Recap: George W. Bush Speaks in Edmonton

Last night, I attended George W. Bush‘s talk in Edmonton, courtesy of Chris LaBossiere. Bush was speaking at an event titled “A Conversation with George W. Bush”. Like most events involving a current/former President of the United States, there was much spectacle surrounding it. Here is a short recap, and some of my thoughts on what the 43rd President had to say.

“This is What Democracy Looks Like”

Protesters gathered outside the Shaw Conference Centre, and across the street in front of Canada Place. They chanted, shouted displeasure at attendees, and at least one person was hit with candy. As I waited in line to get in, a protester repeatedly shouted “shame on you! shame on you!”, pointing at those of us in line. I found it amusing to think that, in almost every situation, I likely agree with their end goals; I just disagree on methods and means to get there. I wondered what the protesters were hoping to accomplish. Protest is a valid and valuable form of social action, but I think it loses its effect when overused. What was the point of protesting here? We all know Bush led the US into Iraq under false pretenses, that under his watch the government tortured prisoners. We know that he mismanaged the economy, running up increasing deficits while also cutting taxes, especially for the highest income earners. So again, what is a protest going to accomplish in this situation?

Protesters outside the Shaw Conference Centre.

As we stood there being shamed, another part of the crowd chanted “This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” I found this entirely appropriate. Some people exercise their democratic right to dissent and protest peacefully, another chooses to listen to a former leader speak about his time in office and his views on the world, regardless of how they perceive and judge his deeds and words.

After the Talk
Protesters remained until after the talk.

“Rational Discussion” on Historical Events
President Bush spoke for about 40 minutes, saying he wanted to have a “rational discussion on historical events”. He started with a few paeans to Canada, and some folksy, self-deprecating jokes. I was immediately reminded why, once upon a time, many people liked him. He seems very down to earth, and easy to relate to.

Bush talked about some of the major events from his two terms, framing them in the context of lessons. For example, he stressed the importance of how you handle the unexpected – using 9/11 as an example from his time in life. He said that he never wanted to be a wartime president – “no one should”, he wanted to be the “education president”. Instead, he was forced to turn to foreign policy.

He also talked about the economy, particularly how they responded to the financial crisis of 2008. In his view, the actions they took “saved the system”. I will note that he made good points about the importance of trade, and the dangers of retreating into protectionism when times get tough.

Foreign policy was a central part of his speech. He talked also of the importance of staying engaged in the world. As proof that countries can change, he gave the example of Japan, who 60 years before 9/11 was at war with the United States. In present times, Japan is a strong ally. He spoke of individual rights, especially women’s rights, and mentioned that he’s setting up a mentorship program for women in the Middle East through his new institute at SMU. He also spoke about the importance of hope – that when people become hopeless, they are susceptible to join terrorist groups. I actually agree with this, to a point – I see extreme poverty (and a corresponding lack of education) as being major drivers for recruiting terrorists. Poverty anywhere drives people to extreme conditions – crime, gangs, etc. Bush didn’t hone in on the specifics, but in broad terms, he was on to something.

Which brings up a really interesting point. If I knew nothing about him or his time in office, his speech would sound pretty good. Speaking not to the methods of how to achieve them, many of the broad themes and goals Bush spoke about would resonate with most people – even progressives. The importance of giving people hope, of not seeking out war, of supporting young democracies and individual freedom. Unfortunately, much of what he did in office contradicts or works at cross-purpose with these stated ideals. I felt a real cognitive dissonance as I listened to him speak.

He was also disingenuous at times. After his 40 minute talk, Bush was joined on stage by Kelly Hrudey, who sat down to ask him a few questions, mostly about the Iraq War. Bush stated that the US was in Iraq “at the invitation of a democratically elected government”, which ignores the fact that this government was installed (before later winning an election) by the Coalition, and that the US went into the country before anyone invited them in. He also made some tenuous claims about his treatment of prisoners, claiming that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities were treated very well, and arguing that the US is not bound by the Geneva Convention when dealing with those who attack them but aren’t uniformed combatants. He defended the use of certain interrogation techniques, which I assume most would consider torture (he didn’t specify which techniques), claiming they only used it three times, and they got valuable information that saved American lives. Based on what he said, I’m assuming the “three times” meant “three prisoners”, and he was talking about waterboarding, since he gave the example of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. President Bush’s last statement, about the use of these “interrogation techniques”, drew a standing ovation, which prompted a protester in the audience to shout at the crowd for applauding torture.

What Do I Make of All This?
Unlike many of the audience, I wasn’t there because I am a fan of President Bush (I saw pretty much every young Tory from my university days in the lineup to get in). Rather, I was curious to see what he had to say, as I feel it’s worth listening to anyone’s view, and I hoped he would shed some insight into some of the major issues from his term.

I wasn’t sure what to make of President Bush at times during the speech. Certainly, I agree with Chris’ summation that he is an idealist. He talked in broad ideals, and as mentioned before, most would agree with them. Rather, it was knowing how his term played out, and some of the specific examples he gave (such as the comments on torture) that I fundamentally disagree with.

One of the instructive parts came towards the end. When asked for lessons he’s learned, Bush stressed the importance of “surrounding yourself with capable people”, then delegating. I have heard this characterized of Bush from a couple of political insiders. Bush is very much a hands-off leader, and likes to delegate. I think this could explain a lot of his presidency, at least in terms of foreign policy. He surrounded himself with people he saw sharing his broad goals, and from his comments on delegating, you could infer that he relied on them for the means to get there, especially since his circle of advisers (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, etc.) were more experienced that he was.

Nothing in his speech made me think higher of his actions of president, but it was instructive to listen to his speech. Hearing someone’s perspective is never a bad thing, and gives you a better feel for why he made some of the decisions he did.

More coverage:
My Flickr set of the protests
Graham Thomson: Edmonton Gives Bush Warm Welcome
Unlimited Blog: Democracy Wins as George W. Takes Edmonton
Steven Dollansky: Thought George Bush was fantastic.

Also, if 1200 words on this isn’t enough for you, please ask me questions.


State of Alberta: Wildrose Blooms

This is part one of a three part series on the state of politics in Alberta I’m running this week.

Danielle Smith was elected leader
of the Wildrose Alliance Party on Saturday. Earning over 75% of the roughly 8300 votes cast, Smith takes over the fledgling party with a strong mandate.

Smith and her party have been on the receiving end of a lot of publicity, mostly positive, since their surprise win in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election last month. In polls released over the past few weeks, the party finds itself second only to the governing Tories, having lapped the Liberals and NDP before electing a leader or putting forward policies.

Danielle Smith

Four months ago, Danielle Smith first caught my attention, after she delivered what I thought was a very savvy speech at her party’s AGM. She subsequently performed well throughout the campaign, and at the one forum I took in.

Things are going pretty well for Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Alliance right now, but they could also quickly go off the rails. Here are some key issues and questions I see that need to be addressed between now and the next election.

Will Danielle Smith Try to Get Into the Legislature Before the Next General Election?
The next general election is likely to be held in 2012, and will be held no later than the spring of 2013, 3 1/2 years from now. That’s a long time for a party leader to be out of the legislature, and it will be a challenge for Smith to stay prominent in the public eye until then.

With only one MLA, who was only elected a month ago, the chances of Smith running for a seat appear to be in the hands of MLAs from other parties. She would likely run for any opening in Calgary, but will she run outside of her home city if the opportunity presents herself? I see the argument for her trying to win a seat, but I also see an argument for her spending her time criss-crossing Alberta while selling her party’s message, and focusing efforts on the questions that follow.

Can Smith Surround Herself With Talented Candidates?

The party can’t succeed if it’s perceived as a one woman show. It’s imperative that Smith surround herself with capable candidates.

A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Mario Dumont. Dumont, leader of the right-wing Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), came within a whisker of forming government in Quebec in 2007, instead forming the official opposition in Quebec’s first ever minority government situation. It was assumed by many that he was the Premier in waiting. Instead, 18 months later his party was decimated, returning to third place status, and 2 1/2 years later, he is out of politics and hosting a talk show.

Of the many problems that plagued Dumont, one was the perceived lack of quality MNAs and candidates surrounding him. Smith could fall prey to the same problem if she can’t attract strong candidates. Smith’s team could in large part make or break her attempt to challenge the Tories.

Can They Build an Organization in Time to Compete?

Smith and other WAP boosters have talked about challenging for government in 2012.

As of right now, they have constituency associations in about half of the ridings throughout the province. I imagine many of those are rumps. It’s going to be a significant challenge for the party to build strong constituency associations across the province in a matter of a couple of years. This might be worth watching as a sign of party strength. If we see a grassroots effort from people setting up and participating in constituency associations, it’s a sign that support for the party is real, not just a passing fad.

What Do They Stand For?
The million dollar question for a party with limited policy currently on the books. Smith’s overwhelming win gives her the mandate to pursue a big-tent conservative agenda. Had social conservative Mark Dyrholm done better, there would be more pressure on her to give social conservatism a prominent role. In any case, I see both sides as needing the support of the others – Smith needs them as part of her big tent, and social conservatives probably still see the party as the best avenue for their issues. What will Smith be willing to give them, and what do they want to stay in the tent?

As for other policies, Smith’s campaign website might provide some insight.

The Road to 44?
If the party is serious about forming government, where do they find the support to do so? Are there enough disenchanted Tories (or even Liberals, New Democrats, or Greens) willing to come over? How much appeal do they have for the 60% of voters who stayed home.

A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep?

I feel like Alberta politics is in flux right now. I’m not convinced the support for any party is firm, especially the Wildrose Alliance. I do think they are well-poised to firm up and continue to attract support in the coming months, but their success will depend in large part on how they respond to the questions listed above. It will also depend on the actions of the other parties, but those are topics for another day.

Daveberta: A Wake Up Call For Alberta’s Political Establisment
Ken Chapman: Smith Wins Wildrose Leadership: Now What?

Change Camp Edmonton: Evolution, Not Revolution

I attended the first ever Change Camp Edmonton yesterday.

I wrote about Change Camp on Friday, ahead of the event. What follows is my post-event reaction and thoughts.

Justin Archer
Justin Archer introduces Change Camp and provides an overview at the start of the day.

The day got started around 9am, with an overview of the event concept, process, and “rules of engagement”. I was impressed with the level of turnout at the very start – there appeared to be 100 people or so there by the start, and people trickled in throughout the day. I’d say around 150 people participated throughout the day, but I haven’t seen an official count. There was a pretty good balance in gender, and good mix of ages, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. There wasn’t, however, much ethnic diversity. That’s nobody’s fault, but this is something we’d ideally see more of at future events, especially given that Edmonton is a city with growing immigrant and visible minority (especially aboriginal) populations.

Following the introduction, the floor was opened up to participants to suggest topics for the day. You can see the result of that in the Grid that was developed. This is one of the things that I enjoyed about Change Camp. In many situations, people like to use the expression “you get out of it what you put in”. This expression is, in fact, true at Change Camp. The agenda for the day is completely up to the participants to set. I was impressed by the number of participants willing to put forward topics for discussion. As you can see from the Grid, the schedule for the day filled up.

Wendy Andrews
Wendy Andrews leads a session titled “Depolarizing Community Conversation”.

There were three morning sessions, followed by a lunch break and two more afternoon sessions, then a wrap-up session and a short opportunity to talk about action items. This was all followed by an excellent after-party at Original Joe’s.

There were a number of interesting topics, I was disappointed I was unable to participate in some of them, particularly the sessions on “Using Technology to Elect More Women“, “Cultivating Albertans’ Ingenuity“, and “How to Encourage Power Sharing“. I did participate in the sessions on “De-polarizing Community Conversation“, “Urban Design“, “How to Create More Engagement” (which I had the privilege of facilitating), and “Preserving Accountability Journalism“.

Creating Engagement
Participants discuss ideas at a session titled “How to Create More Engagement”.

In Friday’s post, I said the following in anticipation of the event:

I’m not sure what to expect in terms of outcomes, but I see the process itself as being valuable. It’s the kind of get-together I suggested here (in paragraphs 6-7) needs to happen more often; citizens coming together to discuss, learn, and collaborate. One event or idea likely won’t change the world, but many in aggregate may bring about large-scale change, or plant the seeds for future changes.

After the event, I feel that this statement accurately sums up my feelings. I found the whole day to be very beneficial. Towards the end of the day, one of the event organizers used the term “political revolution” to describe the event. This is, in my opinion, an exaggeration. The event was hardly revolutionary, rather it was an important event in a series of other events or avenues for dialogue and participation that will improve the civic and political situation in Alberta. I don’t say this to diminish the event’s value. Change is largely incremental; every event or action that makes up a part of it is immensely important.

Afternoon Session
Change Camp organizers Alain Saffel and Jason Darrah drop in on the “Accountability Trust” session about a new model for journalism.

I hope the event happens again in the future, for a couple of reasons. First, because of the value of the event in and of itself in encouraging dialogue, participation, and thought. Second, because I think the event would be even more productive now that the concept is better understood, and many people have been through it once already. Done a second time, Change Camp will be more effective.

The best thing from the event was seeing the willingness from people to participate, and the quality, and thoughtfulness of the comments that people contributed. This is even more impressive when you consider that the format was new to most participants. Three weeks from now, there will be a follow-up event, and I hope to see as many people in attendance as possible. The follow-up event has the potential to lead to more engagement, and to action.

Talking about Open Data
Change Camp organizer Mack Male leads a discuss about next steps for pursuing open data in Edmonton.

To be fair, there was a session at the end to discuss ideas participants had for actions coming out of the day. Three such ideas were proposed – one dealing with open data, and two others that I can’t remember.

The challenge with seeking out action items immediately following the session was articulate well by Raffaella at the after-party. She made the case that there was a lot of ideas and information to take in throughout the day, and people need time to think about it, absorb it, and make sense of it. I agree with this. I hope the follow-up event can provide structure for this; if it doesn’t, some mechanism for doing so should be addressed for future Change Camps. I also believe that focusing on “action items” is a narrow definition of actions stemming from Change Camp. For many, the impetus for change may lead them to get (more) involved in community organizations, government, etc. In other words, to become more active citizens, rather than pursuing a single specific initiative.

In summary, I see this event contributing to many other positive trends that will increase civic participation and engagement in Edmonton. I’m happy I was able to participate in Change Camp, and I send my thanks to the organizers and participants for making this a good event. I look forward to doing it again.

More on Change Camp:
My Flickr Set from the Event
Change Camp Edmonton Flickr Pool
Chris LaBossiere: A Great Day for Future Democracy. A Sad Reflection on the Current One
Sirthinks: The Empires of the Future Are the Empires of the Mind – Change Camp Edmonton
Daveberta: 5 Items from Changecamp Edmonton
Global TV Edmonton

Weekend Reading and Entertainment: 10/18/09

Here are some good stories I’ve come across in the past week.

– The great Barbara Ehrenreich writes about Americans’ eternal optimism.

– A great photo essay by Peter Van Agtmael about his time with a Marine unit in Afghanistan, titled ‘Two Weeks in Forever‘.

– More photos: A Corbis Images gallery to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling.

– In the Globe & Mail, Lawrence Martin writes about Canadian foreign policy in his piece ‘Canada Used to Be the One with the Global Conscience‘.

– Roger Martin’s cover story in the new issue of The Walrus, ‘Who Killed Canada’s Education Advantage?‘, is a must read.

– The new blog ED-Vocate, by Edmonton educator and activist Susan O’Neil, has some interesting stuff about education and budget cuts.

– I’m excited for the release of ‘SuperFreakonomics‘ on Tuesday, though this piece points to some problems in their section on global warming. Ezra Klein has more criticism here.
(Update: Stephen Dubner responds to criticisms)

– Recommended to me, and on my to-do list today is to read Lawrence Lessig’s essay “Against Transparency, the Perils of Openness in Governmentt”.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Be the Change

FDR Shirt

That’s me, sporting my FDR t-shirt. I was incredibly excited to find this in Portland a couple of months back. FDR is one of my political icons; while he was far from perfect, his accomplishments in ushering in the New Deal, and in guiding the United States through most of World War II (he died in office in April 1945, about 4 months before the war officially ended) rank up there with any other President before or since. If he is not the greatest president, he is certainly near the top. I’ve always admired his dedication to helping everyone, especially the less fortunate, and the courage he showed in bringing in dramatic reforms to American society.

The lessons of FDR are useful now. Not only are we facing significant upheaval in our economic system, but we are a society in flux. Additionally, dissatisfaction with, and cynicism about, government run high.

If you’re concerned with any of those issues above, and live in or near Edmonton, Alberta, then you should come to Change Camp on Saturday. The idea, in a nutshell, of Change Camp is to get citizens in a room to discuss their concerns, and hopefully to come up with some ideas about how to go forward. It’s a citizen driven initiative; participants throw out topic suggestions at the beginning of the day, and “vote with their feet“, choosing sessions based on what interests them. For more specific details on the event, I suggest checking out the official website, as well as Daveberta‘s post, along with the slideshow/audio contained within.

All the above sounds great on paper, but what should we really expect? Well, that’s a good question. As a participant-driven event, most of what we get out of it will depend on what we’re willing to contribute in terms of topics and discourse about them. Don’t let the weighty slogan of “how do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?” discourage you. At the root, Change Camp is an event about bringing people together, and talking about their ideas and concerns. I picture it more “college kids in a dorm discussing the world” – informal, broad, and collaborative – than “Kingston Conference“. Sure, there will be people in attendance with a specific agenda, but I suspect most people are attending because of a general interest or concern regarding citizenship, government, and politics.

I’m not sure what to expect in terms of outcomes, but I see the process itself as being valuable. It’s the kind of get-together I suggested here (in paragraphs 6-7) needs to happen more often; citizens coming together to discuss, learn, and collaborate. One event or idea likely won’t change the world, but many in aggregate may bring about large-scale change, or plant the seeds for future changes. Change will only come about when citizens take the initiative, and get involved to bring it about. Being passive or dropping out of the system won’t get us anywhere.

If you’re interested in government and citizenship and want to connect with others who are, I hope you’ll join the 170 other citizens who have already signed up, even if it’s just to stop in for a bit.

If you do, feel free to come find me; I’d love to chat. I’ll be the guy in the FDR t-shirt.

Event Details:
ChangeCamp Edmonton
Saturday, October 17, 2009 from 9am to 4:30pm
Registration at 8:30am
Maple Leaf Room, Lister Conference Centre, University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Follow on Twitter: #yegchange

I’ll also be writing intermittently throughout the day on this site.

Blog Action Day: Embracing Post-Modernism

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event whereby bloggers around the world are encouraged to write about a single topic. 2009’s choice is climate change.

I want to write something about the topic, particularly since this is a topic I feel passionately about. I believe we have a responsibility to, as best as we can, leave the world in a better place than we found it. Stewardship of the natural environment is a major part of this. Anthropogenic climate change threatens to transform the natural environment in ways that man never has through history before. Additionally, it brings great threats to our economic system and our social fabric – millions of citizens could be uprooted, industries dependent on the land could be devastated if the worse case predicted scenarios come to be.

I spend a lot of time thinking about why sustainability and the environment, despite polling high as an important issue to citizens, hasn’t seemed to spur a major shift in people’s behaviour. Some of it is practical – our society is geared towards consumption and fossil fuel use, and alternatives can be hard to access. Some of it is social – sustainable lifestyles, particularly in terms of transportation, haven’t been normalized in most of the world. And to be fair, the smug self-righteousness that some transit/cycling advocates approach their cause with is off-putting to some people (as much as I support public transit and cycling, I recognize some advocates are as obnoxious as the worst neo-conservatives in pushing their agenda). Some of it is the lack of imminence – global warming doesn’t just happen overnight, making the threat seem abstract. Some of it, I believe, is also the scope of the issue. If it seems so large, so impossible to tackle, why even try? The fatalistic reaction, I fear, is going to become more common.

I think there’s also a larger dynamic at play. Our world is in transition, even putting aside global warming. We are transitioning to what I will call the era of post-modernism.

You’ve probably heard the term postmodernism before, likely applied to the arts. Wikipedia runs down all the various definitions and uses, most of which figure as a reaction to modernism (from the late 19th century on).

I think you can apply the general principles of modernism and post-modernism to society, at least as far as the west goes.

For most of history, humanity faced significant limits. Technology and social norms and systems limited our capacity to communicate, to migrate, to prosper. Beginning with the Enlightenment period and accelerating with the Industrial Revolution, these traditional barriers began to break down. The printing press and eventually radio and television altered the way we communicate. The discovery and settlement of the new world discovered new resources and opened up a continuing stream of land (at the expense of indigenous peoples), to settlers. Old feudal and hierarchical systems began to reform or break down; that, combined with technological innovation, allowed people to achieve greater prosperity. We kept innovating, using up land and resources, and prospering. Run out of space? Why, there’s a new suburb being built just down the road. Oilfields run dry? Head west to the vast untapped terrain.

The modern world, for all intensive purposes, has been an age of abundance. There was always more land, more natural resources, more consumer products.

So if the modern world is an age of abundance, what is the post-modern world? Is it a world of scarcity? Not necessarily. It is, however, a world of limits. We must recognize that we can’t continue to grow and consume without regard for the resources we are consuming.

Fundamentally, post-modernism will be about doing more with less. It’s about responsibility – the responsible stewardship of natural resources and land, the responsible use of public resources.

Certainly, technology has a role to play, whether it’s in creating and making practical the use of renewable and clean energy sources, and in finding new ways to reduce emissions. But there are no magic technological fixes on the horizon at the moment, and hoping for a deus ex machina ending to our predicament is foolish at best, ignorant at worst.

Until such time as technology catches up to our demand, we may have to make sacrifices, doing without at times or doing with less. This is the last thing that people want to hear, but as Jimmy Carter said, “a policy which does not ask for changes or sacrifices would not be an effective policy.” In any case, the sooner we start to stress stewardship, not consumption, the less likely it is we will have to make major sacrifices. Smart use now increases the likelihood of continued use later.

This ties into another paradigm – modernism often stressed the individual. Post-modernism may have to stress the needs of the community – we see signs of this already through things like the Me to We movement. People seek out community and connections, and the presence of these can have powerful effects on one’s motives and beliefs.

I have a lot of optimism in the future, and in mankind’s ability to overcome problems. A necessary precondition, though, is understanding the circumstances and challenges we face. The dynamics of the past few centuries are on their way out; embracing a new paradigm to face new challenges is the first step to success. Responsible stewardship, coupled with continued innovation, can ensure that the post-modern era is more prosperous than the modern one.

Are we up to it? I think so.

Rapid Reaction: Premier Stelmach’s Address

I just watched the Premier’s address, The Way Forward.

The Four Point Recovery Plan, as flashed on my television screen, is summed up as:

1. Surplus in 3 years
2. Draw on cash reserves
3. Invest in public infrastructure
4. Attract investment

Trish Audette has more details.

Some other comments of interest. Italics denote my reaction.
– Civil servant salaries will be frozen for 2 years. No mention of MLA/cabinet minister salaries being frozen, or the 2008 salary increase being rolled back.
– The $17 billion in reserve shows that Alberta saved well. Except that this is a fraction of the surpluses the province ran earlier this decade. 3 years of recession could wipe most or all of this $17 billion out.
– Plan will not increase taxes. Won’t this exacerbate the pressures to draw on our savings, unless we’re planning to massively cut spending?
– Will continue to invest in public infrastructure. Yes! This is a good thing, and I will give full credit to the Premier and government for not stopping to build, as Premier Klein did in the ’90s.
– We were well-prepared going into recession. Huh? Are you kidding me? We went from a projected multi-billion dollar surplus to a multi-billion dollar deficit almost overnight. That doesn’t sound like being well-prepared to me.
– We have the resources the world will need to make a strong recovery. We do, but are we going to continue to rely on them, or to do our best to diversify our economy and help mitigate the boom-bust cycle of a resource economy?
– “The health system designed in 1960s…people fear change…should fear more consequences of not changing”. This was said in reference to health care. I totally agree; we need to have a serious discussion about the sustainability and future of our health care system, devoid of fearmongering, truisms, and ad hominem attacks on both sides.
– We’ll build the prosperity now without sacrificing the future. So we won’t be cutting in areas such as education which increase future prosperity, or in the health and social service sectors, where it costs less to deal with issues up front? Right?

Anyway, enough about my thoughts, because this address wasn’t about reaching me. This address, fundamentally, was aimed at getting the Premier through next month’s PC convention with his reputation and leadership intact. That will happen in three ways:

1. By reassuring his supporters, ensuring he has their continued support.
2. By changing the mind of Progressive Conservatives wary of his leadership and willing to vote for a change next month.
3. By rallying support amongst regular Albertans, hopefully boosting his poll numbers, garnering positive media, and convincing wary PCs not to try and dump him as leader.

I’d say he probably accomplished #1. His supporters are sticking with him either out of loyalty to him or the party, or because they sincerely believe in his abilities as Premier. Nothing he did in today’s address should deter his supporters.

For the second group, I’m not convinced he did much to change their minds. I suspect the reaction amongst most people is….that’s it? It was a very underwhelming address. I’d be shocked if many people in categories 2 or 3 feel appreciably different about his job as Premier now than they did an hour ago before this address.

Why do I think that? Because it tried to sell an agenda when the salesman likely has limited credibility with the intended audience. Why would a wary Tory buy into this agenda when the government has wavered on royalties, threatened cuts to health and education, and turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit overnight? They sold a vision and a plan from a government that, at the time, has limited credibility on both.

And therein lies the problem. The government may not be popular, but the Premier’s greatest strength is still his likability, the sense that he’s an honest, decent man doing his best. Someone people can rely on, and trust. A straightforward, sit-down video where he chatted from his office or his living room would have got his message out, and showcased him in his best element. He could have appealed to Albertans, especially Tories, to rally to his government’s side. To stick together, and come through this as they did during previous recessions. Maybe he could have eaten a little humble pie, and promised to do better this time around.

Instead, he did none of that. I still think he’ll come out of the leadership review in good shape – likely with 75-85% of the vote, but ‘The Way Forward’ is looking to be a flop. I suspect nothing has changed in Alberta politics. If the Premier comes out of the November convention damaged, or fatally wounded, he has nobody to blame but himself and his circle of advisers.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of everyone else who watched.

More reaction:
Chris LaBossiere: ‘Do As I Say and Not As I Do
Daveberta: “Pre-Recorded Commentary on Premier Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address“; “Ed Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address“; Ed Stelmach’s Pre-Recorded Televised Address (Take 2)
Kevin Libin: “Ed Stelmach’s TV Show a Rerun
W. Brett Wilson – …outgoing Premier Stelmach (wishful thinking?)
DJ Kelly: Why Stelmach Looks Disingenuous Today
ED-Vocate: Keep it Real, Ed

Weekend Reading and Entertainment: 10/12/09

So I’m a little late with this, but I’ve been busy watching baseball playoffs and preparing a turkey dinner (while watching baseball playoffs) instead of scouring the internet for interesting stories. But, it’s Thanksgiving in Canada, so the holiday extends the weekend into today. If you have some time, here are a few things to take a look at.

To Watch:
ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series launched last week. The first episode, titled “Kings Ransom”, is about the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. For the time being at least, it’s available to watch on the Kings’ website. It’s about 50 minutes long; I watched it this morning and it’s a fascinating, well-done piece. I cannot recommend it enough.

To Read:
– An interesting piece about Michigan’s efforts to build a green manufacturing base.

Chris LaBossiere proposes a new model for journalism, the accountability trust.

Kevin Kuchinski takes on several of the myths surrounding the benefits of local food.

– This story makes a compelling case for working less (but also working smarter). There’s some merit to it. Speaking from personal experience, my best ideas rarely come to me when I’m sitting at my desk.

– David Jacobson, the United States’ Ambassador to Canada, has started a blog. So far, it’s pretty interesting to read.

– Alberta Health Services is looking into the effects of sprawl on health.

– A few of my friends are involved in a club at the University of Alberta called Students Against Global Apathy (SAGA). There’s a great writeup about the group in today’s Edmonton Journal.

Happy thanksgiving. Regular blogging to resume tonight or tomorrow.

Photo Essay: First Snowfall in Edmonton

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!“, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

Edmonton woke up to snowfall this morning. Some people rushed for cover, I rushed for my camera to go capture the sights. In the midst of the excitement, I locked myself out of my house in my pajamas, with no wallet or phone on me. I managed to trudge through the light coating of snow, find a spare key, get back inside, and get my day underway. I even brought my camera with me once I did. Here are some sights from Edmonton on the first day of snowfall.

This guy is really keen. He’s already ensuring any snow falling doesn’t interfere with his car.

Clearing Snow

This SUV slows to a stop as the snow continues to fall.

Slowing Down

The remants of fall poke through the fresh lair of snow.

Foliage and Snow

Snow doesn’t slow some people down. Here, a lady and her dog are out for a morning run.


That lady’s not the only one who won’t let winter get in the way. The bike rack at the South Campus Transit Centre/LRT station is still full.

Biking in the Snow

Students and other passengers on the LRT are dressed for the weather.

Walking to the LRT

The LRT pulls in to South Campus station on a snow-covered track.

Train in the Snow

The Oliver/Downtown skyline, as seen from the Menzies bridge. I’m on the LRT heading northbound here.


After a brief mid-morning reprieve, the snow started to fall again in Churchill Square downtown.

Churchill Square

The public art piece “Lunchbreak” in Churchill Square was getting covered in snow.

Lunchbreak in the Snow

People run for cover under the scaffolding heading from City Centre Mall to Rice Howard Way.

Running for Cover

The snow falls on the River Valley and the Muttart Conservatory.

Snow on the Valley

In spite of the snow, some runners weren’t slowed down.

Running in the Snow

As the snow fell, a fog obscured the skyline of Saskatchewan Drive.


Workers clear off snow and ice from the steps to the Williams Engineering building downtown.

Clearing Snow

The intersection of 114th and 87th Ave on the University of Alberta campus.


The University of Alberta Quad. The ladies at the table on the right were giving away free hot chocolate for people with reusable cups.


The snow stopped and the sun came out in the afternoon, but we had a brief snowfall again around dinner time. Here the snow falls around 6pm as drivers make their way home.


This lady out walking her dog (obscured by the tree on the left) is bundled up, and clearly ready to handle winter.

Walking in the Snow

Over the weekend, I’ll be posting more photos from today on Flickr.

2009 Baseball Playoff Preview

I love baseball. I love everything about it. The sight of the green field, the sounds of a bat cracking, a ball hitting leather. It’s my favourite sport, by far, and one of my favourite things in the world.

I’ve learned a lot of things about baseball in over 20 years of following it, and the first one is this: I’m no good at making predictions. So this preview will not focus on why I think the Yankees will beat the Cardinals in the World Series – a rematch of the epic 1964 series that was so good that the late, great David Halberstam wrote a book about it. No, instead this preview is more of a viewers’ guide to the baseball playoffs that will be going on for the next 3-4 weeks.

Yankees Celebrate
To my chagrin, this will likely be a common sight over the next few weeks.

Who Are the Teams in the Playoffs This Year?
The New York Yankees have floundered, relative to their high expectations, the past few years. They haven’t won a World Series since 2000, or appeared in one since 2003. They missed the playoffs last year, and exited in the first round the previous three. They’ve rebounded this year, posting the best record in the bigs. Most will chalk this up to the signings of front of the rotation starting pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, and all-star 1B Mark Teixeira. They’re half-correct. The other key to success is the shoring up of the bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera, with youngsters Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, and Brian Bruney providing a solid bridge to The Sandman in innings 7 and 8.

Their first round opponent, the Minnesota Twins, won 17 of their final 21 to catch the Detroit Tigers, winning the division in an epic 12-inning tiebreaker game yesterday. Their catcher Joe Mauer is having a season for the ages after missing the first month due to injury, OF Denard Span is an emerging star, and young pitchers like Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, and Nick Blackburn are coming into their own. Unfortunately, they’re missing all-star 1B Justin Morneau, and are totally outmatched against the Yankees. They’ll be lucky to win one, but they might make the games interesting.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim survived a series of injuries to their starting pitchers early, and the tragic death of young starter Nick Adenhart. They have a solid rotation, a deep, balanced lineup, and something to prove after perennially underachieving since their 2002 World Series win. Despite winning the AL West most years, they are a shoo-in to go out quietly in the ALDS, or in a good year, the ALCS. Will this be the year they break out of their underachieving?

The Boston Red Sox won the 2007 World Series, took the Tampa Bay Rays to Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008, and somehow took the Wild Card in 2009 despite the early struggles of Jon Lester, and age catching up with stars such as David Ortiz and Mike Lowell.

This season was notable for the success of Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia, and the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury as both a star player, and as my newest favourite Red Sox (I’ll be buying his jersey soon). As a Sox fan, I’m hoping for the best, but I have trouble seeing them get past the Yankees if they do win their ALDS matchup with the Angels. On the other hand, they have two aces in Beckett and Lester, which makes them dangerous in any series.

In the NL, the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies are back in. I always find the playoffs more exciting when the defending champs are a contender. You feel like the other teams have to earn it by going through them. The Phillies bring back most of their championship team, albeit having subbed Raul Ibanez for Pat Burrell in LF, and added a second ace in Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels, the star of ’08, has struggled, and their bullpen – a rock last year – is somewhat shaky.

The Colorado Rockies are attempting to replicate the 2003 Marlins’ run to the championship. They fired their manager early in the season, bringing in a veteran skipper (Jim Tracy). They have an emerging ace in Ubaldo Jimenez, and a deep, balanced lineup. They’re an underdog, but I wouldn’t discount them.

The Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine won the West, despite losing Manny Ramirez to suspension for a couple of months. They have a number of talented young players in the field to complement veterans like ManRam and Casey Blake, and their rotation is serviceable at worst. They finally won a playoff series last year, their first since their World Series win in 1988, but bowed out to the Phillies in the NLCS. They’re back for another crack at it, but it’s hard to say if their team is much if any better this year than last.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the Central, powered by all-world 1B Albert Pujols and bolstered by the mid-season pickup of OF Matt Holliday. They also have two aces with Adam Wainwright and a resurgent Chris Carpenter leading the way. They appear to lack depth on paper, but could still be dangerous.

Who Should I Cheer For?
The Red Sox. Best franchise in baseball. But if you’re looking for sentimental favourites, I’d go with St. Louis. You have Matt Holliday, looking for his first ring, and the great comeback story of Chris Carpenter. Carpenter, the former ace, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007, and looked to be finished, making a few unimpressive starts in 2008, and suffering additional injuries then and in his second start of 2009. He came back in late May and has been dominant. posting a 2.24 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while winning 17 games. I had him on my fantasy team this year, and it’s been such a pleasure to watch him bounce back. Seeing him win another World Series would be an amazing way to cap off the year.

Alternately, if you like underdogs, root for Minnesota and Colorado.

Now Why Do I Want to Watch, There’s So Much Else to Do. Can I Just Tune In For the Final Game or Two?
Because in every playoff, there is at least one game you will not want to miss:
– In 2008, it was the Red Sox’s epic Game 5 comeback in the ALCS.
– In 2007, Game 2 of the Indians-Yankees ALDS matchup featured a swarm of insects descending on Jacobs Field and wreaking havoc with the game. It was a surreal, incredible thing to watch.
– In 2006, Game 7 of the NLCS was an absolute classic, with Endy Chavez’s home run stealing catch in the 7th eventually negated by Yadier Molina’s 9th inning home run, and Adam Wainwright’s picture perfect curveball freezing Carlos Beltran to end the game.
– 2005 was the worst year for playoffs ever. Seriously, nothing exciting happened. There was even a 16 inning Astros-Braves game that featured Roger Clemens in relief, but it was so bad I actually turned it off. And I never turn a baseball game off unless it’s really, really bad.
– 2004 featured the incredible comebacks in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS by the Boston Red Sox, and the subsequent “Bloody Sock” game.
– 2003 featured an epic ALCS, with the Game 3 brawl that saw Pedro and Don Zimmer throw down, and a Red Sox meltdown in Game 7. Let’s just say “Bartman Game”, and not speak further of that year’s NLCS.
– 2002 saw an inspired Angels comeback, down 5-0 late in Game 6, to win that game and then take Game 7 and the World Series trophy. It was a comeback marred only by the introduction of thundersticks by Angels fans.
– The 2001 World Series, of course, is famous for the Yankees back-to-back walkoff wins against the Diamondbacks and Byung-Hung Kim, and the Arizona side gaining revenge and the championship by winning Game 7 in walkoff fashion.

Aren’t the Games Longer than During the Regular Season?
Yes, but this can also work to your advantage. Once you get to the LCS round, the evening games generally start around 8:20 EST. For me, that’s 6:20 local time, which means I have a decent amount of time to get home, get dinner underway, and be relaxing and watching the game by the time the first pitch is thrown. While the extra commercial breaks and pitching changes mean the game could easily go 3 1/2-4 hours, you can turn this into a positive. For example, if you’re watching with friends, it provides ample time for conversation, baseball-related or not. You can also take breaks every few minutes. It becomes a relaxing way to spend the evening while also getting caught of work, email, laundry, etc.

Who Are Some Players to Watch?
Star Players Who Are Fun to Watch: Joe Mauer (Minnesota), Albert Pujols (St. Louis), Derek Jeter (NY Yankees), Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez (Boston), Chase Utley (Philadelphia), to name a few.

Potential Breakout Players: Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado), Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier (Los Angeles Dodgers), Kendry Morales (Los Angeles Angels), Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Bucholz (Boston), Phil Hughes (NY Yankees), Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth (Philadelphia)

Key Role Players Who Could Come Up Big: Mark DeRosa (St. Louis), Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia), Casey Blake (Dodgers), Chone Figgins (Angels).

Isn’t the Team With the Best Record Going to Win?
Recent history says not necessarily. Check out this graph; the playoffs should be wide open.

Need more incentive: watch the ‘Beyond Baseball’ commercials, and try not to get excited and/or emotional, depending on the ad. And enjoy the playoffs; it’s one of the best times of year.