If You Build It, They Will Come*

*With apologies to W. P. Kinsella (for ‘borrowing’ and misquoting “If you build it, he will come”)

I’ve now heard or read a dozen plus politicians, former politicians, wannabe politicians, commentators and politically savvy folks of all stripes, note that the right outpolled the NDP, 52% to 41%.  The right, of course, is the PC’s and the Wildrose combined.  This point is made variously by those advocating that the right unite and by others who advance any case based on the point that the right remains bigger than the left in Alberta.

All of this, while entirely predictable, is entirely wrong. Life, and in this case voting, just isn’t that simple.  And it’s not the math that’s hard here, as 28% and 24% do indeed add up to 52%, it’s just that 28% and 24% don’t add up to 52% at the polls.  That’s because the PC’s and the Wildrose aren’t accurate proxies for “the right”.

The argument, even on its face, is preposterous.  The “right” has spent 3 years, 6 years, longer than that really, telling anyone who would listen that the PC’s are not right wingers and, indeed, they’re really more like liberals. Suggesting, then, that the PC’s bring 28% worth of “the right” to the equation strikes me as, what’s the word . . . ? Wrong.

Look, let’s start with reality. The election we just lived through was extraordinary. While previous PC voters, in significant numbers, voted NDP, the bigger shocker is that a meaningful number of folks who voted Wildrose in 2012, voted NDP in 2015. That explains how ridings where the NDP base was 10%, went NDP at 50%.  So does that mean that right wingers voted for socialism? That those Wildrose voters weren’t actually all that right wing in the first place? Or that they were right wing, but became socialists over the last three years? I suppose any of these scenarios are possible (though converting to socialism strikes me as least likely), but for the most part that’s not what happened.

Many, if not most, of those voters simply voted to get rid of the PC’s in 2015.  And many of them were voting with exactly the same motivation in mind in 2012.  That is, they aren’t NDP today and they weren’t Wildrose in 2012. They were anti-PC both times. The obvious implication is that ideology took a back seat – both times – to a basic belief that the PC’s had to go. The two unifying features were, first, that the PC’s had to go and, second, that voting Wildrose (in 2012) and NDP (in 2015) was the best way to get rid of them.

Now I’m not going to delve into why the PC’s had to go.  The short answer is that “the reason” was different and varied for disparate groups of voters, but after 44 years tension builds up, mistakes get made, and remade, and people want a change.

The takeaway is that the ideology based premise is fundamentally flawed. The “right” didn’t get 52% because neither the PC’s nor even the Wildrose are proxies for the “right”. If you believe in a spectrum, be clear that voters span it in all parties. But in reality, most voters aren’t driven by ideology, whichever party they are in.  While some are driven by ideology, I’d argue that larger numbers are tribal (meaning they vote for their party, regardless of the current platform) and that increasingly voters are going with their gut, their intuition, to vote for the party, and by that I really mean leader, with whom they feel the most comfortable.

There may be more ideological voters in the NDP and Wildrose than in the other parties, and the PC’s, liberals and NDP may have decades-old tribal followings, but increasingly that is not what drives voters. Voters decide based on which leader they perceive as being the best for them, their families, their community, right now. Who seems more genuine? More trustworthy? More competent? If it’s close, the tiebreak is ‘who is more likable’?

People vote based on who they perceive cares about the issues most important to them. Their job, healthcare, education. Not who promises to build more schools, but who they believe will make the right decisions to better educate their children. Does that mean more schools; more teachers? Perhaps those are proxies, but if they don’t believe you can get it done or, worse yet, that you don’t intend to get it done, you have no shot. Integrity and competence matter – and they should.

“Uniting the right” is appealing because it sounds easy. It avoids the hard work. But it can’t be done.  Oh, you can try, if that’s what members in both parties decide to do, but I’d suggest that the results won’t be what people expect. However you slice it, combining the two parties doesn’t result in 52% — not by a long shot.

That’s why I don’t believe it will happen. In the end the PC’s will work to renew, rebuild and try to earn their way to power. As will the Wildrose. It won’t be easy, particularly for the PC’s. The NDP and the Wildrose will not agree on much, but they’ll almost certainly agree on changing campaign financing to benefit the NDP/Wildrose parties and disadvantage the PC’s. They’ll agree that the accumulated mistakes and misdeeds from 40+ years in power need to be exposed and condemned and they’ll agree that the PC’s are dead and should be buried. Rebuilding will be hard, so hard in fact that the outcome is far from certain.

But what I am sure of is that people want leadership.  They want competence, vision, leading by actions, not words, and they want integrity. They want leadership. And not just by the Leader – by MLA’s, political staff, candidates, party officers, party staff and even volunteers.

The party that offers that – whether in government or from the opposition, will succeed. It starts with leadership, which draws others – compels others – to join the cause. Candidates, organizers, volunteers, fundraisers, all brought together by genuine leadership.

Peter Lougheed spent a couple years of his life crisscrossing the province, listening to people who knew what they were talking about, building support, recruiting candidates and preparing to govern. It came at a high personal cost – his kids were young – but he did it anyway. People had a sense that when the chips were down, Lougheed would do the right thing. He went from nothing to six seats, to a massive majority, in two elections. Now don’t get me wrong, Premier Lougheed wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t above politics – a notable example being that rather than engaging his Alberta opponents, he ran steadfastly against Trudeau, again and again, because it worked.  But at base, Lougheed won repeatedly because he was a leader.

There are lessons there for all of us. Build a party worth supporting and the support will be there – and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s PC, Wildrose, NDP, Liberal, the Alberta Party or the next iteration of a Party to be named later. But build it right. No excuses, or half measures. On every issue, search for the solution to the problem. Go with what you find. Make every situation better. Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Don’t shy away from making a tough decision. And above all else, ignore what you think will be popular and what people want to hear. It might not work in the end, but it might, and wouldn’t it be fun to find out?

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An NDP Majority Would Be A Problem, Because An NDP Majority Would Be A Problem

So there is one week to go in the 2015 election and if you’re reading this you’ll realize that my resolve not to blog during the 2015 election wasn’t as firm as I thought it was.

Let’s start by setting a couple of things straight. The polls in 2012 weren’t wrong. They were actually quite accurate. The shift that occurred in the last 72 hours of the campaign – from Wildrose to PC – may well have been unprecedented in Alberta, or perhaps even Canadian political history, but it happened.  And it happened largely after the final media polls were out of the field, so it went un-measured by those pollsters and therefore unreported. Internal polls captured much of the movement, which gained momentum even after we were out of the field as well.

The second thing to understand is that the Wildrose lost the 2012 election. The PC’s didn’t win. Trust me on that.  I was co-chair of the PC’s 2012 campaign. I had a front row seat. It was not a fun show to watch, though I did like the ending. The Wildrose lost for reasons now well-understood, from ‘lake of fire’, to ‘white candidates being better able to represent voters’, to Wildrose leadership taking the position that candidates would be able to freely ‘speak their mind’, no matter how intolerant, in a Wildrose government.  It was that last position that lost it for Wildrose not the eruptions that preceded it. My opinion, of course.

Why is that relevant today? It’s relevant because the polls today aren’t wrong. When the headline reads: NDP Majority Within Reach, as headlines will sometime this week, it’s because an NDP majority is, well, within reach. Of course that’s nonsense, or that’s what we’ll be told, what we’ll believe, or at least what those of us who are centre or right of centre will want to believe. But it’s true. It is true today and the polls are just catching up.

So is an NDP majority a problem? [cue the ‘scare tactics’ stories] Well the short answer is not ‘it depends’.  The answer isn’t ‘if you’re NDP it’s great, if you’re PC or Wildrose it’s not’, and so on. Trust me, that’s the easy answer but it’s wrong. The reality is a bit more complicated.

Another answer that’s wrong is ‘well, it depends on whether they follow through with their stated policies’. That may be closer to the truth, but it’s also wrong because the answer is far more time sensitive than that.

An NDP majority is a problem because we think it’s a problem. Now to be fair, I’m using ‘we’ in a not entirely inclusive context. An NDP majority is a problem because business and investors (which is most of us, when you include small business owners, market participants and even most pension beneficiaries) believe the NDP will be disastrous for the economy. In other words an NDP majority government would be dangerous because that belief alone would be disastrous for the economy.

The problem is that Alberta doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For years the Alberta economy boomed because business and investors avoided Saskatchewan and BC and sought out similar opportunities in Alberta.  Saskatchewan and BC, in those days, had NDP governments. Given a choice, business flocked to Alberta and Alberta’s resources were developed. Investment means jobs, jobs mean prosperity. Alberta profited at Saskatchewan’s, and BC’s, expense.

Which brings us to today. We have conservative governments in both Saskatchewan and BC (O.K., they’re Liberal in BC, but it’s common knowledge that they’re not liberal). If Alberta becomes a bad place to do business, Brad Wall is there with open arms. With a reliable, steady, business climate, resources to be developed and a similar labour pool. This game works both ways, and no one would welcome an NDP government in Alberta more than Premier Wall (privately that is – he’s a smart guy).  He’s probably already booked a room at the Hyatt for next week to meet with industry leaders. Premier Clark too, but given the time change she’ll be a couple of hours late.

In today’s world, business can shift focus, and investment, almost overnight. Investors can bail on Alberta companies even faster. Just pop online and enter a sell order. It takes longer for skilled labour to follow investment, but not that long. If you lived in Alberta 10 years ago, you know how many Saskatchewanians relocated to Alberta. Jobs are created by investment.

So is that what happened in Ontario under Premier Rae, Saskatchewan under Premier Calvert or BC under Premier’s Harcourt, Clark, et al? That’s a good question. Was it NDP policies that caused business to avoid their jurisdictions or was it the perception of increased instability, increased risk? Or was it both?

Are the Notley policies really that scary? A few of them may be, but honestly that’s not the problem.  Business and investors will make up their mind on election night or shortly thereafter – before the first NDP budget, or their promised royalty review, or Premier Notley’s first reversals (when she announces she’s going to Washington after all, or limiting her royalty review to just part of the regime, etc.). The damage will be done long before any of that.

Will the NDP win a majority? A minority? Will they finish second or even third? Who knows. A week is an eternity in politics and studies show that few voters pay attention until the latter stages of the campaign. But the NDP rise can’t be denied and voters are now facing a real choice of very different philosophies when they cast their ballots. It is a choice many will make as early as this week in advance polls.

Now, I’m not part of the 2015 PC campaign and, frankly, I’m not sure this analysis helps them much. Many voters will be unaffected by these considerations and who knows whether voters who want to stop the NDP will turn to the PC’s or the Wildrose in key ridings. But I am sure that an NDP majority is a problem, because, well, an NDP majority is a problem.

That may or may not be fair, but a review of history tells us how investors view the world – like it or not.


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Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons

As I watch you develop and grow, and I think back to my childhood, I’m amazed at what you are accomplishing in life.  Whether it’s school, sports, guitar, cooking, your ease with technology, or simply just who you are becoming as exceptional people, I’m often in awe.  But I’m also concerned.  I’m concerned because, well, frankly, you have advantages in life that I didn’t have. And, yes, that concerns me.

Let me start by saying that this is not about being happy.  Happy is the most important, but it’s a bigger topic for a different day.  Today is about earning your way in life.  That’s one element of being happy, but it’s just that – one element. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that our life is easy, but it is privileged. You kind of came along after much of the adversity was behind us. That concerns me, because I’ve come to believe that adversity is important.  It’s how we develop and grow.  It prepares us for the variance that is life. It doesn’t seem like it at the time, but the struggle is what makes us successful.  It’s what makes life good.

And our life is pretty good.   So I think it’s important that I offer you some advice. I’ve been waiting a while to say this — until you were old enough to understand.  Now is that time. So here it goes.

Have you noticed that we’re rich? Not rich rich, but rich enough that we have a nice house, nice cars and we generally we have a nice lifestyle.  We go to Hawaii, or somewhere nice, every year. Life is good. But here’s the thing. We’re not all rich. Put another way, your mom and I are rich, but you’re not.

Now, that’s not surprising, as you’re just 12 and 15, but it is important that you understand that you’re not rich. Sure, it seems like you’re rich, as you live in the same house as your mother and I do, ride in the same cars and vacation wherever we go. But that’s our lifestyle. You enjoy it because you’re living with us, but after you move out, after school, once you start working, you will most definitely realize that you’re not rich. So I’m offering this advice to give you a head start.

Sure, when the time comes you’ll get a job, or start a business, and you’ll have money for rent, food, an iphone and who knows what, but that’s not “inner city house paid for” money, not luxury car money, not Hawaii money.  If you want that — if you want that lifestyle — you need to achieve that on your own. You need to earn that.

That means more than getting good grades just because you can, choosing what’s easy over what challenges you and much more than believing that good, is good enough.

You need to work hard, really hard, at whatever you do. Sure, you get to play video games, watch TV and relax, but that should be the break from the hard. Good at math? Be great. Good at cooking “for your age” — be great for your age, be great period. Guitar, football, whatever you choose to invest your time in, go all out.  Be curious and don’t be put off. Speak up and care about whatever you’re doing.

Look, I don’t know what you’ll be passionate about when you’re older, and I’m sure you don’t yet either, so just be open to every opportunity and work to be great at whatever you do. Do that and one day you’ll wake up to discover that your dreams are coming true.

Then you’ll be rich. Probably not rich rich — but then again you never know.

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Since when has mocking led to greater understanding?

OK, as the vaccine debate turns increasingly ugly, I have a few thoughts about the importance of searching for the truth, rather than defending a “position”. These thoughts are based on my experience as both a political hack and as a litigator. In both those arenas there is more harm done by pursuing victory at any cost than any other phenomenon.

If you cut through all the pro and anti-vaccine rhetoric, it seems pretty clear that:

1) vaccines work (some better than others) and have saved hundreds of millions of lives;
2) the medical community says they are safe;
3) by “safe” they mean statistically safe, which is to say if 1 out of a million people die, then that is statistically safe as the rate of death is “statistically insignificant” (unless you’re 1 in a million, in which case it’s pretty significant);
4) society is safer as a whole if everyone gets vaccines; and
5) despite #4, people currently have the right of self-determination, which is to say that they can choose to refuse vaccines, both avoiding the risks they pose (usually small, although the risks appear to be higher in younger, older and physically compromised individuals) but also losing the benefit vaccines bestow of likely immunity from whatever that particular vaccine would have addressed.

The real shame is that the debate is so heated. Pro-vaccine commentators suggest that folks who don’t vaccinate are addle-brained, or worse. Anti-vaccine folks suggest that by calling vaccines safe the medical community is perpetrating a fraud on the public. The truth, as always, is somewhere less extreme.

The pro-vaccine lobby might well be more successful by acknowledging, instead of skirting, that while adverse reactions may be rare, and severe reactions even more rare, they are nonetheless real and do occur. Rare simply means they don’t happen that often statistically. That might give skeptics more confidence in the information they are receiving.

Similarly, the anti-vaccine folks could also benefit from being more open to the science in the area, or at least science not funded by pharmaceutical companies, and by examining more critically theories that question the overall effectiveness of vaccines. It might also help to keep in mind that most health care professionals simply accept the information they are given that vaccines are “safe”. That doesn’t make them part of a conspiracy.

I’m generally pro-vaccine, which is to say that I believe the benefits — both individually and collectively — outweigh the risks. But I’m troubled by two things.

First, the mocking/sarcasm/bullying and other forms of hostility being employed in the “debate”, is really counterproductive. I should say that these traits are most often displayed by the pro side, and then most often by folks who appear to have actually not looked into the issue at all. They support vaccines on faith, which is perhaps a poor intellectual position from which to mock folks with a different set of beliefs.

Second, I’m troubled that the public health/medical community choose messages designed to convince folks to vaccinate, without addressing concerns about the risks. I’m increasingly concerned that there are no good answers to the concerns about the dangers of adverse reactions, and more specifically, why adverse reactions aren’t studied more, why physicians don’t receive more training on recognizing and treating such reactions. I’m concerned because if there were good answers to those questions I would expect that we would have seen them by now.

If we, as a society, want better take up rates in what is still a voluntary preventative medical treatment, we need to stop ridiculing concerns and start addressing those concerns. People are generally smart and sensible. If they get objective information on the risks, most will still choose to vaccinate. But if the risks are much higher for vaccinating infants, or for combining multiple vaccines into one shot, don’t people deserve to know that? That is the very essence of informed consent.

At base, I think we’d all be better off trying to have a discussion that leads to greater understanding and truth, rather than trying to “prove” that whatever idea we currently hold is 100% accurate and that the only need is to convince others, rather than critically examine our own beliefs.

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Will we ever stop bullying?

Recent tragic events have made bullying into a topical news story, but that will fade and the problems associated with bullying will continue — unless we start to address the root cause.

I have been involved at the board level with the Impact Society for many years. There is no doubt in my mind that the programs Impact delivers in schools are the foundation upon which educators of the future will build their school curriculum and school cultures.   The heart of the challenges we see in our current education paradigm highlight where the solution lies. Impact finds itself in a situation where the demand for its programs, while growing year over year, has reached an inflection point. The organization is quite frankly in need of significantly more resources to satisfy this growing demand. It is extremely frustrating to be in this position of not being able to help all those that are requesting it today. While we envision a day when Impact will derive significant funding directly from the school boards, currently the main source of funding for the organization remains donations from individuals and corporations.

If you have a couple of minutes to consider these issues, I’d strongly urge you watch the short video found here: Morgan’s Choices.  A player loads, hit play and it runs about 2 minutes.  It explains the importance of what we do better than I ever could.   

You can also visit the website  www.impactsociety.com  to get acquainted with the great work the organization is doing. On the top of the home page is a “donate” button — you know what that’s for.

If you’re interested in getting involved or finding out more about presenting the HEROES program in schools, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the Impact team so you can further develop your relationship with Impact.

Thanks for your consideration.

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Hello world!

Welcome to my Blog.  If you’re interested in politics, football, life or standup comedy, you may find some of what I have to say of interest.

Today was a very sad day, for me and so many Canadians.  I attended Peter Lougheed’s Memorial Service at the Jubilee.  I thoroughly enjoyed the big band sound of the Jim Brenan Orchestra, the Gershwin on Jens Lindemann’s Flugal horn, Natalie Fagnan’s voice and the Afiara String Quartet.  Equally entertaining, and more poignant, were the moving tributes by Rex Murphy, Lee Richardson, Jim Dinning, Stephen Harper and, of course, Alison Redford.  Stephen Lougheed also spoke on behalf of the family, doing a marvelous job.   I couldn’t possibly list all the dignitaries in attendance to pay their respects, but the list includes Premiers’ Charest and Wall, Joe Clark, Michael Wilson (my former boss), I believe I saw Marc Lalond, Mayor Nenshi, what appeared to be the entire current  Provincial Cabinet and PC Caucus, opposition leaders, and so many friends and fellow travelers from campaigns and life in years gone by.

Peter Lougheed’s life was honoured and celebrated today by his family, his friends, his colleagues, his opponents and hundreds of people who had never even met him.  It was noted often, and with sincerity, that today each of us lives in Peter Lougheed’s Alberta.  The province was shaped by his ideas, his leadership and his years of service.  The Prime Minister, at least one former Prime Minister and 3 sitting Premiers, were there to honour Mr. Lougheed and to acknowledge his extraordinary leadership and accomplishments.

In some ways Rex Murphy summed it up best when he quipped that this Memorial was a real pleasure for him, as at most other memorials he had to lie.  But not today.

This evening I took my sons to their football practices, another of Peter Lougheed’s passions and abilities, and enjoyed watching them having a grand old time.  Life is very good in Alberta.  Thank you Premier Lougheed.

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