-funded projects and prosperity benefits as “political pork.”  
In corrupt societies, chasing political pork is a way of life. Citizens seek favours from government, while leaders and political bosses manipulate the system to direct spending to the places and people that keep them in power. It’s an attitude that has ruined many countries.  
 
Responsible governments are different. Responsible governments seek processes that are transparent. They want rules that are fair and that apply equally to everyone. Even when building schools and hospitals, responsible governments develop ways to measure need, quantify results, and establish priorities with good rationale. They attach that information to a public process that is so transparent every community knows exactly what’s going on and why. The government’s infrastructure spending priorities and construction timetable for schools, hospitals, and the like become as reliable as NHL hockey schedules.
 
Unfortunately, Alberta’s government has generally avoided transparent public needs assessment procedures, preferring promises and even political gamesmanship. Recently, the Edmonton Sun counted PC infrastructure promises. They said the government promised 50 new schools and 70 rebuilt schools in its earlier capital plan. The Sun also looked at the outcome of the promises. They say one school has been completed, adding that last December, the Education Minister said despite all the promises, there are “no guarantees.”
 
Now that the province is facing a spring election, members of the PC government have been delivering speeches and issuing press releases that are brimming with promises of new spending. In West Yellowhead, Finance Minister Robin Campbell is promising a 48-bed expansion for seniors, a new school, a rebuilt school, massive increases in municipal funding, a better highway, and funding to complete a new hospital.
 
Clearly, communities must have reliable hospitals, schools, and other public infrastructure such as the above critical projects. Yet the simple fact is that decisions affecting infrastructure in Alberta—instead of being transparent, efficient, and predictable—are random. They’re often based on political opportunism and campaign slogans that amount to “Vote for me and I’ll build you a ________ [fill in the blank].”
 
Albertans deserve better. We really do. Local government officials and every single taxpayer should be able to know exactly what’s going to be built, when, and why. Albertans deserve to have transparent and definable criteria that can be used to assess need and then develop efficient spending decisions. The idea that Alberta’s infrastructure priorities should depend almost entirely upon campaigning politicians who come bearing promises of political pork, is beneath us as a people. Overall, it also wastes a heck of a lot of money.
 

1st
March

Alberta’s best hope for property rights

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Most people know that Alberta’s reputation as a province that respects property rights is gone. Landowner and legal rights groups—even in Ontario and Saskatchewan—now look upon Alberta as a backwater.

What happened? Prominent landowner rights lawyer Keith Wilson says starting with Ed Stelmach, the PC government began passing “new laws that attacked property rights and the rule of law”. Wilson says it happened because the bureaucracy saw property rights and the legal rights of landowners “as obstacles to their planning needs and policy goals.”

These bureaucratically-inspired laws became known as Bills 19, 24, 36, and 50. Alison Redford eventually added Bill 2. Prior to Bill 2, if a property owner objected to something an energy company wanted to do on his or her land, the owner had the statutory right to a hearing. Bill 2 eliminated that right.

These laws caused so much anger that the government eventually repealed Bills 19 and 50. Yet because the others remain, bureaucrats and government planners can still take property from Albertans while denying them fair compensation and access to the courts. (Keep in mind that the word “property” and the term “property rights” apply to a lot of things besides real estate and land.)

Wilson, who is considered by many to be a leading professional legal analyst on the property rights issue, says Section 11 of Bill 36 still gives government the power to unilaterally amend or “rescind” grazing leases, mining rights, water licenses, plus other government approvals and contracts that individuals and businesses understand to be “property.” People make major investment decisions based on the reliability of government contracts, leases, and formal permissions. Yet in Alberta, these instruments can no longer be trusted because Section 13 of the legislation ensures no one can file a grievance with the court unless Cabinet first grants permission.

Section 17 says these anti-property rights laws take precedence over any other piece of legislation Alberta has ever passed. And Section 19 gives Cabinet the power to restrict the right to compensation.

Last fall, our Wildrose caucus introduced an important property rights motion in the legislature. The Bill called for an amendment to the Canadian Constitution that would enshrine protection of property rights for all Albertans. (To get a constitutional amendment passed that applies only to our province, the provincial legislature simply needs to pass a vote and then ask Ottawa to insert an “Alberta” clause in the constitution. No other provinces even need to be consulted.)

Jim Prentice and his PC colleagues trashed the Bill, voting it down. Regrettably, while their backsides were still red after being spanked by Prentice and his PC MLAs over this property rights issue, a number of MLAs who had supported the Bill including Danielle Smith, Rod Fox, and Gary Bikman, crossed the floor to join the PC Party, insisting that the PC’s had gone through a midnight salvation experience that resulted in a rebirth of conservative values. Unfortunately, their reborn value system doesn’t include the legal right to property.

It could be said that, Property Rights are the most important component in the rights of any citizen in a free society. The private stewardship of Albertan’s Property rights is something that my Wildrose colleagues and I are adamantly committed to protecting.

 

22nd
February

Democracy? you be the judge

Rick's Blog

Recently, I was struck by the fact that many people are unaware of where the authority of the Premier and Cabinet stop and start. As a result, this past week some people didn’t immediately recognize why Jim Prentice’s statements to a legislative committee looking at the Auditor General were inappropriate.

Alberta’s current Auditor-General is Merwan Sayer. He’s the guy who pointed out that taxpayers would pay for two half-empty government airplanes to fly to the same place at the same time—each carrying PC MLAs or the Premier. He was responsible for blowing the whistle on the taxpayer-funded luxury “sky palace” apartment that the government was building for the Premier. He’s exposed multiple dozens of other instances that document waste, taxpayer abuse, or point to the need for improved government management.

Sayer’s position is unique. He evaluates government spending. Taxpayers pay his wages. Yet he doesn’t actually work for what many of us would call the government. He is never accountable to the Premier or even to a Cabinet Minister. By law, the Auditor General is an officer of the Legislative Assembly. This is an important distinction.

Alberta’s legislative system is based on the Westminster form of government. Under this system, what many people would call the “government”, or the “executive branch” of government, consists only of the Queen, the Premier, Cabinet, and the bureaucracy that’s accountable to Cabinet. Every other MLA, including so-called backbench MLAs from the majority party, are not actually part of the “executive” or “management” side of government. Instead, they’re Members of the Legislative Assembly—MLAs.

There are two branches of government in Edmonton. In the executive branch, the Premier is the senior officer. In the legislative branch, the Speaker is the senior officer. The government itself, meaning Cabinet and the Premier, have no authority to be telling individual MLAs, legislative committees, or legislative officers, what they should and should not be doing. At the same time, MLAs in the legislative branch (regardless of party) have a responsibility to evaluate, scrutinize, and critique the policies and performance of Cabinet, but it is never their role to actually manage or control the executive affairs of government.

This important distinction between executive authority and legislative authority explains why Jim Prentice recently came under such heavy criticism. The Auditor General Act of Alberta clearly states that the individual who holds this position is an “officer” of the Legislature. The Act further states that every year, the Auditor General must submit a financial estimate to a committee of the Legislature. The law obligates the committee to “review” the estimate, and decide if it’s in the public interest to spend the money. If so, the law requires the committee chair to “transmit” the estimate to the Minister of Finance, “for presentation to the [Legislative] Assembly.”

This month, members of the committee followed the law. They reviewed the Auditor General’s estimate, and decided it was in the public interest. They approved it. In response, Jim Prentice immediately took to the media to criticize the committee, insisting it be reconvened to reject the Auditor General’s budget estimate. This led to a barrage of newspaper and journalistic comments reminding Prentice that he is not the boss of Alberta’s legislative committees. Nor is he the king of the legislature, or the CEO of Alberta.

Others suggested Albertans would do well to remind Mr. Prentice that we live in a genuine democracy, and that no one wants a repeat of the heavy-handed antics that characterized his predecessor. He knows that the actions of independent legislative committees are out-of-bounds.

 

 

15th
February

Alberta’s finances by the numbers

Rick's Blog

In 2012, the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy reported that annual program spending from 2000 onward was an average of 40% higher per person in Alberta than in Ontario. The study estimated it would require a $12 billion cut just to bring Alberta’s levels in line with Ontario’s.

Then, in December 2014, the Royal Bank reported that the spending gap between Alberta and the other provinces was still there. For 2013-14, the Alberta-Ontario gap was still in the double digit billions.

In light of Alberta’s growing deficit, many have suggested that a spending cut of $4.5 to $5 billion could easily be justified. This would definitely not bring Alberta’s per person program spending down to Ontario’s level. It would simply reduce the gap. Yet still support considerable extra spending for Alberta because it costs more to deliver rural services than urban services.

Some people have insisted that Alberta has to spend more because we have more social programs than the rest of the country. This simply isn’t true. Albertans enjoy the same social programs as other Canadians. We do, however, keep the people who provide these services at the upper end of the pay scale.

According to a 2012 study by the School of Public Policy at the U of C, Alberta’s public sector wages in 2000 were “roughly at par with the rest of the country, [but] are now higher across all public sector categories… consuming 95 percent of the increase in provincial revenues over the past decade.” The report says Alberta’s public sector wages increased at almost double the growth rate for the rest of Canada, plus the number of public sector employees has grown faster than the overall population.

In terms of infrastructure, some Albertans mistakenly assume that infrastructure spending was gutted during the Klein years. Some even blame Klein for the lack of new highways or bridges—even for the absence of a local healthcare facility.

In reality, the data shows that Klein invested heavily in infrastructure. In 2001-02, infrastructure spending in Alberta was three times the national average. In 2005, Finance Minister Shirley McLellan openly stated that Alberta’s per capita spending on infrastructure was still three times that of other provinces.

Then in the Klein government’s last budget (2006-07), Finance Minister Lyle Oberg stated: “Alberta’s per capita spending on infrastructure is [now] nearly four times the average of other provinces.”

The actual fiscal calamity confronting Alberta was hatched by Klein’s successors, beginning with Ed Stelmach. Stelmach inherited an $8.9 billion annual budget surplus from Klein, which he destroyed in his first budget by hiking overall spending by 20.4%. He passed a $42,000 pay raise for Cabinet Ministers and a $54,000 hike to his own salary before the paint on his new office door nameplate had time to dry. In the following years, every time he got anywhere near a deficit, he wanted to hug it or cuddle.

Stelmach resigned in 2011, ushering in the Redford era. On the day that Redford resigned, her legacy was captured by a Calgary newspaper, which stated:  “Alison Redford—14th premier of Alberta—is premier no more. She leaves behind her a trail of fiscal wreckage.”

Now Albertans are being told by Jim Prentice, Robin Campbell, and others, that the looming fiscal deficit and/or infrastructure shortfall exist primarily because of lower oil prices, or the Klein spending cuts. It ain’t so.

 

[i] Patricia Nelson, Alberta Finance Minister, in her 2001-02 Annual Report & Executive Summary stated: In 2001-02, over $3 billion was provided for health, education, transportation and other infrastructure projects. This represented over 14% of total spending and approximately three times the average rate of other provinces. See: Budget 2001, Executive Summary, Page 2.

[ii] Shirley McLellan, Alberta Finance Minister, in the 2005-06 document, The Budget—A Message from the Minister of Finance, Page 7, stated: “Alberta’s per capita spending on infrastructure is approximately three times the average of other provinces.”

[iii] Lyle Oberg, Alberta Finance Minister, in the 2006-07 Government of Alberta Annual Report, Page 7.  The document states: “Alberta’s per capita spending on infrastructure is nearly four times the average of other provinces.”

[iv] Iris Evans, Alberta Finance Minister, in the 2007-08 Government of Alberta Annual Report, Page 2. The report states: “Expense [spending] was $35.7 billion. This was $6.1 billion, or 20.4%, higher than in 2006-07.”

 

8th
February

Top of the pyramid

Rick's Blog

Last week I sat through a meeting of the Member Services’ Committee at the Alberta Legislature. I am the sole member of the Official Opposition on this committee. Mostly it’s made up of government MLAs.

The Member Services’ Committee decides how much MLAs are going to get paid and what kind of perks, benefits, and feather pillows they are eligible to receive. For example, a couple of years ago when oil was $100 a barrel and the provincial deficit was much less than it is now, the committee decided that Cabinet Ministers should have a 30% pay hike, and that MLAs should get an 8% across-the-board increase. (These hikes, which came on top of an already generous salary, were not tied to government performance, nor to a balanced budget.)

At last week’s meeting, I watched the MLAs on this committee delicately propose a 5% pay reduction. Judging by the faces in the room, you’d have thought we were talking about cutting off our own toes. Personally, I preferred not to dance around the issue, so I suggested that in light of Alberta’s massive structural deficit, a mere 5% rollback would be of little real substance. Instead, I proposed that the entire 8% pay hike that had been given to Cabinet Ministers and MLAs be rolled back.

Jason Hale, the brand new PC MLA from Strathmore was there. He didn’t say a word. His boss, government whip George Vanderberg, looked like he was going to choke. As reported in the press, Vanderberg immediately accused me of “politicizing” the MLA pay issue, saying that I was engaging in “bottom of the barrel politics.”

Actually, George got it backwards. By calling for a rollback to earlier unjustified MLA pay hikes I wasn’t engaging in “bottom of the barrel politics.” I was engaging in “top of the pyramid” politics. And George should have known that, because real leadership always begins at the top.

Some years ago, former Premier Ralph Klein was confronted with a deficit monster that needed slaying. In response, he talked about “thinking differently.” It is said that he especially drove that message into the heads of government MLAs. Then, to give credibility to the spending cuts that he knew he would be asking others to take, Klein stepped out of a PC caucus meeting one day to address the media. He said: “I’m cancelling the MLA pensions from here forward. All of them. Nobody’s getting [anything]. Full stop.”

The fact is that leaders don’t gain respect because they say the right words or engage in favour-seeking charades. They gain respect by leading from the front—by setting examples that are genuine and meaningful, rather than superficial and shallow.

For years, oil prices were at or near historic highs, yet Alberta’s government repeatedly presented taxpayers with huge deficits, while draining away billions in savings. Now that the crunch has arrived, the idea that the total consequence to the men and women who are most responsible for the fiscal mess, should be a 5% pay reduction on the heels of an undeserved 30% hike for Cabinet Ministers, and 8% for MLAs, is hardly what most people would refer to as an act of courageous leadership.

 

1st
February

Does Alberta have a revenue problem or a spending problem?

Rick's Blog

This is an accurate assessment of Alberta’s finances by my friend Stuart Taylor that I wanted to share with you. 

Some years ago, blunt, outspoken, U.S. President Harry Truman suggested that one of his political opponents didn’t know any more about certain policies than a pig knows about Sunday.

There is an aspect of Truman’s one-liner that easily applies to recent talk in Alberta about our looming multi-billion dollar deficit. Many government MLAs and some in the media are talking about the supposed need for tax increases. They don’t seem to understand what they’re saying. If they did, rather than talk tax increases they’d be demanding spending cuts. Here’s why:

In the past decade or so, there have been single years in Alberta when overall program spending has jumped 11%, 12%, and even 14%. According to economists at the Royal Bank (RBC),* in 2013-14, for every person living in the province Alberta’s PC government spent $11,000 on programs. In contrast, the Ontario Liberals spent $8,500. On a per family basis—assuming four members to a family—Ontario spends $10,000 less per year on government programs than the PC government in Alberta.

Even in Quebec, which has a reputation as a runaway big spender, program spending is far below Alberta. RBC says the Quebec Liberals shelled out about $7,900 per person on provincial programs, which is $12,000 less per family than was spent by Alberta’s PC government.

This year, for the budget revenue category called “Minerals and Petroleum,” Manitoba will take in less than $20 million. In its last budget, Ontario projected royalty revenues of $250 million. Nova Scotia’s royalty revenue is about $13 million. In comparison, on a good year Saskatchewan can collect around $2.5 billion from non-renewal resources.

In stark contrast, Alberta on average has been taking in close to $10 billion per year in non-renewable resource revenue. (Manitoba’s total annual cost of healthcare and education is $7.4 billion. Saskatchewan’s is about $6.6 billion.)

For years, there has been an ocean of money flowing over our provincial legislature. For PC government members it’s been like winning the lottery every year. Yet during the past decade, the government has repeatedly been unable to balance the budget. And now that this massive annual windfall is going to be whittled down a wee bit due to falling energy prices, the Prentice PCs want tax hikes so they can keep right on spending.

Government MLAs including the PC-9, now seem to believe there isn’t a fiscal problem they can’t fix with a new tax, or a higher tax. Yet before the rest of us go there, or even think about agreeing, let’s recognize that we didn’t get into this deficit mess because ordinary Albertans haven’t been paying enough tax. We got into this mess because for years, the PC government has absolutely refused to control its spending.

The simple fact is that if Alberta’s per person program spending were closer to that of Ontario, yet still considerably higher than Ontario, we could save around $5 billion a year. Alternatively, a 10% or 11% cut in overall provincial spending would save nearly $5 billion. And everybody knows that a modest trim to a government that’s been on a decade-long spending spree, is hardly what anyone would call life-threatening or unreasonable.

In fact, faced with a very similar if not a more difficult financial situation, as Premier, Ralph Klein shunned tax hikes and cut provincial spending by closer to 20%. His punishment for it was to keep getting re-elected by Albertans because they knew it was the responsible thing to do.

Stuart Taylor, Nominated Candidate West Yellowhead Wildrose, Hinton

REFERENCES: Annual per capita spending numbers are taken from RBC’s Federal and Provincial Fiscal Tables, published December 18, 2014.

 

18th
January

Accountability requires a consequence

Rick's Blog

The following article was sent to me from a friend and colleague Mr. Stuart Taylor from Hinton, Alberta. With his permission I would like to share his article with you.

Accountability requires a consequence

In early January, the Conference Board of Canada stated that due to falling commodity prices Alberta is facing far more than an economic dip or slowdown. This prestigious and highly respected research group says Alberta is very likely going to experience a shrinking economy. “It’s going to be very hard for Alberta to avoid a recession this year,” said the group’s chief economist.

Everywhere energy companies are slashing budgets. Suncor chopped $1 billion out of its spending plans and is laying off 1,000 employees. Three Calgary-based energy companies have indicated that between them they too have cut roughly $1 billion out of their spending plans. This same thing is happening right across the province.

Recognizing that the price of crude could fall below $40, Canadian banks have publicly stated that they’ve assessed their portfolios to determine how much damage they may have to absorb. In addition, the provincial government is going to be dramatically affected, especially during the fiscal year that begins this spring.

Now, wanting to use this unfolding crisis as a basis for staying in power, government MLAs including West Yellowhead’s Robin Campbell are fanning out across the province touring their constituencies in anticipation of a spring election. They claim they need a mandate to tackle the “oil crisis.”  As they present themselves, it’s important to remind ourselves (and them) of the obligations associated with accountability.

Every government MLA including Robin Campbell has known for a good number of years that oil prices were at or near historic highs. Yet during this entire period, Campbell and his colleagues ran year after year deficits. They wiped out billions in savings. At the same time, they knowingly and deliberately kept right on committing themselves to ever higher spending.

In numerous West Yellowhead communities Mr. Campbell has committed to provide a new school, an upgraded hospital, more seniors’ housing, a new court house, or funding for other such projects. Recently in one of the Jasper newspapers (FitzHugh), Campbell himself was quoted as saying “when times are good we spend it like drunken sailors.”

The fact is that despite what Campbell says ordinary Albertans weren’t spending tax dollars like drunken sailors. Most of us were paying down our mortgages, living within our means and even saving for a rainy day. It was the PC government that was imitating drunk sailors.

For Campbell and his MLA colleagues to now suggest that because of falling oil prices they are no longer responsible for what they said or committed themselves to do in the past, is to misunderstand or ignore the obligations they have to be accountable for their words. Accountability always requires that a person accept both responsibility and consequence for their statements, actions, and deeds. Campbell is no exception.

Everyone knows oil prices are cyclical. And we all know it isn’t smart or wise to make major financial decisions when a commodity price is at the top of the price cycle. When Campbell and his fellow PC MLAs kept committing themselves to billions in new spending despite the fact that energy prices were at the peak of the cycle, they weren’t living in a vacuum without access to market information and newscasts. They knew exactly what they were doing.

The Conference Board of Canada says Alberta is heading into a recession and a budgetary crisis. Yet thanks to Robin Campbell and his colleagues, Alberta’s financial cupboard is bare.

Stuart Taylor, Nominated West Yellowhead Wildrose, Hinton, Alberta

 

 

11th
January

It’s not my vote

Rick's Blog

To properly hold our elected representatives to account, we need to distinguish the difference between responsibility and accountability. Responsibility refers to the obligation you have to act on behalf of those who have entrusted you with their best-interests. Accountability, on the other hand, is the obligation to answer for your actions when carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to you.

As the elected member of the Alberta Legislature for Drumheller-Stettler, I feel I am personally accountable to all of the 16,000 residents in the riding. That accountability came of my own free-will when I allowed my name to stand for the Wildrose party on the ballot in the last 2012 general election. My responsibility and accountability is to every constituent – with no exceptions.

The rights of the electorate to duly elect their representation should never be undermined by anyone; that right still stands true even after the polls have closed. It’s important to consider that the electorate have certain reasonable expectations of their duly elected representatives based on the policies and principles they campaigned on. As an employee of the people, their minimal expectations based on what was promised should be respected, just as it should be with any employer.

A few days ago, while travelling to Calgary along Hwy 9, I stopped at the gas station in Youngstown at around 6:30 am for a hot chocolate and a fill-up. On this cold January morning there was a lot full of vehicles and a store full of people. As a regular at this establishment, the conversation from customers and staff quickly turned to reassurance that my resolve to live up to my end of the bargain was the right decision. With double thumbs up from a few of the folks, I knew I had made the right decision to stand by the Wildrose policies and principles.

Ultimately, in my mind, the decision whether to cross the floor or to stay the course was never mine to make. It’s not my vote. For me to change the vote of the majority is undemocratic and not something I was willing to do.

The lack of respect for democracy and accountability in Alberta has been met with cynicism and anger from voters leading to a feeling that the average Albertan has no influence or voice on issues that affect them personally; creating a deficit in democracy in Alberta.

Our provincial representation has evolved into a process that has become largely undemocratic. The lack of free votes in the Legislature that affects Government MLAs to tow the party line without question, removes the responsibility given to them by the electorate. This government’s elected representatives, generally have little, if any, real input into the decisions that impact the lives of those who voted for them.

The Wildrose policy allowing MLAs a free vote, allows me the ability to vote freely putting the constituents first, which is ultimately the responsibility they gave to me and it makes me fully accountable to them, as it should be.

 

4th
January

the Party isn’t over yet

Rick's Blog

In mid-November the Wildrose party had 21,227 members; of those, 21,216 are still involved in an ongoing movement that has been underway since 2008, I am proud to say 698 of those are in the Drumheller-Stettler constituency. As time passed, the number of people holding memberships in the party has fluctuated, but has steadily increased since its inception. Like any other party, people have come and gone for a number of personal reasons. Since November, eleven members left the party and made their way to another, leading some pundits to quip that, “the party is over.”

In spite of the eleven members who decided to seek what they perceived as greener pastures, the party that was formed to bring much needed change to how we are governed in Alberta, remains viable and fully intact. The party was always intended to be grassroots-oriented and operated, so how can the exit of any eleven members be declared its demise?

A Grassroots organization, by definition, considers the rank-and-file members and voters themselves, as equals to the leadership of the party or organization. With this in mind, it stands to reason that as an elected representative within that organization, no special status exists. One member – one vote; regardless of what position they hold, is the true democracy that can foster a healthy grassroots organization.

The eleven members that left the party weakened only the legislative side, not the driving force behind the movement – its people and their resolve. All too often the line between the party and legislative sides of political organizations are blurred, ignored, or just plain misunderstood. A healthy respect of those boundaries is something we as MLAs should be continuously vigilant of.

Throughout the Wildrose party, as with any party, there are a lot of rank-and-file members that volunteer countless hours based on what they believe will be best for our province. If the 21,216 people that didn’t leave the party would have suddenly resigned, then an obituary would have been in order.

A phrase that best encapsulates true grassroots democracy was coined in a speech delivered by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, better known as the Gettysburg Address. Within that historic speech he clearly defines what should be the mantra of every democratically-elected government, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The astute words of Abraham Lincoln have stood the test of time and I suspect they always will.

The response the Wildrose Party has received from the public since the defections has been overwhelming; which has only strengthened my resolve to work towards achieving responsible and accountable government for Albertans.

The policies and principles that are the basis for why people support the party haven’t changed. Judging by the response we are getting from Albertans, their resolve to have accountability in government has not changed either.

The lights are still on in the Wildrose camp because even after eleven the PARTY is far from over!

 

28th
December

A big lump of coal

Rick's Blog

Just before Christmas I left for a planned vacation with my wife Dianne and my kids, Pamela and Jay. During our time of idyllic holiday climate and lifestyle, a political storm of epic proportions was taking place back here in Alberta. Prior to that storm, a plan of provincial conservative reunification was forwarded to me.

As you can imagine, finding out how this was actually going to take place was of paramount importance, so I posed the appropriate questions to the caucus leaders. “How would this actually transpire?” I asked. I was assured that party discussions and meetings followed by ratification votes would take place this spring. The potential timing of events was revealed to me however the truly democratic manner in which this was to take place was not. “Can I be the devils advocate with this question?” I asked.  “What if the Wildrose party members do not approve of this action? What is the plan then?”

The reply was “Well Rick, nevertheless we’ll have already crossed”. I was staggered at the nonchalant response. The answers were not only less than satisfactory for me, but I knew they would be far from adequate for the Wildrose party members across Alberta and the constituents of Drumheller Stettler who I am ultimately responsible to.  I stated to my caucus leaders that my decision would require serious thought and, sensing their direction, a great deal of reflection. How could this be? I thought.

Now, you all know my response to the question of whether I would honour my commitment to my constituents. I was elected on a platform that you trusted me with. In the next election cycle if you decide my platform will serve you well and your collective decision reflects that, I will honour that decision.

In our household we have Christmas stockings that Santa finds every year. For the Wildrose party to be thrown over by its representative Leader is historic. I think we all know who should get coal in their stocking.

A sad footnote to this saga was the required dismissal of many Wildrose legislative staffers, just days before Christmas. More coal for the decision makers! On a positive note was the compassionate self initiative of Drumheller Town Councillor, Lisa Hansen Zacharuk, who stepped up to help the Wildrose staffers that lost their jobs the week before Christmas, starting an online campaign to raise funds to help them. This will act as significant boost to those affected staffer’s morale.

The motives of the MLAs that chose to cross the floor are something that they themselves will have to rationalize with their constituents and supporters; just as I knew I would have to. The repercussions of their decision had serious collateral damage that was not fully considered before the decision was made. For them, the traditional lump of coal. What occurred to me was that missing in all this was the maturity true leadership requires.

 

 

14th
December

Heroyam slava

Rick's Blog

The Christmas season is a time to reflect and give thanks for all we have as Albertans and Canadians. Often we take for granted the things that have the most influence in our lives, the things that enrich our quality of life. The army of people that are responsible for our security and civil rights are largely anonymous to most of us. Those ranks consist of military and non-military individuals who sacrifice of themselves to preserve the freedoms we often take for granted.

Ukrainians went to the polls on October 26 for the second time in two years after a promise by their president-that if elected, he would dissolve their government and re-elect a completely new parliament. The election saw a contingent of 90 Canadians known as The Canadian Election Observation Mission (CANEOM), who joined an international force of election overseers. These volunteers were dispersed throughout the Ukraine to ensure democratic and fair election practices were followed.

The Canadian overseers who contributed to the success of the free and democratic elections, realized by the citizens of this eastern European nation, should be considered as defenders of democracy. Their efforts and those of the entire CANEOM contingent paid dividends with local election watchdogs, international observers, the European Union, and Russia citing no serious election violations and were generally pleased with the election.

Canadian Election Observation Mission Member’s Statement 

It’s my privilege to know three of the Canadian defenders of democracy that were all part of the CANEOM effort, my legislative assistant Sebastien Togneri and my good friends, Paul Nemetchek and Drumheller Mayor Terry Yemen. Alberta has a rich and proud history of producing great men and women to champion the democratic causes of voting rights for women, senate reform, government accountability, and provincial rights. I can think of at least three more names that should be put on that list.

In many ways the details of democracy are very subtle, details such as free votes in the Legislature. A free vote allows your elected MLA to represent the wishes of those best suited and allow real input into the decisions that impact the lives of those who voted for them. Historically, MLAs in Alberta have been expected to tow the party line without question, which has resulted in a small group of mostly unelected appointees making decisions in government. This almost completely eliminates the peoples’ elected representative.

The free vote I have in the Legislature comes with the responsibility of engaging the people in the Drumheller-Stettler riding. Your participation in this important function of democracy in Alberta will allow your will to be the compass that directs the authority I exercise as your MLA.

This Christmas season remember all those, military and civilian, who stand on guard for democracy around the world. Many of the volunteers that participate in CANEOM risk their own personal well-being to give others what we all too often take for granted-democracy.

To all of the Canadian volunteers who participated in this round of democracy, Heroyam slava, (Glory to the heroes).

 

7th
December

Health care can’t be put on hold

Rick's Blog

The Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation has launched a new campaign to help Canadians recognize signs of stroke. The campaign is called “FAST” an acronym that stands for: Face – is it drooping? Arms – can you raise both? Speech – is it slurred or jumbled? And Time, to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency service right away.

What if you called 911 and you were put on hold for an hour before anyone even responded? It’s safe to say that most Albertans wouldn’t find it acceptable. The loss of rural hospital services for some people would be the equivalent to being put on hold by 911. It’s safe to say that being put on hold while a loved is in need of emergency care would be completely unacceptable by anyone’s standards.

Imagine living in the Oyen area, 30 minutes outside of town, that’s 1 hour round trip for EMS. The closure of a facility like the Big Country Hospital in Oyen would add another hour to the time it would take to get to a hospital for local residents. The Heart and Stroke foundation’s FAST campaign advocates speed of treatment as one of the key factors for the mitigation of damage or loss of life.  The same can be said for a great many other medical emergencies including traumatic injuries.

Rural hospitals serve not only local residents; they serve the thousands of people who travel Alberta’s extensive rural roadways every day. That is where the disconnection begins. The centralized decision-making mindset with regards to Alberta’s public service has resulted in a short-sighted “one size fits all” mentality that just doesn’t fit in remote rural Alberta.

In an AHS 2010 report that advocated for the closing of a rural health care center in Boyle, it illustrated how ill-informed centralized decision-making can be. Taking a new approach by working co-operatively with local health care professionals, to do what is necessary to build a health care system that puts Albertans first, we can meet the needs of rural Albertans.

Gradually, decentralizing the delivery of health care services to locally-funded, managed, and integrated hospitals, Primary Care Networks, family physicians, and long-term care facilities, will put rural Albertans back in charge of what’s best for rural Albertans. This will enhance the emergency care for patients and allow for flexible innovation to address unique local needs while meeting established care standards all Albertans deserve.

One third of Alberta’s operating revenues that pay for health care services are attributed to Energy and Agriculture. As we all know Oil and Gas wells are not operating in the middle of a canola field in downtown Edmonton. Herein lays the quandary a government in Alberta faces, with providing services for the people in remote rural Alberta – the source of a good chunk of their operating budget.

Rural Alberta comes with its own unique challenges and nobody understands those challenges better than the people who face them every day. I will continue to work with government to return the critical decision-making back to those within the affected communities.

 

 

30th
November

Democratic representation by participation

Rick's Blog

In the current fall session of the Alberta Legislature an Opposition Private Member’s Bill 202, The Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014, has been tabled in the house. Since the Bill was tabled my office has received an unprecedented amount of feedback; more than any issue to date.

Bill 202 calls for the removal of Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act which affirms in law a parent’s ability to have their child excluded, without academic penalty, from instruction, exercises, and the use of instructional materials that deal primarily and explicitly with religion, sexuality, or sexual orientation. Section 11.1 also requires that school boards notify parents when students will be receiving instruction that includes subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion, human sexuality or sexual orientation, allowing the opportunity for a parent to have their child opt out.

This past Thursday, the government announced it would be introducing their own gay-straight alliance legislation, the yet-to-be released Bill 10. In Bill 10, the Premier said students will be able to appeal to school boards, but those boards will have the final say on the establishment of any sanctioned groups within the school.

Both pieces of legislation deal with unacceptable bullying and I applaud all the members who support the spirit of these initiatives for their efforts. The safety of all Albertans is paramount to achieving a society that is equitable for all Albertans as laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

In our modern world where information travels faster than at any time in history, the idea of citizen-initiated referenda is becoming a more practical solution to settling Legislative disputes. It has always been my belief that in any healthy democracy, ultimate power must reside with electorate. In order to legitimize this type of referenda the support thresholds for both must be high enough to ensure that only petitions with exceptionally strong grassroots support are permitted to proceed to a vote. As with all legislation, all proposed initiatives must be constitutionally sound and kept within the parameters of the provincial budget.

Of concern to most respondents is the potential effect both Bills have on the rights of parents. As your member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, I will be asked to vote on these pieces of legislation and any forthcoming amendments, my vote; will be determined by the feedback of the Drumheller Stettler constituents. Not having the ability to impose citizen-initiated referenda, I would like to invite any concerned constituents to submit your opinions.

I truly believe in the Wildrose policy of mandating that all votes in the Legislature and caucus be free and that they transparently reported to the public to ensure proper representation of Albertans. Your participation will contribute to that goal.

Copies of both Bill 202 and Bill 10 are available upon request at: email hidden; JavaScript is required or by calling 403-823-8181.

Click for  Bill 202

Click for Bill 10

 

23rd
November

All hat and no cattle

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Cowboys are courteous by nature. Rather than say someone is a faker or a blowhard, they will often say that the person is, “All hat and no cattle.” The phrase isn’t an insult. It’s not negative criticism. Instead, it’s a way of saying something truthful about a person while avoiding the appearance of harshness.

This past week in the Alberta legislature we learned that the “all hat no cattle” moniker fits very well around the shoulders of Jim Prentice. Here too the statement isn’t an insult or a negative criticism. It’s a statement of fact. Here’s why:

After Jim Prentice decided to seek the leadership of the PC party, he went on a province-wide tour. At every stop along the way, he spoke about property rights.

“I am passionate about property rights,” Prentice said. Successive PC governments have “been less than careful about the protection of property rights in this province,” he said.  On the day Prentice was sworn in as Alberta’s 16th Premier, he immediately donned his property rights hat to say that the fall session of the legislature would kick off with the introduction of his own personal flagship property rights legislation. We were told it would be called Bill 1.

This week Albertans got a look at Bill 1. The body of this new legislation is one sentence long and has fewer than ten words. It simply says that Bill 19 is repealed.

Bill 19 was the least controversial, and had become the most benign, of the five laws passed by previous PC governments that individually and collectively took an axe to the property rights tree. It’s good that it’s been repealed. Yet all of the most odious aspects of Alison Redford’s anti-property rights agenda are still alive and well.

Prentice buried former Minister Jack Hayden’s Bill 19 with Bill 1. Yet if Prentice’s repeated promise to fix property rights is to be fulfilled he has an obligation to repeal the others as well, and beyond that, to establish legal protection for property rights that can be trusted on an ongoing basis.

The other Bills Prentice needs to put to bed include Bill 24 (which confiscated underground property rights from all landowners—urban and rural); Bill 36 (which gives Cabinet the power to deny people access to the courts and compensation while it tears up legal agreements and contracts that control what people can and cannot do on private property); and Bill 2 (which is the law that eliminated a landowner’s statutory right to a hearing and the right to notification when government approves an energy project on private property).

Some people may not realize that the amending formula to the Canadian Constitution makes it easy for one province to have a clause inserted in the Constitution that applies only to that province. All it requires is for the provincial legislature to submit a formal request to the House of Commons and Senate.

No other province needs to be consulted. No other province is affected. No other province has to approve.

If Jim Prentice is genuine about the property rights of Albertans, rather than being all hat and no cattle on this subject, in cooperation with others in the legislature he can call upon Ottawa to insert a clause in the Constitution that enshrines and protects property rights for everyone in the province.

Then, every Albertan will be able to stand a bit taller.

 

 

16th
November

Pounding the fence posts deep

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

For most of us living in Drumheller-Stettler, few things are more important to us than property rights. We understand that the purpose of government is not to manage our lives, but to protect the right to property so individuals and families can manage their own lives.

This past week, two different proposals were put forward in Alberta that would pound the fence posts deep when it comes to protecting property rights. The Wildrose Party announced a Private Member’s Bill that calls for an amendment to the Canadian Constitution. It would apply only to Alberta. The initiative, if passed, would ensure that in Alberta the right to “real property” will be constitutionally protected. In order to pass, the initiative requires approval from the Prentice government, the House of Commons, and Senate.

The second property rights proposal advanced this week was put forward by the Grassroots Alberta Landowners Association and publicly supported by organizations like the Western Stock Growers, the Economic Education Association, and the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association—to name a few.

This second proposal calls for legislation that protects both real property and intangible property. Intangible property includes things like grazing leases, water licenses, oilsands leases, licenses and approvals for oil and gas wells, irrigation licenses, and formal authorizations that allow people to be in the dairy business, run a feedlot, harvest timber, or engage in a wide range of commercial activities. These types of commercial property-instruments are referred to as statutory consents.

Statutory consents are not real property in the sense that they are not physical, but on a daily basis they are nevertheless bought, sold, and traded. Many people make the biggest financial decisions of their lives based on the assumed trustworthiness of statutory consents.

Grassroots Alberta says it is absolutely unacceptable for politicians in Cabinet—not the government and not the courts, but the politicians in Cabinet—to have the power to show up at someone’s door and without cause or justification, point a finger and say. “Your oilsands lease, water license, grazing lease, or gravel extraction permit has just been cancelled.”

Since Bill 36 became law in Alberta, this is exactly the kind of power the provincial Cabinet possesses. Plus Bill 36 ensures that when Cabinet does cancel a statutory consent, its decision can’t be appealed to a court unless Cabinet gives its permission. Whether the affected party is eligible for compensation can be up for grabs too.

During his campaign to become PC Party leader, Jim Prentice repeatedly promised to undo the tragic property rights legacy of his predecessors. Wanting to hold Prentice to his word, Grassroots Alberta set out in step-by-step fashion exactly what the government must do in the legislature if Prentice is to keep his word.

The group says the property rights embodied in statutory consents must be protected by law. If Cabinet or any arm of government extinguishes a statutory consent, there has to be a justifiable reason. And if such a thing does occur, the affected party must have the right to approach a court and to fair compensation.

The group insists that every Albertan must have the legal right to be informed before a government regulator makes a decision about their property (presently this is not the case); the legal right to a hearing when government approves energy and development projects on private land (presently this is not the case); and that landowners must have the legal right to compensation when the government approves a project on adjacent or adjoining land that negatively affects the value of their property.

As the Drumheller-Stettler MLA, my responsibility, and desire, is to promote and defend your property rights.

 

9th
November

They too are property

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

The fight over property rights in Alberta these past few years hasn’t been about land ownership. It was, and still is, about the ability that PC Cabinet Ministers have given themselves to unilaterally and without cause or justification cancel legal agreements, contracts, and licenses, while denying people access to the courts, fair treatment, and even compensation.

The term property rights doesn’t just mean the right to own land. Property rights means the right to exercise the privileges, opportunities, and financial considerations associated with the ownership of a number of things, including intangible pieces of property like government leases, licenses, approvals, and authorizations.

If you’re a rancher with a grazing lease, you don’t own the land. Yet the lease means you own rights to the land. Those rights are property rights. If you’re in the dairy business you own cows. You’ll also own a legal authorization or license that enables you to be in the dairy business. That license is property just as much as the cows are property. No one can show up at your farm and without reason or justification take away your cows. Similarly, in a society that respects property rights and the rule of law no bureaucrat or politician can show up at your door and take away your dairy license without justification.

Unfortunately, the PC government declared war on property rights in Alberta when it passed Bill 36. Bill 36 is a law that empowers Cabinet Ministers and bureaucrats to simply show up at a person’s door and say that a government lease, license, authorization, or contract has been cancelled. They don’t even need a reason. Nor do they have to ask a judge for an order or ruling. Bill 36 means that in Alberta, these important pieces of property which are the building blocks of a modern economy no longer represent property rights that can be trusted.

Gravel extraction permits, timber harvest agreements, and oilsands leases are all property and are all at risk because of Bill 36. Energy companies will invest millions to determine if they want to buy a particular oilsands lease. And once they do buy it, they’ll continue to make major investment decisions based solely on the property rights that they believe the lease represents. In societies and nations where property rights are respected, no politician could ever show up at the door one day saying, “Oh, we decided we are going to cancel the oilsands lease we signed with you and do something different with that land.”

An oilsands lease is a legal contract. Yet in Alberta, because of Bill 36, it is a legal contract that can no longer be trusted. Other types of property that Bill 36 has given Cabinet the power to unilaterally cancel—while stopping people from appealing to the courts—include contracts, leases, licenses, authorizations, and statutory approvals.

Bill 36 means water licenses, irrigation permits, approvals for meat packing plants, fertilizer plants, cement plants, and timber mills are all subject not to the rule of law, but to the whims of Cabinet. The same goes for pipeline permits, licenses for oil and gas wells, and a long list of other commercial activities.

The Prentice government has said that this fall, it is intending to pass property rights legislation. As your MLA, I support that. However, my grave concern is that the government will pass a law guaranteeing property owners the right to compensation when government seizes land, yet ignore important property rights provisions that in Alberta used to be associated with things like leases, licenses, and other types of legal authorizations.  They too are property.

 

3rd
November

What’s under the hood?

Rick's Blog

We all know there’s a big difference between a gas-guzzling pickup from the 80s and a new 3500 with a big diesel under the hood. Both carry cargo. Yet the older pickup can never go where the diesel can effortlessly take a heavy load.  The difference is torque, power, and carrying capacity.

Measuring torque, power, and carrying capacity will be an important undertaking for Albertans this fall when the legislature reconvenes. The government has said that its going to fix property rights on the first day of the session.

The PC government has already made this same promise more than a dozen times (we counted), and broken it every time. Now the promise has been made yet again. The fact that Premier Prentice is promising such a thing clearly indicates that opposition parties and landowner groups have been successful in holding the government’s feet to the fire.

So in order to evaluate whether this newest property rights promise really will fix things, or just seek to smooth things over, opposition members and landowner groups have identified key factors to watch for.

If the fix is genuine, legislation will protect property that is both tangible and intangible. Tangible property includes farmland and homes. Intangible property are things like grazing leases, oilsands leases, and the economic value that is attached to both tangible property and intangible property.

Good legislation will protect Albertans from diminished property values due to government actions. If the government approves an energy project on land that is adjacent to your own, and you experience a decline in property value as a result, your property rights have been violated. In such a situation, effective property rights legislation will guarantee that you have the right to a hearing, cost recovery, and compensation to make up for the loss.

Good legislation will also protect the property rights Albertans hold in statutory consents. Statutory consents are little pieces of intangible property that are the building blocks of a modern economy. Examples include oil and gas leases, gravel extraction permits, water and irrigation licenses, approvals for feedlots, dairies, pipelines, and much more.

Any property rights legislation worth its salt will guarantee that no politician or bureaucrat will ever be able to show up at your door, and without justification, extinguish or take away a statutory consent. There must be clear justification, a legal process that includes a hearing and the right to appeal any government decision to a court, plus every Albertan must have the legal right to fair and just compensation.

Effective property rights legislation will ensure that privative clauses can never be enacted when a person’s property rights have been affected. A privative clause is a roadblock written into a law that says when politicians and bureaucrats do something to affect your property or property rights, their decision cannot be reviewed by a court. The PC government already inserted a privative clause in Bill 36, which is the law the PCs passed that gave Cabinet the power to unilaterally cancel statutory consents.

If the government’s property rights fix-it legislation protects statutory consents, guarantees compensation when property values are reduced by government acts, and ensures that privative clauses are not used, things are pointed in the right direction. If these features are omitted, then what we’ll be looking at is a continued fight in the legislature over the property rights of Albertans.

 

26th
October

They stand alone

Rick's Blog

A reporter asked one of the leaders of our Wildrose caucus for an interview. He wanted to pose questions, record the answers, and then print the word-for-word outcome in the paper. He was encouraged to ask-away.

The reporter wanted to know about cancelled surgeries, labour disputes, and property rights. At one point he said, “During the April 2012 election your [Wildrose] Party employed… for lack of a better term, scare tactics to rural voters, telling them that the Redford government was unilaterally going to take their land… yet today no rural landowner to my knowledge has lost their land. Wouldn’t you agree that this claim is a bit overstated?”

The question demonstrated that there are important aspects of property rights the reporter had not yet thought about, because the truth is, that the term property rights refers to a whole lot more than real estate or farmland.

In Alberta, one of the elements in the fight over property rights comes down to what’s contained in Bill 36, and has to do with what are called statutory consents. A “statutory consent” is a permit, license, or legal authorization that individuals and businesses rely upon to govern their affairs and make investment decisions.

Statutory consents are property. A grazing lease is a statutory consent. So are a water or irrigation license, an oilsands lease, and an authorization to run a feedlot, poultry, pork, or dairy farm. Oil and gas leases, permits for timber, gravel, meat packing, food processing, and a long list of other things are all statutory consents.

In a society governed by the rule of law, no politician or bureaucrat could ever show up at your door and then arbitrarily and without cause terminate a statutory consent. In Alberta, Bill 36 changed that. Bill 36 gives Cabinet and government employees who work for Cabinet complete control over what can and cannot be done on private property, including the ability to terminate or extinguish, without cause or justification, any statutory consent.

At a recent Calgary conference, property rights lawyer, Keith Wilson, said Alberta no longer has the assurance of the rule of law because Bill 36 guarantees rule by politicians. He said under Bill 36, after a statutory consent is rescinded by Cabinet, Section 13 of the Act means there is no right to the courts unless Cabinet gives its consent; Section 15 restricts the role of the courts and indicates there is no right to make an economic claim against government; and Section 17 ensures that the terms and conditions written into Bill 36 will trump every other piece of legislation the Alberta legislature has ever passed.

The simple fact is that an attack on property rights occurs not just when government seizes ownership or control of property. Property rights are attacked when government empowers itself to make arbitrary decisions about legal contracts and agreements that affect the use and value of property, and then further establishes rules that deny compensation and the opportunity to mount a legal challenge or court defense.

In effect, Bill 36 demonstrates not just bad policy, but bad government. No other government in Canada, including provincial NDP governments going right back to the days of Dave Barrett in BC, and Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan, has ever passed such a far-reaching law. On this one, the Alberta government stands completely alone.

 

19th
October

It’s about more than just dirt

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Property Rights are the foundation that a free society is built and maintained on. In Alberta, our foundation of freedom has been seriously compromised with the passage of the five Alberta Land Bills (19, 24, 36, and 50 in 2009, 2 in 2012), that were passed into law by the Alberta Government.

Each of these Bills in their own way have consequences in some form or fashion, to rescind property rights and/or deny access to transparent processes, including limiting or denying access to a court of law. The common thread to each of these Bills is that they concentrate power into the hands of Cabinet and out of view of public scrutiny.

In recent years Property Rights have become a much debated and controversial issue in Alberta. Understanding the entire scope of what exactly is considered Property, is the first step to understanding the issue.

When we think of property, typically we equate this to the dirt under our feet. As important as actual physical property, are the conditions that may be placed on the property in question. In order to achieve adequate rights or entitlements to property, it must include the freedoms that allow the owner the ability to use the property as an asset for commerce or enjoyment. Simply having title to a piece of land does not necessarily act as a conduit to commerce or enjoyment. Any conditions or restrictions placed on property can and do seriously curtail or eliminate the holder’s ability to pursue a desirable outcome.

To truly understand the scope of property you must first understand what is considered property. Land of course is the obvious thing that comes to mind for most people, followed closely by possessions. Often things like driver’s licenses and statutory consents are overlooked as property.

An example of how a statutory consent can have an influence on the value of a piece of property would be a CFO (Confined Feeding Operations) license required to operate a feed lot in Alberta. In this case, the value of the land would be greatly increased by the acquisition of the CFO that allows the property to be used as a tool for commerce. The arbitrary removal of that statutory consent (CFO) would have a significant impact on the value of that property and without the ability to seek legal action, virtually eliminates all rights defined as property rights.

One of the fundamental roles of government is the protection and preservation of property rights. Without such protection, our entire economy ceases to function properly. Property rights are the foundation of each individual’s and family’s financial security and prosperity.

The Wildrose is committed to the protection of Property Rights for all Albertans with the proposed Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act that would entrench property rights protection in law. Existing legislation provides for compensation, only when title is formally taken by expropriation, but not for devalued property due to government regulation. The proposed Wildrose legislation will protect your Property Rights for this type of legislative overreach.

 

13th
October

Hedging our bets

Rick's Blog

A newly released economic report is warning that plunging oil prices could see as much as $1.2 billion less in Alberta’s oil royalties than what was used for the provinces budget. Alberta’s energy resources act as the anchor of the economy, not only in this province, but it also acts as a solid base for the entire country. A significant hit in revenues will only add to an ever-escalating deficit.

The responsible management of our energy revenue is achieved through proper risk management and long-term planning. Alberta has a diversified energy sector with resources that include oil, natural gas, coal, hydro, wind, and biofuels. With proper management and positioning, Alberta can be a world leader in the energy production.

Proper management of the energy sector revenues is a delicate balancing act between the projected incomes and conservative fiscal management. Much the same as maxing out a credit card and making the monthly minimum payment, governments must ensure that they have contingencies built into budgeting, better known as hedging.

Hedging is a form of long-term planning and typically employs various techniques that involve taking equal and opposite positions in two different markets. Hedging is a form of offsetting the probability of loss from any unexpected price changes, that can and do happen, in the commodities markets. Hedging effectively acts as a form of transfer of risk without having to purchase an insurance policy.

Another form of hedging our reliance on energy markets is the potential to significantly expand into alternative energy sources. Behind the energy itself, are numerous spin-off technologies, the myriad of products and services related to our energy industries that have already made Alberta a global leader for Research and Development, innovative equipment manufacturing, and world-class support services.

Through thoughtful and strong leadership, Alberta can achieve the roll as leaders in safe, reliable and economical energy development. If development and planning is done with a mindful eye on spending, this will secure a dynamic and prosperous economy in Alberta for generations to come.

Albertans want competent and forward-looking management of their oil and gas industries. A Wildrose Government would institute the policies to ensure responsible development of these energy resources. By creating and maintaining royalty tax programs that attract and sustain investment in our energy industries, it will foster value-added products, and lucrative spin-off industries that will significantly benefit Alberta’s economy.

Through consultative processes with industry and other affected stakeholders, Wildrose believes that harmful policies can be avoided that have proven to be harmful to Alberta’s investment climate. Creating partnerships with municipalities that help them cope with the impacts of energy development in their regions will help mitigate infrastructure deficits that most are now experiencing. These new partnerships would see them share in energy revenues.

The failure to hedge projections in favour of short-term gain planning has created deficits, fiscally and within infrastructure. A new Wildrose Energy management plan that hedges has the ability to act as the insurance that will secure Alberta’s future.

 

5th
October

The meaning of F.E.A.R.

Rick's Blog

As Albertans age, their access to adequate health care becomes of primary concern. There remains a deficit of funding for assisted home care and long waiting lists for rooms in long-term and palliative care facilities across the province. Far too often Seniors are being housed in expensive hospital rooms, more often than not far away from family and loved ones. The fear of facing the impending baby boomer retirements that will only increase these short-comings has made Alberta vulnerable to that fear.

Fear is a reactive emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or avoiding the subject of the fear. An acronym for the word “Fear” that best describes the government’s mentality towards social programs today is: Forget Everything And Run.

The fear of dealing with failing social programs can only be overcome by dealing head-on with the reality of the situation. The reality is, continuing down the same dead-end path of centralized bureaucracy management that has failed our social systems, must be changed. The Wildrose Senior’s policy would improve health care for seniors by taking the “Face Everything And Rise” approach. Albertans are resilient and have a “get it done” mentality that starts with facing our problems and rising to the challenges.

Redirecting more of the health care budget to expanding homecare and assisted-living accommodations, empowers those seniors who are able to continue living in the comfort of their own homes and communities. Increased use of Personal Care and Special Care Homes is, in most cases, the preferred scenario for most Seniors. This approach will also free up hundreds of badly needed acute care hospital beds while saving taxpayer’s millions.

By reducing the complexity and regulatory barriers to families and other organizations who wish to establish safe and affordable facilities providing assisted living, long term care and palliative care; the number of these beds will be greatly increased. Increasing the number of these beds will greatly reduce health costs and hospital overcrowding due to the thousands of Alberta seniors who have been inappropriately placed in acute care hospital beds.

It must start by ensuring existing acute care facilities are fully staffed before building additional acute care capacity, and reallocate a portion of the savings into significantly expanding the number of long-term care beds available.

Fear is a reaction; reactions don’t generally make for comprehensive thoughtful decision-making. The Wildrose policy takes a proactive approach to Senior’s care that takes into account, not just the dollars and cents, but the mental well-being of those most affected by the system – the Seniors themselves.

Like many Albertans, the Wildrose understands that the only way we will get it done is by facing the problems head-on, rise to the occasion and make the changes necessary to properly care for Seniors. The inevitability of a growing population of Seniors is something we can predict and should reasonably be able to get ahead of with good sound policies.

 

28th
September

Kicking the can further down the road

Rick's Blog

Kicking the can down the road is merely delaying a decision in hopes that the problem or issue will go away. Many times it will be left to somebody else to make that decision at a later date; such a case exists in the town of Consort.

On September 23 in Olds, the Alberta government announced that they have launched another review of rural health with the newest panel’s report due back to the government within 90 days. What was unusual about the announcement was the mention of the acute care beds in Consort.

The town of Consort had the use of their 5 acute care beds suspended as of June 30, 2011. In order to reopen the critical care beds, the Alberta Health Services informed the people of the community that if they found doctors, the beds would be reopened. With that, the people of Consort took matters into their own hands and met the conditions laid out by AHS to get these life saving beds reopened, but AHS has yet to follow through.

After nine questions in the Legislature, two member’s statements, asking the former Premier in person and the presentation of a 1,000- person petition over the last two and a half years – what could they possibly need to review in this case? The beds were closed, the community met the AHS requirements, the beds are still closed and the community still needs them.

The questions that were presented to the Health Minister in the house requested a definitive timeline of when the government and AHS would live up to their word. All questions related to this potentially dangerous situation went unanswered by the Health Minister.

With this recent announcement, it appears that the Premier designate seems comfortable kicking the Consort acute care beds can down the road for a while longer. Over the last 3 years, there has been the potential for a devastating health outcome, due to the lack of acute care that could have and should have been avoided.

Change only happens when something other than the status quo takes place. Having another look at a situation that has been the subject of scrutiny for three years now will not solve this issue. Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result is not exercising sound judgement.

The Wildrose 10/10 Community Infrastructure Transfer would eliminate the need for communities to rely on reviews or assessments from anyone other than their own duly elected councils for approval. This policy would put the decision-making closer to the people that rely on the essential services they require.

As with the Municipal Sustainability Initiative formula, the Wildrose funding formula would include a number of variables, to ensure the different needs of individual communities are being met. Due to the transparency and predictability of the plan, it will enable administrators the ability to better meet the needs of all Albertans. The best decisions for your community are made in your community, this Wildrose policy will allow that to happen.

 

21st
September

Delivering accountability

Rick's Blog

Accountability is a word that is often thrown around in political circles as if it were nothing more than a meaningless noun or filler word in a speech. True accountability is something the Albertans shouldn’t need to demand or ask for, if their government is truly accountable. An upfront approach that put requirements on government is what Wildrose is proposing.

By allowing MLA’s the ability to vote freely in the Legislature, a Wildrose policy ensures representation that can reflect the views and beliefs of the constituents we are elected to bring forward in the Legislature. This policy is one I believe will help create an accountable government by having the ability to speak openly on behalf of the constituents in a riding, rather than being forced to tow the party line.

Restoring the role of elected MLA’s through mandating all votes in the Legislature and caucus be free and transparently reported to the public, is the only way to deliver a true accountability. By implementing legislation that establishes the essential democratic tools of voter recall and citizen-initiated referenda, the leverage is returned to the people – where it belongs.

In a healthy democracy, ultimate power must reside with voters. This can only be truly achieved if there are legislated mechanisms in place that allow voters the opportunity to recall their representatives and/or initiate legislation that their representatives are unwilling to bring forward. The support thresholds for both, must be high enough to ensure that only petitions with exceptionally strong grassroots support, are permitted to proceed to a vote. As with all legislation, all proposed initiatives should be constitutionally sound and kept within the parameters of the provincial budget.

The Wildrose proposed introduction of adequate and comprehensive whistleblower protection Legislation for all government-paid employees and professionals, including health care workers, will contribute significantly to eliminating forced compliance within departments. All too often, front-line workers face the dilemma of risking their jobs for doing the right thing if they speak up. The Widlrose policy would protect people that make the right decision to stop the abuses we’ve seen in recent years.

More affordable public access to Freedom of Information requests, as well as to the financial information of all Crown corporations and government investments, will clarify provincial finances and contribute to eliminating financial abuse across the board. Creating a reverse onus of proof on the government by mandating that before any FOIP requests are denied, the government must prove to the Privacy Commissioner that the information requested by the media or public should not be released, closes another costly loophole.

The Wildrose party is putting accountability ahead of party interests by proposing legislation that would elevate the important role of opposition parties and the Albertans they represent, by increasing opposition research and communications budgets. Strengthening all opposition parties’ roles in ensuring government accountability creates the checks and balances that taxpayers deserve.

Accountability can be achieved in Alberta with legislation that puts Albertans ahead of government; these accountability policies are a step in the right direction.

 

14th
September

Proposing predictable funding

Rick's Blog

Imagine you’re a Consort hospital foundation member under a Wildrose government. Now imagine having a Wildrose Policy in effect that offers a way to provide municipalities with legislated long-term funding formula’s tied to the growth of provincial tax revenues and royalties. Local communities are in the best position to determine where local infrastructure dollars should be spent and exactly what projects should take priority.

The existing government model of building and maintaining medical facility projects, based on favoritism and politics, has been a major factor with the inequities of services throughout Alberta.

Oil and gas production and agriculture create over 25% of Alberta’s GDP and the bulk of Alberta’s taxation revenue. The production in these industries is almost exclusively reliant on the people that reside in rural areas of our province.

Prior to the 2012 provincial election, a promise was made by the Alberta government to re-open the acute care beds in the Consort hospital, if the community met the conditions outlined by AHS. Those conditions have been met. I have brought their concerns forward in the Legislature several times and once in a public setting. As we head towards the winter of 2014, no answers have been given and the beds are still not open. Not having access to acute care in rural Alberta puts the safety of the citizens in this area in jeopardy due to the lack of adequate medical services.

The Wildrose 10/10 Community Infrastructure Transfer would remove any need for new municipal taxes while allowing municipalities to meet their needs with more funding than they currently receive.

The 10/10 plan allows 10 per cent of provincial tax revenue and 10 per cent of budget surpluses to go directly to Alberta’s towns, cities and municipal districts. This formula was devised after consultation with municipalities and will be tied to revenue growth, which would provide municipalities with the stability and predictability they need to plan for their futures.

The Transfer also bundles together 10 per cent of revenues collected from personal and corporate income taxes, education tax, tobacco tax and fuel tax, which will flow through-directly and without pre-conditions to municipalities. Once the budget returns to surplus, 10 per cent of each budget surplus would also be transferred.

Ultimately, the 10/10 Community Infrastructure Transfer results in more funds reaching municipalities, and it will do so without putting the burden on Alberta families with new or higher taxes.

As with the Municipal Sustainability Initiative formula, the Wildrose funding formula would include a number of variables to ensure the different needs of individual communities are being met. Due to the transparency and predictability of the plan, it will enable administrators the ability to better meet the needs of all Albertans.

The 10/10 plan’s single transfer directly to municipalities eliminates having to apply for complex patchwork grants, which have proven to leave municipalities short of funds. By receiving transparent and predictable amounts of funding, it would allow communities such as Consort, to reopen their acute care beds.

 

7th
September

Separating the wheat from the chaff

Rick's Blog

At this time of year the saying “separating the wheat from the chaff” takes on a real meaning in Alberta. Any farmer will tell you that without the proper separation equipment, the product is considered of lower quality, inferior if you will.

Much the same thing happens with the quality of our representation when important decisions are being made by a decreasing segment of the population that is graced with making decisions that will impact all of us. The governing party in Alberta this past weekend chose a new leader; it was done by a very small segment of Alberta’s population-less than one half of one percent.

With an astonishingly low number of votes (17,963) Jim Prentice won the 3rd midterm Leadership contest within the PC party in the last eight years on the first ballot. His vote count gave him 77% of the vote; meaning a mere 23,386 people voted in the decision that would determine who the next Premier would be. A segment of the population that represents such a small percentage of the population of Alberta, should without question, not be making a decision of this importance that will impact ALL Albertans.

Political leaders theoretically work on what is referred to as a “mandate.” The democratic mandate or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative, can hardly be authorized with approval of less than one percent of the electorate participating.

When farmers harvest their wheat, taking care that the quality of the product isn’t compromised, their target is not to only remove one half of one percent of the chaff from their end product, the goal is removing 100% of it. This past weekend 99.5% of Albertans were not considered when it came to making the decision about which person will hold the top job in Alberta.

All the rules and laws that govern elections in Alberta and Canada, I am sure were followed to the letter. The problem is that what transpired here is considered acceptable to meet the requirements of democracy. A decision with the potential impact this will have on the day-to-day running of the province is a decision that should be made by ALL Albertans.

It’s been suggested by some that we as a country, should revisit the constitution to bring certain areas up-to-date to reflect conditions in modern-day Canada. The electoral processes in our nation were always intended to be geared towards democracy by having electorate decide. This can easily be interpreted to mean, that with the permitted participation of every one of the electorate, the rules of democracy will be met. Democracy is never wrong; it always makes the right choice if it’s applied properly.

With the right equipment used properly, Alberta can separate the chaff from our wheat, but we have to have the opportunity. Unfortunately for us this fall, the Alberta government has locked our combines in the barn, which will have definite negative repercussions to the quality of the end product.

 

 

1st
September

Down and dirty in Drumheller

Rick's Blog

Things are about to get a whole lot dirtier in Drumheller, or should I say muddier. On September 6th and 7th, the town of Drumheller will be hosting the Tough Mudders competition, that already boasts a registration of over 5,000 competitors ready to take on the 17 km course.  Add into the equation a throng of spectators descending into the valley and it could be the largest event ever hosted in the town of Drumheller.

The festivities will not be confined to the gruelling course; there are plenty of attractions to keep your attention throughout the entire valley which begin Friday the 5th. A downtown festival on Friday kicks off a weekend of events that includes live entertainment, a golf tournament, a pig roast and of course some of the greatest scenery found anywhere in the world.

Tough Mudder is typically an 18 to 20 km obstacle course complete with military-style obstacles that tests all-around strength, stamina, teamwork, and mental grit, of even the best conditioned athletes. Tough Mudder is considered one of the toughest events ever created and definitely not for the faint of heart. Drumheller’s terrain and scenery will prove to be a natural backdrop for the event which has had over 1 million registrants worldwide since it’s inception in 2010.

The competition was originally designed and created by British Special Forces to test mental as well as physical strength. The obstacles play on basic human fears, most common being, fire, water, electricity and heights. In order to be successful in Tough Mudder a team’s plan must revolve around teamwork.

The obstacles on the course encourage group participation to complete. In order to complete the course you must commit to helping others on your team complete the course as well, putting your team-mates before yourself, and overcoming fears. The events are not timed and an average 78% of entrants successfully complete the course.

The local organizers and businesses are prepared for the thousands of people that are expected to at least double the population of the Drumheller valley for the entire weekend.

As the Wildrose Critic for Tourism, Parks and Recreation it will be my privilege to attend the event. Tourism starts as a vision, to help bring the vision to reality, it takes not only a great group of organizers, it takes a great community. Drumheller has risen to the occasion every time I have had occasion to celebrate an event with them. Judging by the preliminary numbers, this event will be a crowning achievement by all.

The competition will be tough but the atmosphere will be friendly, so if your not already planning on being at this historic event, take the time to check it out. For more information on the event you can visit www.TravelDrumheller.com for a complete list of events, maps, tourism information and travel information. For more information on the event or to register, go to www.ToughMUdder.com.

 

 

24th
August

The infrastructure crop

Rick's Blog

It’s at this time of year in rural Alberta that farmers and ranchers monitor and assess what production will be coming from the decisions they have made earlier in the year. Whether it’s the rain that nurtures our crops or grass that feeds the cattle, both are dependent on a lot of variables that with good decision-making can be managed effectively.

Ranchers buy bulls to create the strongest lineage that will build and maintain a strong herd, while others plant prime seeds in hopes of reaping a bountiful harvest in the fall. In either case, it requires the patience and educated management to reap a decent harvest.  These benefits take months and even years before a producer will see the fruits or failures of their agricultural infrastructure decisions.

Producers can plant premium seed in an attempt to grow their crop, but all of this is at the mercy of the infrastructure available to meet the needs of producing a quality crop. Whether it’s the calves at foot or grain waiting to be delivered, these important commodities are always products of their environment. You will only reap what you’ve sown.

So how did Alberta’s infrastructure crop get to such a point of deficit? Perhaps a random plow wind is responsible? Maybe a rogue twister or an unwanted hailstorm devastated provincial finances? Alberta’s politically induced economic-mismanagement is hindering virtually every aspect of Alberta’s economy. This mismanagement is most noticeable in our failing infrastructure which has created a negative economic impact on development within Alberta.

By all accounts, Alberta is falling behind in critical infrastructure maintenance and the new infrastructure we require to keep pace with provincial growth. These infrastructure deficits have contributed to slow economic growth and in some cases, actually restrict growth by creating economic barriers.

The Alberta Government’s patchwork of municipal grants and random funding programs has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in middle-management. The result of this waste is that Municipalities are unable to implement adequate long-term infrastructure planning as funding has become inconsistent and unpredictable. Chronic under-funding may force municipalities to increase local property taxes increasing the financial burden for residents and businesses.

The people that have been put in the position as decision-makers in Alberta have failed to recognize and properly address the province’s infrastructure needs. After long periods of complacency, the stewards have simply become neglectful of their key responsibilities to the taxpayers.

So what can we do to mitigate our infrastructure deficit?

Albertans have proven to be good stewards of not only the land but what infrastructure is required for their communities. The Wildrose will provide municipalities with legislated long-term funding formulas that are tied to the growth of provincial tax revenues and royalties, rather than continue with the current patchwork of wasteful and bureaucratic municipal granting and funding programs. It’s the local communities, not the provincial bureaucracy, that are in the best position to determine where and how the local infrastructure dollars should be spent.

 

17th
August

Putting Albertans first

Rick's Blog

WR logo

For years now the Alberta government has mismanaged our health care system which has led to declining outcomes for patients, growing wait times and less money making it to the front-lines where it will be the most beneficial.

Every Albertan has heard horror stories about health care, excessive stays in our emergency rooms, waiting in pain for almost a year for a hip or knee replacement surgeries. All too common are situations of families struggling as loved one’s are in limbo waiting for long-term care beds, which seems to have become the rule rather than the exception.

The unreasonable wait times are even harder to fathom when you consider Albertans pay more per-capita for health care than any other province in Canada. In several rural communities throughout the Drumheller Stettler riding, the government has centralized ambulance services to the point that wait times have become literally the difference between life and death for anyone in need of emergency medical help.

So how can we get our health care system working efficiently again?

It begins with solid leadership that will put the interests of patients first. By restoring control of health care back into the hands of the experts on the front-lines, it will ensure resources are directed where they belong.

One thing is clear; the centralizing of health care into the hands of the Health Minister and the Alberta Health Services Superboard, has been an unmitigated failure. Wait times have increased while Albertans have become even further removed from their health care system.

A Wildrose government will ensure our health care dollars are spent wisely to ensure greater outcomes for patients. That means, ending the practice of sole-source contracting through our health care system, ensuring we get value for our health care dollars. My colleague, Heather Forsyth, uncovered AHS had spent over $1 billion in sole-source contracts alone since 2011.

By shrinking the size of management, it will allow the money to go to the real care providers – our nurses and doctors. Through prudent fiscal management and better focusing of our resources, the wait time crisis for our ambulances, in our emergency rooms, and for key surgeries, can be and will be addressed.

The Wildrose has announced we will invest an additional $50 million per year for Seniors home care and annually increase funding thereafter to keep up with enrolment. This initiative will relieve pressure on our emergency rooms and make sure our seniors are treated with respect and are taken care of properly.

It’s time we started treating our seniors with compassion and dignity. Stories of seniors being “divorced by nursing home” by over 100 km in a province like Alberta, is simply unacceptable. These are people, family and friends, who gave so generously to our lives; they deserve the same treatment from us as the steward’s of their well-being.

Alberta’s health care system is ailing, but it can be fixed. We have some of the best health care professionals working here in our province who go above and beyond the call of duty. All we need is leadership with new ideas that put Albertans first.

 

 

11th
August

Time for a new moral compass

Rick's Blog

On August 3, 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail from mainland Spain with the goal of finding a more efficient route to the lucrative Chinese trade markets. At the time, his discovery of the new world was considered a miserable failure. What was considered a failure 522 years ago is considered today as one of the most significant voyages in the history of modern mankind.

Spanish merchants considered travelling south around the continent of Africa and then turning east as the only way to access Asia. Contrary to this thinking, three ships, the Pinta, the Niña, and the Santa María, set their headings west towards the open seas with hopes that they could create a quicker and more efficient trade route to the Far East.

Albertans have been sailing the same route now for the last 43 years. It’s a route that has become inefficient and seems at times to be rudderless. For the last few years, more and more Albertans have been metaphorically sailing around the harbour searching for a more efficient way of governing. Recently, it has come to the surface that the Alberta government has been travelling on inefficient routes due to malfunctioning navigational equipment, its moral compass.

The Wildrose Official Opposition offers a new horizon for Albertans, and like Columbus and his crew, the decision to make the turn towards that new horizon will come with a great deal of fear of the unknown.

What we do know is that no province in Canada has spent as much on infrastructure as Alberta has over the last six years. Canada’s most populous provinces have spent $700-$1,100 per person on infrastructure. During that same period, Alberta’s government has spent an average of $1,780 per Albertan.

Most everyone in Alberta agrees that we currently have an infrastructure deficit, this, despite having the highest per capita infrastructure spending in Canada. It has become obvious that the current navigation equipment Alberta is sailing with is not in good working order.

Under the steerage of its last two elected Premiers, Alberta has gotten badly off-course due to malfunctioning navigational equipment, more specifically its moral compass. That navigational equipment in this case, is the moral compass of the Alberta government, which appears to be malfunctioning badly in light of the recent revelations concerning abuse of taxpayers’ money.

It’s hard to fathom the intestinal fortitude it required for Columbus and the crews of the three ships to finally make that turn towards the open seas and the unknown. With a lack of information about the geography of the earth, making the turn to open seas and into history would have taken not just courage but a great deal of faith.

Albertans will have a decision to make within the next two years, do we stay the course using a broken moral compass and hope we don’t hit the rocks; or do we set sail in a new direction? Like Columbus, it’s time for Albertans to leave the harbour and search for new horizons with a fully functioning moral compass.

 

4th
August

Guest blog post by Joe Anglin

Rick's Blog

Joe Anglin MLA

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

 

Sale of AltaLink to U.S. firm bad for ratepayers

AltaLink is a publicly funded fully regulated utility that is owned by a highly disreputable corporation: SNC-Lavalin. AltaLink also just happens to be Alberta’s largest electricity transmission company that controls 80 per cent of the electricity flow in Alberta. Albertans guarantee AltaLink an annual income of roughly nine per cent return on equity (ROE), and we pay for all the capital improvements to the company via a transmission charge levied on every monthly electric utility bill. By law AltaLink doesn’t pay any taxes.

Given SNC-Lavalin’s poor reputation, (they suffer multiple sanctions by the World Bank for fraud and corruption), it seems only fair to Alberta’s ratepayers that another owner with a higher calibre of integrity operates AltaLink.

That said SNC is proposing to sell AltaLink for $3.2 billion to MidAmerican Energy, a U.S. company owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. Both the Canadian government and the Alberta Utilities Commission must approve the sale, and on July 25 the Canadian government approved the sale. SNC purchased AltaLink for $800 million back in 2002 and if the AUC approves the sale it would, in effect, provide SNC-Lavalin with a $2.4 billion profit at the public’s expense, and this is incredibly unfair to all Albertans on multiple levels.

Without delving into the question of why a public regulated utility should be privately owned, the sale of AltaLink raises numerous questions that must be answered before any sale is approved.

By all guesstimates Warren Buffett is overpaying for AltaLink by as much as $600 million. Executives from both companies refuse to say how this premium is going to be recouped, but I guess we all know the answer: Ratepayers. Over-paying may be in the best interest of SNC-Lavalin, but is overpaying in the best interest of Alberta ratepayers?

Given that Alberta’s ratepayers are the primary (if not sole) capital investors in AltaLink, how do we get a return for our investment? Typically in other jurisdictions, SNC would only receive a percentage of the profits (or loss) based on the market value of its investment, and the public would receive a percentage of the profits (or loss) based on our investment.

Any premium paid over and above the adjusted present net book value would be returned to the ratepayers. The formula varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but for the most part it is fair. So why in Alberta does SNC-Lavalin get all the profits from the sale of AltaLink if the ratepayers have paid for all the capital improvements?

The sale of AltaLink raises other concerns with regard to competition and security. AltaLink owns transmission lines that have been deemed critical to our economy. Does it make sense to sell critical infrastructure to our economy to a foreign company? Does it makes sense that we will guarantee an income to a foreign company that will not pay taxes in Alberta, and pay for all their capital upgrades as well? Further, given that MidAmerican Energy owns numerous generators and transmission lines in the states, how do the regulators propose to police anti-competitive price manipulation?

The sale of AltaLink is complex, but given that Alberta’s ratepayers are the primary investors in this deal, the current proposal to sell AltaLink to MidAmerican should be denied on the premise that this is a very bad deal for the rate paying public.

No private investor would ever invest in a project or business and not expect a return for that investment. Why should the rate paying public be treated any different?

The solution is to re-tender the sale of AltaLink so that the AUC can evaluate all the proposals. The bidding process should account for foreign tax and other subsidies to create a fair process for Canadian companies. If a foreign company wins the bid, so be it!

 But, under no circumstance should a foreign company own infrastructure deemed critical to our economy. If AltaLink is to be owned by a foreign company they should be required to sell the critical infrastructure to a Canadian-owned company. Most importantly, profits from the sale should be allocated based on a formula that is fair and just to all investors.

Joe Anglin

MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

http://joeanglin.ca/

 

27th
July

Duty of Care

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

When making any decision that governs or affects a society, the responsibility of “duty of care” should always guide the process, to ensure that all mitigating factors are being taken into account. For individuals in elected positions, this duty of careis considered part of the social contract they assume upon their election to office.  The implicit care and responsibilities held by elected individuals towards others within their society can reasonably be an expectation of them by their electorate.

Soon, the Alberta government and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) will have a very important decision to make. This critical decision involves the sale of AltaLink by its current parent company, SNC Lavalin, to the U.S.-based company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Among the many considerations that need to be taken into account with regards to the sale, is that this is a public utility. Among the considerations of the sale of the energy company, the impact it will have on Alberta’s ratepayers, should be first and foremost. Establishing ownership of the company providing electricity is meaningless and of very little consequence to the average person; however, the escalating cost of the service is.

In tort law, a duty of care is an obligation-legal or social, which is imposed on an individual requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could have foreseeable negative affects on others. This is the first element that must be established to proceed when establishing negligence.

Since the beginning of electricity’s deregulation in Alberta, the duty of care has been neglected, and in some cases intentionally worked around. In 2009, with the passage of Bill 50 – The Electrical Statutes Amendment Act, the burden of a needs assessment was eliminated completely. A needs assessment was the essential part of the process that determined whether a utility project was required and whether the cost justified the need. Bill 50 took that decision from the public’s scrutiny to a closed door cabinet meeting that had no discernable needs assessment or duty of care to those making the decisions.

The decisions that will be made in the near future concerning the sale of AltaLink will have no legal obligation to be made with any duty of care. The ratepayers will however have an opportunity to enforce the consequences of the lack of this unwritten social obligation, should it not be considered in the end, through the electoral process.

Affordability, of a basic necessity of life, is a reasonable expectation of obligation that any taxpayer, understandably, has of their government when considering there should always be an implied duty of care.

It isn’t a government’s place to be involved in a commercial transaction between private organizations, however when it involves a public utility that every Albertan depends upon, there is a reasonable duty of care expectation. I will be encouraging the Alberta government to take all factors into consideration and ensure proper regulations are in place, to fulfill their obligations for the duty of care they owe to Albertans.

 

 

20th
July

The 22

Rick's Blog

“The 22” or the 1922 Committee, is a committee of backbench Conservative Members of the British Parliament. The committee was formed in 1923 but takes its name from the 1922 general election that was won by the British Conservative party. Executive membership and officers are, by consensus, limited to backbench MPs although since 2010 frontbench Conservative MPs have an open invitation to attend meetings.

The 22 meets every week during the British Parliament session, providing a way for Conservative backbenchers to coordinate and discuss their views, and those of their constituents’. These meetings were traditionally done independently of frontbenchers allowing issues to come to the floor that were seemingly being overlooked.

The purpose of the 1922 Committee is to allow the leadership and the backbenches of the Party to keep in touch with the needs of the constituents that reside in the ridings of the non-frontbench members. The committee has become a very influential committee within the party and the Committee Chairman has direct access to the party leader.

The communication between the Executive branch (Leader and Ministers) of a government and all other members regardless of whether they are in the governing party or not, are paramount to the very principal of democratic representation.

The principal of democratic election of representation is to allow every constituent’s voice to be heard. By marginalizing any member of a Parliament or Legislature, regardless of party affiliation, openly defies the whole principal of democracy itself. As an elected representative sometimes it’s easy to lose sight that the other members in the house speak for constituents that are no more or less important than any others.

Fair and equal representation at the table is the ultimate measure of success or failure of democracy. Democracy has to have a base to grow from, that base is the grass roots, who: hold no position, are taxpayers and contributors to society, but most importantly, they are the majority. At times, these important details to what makes a functional and fair system are overlooked, in the name of ambitions of power. History has proven that power without the grass roots of a society is fleeting and little more than a façade.

As Albertans move ever closer to having yet another Premier chosen by a select few, it’s hard not to reflect on why it seems that Alberta has a revolving door in the Premier’s office. The systematic top-down governance methodology that has crept into the Alberta Legislature is indicative as to why “The 22” came into existence in British politics.

Politics in Alberta has evolved into a process that has become largely undemocratic, with no free votes in the Legislature and government MLAs expected to tow the party line without question. The Premier and a small group of mostly unelected appointees make almost every decision in government. Then people’s elected representatives, on the other hand, generally have little if any real input into the decisions that impact the lives of those who voted for them.

 

 

13th
July

Statesmen vs. Politicians

Rick's Blog

The difference between a Statesman and Politician can be as subtle as the difference between a light rain and a drizzle. In some cases however it can have a stark contrast that would be as obvious as the difference between a spring shower and a torrential downpour.

Politicians typically are more concerned with garnering power rather than maintaining principals. Often this manifests itself in the form of a “party first” mentality, which is obviously not in the best intention of any constituent. This mentality is often the case with the career-minded Politician or the bureaucrat motivated by long-term personal gain.

Statesmen often exhibit great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of government towards the best interest of their constituents. In matters of great importance to public issues, a Statesman will always put the needs of their constituents and their responsibility to them, ahead of party or personal gain.

Alberta has experienced the wrath of Politicians’ intent on long-term personal gain rather than Statesmen who, as alluded to earlier, put the needs and best interests of their constituents ahead of their own, or that of their party.

No party will ever be immune to the allure of the spotlight of public office. With that in mind, the taxpayers have to be ever vigilant in weeding out the Politicians and leaving in the Statesmen, in the pursuit of a healthy crop by harvest (election) time.

The people of this province have a dilemma in the not too distant future. It will require making the choice of who can best lead Alberta. The differences are subtle but will ultimately prove to be profound in their results.

In a conversation with a friend recently, he very insightfully reminded me that political parties have a choice to make; they can be a chapter or a footnote in Alberta’s history. Those words are a great reminder of the long-term vision a Statesman shows versus the short-term thinking a Politician typically exhibits.

Often the proper perspective of what in fact has brought a representative to the dutiful role is blurred by the rhetoric of power. The recognition of the collective voice of democracy that an elected official represents goes a long way in determining if they will be considered worthy of the label Statesman, or simply just another Politician.

As challenging as many may find it to represent the diversity of their constituents, a balance based on their diverse needs should be the catalyst in their decision-making. Every MLA is there to serve the Alberta taxpayers, putting special interests behind the needs of the majority.

True democracy is not distributed based on wealth, political status, social class, or alliance – each person in a democracy is equal. A true Statesman will not allow the anchor of cronyism to bog them down; regardless of whether it manifests itself externally or internally within a political party.

The choice is yours – a career Politician, or the Statesman that puts sound principals ahead of personal self-serving, short-term goals.

 

7th
July

Words to prosper by

Rick's Blog

July 6 1]

A sign the Calgary Stampede is underway are the number of breakfasts and BBQ’s that take place daily throughout the city. This past Saturday, the Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s Constituency Association Board held their annual Stampede BBQ at Heritage Park.

The over 900 people in attendance were treated to a very enthusiastic and powerful address from the Prime Minister. Stephen Harper’s message at the annual Stampede BBQ was a clear one – success for those who are willing to achieve with integrity! Canada deserves better and with the necessary steps, not necessarily the easy or the most popular steps we-will get there.

Harper referred to the track record of the failed Liberal promises, some of which the current government is still trying to help Canada recover from. His message was a clear illustration of the past record of failures left behind by the previous administration.

Canada’s roll as an ‘economic beacon’ to the rest of the world has only come to fruition through sound policies and sensible fiscal management. The reminder that Canada is considered to have the most enviable middle – class standard of living in the world, was well received by the crowd; the vast majority of who fall into that very economic class.

Leadership is a very important key to success. Popularity and platforms are good for messages – although when hollow; positions of power are no place for these people. Mr. Harper cited many examples of failings; quoting their own words – showing yet again – the words of his opponents’ are hollow and meaningless, without the actions to back them up.

A great many of us have had grave concerns over Property Rights in Alberta in  which Prime Minister Harper has shown a strong position on; not only for Albertans, but for all Canadians. He spoke of policy changes that will ensure another Property Right: the right to possess legal firearms; which means ensuring that there will be no long-arm registry in perpetuity. Harper said, he and his team have taken steps to ensure that no backdoor bureaucratic deals will be made to sneak in legislation against firearm owners; especially farmers, ranchers, and long-arms owners.

When a strong, capable, and knowledgeable leader presents itself – all parties are able to recognize the power of government and common good, opposed to separation. It is always great to have the invite and know there are those in elected government working for the people who put them there.

To quote Stephen Harper: “We have taken the necessary steps, not always the easier popular steps to get us there, and JustinTrudeau has nothing; absolutely nothing of substance to offer.  Canada deserves better, Canada’s getting better.”  Albertans deserve better and Alberta’s getting better under Stephen Harper’s guidance.

A huge shout-out to our own Crowfoot MP, Kevin Sorenson, Minister of State for Finance, who acted as the Master of Ceremonies; you did a fantastic job and represented the riding admirably.

 

29th
June

Bright ideas from Starland County

Rick's Blog

June 27th was an exciting day in Starland County for their council and employees who were proudly celebrating their highly successful Solar Initiative program. The program’s purpose is to aggressively support residents as they integrate solar photovoltaic equipment into their operations.

Solar Panels at Raugust farms

The Municipal Climate Change Action Center (MCCAC) and Bullfrog power have partnered with Starland County in facilitating the installation of multiple solar arrays on yards across the county. This partnership has resulted in Starland County becoming a leader in alternative energy sources and an important player in the progression and development of solar power as a cost-effective power generation source.

The Reeve of Starland County, Barry Hoover, proudly spoke of the successful partnership in a speech he delivered to the crowd who gathered at the Raugust farmyard to celebrate. The commitment to this project has even had buy-in from one of the Councillors, Bob Sargent, with one of the successful stories coming directly from his own operation.

Economic Development Officer for Starland County, Mr. Jordan Webber, spoke about the project with a great deal of excitement and said, “the celebration was to recognize the huge steps our community has made towards a sustainable future. The farmers and residents that have engaged this technology truly are modern-day pioneers. Their initiatives are worth celebrating!”

Jordan WebberEconomic Development Officer

In the past, technologies like solar power generation was looked on as a futuristic and unviable alternative, with the initial investment taking in excess of 15 years to recuperate in savings. According to Councillor Bob Sargent, his initial investment was scheduled to have a return target of 12 years. Due to the system out-performing expected power generation, the expected turnaround will be just shy of 7 years.

The move towards alternative energy sources is very important to reduce our carbon footprint on Alberta’s environment. Albertans have always demanded responsible stewardship of our natural environment. However, Albertans also understand that protecting our environment does not mean unnecessarily harming economic progress.

History has clearly demonstrated that jurisdictions that have strong economies are more willing to invest in and protect their environment when compared with those areas that have less. Projects such as these are beginning to show an economic dividend for those that invest in promoting green technologies. Protecting the environment and ensuring economic prosperity and opportunity are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are inextricably linked.

Albertans will be watching the progress of the Solar Initiative program that was developed by Starland County. The program definitely has the potential to vault Alberta into a position of leadership in solar power generation.

Starland Councillors, Murray Marshall, Steven Wannstrom, Bob Sargent, Deputy Reeve, Allen Avramenko and Reeve, Barrie Hoover, are to be congratulated for their vision and leadership in the field of environmental stewardship. Their forward-thinking will have positive effects for the future of the entire county and the province of Alberta.

For more information on the Solar initiative program and how you can get involved in it, contact: Jordan Webber, email hidden; JavaScript is required">email hidden; JavaScript is required

 

23rd
June

The greatest story ever told

Rick's Blog

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is presented in one of the most appropriate locations that you could tell the story of Jesus Christ. The natural amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the Passion Play is one of the most unique sets you will find anywhere in the performing arts. Natural acoustics compliment this story originally set in virtually the same terrain that you find in the Drumheller area.

The Passion Play has one of the largest theatrical casts in Canada with hundreds of local residents answering the call for extras, with entire families participating as extras and support staff. Every year hundreds of people of all acting skill levels volunteer for the 9-weekend commitment that makes this epic performance such an incredible success.

Preceding the play on the third Friday in June, the Canadian Badlands Passion Play golf tournament is held at Dinosaur Trail Golf and Country Club, with this year’s edition being held this past Friday. “The Greatest Story Ever Told” had by all accounts, their greatest golf tournament in many years, with perfect weather and a golf course that is in exceptional shape.

The charity auction that followed the golf tournament gave the Wildrose caucus an opportunity to show our support for this worthy organization. The support came in the form of a successful bid on a framed portrait of one of the most dramatic scenes from the performance. The final bid of $1,050 will allow my colleagues and I the privilege to hang this wonderful portrait in the legislature until next year’s post tournament auction when it will go back up for auction.

June 22

It was my pleasure to be on hand for the banquet that followed the golfing that lead to a chance-meeting of a young pastor from High River that I had met last summer in the small town of Brownfield (located in the northern part of the Drumheller Stettler riding). Pastor Jason Johnson and associate Pastor Scott Fisk, along with legendary Calgary news anchor Darrel Janz, all made the trip from High River to play in the tournament that had them finishing tied for first place.

I was honoured this past Sunday to have been invited by Pastor Jason Johnson to an interdenominational service in High River that marked the one year anniversary of the flood that profoundly affected so many people across Alberta. The day featured families and fellowship that was a true reminder of the spirit that lives within so many Albertans.

A big thank you to Executive Director Vance Neudorf and his wonderful staff for putting on a great golf event and a world class play. Also thank you to Pastor Jason, Associate Pastor Scott and Darrell for including me in Sunday’s service in High River; it was my honour to be there.

For a tickets to the greatest story ever told, call the Canadian Badlands Passion Play at 1-888-823-2001 (Mon-Fri 9am to 4pm).  Performances are scheduled for July 11, 12, 18, 25, 26 (6:00pm), July 13, 19, 20, 27 (3:00pm).

Click here for information on the Canadian Badlands Passion Play

 

 

15th
June

Give me liberty

Rick's Blog

As your elected provincial representative for Drumheller-Stettler, I feel a responsibility to protect the right of my constituents to democracy. In order to recognize when our right to democracy is being compromised, we need to first understand what it actually is.

Democracy is a form of government that allows all eligible citizens the right of participation in the decision at hand. Citizens participate equally, either directly or indirectly, through elected representatives in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

When the speaker of the Alberta Legislature addresses any member, they do so by the riding name only. Recognition of a member by the Speaker by riding name acknowledges that the member is standing in front of the house as a representative of all of the constituents in that riding; not just themselves or their party. This form of recognition should act as a reminder of what is expected of all of us when we rise to speak in the Legislature.

All too often, special interests become combative and argumentative when they are challenged by the suggestion that what they are advocating is not in the best interests of the majority.

Democracy is a right in Canada; any attempt to subvert that right should always be looked on as tyrannical. Credible democracy has no loop-holes that silence the voice of the common citizen.

As a member of the Wildrose caucus, I am blessed to have a free vote which gives me the opportunity to be the unobstructed voice of my constituents and represent their wishes. Free votes allow a member to, without restriction; consider the interests of the constituent ahead of special interests or a political party.

Democracy is not to be confused with freedom. Freedom only comes when there is cognitive recognition that certain rights cannot be taken away, not even by a 99% vote. Only with a careful balance of reason and democracy can we attain the true goal, Liberty.

It’s said, democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch; Liberty is when the lamb is well-armed and has the ability to contest the vote. Liberty is defined as being free from arbitrary control of government or other agency. As we’ve seen in recent years with Property Rights in Alberta, our liberties seem to have been eroded. The failure of the elected representatives to recognize this erosion of our liberties was costly to some by way of the democratic process.

With liberty we achieve true democracy and freedom, without liberty there is no democracy or freedom. This right, like every other right, is one that we have to fight for and protect from the people who seek only power. The basis of any democratic state is always liberty.

Preserving our rights to democracy, freedom, and liberty requires your participation. The participation starts when you arm yourself with the knowledge to make informed decisions.

Please feel free to contact my office and participate in democracy or if you are seeking information on any policies or legislation.

 

 

9th
June

Freedom and democracy

Rick's Blog

June 6, 2014

Drumheller Cenotaph, June 6, 2014, 70th Anniversary of D-Day

World leaders, veterans and civilians gathered in Normandy on June 6th to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day; the military offensive that is said to have changed the course of the Second World War. At least 4,400 Allied troops, including 359 Canadians, died on the first day of the invasion.

Following the service in Normandy, the retired Canadian service men and women flocked to Juno beach and were joined by our Prime Minister, as well as hundreds of Canadian civilians that had made the trek to France for this special occasion.  JunoBeach was the second beach from the east, among the five landing areas of the Normandy D-Day allied invasion of World War II.

Drumheller Cenotaph

Drumheller Cenotaph

The mission nicknamed “operation Overlord” resulted in significant losses of the young Canadian soldiers that landed on the beach that day in 1944. The Canadian 3rd Infantry Division took heavy casualties in the first wave, but by the end of the day, they had succeeded in wrestling control of the area from defending German troops.

The sacrifice these young Canadian soldiers made on that fateful day left all of us with a debt we can never repay. Last week’s unspeakable tragedy in Moncton, New Brunswick that saw three young RCMP officers cut down and two injured in the line of duty reminded us all again what the cost of freedom is.

Regardless, whether these people are protecting the world from the evil regimes or at home, keeping our streets safe, their daily sacrifices must always be remembered. The price of freedom and democracy has been paid for with the lives of thousands of young men and women throughout our country’s history.

Prime Minister Harper’s words echoed across the beach in Juno this week where he said in a speech, “The freedom, democracy and justice for which these veterans fought are still Canada’s birthright. It is their legacy to you. Cherish it.”

The three slain RCMP officers: Const. David Ross, Const. Fabrice Georges Gevaudan and Const. Douglas James Larche, are all owed the same debt of eternal gratitude that the 117,000 Canadians throughout history who gave their lives in the name of our freedom, are owed.

Last week’s tragedy in Moncton stands as a reminder that heroes don’t only wear military uniforms. In our society today, it’s easy to overlook the integrity and commitment these home-based freedom-fighters exude every day.

Freedom is not free, and to commemorate an example of that last week, we remembered those that made the sacrifice so long ago on the beaches of Normandy. We were also unfortunately reminded, once again, of the sacrifice so many make right where we live, that, for the most part, can go unnoticed.

Prime Minister Harper reminded us last week that any threat to democracy is a threat to our Canadian birthright and legacy. Thank you to all of the Law Enforcement and Military people that preserve the legacy of those that made the ultimate sacrifice. We will remember you.

 

1st
June

It needs more than just a paint job

Rick's Blog

One thing that farming teaches you is that to be successful you need to make your equipment last as long as you can. For farmers, equipment is responsible for a great deal of the overhead facing an operation. With that in mind, on most farms you’ll find older equipment that is being pushed to its breaking point.

In 1953, the year I was born, my dad bought a new Dodge pickup that to this day still sits on my farm. Over the years that old pickup earned its keep, like most equipment does, that was until the old Dodge just wasn’t worth the money it would cost to fix it. With that, it was retired to the junk pile.

53 Dodge

Like most antique vehicles, there comes a point where it suddenly has a worth that justifies the expense of restoring it. The work that’s needed for a proper restoration will include more internal work than external.

Political parties, at least in Alberta, are similar to old farm equipment like the Dodge that sits on my farm. With a regiment of regular maintenance, equipment can last well beyond its expectations. In Alberta, the maintenance schedule was abandoned a few years ago.

Earlier last week, leadership hopeful Jim Prentice delivered a speech in Medicine Hat, that had strong overtones on Property Rights. He recognized that Alberta Property Rights have been very badly mishandled by the organization he seeks to lead. In his speech, Prentice said “in my view, successive governments have also been less than careful about the protection of our property rights in this province.”

Less than careful? That statement is suspiciously close to an admission that the Land Bills passed in 2009 were poorly drafted and never should have been passed in the form they were presented in.

His solo attempt to resurrect the governing party in Alberta is the equivalent to my old Dodge getting a new paint job, and then expecting to jump in and drive away. My old Dodge, like the Alberta government, needs a great deal of internal work. Without that work, his party much like my 53 Dodge, will remain broken down and in need of those repairs.

Property rights are the foundation of each individual and family’s financial security and prosperity and they must be protected. By passing an Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act, that will entrench property rights protection in law.

In order to ensure the property rights of Albertans, we must review all existing legislation as related to government expropriation and regulation. What’s needed is to make sure that when public projects or government initiatives are found absolutely necessary, any negative impacts on affected property owners will be fully compensated for.

By enshrining basic property rights in the current Alberta Bill of Rights and spearheading a national initiative to add property rights protection to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Albertans will be adequately protected. Something just a quick paint job won’t accomplish.

 

25th
May

The class of 2014

Rick's Blog

DVSS

Drumheller Valley Secondary School 2014 Graduating Class

As a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, I am privileged as all 86 of my colleagues are, with a very special honour. The honour is the opportunity to be in attendance and participate in the high school graduation ceremonies that take place every spring across Alberta.

Unfortunately for many of my urban colleagues, they attend only a fraction of the graduations that rural MLAs get to. I say “get to” because it’s a rare privilege to witness, what many of us recognize as a new chapter in a young person’s life. A new chapter full of opportunity and hopes like a blank canvas that comes alive through the imagination of the artist.

In the Drumheller Stettler riding, most of the graduations that I attend are smaller affairs with many classes having less than a dozen students. Whether small or large, the classes all share that one common denominator-hope. Hope of a future filled with opportunity, adventure and happiness.

The next chapter in the lives of graduates typically consists of post-secondary education or a transition directly into the workforce. As parents, we hope that our children find the vocation they are best suited for, and in some cases, their vocation finds them.

Spring is a time of new beginnings; sometimes those new beginnings can come in the form of a change of lifestyle. Nowhere in life is that change more prevalent than in the lives of all graduates preparing for their departure from high school. It’s an exciting time that most of us look back on as one of the defining times of our lives.

The 2014 Graduates need to remember a few things that the generations before you have learned. With that, I will impart the knowledge that my years have taught me:

You must always remember our time on this earth is limited, so you shouldn’t waste it living someone else’s life; don’t try to be something that you’re not. Being who you are is more than acceptable.

Think outside the box. Be original, be creative, and don’t waste your ideas with silence. You and your thoughts have value. Share them with others and listen to the thoughts of others.

Doing meaningful work will bring you riches that money cannot buy.

Choose to use any status or influence you may attain, to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice.

If you make a difference in the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud family who appreciates your existence.

Be an honest and compassionate person; contribute in some way to the betterment of the society you live in.

In closing, I would like to remind the families of the 2014 graduates that it takes a community to raise a child, but their core values come from you. From what I’ve seen of the graduates of the class of 2014, the families have accomplished that goal admirably and for that society thanks you.

 

18th
May

Listening and comprehension

Rick's Blog

Alberta’s long-awaited spring appears to finally have arrived and like many of you, not a moment too soon for me. Spring means different things to all of us; in the riding I call home, it means the awakening of the agriculture sector and the influx of tourists visiting all of the attractions our constituency has to offer.

The renewal of the spring season is not limited to tourism or agriculture coming to life; it’s also a chance for me to have direct contact with the constituents I proudly represent in the Alberta legislature.

Lost in the hustle and bustle of one of the most action-packed and controversial Legislative sessions in recent memory, was the 2nd anniversary of the 2012 election. In those rewarding two years since taking office, the one thing I value most are the personal exchanges with the people of the riding.

One of these rewarding experiences took place recently in Drumheller at the home of a young man that proudly represented Drumheller Stettler as the “MLA for a Day” program, held annually at the Legislature. It was obvious from the moment David arrived in my Legislature office, that this was a very special young man. Meeting and getting to know his parents, Sandra and David sr., gave an insight into why David is such a remarkable young man.

The intimate affair was attended by a small group of David’s friends and family who created an atmosphere of acceptance and open lively discussion. These are the types of interactions that have the greatest value to anyone that truly wants to represent the wishes of their constituents properly. These one-on-one interactions best allow us to gain that perspective that helps us best understand the views of those we are supposed to represent.

In the two years since being elected, I’ve learned that directly talking to the constituents is the most effective thing any MLA can do. Albertans have steadily been losing confidence in the government which seems to all stem from their lack of ability to listen, or more importantly comprehend what the taxpayers are saying.

One thing that’s been the Achilles Heel of this Alberta government is their inability to understand that hearing is of little consequence if there is a failure to comprehend. The government of Alberta has time and again trampled and fumbled their way through negotiations and the creation of new legislation, which has resulted in the premature resignations of three successive Premiers within a mere seven years. The recently concluded spring session that lasted only seven weeks, once again illustrated a lack of solid comprehension by this government of what Albertans want.

The best consultants we have in the Legislature are the people we serve, something all MLAs would do well to remember. I would like to personally thank David, Drumheller Stettler’s 2014 MLA for a day, his family, and their friends, for their kindness and contributions to helping me to better serve the constituents of Drumheller Stettler.

 

11th
May

Political ridiculousness

Rick's Blog

Calgary Foothills MLA, Len Webber, stood in the legislature and emphasized the need for a change of government in Alberta. The last member’s statement of the spring session, before it was shut down was fitting, explicitly illustrating how badly the government of Alberta has lost its way.

The former Minister has been representing his Calgary riding for over a decade and is highly respected in the Legislature. In the past, Len has tabled some important and much needed Legislation, which has benefited all Albertans. As an example, last year Webber’s Bill 207, the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act, received unanimous consent in the house and will save the lives of a lot of Albertans in the future.

Shortly after the commencement of the spring session, Webber left the Alberta PC caucus, citing differences with the leadership of the party. Now as an independent member of the Legislature, the view of how Alberta is being governed is coming into focus for him, and he’s not happy with the view.

His emotional member’s statement pointed out that this government has been “killing Albertans’ access to governance for a while now.” Clearly frustrated, Webber said, “I know that my bill will be killed and is going to be killed.” Bill 205, the Animal Protection (Prevention of Animal Distress and Neglect) Amendment Act, which would have seen penalties for animal cruelty effectively doubled, was delayed and appears to be destined for defeat.

It is not the responsibility of any Opposition MLA to automatically oppose anything brought forward by the governing or any other party. It is the responsibility of all MLAs to ensure that legislation beneficial to Albertans, is properly debated and voted on by the individual merits of the Bill that has been tabled.

Disappointed, Webber pointed out that Bill 205 will be defeated, and that it could have dealt with the recent case of a 19 year old man in Calgary that caused the cruel and barbaric death of a cat and dog. Webber said that, “because of the political ridiculousness of the last year or so, offenders such as this fellow will get a slap on the wrist.” To ad insult to the demise of Bill 205, the government has been hinting that they will table a bill bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bill 205.

The final irony is that when Len Webber left the PC caucus, it was because of what he called the intimidation of their leadership and bullying, right on queue, the government lived up to those words by killing a good piece of legislation to make their point.

Webber ended his statement with these heartfelt words, “this makes me a very sad man.” I’m confident that his sadness is shared by most Albertans, Opposition MLAs and even some of the government’s own MLAs.

As the PC party sets sail on a voyage to find a new leader, the problem still remains; they may find a new captain but it still has the same old crew.

Bill 205, The Animal Protection (Prevention of Animal Distress and Neglect) Amendment Act, 2014

Bill 207, the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act, 2013

 

4th
May

What’s that in your hand?

Rick's Blog

Anyone that has raised children at some point has run into the “hand in the cookie jar” situation. What I’m referring to is the scenario that a lot of young children get caught in. It’s comical when you ask the child, “What’s that in your hand?” and they reply, “Nothing!” as they quickly hide their hand behind their back. It’s comical when a five year old does it; it’s not so comical when government puts their hands behind their back and says the same thing.

For the parent, the solution is easy, expose the truth and explain why this behaviour is not acceptable. For government, on the other hand, the solution is exposure and consequences determined by the taxpayers during an election.

As a taxpayer you elect your representation (Councillor, MLA, MP) to be the parent that makes sure the child (the government) is held accountable for their actions. The tool that your representative has been given to be that parent, is the Freedom of Information legislation, or FOIP.

FOIP legislation has been adopted by more than 50 free nations and free societies all over the world. These laws provide the press, taxpayers, and where applicable, opposition parties, with access to information about the performance, cost, and operation of government.

On Monday, May 5, Wildrose Opposition MLA Drew Barnes from Cypress Medicine Hat will present a Private Member’s Bill, Bill 204 the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (MLA Public Interest Fee Waiver) Amendment Act. The Act is meant to allow your duly elected MLA to have the fees associated with FOIP waived (maximum 4 times in a calendar year). This will assist in giving reasonable and unimpeded access to the information taxpayers should always have access to.

FOIP is an extremely bright flashlight that illuminates the darkest recesses of the back rooms of the legislature, where it seems, a great many deals have been struck. With rare exception, public business should be done in full view of the public, in the light of day, without hands behind the back.

An example of the government keeping their hands behind their back and away from the light are illustrated by the passage of Bill 50 The Electric Statutes Amendment Act, passed in 2009, that allowed the government to evaluate the over-budget, unneeded 500kv power lines to be approved in a closed door cabinet meeting, away from public light. When asked what they had behind their backs, to the horror of consumers, what they were hiding were significant increases in the power bills that we are now paying, to cover these unnecessary projects.

Without the ability to hold your government to account, you will be walking into the future backwards, trying to figure out where things went wrong, and how to fix them. FOIP is a proactive way to enable the taxpayers of Alberta to walk into the future facing forward with a sustainable plan.

Click to see Bill 204

 

27th
April

What are you prepared to do?

Rick's Blog

The 1987 blockbuster hit movie “The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner as legendary crime fighter Elliot Ness and Sean Connery as beat cop Jimmy Malone, produced some very memorable scenes in movie history.

Elliot Ness faced formidable odds fighting crime in 1920’s Chicago and set out to recruit his team of crime fighters. Most memorable was Jimmy Malone an ordinary weathered and experienced Chicago beat cop. Before Malone agrees to join Ness’s team he poses the question, “what are you prepared to do?” In response Ness says, “Anything within the law.”

With that Malone asks Ness if he knows what a blood oath is and then informs him that he just took one. With a small group of agents, they set out to end the rampant corruption that permeated Chicago in the 1920s.

In Connery’s last scene in the movie, having just been ambushed and fatally shot, he once again asks Ness, “What are you prepared to do?” Those six words stood out as a poignant message in the theme of good versus evil.

Alberta’s own scenario of the law versus corruption has been playing out in a much more visible way since April 23, 2012, when a strong Wildrose Opposition took the helm and began to investigate on behalf of the taxpayers, the details of how your tax dollars are being spent.

The law in our scenario is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP act). The FOIP act is a tool that was developed to ensure tax payers have access to information that holds the government accountable.

During the 2012 election campaign, the buzz word “accountability” was thrown around by the government like fertilizer from a manure spreader; however, none of it seemed to stick. Accountability has been rather difficult to achieve and attempts to use the FOIP tool have been met with criticism by those being investigated.

Two years later, there’s a new buzz word being used as a defence mechanism, “frivolous.” Frivolous: lacking seriousness, of little or no weight. I would hardly call careless and in some cases illegal use of tax payers money “frivolous.”

Recently, the Service Alberta Minister Doug Griffiths was quoted saying the Opposition’s FOIP requests are taking “millions of dollars” away from health care. This seems rather ironic considering some of those very FOIP requests are aimed at finding far more waste within the Health Care system than the Minister claims it’s costing to process these requests.

FOIP is the tool that Opposition members of the Legislature use to advocate on behalf of you – the taxpayer. It has allowed Albertans to understand the systemic problems that waste literally hundreds of million’s dollars every year.

Just like Elliot Ness, the people of Alberta recruited a team of Opposition members to hold the government accountable. We’ve accepted the blood oath, now what are you prepared to do?

Your participation could be as simple as informing others about the facts. But ultimately, where your participation is going to be required, will involve a pencil and a ballot.

 

20th
April

Keeping our word

Rick's Blog

The essence of any agreement, legal or otherwise, relies on the honour of the parties involved for its fulfillment. Even in this day and age, many people still consider an agreement that is made over a handshake as binding within their personal ethical values. The success or failure of such an agreement however, depends on the integrity of the parties involved.

 On April 16 the Alberta government tabled Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act 2014, ultimately cracking the foundation of the current pension agreement that exists with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). The Bill will effectively overhaul the pension plans of over 200,000 hard-working public sector workers across Alberta.

The Alberta government’s heavy handed approach to inflation-proofing, putting a cap on contributions, and changing early retirement rules, clearly violate any good faith the current agreement was negotiated in. It would have been prudent to have any changes to existing pensions negotiated with the members of the unions affected.

Forcing an agreement that has not been negotiated, essentially changing the rules in the middle of the game will hinder any negotiations with the public sector. Negotiations are the foundation of any agreement that can be justified to the parties on either side.

Negotiating contracts can be delicate and difficult at the best of times, without unnecessarily creating a lack of trust and respect. In any relationship, trust and respect are something that must be earned or can be lost by the actions of one of the parties involved in that relationship. The tabling of Bill 9 has compromised the Alberta government’s ability to negotiate any future public sector agreements, by eliminating the respect and trust those in the public sector may have had in the government.

The Wildrose has long supported the view that our word must be kept when negotiating contracts, they must be honoured as agreed upon. This includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners.

In last falls legislative session, the Alberta government surprised the house with the tabling of Bills 45 and 46; which appears to have been a precursor to the tabling of Bill 9. Bill 45, Public Sector Services Continuation Act, compromises AUPE member’s free speech by imposing substantial penalties for members that communicate or encourage strike actions. Bill 45’s equally offensive sibling Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, takes aim at the unions arbitration rights by eliminating them – again without negotiation.

A pattern of bullying through legislation is setting the tone for how the Alberta government plans to enter into future negotiations, similar to how Bills 19, 36 and 50 bullied land owners. The Wildrose feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of our public pensions, however, we believe that any such changes need to be negotiated openly and respectfully-not through heavy handed legislation.

The Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 9, along with Bills 45 and 46, which also unjustly ignore the legal rights of our public sector employees.

 

13th
April

Gentleman Jim Flaherty

Rick's Blog

JF Photo

On April 10 Canada lost one of the greatest Statesmen in Canada’s history and by all accounts, from friend and foe, a true gentleman. Jim Flaherty, served as Canada’s Finance Minister from February 6, 2006 until March 18, 2014. He guided Canada’s finances through some of the most turbulent times in world financial history, and guided it with the determination that lead to one of the most successful economies currently in existence.

Jim Flaherty, although not large in stature, managed to tower over most characters in Canadian Parliamentary history with his conduct and the abilities he exhibited while performing the duties of his office. As a strong voice in cabinet, the former Finance Minister advocated for social policy activism to help the disadvantaged, and especially the disabled; he embodied a socially-responsible fiscal conservative.

A true measure of this man was the reaction of the Opposition Members of Parliament to the government Flaherty played a major roll in. Jim was described as, “tenacious, effective and dedicated politician who reached across the aisle.” These are the types of reactions that illustrate a quality that every person in public office should aspire to – putting the best interests of the people first.

Flaherty was one of those rare individuals in public life that would admit fault in the name of doing what he felt was right. Jim allowed his principles to elevate him rather than treating them as though they were dragging him down. A man of great conviction he fought with dignity and always with respect.

In a speech he delivered to The Ivey School of Business in 2011, he said:

 “Public service is good for you. You will have opportunities to change the world around you in varying ways and to different degrees, large and small. It is the most satisfying and personally enriching career you will ever find. This, my friends, is priceless.”

What have truly been priceless to this nation are the contributions and accomplishments of the Honourable Jim Flaherty. History will remember him as one of the steadying factors within the Harper government; a cornerstone of the federal Conservative government’s successes during their recent tenure.

Three weeks before his untimely passing, on the day he resigned as federal Finance Minister, he made this final entry on his Twitter account:

“It has been an honour to serve Canada. Thank you for the opportunity.”

The humbling entry is fitting closure to the commentary of his life. A father, husband, statesman, and a true gentleman that epitomized in life what the word “Honour” means.

Sincerest condolences go out to Jim’s wife, Christine, and their sons, John, Galen and Quinn. If you would like to share your condolences with the Flaherty family, you can do so online at www.commemoration.gc.ca.

A full state funeral will be held for Minister Flaherty Wednesday April 16 in Toronto.

 

6th
April

Cronyism and special favours

Rick's Blog

As the Legislative Assembly of Alberta resumes session, we do so with an air of uncertainty and instability on the government side of the house. The uncertainty and instability arises from the sudden resignation of Premier Alison Redford.

So what’s next? Queue the opportunists! An opportunist is defined as one who takes advantage of any situation to achieve an end, usually with no regard for principles or consequences. If regard had been given to principles and consequences, those within the government caucus would have spoken up prior to the Premier’s resignation. This would most certainly qualify as a classic case of opportunism.

Those that will be seeking the Premier’s chair from within the governing party theoretically should have some explaining to do for what transpired under their previous leader, whom they willingly supported.

My Wildrose caucus colleague, MLA for Airdrie – Rob Anderson, describes what he feels is needed to clean up what exists within the governing party as “draining the swamp. Making sure Albertans understand the incompetence, corruption and scandal, is not about one person.” This indeed has certainly been a group effort.

The ethical minefield that developed from the close of the polls in the 2012 election has resulted in the entire government caucus being complicit in the actions of their former leader. Being silent on the obvious abuses translates to a breach of the responsibility an MLA is supposed to have to their constituents. It appears, with few exceptions, that concept is not a common belief amongst the government members.

Disregard for principals and consequences typically stems from the short-sighted ambitions of those who seek power and position. No organization is immune from these individuals that seek power and influence. Typically the ambition to seek special favour and influence is the catalyst for supporting those that act in an opportunistic fashion.

The present culture that thrives within the government of Alberta is by no means quarantined to their ranks; in fact it can exist within virtually any organization. As has been illustrated, the key ingredient to a successfully-run opportunistic atmosphere is cronyism, something that exists in virtually every area of our current government. Cronyism is the first logical step towards corruption; the two elements work hand-in-hand and seem to facilitate each other.

Alberta has suffered from the effects of out of control cronyism with special favours being the rule, rather than the exception. Politics attracts those that seek special favour and influence, the means to the end.

As the duly elected member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for Drumheller Stettler, it is my responsibility to you, the tax payer, to ensure that opportunists that seek special favour are turned away at the door. In the end when it comes to cronyism, if you aren’t part of the solution, you are the problem.

 

30th
March

She stood alone

Rick's Blog

The recent sudden resignation of Premier Alison Redford was the final chapter in a very tragic story for Alberta taxpayers, a story of inheritance and entitlements. The resignation itself became a strong possibility after a litany of expenses was brought to light that simply could not be explained away or justified adequately.

While inadequate senior care, health care and failing infrastructure highlight failures by the Alberta government, it seems the band marched on with regards to spending on entitlements and luxuries. The last few years we’ve witnessed some shallow accounting manoeuvres by the Alberta Treasury, designed to give a false impression of a balanced budget, the catch to this false impression is that the unfortunate reality eventually will surface.

Alberta’s governing party for the last 43 years has created more craters than you would see on the surface of the moon. Some craters are small and relatively manageable but others are so vast you can’t see the other side without binoculars, those are not manageable. The largest of these vast craters are named “Infrastructure and Health Care,” both are not solely the fault of the recently resigned Premier; however, she cannot be absolved from the onus of responsibility, having served silently under the previous administration that preceded her.

Alison Redford took over as Premier just over two years ago and inherited failing infrastructure and an ailing health care system. Prior to Redford, Ed Stelmach sat as Premier for just over 5 years and faced similar challenges to those that Redford recently succumbed to. Stelmach, like Redford, inherited a lot of the problems that drove his eventual decision to step down as Premier. So what’s with the revolving leadership door? It’s likely the same reasons that three successive leaders have resigned and the same reason whoever assumes the controls will also resign, it’s an organizational problem.

So what’s next, rinse and repeat? The problems are with the organization as a whole, not so much with the individual. The individuals have exacerbated the problems without a doubt, however the mentality within the Alberta government has also facilitated and encouraged entitlement and poor spending policies based on short-term political gain.

Creating a stable economic and social environment requires that the power structure be stable first. The resignation of three successive leaders in less than 8 years in Alberta is not the stability of success and it has had – and will have, an effect on how potential investors see Alberta as an investment opportunity.

Over the next six months Albertans will once again see backroom deal-making and alliances of convenience, as the governing party decides who will be the next contestant that inherits and then gets to defend the indefensible.

As your duly elected Legislative representative for the constituents of Drumheller Stettler, it is ultimately my responsibility what policies I support or do not support, your feedback is necessary and duly noted in those decisions. The members of the government side of the house supported the policies of Alison Redford, yet in her resignation she stood alone?

 

23rd
March

Shocking disclosure

Rick's Blog

Recently, it came to light that top executives at TransAlta approved the strategy of shutting down power plants on a temporary basis, to drive up electricity prices which resulted in millions of dollars in profits.

More concerning, was that company officials were actually congratulating each other about how well it was working This was according to documents filed with the provincial electricity regulator.

The three TransAlta VPs, which included the VP of regulatory and legal affairs, gave the go-ahead on a bidding strategy in November 2010, to stage plant outages during peak periods to drive up the price of electricity. This has been alleged by Alberta’s Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) in documents that have been filed with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).

The allegations that four times in 2010 and 2011, TransAlta deliberately shut down major coal-fired generators at peak times during extremely cold winter days, to increase their profits by manipulating the price based on artificial need of electricity from other plants they controlled. In December of 2010, TransAlta created $6.69 Million in profit from these actions, even after financial penalties were imposed.

In emails exchanged between executives, they congratulated plant managers for the “great work” in co-ordinating plant shut downs that resulted in the price spikes. One of the emails revealed that the shut downs were discretionary, “All three of these outages were discretionary and all three plant managers worked with us on the timing,” TransAlta executive Nathan Kaiser.

Wildrose electricity critic, Joe Anglin, pointed out that similar allegations in other jurisdictions would be heard in a court of law and not in front of a quasi-judicial tribunal. He also pointed out that the consequences would result in more than just token fines and that is what is missing in the policing of our electrical system.

In an exchange with the Associate Minister of Electricity, Anglin said “Given that the MSA allegations are, in effect, allegations of fraud, theft, destruction of evidence, all of which are criminal in nature, will this government ask the RCMP to investigate and file criminal charges as necessary and hold these companies and individuals to account?”

Donna Kennedy-Glans, Associate Minister of Electricity, responded that “if the government interfered every time there was an allegation about corporate activity, we’d be awfully busy.”

The Alberta government has done little to deal with the escalating bills that are becoming more difficult for those on fixed incomes to fit into their budgets. The reluctance of this government to deal with these alleged illegal activities shows a complete and utter disregard for everyday Albertans.

My offices have received correspondence from across the riding expressing complete dismay concerning the lack of advocacy by the government to protect electricity consumers.

As your MLA for Drumheller Stettler, I will continue to stand with my Wildrose caucus colleagues to hold those that abuse consumers, responsible for their actions.

 

16th
March

It’s 130 bucks, I paid for it myself

Rick's Blog

During the week of March 10th I addressed some very disturbing expenses within the provincial Tourism Ministry, submitted by the Travel Alberta executive leadership team. As the critic for Tourism Parks and Recreation, it was my responsibility to address this situation with the Minister of Tourism in the Legislature.

The questioning of the Tourism Minster took place over three days of session, from March 10 to March 12.

The questionable expenses included inquiries into the following:

  • An $8,800 flight to Singapore and Tokyo, first class, in June 2013. The purpose of the flight was to negotiate a contract with the current CFO. The government policy allows for business class, not executive class.
  • A $2,000 dinner in the private dining room at the Hardware Grill in December 2013.
  • A $900 dinner in February 2013 with Parks Canada. $295 was spent on alcohol.
  •  An $839 dinner at Grizzly House in Banff. In attendance was the CEO’s wife. The cost was not economical and included families of employees.  It was labelled, “a team dinner.”
  • In July 2013, the CEO expensed a $150 tuxedo rental as a hospitality expense to attend the BanffCenter’s Midsummer ball.  The person in question earns $240,000/yr in base salary plus $150,000 in benefits.

In response to my questions on the first day, the Minister attempted to outline the entire Tourism industry and its value to Alberta in an attempt to justify the luxurious expense claims by the CEO.

On the second day of questions to the Minister, he was asked why someone who is paid $390,000 a year needs us to rent him a suit. Help me out here, we pay bureaucrats exorbitant wages, and they’re telling us that taxpayers should dress them as well. Why? Again the Minister went into a diatribe about the Tourism industry’s value to Alberta avoiding the issue completely.

After two straight days of frustrating non-answers provided by the Minister, I decided to drive my point home to him about how inappropriate and wrong these expense claims really are. To that end, I donned a rented Tuxedo for $130 that I paid for myself. Judging from the responses provided by the Minister, it appears the mentality of the Alberta government is that they are indeed entitled to their entitlements.

In a letter addressed to the Auditor General, I have requested that these expenses be investigated to determine their legitimacy. In the letter, I expressed that my fear is the expense policy enacted by the Government of Alberta, is not misunderstood, but being deliberately misinterpreted. I hope the Auditor’s office can get to the bottom of these expenses and reassure Albertans that their tax dollars are being used economically and prudently.

As the representative in the Alberta Legislature for the riding of Drumheller Stettler and the Wildrose Official Opposition critic for Tourism Parks and Recreation, I feel it is not only my job but my duty to advocate on behalf of every Albertan to ensure that your hard-earned tax dollars are not abused.

Please visit my website at www.RickStrankman.ca to view the video of this past week’s questions.

 

9th
March

Unclear on the concept

Rick's Blog

This past week saw the unveiling of the Alberta’s sixth-straight deficit budget for 2014. Despite revenues projected to be the highest in Alberta history at $44.4 billion, the Alberta government will run a consolidated cash deficit of $2.7 billion and take on an additional $5.1 billion in debt.

The 2014 Budget also sentences Alberta taxpayers to a $21 billion total debt by 2016. This crushing debt translates into $820 million in interest payments that should be used for health care and education short-falls that are affecting our everyday lives.

Alberta’s rate of borrowing will be an astonishing $14 million a day, $585,000 an hour, $10,000 a minute and $160 per second.

“Albertans simply can no longer afford this PC government,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. “After promising during the last election to balance the budget and stay out of debt, the PCs’ short-sighted and reckless spending will have lasting impacts on future generations, and no doubt cause long-term pain as we deal with the debt we are taking on today.”

Contrary to the Alberta government’s catch-phrase of “living within our means,” this year’s budget has a spending increase of 8.6%, which reflects the highest spending budget in Alberta’s history. This massive spending increase is also is a direct contradiction to the throne speech, which contained the Premier’s promise to keep spending increases below the rate of inflation plus population growth.

“With this kind of record-breaking revenue stream, it is unconscionable that the PC’s continue to plunge future generations into debt that will cripple our ability to deliver programs and services,” Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson said. “This year, the PC’s had a genuine opportunity to balance the budget and get off the debt path. Instead, they’ve doubled down on debt and are sticking our children and grandchildren with the bill.”

Anderson also noted the PC debt repayment plan stipulates an astonishing $100 million a year for principal repayment alone.

“At that rate, it will take 220 years to repay the debt, and that’s IF the PC’s don’t borrow one additional penny beyond 2016,” Anderson said. “Albertans remember the Getty era of debt and they remember how painful it was to fix. The Redford PC’s seem intent on repeating history.”

The Wildrose Official Opposition released 16 recommendations that contain savings of $1.91 billion for Albertans with no cuts to front-line services. These savings would put Alberta on a path towards balancing the budget, paying down debt, saving for the future, and protecting core front-line services.

In order to achieve, actually “living within our means,” it requires fiscal restraint that would not see spending out-pace revenues as has been the case for the last six consecutive deficit budgets. A concept the Alberta government obviously is not quite clear on.

For a copy of the 16 recommendations please contact my office.

 

 

2nd
March

Short-term fiscal management

Rick's Blog

March 3 signals the start of the spring session in the Alberta Legislature. The spring session is also the traditional time for the presentation of the annual Alberta budget. The provincial budget is theoretically based on projections of revenues collected versus operating costs. Note, that’s the theoretical purpose.

However, budgets in Alberta have become an exercise in selective harvesting of the preferred information, to reach a desired outcome. That at least appears to be the methodology at work with budgeting by the Alberta government over the last half dozen years.

Alberta is facing its sixth-straight deficit budget, much to the chagrin of not only the taxpayers, but apparently by the provincial government, based on their reluctance to divulge the true magnitude of the deficit numbers we’re facing, due to a carefree attitude towards spending. A carefree attitude, that seems to have neglected to consider the long term implications of successive year over year deficits.

The separation of the operating and capital budgets has created a false sense of fiscal stability that could exacerbate the current cumulative deficit. Imagine the repercussions if you carelessly did not take into consideration your personal credit card bill or any other expense when creating a budget of your monthly finances. As most of us realise, it would allow spending to overtake the ability to manage debt in short order, which could and likely will, create an instant unmanageable deficit.

As the unaccounted debt builds, the pressure on your fiscal well-being is being negatively affected. An out of sight, out of mind mentality is a temporary band-aid solution, which has increasingly become the trademark of the current government.

The short-term thinking being exercised by the Alberta government, further exhibits that Alberta does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem which starts in the Premier’s office, as we’ve recently had illustrated to us with her extravagant travel itineraries.

The Wildrose Official Opposition has proposed cuts that would see the size of cabinet reduced, cancelling big pay-hikes and doing away with bonuses and severances within the government. The biggest reductions can be made by eliminating corporate subsidies worth $450 million annually and cutting over-bloated bureaucracy by $250 million.

I’m pleased with the 16 recommendations that the Wildrose caucus have released. The 16 recommendations for the 2014 provincial budget would put Alberta back on a path towards balancing the budget, paying down debt, saving for the future, and protecting core front-line services. The recommendations contained in the report represent $1.91 billion in savings in the 2014 budget year, without any reductions to front-line services or priority infrastructure projects. These recommendations were sent directly to the Finance Minister early last week.

“These recommendations are responsible, reasonable and most importantly, they are achievable,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. “If implemented, they will put us back on track to rescue our finances without a single cut to core services or important infrastructure.”

For an outline list of the Wildrose Official Opposition proposed cuts, send your request to email hidden; JavaScript is required and title your email, “Budget 2014.”

 

23rd
February

Wake-up call on commodities gridlock

Rick's Blog

In an economy reliant on the exportation of commodities as Canada is; reliable, efficient and cost-effective trade corridors are imperative to the general health of the economy. The Prairie Provinces are at this very moment receiving a wake-up call on this logistical dilemma.

The effects of this current man-made industrial disaster due to the inability to get products to market are just beginning to be realized. The negative economic impact on prairie farmers has been estimated in excess of $2 billion dollars; with another $6.5 billion dollars of revenue being delayed into the next production year.

In a growing, exporting nation, it is imperative that we have reliable methods to export our commodities to foreign markets. The exportation of those commodities for the land-locked Prairie Provinces comes with the added challenge of having to rely on a long-range transportation chain that is proving to be insufficient for our current level of export capabilities.

Regardless, if a product is manufactured, semi-processed or unprocessed bulk materials, getting them to market sets off a chain-reaction felt throughout the economy. So to, does the inability to fulfill the expectations of our current customer base, forcing them to seek alternative avenues of supply.

The current inability to transport goods has had a profound effect in several sectors of our economy, not just the obvious agricultural consequences, with the raw materials in the forestry and mining industries also sitting idle. Rural economies across the Prairies have been adversely affected by the delays in cash flow that have stalled local economies, by interrupting cash flows needed to purchase equipment and supplies for the upcoming fiscal year.

Whether goods are unprocessed, semi-processed or finished goods, the reliability of the movement to market is a key element in the viability of an industry as a whole – not just the individual producer.

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, in the small border-town of Compeer, Alberta, I will be hosting stakeholders from both the Saskatchewan and Alberta sides of the border, at an Inter-Provincial Transportation Summit meeting. The purpose of this summit is to discuss the economic viability of a trade corridor that starts near Saskatoon along highway 51 on the Saskatchewan side, which turns into highway 12 on the Alberta side when it crosses the provincial border at Compeer.

The purpose of this summit is to initiate discussions on developing this trade corridor that could potentially serve a significant role in getting our products to world markets, for a great many types of producers in Manufacturing, Mining, Oil and Gas; not just in Agriculture.

The potential economic benefits will be realized by every community along the route as well as the surrounding communities that will have access to a more cost-effective transportation option.

As the Widlrose Official Opposition MLA for Drumheller Stettler, I’m encouraged and excited by the potential economic prosperity the proposed route could bring to a great many communities within the constituency. For more information on the proposed project or to submit your thoughts, please contact my office.

I would also like to congratulate the entire Canadian Winter Olympic team on a job well done. You’ve made us all proud to be Canadians once again.

 

22nd
February

Grain jam: Five reasons why the grain crisis matters to you

Rick's Blog, Uncategorized

By Kelsey Johnson

11

Because of a combination of factors from weather to long-term railway capacity to a sudden glut of oil tanker cars on the country’s tracks, Canada’s record 2013 grain harvest has been languishing un-bought and un-shipped in silos and barns across Western Canada.

While the federal government and the railways argue about whose fault it is and what can be done, international customers are turning elsewhere, the Western economy is under serious threat and farmers are bearing the brunt of a man-made industrial disaster. Here’s what you should know about the players, the stakes and the consequences of the great grain crisis.

12

Unlike most jobs whereby a pay cheque arrives every two or four weeks, farmers aren’t paid a cent until they deliver their goods to market. Usually, that means delivering the grain – be it crops like wheat, canola, barley, or oats – to the local grain elevator.

A farm’s cash flow works on a series of loans. Farmers apply for a loan some time in the winter or early spring to purchase inputs like seed, fertilizer, insurance, chemicals and machinery. Those loans then carry them through from spring planting season to fall harvest.

With farmers unable to convert the grain they’ve got stored on the farm into cash, their wallets are starting to feel the pinch: Rent’s due, last year’s loans need to be squared up, farm workers need to be paid, and monthly mortgage and car payments are up too.

Then there are everyday costs like groceries, clothes, school supplies, gas etc. While some families may have income coming in from other sources, many farm families live on the income generated from the farm alone.

Banks and agriculture lenders have said they are willing to extend loans. The problem, though, is that they don’t know how long the grace period should be. Farmers can also apply for an advanced payment of up to $400,000 via the federal government, of which the first $100,000 is interest free. The loan must be repaid by the end of the next production year.

While $400,000 may seem like a lot of money, most farmers and farm lenders say the amount doesn’t come close to covering the costs of operating a commercial farm. Seed and fertilizer alone can cost a farmer growing canola $150/acre minimum or $100/acre minimum for wheat.

13

Canada is one of the world’s largest suppliers of agricultural goods. With the global population expected to balloon to nine billion people by 2050, Canada is going to have to step up to the plate, literally, as other countries won’t be able to put food in their citizens’ bellies.

But, if Canadian shippers can’t get their product, in this case grain, to market in a reasonable amount of time hungry customers will likely go shopping somewhere else.

The United States and South America both have record crops and are easily able to tap into Canadian export markets. Since the delay started four months ago, that’s already happened. Last week, Japan said they were switching to American wheat after Canadian orders were late two months in a row. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, an empty Japanese boat sailed down to Seattle, Wash. after sitting in port for three weeks.

At least one American General Mills plant, which makes Cheerios, has started importing oats (a main ingredient in Cheerios) from Scandinavia because it can’t get oats from nearby Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Extremely competitive global markets will make it hard to get those customers back.

14

Don’t forget, other commodities move by rail too. Potash, coal, steel, lumber, crude oil, new cars etc. all move by rail. So if there are delays in one area, there are delays in others.

Last week, at a meeting with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association in Ottawa, former Conservative cabinet minister Ted Menzies said barges stacked with cars were docked in EnglishBay unable to unload their product onto the rail lines.

Meanwhile, potash mines in Saskatchewan have also reported delays in getting their product to market. And, with new mines planned in Saskatchewan, that means demand for rail service for potash is only going to go up.

15

Latest estimates suggest stalled grain shipments will cost farmers at least $2 billion by the time the backlog is cleared up. Another $6.5 billion is expected to be tied up in the 20-million tonnes of grain expected to carry over into next year.

Meanwhile, the economies of smaller, rural communities are also starting to take a hit. Right now, many farmers have no disposable income which means they aren’t buying new trucks or going out for dinner at local restaurants. Some might also be putting off buying new farm equipment. All of this is impacting the bottom line of business located in rural areas.

Further to point three, manufacturers and processors who can’t get access to rail cars are having to slow production and shorten work weeks.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback told the House agriculture committee on Wednesday he knows of at least one lumber yard on Hudson’s Bay that is going down to three days a week. Another steel mill in Regina, he said, is worried they might have to lay people off. Processing plants, breweries and canola crush plants across the prairies have also had to idle because they can’t get a steady supply of rail cars.

16

Rail is the main source of transportation for bulk and commodity goods in Western Canada. Thanks to the fact the prairies are landlocked, the distances to port are some of the longest in the world between 2,500 to 4,000 km.

Those distances mean transport by truck is not an option. Grain is too heavy, and even if a farmer wanted to ship grain by truck the ports can’t unload it. They aren’t equipped with the infrastructure needed to unload grain coming in by truck.

Demand for rail service, meanwhile, is going up across the board, meaning grain will continue to have to compete with more lucrative commodities like crude oil and potash for space on the rails. Right now, the two big railways have no incentive to move grain. Both have an effective monopoly across sections of the prairies. Northern regions are serviced by Canadian National, while Southern regions are on Canadian Pacific lines.

And, with so much grain expected to carry over, unless farmers produce a below-average crop, there’s going to be a ton of grain to move next year. With new technologies and research continuing to improve grain yields, big crops are already expected to be the “new normal.”

 

 

16th
February

A property right with sacrifice and duty

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

People come to Canada from all corners of the world for reasons most of us as born and raised Canadians would find hard to imagine. Whether it’s to escape poverty, oppression or to improve quality of life, Canada provides a balance of rights and freedoms that are protected by its citizens through the right we have to democracy.

It’s hard to believe that only 11.3% of the world’s population have what is considered to be “Full Democracy” and 37.2% of people worldwide have what is considered “Flawed Democracy.” Incredibly that leaves 51.5% of all people living under governments that do not allow any form of democracy that we, from time to time, take for granted. As Albertans we are blessed to be included in the 11.3% that have the liberty to choose our own representation.

Thankfully for most of us, the thought of living under a system where you have your leadership selected for you, is unfathomable. Sadly, in this modern day and age, for 88.7% of the people on earth a lack of democracy, is their daily reality.

Recently, the Drumheller Filipino Community inducted their newly elected President Cris Indozo, and their community council for 2014. These people came from a country half way around the world, whose governments in the past have been destroyed by corruption and cronyism, and elections that have often been marred by fraud and vote buying.

The enthusiasm with which the Filipino community in Drumheller celebrated the induction of their representatives gives an appreciation for how important this right truly is, especially to those that have had to do without it.

The duty to stay vigilant and protect democracy, even in a Full Democracy, falls to the beneficiary that fortunately includes all of us in Canada. Without vigilance, inevitably, a mentality that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the democratic rights you possess tries to take hold; that mentality is socialism.

Nineteenth-century French author and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, who was best known for his work Democracy in America, has a quote that describes how subtle changes can erode democracy. “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

More than 118,000 Canadians since Confederation in 1867, made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Their sacrifices have protected our citizens from servitude while preserving our rights and freedoms. These are things a mere tenth of the world’s population is able to enjoy. They come from far and wide, they come for freedom, and they come for democracy.

The right to democracy is yet another manifestation of a property right that can be measured in terms of sacrifice. The sacrifice happens by defending it and it comes with a duty that can only be fulfilled by participation in it.

 

10th
February

Taxpayer’s get no respect

Rick's Blog

Imagine going to your local travel agent to scan for the best flight prices to an exotic location. You want to take your spouse on a much needed and well deserved vacation to get some sun, see new sights and enjoy another climate for a while.

But what if your agent’s best price was $45,000? What would you do? You’d probably walk away. However, if you weren’t accountable for the charges – would you take it then?

We rely on and trust that our leadership will make decisions based on the best interests of Albertans. That simply has not been the case in Alberta for quite some time now.

This situation has become very concerning to Alberta taxpayers to learn that the Premier of Alberta recently did exactly the opposite of what we should be able to expect from our leadership in Alberta. Instead of instructing her staff to shop around a bit, it resulted in a $45,000 tab, so she and her aid could attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. I do have to ask, why does somebody need an Aid for a funeral?

The Premier took a $15,000 flight to Ottawa on the Alberta government plane, where she hitched a free ride with Prime Minister Stephen Harper the rest of the way to Johannesburg, South Africa. Her return trip included a $10,000 first-class flexible flight back to Canada, when she could have sat in one of the empty seats on the PM’s plane for free. Add in the $20,000 round-trip airfare for her personal assistant, and you get a $45,000-bill to taxpayers.

By comparison, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, who obviously respects the taxpayers, attended the same funeral but paid only $946.44.

We understand why the Premier wanted to attend Mandela’s funeral, but why is Premier Redford’s travel so expensive? Like most of you, this behavior concerns me greatly. The Alberta government’s expense spending correlates with the record deficits Alberta is facing.

This government has traveled more than any other in the history of Alberta, and the price tag has never been higher. The Environment Minister recently took an entourage to Europe billing Albertans $40,000 for the privilege of having represented the province abroad. Not too long ago, the Premier spent $120,000 to take an entourage to India. The itinerary involved some mid-level meetings, trade shows and a couple of low-level Memorandums of Understanding.

Now, government travel is legitimate and can even be a good investment. This government, however, can’t seem to grasp the concept of restraint. Everything is first class all the way, no expense to great.

As your representative in the Alberta Legislature I will hold the government to account and encourage them to respect taxpayer’s contributions to the province. Fiscal restraint must start at the top, something Stephen McNeil clearly understands.

 

2nd
February

Who is defending our island?

Rick's Blog

Who is defending our island?

The simple act of uttering words or a combination of words has very little meaning until the user gives them purpose. The meaning is determined by actions of the user. Words are nothing more than sounds or a single linguistic unit comprised of letters, without the accompanying actions to qualify them and ultimately give them a meaning. Like a dark shape moving under you while you swim in the ocean, words can be dangerous or innocuous.

On June 4, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave one of the most inspirational speeches in the British House of Common’s history. Within that speech, were some very prophetic single linguistic units which were indeed backed-up with the actions of not only a leader, but an entire country. His speech described how the government under his leadership was committed to go on until the end defending their Island and their empire – whatever the cost may be. Churchill, with true conviction, firmly spoke those historic words about how they would fight in France, on the seas and oceans, and in the air for their sovereignty.

Now imagine the consequences that the British Empire and the world would have suffered, had his words not been backed up by his actions and those of his countrymen. All too often words within government seem innocuous, but in the end, they end up being dangerous. In Alberta “living within our means” seems to have taken on the role of a predator devouring our future and the future of generations to come.

Alberta is under attack from a very formidable force, it’s not by an enemy that is armed and aggressive looking to subjugate the province, but instead it comes in the form of something just as destructive. The attack manifests itself in the form of crushing and crippling debt.

Just last week a sign of how far the enemy has advanced showed itself on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Alberta debt clock after it eclipsed $8 billion. This seems to be a direct contradiction to the words “living within our means” that adorns all communications coming from the Alberta government. Words, that are obviously nothing more than sounds or a single linguistic unit comprised of letters.

That dark shape swimming under Albertans today is a predatory animal that has rows of razor-sharp teeth intent on devouring the wealth of Alberta and it will have our Children’s and Grandchildren’s futures for dessert. That dangerous predator is debt and it is the enemy of all of Alberta and our future.

As the elected steward of the future of the province of Alberta for Drumheller Stettler, I will continue to fight for fiscal restraint and put into practice the words “living within our means” that have completely lost their meaning in this province.

Alberta is dealing with an enemy less obvious than what was faced by Churchill, but it could prove to be even more destructive, should those in government decide not to defend our island by controlling their spending.

 

26th
January

Property and Property Rights are entirely different things

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

The final in a four-part series on property rights in Alberta

When I first learned about the Redford government’s Bill 2 and what it does, I ended up thinking about an old Hollywood movie called the Streamline Express.

The movie was about a fictional pre-WWII train that could supposedly run from Atlantic to Pacific at 300 km per hour. Every car had two floors, extra-wide winding staircases, huge bedrooms, and a lot of other nonsense you would never see on a real train.

According to the government, Bill 2 is the 21st-century version of this fictional train. The Premier, Cabinet, and PC MLAs insist that the sole purpose of their law is to streamline Alberta’s energy regulations while protecting landowner rights.

Their new law does streamline things for the industry. But the idea that it protects landowners is Hollywood fantasy. Bill 2 euthanizes landowner rights in the same way that our veterinarian recently had to euthanize our family dog.

Early on, it made sense for the government to talk about streamlining. Prior to Bill 2, if an energy company wanted to construct a pipeline, gas, or oil facility, it had to obtain multiple approvals and certificates from more than one regulator. Yet in the government’s quest to speed up regulatory approvals, it streamlined the legal rights of landowner’s right out of existence.

Government MLAs asked themselves what they could do to make things super speedy for the industry and consequently decided that eliminating a landowner’s legal right to object at a hearing, should be a key part of the strategy. So that’s what they did.

Prior to Bill 2, if landowners objected to where an energy company wanted to locate a project or run an access road, they had the legal right to a hearing. If landowners believed the project risked contaminating ground water or could easily move ahead in some other less intrusive way, they had the legal right to a hearing. It was the law.

Now after Bill 2, if landowners have good reason to object to aspects of an energy project on their land, they are out of luck. Their statutory right to a hearing, which had been in place for years, is gone. The Redford government killed it. They used Bill 2. As your MLA, I voted against it!

The Redford government’s Bill 2 reminds every one of us about the difference between property and property rights. Property is what we own. Property rights are the legal options that determine what we can and cannot do with our property.

If the government lets you own something, say a car, but denies you the lawful opportunity to drive it or sell it, your property rights will be violated. Similarly, if you own a piece of land and the government eliminates your legal right to a judicial hearing if someone wants to do something on your property, you will still own the land—it’s still your property—but your property rights will nevertheless have been violated.

Regrettably, the Redford government has repeatedly demonstrated that when it comes to respecting the property rights of Albertans, it is willing to say all the right things, but not willing to do the right things. And as we all know, it is never the right time to do the wrong thing!

 

19th
January

A majority vote doesn’t make it right

Rick's Blog

The third in a four-part series on property rights in Alberta

More than 100 years ago, Ottawa decided to withhold mineral rights when homesteaders filed for a land title. At the time, few people realized how valuable those mineral rights would become. Similarly, using Bill 24, the Alberta government recently pilfered property from landowners that in years to come, could have value beyond anything today’s economy can imagine.

In first year law school, every student is taught that the rights of a landowner extend from the surface right down to the centre of the earth.

If the government, or someone else owns the minerals (almost 20% of the mineral rights in Alberta are privately-owned), then the landowner owns everything down to the centre of the earth, except the minerals. The land title will actually say something like, “excepting there out all minerals.”

If the minerals do belong to someone else, the underground pore spaces belong to the landowner. Pore spaces are underground hollow spots, like the holes in a sponge. They’re valuable. They’re valuable because energy companies can pump liquids and gases into them, using them like condominium storage units. In Ontario, landowners have been leasing vast tracts of underground pore space to energy companies for years, putting more than $100 per acre per year into their jeans. In parts of the U.S., pore spaces rent for more than $1,000 per acre per year. In other regions, landowners can literally sell ownership of their pore space, the same way mineral rights get sold.

The pore space business is massive. A TransCanada Pipelines subsidiary company in the U.S. boasts that the company has established storage capacity for more than 250 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That requires pore space. And now that governments everywhere are talking about pumping CO2 underground, pore space is even more valuable.

Bill 24 is the law that Alberta’s PC government used to transfer ownership of every square inch of pore space in the province from landowners to the government. The law applies, even if the minerals have been fully depleted on a property, and even if the landowner owns the surface rights and the mineral rights.

The legislation stole literally millions of dollars worth of private property, yet written into the law are statements where the PC government insists it’s not stealing. Bill 24 also indicates that even if a land or mineral owner recognizes that the government is stealing, they can’t claim damages or take anyone to court.

Official government documents say the purpose of Bill 24 is to “clarify” ownership of these important assets. It makes one think of how a landowner might feel if some punk walked onto his yard, pointed a gun at him, climbed behind the wheel of that landowner’s new pickup, and then as the thief starts driving away pauses to explain that he is not really stealing the truck, merely “clarifying” ownership.

This is exactly what Alberta’s PC government did to thousands of Alberta landowners, and explains why the PC government’s Bill 24 should be repealed.

 

12th
January

Actions reveal intentions

Rick's Blog

The second in a four-part series on property rights in Alberta

In part one of this four-part series, we talked about the difference between property and property rights. Property is what we own—things like cars, houses, investments, leases, farms, ranches. Property rights are what we can and can’t legally do with these things. A truck is property. The ability to drive or sell it is a property right.

Right from the get-go, the government has sworn up and down that not a single sentence in its various Land Bills would trample the property rights of Albertans. Yet vast numbers of lawyers, law professors, business, agriculture, and landowner organizations have demonstrated that this is not true—that the Bills were designed to rewrite property rights legislation in Alberta.

Repeatedly, these critics have been proven right.

Bill 19 was designed to allow the government to get around the terms of the Expropriation Act, which requires that any landowner be fully compensated if his or her property is seized. Under the bill, if the government decided that for some reason it might want to take control of somebody’s land 20 or 25 years from now, it could register a caveat against the title today. Then it could file a legal notice telling the landowner’s bank or Mortgage Company that the government had final say over what the landowner could and couldn’t do on his or her property. The land would still belong to the landowner, but according to Bill 19, the government would own crucial elements of the property rights that are attached to that land.

Opposition to Bill 19 became so fierce that the PC government was forced back into the legislature to repeal or amend key chunks of it, thereby neutralizing its effect.

Much the same thing happened with Bill 50, which was structured to work in conjunction with other Land Bills in order to trample landowner rights. Bill 50 was deliberately designed to make the complex approval process for new power line construction a political decision by Cabinet, rather than an economic decision based on an impartial assessment of need. The Redford government, publicly embarrassed into admitting this, was subsequently compelled to repeal the law.

I read somewhere that one of the most dangerous things we can ever encounter is a sincere politician armed with good intentions who wants to manage or control things that belong to other people. The details of these PC Land Bills and the government’s consistent hard-line response to the individuals and organizations who have criticized these laws paint a bleak picture of the attitude the current government has toward the property rights of Alberta people.

Thus far, Albertans have been able to neutralize two of the four PC Land Bills. Next week, in part three of this series on property rights, we’ll look at Bills 24 and 36, and then at the way government has used Bill 2 to board up the doors of the courthouse, extinguishing legal rights that Alberta landowners, in the past, have always been able to rely upon and trust.

 

5th
January

The difference between Property and Property Rights

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

The first of a four-part series on Property Rights in Alberta

My friend, Barry, is crusty. He can be so blunt that he offends people. Even so, I like him. I know that underneath that hard exterior, he is good-humoured and well-intended.

Nearly two years ago, I became an MLA. Barry and I are still friends, but sometimes, when he goes off on an anti-politician rant, I say, “Ouch!” Usually, I say nothing, because I often agree with him.

Barry’s two favourite things to talk about are politicians and property rights. “Property and property rights ain’t the same thing,” he always says. “People don’t know that. Property is bank accounts, cars, houses, and land. Property rights are what the government will let you do with ‘em. If my land is mine, who I allow on or kick off is none of the government’s business.”

Barry is right. If I own a quarter-section of ground and have title to it, it’s my property. I have the right to sell it, rent it, give it away, or grow canola on it instead of grass. These are my property rights. So is the fact that I can tell a hunter, trespasser, and anybody else to get off my land.

If the legislature in Edmonton decides to pass a law saying that the government can approve, initiate, or restrict what occurs on my land, without first obtaining my permission, and then denies me the statutory right to go to court if I disagree with what it’s doing, my property rights will be violated. Just because the legislature passes a law saying that the government can trample my property rights, doesn’t mean they’re not being trampled. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

Nowadays, property rights in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada don’t get trampled when governments forcibly take away land titles or seize our property. Property rights get trampled when politicians pass laws that give them control over what we can and cannot do on our own private property. Usually, the political party that does this kind of thing has some excuse. They claim to act in the public interest, or insist that they are streamlining the economic development process.

Up until a few years ago, Alberta’s track record on property rights was a thing of beauty. This rich tradition took root in the 1880s, and flourished for more than a 100 years, enabling our province to bring economic shelter and life to Canada. Alberta’s modern PC government, with more faith in bureaucratic planning than in the creativity of individual Albertans, took an axe to this tradition through Land Bills 19, 24, and 36. Since the last provincial election, these three have been joined by Bill 2, the legislative package that University of Calgary law professor Shaun Fluker referred to as “a colossal gaffe by the Alberta government,” because it deliberately retracts rights from landowners.

————-

Next week, in part two of this four-part series, I’ll look at the practical effect some of the Alberta government’s Land Bills are intended to have on individuals and businesses.

 

29th
December

2013 year in review

Rick's Blog

With the New Year just around the corner, it’s always interesting to review the year that is about to come to a conclusion. 2013 was not without some major hurdles and challenges that -have had and -will have a profound effect on Alberta.

The major story of the year happened on June 20, and was the start of the events most Albertans will never forget, as flood waters began to devastate communities throughout southern Alberta. The town of Drumheller avoided the devastation experienced in other communities through comprehensive planning and astute management by the town’s employees and council.

March 7 saw the release of the 2013-14 budget, which unfortunately did not include any belt-tightening by the Alberta government and also neglected to address the over-bloated government bureaucracy, once again. With the 2013 budget, cumulative spending has increased by 100% over the last decade; doubling the rate of inflation combined with population growth.

The town of Consort had the use of their 5 acute-care beds suspended as of June 30, 2011 by AHS after the loss of the community’s doctor. AHS informed the community that, if they were successful recruiting two doctors, their acute- care beds would be reopened. Seeking a definitive date when AHS would be reopening the beds, I posed the question to the Health Minister in the house during the spring session, in which he would not commit to an opening date. Unsatisfied with this on August 30, I posed the question to the Premier herself. Again, no commitment on when they would be living up to their promise made to the people in the Consort area.

The spring also saw us saying goodbye to one of Alberta’s most influential Premiers-the honourable Ralph Klein. Highlighting how this man lived his life was the video montage shown at his memorial that included short 3-second clips of ordinary people in their everyday lives working and living in Alberta. Some where in the middle of that montage, was a clip of Ralph walking among a group of ordinary Albertans that he seemed to blend right into. At that moment those in attendance erupted in applause almost as though we had all got who he was, at exactly that moment.

One of the most notable moments of my time as MLA for Drumheller Stettler happened when the Wildrose official Opposition led the charge to have Bill 28, The Modernizing Regional Governance Act, that would have seen a fine of up to $10,000 or one year in prison, for anyone deemed not to be cooperating by the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

2013 was a year that saw the Wildrose Oppose poor policy and legislation, Expose corruption and Propose viable and sensible solutions for every day Albertans.

The best part of my service to the people of Drumheller Stettler is the time I spend in the constituency. In the constituency is where we find out what Albertans really want, it gives you-the taxpayer-the opportunity to be heard.

 

15th
December

The all you can eat buffet

Rick's Blog

The purpose of severance packages is to provide assistance to employees while they seek alternate employment, after their employment has been terminated. This is typically done at the expense of the employer. Over the last few years, senior government employees in Alberta were in line for some of the richest and most excessive severance packages found anywhere in Canada.

On November 20, Wildrose Official Opposition Finance Critic Rob Anderson, presented Bill 209 – The Severance and Bonus Limitation Statues Amendment Act – in the Alberta Legislature. The Bill would address bloated severance packages, golden handshakes and contracts with all kinds of special perks and bonuses that are currently available to government staffers and AHS executives. The intent of Bill 209 is to end unrealistic and out of line bonuses and severance packages that are currently doled out like treats on Halloween.

A shining example of an excessive severance package was the one awarded to Premier Alison Redford’s Chief of Staff Stephen Carter six months after the April, 2012 provincial election. Carter’s severance package after only six months employment was reported to be $130,000. The generous severance package equaled one month’s pay for every month he was employed.

Originally, the amount on Carter’s severance was kept from the public despite Freedom of Information requests that were denied by the court. It was finally Carter himself, after heavy media scrutiny, that released the information on social media. However, to-date, no documentation has been released that will confirm Carter’s monetary claim or the conditions of his previous employment.

In recent years, Albertans have seen an endless line of health executives and government staffers, that have been given severance packages that resemble a lottery windfall. According to Anderson, Bill 209 would cap severance packages and put limitations on bonuses for public sector executives, managers and all non-unionized employees. Anderson also added that “Bill 209 will put an immediate end to this all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Bill 209 will change the minimum qualifications and institute limits for severance to make them more reflective of reality, while remaining fiscally responsible to Alberta taxpayers. Mandatory minimum employment periods of at least one year will be required to qualify, limits to the amount of severance, and a limit of 15% per year of employment, will also help put a end to the lottery-style packages that have become all too common.

In the Bill, bonuses being paid to senior bureaucrats will be limited to a maximum of 15% of an employees yearly salary, bringing an end to arbitrary six-figure golden handshakes. To ensure this process is transparent and accountable to Albertans, all bonuses and severances must be made accessible upon public request under Alberta’s FOIP (Freedom of Information) legislation.

Bill 209 — Severance and Bonus Limitation Statutes Amendment Act, 2013, passed first Reading on November 20. The Wildrose Official Opposition will continue to propose Legislation that reflects the responsibility the Alberta government should have to the taxpayers.

 

8th
December

Preserving values

Rick's Blog

Early Thursday morning about 1:45 am, the fall session of the Alberta Legislature was brought to a sudden and abrupt close by the Alberta government. This happened just shortly after they had passed Bill 45 – the Public Sector Services Continuation Act and Bill 46 – the Public Service Salary Restraint Act. The government limited debate on these Bills to a mere 2 hours each. Immediately after the shortened debate, both bills were passed by the government majority. Both are Bills that I voted against.

As the session was wrapping up, Wildrose MLAs stood on the principles of free speech and open and fair negotiations, in opposing the two labour Bills 45 and 46. While Wildrose believes in getting good deals for taxpayers through tough public sector union negotiations, we don’t believe in stifling free speech or removing a union’s ability to arbitrate a deal.

Earlier in the fall session, Opposition MLAs helped thwart Bill 28, legislation that would have given power to the Alberta government to jail or fine elected municipal counselors for failing to comply with mandatory growth boards. Another Bill I voted not to support.

The freedoms and liberties so many people come to this country seeking, seem like they are being legislated away one by one. The passage of such Bills as 2, 19, 24, 28, 36, 45, 46, and 50; all of which have been done in recent years, have each in their own way, taken a little piece of freedom and civil rights away. Collectively, these Bills take on almost an Orwellian pattern of control and even remove the basic rights we all cherish and value in Canada.

The Wildrose Official Opposition will continue to bring better ideas and solutions to the table that respect and preserve our freedoms and civil liberties.

The Friday night following the closure of the Legislature, I had the honour of being invited to the Drumheller Filipino Community Christmas Party, on what turned out to be the coldest night of the year. As the people from the local community filled the hall, the warmth in the room overwhelmed the frigid temperatures outside. That warmth came from the family values, pride and loyalty that are so evident within this culturally-rich community.

I have always had admiration for these courageous people. Many of them left behind the only life they’ve known, to start a new life in Canada for what they hope is a better life. The better life they seek is not just measured in monetary terms, it’s also measured in terms of personal freedoms and liberties. Freedoms and Liberties that seem to be eroding with the passing of each legislative session.

The Drumheller Filipino Community Christmas Party was a very special evening for me, and I would like to thank Marvin and everyone in attendance for your hospitality and generosity. I would also like to wish everyone Maligayang Pasko (Merry Christmas) as we go into the holiday season and remind everyone not to drink and drive.

 

1st
December

It’s about doing the right thing

Rick's Blog

Shortly after the 2012 provincial election, Premier Alison Redford gave a mandate letter to each member of her Cabinet team, to set a common vision for the Government of Alberta. Associate Ministers also received mandate letters which contained the following statement:

“Albertans have given this government a clear mandate — change how government works to better reflect their needs and the realities of the province in today’s world. Delivering that change will require listening to Albertans, increasing transparency and accountability.”

On Monday, November 25, Karen Kleiss, an Alberta Legislature reporter for the Edmonton Journal, released a report after a 4-year court battle worth millions of dollars forced the Alberta Government to release documents involving children who have died while in government care. The information uncovered through the freedom of Information (FOIP) request exposed that since 1999, the Alberta Government failed to report 89 deaths of children in provincial care and then barred parents from speaking publicly about those deaths.

Since this information has come to light, all opposition parties have repeatedly requested a full public enquiry into these tragic deaths. During question period in the legislature this past week, Danielle Smith Leader of the Wildrose Official Opposition, directed 8 questions towards the Minister of Human Services, Dave Hancock, and the Premier, asking specifically whether they would commit to holding a full public inquiry into the 89 unreported deaths of children in government care. The Minister and the Premier both took turns refusing to answer the questions; in essence, they would not commit to holding a full public inquiry.

After almost 100 questions posed on this subject in the house last week and the subsequent answers, it appears that the words “transparency” and “accountability” have virtually no meaning to the Minister of Human services and to the Premier.

When pressed in the media about the unreported deaths that were only exposed through legal means, the Minister replied, “there are thousands of success stories of children in care.” Originally the Human Services Minister was quoted as saying that the number of unreported deaths in the system was “not significant.” Officials in the Premier’s Office even called public outrage over the deaths “dribble.”

The Wildrose Official Opposition Health Care critic and former government Minister in charge of child services, Heather Forsyth, MLA for Calgary Fish Creek, stood in the house on Wednesday and delivered a very powerful Member’s statement, saying “As the former minister I can honestly say with absolute certainty that nothing short of a full public inquiry will fix this. I don’t say that lightly. I know I will be called to testify, and I know I will do it without hesitation.”

It appears that my colleague Heather clearly understands what transparency and accountability are, and more importantly, the integrity that those virtues involve.

Most importantly, we need to find out where our system fails and where improvements can be made to prevent these tragedies from happening.

To quote my Honorable and esteemed colleague Heather once again “this isn’t about politics. It’s about doing the right thing.”

 

24th
November

Questionable credit

Rick's Blog

On Thursday November 21st, the President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, was debating Bill 35, the Financial Administration Amendment Act-in which he made the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker, it’s pretty obvious that what we are doing is leading the nation in terms of our fiscal management and our fiscal operations and our fiscal reporting. We are proud of that fact and the triple-A, gold-plated credit rating that we hold in this province, gold standard, because that allows us to build Alberta, live within our means, and maintain the future for our province.” -Hansard November 21, 2013 Page 29 (3039)

Time and again this government has been taking credit where credit was definitely not due, this would be one such case.

For the Minister or the Alberta government to take credit for the province’s triple-A credit rating is a disingenuous claim. Unlike what they would have you believe, Alberta’s credit rating is not due to the financial management of this current government.

As you’re aware, credit is extended based on two basic factors; assets (security) and income (ability to repay). As an example, if you were to apply for credit from a lending institution with no assets while being employed credit would be extended but would be somewhat limited. Conversely, if you were to apply for credit having a substantial portfolio of assets, the credit limit would be much higher due to the lending institution having your assets as collateral.

Alberta’s credit rating is in direct correlation to the assets we’re standing on and it has absolutely nothing to do with the 6-straight deficits we have incurred under this government tenure.

Another area where this type of disingenuous claim is taking place, is on the many infrastructure projects that have been and will always be taking place across Alberta. The “Building Alberta” signs that are emblazoned with the PC party colors and the Premier’s name, are designed to give people the impression that it is through the grace of their good stewardship that these projects are happening. That in itself is reprehensible. Infrastructure has been happening on an ongoing basis in this province since the first shovel was put in the ground in Alberta.

For the Alberta government to run what can only be described as a full-on advertising campaign at taxpayers’ expense, seriously erodes their moral authority to govern.

It’s clear this government’s agenda is a short-term 4-year life cycle, which jeopardizes the stability of this province’s long term future. That may work for them but their legacy will belong to our children and that just isn’t something we as Albertans can allow.

The Wildrose Official Opposition 10-Year Debt-Free Capital Plan follows 3 key principles: sustainability, prioritization and innovation; and on these principles Albertans can count on a Wildrose government to deliver predictable and feasible infrastructure funding, based on the real needs of Alberta communities.

 

17th
November

Boondoggles for $1,000 Alex

Rick's Blog

Let’s play Jeopardy Alberta style. Remember to give your answers in the form of a question.

Let’s go with spending boondoggles for $1,000 Alex, the clue is: How does the Alberta government fix Alberta Health Services?

What is create more government? One of the only answers the Alberta government seems interested in to solve the inadequacies in the current system. “More government” is not the answer to any question in a fiscally responsible province, or at least it didn’t used to be in Alberta. Somewhere along the line, that value was abandoned by the fiscally irresponsible actions of a few.

What is to throw more money at it? It seems the only other option this government feels they have to gain control over the AHS money-eating monster, is to throw more money at it. Unfortunately, their aim up to this point has been very poor and a lot of those funds seem to be eaten up in non-productive areas of health care, which only adds to the problem rather than offering any relief.

Excessive executive salaries, bonuses for unspecified achievements for executives and disproportionate severance packages has cracked the door ever so slightly into a world where waste is king.

The answer to this question depends on the perspective you view the world of health care from. AHS has had massive annual increases in health spending and yet waiting lists are at all-time highs. As recently as last week, we are still seeing patients left languishing in emergency rooms for hours and sometimes days, while conditions grow worse.

Among the most pressing issues is how Seniors and other vulnerable Albertans are being made to wait extended periods of time to be treated for conditions that are progressively getting worse with time. Those conditions can lead to other ailments, which can inevitably end up posing more of a cost burden to the health care system, than they would have, if treated in a reasonable amount of time.

Finding a family physician has become increasingly more difficult which adds to the problem of conditions that seem to become exponentially worse with the passage of time.

Before attempting to answer this question, we have to also consider looking at what we’ve already done, so we do not repeat the same mistakes. The last decade has seen the Alberta government attempt to band-aid the problem by simply throwing vast amounts of cash at AHS executives and investing in their inevitable gold-plated severance packages.

Unfortunately, this government has limited it’s scope of options to solve the health care crisis we face in Alberta. Looking at the problems proactively would be a first and positive step towards answering the question.

What is taking a proactive approach to curing an ailing system rather than a reactive one?

It’s seems more logical than continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.

Reforming health care will require principled leadership that is willing to work cooperatively with Albertans and health care professionals, to do what is necessary to rebuild and repair Alberta’s health care system.

 

8th
November

A victory for democracy

Rick's Blog

Bill 28, The Modernizing Regional Governance Act, created a great deal of controversy in the Legislature recently and for some very vaild reasons. The Alberta government was forced to change its tune after sober second thought being raised by the Opposition parties in the Legislature with this obviously flawed piece of legislation.

One of the Bill’s primary goals is to allow the Province to assume stricter controls over development throughout the province’s municipalities. The Bill would establish the Province’s authority to force municipalities to enter into regional planning boards like the Capital Region Board or the Calgary Regional Partnership and impose strict controls on the governing bodies.

Along with the strict controls come strict consequences for those that do not comply. The Bill states that, “if the Minister considers that a municipal authority or regional services commission has not complied with an Alberta Land Stewardship Act (Bill 36) regional plan, the Minister may take any necessary measures to ensure that the municipal authority or regional services commission complies with the ALSA regional plan.” Those measures for those elected, officials who fail to co-operate or provide requisite information, unbelievably are a fine of up to $10,000 or one year in prison.

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) haven’t had an adequate opportunity to go over the proposed Bill due to the lack of any prior consultation being done. The lack of consultation, coupled with the recent civic elections that saw some of the towns, counties and Municipal Districts experience a significant turn-over in councillors that hadn’t even been sworn-in before the Bill was introduced in the house by the Municipal Affairs Minister, added to the uncertainty.

What’s most concerning to every Albertan is that their locally elected officials would essentially be restricted from the decisions the constituents of their communities democratically elected them to make. Also of great concern to taxpayers, will be the effect Bill 28 will no doubt have, on introducing yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already cluttered regulatory environment.

After a raucous twelve-hour debate forced by the opposition, that went on until 1:45 am Halloween morning, the Premier announced the next day that Bill 28 would not proceed until more thorough consultation with municipalities and municipal leaders could be completed.

The outcome was due to an all-night session between the official opposition and the Alberta government. According to Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson, who lead the charge in the debate, “this reversal from the government is a victory for democracy, local civic government autonomy, and all Albertans.”

“I am delighted to see the Premier come around to our perspective on this legislation,” Leader of the Wildrose Party Danielle Smith said. She also added “Wildrose strongly believes in the autonomy of local governments and the current Bill 28 would have undermined that independence.”

The Wildrose will continue to advocate for your duly elected civic officials to have the legal, unobstructed, autonomy they require to act in the best interests of their constituents.

 

3rd
November

Remembering our heroes

Rick's Blog

For many Canadians, Remembrance Day has always been one of the most important days of the year. November 11th is a solemn day that Canadians gather together to honor our soldiers, sailors and air men and women, who served and continue to serve in the Canadian forces.

Remembering and paying respect to those who have served our country means honoring all of our veterans regardless of the era. Many decades have passed by since World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War; but we still remember. The proud tradition of this day gives all Canadians an opportunity to honor veterans and our forces that still continue to proudly serve our country around the world.

In honor of their sacrifices, we pause on this day to remember the more than 116,000 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. Paying tribute to our service people is not a one-day-a-year thing, remembering them should happen every single day.

We pay tribute to the sacrifice made by generations of Canadian military personnel for the protection of our fundamental values and thank them for defending the freedom we all enjoy today.

Honoring our veterans who have served in the more recent missions is an important way of linking our past with the present. Regardless when they served, every one of these veterans have been fighting for the same purpose, they have all given a lot to achieve the peace we enjoy in Canada. Some sacrificed their lives, and some returned home changed by their experiences in the line of duty. Ultimately, all of them have been important in defending our freedom and liberty.

Remembrance Day is not only a time to mourn but also to celebrate the proud military traditions of our great country and to acknowledge the contributions of those that have served, have made to our everyday lives.

One of our proudest traditions in Canada has been the many young men and women that have answered the call to stand up for freedom and democracy. That commitment to these values is exhibited by the brave young men and women that currently serve our great nation. We pray for their safety and well being.

On behalf of the province of Alberta, I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to all of our troops who are at this very moment, risking their lives to protect our way of life and holding the torch of freedom high.

Thank you to all of our Canadian heroes.

 

27th
October

Begrudgingly supportive

Rick's Blog

As the fall sitting of the Alberta Legislature convenes this week there will be questions to ask and Bills to debate. Among the Legislation up for debate will be Bill 208, the Seniors’ Advocate Act, which is sponsored by Wildrose Seniors critic Kerry Towle, MLA for Innisfail Sylvan Lake.

Bill 208 calls for the appointment of an individual whose mandate would be to represent and advocate for Seniors, that individual would report directly to all members of the Legislature. The proposed Seniors Advocate’s responsibilities would include standing up for the rights and best interests of all seniors in Alberta should the request be made by a Senior or that of custodial family member for assistance.

MLA Towle travelled the province last winter hosting forums, which included stops in both Stettler and Drumheller. The ill-advised AHS policies “divorce-by-nursing-home” and “one-bath-per week” were found to be far too common throughout Alberta, not surprisingly they topped the list of issues.

Bill 208 is a personal conundrum when I take into consideration what appointing another government employee will mean, more government. Larger government has been progressively taking Alberta in the absolute wrong direction, a trend that does not appear to be coming to an end under the current Alberta government.

However, when considering the reasons my colleague felt it necessary to table Bill 208, it gives way to a different perspective that you must view this Bill. Ultimately the incompetency, with which the Alberta government has administered Senior’s care in Alberta, warrants the request for the creation of yet another government position.

The need for an advocate also clearly signals that the current system is not adequately meeting the needs of Alberta Seniors. This type of failure seems to be nothing new in Alberta, case in point, Property Rights. The Alberta government claimed that we should not be concerned with property rights, yet in contradiction to this claim they put in place a Property Rights advocate. If there was no problem with property rights then why do we need an advocate? Once again, their actions spoke louder than their words.

At the root of the problem, the Alberta government’s absolute failure to consider the human condition, has moved them further away from understanding what it is to be a Senior in Alberta today and the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Begrudgingly I will support Bill 208 the Seniors’ Advocate Act, all the while realizing that the last thing the debt-ridden province of Alberta needs is another government mouth to feed. The ineptitude that has been demonstrated by the Alberta government and AHS has created the necessity for yet bigger government once again.

Adequate Seniors care in Alberta should be a non-partisan issue. I just hope my colleagues on all sides of the house consider this before voting on Bill 208.

 

20th
October

In support of Bill 207

Rick's Blog

On October 28 the fall sitting of the Alberta Legislature will begin and as usual there will be questions asked and legislation tabled for debate. This time however we will be debating and voting on a very important piece of legislation, Bill 207, the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act.

This important and life-saving legislation will change the way organ donations are managed in Alberta. This Bill has the potential to significantly increase the number of organs that are available for transplantation. It was disappointing to learn that Alberta currently has the lowest organ donation rate in Canada and is something we have a chance to address.

The donation rates are low due to how the programs are currently administered through the donation and hospital systems. Bill 207 will drastically reduce the red tape and hurdles that currently hinder the process of organ transplant.

During the spring sitting of the Legislature, MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, Wayne Drysdale, stood before the house and delivered a member’s statement that told a story of his own personal tragedy involving the loss of his son. His son Troy was removed from life support on July 3, 2001, after suffering brain damage from a dirt bike accident six days earlier.

Wayne explained how the family decision to donate Troy’s organs came without hesitation, despite dealing with one of the most difficult events of their lives. Due to the decision of Wayne and his family, it dramatically changed and altered 28 other lives for the better.

Bill 207 proposes to use an electronic registry to track and compile information that will streamline the system in a way that will see the elimination of some of the hurdles that plague the current system. The information will be collected when an adult applies for the issuance or renewal of an operator’s licence, they will simply be asked whether they consent to the donation of their tissue, organs or body.

This appears to be an efficient way to ensure that potential donors’ wishes are respected and carried out. This Bill is definite progress forward from the current system of signing the back of their Alberta health care card, which many people simply forget to do.

On May 15, 2013 MLA Wayne Drysdale stood before the Legislature, not as a member, but as a parent that had suffered an unimaginable loss. The gravity of his loss was evident when he told the house that “I miss Troy, but I am grateful for the legacy he left behind.” And “I know that our loss was not for nothing.”

The life of Troy Drysdale has significant meaning and it was evident in the ovation Wayne received at the conclusion of his member’s statement that day.

The story of Troy Drysdale’s gifts to others is only one of many reasons that I will be supporting Bill 207, the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act.

Until we get this Bill passed, please make sure you have signed the back of your Health care card.

 

11th
October

The correction line

Rick's Blog

Most people in rural Alberta have a pretty clear understanding of how Dominion Lands Survey System or DSL, works with our Township and Range road mapping system, which is a basic grid system sequentially numbered. Due to what is referred to as the convergence of meridians (distance allowance for the curvature of the earth), a correction line is required.

The idea behind this system was to break the land into Townships with 36 sections each that were approximately 1 square mile to make locating exact locations more precise. The correction lines are necessary because we are sectioning squares on a curved surface. Correction lines are generally done every four Townships (24 miles) running south to north and are a correction of about 1 mile.

In Alberta politics, at every level, we now have a political correction line; these are better known as elections. As with the correction lines every four townships, we now have an opportunity to get ourselves and our governmental bodies headed back in the right direction every four years.

These political correction lines (elections) are an opportunity for the taxpayer to decide which people they feel will take responsibility for the current state of the government body and work towards applying the needed corrections to right the course.

In Alberta, we face many challenges as the Wildrose Official Opposition but none more important than correcting the line we’re travelling on now as a province. As we look towards 2016 and the next provincial election, the weight of that responsibility is never far from my thoughts. If we successfully challenge for the leadership of the province in four years, we must be prepared to take on the responsibility of what our predecessors pass on to us.

Accepting the responsibility for everything in your purview as a government allows you the ability to move forward and apply the correction. Without the responsibility, any progress is negated.

Anyone new to a public office faces new challenges. Learning exactly what those challenges will be is something that not only they need to understand but even those people holding public office as incumbents, must also do. For incumbents, hitting the reset button with every new election gives them a renewed perspective of exactly what responsibilities they are taking on. This is an important component because you pick up where the predecessors left off; you don’t get to start back at the beginning.

On a municipal level we have many dedicated people that have put their names forward to represent the taxpayers in the upcoming elections being held on October 21. If I can pass along one message to all of them it would be this; understanding and accepting where you are is the first step to getting where you need to go.

 

6th
October

Harvesting leadership

Rick's Blog

As summer turned to fall in Alberta recently, it also marked the beginning of the 2013 civic elections across the province. It’s very appropriate that we have these elections at this time of year, when all throughout the Drumheller Stettler constituency, the annual harvest is ongoing. These elections are a similar process.

The process of choosing your local mayor, town council or county council, Alberta has many very capable and good leaders available, we just have to have the tools to harvest the crop and reap the benefits of good leadership.

These civic elections are an important opportunity for all of us to choose whether we want leadership or simply representation from the people we elect at a local level.

Peter Drucker, a famous 20th century writer, professor and a management consultant, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, once said that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

The decision about what the right thing is should be determined based on the will of the people who put the elected candidate in their respective position, not by what rewards the decision will reap for them personally.

Managing or simply doing things right ignores any possible changes that could be applied to achieve any forward progress. Leaders possess the vision which allows them to set their sights on the things that truly merit attention that will result in achieving positive progress.

Over the next short while Albertans will have the opportunity through public forums to challenge their candidates and find out whether they intend on being leaders or representatives. These forums will allow the tax payers the opportunity to pose questions to those running for office to clarify what kind of leadership they intend to provide.

Proper leadership allows the constituents to manage them, rather than them managing the constituents.  This doesn’t mean they are allowing themselves to be controlled, but rather this means being accountable to assure they are being proactive to their constituents’ needs. Remembering that being accountable to others is a sign that a leader is focused more on your success than just their own.

We all play a part in leadership; it isn’t just making an X on a ballot that makes the mechanism of government work properly. Good government starts from the bottom and works its way up to and beyond the office held by an elected candidate.

In order to challenge the candidates on the ballot and determine who the real leaders are, it will require well thought-out and respectful questions being brought forward by the electorate. I encourage everyone to participate in this important mechanism of democracy wherever possible in these elections.

I would like to extend my sincerest best wishes to all the candidates that have put their names forward in their respective elections. By putting your name forward you have already shown leadership.

 

29th
September

Riding for the brand

Rick's Blog

“Riding for the brand” is an expression from the early days of cattle ranching in North America. It was a term that referenced how an operator gained the loyalty of a ranch hand. If you took a man’s money, you rode for that brand and only that brand.

When most people think of the term “brand,” they think of its most literal meaning which is the mark that indicated ownership of cattle. A rancher’s brand was their trademark and represented not only ownership but it also represented pride, duty, and stewardship while inspiring loyalty, dedication, and camaraderie.

When a hired hand rode for the brand, it meant that you had signed on to the mission; that you were committed, and most importantly, it meant you were a dedicated team player. If you weren’t, then you had no business being on the ranch’s payroll.

Much like those days gone by of the rancher-ranch hand relationship, an elected representative is hired on to “ride for the brand.” In Alberta, the brand MLA’s are hired to ride for is very specific; it’s the brand of the people in their constituency.

Unfortunately, not all MLAs in this province ride for the right brand, or for that matter, the right reason. As the MLA for Drumheller Stettler, it’s clear that my position is to act in the best interest of the constituents in the riding I proudly call home; anything less would be a betrayal of my constituents and me.

A few weeks ago I asked a question of the Premier in Stettler, concerning the acute care beds that the people of Consort were promised would re-open if the conditions laid out by the province were met. Well it’s been six months, they’ve met those conditions, and we still have no definitive answer from the Alberta government.

When I asked the question I referred to the constituency as “my constituency” and was scolded by the Premier for doing so. She told me that it was “my constituents’ constituency.” With all due respect, I beg to differ; it is my constituency, just as it is every person’s that proudly calls Drumheller Stettler home.

As we’ve seen time and again, far too many people in public office ride for the brand that appears on their election signs, instead of the brand that represents their constituents.

There’s a poem by Paul Harwitz called “Riding for the Brand,” in which he accurately describes the values that have built Alberta; pride, trust, community, integrity, and teamwork are what have been the most successful keys for many Albertans over its history.

The most profound line in the poem, in my opinion, has to be “it means that you don’t work just for a buck.” Something that could very well be the most important value any representative of the people could have.

As a member of the Wildrose Official Opposition, I am proud to have the ability to ride for only one brand-the constituents of Drumheller Stettler.

 

22nd
September

Dangerous wait times

Rick's Blog

It’s been nearly five years since the Alberta government began to centralize rural ambulance services away from municipalities which have resulted in some drastic and dangerous increases in wait-times.

The effects of this centralization of emergency services are being felt in many rural areas throughout the province of Alberta. In 2010 Airdrie’s integrated system was disbanded and in turn they saw a 30% increase in wait-times for ambulance service in a very short period of time. Previous to these changes, Lacombe had an impressive standard of two minutes; today they have seen it climb to in-excess of ten minutes.

By the end of 2012, average wait times in some communities across the province reached dangerous levels. Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House both have reported wait-times of 15 minutes; Brooks has an 18 minute wait-time; Cardston is 21 minutes; and Pincher Creek has reached an astonishing 30 minutes.

We must remember that these wait-times are averages; which means the time you wait for an ambulance may be shorter or longer than the times reported. With that in mind, consider the possibility of being in need of this life-saving service, but having to wait 40 minutes before first-responders can be on scene. This ultimately could and will be the difference between life and death.

The continued mismanagement of the province’s Health Care system by the Alberta government has meant a failure to meet their own eight-hour benchmark for admittance into ER for nearly half the patients transported by ambulance to hospitals. These excessive wait-times have had a drastic negative effect on EMS response times because they are left immobile while waiting for patients to be admitted into ERs.

The centralization of services has also resulted in periods of time where entire communities are left vulnerable after ambulances have been sent to different towns and cities to pick up patients.

The people of the Drumheller Stettler constituency can be particularly vulnerable when our already limited resources are dispatched elsewhere. It can cause what are already long wait-times to become dangerous wait-times. The government continues to exacerbate this situation by squeezing our municipalities, first-responders and volunteers, while leaving them short-changed on resources.

Short-changing our front-line workers, on the resources they need to cut wait-times in our ERs, must be brought to an end. Municipalities need the freedom to contract and choose the best ambulance service for their local needs, instead of having it dictated by the province.

As a proud member of the Wildrose Official Opposition, I will continue to encourage the Alberta government to put Albertans first and fix these critical services we all rely on, by putting the decision-making back in the hands of local people who best know their communities’ requirements.

To check local emergency response wait-times across Alberta you can see them at: www.albertahealthservices.ca/ems.asp

 

15th
September

Why the resistance to forced ethics?

Rick's Blog

The hiring of former Agriculture Minister Evan Berger immediately following last year’s provincial election brought to the surface more ethical quandaries for many Albertans. Berger failed to win his riding but was subsequently rehired and the government went so far as to set up his office within view of the successful candidate, Wildrose MLA Pat Stier’s office.

The Wildrose Official Opposition MLA’s, Shayne Saskiw and Jeff Wilson, submitted changes to Alberta’s Conflict of Interest Act review committee last week in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of this kind of unethical hiring from reoccurring.

In an attempt to strengthen the act and the Ethics Commissioner’s powers, Saskiw and Wilson who sit on the committee, submitted several other recommendations which include:

  • Allowing the Ethics Commissioner to initiate an investigation by requiring more clarity with respect to the rules governing the financial disclosure of MLA’s.

  • More clearly outlining how the Commissioner reports and publishes the results of investigations which discover any violations under the act.

  • Broadening the language of what would constitute who would be included when defining people who are considered “associates” of an MLA. ie. Relatives and friends.

  • Toughening up the “cooling off” period for former Ministers and political staff, moving re-employment by the government from a six month waiting period to twelve months.

These recommendations are similar to current regulations in place within the Canadian and B.C. governments.

With seven of the eleven Conflict of Interest Act review committee members being from the government side of the house, it was no surprise that they voted to maintain the status quo. The changes included repealing subsection 24 (6), which effectively gags MLAs from speaking out on issues of ethical conduct in the Legislature. This decision reaffirms the 41 year culture of entitlement that continues to be fostered within the Alberta Government.

Ethical scandals appear to be a serious problem throughout the province of Alberta and without serious changes to our laws that govern ethical behaviour, they will continue unabated.

Justice Critic Shayne Saskiw commented on the proposed changes saying, “Albertans can be assured that the Wildrose is committed to running a clean, ethical and accountable government that plays by the rules.”

“We know from the evidence that no matter who is in charge of the government party, it’s clear that this government is more interested in serving itself than doing the right thing,” Wilson added, obviously frustrated by the resistance to the proposed changes.

Unfortunately the unethical behavior is not confined to the provincial level of government, in fact in some cases it has appeared even at board levels. The acceptance of unethical behavior by our provincial government has become the yardstick for those involved to justify their own lack of ethics.

The Wildrose caucus is committed to proposing changes to the rules that govern how MLAs and the government in Alberta conduct themselves. By eliminating the possibility of ethical breaches, we will create a more accountable and transparent government.

 

8th
September

Yet another reason to protect our Property Rights

Property Rights, Rick's Blog

Property rights are the most important fundamental rights anyone possesses in a democratic society. These rights must come complete with all the protections from unreasonable search and seizure afforded it under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or you actually have no property rights. Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides everyone in Canada with protection against unreasonable search and seizure. This right provides Canadians with their primary source of constitutionally enforced privacy rights against unreasonable intrusion from the state.

On Thursday, September 5 in a high school gymnasium, approximately 350 residents of High River gathered to make some sense of what took place immediately following the June flood that devastated their town. They wanted to know why their property rights had been removed arbitrarily and who ordered this to be done.

The questions being asked by the residents were very simple and clear. Who gave the order to violate their homes and seize their property? Who will be paying for the damage done to their property and when will those funds be paid?

RCMP Staff Sergeant Ian Shardlow, who only assumed command of the High River detachment in mid July, bravely faced the crowd and gave what little information he could to the residents in attendance but they were unsatisfactory to the crowd. Other invitees to the event hosted by the Wildrose Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith included the Premier and the Municipal Affairs Minister, who chose not to attend.

One resident explained that his “steel door was bent, creased and beat to blazes, It came off the hinges and broke my wall as well, causing over $1,600 dollars damage to the home and it’s still not fixed”. The resident also pointed out in a letter handed out at the meeting from the RCMP to Lee Cutforth, Alberta’s Property Rights advocate, the RCMP claimed this was done to protect property the irony was not lost on the crowd.

With the passing of Bills 19, 24, 36, and 50 in 2009 property rights in Alberta have been on shaky ground. Bill 36 goes so far as to removing your right to seek legal action if land is confiscated under the Bill.

Now it appears the Alberta government has found a new way to violate this basic right that all Albertans should have entrenched and out of the reach of government.

At some point in the near future the people of High River may get the answers they’re looking for but we can’t be satisfied with that. By passing the Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act, it will entrench basic property rights in the Alberta Bill of Rights and spearhead a national initiative to add property rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As a member of the Wildrose caucus, I will strive to have your property rights protected.

 

1st
September

When IS a good time?

Rick's Blog

In 2011 the government temporarily shut down acute-care beds in Consort because of lack of physician services. Temporary, as in this case, appears to be an open-ended indeterminate amount of time.

I had previously raised this issue in March, and the Associate Minister of Seniors assured me that the government would work with the community to get this facility reopened.

When it was apparent no action was being taken, I addressed the issue with the Health Minister – this time on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. His answer was less than satisfactory. He answered my question with an answer that brought us no closer to a conclusive date they would be reopened.

I then proceeded to ask him a supplementary question where I reminded him that the reason for the closure was a lack of physicians. He also was reminded that the good people of Consort had successfully found the required physicians. Once again, it was met with an unsatisfactory non-committal answer for when these beds would be reopened.

My final supplemental question was direct and to the point, “when would these vital acute-care beds be reopened?” The Health Minister then responded “what I will do is that I will look into the matter with Alberta Health Services and see if I can get any further update on the status.” That at least gave us hope that some form of time-frame would be forthcoming. That was on May 9th, we still have no answer.

Recently, not far from my home there was a tragedy that reminded me of the perilous position the people in the Consort area remain in, without the availability of acute-care.

At a government staged event in Stettler on August 30th, I was in attendance for an announcement that will see much needed improved internet access in the Special Areas. Also at the event were several Minsters and the Premier of Alberta. Having waited patiently for the last 4 months without an answer to my question, I took the opportunity to ask the Premier herself. Her response was even less satisfactory than the two previous Ministers had provided.

Her answer was more of a scolding in which she told me “this is not the time or place for this.” With all due respect, when IS the right time? Will it be only after the need for the bed is there and it’s not available because the decision still is being looked into?

The Wildrose is committed to advocating for Albertans and ensuring that critical services are available – when and where – they are needed. We will also continue to push for those services to be based on need and not based on politics.

Through the democratic process the people of Drumheller Stettler decided they had enough of misguided self-entitled representation. They chose instead, the way of self reliance, in hope of building a better place to live.

 

25th
August

What’s in a name?

Rick's Blog

The Premier’s “Building Alberta” tour is making a stop in Drumheller later this week, in which I found it somewhat ironic under the circumstances.

The irony is clear if you consider that the Alberta Government has virtually destroyed the real estate market in Drumheller. For property owners it will be very difficult to get an appraisal done on their properties that will reflect the pre mapping value of their homes. Without the ability to get an accurate appraisal, it will make most property currently designated “floodway” virtually unsellable.

Unanswered letters that were sent from my office to the Municipal Affairs Minister’s office have sent me a message. With not so much as an acknowledgment having been sent to my office, it’s very clear they are unwilling to work with your MLA.

The town remains in “property” limbo while the bureaucrats decide the financial fate of a great number of resident’s properties. The Mayor and Council of Drumheller are looking down the barrel of that same issue, wondering what effect this will have on tax assessments if half the homes in the town are devalued.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs wrote a book called “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”, have they found the 14th way? Is this going to be the subject of his sequel book? Perhaps the title to his follow up effort could be called “How to Ruin a Community with a Simple Assessment?”

The problem started with the assessors using 2007 data which does not reflect the reality of the work done by the town. By simply changing the status from “Floodway” to “Under Review” a lot of anxiety and anger could have been and could be avoided. For some reason they refuse to listen.

Constituents have been contacting my office looking for answers, I have been seeking those answers, and the Alberta government has not been interested in giving me those answers.

They keep telling us they are interested in having conversations with Albertans, try as I might, I cannot figure out which Albertan they want to have a conversation with. Perhaps they’re referring to the bureaucrats; maybe those are the Albertans they want to have these conversations with.

Just this past week the Minister admitted in a press release that the towns of Fort McMurray and Drumheller required further review and would not be eligible for their buyout program. In the 2006 Groeneveld Flood Mitigation report commissioned by this government, there were a large number communities from across the province that were suggested for flood mitigation construction. Fort McMurray and Drumheller were two of those communities.

These decisions will have negative and far-reaching effects for a large number of communities across southern Alberta and this should not be taken lightly.

The first step in these decisions can only be done through communications with the people in these towns, which it appears; they are not willing to do. I strongly urge everyone to voice their feelings on this situation if the Minister should see fit to allow that to happen.

 

18th
August

We Did It: A Bad Decision Reversed

Rick's Blog

The Alberta government has decided that placing caveats on the land titles of properties that they have designated as floodways may not be the best way to deal with the aftermath of this spring’s flooding.

It should have been an easy and quick decision. It wasn’t.

Our constituency office in Drumheller has been contacted by many Drumheller residents and leaders that felt, quite correctly, that the floodway/flood fringe maps of Drumheller were wrong. They were outdated and did not reflect the wise investment the town had made in community level flood mitigation in the last decade. They also voiced their concerns that not all of the factors were considered when the government announced that it would slap an equity killing caveat on half the land titles in town. This rash designation would have been a major blow to the future of the town and to the asset value of the homes in the valley.

Not only would the title designations severely impact the property values of the near 50% of Drumheller residences in the government’s “floodway,” it would also completely disrupt the town’s tax assessment system by shifting the tax load to the other half of town. You see the non-floodway half of the town would see their property taxes go up by 50% to make up for the diminished assessment in floodway portion.  You have to give the government some credit; it’s not every day that you can come up with a policy idea that hurts everyone in a town.

As your elected representative for Drumheller–Stettler, I took the step of contacting the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Doug Griffiths and the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Diana McQueen, to have this important issue addressed in a timely fashion.  Along with the letter sent to Minister Griffiths, I included letters from affected Constituents to emphasize just how concerned the homeowners in Drumheller were about this situation. To date, no reply from either Minister has been received. My thought was they obviously did not share the same sense of urgency that the people who contacted my office felt about this issue.

Then on Friday, the junior minister for municipal affairs announced it had reversed its plans to put “location notices” on properties that have been designated floodway or flood fringes. This was consistent with the advice I had sent both Ministers. After weeks of ignoring the concerns of municipal officials, the requests of the opposition, and plain common sense, this government quietly backed down.  For Drumheller this is tremendous news.

I want to thank everyone who contacted my office and pushed on this issue. I want to thank the letter writers who gave me the ammunition to push on this issue.  Your efforts and those of many other Albertans got the government to listen.  I am pleased to be your representative, representing your views.  Working together we can get this government to listen, if not during the policy development phase than at least in the policy climb down phase.  Working together we can get your voices heard, if not always acknowledged.

In spite of this continued resistance by the Alberta government to work with Opposition MLAs, I will continue to advocate and will assure every Constituent’s voice is heard.

 

11th
August

Wildrose calls for public inquiry into flood response

Rick's Blog

Looking back on the events of the 2013 floods in southern Alberta, Albertans are left with many unanswered questions.

If we are ever going to learn from the disastrous flooding so we can be better prepared in the future, we need the answers to these questions.

Why did early warning systems fail? What were the protocols for warning Albertans before the waters hit? What steps were taken in the last 10 years to mitigate flooding? What steps can be taken to improve responses in future emergencies?

Could the three tragic deaths due to the flooding have been avoided? What are the communications responsibilities of local and provincial governments during a state of emergency? Who is responsible for deciding evacuation policies, are the current protocols sufficient?

These unanswered questions are why the Wildrose Official Opposition called for a judge-led public inquiry into the critical operational failures that put Albertans needlessly at risk during the 2013 floods. Albertans want and deserve a judge-led public inquiry to investigate the government’s response so we will be better prepared for the next disaster.

Clearly, there are lessons to be learned from the 2013 floods and from the circumstances during the aftermath of flooding in High River. Much of what the government did to respond to the floods was done right, but significant failures in key areas of government responsibility left Albertans feeling frustrated and hurt.

The Wildrose Official Opposition caucus submitted a list of 50 questions to government that we believe a public inquiry should address. (To see the list, visit www.wildrose.ca).

Wildrose has led the post-flood discussion with a Preliminary Flood Report that contained 22 recommendations to prepare for future floods. While the 2013 floods could not have been prevented in their entirety, the failure of the provincial government to heed repeated warnings and prepare for severe flooding resulted in far more damage and hardship than was necessary.

Wildrose Official Opposition recommendations included implemented the 2006 Flood Mitigation Report and a flood mitigation infrastructure plan to help rebuild the vast majority of homes and businesses without forced relocation. The Wildrose plan calls for assisting residents in areas that cannot be made safe in relocating to safer areas and a review of Alberta’s early warning system. The government should also improve Alberta’s financial preparedness for future disasters by rebuilding the “Rainy Day” fund and budgeting annually for disaster response and recovery.

The bottom line here is that we must learn from High River. It’s naive to think something like this won’t happen again. It will. Now, it’s just a matter of being the best prepared we can be. To get there, we need answers. We need a public inquiry.

 

3rd
August

Time for a re-assessment

Rick's Blog

The citizens of Drumheller may be facing a very serious issue with the release of the recent flood hazard map released by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

The map has designated a significant portion of the residences in the Drumheller valley as being in a “Floodway.” With this designation the provincial government will be registering caveats on the affected properties to ensure nobody unknowingly buys a floodway property without prior knowledge. As most of us can appreciate, this would be the responsible thing to do for the protection of homebuyers across Alberta. However, in the case of the Drumheller Valley, many people feel it has been improperly assessed and that it should be reassessed by ESRD.

A number of homeowners have contacted my Drumheller office with their concerns about the impact this will surely have on property values and resale of their homes.

With the good planning by the town of Drumheller and flood mitigation work that was done throughout the valley, it should have reflected these efforts in the new maps issued by ESRD. It seems that these efforts have been overlooked in the new hastily issued maps that have been described as a “death sentence” for the town.

Attempts at this time are being made to have ESRD review their findings and take into consideration all of the factors that could drastically change the disposition of a great many properties in the area.

As your Member in the Alberta Legislature and a Member of the Official Opposition, there are responsibilities that I must fulfill. Opposing legislation, policies or actions by the government that is detrimental to the Drumheller Stettler constituency, is crucial to protecting the viability of your property.

In this particular case, Exposing decisions made by the Alberta government that will have a negative effect on homes in the Drumheller valley is a critical step in the corrective actions which will not unfairly penalize homeowners is also a responsibility of my office.

Along with Opposing and Exposing the shortcomings of the government, it is critical that we as the Opposition Propose alternative measures that would be in the best interests of the public.

In light of the impact the decisions will have on the town of Drumheller, it is imperative that ESRD review their data to ensure all the factors have been included in their decision. In early July, I was in attendance at a meeting with federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and town officials, to discuss flood mitigation and the successful actions that were taken by the town of Drumheller that minimized flood damage in the valley. In the meetings Minister Toews commended the town of Drumheller’s actions and said it was an example of how to do proper flood mitigation.

The town of Drumheller officials and I are committed to pressuring ESRD to re-assess the final data that can play a significant role in Drumheller’s future.

For more information you can view the flood maps on the ESRD interactive website at: www.envinfo.gov.ab.ca/FloodHazard/.

If you would like your comments and concerns passed on to the ESRD Minister, please email them to email hidden; JavaScript is required, by fax 403-823-6586 or by mail to Box 1929, Drumheller, AB T0J 0Y0, and I will ensure that your concerns are brought forward.

 

28th
July

A prairie gem

Rick's Blog

July 27th was a very special day in Rowley, as with many towns throughout Alberta it was their centennial anniversary. Located 5 km off of highway 56 on the western edge of the Drumheller Stettler constituency, it has the old world charm that is hard to find these days in our modern society.

One of my favourite responsibilities as MLA for Drumheller Stettler is attending celebrations like the one held in Rowley. This little prairie gem has only about a dozen permanent residents but many of the local rural folks show up to express their pride in this richly historic part of Alberta.

The town’s appearance is much like it would have been in the early part of the 20th century, with several time-period store fronts that line the main street. The locals have lovingly restored, repaired and rebuilt many of the authentic buildings inside and out.

Upon my arrival in this lively little town, the first thing I took notice of was the overwhelming number of people in attendance, enjoying the festivities. My tour guide through many of the historic buildings was Lorraine, who with her husband, have devoted a great deal of time into preserving the treasures that make this little town a must-see.

Our first stop on the tour was the train station that comes complete with family heirlooms, left to the town by the descendants of the early settlers in the area. Many of the items in the station are authentic equipment that would have been found in a train station in the early 20th century.

Our next stop was the schoolhouse that featured the teacher’s living-quarters, which would make even the smallest modern apartment seem palatial by comparison. Posted there on the wall were the rules, circa 1915, that the teacher employed by the community was expected to follow. These rules the teacher was expected to follow, which left little opportunity for anything but work, included “you will not marry during the time of your contract” and “you must be home between the hours of 8:00 pm and 6:00 am.”

The tour continued through town with stops at the grain elevators and the bank, which were critical pieces in the town’s infrastructure during the early 1900’s.

Lorraine saved the best part of the tour for last – Sam’s Saloon. She had mentioned it several times as we walked through the town saying, “once you get in there I won’t get you out, so we’ll go there last.” After stepping through the swinging saloon doors, I understood clearly what she was talking about. As I stood there in the sawdust that covered the floor, I realized it was a place filled with character and atmosphere that exemplifies the true values of Albertans.

The last Saturday evening of every month is pizza night at the saloon. If you’re in the mood for a great evening out, I highly recommend Rowley. The saloon is owned and operated by the community.

Thank you to Lorraine and everyone that made Rowley’s centennial an event I will always remember.

 

21st
July

A failure to plan

Rick's Blog

A reminder of how destructive the accumulated debt by a government can be came after the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy Thursday under the weight of a massive $18-billion debt. Last summer while celebrating the 100th anniversary of our family farm, my American cousin, who is a retired Ernst and Young V.P. had forewarned that Detroit’s financial demise would be immanent, unfortunately he was right.

With a declining population of just over 700,000 the debt has become unmanageable prompting the city to seek bankruptcy protection sending shock waves through the U.S. and Canada.

At one time the city of Detroit was a symbol of power and stability, but successive year over year deficits have outpaced taxes, which are the highest in the state of Michigan. This has caused a continually compounding deficit which has had far reaching and serious consequences to basic services in the city.

Examples of the repercussions of the poor long-term planning have seen 40 percent of Detroit’s streetlamps out of service, 210 of its 317 public parks closed permanently, wait times of an hour for police to respond to a 9-1-1 call and only one third of its ambulances operational. A local realtor was reported to have offered houses on sale for a $1 and incredibly there was not a single taker.

The significance of a major North American city declaring bankruptcy can serve as a monument to debt and careless financial planning by a government. In Alberta the government presented its sixth successive deficit budget with no tenable end in sight according to the government’s own financial predictions.

In contrast to the conservative values of Albertans, Alberta’s debt is also being compounded from year to year following the same trail of financial ruin the city of Detroit blazed all the way to bankruptcy.

Already mired in compounding deficit and with our sustainability fund’s bones picked clean, we are left with even more deficit financing caused by the spring floods throughout southern Alberta. The irony of our rainy day fund not being there for when it really did rain is going to be an expensive lesson that could have been avoided.

The Wildrose Official Opposition has proposed our 2013 Financial Recovery Plan to clear the debt, rather than leaving it to compound into an unsustainable burden.

Last spring when Alberta’s sixth straight deficit budget was being presented nobody could have predicted the sudden need that was created, however being caught financially unprepared was simply a failure to plan.

John L. Beckley, American Founder of the Economics Press Inc., American Author and Businessman coined the phrase “people don’t plan to fail: they fail to plan.” That’s what was missing with the spending promises made by the current government:, before, during and after the last election, what was their plan?

Was the plan just to hope it didn’t happen? Another year of successive and cumulative debt will contribute to the next disaster that awaits Alberta if they keep failing to plan.

 

14th
July

Fatally flawed legislation

Rick's Blog

It was not surprising to hear the Alberta government trying to defend their fatally flawed attempt at whistleblower legislation during last fall’s Legislative sitting.

Speaking vaguely without reference to the bill itself may sound good, but those with an interest in effective whistleblower protection saw right through the massive failure of Bill 4 (the Public Interest Disclosure Act).

Those with intimate knowledge of how government works must be free to come forward to report when something is amiss. Who knows how many problems we could have avoided in health care, for example, if front-line workers felt safe in bringing wrongdoing to light.

Instead, the current Bill 4 is actually protection for the government from whistleblowers which is obviously not in the spirit of open and transparent government.

The wording of Bill 4 gives the impression of a government trying to cover up all past incidences of bullying and intimidation in government. If passed, Bill 4 would only apply “in respect to wrongdoings that occur after the coming into force of this Act.”

That means possible repercussions for someone who may feel compelled to blow the whistle today, tomorrow, or anytime before the coming into force of this act. Bill 4 won’t protect doctors, health care providers or others who have been bullied and intimidated by the government in the past.

The only advantage of this section is that it gives the government time to cover its tracks. This is clearly not in the public interest and is not what Albertans thought they were getting.

Bill 4 requires people to report wrongdoing internally – that is, to the head of their government department. It essentially means having to report the wrongdoing of your boss – to your boss?

Real whistleblower protection would permit a person to report wrongdoing to whomever they felt most comfortable, including the media and the local MLA.

Under Bill 4’s provisions, a Public Interest Commissioner has the unlimited power to exempt any person or organization. The commissioner does not ever have to conduct a single investigation of alleged wrongdoing, which means the commissioner will have the power to do nothing.

While Bill 4 would cover breaches of the law and gross mismanagement, it would not apply to unethical behaviour.

That’s why the Wildrose put forward 21 amendments to fix the serious dangers in Bill 4, which were all subsequently voted down by the government side of the house. The amendments would have made it so any wrongdoing could be reported in any manner the whistleblower sees fit, as well as broaden the scope for who is allowed to blow the whistle to include anyone working for a public institution, contracting for government, or anyone receiving public funds or licensed by the government.

While it’s easy to call any bill whistleblower protection, making sure it does what it intends to do would require some muscle and some teeth. Bill 4 completely lacked both.

As the MLA for Drumheller Stettler, I hope to continue to encourage the government to fix this Legislation and offer real protection to whistleblowers and deliver on their promise of transparent and accountable government.

 

7th
July

Predictable Albertans

Rick's Blog

Something predictable is happening in High River since the floods that devastated the town. As usual the reaction of Albertans towards the victims of the 2013 floods is something that gives most of us a sense of security. I’ve always held the opinion that this province is a “get it done” kind of place and predictably it is.

Without a thought or a hesitation fellow Albertans are showing up to do some of the hardest and dirtiest work you could possibly imagine. They do it out of a sense of compassion and fellowship because they know if the shoe were on the other foot and the roles were reversed, somebody would be there for them.

On Saturday night in Calgary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his gratitude to the people of Alberta and Canada, for the outpouring of aid that has been quick to arrive. He also spoke of three young men from Edmonton that showed up at the High River Rodeo grounds to dig into the mud and the garbage and help. The amazing thing is that these three young men didn’t know anyone from High River but it made no difference, they were there just to help.

From floods to prairie fires to devastating weather events-without fail-Albertans have responded time after time. They may be complete strangers but they’re fellow Albertans and that seems to be motivation enough for some people to drive half way across the province to help. These people won’t end up on the front page of the paper, they won’t be recognized with a medal but the work they do is as important as anything we do in the Legislature.

This disaster has also demonstrated that we in Alberta are blessed with some of the best first-responders anywhere in the world. The first-responders also came from far and wide to assist in a time of need. The mentality of our first-responders is something that can only be described as selfless, no matter the emergency, no matter the location, and no matter the danger-they are always there.

Anyone that is interested in helping out can meet at the High River Agricultural Society Rodeo Grounds. Volunteers are asked to bring their own supplies such as rubber boots, face masks, gloves, shovels, garbage bags, and buckets.

Aid to the community can come in many forms, not just physical labor. Donating to the Alberta Floods Fund through Canadian Red Cross is also a way to lend support to the victims.

For information on donating please call the Red Cross at 1-800-418-1111.

Also to find more information about helping the people of High River on Twitter go to #missionpossible2.

 

30th
June

Firings were all for not

Rick's Blog

The recent firings of the entire Alberta Health Services Superboard over their refusal to cancel bonuses to 99 executives left many including me wondering what the purpose of this action was.

The board refused to obey Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne’s order to cancel the bonuses for the same reason that Minister Horne is now conceding they will have to pay their contracts. These bonuses totaling approximately $3.2 million with potential of costing considerably more if the contracts were not honored due to litigation and legal costs.

Bonuses included in employment contracts for a year completed were expected not to be paid out according to the order. Shortly after the board firings, in a moment of clarity, the Minister conceded that this whole situation was a “legal quagmire.”

Janet Davidson, Stephen Lockwood’s replacement, has also conceded that it could be considered in breach of contract if the bonuses where withheld. She added that “these employees would be in a position to take legal action” and the final nail saying, “I am advised these employees likely would be successful.”

On a hope and a prayer, the Minister is asking senior executives to forego their bonuses, which isn’t likely to happen considering this is the last bonus they will receive. Before the Superboard and Stephen Lockwood were unceremoniously fired, they had legally arranged that this would be the last year for executive bonuses.

The intriguing part of this situation is how they arrived at this point where they were required to dole out bonuses for mediocrity and in some cases less than that. Has AHS set the bar so low that those within a failing system can achieve bonuses merely by showing up for work?

Most people I’ve discussed the health care system in Alberta with, find it very difficult to defend when it comes to its functionality and efficiency. For most of us, the bonuses are hard to correlate when measured against the overall performance, simply because it appears to be a system that is rewarding failure.

The people within the system are outstanding; it’s the gridlocked system that creates the inefficiencies and waste. The Nurses and Doctors that are on the front lines aren’t the ones that get the bonuses, even when they go the extra mile and yet they still go that extra mile. That’s called dedication.

The Wildrose Official Opposition is encouraging government to dismantle Alberta Health Services and gradually decentralize the delivery of health care to locally-managed and integrated hospitals, Primary Care Networks, family physicians, specialty centers, long-term care facilities, and other health services.

By setting up an advisory panel of front-line health care professionals to meet with the Minister every two months to keep the Minister apprised of emerging issues, problems can be dealt with in a proactive fashion. Ultimately, the solutions lie in empowering local decision-makers to determine the course of health care delivery, based on the individual needs of local patients.

 

23rd
June

A place we’re all proud to call home

Rick's Blog

The catastrophic flooding that is unfolding in Alberta has been met with an overwhelming response from ordinary and extraordinary Albertans across the province. This is especially evident in the town of Drumheller where the flooding tragedy was unfolding Sunday.

As Drumheller evacuated nearly 3,300 people, the amazing spirit of the people has risen above the flood waters. Volunteers have been working around the clock in an attempt to stem the tide of the flood waters while others have taken in friends and strangers in their time of need.

The scenes of large groups of people filling and delivering sand bags through the valley have become commonplace. The heavy lifting has been done with a smile and a genuine want to help friends, neighbours and complete strangers, is what makes Alberta a place we all are proud to call home.

Firefighters, Police, EMS, and ordinary citizens have all pulled together in an attempt to mitigate the potential flood danger, damage and effect this will no doubt have in the Drumheller Valley. Each and every one of them is to be commended for their courage in the face of imminent danger and personal loss.

The stories of volunteers working diligently to help is inspiring, in spite of being evacuees themselves. Some have worked around the clock doing back-breaking work for nothing but self-satisfaction. Simple words cannot describe the fortitude being shown by the people of Drumheller and area that have stepped up to the plate in its greatest time of need.

Mayor Terry Yemen and the Drumheller town council have been working tirelessly to coordinate resources and personnel to deal with the circumstances that threaten the lives and property of the people of Drumheller. Their regular communications with local media and through social media has resulted in a public that is informed and it’s an effort that is an example of how it should be done.

In the following weeks across Alberta there is a lot of work to be done cleaning up and rebuilding for those that will be dealing with the devastation that follows this type of disaster.

Please remember all of those affected by these tragedies unfolding throughout the province, in your thoughts and prayers. In the days to come, donations of money, clothing and other essentials will undoubtedly be in great demand, and I encourage everyone to inquire with your local authorities to coordinate your donations with those most in need.

Be proud Drumheller and all of Alberta, you have once again proven that this is the greatest place to live on earth.

 

16th
June

Fear of political fallout

Rick's Blog

“It’s a bit of a legal mess at the moment,” was how Health Minister Fred Horne described the aftermath of his decision to fire the entire AHS Superboard last Wednesday morning. Unfortunately that legal mess won’t be cleared up any time soon and it comes with a hefty price tag.

The legal mess referred to by the Health Minister is due to the contractual obligations past and present in outstanding bonuses that were overlooked before the decision to fire the board was made.

The Alberta Health Services Board and Board Chair Stephen Lockwood defied the order from the Minister to stop bonuses of up to $3.2 million to be paid to 99 AHS executives as stipulated in their contracts for the 2012-13 year. Lockwood and his board had already removed bonuses from some 500 AHS staff last year; further to that end, this coming fiscal year will see the end of all bonuses entirely. Some would call that progress, including yours truly.

In February, Stephen Lockwood and the Board gave their word to the 99 remaining top executives that they would receive their pay at risk if they met their performance targets for the fiscal year that has recently come to an end. Horne, when pressed by Wildrose Opposition Health Critic Heather Forsyth, said he would not interfere in February and repeated that message again in March.

Incredibly Lockwood and the rest of the AHS board have been fired for keeping their word and for refusing to break a contract.

This directive from the Minister has also answered the question of just how autonomous the AHS board is in reality. Repeated claims by the Minister that AHS makes its own decisions and that the government does not direct AHS, has obviously been put to rest with what took place last week. Lockwood weighed in saying “The government doesn’t publicly need to admit that the AHS board is not independent, their actions speak much louder than their words.” This continued politicization of AHS decision making has become not only non-productive but expensive financially as well.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Official Opposition Wildrose, repeated her solution as she has done several times in the Legislature to “Go back to local decision-making, empower local administrators to work with local staff so they can deliver the best patient care, because the centralized model of delivering health care — it just isn’t working.”

Replacing the board will be Janet Davidson who will be paid $580,000 comparatively the 10-member board earned $699,000 in honorariums in 2011-12.

It appears that Wednesday morning’s firings by Health Minister Fred Horne were a reaction to the fear of political fallout over the bonuses that were about to be paid.

The decision to eliminate the Superboard was long overdue and is a step in the right direction. However it MUST be coupled with going back to regional boards and local decision making or the whole expensive exercise will have been in vain.

 

8th
June

It’s good to be home

Rick's Blog

Being back on my farm in Altario allows me to get my feet back down on the ground physically and metaphorically. It’s also great to be back in the Drumheller Stettler constituency. It’s great to be back, because it’s my home. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, and I’m sure most of you will agree that it’s very much that way especially when you live in this part of the world.

This time of year is also like an awakening across east central Alberta. On schedule, with seeding done, the spring rains seem to bring everything to life, including the spirit of small town Alberta. Across the constituency I have been lucky enough to experience several different celebrations recently which are the highlight of my day every single time.

The Centennial celebrations in Acadia Valley and Drumheller held recently were something I very much enjoyed. I love seeing the pride the people have in these wonderful communities, it’s always awe-inspiring. The graduations I have had the honour of attending, are without fail something that reminds me of all the new beginnings that seem to go hand-in-hand with this time of year.

The business of the Legislature can be very mentally and emotionally taxing. There’s the hustle and bustle of caucus meetings, question period and many hours of debate that seem to consume every waking moment. As important as those things are, the meetings with constituents who are the driving force behind an elected MLA, are the most important.

All the ridings across the province are where the information comes from that forms the Wildrose policies. I believe these will help create a more financially and socially stable Alberta. These policies are live policies. They’re something that we never stop working on. Society never stops changing and evolving so neither should good policies.

The Alberta government has focused a lot of their discussion on what they refer to as the infrastructure deficit, to justify their plunging us back into debt. In the mean time they seem to be ignoring the social deficit they’re creating with such moves as the massive cuts to the PDD (Persons with Developmental Disabilities) program. At the meeting I attended in Drumheller on June 6, Associate Minister Frank Oberle said “If you need services in Alberta, you will get services.” This hardly seems logical with program funding being cut by $42 million, which equals half of the funding for the program.

This summer I’m looking forward to travelling the constituency, meeting with the people and discussing how we can work towards doing what’s best for Alberta. The input of the taxpayers all too often is overlooked when decisions are made these days. As your MLA, I feel it’s part of my responsibility to make sure the input of the constituents of Drumheller Stettler are always considered first in every decision I make.

The summer will be filled with meetings, forums and celebrations of all kinds where I will have the opportunity to meet a large number of constituents. If by chance you happen to be one of them, please, just call me Rick.

 

2nd
June

Clearing the air on electricity

Rick's Blog

Recently my office received correspondence with respect to what the actual costs of the above ground HVDC transmission lines being built in Alberta are. These lines, as most of you know, have had a significant impact on your monthly power bill.

Wildrose Environment and Utilities critic, Joe Anglin, has compared the costs of the Heartland transmission line to an underground project that is currently underway in other North American jurisdictions.

The concern was that Anglin, the Rimbey Rocky Mountain House Sundre MLA, had stated that the underground option would have been the lower cost option. This was in fact not the case he was showing that the Heartland line’s costs are out of line by comparison to a higher cost option of burying the lines.

Anglin is simply making the comparison of the Blackstone Group LP/Transmission Developers Inc. 65 mile HVDC underground/underwater 500 kV transmission line in NY State vs. Alberta’s aerial Heartland transmission line.

The underground Blackstone transmission line is called the Champlain/Hudson transmission line, and it is estimated to cost $6.84 million CDN per mile vs. the Heartland’s $14.5 million CDN per mile.

The contradiction (or irony) is obvious to all industry experts. In theory, buried lines cost more, so why is the Heartland line nearly double the cost of a buried line?

In June 2012 Transmission Facilities Cost Monitoring Committee reported that the cost of the Heartland transmission line has increased from $14.5 Million CDN to $15.5 million CDN per mile.

After meeting with various stakeholders last week, Anglin and Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith have been told to expect the next Transmission Facilities Cost Monitoring Committee Report for 2013 to show costs will continue to rise.

The Alberta government has refused to address the issue of why these above ground lines are costing far more than buried lines would cost, even though this defies logic.

A study done by TransCanada has confirmed that Albertans are paying 2 to 3 times what it costs to build transmission lines in other jurisdictions.

As the Official Opposition, it is the responsibility of the Wildrose to question these figures and to draw attention to the outrageous costs Albertans are paying to build these transmission lines. The cost of these lines is reflected in the ever- increasing bills consumers in Alberta are facing.

In past columns I have addressed the fees and surcharges that account for the lion’s share of the total bottom line you see each and every month. These extra charges amount to 70% of your current bill regardless of your actual usage.

The Wildrose Official Opposition is committed to holding the Alberta Government to account for this unnecessary and rising expense. These expenses ultimately can be, and have been, the difference between people remaining in their homes and being unable to sustain themselves. It’s time somebody started answering for that.

 

26th
May

Work continues after legislative session ends

Rick's Blog

Recently, the spring session at the Alberta Legislature wrapped up for the summer. MLAs are back in their constituencies until October when fall session begins.

As a part of the Wildrose Official Opposition, I am pleased to report a successful spring session holding the government to account on the issues that matter to Albertans. We exposed wrong doing when we saw it, opposed the back in debt budget of 2013, and proposed constructive solutions to the issues the province faces.

The back in debt budget is going to saddle Albertans with $17 billion in debt by 2016. This means a return to interest payments for the first time in nearly a decade. This year alone, Albertans will pay $238 million in interest on debt. That’s money that will be taken out of front line services like health care and education just to keep creditors off our backs.

Despite the poor fiscal management of the Alberta government, Wildrose was able to positively affect the government’s agenda. One of the successes for Wildrose and Albertans was a comprehensive review of the justice system to make sure victims of serious crime get the justice they deserve.

After raising the case of Dani Polsom – an Airdrie woman who was sexually abused and watched as her attacker walked free because of the delays in the courts – in the Legislature, the government commissioned a sweeping review to ensure similar cases don’t happen again.

Another success was that Wildrose forced Alberta Health Services to end its degrading one-bath per week policy for Alberta seniors in long-term care. By bringing attention to this policy in the media and repeatedly raising it in the Legislature, the government finally reversed the policy.

Wildrose MLAs also brought attention to the AHS ‘divorce-by-nursing-home’ policy, which splits apart married couples in long-term care for bureaucratic convenience. We will continue working to end this callous policy so married couples can continue living their lives together.

This spring, Wildrose also opposed harmful changes to generic drug pricing. The changes were intended to lower drug prices for Albertans. You may have even heard the radio ads. But they backfired. By forcing pharmacists to sell product at an unreasonably low price, they threatened the viability of local pharmacies and put Albertans’ access to their medicine at risk. In fact, more drugs actually went up in price than went down to the government’s centrally mandated price.

Wildrose opposed this bureaucratic overreach to ensure Albertans would continue to receive the great care they do from their local pharmacists.

As you can tell, it was a brief but busy spring legislative sitting for Wildrose MLAs. I am proud to be part of a caucus that stands up for Albertans and achieves results.

While I am happy to be back in the constituency and to address any of your concerns, I will be eager to return to Legislative work and to represent Albertans in the fall.

 

19th
May

A very special day in Drumheller

Rick's Blog

Just over 100 years ago in 1911, Sam Drumheller and Thomas Greentree tossed a coin in the air and began the rich history of what is now the town of Drumheller. It was a story I had never heard before, it was a story about how the town came to get its name. The Centennial celebration was held on May 15 which was the actual exact anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Drumheller.

As the MLA for Drumheller Stettler, I was honoured to have been invited to be in attendance for the ceremony held on a beautiful spring day in the valley. Civic pride was on display by a great many residents of the town which included a number of residents from the Hillview and Sunshine Seniors’ lodges.

The organizers of this event should be very proud of the celebration that was put on, at no charge, to participants that celebrated this historic milestone. Mayor Terry Yemen and Town Councillors – Sharel Shoff, Doug Stanford, Lisa Hansen Zacharuk, Tom Zariski, Andrew Berdahl, and Jay Garbutt should all be proud of how the town of Drumheller came out in large numbers to enjoy the festivities. The Centennial Organizing Committee is to be commended for making everyone feel welcome and a part of the event.

One of my great pleasures in my newly-elected position as your MLA, is travelling throughout the constituency and recognizing the 100-year milestones of residents’ and towns. Witnessing the pride the people of Drumheller have in their community is inspiring in so many ways and I felt privileged to share this occasion with them.

As visitors mingled and reminisced, the projection screens at the Badlands Community facility were filled with historic pictures of the valley and the pioneers that make up Drumheller’s magnificent history. As the old photos and videos ran, it gave you a real sense of what was and still is a very unique place to be. A very entertaining duo also provided the musical entertainment with songs about the town’s history.

One of the highlights of the day for me was the 4 centurion Drumheller residents that were in attendance, with Dr. Brummy Aiello at the age of 102 years, cutting the centennial cake.

Looking forward to the July 1st Canada Day celebration this year in Drumheller, it will be a very special event that I encourage everyone to attend. The events that happen around Drumheller on Canada Day are something to behold. Drumheller comes alive on Canada Day with a crowded parade route and activities for all ages that is all topped off with a spectacular fire works display that lights up the valley.

Thank you to the town of Drumheller for hosting a great centennial celebration and I hope to see you all on Canada Day in Drumheller.

 

12th
May

A message for our grads

Rick's Blog

At long last spring has finally arrived which is always full of new beginnings and new life. Sometimes those new beginnings can come in the form of a change of lifestyle. That change is most prevalent in the lives of all the young people preparing for their departure from high school into the workforce or to a post secondary institution.

This week I thought it would be appropriate to address those young people as they begin their journey down life’s road and perhaps share some life lessons to maybe help them avoid the odd pothole along the way.

Dear 2013 Grads,

You must always remember our time on this earth is limited, so you shouldn’t waste it living someone else’s life. For me, the most important thing in life is to live your life with integrity and not to give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.

Don’t let your inner voice be drowned out by the noise of others. Trust yourself enough to follow your heart and intuition. Think outside the box, be original, be creative and don’t waste your ideas with silence.

Having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. Doing meaningful work will bring you riches that money cannot buy.

Choose to use any status or influence you may attain to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice. Identify with the powerless not just the powerful.

If you make a difference in the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud family who appreciates your existence but the people whose reality you have helped change as well. We do not need magic to change the world we just have to use the power to imagine better.

Be an honest and compassionate person; contribute in some way to the betterment of the society you live in. Albertans are the beneficiary of the compassionate contributions of thousands of volunteers across the province and they are the cornerstone of many successful organizations in Alberta.

Your greatest fear when taking those first steps into society is failure. Remember the majority of the world’s most important inventions were preceded by a long list of failures.

Life is like putting messages in bottles on a desert island and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and read your thoughts. Remember you may have to put out hundreds of messages before one is ever read.

Be yourself and follow your passion, always stay true to yourself. Always follow your own path, unless you’re in the woods and you get lost, and you see a path. Then you should probably follow that path.

In closing I would like to congratulate all the 2013 graduates and especially thank the families that raised these fine young people.

 

5th
May

Shocking bills

Rick's Blog

Alberta electricity consumers continue to be punished by the Alberta government’s mismanagement with the construction of new transmission lines costing more than double the cost of buried lines in other jurisdictions according to my colleague Wildrose Utilities Critic Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

Recently, the Blackstone Power Cable from Quebec to New York, which consists of two 5-inch diameter cable lines that will be buried underground and underwater over 531 kilometers, was approved at a cost of $2.2 billion (roughly US $4.1 million per kilometer).

Transmission lines recently approved by the Alberta government cabinet without an independent needs assessment, such as the 66-km Heartland Transmission Line that is set to cost over $600 million dollars and will not be built underground (roughly CDN $9.9 million per kilometer).

“These transmission lines will raise the cost of power bills for almost every Albertan in this province, yet this government continues to have no price controls on these lines,” Anglin said.  “This government continues to bill Alberta for its mismanagement as the cost of our above ground transmission lines are more than double the cost of buried lines in other jurisdictions.  Simply, this just doesn’t add up.”

The Wildrose believes the transmission lines approved under the former Bill 50, which are set to cost over $16 billion, should be approved through an independent needs based assessment process and diversifying Alberta’s electricity market through cleaner and greener natural gas and hydro strategies.

“These transmission lines have been a boondoggle from the very beginning,” Anglin said.  “Not once have Alberta consumers had a chance to receive a full public evaluation of their electricity needs and now they are stuck on the hook for billions of dollars added to their power bills. The Alberta government isn’t building Alberta’s future; it’s billing Albertans for its incompetence.”

As we enter into the summer months at long last we will naturally consume less electricity, however your bill will not go down accordingly. Take for instance a bill of $140 for one month’s electricity. Taking into account the current rate of Transmission, Distribution, Rate Riders, Local Access fees and finally Administration fees, they are responsible for approximately 70% of the total bill.

With the lion’s share of the bill being consumed by fees that will not change you are left with $40 in usage to find any saving. Remember that your usage will now be half the electricity you actually used in the colder winter months. It all adds up to a saving of $20 which is less than 15% for a 50% reduction in usage.

These Fees and charges are designed to pay for the infrastructure to build lines we don’t need and you as a consumer have been required to pay for these projects without an independent needs assessment.

Responsible infrastructure development can only be done with independent and transparent needs assessments. As the Official Opposition Widlrose caucus, we are committed to pressuring this government to justify the majority of your power bill.

When travelling through the Drumheller Stettler constituency if you happen to catch a glimpse of the giant electrical towers think back to what portion of your electrical bill goes to pay those towers that we do not need.

 

28th
April

National Day of Mourning

Rick's Blog

This past Sunday, April 28 was National Day of Mourning which was established to remember those who have died from injuries or diseases acquired through their workplace. I was shocked to hear that last year, 145 Albertans died from workplace injuries.

This solemn day of mourning began in 1984 and was first known as Workers’ Memorial Day which was originally started by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and has been recognized nationally since 1991. Today more than 80 countries observe April 28 as National Day of Mourning.

My colleague and Wildrose Caucus Employment, Immigration and Enterprise Critic Gary Bikman, stood in the house this past week and delivered a very heart felt members statement in recognition of this solemn day. He spoke of a personal experience in which he lost an employee in a work place accident, an employee that was also a good friend as well. He talked about how stories of work place accidents are still far too common and completely avoidable. The Cardston Taber Warner MLA also reminded us that safety has to be a collaborative effort that includes participation from government as well as employers and employees alike.

Nothing can erase the undue pain and hardship that families of Albertans killed in the workplace live with every day. These stories are still far too common and completely avoidable.

Government’s role in workplace safety was also outlined; “There are many reasons why accidents happen – most of them have to do with pressure; pressure to get the job done. But that can never be an excuse. Alberta workplaces must continue to strive toward a more transparent and accountable culture of safety. This can’t just be an attitude for the front-line workers, however. This has to be a culture that exists from the top down.

The Wildrose caucus supports measures to make companies more accountable for their safety records, but this needs to be a collaborative effort. We owe it to the families of Alberta workers to take measures to ensure transparency and accountability on workplace safety.

We would also encourage all Albertans to use this National Day of Mourning to remember those we’ve lost in workplace accidents, this year, and in previous years, and to think about what they can do to protect one another on the job.

Please work safely.

 

21st
April

Where there’s smoke there’s bad decisions

Rick's Blog

One of the most important responsibilities for any government is the health and well being of the taxpayers it represents. With the largest portion of Alberta’s budget being consumed by the health care system, you would assume that the availability of health care service would be at minimum adequate. In Alberta, our health care options have steadily declined in spite of the ever increasing cost burden it has on our finances. The frontline workers we have in Alberta are second to none and they do a remarkable job with what conditions they work under.

So where is all the money going? Why are we having trouble meeting some of the very basic health needs in a timely fashion to the people of Alberta when we spend more per capita than any other province in Canada?

This past week in the Legislature it was brought to light that a couple of Alberta Health Services senior executives Alison Tonge and Michele Lahey had put through expense claims for treatments that are not available to average Albertans. Michele Lahey expensed over $7,000 for private treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States for tests that are regularly not approved for the average Albertan.

These types of expense claims for AHS executives are particularly hard to swallow for Albertans Shane Wambolt, Brooke Aubuschon and Grant Ellefson, who have all been denied coverage for their life-saving medical treatments outside of Alberta. The expenses are equally hard to accept for residents of Consort who still have not had their acute care beds reopened, or the 125 residents who call the Michener Centre in Red Deer home.

We’ve all heard the expression “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” the smoke from these expense claims can be seen for miles. The reluctance of the Alberta government to investigate the smoke means we’re opening ourselves up to spot-fires all over the province. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one is something Heath Minister Fred Horne is having trouble accepting. When questions were put to the minister on these improper expenses he responded that he was not the Health Minister when the expenses were submitted. Does that sound like acceptance of the problem to you? Recognizing that perhaps our current health care system is broken and is in need of a major overhaul – would be giant step in the right direction.

Reforming Alberta’s health care system to meet the needs of taxpayers can only be achieved with honest and principled leadership. A reallocation of where and how our health care dollars are spent that includes downsizing of the managers that manage managers within AHS, will result in a more efficient system that is much better at meeting the needs of taxpayers.

As a member of the Wildrose Official Opposition, I am committed to exposing the deficiencies in the system and offering solutions that will eliminate the lengthy wait times and lack of adequate care that exists in Alberta today.

 

14th
April

AHS should act more like the kids

Rick's Blog

Over the last few weeks we have had to witness a move that can only be described as disappointing. Alberta Health Services hastily decided to suspend the practice of free parking for Veterans, a move that was defended initially by Health Minister Fred Horne.

The yearly parking passes are paid for by the Calgary Poppy Fund at a cost of $120 each. The 385 passes purchased each year are administered by the Legions in Calgary to Veterans and their families which allows them to park free of charge ay AHS facilities.

When pressed for answers on the move, Senior Vice-President with Alberta Health Services, Penny Rae stated “Why is this one group more worthy than others?” Taking into account that a Senior Vice-President would even ask that question is a sign of just how out of touch the layers of managers in AHS truly are.

It’s disappointing when people that are supposed to understand and administrate a department that is based on compassion have no concept of what compassion is.

AHS has since done an about-face on their decision to suspend the parking passes for veterans but it still leaves us with the questions, how and why would a decision like this even be contemplated? How could it be defended?

In stark contrast we have a group of Junior High School students in Veteran who seem to have a far superior understanding of compassion than that of AHS and how to honour those who fought for this country and the freedoms we enjoy.

The service medals belonging to World War II veteran and Veteran resident, 91 year old Dave Pennington, had accidently been thrown out and the story caught the attention of 18 young junior high students. Mr Pennington earned five medals in total in his service to this country and was wounded by a piece of shrapnel while fighting a campaign in Italy.

Touched by Dave’s story, the student’s contacted the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs office in Ottawa. After months of letter writing and contacting government officials, the students received five replacement medals.

The only question left was how to present them to Mr. Pennington in a fashion deserving a war hero. That question was answered on Thursday March 28 at a ceremony organized by these amazing compassionate young people specifically to present Dave Pennington his medals and honour him for his bravery.

When Dave stood before the crowded gymnasium full of people with his medals proudly displayed on his chest, the crowd erupted in applause. There were a lot of tears in that small gymnasium that afternoon.

The Veteran war hero was quoted saying “These kids are so special to me.”

Mr. Pennington, it’s obvious that you are very special to these kids. Perhaps the managers that manage managers and their staff within AHS should act a little more like the students at the Veteran Junior High School. They seem to be able to answer that question that was asked by Penny Rae about why this one group is more worthy than others.

 

7th
April

An extraordinary man

Rick's Blog

This is dedicated to a true visionary, leader and anything but average man, the Honorable Ralph Klein. He was honourable not only in title but also in the way he led Alberta as our Premier and the way he lived his life.

Most of us knew him simply as Ralph. It never seemed right for some reason to ever refer to him as anything else. It didn’t seem right because Ralph talked to everyone on the same level, whether it was world leader or the waitress at the St Louis Hotel in Calgary. He spoke with simply respect.

I was honoured to be in attendance at Ralph’s memorial this past Friday. Many dignitaries spoke in found remembrance and reverence of Ralph with touching personal stories that reminded us all of what a historic character he really was.

Ralph will always be remembered for leading the province out of debt and put Alberta back on the right track fiscally. Ralph knew that things had to get done, steps needed to be taken and he was just the right guy for the job.

Ralph’s old fishing and golfing buddy former Ontario Premier the Honourable Mike Harris told stories of how Ralph seemed to have a way to get down to the business at hand when dealing with his “get it done” attitude topped with a “can do” mentality. He also spoke of Ralph’s wonderful Ralphisms and the charm that made him who he was.

Former Saskatchewan Premier the Honorable Roy Romanow spoke with a great deal of reverence about a man who at times he was not on the same page as. He spoke of the respect he always had for Ralph and how when all the negotiating was through Ralph’s personality would come shining through and that would make you forget you were not always in agreement.

On more of a personal note former Drumheller Stettler MLA and Deputy Premier Shirley McClellan spoke of not only her former boss but her very close and dear friend. Shirley paid a great tribute to Colleen Klein and recognized her for her contributions to the success of her husband. Her personal story of when Ralph made her dawn a Stamps jersey in his absence at a Grey Cup game even though Shirley is a devote Eskies fan gave everyone a glimpse into what a wonderful sense of humor he possessed and shared regularly with the people around him. When she informed Ralph she didn’t own a Stamp’s jersey he told her “well get one Shirl”, knowing it would get her goat.

Highlighting how this man lived his life was the video montage that had short 3 second clips of ordinary people in their every day lives working and living in Alberta. Some where in the middle of that montage was a clip of Ralph walking among a group of people that he seemed to blend right into. At that moment those in attendance erupted in applause. It seemed like we all got it at exactly that moment.

This was a man that led by his principals, believing he was as ordinary as the guy driving a cab or the lady working in the convenience store. Fortunately for us he wasn’t ordinary, he was extraordinary.

God bless the Klein family for sharing this great man with us and God bless Colleen Klein for making him that extraordinary man he was.

 

17th
March

Community in crisis

Rick's Blog

Consort is a typical small town in Alberta located along highway 12 about an hour and a half east of Stettler. This small community of about 700 people has not had access to acute care beds for their community despite having the equipment and doctors in place to provide these emergency services. The Consort hospital serves a very large area in east central Alberta and the lack of access to emergency medical services has put all of the area’s residents at risk.

Consort had the use of their 5 acute care beds suspended as of June 30, 2011 by Alberta Health Services after the loss of the community’s doctor. Alberta Health Services informed the community that, if they were successful in recruiting two doctors, their acute care beds would be reopened. Since that time, the people of Consort took matters into their own hands and recruited the two qualified physicians prescribe by AHS, without aid of the Alberta government.

Frustrated by the lack of response from Alberta Health Services to their request to reopen the acute care beds, residents organized and made the three and a half hour trip to the Alberta Legislature, in less than ideal conditions to make their voices heard. With signs in hand, these determined people protested on the steps of the Legislature and even appeared on the evening news.

As the representative for Drumheller Stettler in the Alberta Legislature, I was honoured to bring forward questions to the Health Minister, asking why after meeting the requirements laid out by AHS, they still have not had their access to acute care reinstated. The response from the Minister to the questions was not committal on any possible timeline to when the acute care beds will be reopening.

It fills me with pride to see the people of this community step up the way the people of Consort have, in true eastern Alberta fashion. These people are committed to their community and I will remain committed to this fight to have the acute care beds reopened.

Health care access in Alberta is becoming increasingly inconsistent throughout rural Alberta. The inconsistency has been created by a number of issues that revolve around the distribution of the spending within the system. The financial resources in AHS do not always make it to the consumer/patient, having been eroded as it passes through the multiple layers of administration.

Alberta’s health care system can be fixed, but we cannot continue to repeat the same flawed strategies and expect different results. Reforming health care will take honest and principled leadership. A Wildrose government will work cooperatively with Albertans and health care professionals, to do what is necessary to build a health care system that puts Albertans first.

 

10th
March

Back in debt

Rick's Blog

The 2013 Budget that was delivered in the Legislature on March 7 had some not so welcome surprises, especially for Alberta’s Agriculture industry. Agriculture operational spending was chopped by a third, or $282 million, to $863 million, highlighted by the elimination of the six cent per litre farm fuel rebate that saved an estimated $30 per tractor or combine every day they were working their fields.

For many of Alberta’s 45,000 farmers these fuel savings can make a significant difference in the profitability of their crop year. The elimination of this fuel rebate will hit young struggling farmers particularly hard and may indeed force some of them to abandon their future plans to continue farming as a profession.

The day after the delivery of Alberta’s 6th straight deficit budget, the Premier said

“We know not everything will be acceptable to everyone but right across the province, we have asked people to be part of the belt-tightening.”

Most everyone will agree that we all need to participate in the belt tightening to affect any real change in order to get our budgeting and deficits under control. It just seems like some people are being asked to tighten their belts a whole lot more than others.

The belt tightening also neglected to address the over-bloated government bureaucracy that currently has a worker-to-manager ratio of 5 to 1, which is in stark contrast to the 10 to 1 ratio the Official Opposition Wildrose has proposed. Through the elimination of non-productive managerial positions, we would produce an immediate saving of $144 million and $360 million annually after four years.

The Alberta government has increased spending by 100% over the last decade doubling the rate of inflation combined with population growth. Increasing spending without restraints is unsustainable and will lead to further and larger deficits resulting in major cuts to services and infrastructure.

In 2004, Premier Klein proudly hoisted a sign declaring Alberta’s debt was “Paid if Full”, 12 years after that historic moment by 2016, Alberta will have a net deficit of $17 billion. In 2009, Alberta had a sustainability fund of $17 billion for a difference of an amazing $34 billion, over just a 7 year period.

The Wildrose Official Opposition has a plan to restore the Alberta Advantage and build towards a debt-free Alberta. The Wildrose Financial Recovery Plan is based on four key pillars: Prevent any new tax or tax increase from being introduced without a provincial referendum; Eliminate the operating deficit immediately in Budget 2013; Eliminate the real cash deficit by Budget 2014; Legislate the Wildrose Balanced Budget and Savings Act in 2014

The Wildrose Financial Recovery Plan would eliminate the deficit in two years by implementing 25 cost-saving recommendations that cut wasteful spending, target government bureaucracy and AHS waste, and protect front-line services.

Below is a link to the Wildrose Financial Recovery Plan

http://www.wildrosecaucus.ca/media/2013/03/Wildrose-Financial-Recovery-Plan-FINAL-3.pdf

 

6th
January

There’s no magic coin

Rick's Blog

For anyone that has been near any form of media in the last few months increasingly you‘re hearing about the debt crisis in the United States. The crisis is due to an overburden of debt caused by consistently overspending beyond their ability to pay that debt back.

The fiscal cliff has been averted, temporarily. In February, the United States will once again reach the maximum borrowing amount it can have from foreign nations also known as their “debt ceiling”.

For a bit of perspective let’s take Alberta, Canada, Greece and the U.S. into consideration. In the light weight division we have a total debt in Alberta of about $58 billion or $15k per person, Canada’s national debt is just over $600 Billion or $17k per person. In the heavy weight division we have Greece who is suffering one of the worst financial disasters in history with a debt of $460 billion or $43k per person. Topping the list is the U.S. with a national debt of about $16.5 trillion or $52k per person.

Assuming debt certainly is a great tool for building wealth and prosperity that is of course if you manage it properly. The open willingness of the Alberta government to accept further debt burden will factor Alberta ever closer to the point of no return. That point takes place when you leverage yourself beyond any possible means of payment.

Jerrold Nadler Representative from New York, tabled the idea of minting a coin to solve their current financial woes adding that “All you do is you tell the Federal Reserve to make a platinum coin for one trillion dollars, and then you deposit it in the Treasury account, and you pay your bills.”

The bad news is, it isn’t that simple. Our monetary systems are based on a commodity such as the gold standard, in which, the commodity itself is made the unit of value and physically used as money. Our paper notes should be theoretically convertible to the commodity on demand. It’s obvious that most currencies today have managed to outstretch even the record high gold market we’re currently seeing, that is actually higher than platinum in value. So theoretically, according to their monetary system, this platinum coin would have to weigh over 330,000 tons. Anything short of that would devalue their currency on the world market by one trillion dollars upon its deposit as legal tender in their treasury.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and that’s what we’re seeing in countries like Greece and the U.S. We’re lucky in Alberta and in Canada that we haven’t reached that point, at least not yet.

I think we can all safely say that learning from our mistakes is wise. Learning from the mistakes of others holds more value than learning from our own mistakes. Both Greece and the U.S. had a debt load of $15k per person at one time, they also had a debt load of $30k per person at one time. They, like every person that runs into financial problems, feel they can handle the burden and then they suddenly realize that they went too far and repayment options rapidly disappear.

Albertans are thought of as the fiscally responsible cousin in Canada, it’s time we prove we are because the Alberta government does not have the option to mint a magic coin to get us out of debt.

 

 

9th
December

What effective Opposition did

Rick's Blog

It was a busy Fall Sitting in the Legislature that saw some of the liveliest debate to happen in Alberta’s capital city in years.

During the Legislative session, government and private members’ Bills were tabled for debate, which allows MLA’s time to discuss the contents of the Bill and why they will or will not be supporting any particular piece of Legislation. Any proposed changes are brought forward in the form of an amendment.

The Wildrose team proposed more than 100 amendments to the different Bills that had been tabled in the house. These amendments are critical to the process of passing a Bill as a safeguard against passing Legislation that will end up being challenged due to any inadequacies or flaws that it may contain. The debate also serves as a good opportunity to get a better understanding of the Legislation.

The government voted down several amendments that were proposed by the Wildrose Opposition to Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act. These were submitted to protect landowner rights, which are being compromised by Bill 2 in its current form. The intended goal of Bill 2 was to streamline development but instead it will have some very negative fallout. According to U of A Law Faculty Professor, Russ Brown, “Bill 2 is shifting the rights away from landowners in favour of oil producers.”

The flawed Bill 4 Public Interest Disclosure Act which is supposed to protect people who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in government has instead put them at serious risk. The Bill has a provision to allow the government the ability to appoint a commissioner that can arbitrarily decide that the complaint will not be investigated, exposing the person that brought the issue forward to possible retribution. The Wildrose amendment tabled to change this was defeated by the government.

Bill 7, the Election Accountability Amendment Act, was met with several amendments because it does not allow the public to ever know which prohibited corporations made illegal donations beyond a three year window looking back. The Wildrose amendment that would have eliminated the statute of limitations on how far back these illegal acts can be investigated, was soundly defeated by the PC government.

Bill 3 the Education Act which finally took into consideration the concerns of faith-based educators and home-school families, was one of the Wildrose successes in the session.

The discussion in the house was carried for the most part by the Wildrose with 61% of the overall debate time while having 28% of seats. The next closest were governing PCs that had only 15.5%.

During question period, Wildrose MLA’s asked 33 questions on ethics, 31 on health care, 20 on election finance laws, 15 on the Province’s dire financial situation, 14 on supporting victims of crime, 14 on infrastructure and transportation, 13 for seniors’ issues, and 9 on education policies. Other Wildrose questions hit on the MLA pay raise – which we opposed.

Even with all of that excitement, it sure will be good to be back in the constituency for a while.

 

3rd
December

Legal doesn’t always mean ethical

Rick's Blog

The Alberta Legislature floor got a little bit hot and even shook a little bit this past week when a controversy broke out over documentation that seems to show a clear conflict of interest, which took place involving the Premier, which she is adamantly denying.

The conflict of interest is over a lucrative $10 billion Provincial tobacco litigation contract, which was awarded to Alison Redford’s ex-husband Robert Hawke’s law firm, which has tens of millions of dollars in fees at stake.

The conflict of interest is illustrated in communications between the then Justice Minister Redford and her staff.

A December 14, 2010 document signed by her stated: “the importance of a ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan, the best choice will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, (Alison Redford’s former husband’s law firm).”

A July 5, 2012, email from Justice spokesman Dan Laville to CBC states: “On December 14, 2010, then Justice Minister Alison Redford determined that ITRL consortium provided the best ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan. The decision was communicated to the consortiums and law firm shortly thereafter.”

The decision as to whether this constitutes a conflict of interest falls to the Alberta Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson. Complaints with the Commissioner have been filed by both the Wildrose and Liberal Opposition parties

Part two of the controversy was raised on a point of privilege by my colleague Rob Anderson and fellow Wildrose MLA from Airdrie. The point raised was that the Premier was in contempt of the legislature for misleading the house.

The allegations of misleading the house stems from the Premier’s denial of having made the decision claiming she was not the Justice Minister at the time the decision was made to award the litigation contract.

The document signed by Alison Redford making the decision on the contract was dated December 14, 2010. She did not resign from her post as Justice Minister until February of 2011.

The decision on the point of privilege will be made by the Speaker Gene Zwozdesky. He has reserved his decision until Monday December 3 on this matter.

Actually making the decision on the conflict of interest is going to come down to the splitting of hairs on the exact nature of the relationship between the Premier and her former spouse. Robert Hawkes led the team for the Premier that transitioned her into the Premier’s office showing that there is and has been an ongoing relationship in some form between the two.

Making the decisions on whether she is in contempt of the Legislature comes down to determining whether she was or was not the Justice Minister when the contract was awarded. I’ll let the evidence speak for itself on this issue.

 

4th
November

How the Opposition Works

Rick's Blog

Since being elected in the spring election as a member of the Wildrose Official Opposition some constituents have expressed concerns with not having an MLA in the governing party. In some ridings including this one it’s been many years since their member of the Legislature has been in the opposition party rather than the governing party.

For democracy to be fair it must be more than just a heavy handed majority rules mentality to be an effective manner of governing for all of its citizens.

A quote from author James Bovard from his book Lost Rights, The Destruction of American Liberty, best describes how democracy is not as cut and dried as some would have you think.

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

Bovard perfectly describes what an official opposition party’s responsibility is in a democratic society. The opposition acts as the sheep’s advocate by ensuring we have proper checks and balances within the process. An effective Opposition party also exposes details and possible motives of any proposed Legislation that is put before the house that may include tabling amendments to Legislation and Bills.

While the Legislature is in session questions are asked during a designated time called Question Period. During this time questions are posed by members of the Legislature to the Ministers and the Premier with regards to the ongoing operations of the government (checks and balances). Question period serves an important function by holding those in power accountable for the ministries they are responsible for.

An effective opposition challenges the government by asking questions that are sometimes uncomfortable for them to answer. The common misunderstanding is that the Opposition is “lashing out” or “attacking” the government by asking these important questions. Essentially by having an unchallenged government you end up with two wolves having a sheep for dinner, with you the tax payers being the sheep.

As a Wildrose Official Opposition member I am allowed and encouraged to express the views and opinions of my constituents without fear of party sanctions or retribution for not following predetermined party lines. Wildrose also allows its members to vote freely in the house on Legislation without being tied to party agendas, Wildrose is the only party inAlbertathat allows this.

Alberta’s Opposition has been largely ineffective in past years due to the low number of seats held by their parties. Essentially it meant that all those who did not support the governing party inAlbertawere relegated to being the sheep James Bovard was referring to.

The goal of the Wildrose Official Opposition is to hold this government accountable and make sure we have something other than lamb chops for dinner. In order to have democracy as it was intended a voice other than that of the majority must be heard, otherwise it is not democracy at all.

 
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