It perplexes me that a pumpkin in the place of popular Premier Prentice piques people. Perhaps the public has a pinhole perspective on political participation.
I worked on that all day.
So skip the alliteration - I really am baffled when people show indignation at the leader of the PC Party of Alberta not showing up to a forum. They have no good reason to show surprise and disappointment.
This is the norm for the Mr. Prentice. Voters should have seen it coming.
In August of 2014, he was invited to the Alberta Teachers' Association's Summer Conference. He didn't show, despite a carrot being offered to get him there. Thomas Lukaszuk got the stage, and Ric McIver at least made a token appearance. Granted, there was no pumpkin there that time.
Prentice's reward: the Premiership of Alberta.
What else could he have possibly learned? He certainly didn't learn that if you don't show up, you don't get elected. He learned that if he stayed away, he would get elected. So he did.
And a pumpkin took his place. I'll bet that pumpkin doesn't get elected.
Maybe he thought the pumpkin would represent him well at a forum sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired.
Prentice was given affirmation of that lesson learned during the PC leadership election itself. He was elected with less than half the votes cast in the 2011 leadership race, and less than one-sixth of the votes on the second ballot in 2006. Therefore he learned that if voters don't show up, he gets elected.
So what better way to get into office than to disappoint voters to the point of apathy?
He's counting on voters being thick. He might be right.
I can only guess that the indignation I see on social media suggests voters didn't see it coming, that they fully expected Prentice to show up.
Mind you, if voters really are thick, it's probably because they keep building up the callus from banging their heads against the wall.
I have hope that voters aren't that thick, though. After all, they were prepared enough for an absent Premier that they had a pumpkin ready to take his place.
So voters, if you aren't thick, then you shouldn't be surprised. And should he be elected, you shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't show up to Question Period and lets his Deputy Premier field the tough questions for him.
Sound familiar? The only thing missing from this prediction is the margarita in Palm Springs.
And, voters, if you aren't thick, then you'll understand why an absent Premier is not a good thing. And you'll vote for someone who shows up.
So who showed up ready to listen to the constituents at the Calgary Foothills forum?
I know who I'm partial to, but the point I'm trying to get across is that voters should not let themselves appear as thick; they should be well-informed, and make the best decision for themselves going forward. So check these candidates out.
I will push one bias though. I'd rather voters vote for a person, not a pumpkin.
Yesterday, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta's leader, our unelected Premier, announced a plan to invest $2 billion in school construction projects over the next ten years.
If we ignore the fact that many of the projects announced were already announced once, in some cases twice, I mean thrice, and cancelled or postponed at least as many times, then this is good news.
If we don't ignore that fact, then it's still just wind on a brick wall. The PC's may huff and puff, but in the end, there wasn't a school to blow down.
But let's look positively at this announcement for a second. Finally, there is a plan to construct the space that we need for our growing population. Hopefully each school is going where 10-years-in-the-future Alberta needs it.
But there is something missing in the announcement; the explanation that the PCs are actually using binary math to calculate the real cost.
You see, $2 billion actually equals $10 billion.
(For those who don't understand binary, check my addendum at the bottom for an explanation)
Let me explain why $10 billion in particular, though.
You see, the $2 billion simply announces the construction of 230 empty buildings/modernizations. It costs a great deal more to actual turn those buildings into service centres of education. It takes lots of people (teachers and support staff), resources (textbooks, computers, etc.) and services (electricity, heating, internet, etc.) to operate them.
Alberta's operating budget for Education in 2014 is approximately $6.75 billion. If the province is building an additional 230 schools, that means they'll be adding approximately 10.5% of the current number of schools. Logic then dictates that it would require an additional 10.5% of the current operating budget to make these schools work. That would be an additional $710 million required in the operating budget.
Don't forget, the plan is to take place over the next ten years. That's $7.1 billion extra not currently included in the budget. Account for inflation, and suddenly that $2 billion promise ends up adding to over $10 billion.
Would the expected increase in population by 1 million help take care of that burden? Perhaps. Is the above example a little simplistic? Perhaps. However, it makes clear that simply building schools requires far more commitment than the PCs have undertaken.
You see, each Albertan would have to pay more taxes to cover that commitment. In order to fund healthcare and other social services to similar levels and similar growth while covering this commitment, the PCs would have to increase taxes by about 2%. That doesn't sound like much, until you hear that such an increase would be the difference between an average of about $10,000 being increased to $11,000. For those on a living wage, $1,000 is a lot of money.
Keep in mind, those simplistic calculations are only representative if every Albertan pays taxes. Don't forget, our kids don't really pay taxes, so the taxes have to be distributed over fewer Albertans.
But such an increase wasn't included in the announcement. Nor was discussion on changing how we collect royalty income from primary resources. Nor was there any announcement of some new magical income source for the province (mind you, we are in a by-election, and the PCs love announcements, it could come any day now).
So even if I am optimistic, and truly believe the schools would be built under a PC government, I have no clue how they plan on paying for the buildings and the stuff to go in them.
Thank goodness I'm optimistic about something else; an Alberta Government operated by someone other than the PCs.
Which leads me to the Wildrose Party, as they are the heavy favourites to form the next government. I am reminded of an announcement they made recently about Education. Actually, come to think of it, it was less than a week before the PC's announcement. It's value ... $2 billion dollars. Announced during a by-election.
Is there an echo in here?
As for the costing of this brilliant plan (I say brilliant, because it really is a good idea to inject that money into Education, regardless of who has the idea), again we are lacking in details. The timeline is more aggressive than the PC timeline, going for four years instead of ten. That means their $2 billion announcement becomes only a $5 billion commitment with the operating costs included.
But in four years, we aren't expected to have 1 million new Albertans. We're expected to have more around 400,000 new Albertans. That means more of a burden would be downloaded to Albertan taxpayers. Except that the Wildrose are adamant that taxes not be changed, so they have to find the money elsewhere. I'm not the first to realize this, Luke Fevin pointed it out clearly after the Wildrose release.
I think putting $2 billion into building schools is brilliant, regardless of who actually enacts it, and especially if they are placed in such a way as to encourage the development of communities. I think the commitment to operating these empty buildings should be expressed, and so far it hasn't.
So now I must express my optimistic frustration. I know a party who not only has a plan to fix the infrastructure crisis in Education, but has that plan costed, as well. However, that party hasn't had the opportunity to have that plan brought forth to their membership, and so hasn't been able to publicize it the way they want, which is hard for me as someone who has worked on it. So I have to rely on "just trust me, they have a plan, and it includes how to pay for it." Knowing that plan exists has me very optimistic, but knowing how hard it is for people to trust politicians, especially those who just say "just trust me", has me very frustrated.
So let me put it this way. You know what you'll get from the PCs. The Wildrose have explained their position as well, yet it still lacks the detail necessary to trust it.
You might not know Greg Clark or the Alberta Party yet. But at the very least, I hope you're optimistic.
BINARY EXPLANATION: By referencing binary, I probably just geeked myself out a bit. Computers, who work in binary, only work with OFFs or ONs, Trues or Falses, represented as zeros and ones. In order to represent something else, you have to combine zeros and ones, so binary systems use 10 to represent the number two)
Votes for the Conservative nominee in the Macleod riding byelection are tabulated today, and the story of the campaign is not "hopefuls listen to residents."
The entire campaign has been usurped by the National Firearms Association, Canada's version of the National Rifle Association south of the 49th parallel. It has also been grabbed by right-wing media outlets trying to make a name for themselves in a new market. No surprise, as the agenda had already been pushed by right-wing provincial opposition leader Danielle Smith, who represents a section of Macleod provincially.
In the middle of it all, the residents of Macleod seem to have been left out in the frigid cold of February.
The main topics discussed should have been the backlog of our bumper crops due to rail competition, oil and gas markets, and flood mitigation. Other topics could have included innovations in our area in agriculture and small enterprise, the geographical and demographical diversity and "how can you represent people in Okotoks beside people in Crowsnest Pass or Lomond", or even the value the Conservative government places on veterans.
But they weren't. The "High River Gun Grab" was. And it was the only thing some candidates were talking about.
This seems odd, as every gun owner affected by the actions of the RCMP have never been unhappy about how the guns were handled, only the violent invasion of their privacy. A valid point and an important issue, but by no means is it the only issue nomination hopefuls should be discussing. It is also in stark contrast to the gun-toting whackadoodle image the NFA is portraying Macleod conservatives as. Perhaps the NFA forgot about the story of the "Nose Hill Gentleman"?
Scott Wagner spoke with me twice, and seemed to have a decent grasp on the issues, and although I didn't fully agree with them, kudos goes to him for making a concerted effort to connect with me (he is a very intelligent fellow). Phil Rowland's wife bombarded me with robocalls in the last week. Melissa Mathieson never once contacted me. I can't tell if I prefer Mathieson's or Rowland's tactic.
I was concerned about John Barlow at first, recalling that he ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2012 Alberta election. I also recalled how he presented himself in those forums. He was strong, articulate, and didn't shy from confrontation. He did, however, leave me wondering if he could be a positive force, or if he would fall victim to the childish bickering that we now see in both provincial and federal houses.
When he called me, I asked him about how he felt the tone of his provincial campaign went. He explained to me he was disappointed with how the Progressive Conservative party lowered themselves to the point where issues were no longer their focal point.
He hit the nail on the head. The issues must be forefront. And Barlow knew the major issues, and also knew some less obvious issues that matter to our residents. Barlow is the only one of these four nomination hopefuls who did not bow to the whims of a lobby group and right-wing media. He has his thumb on the pulse of the constituency, and stuck to talking about the issues, not just in person, but also in the media. With regards to the NFA's focal point, he stuck to his word; he said if new information came out suggesting an inquiry was warranted, he'd stand behind it, so when it did, he stood behind it.
A politician that stands by his/her word should be considered a valuable asset. But even more valuable is one who refuses to let lobbyists dictate the agenda, and rather let constituents dictate it.
And as a side-note, if you knew the level of discourse Barlow and his family was exposed to on his campaign Facebook page on the matter of the guns in High River, you would understand why I use the term "gun-toting whackadoodle".
So today is the last day for Conservative members to cast their ballots for their nominee. After today, we will know if Macleod conservatives really are the gun-toting whackadoodles the NFA paints them as, or if they thoughtfully consider more than just a single issue with an eye to the future.
And I, for one, am no gun-toting whackadoodle.