Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ed's Ides of March

The best not kept secret in Alberta was finally blurted out last Friday, while farmer Ed was glad handing and announcing another pre-budget billion dollar give away, one of his MLA's gleefully announced to the media that the provincial election would be March 3rd. And sure enough right after the throne speech on Monday, Ed announced his own Ides of March, the election is now on and will be Monday March, 3.

Stelmach has something no other political premier can match for wooing voters - lots of money. Before the writ was even dropped, the Tories pledged $6 billion a year over the next 20 years on capital projects, including municipal infrastructure, schools, highways, housing and health facilities. And there's plenty more where that came from. Just watch the promises over the next three weeks leading up to the March 3 vote.

Yes I know the Ides of March are technically March 15 but heck what's twelve days for the man who would be Harry Strom. After all as Wikipedia informs us;
The term has come to be used as a metaphor for impending doom.

Picking up from the Presidential primaries south of us the clever lads in charge of Ed's messaging have made this their slogan; “Change that works for Albertans.”

How about Change the government that has not worked for Alberta. Or Change that hardly works for Albertans. Or maybe "We didn't have a plan then, we don't have one now." The irony is that it is still the same old Tired Tories who are in charge. Just because they changed their leader doesn't mean they have changed.

Ironically Ed's election announcement got swamped in the news by the real election; the one south of us, as the press covered Super Tuesday primaries for U.S. President. And Ed sounds a lot like Republican loser Mitt Romney who claims Washington is broken, but forgets to mention its because the Republicans held the White House, Congress and the Senate till 2006.

Imagine a government running to change itself. Well after all it needs to do something because it has done little since 1993 but maintain the course. In fact most of the changes Ed promises are changes that Ralph refused to make. Like his musing that if elected he would eliminate health care premiums, something both the NDP and Liberals have campaigned on since 1993. Like his delayed Royalty implementation plan Ed will eliminate them four years after the election, just in time for the next one.

That's like his royalty increases which will be negotiated and not come into effect until 2009, or perhaps 2010 or even 2011 in some cases.

Alberta’s New Democrats want the province to consider adopting Alaska’s energy royalty rates, which are 60% higher than the new royalties put in place by Premier Ed Stelmach.

NDP Leader Brian Mason took an election campaign shot at the Tory premier today as he described how adopting Alaska’s system would add $4 billion a year to Alberta’s royalties.

Mason says Stelmach’s plan to increase royalties by only 20% next year amounts to “giving their political donors in the oilpatch a $4 billion gift.”

He also says Stelmach’s review panel was never given key documents, so a new panel should be given all the information and 90 days to reconsider royalties.

The NDP says these documents showed that the Tory government had ignored years of internal advice that Alberta’s royalties could be increased by at least $1 billion a year.
And while Ed barely gets Albertans any real money for our oil he allows Big Oil to continue to pollute and destroy the environment with his so called green plan.

Greenhouse gas levels will climb for 12 years

His next election promise was to increase the number of doctors in the province, despite the closure of hospital beds in Edmonton because of the lack of doctors and nurses, thanks to Ralph's cuts way back a decade ago.

In recent months, people with broken bones have waited longer for care because of a shortage of nurses for recovery beds. The Royal Alexandra Hospital closes two or three operating rooms a day.

In the past week, about 40 elective surgeries over two days were cancelled due to staff shortages.

Now, the region has stopped trying to reopen 33 acute-care beds that have been closed since summer.

"We're officially giving up," Buick said. "We have to retrench sometime. We're just grinding so hard all across the system.

"The pressure is carrying on, and with flu season just beginning to come up now, we're realizing we cannot go on as business-as-usual" for the last three months of the fiscal year, which ends March 31.

The public notice comes as Alberta health regions are speaking openly about projected budget deficits. Massive staff overtime costs, an unexpected hike in nurses' pay plus a huge recruitment program for foreign nurses could leave Capital Health $20 million to $30 million over budget by spring, said Sheila Weatherill, the region's president and CEO.

Still, that pales compared to the outlook in the Calgary health region, which projects an $85-million deficit.

Health Minister Dave Hancock refused this week to consider bailing out Edmonton, Calgary and five other health regions facing deficits that could total more than $100 million.

His pronouncement immediately drew flack from the Big Doc in charge;

But according to Dr. Trevor Theman, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, that is likely not possible: although the need is there, it would require a near-doubling of current training spending from the province and involve recruiting dozens of more people to train them - with staff to train physicians already an issue for the existing 250 spots.

"Edmonton and Calgary are already maxed out in their ability to train, and even if there were more money, it's an issue of human resources," said Theman. "You need trainers available and you need people who have clinical experience to handle that training."

In fact, the only way to achieve the province's doctor target, said Theman, would be by relying chiefly on recruitment of overseas physicians, which is already the province's principal new source of doctors.

Yep like the oil sands the Tories solution to labour shortages are more temporary workers!!!

And again an election promise is made that could have been resolved in the past year of Ed's tenure as premier.

But unlike Ralph who kicked off the last election kicking the disabled and the poor Ed has embraced them.

CALGARY - Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has announced a plan to allow severely disabled people to earn more money without losing their provincial income benefits.

Campaigning in Calgary today, the Progressive Conservative leader said his proposal would allow disabled people to earn an additional $500 per month without affecting their living allowance under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program.

Stelmach says helping AISH recipients go to work gives them a higher sense of esteem.

He says 36,000 Albertans who receive AISH benefits would be eligible under the program.

Singles would be able to earn up to $1,500 a month while single parents or couples could take home $2,500 and only lose half of their allowance.

But like any of his musings and announcements in the past year since his election as party leader he could have done this without calling an election. It's just another shallow promise. And a cheap one at that, if he really was concerned he would have also adjusted AISH payments, which are also federal funds, to rise with the Cost of Living, an allowance all MLA's get.

The Liberals with their mediocre charismatically challenged policy wonk leader Kevin Taft are campaigning with the message; It's Time. Time for what? The slogan aeon's ago was It's Time For A Change, that was when Lawrence Decore was leader, and it really never changed till now. Now they have truncated it. It's Time ...and you immediately want to add in; for a new leader.

Despite polling numbers that show massive dissatisfaction with the PC's under Stelmach, support for the Liberals is not there. Rather this election will be about winning over the mass of undecided voters.

Polls have suggested the Tories still have a comfortable lead but that as many as one voter in three hasn't decided or won't say who they will vote for.

Undecided voters have proven to be poison for the Tories. In the 2004 election, they lost ground in Edmonton and Calgary after an estimated 200,000 disillusioned party supporters stayed home on voting day.

Tory hold on Alberta apt to fade

Some of the elements that contributed to the perfect storms that reshaped the Ontario and Quebec scenes in the past are in place as Alberta heads to the polls, including an uncertain premier, Ed Stelmach, and an unfocused malaise with the direction of the province.

That combination alone would be enough to make next month's vote the provincial story to watch this year. But there are more fundamental reasons than a rare and still elusive Alberta horse race to keep this campaign on the national radar for its duration.

The fabric of Alberta is changing. Its population has been growing at twice the rate of the national average. Even the language barrier has not prevented the siren calls of a booming economy from resonating beyond its provincial borders. The latest census figures on Canada's linguistic makeup showed Alberta to be one of only two provinces outside Quebec where the francophone population has been increasing.

Many of the new Albertans bring a more activist outlook on the role of the government. Their initial experience with an overextended social infrastructure and a degrading environment is unlikely to convert them to a different vision. Over time, they will transform the political culture of the province.

And just to show how out of touch the Liberals are; Taft also predicted no chance of an NDP breakthrough, suggesting they could even lose existing seats.

He wishes that was true. But Brian Mason and the NDP have been electioneering since last fall, and the party was raring to go with candidates nominated in both Edmonton and Calgary.

Of course Taft's prediction may be predicated upon reading the Liberals own press; the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, that will try their best to make this appear to be a race between the Tories and the Liberals, no one else need apply.

Tories, Liberals address social issues Edmonton Journal

For the Liberals this election is make it or break it, without a victory it will be time to show Taft the door. And so far his campaign is not getting off to a great start.

A homeless couple asked hard, frustrated questions of their own to Liberal Leader Kevin Taft this morning as he laid out his party's strategy to end the plight of thousands of other Albertans without a home.

Taft reannounced a Liberal plan that his deputy leader Dave Taylor released a month ago - temporarily cap rent increases until new housing units get built, hire a provincial housing director to coordinate various cities' 10-year homelessness plans, and boost outreach services.

The mid-morning campaign event drew the attention of Diane and Les McIntyre, two newspaper distribution workers who've lived in a nearby shelter on and off for the last five years because of addiction problems.

As reporters fired questions towards Taft's lectern, Diane McIntyre yelled her own from the sidelines.

"The high rent, we can't afford it. so it doesn't give you incentive to get off the street. because you can't afford to get off the street."

"Like, we need to know, like, where are they going to put (the housing?) There's a lot of questions because nobody wants to put affordable housing anywhere, because it's all drug and alcohol... there's no incentive. There's no incentive."

Taylor responded that the only answer it to create more affordable housing, spread throughout the city. He couldn't say how much the Liberal approach would cost.

For the NDP this election is about making gains in Edmonton and breaking into Calgary.

The right wing rump party the Wildrose Alliance will take right wing votes away from Ed, leaving both the NDP and Liberals able to move up the middle, when disenchanted PC voters stay home in droves.

And when it comes to internet savvy the NDP out does the Liberals and PC's, again.

It's a political faceoff on Facebook, and so far the NDP's Brian Mason is in the lead.

Not that anyone expects the NDP to be there come election time in a month. But Mason had signed up 730 friends on the social networking site, to about 620 for Kevin Taft of the Alberta Liberals at press time yesterday.


"Everyone's been monitoring it - it's kind of an unspoken-friend race between the two opposition leaders," said NDP spokesman Mark Wells, who said his party plans to hit web outlets with a ton of material during the campaign. He also noted both opposition leaders have been blogging through their sites as well.

The Liberals are confident they've got a solid web presence, said executive director Kieran LeBlanc.

"Kevin's been on Facebook for over a year and he gets quite a few hits - we've been using it to announce events and generally get the message out, and it works pretty well."

The Liberals, whose site was voted by local press as the most useful during the last election campaign, also use mail servers, intranet for candidate conversations and are regularly updating event videos on YouTube, she noted.

The Alberta Progressive Conservatives said web use is part of their strategy and they "won't reveal our strategy before the election has started," said spokesman Joan Forge. "We'll be using that...oh, what's the term - I'm not very technical ..."

Social networking?

"Yes, that's it."

And it doesn't appear as if Premier Ed Stelmach will be joining the unofficial race for friends any time soon, either.


For one, he doesn't have a Facebook page. For another, the number of pages opposed to the premier on Facebook outnumber those supporting him by about 10 to one.

Nope no Facebook page for Ed, and he still hasn't sued over

And besides neither Ed nor Kevin can make this claim;

Brian Mason used to be a bus driver, so he knows what it means to get up at 4 am for the early shift and work on Christmas Eve. How many other political leaders can say that?

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