Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Alberta Party

I was reading a blog the other day by a young guy named Justin who just couldn’t see the Alberta Party as something worth supporting… was holding onto the idea that the Alberta Liberal Party is the natural home to the progressive vote in Alberta. He described himself as “the kind of person you’d expect to be in the Alberta Party.” He continued on to describe himself as a young person who lives in a downtown condo with a job in the ‘creative economy’ and a strong supporter of human rights and a proponent of a mostly free market economy. Young Justin’s blog was good, but I think he’s missing something.

See, I don’t live in a downtown condo (I'd probably jump out the window if I did). I’m not young. Grey hair has replaced my dark brown locks. I don’t have a cool job in the “creative economy” nor am I ever likely to. I live in a drafty old farmhouse. We grow flowers and saskatoon berries, which bring in little money but require lots of physical work. I spend most of my days in dirty coveralls. We don’t have extra money to go to the theatre or take vacations. In fact, the only theatre I attend offers two girls fighting over one bathroom in the morning. Now that's drama.

I can’t afford either the time or money to sit in Starbucks. I make my coffee at home and carry it to work in a thermos, where I hope someone else bought a newspaper so I can catch up on the day’s happenings. I have to budget just to buy new socks and long underwear for the coming cold. The other night, while most people were snug in bed, I was working the job that supports my farm…. lying in the snow, between the rails, under a freight train, strapping up dragging equipment. Two days ago I was up to my elbows butchering a deer that will help keep us through the winter.

If Justin’s analysis was correct, I’m hardly the sort of guy you would expect to have any interest in the Alberta Party. My world is so distant from the condo dwelling urbanites Justin describes as likely candidates to support the Alberta Party, I sometimes think there’s a time warp between us and I suspect if Justin met me… filthy from head to toe, deer blood on my coat, he might dismiss me completely for someone so foreign to his values we couldn’t even communicate.

But Justin (and a ton of other urban progressives) would be surprised by what we rural rubes know about our province… and for the worry we are saddled with for the future of our Alberta. Dismissing the Alberta Party as a party for urban Albertans is a mistake. It’s a mistake the Liberal Party of Alberta and the New Democrats traditionally make (even though they say they don’t). The truth is, there is as much dissatisfaction in rural Alberta these days as there is anywhere else in this province, and considerably more common ground than people like Justin can imagine.

My rural neighbours may never think of themselves as progressives. In fact, I would say a majority of rural Albertans strongly self-identify as small ‘c’ conservatives. We might never see ourselves as strong supporters of human rights, but you will never get a fairer shake than in the hundreds of little communities dotted around this province. We might not be able to tell the difference between modern Twitter and a old-fashioned twit, but we know first-hand the tenuous nature of landowners’ rights in this province. We may eat wild meat occasionally, but we also understand the vital importance of fresh water, the value of healthy food, the nature of true conservation and the value of our natural heritage. And even more (I suspect) than urban Albertans, we can see by the crumbling infrastructure in our small towns that life in rural Alberta is not thriving and our way of life is at risk.

Rural Albertans are looking for a change in government. To date, the only party who seems to be courting us is the Wildrose Alliance. I’ve been to their meetings and almost without exception I am the youngest person in the room (at 49). I have heard the cozy words about “taking back the province” and “bringing accountability back to government.” Yet there is something stale in the Wildrose Alliance. They just don’t strike me as an option for a better future for this province… and their cozy relationship with the petrochemical industry frightens me.

So what do we have? The PCs? Nope… unless they bring back Peter Lougheed and his band of young origninal thinkers. The WRA? Not unless I see some distance from the monied old interests, and a lot more youth at local gatherings. The Liberals? You’re kidding right? I want a chance to be on the winning side of an election and the ALP hasn’t had that in nearly a hundred years. The NDP? (see Liberal… only way more so).

People talk about a party that can capture the imagination of Albertans. That’s the problem. Albertans’ imagination and dreams were captured 40 years ago… and they are still being held captive. I’m looking for a party that sets those dreams and aspirations free again… a party that encourages dreaming and imagination… that will reward and support new ideas that diversify our economy without devaluing our environment… or dismissing elements of our society. What I am looking for is a party that takes good ideas from wherever they come… the left… the right… the centre… the north… the south… wherever. I’m looking for a party that offers Albertans the chance to dream again.

I want to counter the perception that the Alberta Party is for young, progressive urbanites only. What attracted me was the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds. We may not always speak the same language. We may not always see the world in the same light. We may sometimes differ about the best options for Alberta. That’s all ahead for us. However, it is the spirit of working together, being respectful of good ideas wherever they come from… and above all the chance to build an Alberta we can be proud of again.

I’d like to tell young Justin, “we can all meet in the Alberta Party.” If he brings the latte and laptops… I’ll bring the jerky and saskatoon wine.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The truth is the truth

I had an interesting exchange yesterday with a few guys in the local cafe. Everyone in my little hamlet knows me as the "Green-Liberal"guy. I'm often confronted with questions and comments when people know I am going to have a opposing point of view. It's like they enjoy baiting me with low-hanging fruit. It's become somewhat of a sport around here watching me jump at it.

When I walked into the cafe yesterday, I heard murmurs of, "let's ask the greenie what he thinks." I readied myself for something.

Four people having coffee at "their table" wanted to know what I thought of Bill O'Reilly on "The View." Oddly enough I'd just watched the clips of the controversy where Whoopi Goldberg and Jo Behar walked off their own set after Bill O'Reilly claimed of 9-11, "Muslims killed us."

Of course Goldberg and Behar (famous TV liberals in America) took offense and wanted O'Reilly (TV's arch conservative) to amend his statement to something like, "radical Muslims killed us" on 9-11. When he wouldn't, they walked off. They came back later, but that was the crux of the matter.

The guys in the New Sarepta Market Cafe felt O'Reilly's claim was perfectly coherent and it was true that... since the 19 men who carried out the 9-11 attacks were Muslim... the statement "Muslims killed us" was true.

One actually said, "truth is truth. They were Muslims. We're North Americans... so it's true... they killed us."

I responded that truth is often more complex, and involves a deeper understanding and of circumstance and surrounding facts. The New Sarepta boys guffawed and started again to taunt me with, "the truth is the truth, don't try and play it down."

"Okay," I said. "I'll give you another truth then. Christians killed 168 people in the Oklahoma Bombings."

That got them bubbling over: "Being Christian wasn't the prime motive behind the bombing.... Those guys weren't real Christians.... They didn't come from a different county.... The two incidents are totally different...."

"Yeah," I conceded, "but the truth is the truth. Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichol were Christians. They blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. They killed 168 men, women and children. What happened to [the truth is the truth], guys?"

The coffee-drinkin' boys didn't like that. They continued to explain why the two examples are totally different. I just sat there shaking my head. "I agree, they're different, guys. I'm not claiming their the same... but the truth is the truth."

Then... at some point in the back and forth, one guy claimed, "but you're trying to paint all Christians as whacko militia members."

"No. I'm not," I countered. "I'm not saying anything of the sort. I'm only using one [absolutely true] statement. You're the ones taking what I'm saying out of context because my [truth] is quite incomplete and misleading... isn't it? That's exactly what O'Reilly intended by his use of the word Muslims... rather than extremist Muslims."

They kept on with their arguments. I just kept mumbling, "but what happened to [the truth is the truth]?"

As always, when we parted they had no idea I'd won the argument. I think they actually pity my demented view of the world... but they buy me coffee now and again, so I can't complain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today's Seven Deadlies

I was in Banff last week, sitting beside the hotel pool while my kids played, and I picked up a copy of the Calgary Sun... something I never get to do... and probably wouldn't do very often, if I had the chance. At any rate, I read Michael Coren's column and liked it. In it, he addressed a new book: "The Misogynist," by Piers Paul Read which describes “the Seven Sins of the Secular State.”

Those sins are racism, misogyny, homophobia, elitism, smoking, obesity and religious belief.

Using some of Coren's ideas... subtracting others... and adding my own to replace those, I'd like to--more or less--reproduce the column (without permission [yikes] but with gratitude and credit to Coren).

RACISM. It's awful to really hate someone because of their race... no question about that, but when people cry, "racism" to counter any argument they don't have an answer to, the term loses it's credibility. Ours is a multi-cultural community, and I would have it no other way. Yet multiculturalism means we have to live together, and we have to address differences and negotiate a society we all need to build together. That's going to result in some pretty difficult discussions that we'd all better be prepared to engage.

MISOGENY. Only a nut could hate half the population of the planet because they are women. Yet there are still large pockets of society that cannot fathom women taking an equal role. Our society will never realise it's full potential until gender does not prevent someone from realising their full potential.

HOMOPHOBIA. If someone genuinely hates homosexuals simply because they are homosexual, he/she is a sad example of a human being. I do, however, accept that some folks feel uncomfortable talking about homosexuality and special rights for groups because of sexuality. That discussion has to happen without those who question special rights and protections based on sexuality, otherwise those people will never get past their pre-judgement of a large portion of our society.

ELITISM. I hate that this term is used by people who have simply run out of arguments against a more prepared or knowledgeable person. It is now used by many in this country to call down those with a more complex formula for government. Rather than open their minds to the possibility they may be wrong, those who hold onto dogmatic arguments simply flee to name-calling. Especially in Alberta, to be seen as an academic snob (elitist) is almost as bad as being called a child molester. There is nothing wrong with complex ideas to address complex problems and we'd better get on board with that idea or we will never get beyond our one-trick pony economy.

SMOKING. I hate smoking and I hate tobacco companies for making billions on death. Yet it is equally stupid to hate people who smoke... most of whom know they are killing themselves... and would like to stop... but have not yet found the power to do it. As long as they don't blow smoke in my face... and butt out on the street, it's still a free country.

OBESITY. I gotta lose 30 pounds... so what can I say? I’d rather spend time with an obese person who was kind, witty and intelligent than a skinny person who was nasty, boring and stupid.

RELIGION. Unless religion tells you to be unkind to others... or not accept that a faith in something different is okay, too, I'm fine with people who need to believe in an external reward for being a better human being. Life is complicated and often brutal. For those of us who don't want to think it's completely random, God helps.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Poll of My Own

I have been doing an informal poll of my own. I have been asking front-line RCMP officers here in rural Alberta what they think of the gun registry. To my surprise an overwhelming majority of them support a continuation of the registry in one form or another.

They comment that while they do not depend on the registry's information for their safety, when answering a call, it is one more piece of information... and that if they find that a person has weapons registered, they can begin to build a mindset of who they are dealing with.

However, they also tell me that a rural gun owner will still kill his wife with a long gun, regardless of whether it is registered or not... so the idea that it saves lives on the farm when domestic violence begins is bogus (in their eyes), but they claim the registry helps them trace weapons that have been found at crime scenes... or even in the ditch... and helps them build a history of the weapon.

I was hesitant to ask law enforcement officers about the registry because I was sure (from all the media reports) that front-line officers are opposed to a continuation of the registry. I was surprised to find the opposite.

The officers I spoke with (Tim Hortons has been a great place to find them when I come home late from working), believe the media have gotten hold of a few front-line police officers who have other issues and wish to use their opposition to the registry as a lever to further those issues.

As far as law enforcement goes, the majority of officers I have spoken with over the last two weeks are supportive of continuing the registry in one form or another.

Personally, this is good news because the "front-line officers-oppose-the-registry" position is the one most of my conservative neighbours use to oppose the registry. Now, I simply tell them to go ask ten police officers themselves. I am confident that, while they may find a few that oppose it, the majority will support it... and perhaps get them to question where their own position comes from.

However, this is Alberta... so getting folks to question Conservatives might is a bit like bailing out the Athabasca River Basin....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The End of Summer...almost

It's August 22nd today... and I sold what I believe is our last pail of berries today.... The greenhouse is closed and there will be no more pickers coming for berries. For the first time since the first week of May, we won't be expecting customers. I know a good businessman should never look forward to having no customers, but there is a big part of me that has begun to smile. Since I started planting tomatoes in the greenhouse at the end of February, every day has been an open-for-business day.

I'm worn out. We still have to harvest the garden. and put away the vegetables. Mika has to can and make jams and pie fillings... and then her orders of salsa, but for the most part, life begins to slow down just a bit. I can do a bit of work around the place without having to stop every few minutes to talk with customers or explain flowers or berries or whatever.

When I was a kid, summer was a time to lay on the grass and look up at the clouds. As a greenhouse owner and berry farmer, summer means endless work and worry. I don't know if it's worth it. I love the berries and I love growing things, but I would also like to take my kids canoeing or fishing or other things that people who do not work 16 hours a day do.

I told Mika tonight that next year, we shouldn't work so hard. We shouldn't plant so many flowers. We shouldn't worry so much whether people come to pick or not. We shouldn't spend so much on advertising. We shouldn't try to grow the business. We should... rather... enjoy life a little bit more. Being able to grow our own food and flowers is a grea...t and wonderful way to live life. But maybe, just maybe... we don't have to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Still, I don't think I'd want to head into September without my own tomatoes ripening on the vines I planted last February or the saskatoon schnapps I make... or the potatoes in the basement that will last until spring.

Still, I don't know anyone who looks forward to summer as much as I do... and then is so incredibly happy when it's over.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Performance Bonuses

Last week it was revealed the Alberta Health Services CEO and President Stephen Duckett was awarded performance bonuses of nearly $150,000 above his base salary of $595,000 for improvements seen under his tenure.

Huh? Excuse one of the plebes for wondering WTF. I can't say from anything other than simple perception, but since Steve came to town, I haven't noticed any improvements to the system. Quite to the contrary, I have seen chaos and obfuscation to a greater extent than I saw before our Australian super-hero came to the Great White North. So forgive me for wondering why it is he is being so richly rewarded... especially when most of the "street-level" improvements within the system seem to have come from the recommendations of the people working the front lines of the health care system: doctors, nurses and techs.

Am I the only one that senses a disconnect between provincial politicians who seem to think there's nothing odd about giving a fellow $595,000 a year to do a job and then when he does it, he gets a reward for doing the job he was paid to do in the first place.

A friend of mine (in the business sector--oddly enough) tried to explain to me that this sort of incentive bonus scheme is common in top executive packages... as if that would explain it. Well, it did throw me off the trail for a few hours. After all, who am I to question the machinations of big business? I'm just a berry farmer, and that sort of high-finance isn't really within my grasp.

Then I slept on it... and it occurred to me that maybe just because this sort of practice is common practice in big business, it isn't actually right, especially since Alberta Health is not big business, but rather a wing of government... and government is (or ought to be) acting in the public interest and not the interest of share-holders. Really, in this case, the share-holders are plebes like me anyway, eking out lives on far less than $595,000 a year... without incentive bonuses.

Well, that's not exactly true. My company does offer me a pretty-hard-to-ignore incentive bonus... of sorts; it's generally put in these terms: "do what we pay you for or get fired."

Works for me... and tens of thousands of others. That's why it's so tough to understand that performance incentives ought to be given out almost as a matter of course to executives... even when the proof of their performance is not always tangible (and I don't believe it is in this case).

Common place or not... I wonder what Stephen Duckett did to earn his huge bonus? Aside from listening to the suggestions of a few health care professionals at the pointy edge of the whole operation, I can't see that he did very much.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Atilla the Marxist

During my 15 years in China and Japan, many of my friends were other ex-pat Canadians. We had a lot in common. We played on local hockey teams and drank beer together in local establishments and got together to celebrate the sorts of things Canadians celebrate. I was always happy to be among them and we will be friends forever. Yet being the only Albertan out of the core group of long-time ex-pats, it never failed that when talk turned to Canadian politics, I would be singled out as the right-winged red-necked Albertan and made to feel somehow guilty for my home province.

It was always Alberta’s fault that Canada wasn’t doing enough to combat global warming and that our petroleum-based economy was somehow evil and a drag on the good name of the country. When it came to stereotyping, my Canadian pals would target me as the least tolerant… someone who didn’t appreciate the arts, homo-phobic… and a male chauvinist pig. As the beers flowed their wrath increased. As an Albertan, I took a lot of heat for what my “greedy, money-grubbing” province meant to my fellow Canadians.

Not only am I not any of the things I was accused of, my province is not made up of people who fit that negative billing. Still, the drunken accusations made by those friends got stuck in my mind. When I brought my family back home, I saw a number of trends that caused me concern. I wondered if it isn't those trends that somehow grow into the anti-Albertan feeling other parts of the country often label us with.

Indeed, Alberta still depends almost solely on petroleum exploitation, and the businesses that surround it. We lack an economic-environmental balance. We don’t support for the arts with much enthusiasm. We put constant pressure on health care workers and educators. And anyone with a disability struggling to get by in this fast-paced society is very hard-pressed to cope. I also noticed a diminished accountability of elected officials and the growing dearth of democracy were all things that struck a negative cord within me and I started getting involved in political action.

The place I initially settled was within the Green Party of Alberta. While its policies were a bit thin on the ground, the general direction the party seemed to be heading in was one that interested me. The people involved were a mix of deep-green idealists and a good number of new members who seemed more pragmatic and ready to actually seek power and influence within the political system.

Sadly, the Green Party of Alberta fell apart. That left me looking again. The PCs are not what they used to be under Peter Lougheed. In fact, they’ve pretty much been in the pocket of big money since Mr. Lougheed left. The NDP and the Liberals have proven themselves unable to inspire Albertans… and the Wildrose Alliance… well, it looks farther right than I am comfortable with... and way to cozy with the petrochemical industry.

The funny thing is, that now that I live in east-central (rural) Alberta, my neighbours see me as a whacky cross between a "tree-hugging" Green and a "do-gooder" Liberal. That would cause a whole lot of confusion within my old circle of non-Albertan friends. "How could Attila the Albertan become Karl Marx," they wonder. Yet, now when I speak out about the need to protect the environment and look for new economic models for future growth, my neighbours “tut-tut” as if I were some green reincarnation of Karl Marx.

Albertans are wonderful, charitable, hard-working folks. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned into believing that the Right is right and the left is some conspiracy to destroy the west thought up by Pierre Trudeau before he died.

I’m not a righty… or a lefty. I’m someone who wants to see responsible leadership in this province... and one that makes decisions based on research and evidence rather basing policy on the personal ideology of a few. I want to see a government that looks farther into the future than the next election and builds the province with a sustainable vision in mind... and not one that is not going to make the environment subservient to short-term economic gain.

That’s what interests me about the Alberta Party. It is (for now) neither right nor left… but listening to ALL Albertans. It's taking a good deal of flak from all sides. But I understand that. It's what happens when you stand occupy the middle ground. As long as this party continues to listen, I’m interested in participating in the discussion. At least it something new that's giving a chance to the idea that being moderate is playable in Alberta.

I don't know how far this party will go... or if it will ever really get off the ground, but because I don't self-identify as a "Lefty" or "Righty" I'm interested in participating in a discussion that is not created along the lines of that old model.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Of Mice and my Kids

Lately I've been all over my kids for all sorts of things. They whine about the smallest things. They fight with one another over who uses whose brush... who did what to whom... and who didn't do what they were supposed to do.

For the past six months I have been working close to eleven hours a day, six days a week... plus getting our greenhouse in... and recently readying the berry farm for the season. Yet, when I come home, the dogs, cats and goats aren't fed. Bicycles lie everywhere... and things that anyone could have picked up in the yard are left for poor old dad.

This morning I had a bit of a meltdown when I woke up to a screaming seven-year old because she didn't want to wear her pink jacket. I don't know why suddenly this jacket wasn't in fashion... and I didn't really have the patience for a seven-year old's explanation. I just stripped it off her and told her to go to school in the blizzard in her short sleeves.

More crying! More screaming! Then I lost it and started screaming back... which sort of got all their attention. I know... I know... a parent who screams isn't a great parent. I felt bad about it all day.

But tonight all three of my kids were more contrite than I have seen them in a while, and our home was calm, peaceful and cooperative (like the family I dream of having). It was so nice that I even made everyone Masala tea before bed and we sat down to read the last part of the Steinbeck novel "Of Mice and Men."

When we got to the part where George kills his friend Lennie... and he does it while soothing Lennie that everything is all right, my eleven-year-old daughter and fourteen-year-old son both got very emotional. I did too. I can never read that part without my voice quavering. The youngest daughter (seven) didn't really get it... and she'll probably wake up tomorrow morning whining about something trivial, but two out of three ain't bad.

Yet with the eleven-year old in tears and the fourteen-year old with red eyes pretending not to be affected, I saw something wonderful in my kids that this morning I could not have imagined. They are reachable by great literature and the vulnerability of human frailty.

I loved them for loving a piece of literature that lives deeply in my heart. I felt close to them because I they share something with me.

I hope I remember this tomorrow when I trip over bicycles on the way to feed the animals they ought to have fed.

Had anyone told me being a father was this confusing and difficult... I suspect I never would have chosen to have three of the little anchors. Yet, there are moments... like the one tonight... when I understand these anchors tie me to something solid, real and wonderful and aren't just anchors holding me down.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Good to the Last Drop... if you can afford it.

This coming fall, the Government of Alberta will be amending Alberta's Water Act and expand the system of selling water to the highest bidder.

The idea of selling water rights to the highest bidder is repugnant to most Albertans. It seems this government is again trying to facilitate business at the risk of the environment and the well-being of average citizens. However, that doesn't seem to bother Mr. Stelmach, et. al. As long as what they do caters to industry (and particularly the petro-chemical industry) they ignore the long-term outlook of the province.

Alberta is the driest province in Canada with only 900 lakes (as opposed to 100,000) in Manitoba. Perhaps more than any other Canadian, Albertans understand the importance of water to the sustainability of our province... and our tradition of family farms. Access to fresh water is the birthright of every citizen. Water is precious and Albertans know it. For the sake of monetary gain, our current government is now contemplating limiting our access to water.

Unfortunately, we are governed by a party that cannot see the forest for the trees. Selling water to the highest bidder makes sense to this bunch government MLAs who believes everything in this province is up for sale. Short-term thinking for immediate profit. Nothing new for Alberta's PCs.

Selling water to the highest bidder... along with the loosened environmental oversight this province is behind bodes poorly for the future of this province. It will put the final nails into the coffin of many family farms and drive rural folks off their land. Unable to water livestock or crops, there will be an exodus from Alberta farms. The land will be left to those who can afford the highest bids for water... and who are they? You don't have to be a member of MENSA to figure it out.

As obvious and trite as it is to write... water is life. Selling water is equivalent to selling life. Water cannot be controlled by those with the most money. A government whose principles were to ensure the well-being of its citizens would never consider privatising water. The concept is simply absurd. Whoever controls water, controls life.

Water is a basic human right. Human rights cannot be paid for by those with access to the greatest financial power. Water is a resource that must be protected by responsible governments FOR the well-being of everyone... and not only those who can afford to exploit it.

Excuse the pun, but amendments to Alberta's Water Act ought to be a "watershed" event for this government. Choosing to give up Alberta's fresh water to the highest bidder ought to be the "straw" that breaks the back of this tired government.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Serious Threat

The latest edition of the Sherwood Park News has on it's front page a photo of the Suncor refinery in Strathcona belching out black and yellow smoke into the skies of Strathcona. The caption says:

"Smoke pours from the Suncor refinery in Strathcona County just off Baseline Road on Monday. The smoke was from a process upset but there was no serious threat to the public."

NO SERIOUS THREAT? Well... what kind of a threat does poisonous gas present to people living nearby?

Fire Department officials said the smoke was "a release of catalyst and hydrocarbons into the atmosphere."

I don't know about others, but looking at the crap that gets pumped into our skies day after day after day makes me very nervous. I work in the "Industrial Heartlan" in Sturgeon County and every day I pass chemical and fertilizers factories and LPG and Condensate docks where smoke stacks constantly flare and spew. I know that the railway rails my trains run over are constantly oxidized by the fallout of the cooling towers and pollution stacks.

I wonder what price we are paying for the life we are leading when we accept that this black and yellow smoke is something normal... something we should expect occasionally as a price for our modern lifestyles. Is the price perhaps too high? Are we turning a blind eye to the damage we are doing to ourselves. Do we let the corporations get away too easily with telling us there is "no serious threat" from the crap they spew into the environment?

Although Suncor claimed there was no serious threat to the public, they did admit to evacuating their own personnel from the site.

Suncor also claimed that air monitoring results were well within acceptable limits. We have to believe Suncor because the province doesn't actually test anymore. We've deregulated so far that we leave it up to the polluters to tell us whether they are polluting or not. That's just weird.

This particular release lasted only an hour, but I can tell you that these releases are not rare. The guys I work with at the Agrium fertiliser plant in Redwater have told me that if I am ever downwind of a yellow smoke release coming from one particular stack I should bend over and kiss my ass goodbye. Very reassuring.

When asked what effects people could see if they were exposed to the cloud, she repeated the air quality monitoring was within acceptable limits.

Day in and day out, our skies are filled with pollutants and crap that is the product of our "civilized" lives. We accept that they are not a danger to our well-being because the polluters tell us everything is okay.

I look at that black and yellow smoke and I just think... "no matter what they say, that just can't be good."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

MLA Speaks in New Sarepta

My little village isn't famous... yet. But we aim to make New Sarepta a center of public debate and open dialogue.

New Sarepta is found just 20 miles east of Leduc, and only a 30-minute drive from the southeast corner of Edmonton. It was once a thriving community with grain elevators, farm equipment dealerships, several stores and a couple of gas stations. Yet as the area around Edmonton has exploded with growth, New Sarepta has suffered because of the costs of keeping up with what larger centers have to offer.

New Sarepta has the potential to be a thriving rural community again. It's close to the city and virtually next door to the International Airport. Yet the question arises, how do communities like ours respond to the demands of modern society in a way that ensures we remain vibrant communities that attract new residents and sustainable development.

The Friends of the Library in New Sarepta has invited Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths to present "13 Ways to Kill Your Community" in the New Sarepta Agriplex on Tuesday, May 4th. Although titled with tongue-in-cheek, Doug Griffith's presentation addresses the issues surrounding the withering of Alberta's rural communities and is a must-attend event for anyone interested in the future of rural Alberta.

Doug Griffiths is one of the province's most gifted speakers and is concerned about the sustainability of Alberta's rural communities. Mr. Griffiths has become famous for his use of social media, often twittering and facebooking from inside caucus meetings.

Doug will be in the New Sarepta Agriplex on Tuesday, May 4th from 6:45 to give is noted presentation to area residents and local politicians. Everyone with interest in rural municipal affairs and the general direction of rural life in this province is welcome.

There will be no charge for attendance (though donations will be gratefully accepted). Beer and wine will be available as well as coffee, tea and light snacks.

Support our little local village and help build New Sarepta a place where ideas are discussed and debated openly and enthusiastically.

For more information, call me (Will) at 780-297-3811.

See you there.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Am I a Progressive?

I did the inconceivable this weekend and took two days off to attend the REBOOT 2.0 conference at the Delta Kananaskis. Me taking time off work except for being too sick to get out of bed or because of a family emergency is rarer than the USA beating Canada in an Olympic gold medal game. Yet, I drove 400 km to a very plush hotel and attended a conference of self-described "progressives" to consider what that label actually means... and if it does mean anything, what sort of agenda can we collectively pursue to make Alberta a more "progressive" province.

Reflecting on my own perceptions, I've always felt myself to be a small 'l' liberal... yet for reasons of convenience, I've always labelled myself a small 'c' conservative... not that labels matter that much. Still, I always plopped myself in the Red Tory category when labels were needed. It's just easier... and until the Ralph Klein, Stephen Harper and Ed Stelmach eras, I had no real feelings of conflict between the way I felt and what I called myself.

This weekend I found myself among more than 100 people who it might be said share a similar set of values with me. For the most part I wasn't surprised by much of what anyone said, or the directions of the conversations I was involved in. It seems all of us want a more inclusive society with more social justice and an insurance that the most vulnerable in society will not suffer. We accept that modern problems require complex solutions and that decisions made by government need to be made based on research and evidence rather than on specific ideologies.

This was a room full of articulate, intelligent folks who (for the most part) had no trouble with communication. This was a group who I quite closely identified with when we talked about values and policies we would like to see. The vision that most people in the room had for the future of the province was much closer to my own than the one I see the province now pursuing.

Yet I can't say I was entirely comfortable at the conference. While the group espoused values that I think could be sold to 80% of Albertans because the basis of those values is one that most caring people share. Still, I couldn't help feel that if some of the folks who spoke up at the conference lived and worked in my everyday world... if they had to engage the same down-to-earth neighbours and colleagues that I meet every day, there would be friction.

I'm not all together why I felt it... but I did. I think there were simply too many four-syllable words and phrases like, "social dichotomy," and "parallel planes of reference" that wouldn't wash in my world. I wasn't even sure at times what the hell some people meant.

We all recognise that we want more time with our families and our neighbours. We all want to feel secure that as we grow old, we will not be abandoned. We all seek justice. We all want integrity from our elected officials. I have no doubt that the values of the people I met with this weekend are the same values as the people I meet at the arena... the guys and gals I work with and the majority of the rest of the people I meet on a daily basis in rural Alberta.

Yet I'm nagged by a feeling that if some of the people who were acting as spokespersons used the same way of talking out here in the country, the ideas we all share wouldn't even get a hearing. There would be no listening because of the patterns of speech and words employed.

This is not to say that I did not meet a handful of people I want to stay in touch with. Some of those I spoke to moved me greatly with their stories and their passion. There were people in that room who will be able to connect the values we shared this weekend with whoever they come into contact with. There were lots of them, actually. It's just that it wasn't everyone.

It was a profound realisation that while we share values... and a vision of a better province... there really is a difference in the way we talk in the city and the way we talk in the country.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's all in the oxfords, I guess.

Last week on my way home from a particularly tough midnight shift, which lasted until 10:30, I stopped in at a Second Cup to wind down, have a strong cup of something hot and read the newspaper. It had been a freezing night. I was cold and tired but not quite ready for bed. I entered the coffee shop in my grubby winter work jacket, my boots and my unkempt toque-head and unshaven, red face. I may have looked a sight to some of the suburban folks sitting, but I took no notice. All I wanted was that hot cup of coffee and my copy of the Edmonton Journal.

I was about most of the way through the front section, reading the Op-Ed pages when a man in a nice suit came over and started thumbing through the other sections of my paper, which I had left on the chair beside me. I looked up a little startled, as if to ask what he was doing. He looked back and said, "I'm goining to take the Business Section; you're not going to read it!"

I thought I must have heard him wrong and asked, "What?"

"Well," he condescended, "you're not going to read the Business Section, are you?"

Ahhh, I thought, he doesn't think some bum in a work-style coat, wearing big safety boots and looking as dishevelled as I did that morning would have any interest in the financial pages of the paper.

"Oh, I get it," I nodded. "You don't think someone like me would read the Business Section. Is that it."

"Well," he stammered, "I just assumed...."

"You assumed that because I look like this, I'm too uneducated to be able to understand or care about economics." "Well, here's the deal," I continued, "you can have the business section while I'm finishing off the Front Section and the City Section. However, once I'm done, I will want the Business Section of the paper I BOUGHT."

"Oh, I'm sorry," he retreated. "I didn't mean to say that you couldn't understand economics." Then he put the paper down and walked away.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I did like my mother told me and got a good education. I just happen to like working outside better and have chosen labour over the inside jobs I used to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Last week I wrote a letter to my local member of parliament protesting the prorogation of our national parliament for the second time in just over a year. The first time to avoid a vote of confidence... the very first time in Canadian history that prorogation had ever been used to avoid the downfall of a government.

In the letter I asked Mr. Benoit (MP) five questions:

1. Was Parliament prorogued to halt the investigation into the torture of Afghan detainees? If not, will it be restarted when Parliament resumes?

2. If Peter MacKay did not receive the reports of torture, please explain the testimonies of Richard Colvin and General Walter Natynczyk in which they say that the reports were passed to the minister.

3. Prior to this government, Parliament has never been prorogued to avoid a confidence vote or to halt an investigation. If your party forms the next government, will you continue to suspend Parliament whenever you deem it necessary?

4. Many Canadians want the government to get back to work; will you continue to collect your salary while Parliament is prorogued?

5. Democracy is under threat in Canada, in no small part due to the actions of your party. Given the recent record of PM Harper, kindly explain how you intend to restore the confidence of Canadians that democracy still means "the will of the people."

I was pleased that Mr. Benoit responded (probably because I sent the letter to newspapers around the region and he felt compelled... he often does not respond to letters I send). Basically, his response was to obfuscate the issue of prorogation by explaining that it has been done 105 times before and there was nothing extraordinary about prorogation.

What he did not address was the calculated way both of these prorogations have avoided potentially negative outcomes for his government... by avoiding a vote of confidence and by postponing an investigation into the ethics of our Minister of Defense.

While I expected nothing less, the most offensive part of his response came when he accused "opposition" parties of criticising Canada's Armed Forces. To my knowledge, none of the opposition parties has criticised the courage or dedication of our fighting men and women. The criticism is directed at an elected member of parliament and the investigation is to get at the facts surrounding the ethics of the government... and not the men and women in Afghanistan.

Samuel Johnson said it best in 1775: "Patriotism is the last refuge scoundrels."

Canadians should be getting very concerned with a government that suspends parliament to avoid criticism and then targets those who use their right to freedom of expression as unpatriotic.