Make Something Wildrose?

If you have read this blog anytime over the last 4 years, you know that I have been pretty tough on the Wildrose Party. Never have I been that critical of their Leader Danielle Smith, as she has been effective at staying on message about their fiscal conservative message. What has caused my concern stems largely from the supporters who have defined their social conservative culture. At one event hosted by the Alberta Party in 2010, I recall getting into an argument with a supporter about Gay Marriage. Believe it or not, his position was contrary to supporting it because in his words, the slippery slope of legalizing Gay Marriage could lead to allowing people to marry their pets. Crazy, and I am not making this up.

Of course this is no position of the party, and it’s a radicalism they are working to shed. But when you are measuring a movement, you have to make some assessment based on the types of people it attracts. We could criticise the party as being disingenuous to it’s roots, but perhaps that is no longer true? We should also be honest and give credit where credit’s due. The party is striving towards a mainstream message.

Tonight, in a room of 350 Edmonton supporters, Danielle Smith made humble strides, admitting to many mistakes connecting with Edmontonians. I am not going to rush out and support them. But let’s be honest, they have no where to go but up in Edmonton. Also in Smith’s presentation tonight, was a significant nod to the Make Something Edmonton movement for which I am a Co-Chair.

When I was asked by the Mayor, Stephen Mandel, to Co-Chair the City’s Image and Reputation campaign, now called Make Something Edmonton, I had to rely on many years of experience loving and serving this community; also as a knowledge economy business founder. Volunteering for the City is what we as Edmontonians do. We serve this place, to help others, to move the community forward together. I am unapologetically excited about our future and believe that with our current momentum things like Make Something Edmonton and Startup Edmonton (which I am also currently the Board Chair), are very really changing the confidence of this place. So… it goes without saying that the Wildrose and Smith’s speech, got my attention.

Ironically, as Smith was delivering her speech down the street at the Shaw Conference Centre, Startup Edmonton hosted our Fourth Annual Launch Party event at our amazing 104th street campus. 10 new companies were featured and hundreds of Edmontonians came out to celebrate them and our Startup Culture. Also, just this past  Monday, we held our annual luncheon to kickoff  Global Entrepreneurship Week, and again hundreds attended to celebrate the our Startup City initiative. Easily, our work has become the standard for Startup Ecosystems and communities across the country.

Startup Edmonton Campus - Launch Party 4 Event

Startup Edmonton Campus – Launch Party 4 Event

So. Back to Smith’s speech and Edmonton.

Clearly, her party missed the mark here during the last election. But, if her speech tonight was any indication, the Wildrose are ready to open a new front on the political war for Alberta’s next election. And frankly, I think Edmonton will play a large role in who wins the next election.

There’s no guessing how they will do, and I hope the Alberta Party and PC Party will also work to continue their building parties, showing respect for an energized Edmonton. But one thing is certain. Edmonton is an important political front of the 2016 provincial election.

Below is the entire text of Danielle Smith’s speech. Judge for yourself if she is making headway. I happen to think she made all the right points.

I’m going to start out tonight with a bit of a confession.

Well, it’s not so much a confession.

I don’t want anyone thinking there are videos of me floating around out there like a certain big city mayor. It’s more of an admission, really. I believe in admitting mistakes and learning from them. So here it goes:

So far Wildrose has not been viewed as the party of Edmonton.  I think there is a reason for that. We haven’t been on the same page as many Edmontonians about the issues that mattered most to them.  And because of that, most Edmontonians didn’t come out to support Wildrose in the last election.  And as leader, I regret that, because I genuinely believe that Wildrose is the party best positioned to support Edmonton and Edmonton’s causes in the Alberta Legislature.  However, I think Edmonton hasn’t been convinced yet that we will be their party and their champion on the provincial stage.

But that’s going to change. Edmonton is a city that is commanding attention these days. And it’s certainly got ours.

Let me tell you about the Edmonton I see.

I see an Edmonton on the front lines of so much of what drives the modern global economy.

I see an Edmonton bursting with possibility, possessing that rare and powerful combination of blue-collar work ethic, leading edge innovation and a true entrepreneurial spirit.

It has the finest symphony orchestra in the country – a tribute to a dynamic arts and culture scene that gives Edmonton an unmistakeable flair. World-renowned musicians come to Edmonton to record with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and it stages brave and bold musical productions which other orchestras traditionally shy away from.

Its colleges and universities regularly break new ground on research and consistently perform among the best in Canada. The University of Alberta, our province’s largest and best renowned university, is an institution whose research is known globally.  It forms the basis of a dynamic research hub which is at the cutting-edge of biotechnology, engineering, software development, pharmaceuticals, and countless other fields.

Edmonton’s public education system has set an international standard in innovation, providing an example that has been emulated around the world.  The Edmonton model for public education is held up as the gold standard in many US States, the United Kingdom, and other developed economies who are as impressed as we are that the very best education can be offered in public schools.

Edmonton is also a healthcare hub not just for Alberta, but for Canada.  Edmonton has even pioneered some of the most innovative and effective treatment protocols for today’s most pressing illnesses.  The Edmonton Protocol for treating certain types of Type 1 diabetes is now a standard procedure world-wide and improving the lives of countless individuals afflicted with this disease.

Edmonton’s municipal leaders – starting with Mayor Stephen Mandel and now with new Mayor Don Iveson – have worked incredibly hard to re-orient Edmonton’s collective attention towards the bright horizon, towards the days ahead. In my opinion, they have redefined what it is to lead a city into the future – with poise, with confidence and with vision.

What I’m getting at is this: There is a new optimism in Edmonton. You can feel it.

It’s all around us.

It’s on campus, with the ongoing expansion of what is already world-class research and development.

It’s downtown, with construction cranes and new glass towers popping up in an ever-growing skyline.

It’s winding its way out of the city core and into the suburbs in the form of new light rail lines.

And it’s everywhere in between. It’s the bounce in Edmonton’s step and the swagger in its walk.

One of my favourite new Edmonton initiatives is Make Something Edmonton, a project spearheaded by Mayor Mandel and a committee of fiercely proud Edmontonians determined to tell the city’s story in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Together, they have asserted with tremendous conviction and style and fun that Edmonton is the best place to make something. To create something. To take what’s in your heart and mind and built it for the world to see and the city to support.

The stories are phenomenal. An Edmonton architect offering free Portugese language lessons for Edmontonians planning on attending the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A local artist sketching personal portraits in exchange for donations to combat Cystic Fibrosis. Even a group of hearty folks who want to celebrate Edmonton’s abundance of parkades by occasionally transforming them into venues for rooftop parkade parties.

Make Something Edmonton says this:  The Edmonton question of the future is not “Why do we live here?” The Edmonton question of the future is “What are you making?”

In speaking with Edmontonians over the years, you once got the impression that perhaps the city’s best days were behind it – that when people spoke of Edmonton’s golden years, it was harkening back to a period now gone.

However – and I think everyone in this room will agree with me – you don’t hear that anymore when Edmontonians talk about their city.

They talk about how Edmonton’s best days are still to come.  They see a future in which Edmonton will be leading the way and shaking off the misconceptions of those who think it is anything other than a city which defines a modern Alberta and drives our province forward.

There is a new Edmonton, and this it. An Edmonton that is coming into its own. An Edmonton that will in no way consider itself anything but a first-rate, forward-thinking capital city. And an Edmonton that is out to prove it.

This Edmonton reflects Alberta’s desire to be excellent. And our desire to be excellent is what defines us as Albertans.

I’ve been Leader of the Official Opposition now for almost 19 months. And in that time I’ve become keenly aware of something that truly disturbs me – and affirms why I’m doing what I’m doing.

This desire to be excellent – this thing that makes us uniquely and distinctly Albertan – is not reflected in the government that we have.

I get to see these incredible things Albertans do for each other, like the folks who participate in Make Something Edmonton. I see the lengths we go to just to do the right thing for our families, friends and even strangers  — especially strangers — I’ll get back to that in a moment.

I get to meet the Albertans who do these incredible things. I am inspired, time and time again.  We are a province of heroes and leaders.

And then I get to the Legislature. I face down the government across the aisle. I see their faces and hear their words. And something doesn’t add up. There is just no comparison.

Albertans are thoughtful. This government is glib.

Albertans are diligent. This government is careless.

Albertans are humble. This government is arrogant.

Albertans are consistent. This government is erratic.

Every day, this disconnect between who we are and the leadership we receive becomes clearer and deeper.

Albertans are hopeful. This government is cynical.

Albertans are trustworthy. This government is misleading.

Albertans are forthright. This government is secretive.

Albertans are compassionate. This government is callous.

Make Something Edmonton. An invitation to the entire city to identify gaps, weaknesses, problems and opportunities in the community and come up with creative ways to address them, together. That’s the Alberta I love. The Alberta I fight for.

But the more time I spend trying to make sense of what this government is doing, the more frustrated I become. I’m frustrated because we can do so much better than this.

This isn’t a government that reinforces who are. Or a government that reflects the excellence of our people and proclaims it on a daily basis.

And really, isn’t that what a government should do? If we can’t look at the people who lead us and have confidence that they are taking us where we want to go, then we’ve got to do something about the people who lead us.

In many ways, Edmonton was ground zero for the cuts to the Persons With Developmental Disabilities programs that came out of the March budget.

For those unfamiliar, it was a $42 million cut to programs that help adults with disabilities function in today’s society.

For me, this raised a fundamental question about our province, and our government.  How is it  that in Alberta, the wealthiest province in Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, how is it that we can’t afford to support the most vulnerable people in our society?

Why can’t a government in power for forty-two years manage our affairs  in such a way that those most in need aren’t falling through the cracks?

Those who rely on support from the government’s Persons with Developmental Disabilities program are those who face some of the most daunting challenges in life.  In many cases, they require a very high level of care, across a wide-range of fields.  Their families and friends also make sacrifices to ensure their loved ones can lead dignified lives in safe and supportive environments.  This spring’s budget demonstrated vividly the callousness of the government as they slashed support for PDD programs across the board.

For many individuals already facing tremendous challenges in their lives, this left both their families and their support workers completely in the dark about how care and support for their relatives and clients would be provided.

Instead of consulting with these groups, explaining the process for how these cuts would be implemented, and working with the families and caregivers of PDD clients to minimize the disruptions to care,  the government – claiming the need for budget secrecy -bulldozed ahead without a word to anyone.  Budget secrecy — it makes you shake your head in disbelief at the callousness.

The result of this approach was a disaster.  And after huge backlash from us, from other opposition parties, from families, from caregivers, from facilities and institutions, and from the public at large who were outraged at the callousness of this decision, the government put the brakes on implementing these cuts.

For many individuals, the damage was already done, and they are continuing to feel the uncertainty of the government’s short-sightedness.

Here’s the bottom line: Pulling the rug out from underneath the most vulnerable people in our society is not who we are. Failing to support them is unAlbertan.

Now, not every decision government makes will be easy, or popular, or simple.  Wildrose recognizes that sometimes tough choices need to be made by the government.  We anticipate that 2016 will see us making more than a few tough choices to fix some of this government’s messes.

Where we differ from this government is in how these decisions are approached.

We believe that what was missing from the government’s approach to PDD cuts was a pretty basic concept which most Albertans innately understand and display throughout their day-to-day lives.  This government just didn’t seem to care about the people who would be impacted by these cuts.  And this lack of caring made a difficult situation much, much worse.

But fortunately, while this government may not understand the importance of caring, this is not the case for everyday Albertans across our province.

In fact, I would respectfully suggest that Albertans hold caring at the very heart of who we are as a people. And this summer provided a tremendous example of just how caring Albertans truly are.

As many of you know, my riding of High River was impacted deeply by this summer’s terrible flooding.

More than two-thirds of our town was underwater, and many people are still wondering if they will be able to rebuild and restore their homes, or if they will have to relocate.  Thousands of Calgarians also faced similar challenges with water and mud-filled basements, ruined personal belongings, and prolonged dislocation from their homes.  Many were on the verge of despair, and were worried that might never recover from this disaster.  However, during this time of darkness, the character of Alberta shone through.  Despair turned to hope, and fear gave way to optimism.

Tens of thousands of volunteers mobilized to help their friends, neighbours, and strangers, especially strangers, recover.  They mucked out basements, donated supplies, offered up free meals, hot showers, and warm beds to those unable to return home, and they gave generously to the Red Cross and other organizations who worked tirelessly to help flood victims.  As someone from a town devastated by flooding, I can honestly say that without the help, support, and love from this army of Good Samaritan Albertans, my town of High River would have faced a truly bleak outlook.

And during this crisis, Calgary and Southern Alberta had no better friend than Edmonton.

As a Calgarian, I like to tease my Edmonton friends over things like football and hockey (although neither of us has much to be boasting about right now when it comes to either of Canada’s favourite sports), because that’s what friends do.

However, when the chips were down, and we really needed you, Edmonton was there in a heartbeat, because that’s what Albertans do.  Hundreds of everyday Edmontonians came South to help strangers with the clean up.  They donated water, cleaning materials, and other badly-needed supplies.  Your police and firefighters joined with our local authorities to keep people safe and protect our homes.   Edmonton’s utility workers joined in to help restore power to the tens of thousands of homes knocked off the grid by the flood.  Shoulder to shoulder, Edmontonians worked with Calgarians and others in Southern Alberta to help manage the biggest disaster our province has seen in its history.

And on behalf of my constituents in High River, and the people of Calgary and Southern Alberta who were impacted by the flood, I would like say thank you to Edmonton for your friendship, help, and support.  We couldn’t have made it through without you.

What we saw during this flood was an outpouring of support from everyday Albertans who, when they saw people in need, dropped everything to help.  And I think this speaks to the character of Albertans.  We are honest, hard-working, and fair.

We are generous in spirit, and compassionate towards those in need.

And we value things like integrity in our leaders.

These are the things that bind us together, and what makes us a magnet for people across Canada, and indeed around the world, looking to build a better life for themselves and their families.

There is a sense of optimism across Alberta.  You see it everyday in Edmonton – a new frontier spirit of neighbourliness, community and friendship which you can feel in our cities, towns, and villages.  We aren’t mired in the problems of the past like other provinces.  We approach each day with the belief that we can and will create a better and brighter world for our families and children.  In every sense of the word, we are a province of hope.  And it is that province that I want to lead.

Let me end by thanking you for the opportunity to speak to you this evening, and for coming out tonightto learn more about Wildrose.

We commit to you that if you put your trust in us, we will be a government for each and every Albertan, from every walk of life and from every corner of the province.

We will always strive to be a government that reflects the very best of our province, and its people.

A government worthy of Alberta and Albertans. The kind of government we can all be proud of again.


Could the Alberta PC’s complete a much-needed Extreme Makeover?

Widely Popular Mayors Iveson & Nenshi

Young Progressives – Mayors Don Iveson & Naheed Nenshi

I have been puzzled lately by a widening dissonance in Alberta politics. In our non-partisan municipal elections, we have seen the undeniable trend of electing leaders who inspire our communities to think forward, to be our better selves, and who seem to have a skill for gathering massive followings of cheerleaders and proud evangelists.

Also, it seems, municipal elections last month were an indictment against unhinged rhetoric, as we saw candidate after candidate fall on their own sharp words. This noise, which can be found easily on both ends of the political spectrum, seems to have slayed many a candidate.  Those who chose to act with confidence in their policy and position, doing so with a humble smile on their face and chose positive even playful language, swung a near-perfect weapon against the stodgy establishment or simple angry candidate.

Large margin victories in most mid-sized and large urban centres, went to thoughtful, young, policy heavy candidates who pledged to ”politics in full sentences”. With balanced ideological style; forward-looking, aspirational and inclusive platforms. Modern ideas like open-government, responsible urban development, knowledge economy entrepreneurship, social-enterprise innovation and valuing diversity – seemingly table stakes for most political parties at a provincial level – were the key platform fodder for the next generation of successful municipal politicians.

Beyond this trend, we have also seen an emergence of a new successful personality trait for non-partisan politicians. They are fun, playful and prone to be more honest and human in front of their constituents. We get to know these folks as people like us. They are good citizens of their community, but have also learned something about the 24/7 social media communities they must learn to navigate. Be nice. Be honest. Be real and communicate, don’t just broadcast. Certainly don’t fight for a position if it’s only defensible by an ideology and can’t be reinforced with a good idea.

In Provincial and Federal politics, when we add a layer of partisanship, this model seems to implode. Frankly, it makes sense on one level. A meaningful conversation about ideas, attempt at progress-oriented discussion and eventual good government, suffer from many enemies:

  •     Attacks from ideological foes who will always be there, trying to drag you across to their end of the political spectrum
  •     The seemingly irresistible allure of criticizing any position held by a competing party
  •     A party/caucus/cabinet machine that fights against it’s own parts, to control messaging, consolidate power and manufacture outcomes


Traditional “party strategists” seem to want to argue that these things can never change. In fact, the “establishment” strategy suggests perfecting all three of these things, as opposed to transcend them, and victory is a cinch. But, this is shortsighted thinking. As parties focus on attacking others with constant, often mandated feigned outrage, or tie their own hands behind their back with command and control cultures, they are acting in the exact opposite way that the successful non-partisan municipal politicians, have acted, to win with impressive margins.

Probably, more simply stated, we want to elect people who behave like us. Get mad, sure, be passionate, of course… but live by a set of rules first that are respectful and aspirational and you have less chance of trapping yourself in a corner of ideology, ego or pride. It makes sense. In every workplace, home, church group or sports team, we will gravitate to people we like and trust first. They will almost always be hopeful, helpful and humble.

The Alberta Party

The Alberta Party

Many of you know that I was involved in the early days of the Alberta Party and it’s attempt at creating a new model for partisan political success. It succeeded, if only in shilling idealism and acting accordingly. Yet, it can only be considered a failure in electing an MLA. No matter how much it’s candidates exemplified the theories I am making around a new style of politics. I have asked myself why, many, many times…. Why didn’t it succeed?

I blame the Queen. Or perhaps more honestly, the Westminster Style of Parliamentary politics, with it’s plurality voting (first-past-the-post), and an emphasis on PARTY > LEADER > CANDIDATE in most voting situations. Add to that in the last election, a frenzy of last-minute fear around vote-splitting and Alberta possibly electing some radical minded social conservatives… and there you have it. Even I would have voted for my PC MLA if I honestly thought he had been at risk of losing to the Wildrose candidate.

Luckily(?) neither the Alberta Party or Wildrose candidate in my constituency was within striking distance of our popular MLA. So I could vote for the Alberta Party candidate with a clear conscious.  I am not so sure that same luxury will be given me, or the PC candidates next go around.

But, and there is a point to all of this, I think we are in a new and interesting time. The Wildrose have made significant progress in cleaning up their policy position and now shun their loose-end ideologues.  This may be window-dressing in an attempt to gain power, and should be easy to expose as disingenuous; but here is the problem… the PC Party is losing its ability to compete using traditional establishment politics. They are losing financial support; they are losing the war for new members, and influential past supporters are fading away. The establishment party, is losing it’s own establishment.

In Calgary, with its independence ethos, being anti-government can be fashionable and recent fights with the government between the Mayor’s office and the Province have replaced a very short-lived truce over the flood response. In Edmonton, where appeasement is a bit more widely held strategy, mostly because of our proximity to government as an employer and vendor, dissidents have simply gone into hiding. Fights over arena funding, university cuts and political meddling into board governance at AHS and other institutions have many questioning this government for the first time.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

Going into this weekend’s PC AGM and a mandatory review of Premier Alison Redford’s leadership, I would argue that the PC party is at an unprecedented inflection point. From every party insider I have talked with, I have heard of concern for the performance of the Premier and the Party; yet consistently have also heard the rational for supporting her. The party lacks the resources and an heir-apparent to make such a significant change with only two years to rebuild yet again. Up until just recently, I would have vehemently disagreed. In my experience, a fire-fast mentality always made for better outcomes. Now, I am not so sure.

It may be a last-gasp, but the Party with a 42-year monopoly has the single best opportunity to govern for another term over any party. Let’s face it; they have a majority power, and the pulpit from which to sell a vision. But it must be an abrupt change in style, and only that, which will save it. By and large I think the government has made the bigger policy decisions consistent with how most Albertans would like to see. Namely, don’t go into extreme austerity mode to balance a budget when we are at least for now debt-free, and experiencing massive growth and economic prosperity.  Sure, some of the cuts to services have been too harsh, especially in post-secondary funding, but to me this government has lost support as much on style. Or lack of it.

By that I mean, the Government has stopped creating a hopeful vision for Albertans, based on well-defined vision for the future and backed by smart policy. They seem possessed with arguing against the only political pressure it feels, from their right. Somewhere around the period where the Premier’s communication office lost 5 staffers in a month, and responded by promoting an attack-style Ontario transplant to Chief of Communications, things have taken a turn towards a nasty narrative. Not just the communications pro’s, but the Premier and her Deputy, have been particularly negative.

But, style can be fixed. Perhaps, it’s just a matter of an Extreme Makeover. This government might want to take some tips from the political success-stories, popping up all around them. Of course, a makeover usually requires throwing out some old things from the “wardrobe” that simply will never fit a new image. Leaning on the analogy, it’s time for the Premier to throw-out some of the worst offenders of a positive and forward-thinking style. At least, publicly and seriously rebuking the attack-antics politics and gamesmanship, at best learning all new habits and bring up some fresh faces into the mix. To avoid any ambiguity whatsoever about the communications department, let me be even more clear. AFTER you have made a humble commitment to act with a different style, hire yourself any of the amazing and thought-leading professional communicators who understand Albertans. They are out there, but in my experience, this line of business attracts idealists and inspired types, so you had better mean a new change in habit.

Obviously the PC’s more than any party, could impact the Province the most in the next two years, if they made a transformation in style and standing.  No matter their failures, the Party is also filled with people like you and me. People who voted for the inspiring forward-looking municipal candidates of the last election, and some MLA’s who want to embrace a new style of politics, to help Alberta be it’s best self. If they could be reinvented to a better version, we all would benefit. Immediately.

BUT and this is a BIG but; are they willing? On paper, this Premier was a ray of hope for many moderate forward-thinking Albertans. Yet many ill-deployed decisions and thoughtless political hijinks have undermined her success on every front. The list is endless if you value either responsible fiscal decision making or stable social programs. But, I am going to give this government the benefit of the doubt, for a moment, and suggest that based on the theory I have presented to you, they are killing themselves with a bad and outdated political model. Namely, shifting and swinging power at problems, instead of building an image of the future Province we all want, and then compelling us all together to build towards it.

If this government could double-down on ideas before ideologies, humility over hubris, acting real vs. contrived, then it’s possible they would find a tidal wave of new support. There can be no mistaking the fact that the political mindset of Albertans has shifted, as it has done again and again over the evolution of this place.

5 years ago, at the 2008 PC AGM, I saw a party that was broken and lacking vision. I left the party a month later, following many who chose the Reboot Alberta movement. I will return to the AGM this weekend a proud member of the Alberta Party, and a tentative renewed member of the PC Party. I am not going because I have already seen the change this Party needs to persist; I am going because I want to see if it’s even possible.  I am going to see if there is any indication of renewal, any spark of optimism, and any place for idealism. But to do so in good faith, I must also go with an open mind and willingness to help it, if I see it.

To many this might seem like a betrayal of one party over the other. In my perspective it’s the rejection of the very problem that has led us here. Partisanship. I am looking for the best ideas and the fastest way to achieve the best Province.

I’ll let you know what I find.