Sunday, November 10, 2013

There are times when being "a bit unusual" is not a obstacle to success

Today's blog is about a web site called It was lucky that I was able to find something more intriguingly useless than ranting about politics to amuse myself.
Most hobbies are useless. As the child of hippy parents, I spent a lot of time with them making candles, macramé and selling ceramic pot scrubber frogs at craft fairs and other suspect venues, I speak of obsessive hobbies with some authority.
 My own obsession with politics has, like most hobbies, no economic value or long term benefit. I learned as a kid that there are only so many macramé swinging glass top tables that can be hung form the ceiling before someone actually spills a highball or some toddler gets smacked in the head (sorry Greg).
My favorite were the ceramic frogs to put your pots scrubber in my Mom made. To this day, I look for a ceramic frog pot scrubber holder in peoples homes. But the greatest most useless hobby of all has to be Michael Carmichael's worlds largest ball of paint.
Since the late 1960's Michael has faithfully painted a baseball that now has over 20,000 coats of paint and weights almost 900 pounds. His wife, who must be a remarkably tolerant woman is in many of the pictures with that "and by now you could have had the rumpus room paneled" look in her eyes.
I love it because it is useless, senseless and impossible to ignore; much like politics.
Michael has been painting this baseball for at least as long as the PC's have been in power in Alberta. He has reinvented his baseball by simply painting over the  previous improvements, yet his baseball remains unchanged, if hard to find, buried under, and presumably never to come out of, 20,000 coats of paint.
There are days when Michael will add 10 coats of paint and others when he doesn't add any. 
There are days in politics when the government will add the equivalent of 10 coats of paint to itself and other times when they add none, this has more to do with election cycles than some obsession with color but the underlying motivation is the same.
Of course, Mr. Carmichael does not spend any tax dollars to repaint his baseball and the government has a hard time doing anything so delightfully irrelevant, so really any comparison is only a mind set on my part.
But still the idea that someone has been painting a baseball since the PC's were first elected in Alberta is an interesting thing to ponder.
Did I mention the baseball is now so fat and bloated, it weights 900 pounds and has it's own shed.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The old excuse: It's a different budget

Raj Sherman stuck gold and doesn't even know it, in his queries about Thomas Lukaszuk and his $11,000 spend to renovate his office space.

I don't know if Lukaszuk needed new décor or not, but the real issue here is not the spend it is the means I have mentioned many times: There is only one budget, one tax payer and whether or not an $11,000.00 renovation is necessary or not the fact it was undertaken in the midst of a significant curtailment of post secondary funding tell me simply, The Deputy Premier does not get it.
He does not understand the difference between entitlement and necessity, his expenditures might have been necessary but to publicly suggest they were a "different budget" clearly paints him with the brush of entitlement.
I'm happy his mantle matches the table, I know how incongruous it is to work in a place where they don't. It is disruptive of the staff morale and causes people who first enter his office to wonder "my god how does he work in such a place? That mantle does not match that table.":
Entitlement all the way. Nothing but, no restraint, no regard for modeling the behavior expected of the leaders of this economy, nope, just a regard for self and servants at the expense of all others.
This is why I left;  40+ years of PC mismanagement, including things like renovating offices that don't need to be renovated is not a question of resource allocation, it's a question of entitlement.
It is living above and beyond the optics of decisions. Oh I know it's only $11,000.00 and that is not enough to fund much of anything, yet to suggest that because it is a different budget is absurd, juvenile and, much more importantly an optical illusion.
Thomas's strategy, if he had one was to assume this will blow over and it likely will but it and 10,000 other good examples will tell us why, in no uncertain terms, this government has lived beyond it's mandate. The Mandarin class do not like to share in the suffering they impose on the masses and this is yet another example of why they don't have to.
There is only one taxpayer and it is me. I have no objection to government have decent working conditions but I do object to that being a priority when, obviously, cash is tight.
Try this stuff in the private sector and your office renovation would be your last, but in government this kind of stuff goes on all the time.
Thanks Thomas, you set one hell of an example.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"HOPE" is the new "DEBT"

I have always felt that debt involved a certain amount of "hope", mostly that I  could actually pay it off.  Yesterday  our Premier put a new spin on "debt" that I can really get behind:
I paid for the new tires on my truck with MasterCard, now I "hope" I won't get stuck. If  I get stuck I won't be able to get to work in which case I "hope" the boss does not fire me  because if he does I do not stand a "hope" in hell of being able to pay the MasterCard, keep up with the utilities, the truck payment, the payment on my sled or the satellite TV with the HD sports channels.
All of these things give me "hope"  in the case of the house, the HD sports channels and the sled, they bring me joy, happiness and contentment that can only be found by high-marking in Valemount, or watching the world series. (go SOX)
Actually  while I have a fleet of pick up trucks, a bevy of flat screen TV's some tractors, a motorhome and know where Valemount is,  I prefer to pay cash for everything so apparently I have it wrong: I would have more "hope" in my life if I had more debt.
Somehow this does not ring true for me or anyone else and should not ring true for government. Debt is not "hope" it is quite the opposite. Debt is a cancer that spreads silently, insidiously and is without remission:  once your have debt, all "hope" is lost until it is paid off. 
Once governments get into the habit of "debt" or "hope" as our current premier calls it, borrowing becomes easier and easier because every time you need something, you can justify debt for it by the "hope" it brings.
An average MLA may think:
I hope if I build this new hospital in Wandering River that:
a) I can find a doctor who wants to work there
b) I can get enough votes to win the next election.
That's the "hope" motivation of "debt"
Debt is not "hope"  in any way, context or by any definition: debt is a sign of mismanagement:  overpriced cars, of overpriced chiefs of staff, over budget redevelopment of old buildings and an ever expanding fixed cost structure that eats into the governments cash flow.
Did you know:  if the interest income from the Heritage Fund had simply been reinvested into the Heritage Fund, we would have 150 BILLION dollars that AIMCO would invest and generate 10 BILLION dollars a year in revenue. This is the cost of the PC party choosing to ignore the power of compound interest.
And why I lost "hope"
I know  people  from Ontario don't bring their schools and hospitals with them when they come here, but Albertan's are the ultimate beneficiaries of migration not the victims so it's  a stupid justification for more debt
The  Progressive Conservatives have had 42 years to prepare for this.  42 years of consistent growth in a province where in first boom every town of 500, got a Treasury Branch, a Liquor Store and a Seniors Home.  It was this PC government that got us into the mess then  and got us back into it now.
There is little room to maneuver, all that can be outsourced has been and what's  left is a shortage of services.
Will this government tell the current baby boom kids to "hope" when in 2 years all these wee tykes expect to have schools to go to?
Will this government tell the seniors population to "hope" as grandma can't find a place to live within with in four hours of the family?
The Deputy Premier drives an $85,000.00 Audi you pay for. And the senior Deputy Minister, gets his government Silverado gassed up and  washed twice a week by a junior government employee.
"Those are just a drop in the bucket they will tell you, insignificant" but it's not. It's systemic and will only be cured by surgery, deep and radical surgery.  Entitlement is really what they "hope" to hang onto.
Debt is not "hope" there is no illusion about the truth of this or many other things. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Since joining the Wild Rose........................

Today was a calmer day than yesterday, I tuned up the snow blowers, (yes plural) and spent a nice afternoon at the ranch. When I got home, as I have decided I don't need to read twitter or email on my phone, I was overwhelmed with the support I have received for my decision to joint the Wild Rose.
Wiser men than me coined the phrase "I might disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
It is my solemn belief that the second responsibility of ANY government is to ensure that all groups have opportunity to speak unfettered by what it is they are likely to say. I stand by that principal and this government seems to have no time or concern for opinion not favorable to their own.
Grown ups can handle criticism. Speaking of which, the classiest guy in the Wild Rose has got to be Rob Anderson the MLA for Airdrie. Now I was  unkind to Rob when he moved over to the Wild Rose and his fake shoulder punch Friday told me that he was glad to see me.  I thought about and was nervous about his reaction  as Rob was quoted in a paper once as saying "We used to be friends" well, we are again.  
I want to emphasize:   I joined the Wild Rose. The "Big Blue Machine" is alive and well without my help, I was asked to resign  my seat on the constituency association yesterday and I won't be attending the AGM in Red Deer next month, even though as a former party  MLA I have a constitutional right to.
I thought about it, but really there is  a fine line between charisma and bull shite and  I'd  be doing a Cal Dallas without the excuse that it was close to my house.
I'm busy that weekend, whatever week end it is.
As for Wild Rose policy review: Our friends in the PC party have confused flexibility with indecision and to cast aspersions on the private citizens who voted in the Saturday policy review is to do a tremendous disservice to those Albertans as we are all, first and foremost, Albertans.
I think the folks in the Wild Rose policy meeting realized that, upon sober second thought, protectionism, firewalls, discrimination are not the tenets of a modern political organization or society. They are the objects of fear and as such fall flat on their face when measured against the question "What problem are we trying to solve?"
It is political posturing that makes the PC's look, to be polite, very silly indeed. I use the phrase silly because it is an accurate measure of maturity. Motivated by fear.
It is this fear  and that will result in continued PC attacks on persons like me and the policies of the Wild Rose generally. But in reality the best the PC's can hope for now is to go into 2016 with a budget surplus, happy nurses, happy teachers and some new extended care beds. 
The time for planning is so far gone, the vision so far forgotten that it will take a collective amnesia on the part of Albertans to forgive and forget. There will be no "Ralph Bucks", there might be some loonies, but I digress.
I'm not here to do to the provincial PC's what I did for them, at least not yet. But I will measure each and every action against sound fiscal behavior, transparency, decency and fairness and let each decision made stand or fall on it's own merit.
I predict every government bill will pass, every opposition amendment will be defeated and many references will be made to why they call it Question Period not Answer Period. 
I also predict that towards the beginning of December, though not on the night of  the PC  MLA Christmas Party, all night sessions will be held. The Wild Rose and the Liberal Laurie Blakeman will do their best to hold the government to account and the session will end with a whimper rather than a roar.
I am taking some time off work to be a full time student for a couple months, I will need a diversion, because my attention span isn't that good, so I will have time to look at the work of the government from the perspective of the freest ex MLA. 
I intend to make this "most" of the focus of my blog, but remember what I said about attention span.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Some times the only way to find a rose is to get pricked by a few thorns: Why I joined the WildRose.

I knew my decision to leave the Progressive Conservative party would cause a few eyebrows to raise,  but I did it with a full and clear conscience that the only way to solve the problems facing Alberta and address the issues we must face going forward was not to condemn myself to repetition of the same mistakes over again, but to look for a new way  to support.
I found it in the Wild Rose. My decision, which was deliberately not well publicized in advance took many of the Wild Rose MLA's by surprise as I had in my tenure as MLA for Edmonton Calder or since as a blogger of occasion, been none too kind to them.
That being said, politics and the future of this province are not the same thing. I spent the last 18 months in the booming Texas oilfield called the Eagle Ford Shale Play it became obvious to me that within seven to ten years the United States would be hydrocarbon independent;  America would not need our oil, period.
The short and long term implications of this suggest that Alberta, with it's high costs of production, limited access to markets and an entrenched costly and inefficient civil service that do not recognize or plan for  contingencies,  would place our province in tremendous short and long term economic jeopardy.
The Alberta PC's have had over 40 years to do the right things yet we are now, facing declining demand for our most valuable resource with a government that is merrily marching along like it is 1972 and the Arab oil embargo is still underway.
My decision is NOT an issue of respect for leadership, I was the first MLA to support Premier Redford on the second ballot of her leadership run.
I liked her then and  I like her now, but her leadership alone not enough to change the direction of the entrenched civil service and inbred inertia, to be forthcoming about the risks we are facing and take action.
Premier Redford and I have a particularly close connection about our Mom's, the last time she talked to her Mom before she passed away, Premier Redford was with me going to meet mine.
I had promised my Mom she would meet every Premier and Mom is 2-2.
Premier Redford, kicked my ass privately in 2009 (and I deserved it) over some stupid comments I had made on twitter. We made amends and I supported her because she told me the truth, was brutally, blunt and after having kicked my ass got over it and never mentioned it again. She taught me the most valuable lesson I ever learned in politics and she taught me a lot about how to say what needs to be said.
So imagine how I felt today when someone in her office named Stefan Baranski, retweeted the old issue she and I "discussed"  once he learned I had decided to join the Wild Rose.
This guy apparently had on file, in case he needed it, data on me and I presume all other PC MLA's past and present that he could use if we "stepped out of line." This did nothing but solidify my resolve that the decision I made was the right one.
When I was elected in 2008, we were a class of 72 MLA's in an 83 seat legislature. Even the Whip, Frank Oberle had it easy because with so many MLA's to choose from he could always find someone to do whatever needed to be done. The cabinet ministers loved it because they could do whatever they wanted with impunity knowing full well there were enough MLA's looking for something that the Ministers had support no matter how asinine the idea they were pitching.
I learned to play the system well and got every single dollar I could for my constituency.
I was elected in a democracy but I certainly did not work in one. There was no incentive for the status quo to change, the PC entitlement mentality can only be overcome by displacement and frankly I think we are very close.
It is the lack of preparedness for the future and the lack of respect for the past that told me I was in the wrong party.
So I changed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Post game analysis:

I can live with Don Iveson as mayor, I didn't vote for him, or the councilor elect in ward two for that matter, but I can live with it.
 I have learned that election victories are fleeting things,  none of these folks are "emperor for life" and all of them, or most anyway, are using municipal office as a stepping stone to the big leagues.  Nothing wrong with that either.

The business at hand, however, be it the arena, that pothole you love to hate or the talus balls that look like both typographical and geological wrong are going to suddenly go away. 

Not much will change.
The art gallery will still leak, squishy architecture may, or may not, continue to be the fad of the week, buses will lose money, people will clamour for more services, more government and more rules until one is passed that causes grief personally, in which case it will be bad.
But rules that only affect others, like smoking within 9,000 metres of a playground will be thought of as good.

The last real conservative mayor  was liberal Lawrence Decore, a great guy who used his office in a pretty fair attempt at displacing a floundering Alberta PC party.  I don't see a Decore in this bunch, Linda Sloan was probably the close to Kerry Diotte in that regard, but neither of them are around now, Mike Nickel looks like the only conservative voice left.

Iveson owes a lot to the NDP and frankly  I don't think he can afford to be too pragmatic, given his support base.   Pragmatism is not Don Ivesons strength anyway and while I cannot argue that the vast majority of people think he will do a good job, the proof will be in the delivery.

He follows the polarizing Stephen Mandell and that will make things tough because Mandell covered such a broad spectrum by agreeing, disagreeing or ignoring issues that Don is going to find it difficult to make his mark.

There are no airports to shutter, arena's, art galleries or museums to built, the LRT has as a plan and aside from the traffic messes it causes, seems to be working.

Mandel's legacy, is impressive, he spent more, built more and yelled more than any mayor previously.  
There was one point in particular that was dear to Mandell's heart that got him nowhere:
Municipal taxation and other topics designed to induce sleep, are very real issues in both rural and urban centers. Cash flush counties and cash poor towns are legion in this province and a very real attempt needs to be made at (God, don't kill me for saying this) redistribution of the wealth.
We don't need new taxation but we do need a better mechanism of allowing those areas with population to share some of the Plant and Machinery windfall that is the current purview of the counties.
This, of course is a no win situation for the provincial government. Any pot of money can only be divided so many ways and ultimately those who's share increases will support the idea while those who's share decreases will strongly oppose it. Look no further than the Gaming Revenue review we did in 09. Ultimately we buried that report deeper than Jimmy Hoffa because there was no way to make winners out of losers.
This will be Iveson's real challenge, convincing the Provincial Government that there are issue with wealth distribution that are more complex than simply granting new taxing powers can solve. It is also Mandell's legacy, the one place where he was not successful.

Talk  of global this and world class that are fine but in reality to properly deliver on core services, to stop making excuses for badly managed infrastructure and to make Edmonton a great place to live some real issues of equity need to be addressed and our new mayor needs to address them quickly, quietly and persistently. That will be his real legacy starting today.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is the problem you are trying to solve? Assessment and action.

Most business improvement plans are based on the "Plan-Do-Review" cycle:  
You plan something, you do it and then you decide if it worked. While elegantly simple and adequate for most purposes I find a small glitch in the methodology, missing  "feedback" it's not enough to plan or do something without some mechanism to permit course correction quickly.

For example, speeding up production to reduce costs in your buggy whip factory will do very little to address your real issue. You can introduce 1,000  processes to get just in time delivery of leather, oak and rivets; develop incentive plans for safe good work and even flatten your middle management ranks to put them closer to the customer, yet you will fail because nobody owns a buggy anymore.

Without data and in particular, feedback loops, you may not realize, as you shovel another scuttle of coal onto your Rumford hearth that the real problem is you have taken 75 years longer than you should to see that buggy whips are obsolete.

I wish this were simply an absurdity, yet if you look around you will see innumerable examples of buggy whip thinking in companies that roll ponderously along simply by inertia.

Newspapers and cable TV providers come immediately to mind. A great example of a near death buggy whip like organization is the "auto-trader". Not so long ago, for $50.00 you could put a picture of your car in a book, people who were looking for a car would buy the book and phone you, you, of course also had to buy a copy just to proof your ad.

Then along came kijijji, an on line service that let's you post 10 pictures, for free and people looking for a car just cruise the website, also for free.
No ink, no waiting a week for your misspelled ad to come out, no paper, 24 hour access, just better all around. Almost overnight  "auto-trader" became the advertising media nobody cared about. 
As for cable or satellite: Ever heard of Roku or Apple TV? I like Roku,  that plus  digital rabbit ears and I am set. I pick what I watch when I want and as far as local TV is concerned;  really? Global news in the morning and that's about it.
Same thing with Travel Agents:  Doomed to obsolescence thanks to Expedia and on line bookings.
A good example of a bloated lumbering industry that managed to survive being  forced to change with the times  are Realtors. 
After being  forced, by government, to end their monopoly and share all their listing data with the buying public, including allowing 'For Sale By Owner" companies, who's whole business model is based on no commissions to nasty sales people.
You  can shop on to your hearts content, call your realtor (or better yet, call Barb Grodaes at Discover Realty DM me for the #)  with the houses you want to see.   No need to mumble about how gross the red shag rug is at some For Sale by Owner house.
Being married to the aforementioned realtor has not influenced my opinion on this, it took a forced reinvention of the industry, based on service to survive.
The For Sale By Owner  companies demanded access to MLS and got it, in exchange, Realtors who don't like zero commission deals find lots of reasons not to sell FSBO listings, thus effectively, creatively and terminally damaged the FSBO business model.
I will talk about that in my blog on unintended consequences.
Its important to note that the survival of Realtors  has more to do with public limitations than anything else;   people hate to negotiate and in the FSBO model negotiation is up close and personal.  Using a Realtor it becomes comfortably anonymous, that anonymity is really why people chose Realtors.
Business too often  is about commitment and belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It can be hard, in the face of the desperate media to know if blackberry is a good deal or not and it's even harder on the inside. (It's a buy in my portfolio) The right data has to  be understood and acted upon.
Plan-do-review with data and feedback lets you measure and understand what is really going on, your speed of failure increases, you get out before you become the next buggy whip maker and your successes are based on more than luck. No industry or activity is exempt, proper feedback loops and data are critical to all decisions that matter and many that don't.
My particular interest is with the champions of industry on who's shoulders rest the livelihoods of far more than the directly employed. Being entrenched in an idea, any idea without knowing why is fraught with peril, thinking with your ego is even worse.
Data wins. Feedback is a gift. Learn to fail quickly.  
Three maxims that are tough to dispute and even harder to adopt.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The most neglected question: What problem are you trying to solve?

I've been a consultant, in one capacity or another, since 1994. Throughout this I have worked with and implemented a great many systems, solutions and technologies that proclaim to solve problems. Some of them work, some work for awhile and some are doomed to failure from the outset.

Since we consultants are a greedy lot, we sell our services on either a hefty day rate or an equally hefty project fee, the occasional consultant will even work on a gain share: that is they get a share of your good fortune.

There is nothing wrong with this, many companies have benefited from the use of "outside hired guns" to solve problems, particularly when the company has taken the time to determine what problem it is trying to solve.

My expertise, which includes, safety process, leadership development and performance metrics is varied enough that I can usually adapt to most any situation. Often though, I'm hired to solve the wrong problem.

My favourite example of this is a sawmill project  in Hines Creek, Alberta in 1997. After my boss and  I giving the client the standard spiel about measurement, feedback, involvement and accountability, the grizzled old mill manager leaned across the table and asked "that's all real nice son, but can you weld?"
I replied "yes I could but did he understand why I was there?
It was a less than auspicious beginning.

After early termination of the contract and a bogus offer by my soon to be former employer to move to Bella Coola BC, I thought to myself  "you know, Ted really did need some good weldors"

(That is not a typo,  a welder s a machine, a weldor is the person skilled in its use, see I do know a little about it)

Ted's boss was very impressed with my work in a completely different situation and in his mind all that was necessary for success was to transition me from one place to another.  As my boss and I both shared the need for billable days, we damned the torpedoes, didn't bother to properly address the real question and failed.

We did not identify what problem we were trying to solve.

In the legislature this happens all the time: laws with good intent are enacted without a clear understanding of the problem. Take, for example distracted driving.

If ever a pointless bit of legislation existed, it's distracted driving. Rather than go so far as to say passengers are a distraction we simply made it illegal to talk on the phone, eat a burger or comb our hair. Having a yappy dog on your lap apparently is ok.

Now I agree that distracted driving, such as texting is stupid so I only text at red lights, but that too is illegal. Law enforcement has gone so far as to ticket drivers who pull off to the shoulder to make a call unless the vehicle is in park and shut off.

I was unclear then and I continue to be as to what problem was being solved.

On a municipal level, I challenge all on council to articulate what problem the arena is supposed to solve, or the airport closure or those chrome balls on the white mud. In every case I propose that no one knows the real answer.  These people aren't stupid, they simply get caught up in the solution and skip the messy part of trying to figure out why we need one.

For companies the answers are often more confusing with abstracts like "team" or "work flow" when in reality the problem could be market share, profitability or productivity.
The current rage for data mining, gathering and assimilation usually doesn't take results into account. There is no point in mining data until you have a need for data and until you know and can articulate it. We can measure anything but it is foolish to think that everything is worth measuring, unless you already know what problem you are trying to solve.
In my role, I teach the art of using tools like measurement to solve problems. I do this formally at first then later, once the user "gets it" I let them determine their own best process.
I'm the guy who sees the big picture and understands the psychology of it, business people should be too busy with their business to be experts on process.
The climate of business has changed in America (I can't speak for the rest of the world) today we are faced with boomers can't retire, schools still think only dumb kids go into the trades or drive trucks, foreign workers and essentially zero unemployment for people with any kind of skill or inclination at all.
Business needs to examine itself very carefully and ask "what problem are we trying to solve?" There is no longer enough extra personnel or margin to manage by numbers alone. Oil sands companies are faced, as are many other industries with very high labour cost, relatively low productivity to the point that the viability of much of it is in jeopardy.
Now before we all panic and import a bunch of people or blame the government in some false hope of getting the job done on time and on budget it's time to actually assess what problem we are trying to solve. It's a difficult and uncomfortable question, we solve solutions so much that often the problem is subordinate entirely.
My interest and apparently life's work after 20 odd years, comes down to carefully helping businesses figure out what problem is greatest and which one needs to be solved first.
It's a lot easier said than done but when it works, it's spectacular. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why do we treat politicians so badly?

I was motivated to write this as I read a Face book post from the spouse of a prominent provincial politician admonishing people for insults and threats of violence aimed at her husband. 
Now, peripherally, I agree that insults and threats of violence are in bad taste, threats generally don't translate into action and as for insults, well sticks and stone might break your bones but being called a "Jack Ass" hardly ever hurts. Might be hard to explain to your kids, but I doubt it will be the underlying cause for their extensive therapy.
In the case of the aforementioned politician however I have less than no sympathy as he himself has gone to great lengths to refer to his colleagues in many derogatory terms. My personal favorite: suggested a wheel chair bound colleague "Stand up for his constituents". Any insults fired off in his direction are well deserved.
Generally however, when asked what the public think of their elected representatives, the most likely response is "they don't".  Arrogance and the false trappings of power might delude some of our elected officials into thinking they are on the public consciousness but in reality they are not.  I cannot, off the top of my head name all of the MP's, MLA's councilors, or trustees who represent Edmonton and I was one. This leads me to believe that the old adage, "as long as you spell my name right" is about the best we, or most elected officials can hope for.
This is particular relevant as we head into the municipal election season, I know of three people running for council in my ward, I think it's a ward, there are a couple of others I don't know, but if I did not actually know three candidates personally I can think of nothing that would make any of them stand out.  At the provincial level, most people vote party, not candidate, the same is true federally, although admittedly since Brent Rathgeber is a very good friend I would vote for him no matter what party he chose to resign from. 
I have empathy and many good things to say about the various elected officials who represent me, I respect what they do, because I used to do it but I also understand the way things work and the real reason people are nice to politicians:
People want money.
It pissed me off that a local cultural group got a two million dollar grant to fight crime and the next time I met the Executive Director he was wearing a real nice suit and instead of driving his Crown Victoria Taxi had upgraded to a new Explorer, I still watch the group to see if any actual results are delivered for the two million: so far, some posters.
Another cultural dance group, and all cultural dance is really just mating rituals to music, was continually asking for funding. They needed money for gala's, suit cases to hold props, costumes, you name it.
As Alberta's cultural ambassadors, they seemed to think they were entitled to the amount of cultural welfare they received. Their Director was less than pleasant toward me when I said "no" once and he wound up doing an end run to the secret committee that hands out controversial or unnecessary grants. Since I was on the committee, I beat him there too. I might not have won the cultural dance vote in the next election but since I knew redistribution of the  boundaries of my constituency would make him someone else's problem for the next election I was free to stand my ground.
(The above paragraph tells you pretty well everything you need to know about decision making)
If  you want to get elected you have to pander to all these narrow focused special interests and if you don't, well you don't get re-elected, or so you think.
Photo-ops, handing out cheques and making deep and meaningful speeches at the various gala events politicians attend are very gratifying for the ego and hopefully translate into votes.
But with such awesome ability to freely dispense with the public purse comes the inevitable downside of having to say no, politicians are loath to pick winners and losers, yet most of what our politicians do is align themselves to winning the next election.
Policy and legislation are timed, the heavy lifting i.e. stuff you don't like, such as more taxes happen early in the mandate so you will forget about it by polling day. It's a rare politician indeed who will invite controversy in the latter part of a mandate, makes no difference what party. Opposition tries to stir controversy up and the governing party tries to sweeten the pot.
The public wind up being bribed with their own money and all hope they will get some.
It's hypocritical for the elected official to complain about how they are treated really, public service is one thing, but the lust for power is quite another. The public don't care: 21% of the people in Fort MacMurray voted in the last provincial election, over all voter engagement is falling, not because people don't care but because  there is really nothing to get engaged in.
It's been a long time in this city, province or country that we elected people because their ideas were better. If we did we might discover that the quality of decision making, the ability and responsibility to pick winners and losers would take precedence over the need to trump on polling day. 
As for insults and threats of violence, you reap what you sow.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

35 years after

I graduated from Archbishop O'Leary High School in 1978. Over the years I have stayed in touch with a few, but not many of the 440 odd people who graduated in the same year. In October we are having a hall party to celebrate our 35th reunion.
Our class is in no way unique from those who went before or came after, we have a collection of lawyers, plumbers, consultants and in my case a one term MLA. It wasn't being an MLA that garnered any one's attention, we had long before had semi monthly reunions at a local pub and had, as a group, taken up the cause of helping one of our own finance the Zamboni treatment.
It's a lot of fun to sit and chat with your friends and acquaintances from that long ago, in a school of 1,500 kids, most of us knew about 100 and were friends with maybe 25, more if you were a jock or a cheer leader, but most of the time, it's meeting strangers you have not seen for 35 years and you are only meeting now because they have not met you for 35 years either.
We all changed, a little greyer, fatter, more glasses, grand kids and marriages, but then 35 years is a long time and while nostalgia is one thing, a common bond of, for lack of a better word, safety, prevails.
North Edmonton did not produce a lot of monied families, most of us were raised poor, working class but taught to fend for ourselves and never realized that we were doing without.  By and large people continue to live the lives of their parents, maybe with a little more square footage and bathrooms but ultimately the same kind of jobs, dreams and more importantly, expectations.
We were the sons and daughters of Firemen, Bus Drivers, Grocers, Factory workers and our parents sent us to Catholic school because we were raised the best way they knew how.  As I drive to my house in Kensington, I drive by Angie's old place, Pauline's old place and Lang's grocery store. The Lang family still own the store, Pauline's home and family business P&H foods is gone and Angie's family long ago moved away. And I don't care because I will always call the white house Angie's, the building on 127 ave. Pauline's and while it's not called Len's Wellington Tom Boy anymore, Shop Easy foods on 132 ave. and 132 street is still open for business.
None of this mattered to me, really, until I ran for office in 2008 and realized that this really was my home and quite often I met the parents of the kids I went to school with. This was troubling at times for in addition to not being the best student, I also tended to get into my fair share of trouble.
What it really did was make me realize how important those years were to my development and what a phenomenal impact my peers had on making me who I am. I've written about the Spartan Class of 78 before and I probably will again, right after October 7th when I get to see everyone at the 35th reunion.
If you are a 78 Spartan, get off your ass and come out to the party.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The only thing wrong with your sewer pipes is the shite Epcor is feeding you about buying insurance

I received  a letter from EPCOR addressed to "Homeowner"  outlining why I needed to buy insurance for my sewer line from an outfit called HOMESERVE that for some reason knows I do not have insurance on my sewer line at my home address. Now had they used my name I would have immediately filed a formal complaint with their privacy officer as I have never given EPCOR consent to share my information with anyone, so to get around this they use the phrase "Homeowner" on an EPCOR envelope.

I will not buy, and I do NOT recommend you do either, buy insurance for your sewer line from EPCOR or their cozy affiliate HOMESERVE. It's a scam, but as EPCOR is largely responsible for the problem of plugged sewer lines in the first place, it's a clever way out of a sticky situation, let me explain:

EPCOR, is, of course and in reality, Edmonton Power and was so named until, in a attempt to deflect public scrutiny of the state of our infrastructure, it was reorganized as a private corporation who's sole shareholder is the City of Edmonton.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's Edmonton power. Further proof is that 100% of the shares in EPCOR are owned by the City of Edmonton, yet another clever dodge of accountability by your existing council and administration.
Now given the rather horrific cost of replacing the "public sewer system EPCOR has opted to use as system called Insitu lining, where a thin and flexible vinyl liner is inserted in the crappy old pipe and inflated to cost the inside, then once the liner dries technology is used to cut opening at each residential sewer pipe input point. This hole, which is never inspected or cut with 100% accuracy creates a slight obstruction where your home sewer line joins the public main. Because the natural direction of flow is away from your house toward the sewer main, any obstruction, particularly if you have one of those eco friendly low flow toilets will cause the solids that are normally suspended in the flush water hang up on the cut  and settle out   you will have a plugged sewer line, on your property, that you have to fix at your own expense.
The engineers at EPCOR and the contractors who install the pipe liners know all about this, but since you dear citizen prefer your poo to just vanish never to be thought of again, they are counting on consumer ignorance to never make the link between an increase in plugged residential sewers and the use of insitu pipe liners.
Besides, you do really want to think about where your turds go, or the technology involved.
Now there are a couple of things you can do about it, first, is flush twice for all solids, avoid all paper products and dump your grease in the garbage. I would also suggest you throw away your garburator, but you wont.  Ultimately though, you could switch to a no meat-high fiber diet to accomplish all of the above while maintaining a healthy colon.
EPCOR knows, however that you are not going to do this, so instead of you managing your sewer pipe, they simply sell you insurance for $15.99 a month. 
Now the guys who unplug toilets and auger sewer lines can pretty well charge whatever they want, rule one of their  business being "don't lick your fingers", so insurance might be a good idea if you have no money or interest in any of this. Very high ICK factor, but if you are reasonably conscientious, you can keep your sewers happily alive without the help of the costly insurance from HOMESERVE.
Now HOMESERVE is not really an insurance company, I can find no record of them being registered as such in Alberta and while I suspect there is some linkage between the executive of HOMESERVE and  EPCOR, I will wait until I have proof before I suggest  a sweetheart deal amongst old business friends. I would, of course be remiss in making any such suggestion without proof, so I wont..
None the less, if you call your own insurance company, they will sell you exactly the same thing for about a third of what EPCOR is charging through HOMESERVE, even though they are really convenient and will just add the insurance to the water bill for you.
At that point there is no longer a sticky PIPA issue with EPCOR giving your information to HOMESERVE.
As a consumer you'd be wise to learn a little bit about sewer lines, sewer pipes need maintenance, will fail for a variety of reasons that aren't EPCORS fault and generally you have to get a pro in to fix it. I don't recommend you rent a big sewer auger at the lumberyard as you can do more damage than you fix if you don't know what you are doing. but fortunately most sewer repair companies are reliable and, while costly, are problem free.
As for EPCOR: their violation of the spirit of the Personal Information Protection Act is undoubtedly the work of a clever legal department that will make the sweetheart deal with HOMESERVE look like a legitimate business transaction.  I am loath to suggest otherwise.
Bottom line, you don't need to buy insurance from them, do your homework it will save you money hand over fist and since you will never be able to prove the problem with insitu pipe liners, you might want to get a quote from a real insurance company, if you bother to do it at all.
My sewer line was replaced about 15 years ago, once I got rid of my water sucking birch trees from my yard I have had a sewer back up once and my house is 45 years old.
Buying insurance from EPCOR is about as smart as buying paint and upholstery protection for a new car. 
Caveat emptor, in this case seriously caveat!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

PMO staffer Nick Koolsbergen tells tory cabinet ministers who to hate, what time to have a nap and when it's their turn on the swing set.

I could not make this up and neither did my friend Josh Wingrove, the Globe and Mail Ottawa correspondent. 
An under-underling in the PMO called Nick Koolsbergen does exactly what he is told and sends out a list of people the new cabinet ministers are supposed to hate.
I find it remarkable that the PMO has learned nothing in the recent past, hopeful I suppose that the names of the fat white people who  were kicked out of the Senate, or the svelt MP from St. Albert who told them to take a hike will be forgotten before the next election.
Koolsbergen is so inconsequential he has a total of 345 followers on Twitter,  less than my dog.
Clearly he is not the mastermind behind this latest attempt to control cabinet ministers, indeed the fact he signed the memo tells me all I need to know about his ability to mastermind anything, this is just another poli-sci grad who will go to any length to avoid getting a job that involves real work. I would guess his other job on this file  was to punch the holes in the pages of the binder.
All of this underscores, yet again,  just how hopeless and ridiculous the entire PMO debacle has become.
I, as MLA long admired the utter lack of cooperation from the Mandarin class of senior civil servants. Their favorite concept:  legislation by regulation is nothing more than the Mandarin class structuring laws in such a way that they can be changed at will without legislative or public scrutiny.
Classic "Yes Minister" stuff.
Nick, like lots of  cannon fodder before him, wants to get in the Mandarin class meal line, he thinks he can lead others by doing what he is told, but in reality the only this thing kid knows how to do is WHAT he is told. The question now simply remains as to who told him.
We could ask the cabinet ministers  but they will likely quote Carl Vallee the spokesman on the file who said:
 "We don't comment on internal communications, we are collaborating with our Ministers, especially new Ministers, to ensure they are fully briefed so they can continue their work on behalf of Canadian taxpayers"   
Well thank God someone is.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I generally go to great lengths to disagree with MLA Rob Anderson, but today I find no option but to agree.

The flooding in High River and area is tragic, people losing their homes and their possessions can be considered nothing but.  You can blame global warming for the flood or the government for letting people build on flood plains, you can blame the developer, the contractor or the insurance company but in the end, the tragic reality is: people are encouraged to make decisions about things they know very little about and trust that the consequences of their decisions will be positive and if not, at least covered by insurance.

To build a house, on the side of a hill, a flood plain or beside a transportation utility corridor often brings with it unpleasant surprises like, slides, floods or 500 KVA power lines.  Some of these things are inconveniences, but  landslides or flood can be major personal disasters.

Now we as society, are quick to protect everyone from everything and in the case of those who made bad, (hindsight) decisions thought must always be given to the ability of the state to help. Protection of life always preempts property, but once life is protected, even if it means the RCMP breaking into houses to keep the guns from doing harm, the debate of how to restore one to their former state is tricky.

Rob said, he did not think the province should replace the half million dollar houses that people lost, and while he said this about people living in his bosses constituency and not his own, I can assume the same sentiment would apply in Airdrie and frankly, I agree.

I go to great lengths to avoid owning property in locations subject to landslides, flood plains or new housing subdivisions  because I am blessed with knowing a thing or two about construction and I see no point in building a house that is going to float away, fall away or burn down just because the neighbor has a BBQ.
Basically I do not like people enough to live in a new subdivision, they are just too close, consequently I have never lost a home or a friend to some natural disaster or observing some aberrant personal behavior.

But not many people know the things I know about housing, granite counter tops seems to take precedence over proper functioning sumps and landscape grading. Even Mike Holmes, will tell you about these things in a way  soccer Mom's who enjoy carpenter beefcake will appreciate.

But  people buy based on emotion and not through study and expertise and with this comes the challenge of how much protection can we afford the average citizen? Should we, as a society underwrite the risks people are subject too, foreseeable or not?

Questions arise:
  • Is it acceptable to build on a 200 year flood plain, knowing that water  might not wait 200 years to flood you out?
  • Should the developer be required to disclose, along with the municipality, the existence of the flood plain to the purchaser?
  • Should the title to the property not indicate known geological, lithological, aquatic or pre-existing land use issues.
  • Should those, who chose to buy in high risk locations be required, as part of the lenders due diligence, to maintain insurance coverage specific to the risk  as a specific peril?
  • What do home inspectors actually do anyway?
Now Rob is, of course, trying to distance his party from being responsible for the floods despite the fact, climate change is occurring and they won't admit that the human race is the greatest catastrophe to occur on the planet since the beginning of time.  However the folks who most strongly support such views are apt to not vote for Rob even if they live in a mud hut in Airdrie. 
There are, of course, no mud huts in Airdrie, the closest thing they have is the basement suite I used to occupy, occasionally.  I certainly do not think the human race is bad for the planet, we are the only reason beavers are not number one at ecosystem modification and as the superior species, the Alpha as it were, we can damn well do what we want with the place because if we stop, Mother Earth is going to undo all our good work in about ten years anyway.
Rob is correct, we need not provide full restitution to those harmed in the floods, it is not societies responsibility to restore everyone to the way they were before the incident, but it is our responsibility to offer reasonable advance awareness to people who build homes on the side of hills, flood plains, flight paths or TUC's. 
Ugly precedents to the contrary have been set in Edmonton when the city lost the law suit holding them responsible for the sloughing of the river bank and had to buy some houses that were on their way to the Hudson bay, but that had more to do with who owned the houses than real civic liability.
In High River, some will be ok, others will not, there is no magic dredging solution to maintain the idyllic frontage views of the river, flood plains are unsafe, period. 
It's the same property rights argument we get all the time, but in this case I do feel sympathy for those who bought granite counter top and sump pump equipped houses on the flood plain. To avoid repeating this issue we must create awareness of the need for personal loss mitigation combined with full disclosure from the authorities having jurisdiction of the inherit risks.
We can't replace every one's house, stand your ground on this issue Rob, but follow it up with some strategies to mitigate future repeats, work with the government on this next step, you'll look like a real hero.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Welcome to my new blog, necessary because I deleted my old one accidentially

Damn it all to hell:  I was up to 11,000 hits on my old blog and now it is toast, gone to the place where binary code goes to die.  I  have no idea how this happened, one minute I updated my email because isn't valid anymore and the next thing I know, no blog.

I feel somewhat safe knowing it is out there in the ionosphere someplace but it's still irritating and likely I can hire the skills necessary to recover it, or not.
My last blog was about the funny things Catholics do and while  a departure from my normal political rants it was, none the less quite popular. 
This week it's just about questions:
  • How could a guy as old as Vic Toews have a kid in Kindergarten? 
    • I have a grandson starting kindergarten, he's what 75?
  • Where did the senate scandal go?
    • Are the Feds now so transparent they just made it disappear?
  • Why was Justin Trudeau at a PC pancake breakfast?
    • Did he being maple syrup or that too regionalist of me?
  • What did Gil McGowan blow when he got his impaired driving charge?
    • I said "what".
  • How did the Friends of Medicare find a new Executive Director with exactly the same voice as the old one?
    • I understand though, unconfirmed, that the gender is different.
  • Does the CBC really think it's a good idea to stop shipping oil by anything that might spill or catch fire?
    • Horse back in a leather pouch perhaps?
  • Was anyone surprised that Stephen Mandell's trailer park is NOT in Terwillegar and that he blamed the county for bad drainage?
    • Who would he have blamed if it had been in Edmonton, or does it really surprise anyone to learn he owns a trailer park?
  • Is flying photo radar really that far from the provincial consciousness?
    • After all those communities that use photo radar report significant revenue increases without the associated costs of enforcement.
  • Could you build a house in less time than it takes Kim Kardashian to wreck a home?
    • Who the hell is Kim Kardashian anyway?
And on it goes, as you can see each of these questions deserves a good answer. That probably isn't going to happen.
My time hanging out on Courtney Love's tour bus:
I confess, up front to not knowing  who Courtney Love is but since it's her 49th birthday today  I thought I would  describe, from personal experience,  the conditions in which she travelled.
Many years ago, I was east bound on the Trans Canada highway at Strathmore,(yet another town that successfully lobbied NOT to be bypassed so they can have lots of photo radar revenue like St. Albert and Whitecourt) when a small car left the road and hit  an exposed culvert sustaining terminal damage, fortunately the occupants were reasonably ok.
As we were waiting for the various emergency service providers to respond, an east-bound tour bus,  stopped and two women got out.
One apparently was Courtney Love.
Rather than hear her say things like, "this wreck is rad" or "How'd it feel to wrestle with death" she simply and quite graciously simply invited us into the bus and proceeded to make tea.

The bus itself was quite ordinary, no giant bongs or gymnastic equipment bolted to the ceiling, it was by all appearances a pretty nice place to wile away the hours between gigs.
After the police and tow truck  left, I agreed to take the people in the damaged car  to Brooks, their destination, this minor gesture, was apparently an act of kindness not common in the Love household, where people were more apt to shoot themselves, and Courtney offered me tickets to her show in Calgary;  Edge-Fest I believe it was called. 

Regrettably I declined as I knew I had to mow the lawn that night.
Upon telling my teenage daughter that I had met someone named Courtney Love and declined the aforementioned concert tickets, I suddenly went from good dad to very bad Dad as these tickets and their back stage passes would have been a status symbol with considerable stroke amongst her peers. 
I have never listened to the band HOLE and doubt I ever will, but the concert persona and the persona of the lady who made tea on the bus were not the same.  I did not ask her about Kurt because, to this day I have no idea who he is. Since then however he has earned  my undying respect that like the pig vs. the chicken, Kurt and the pig were committed to their music and breakfast respectively,  whereas  chickens and punk rockers who only threaten to kill themselves, merely participate.
Bravo Kurt, I just wish you could inspire some rappers.