Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Necessary Ask

I’m duly registered as the Alberta Party candidate in the upcoming by election in Edmonton-Whitemud.

It’s been a bit of a rush to get everything done but now that signs are made, pamphlets ordered and website up. I can focus on door-knocking, addressing the issues this by-election will bring front and centre.

It's always my preference, and that of the Alberta Party to run candidates in their own constituencies.  I was preparing to do just that this fall by throwing my name into a nomination contest in my own constituency of Leduc-Beaumont. 

However, when Premier Hancock suddenly resigned, with more than 16 months left before the next general election, the situation changed.  Two people in Whitemud who expressed an interest in running for the Alberta Party in Whitemud in a 2016 general election were unable to do so this by-election.  That left us with the option of putting a paper candidate on the ballot who could not take the time to door knock, meet people, represent the values of the Alberta Party in an active way, meet the media or participate in forums… or we could find someone from outside the constituency willing to do all of that, representing the freshest political option in Alberta.

I volunteered and the Alberta Party accepted.  Now I need to ask for your help.  With an obvious focus on electing our leader, Greg Clark in the by-election in Calgary-Elbow, we are counting on friends in and around Edmonton to help us make a proud and credible showing in Edmonton-Whitemud

Many have already volunteered your time and now that I am the official candidate, I can ask for donations. 

It’s not something I’m comfortable with (and I hope I never will be) but we're all aware how costly elections are.  It is unfortunate former Premier Hancock resigned 16 months early, but while the cost of signs, pamphlets, websites and office space is expensive… the cost of not contesting democratic elections is far higher.

So here I am, cap in hand, counting on my friends and supporters to help us fund this run.  If you have never made a political donation before, you'll be happy to know you will get a tax receipt that will get you back 75% of your donation, up to $200.  That means, if you write a cheque for $100 to support our run, when you submit the receipt with your taxes, you'll get $75 back in a refund.  That means you'll only be out of pocket $25 for supporting me in this race.

I promise everyone that we'll do this as fiscally prudently as possible.  We need signs and pamphlets and a website… and perhaps some office supplies, but we are working out of a volunteer’s home and so our costs will be minimal… far less than the long-established parties with corporate and union connections. 

If you can find it in your heart (and budget) to give us a bit of help, we will use your donation effectively and with great respect.  If I didn't believe the Alberta Party offers the best new option for changing the tone of politics in Alberta, I  wouldn’t be using my vacation to take part in this very important exercise in Alberta’s democratic process. 

Donations can be made through the website or cheques can be made out to "Will Munsey Campaign" and sent to our campaign office ℅ 499 Buchanan Rd,  Edmonton, AB,  T6R 2B5

Whatever you feel comfortable with will help us.  If you have a few hours of time one night, I’d love you to accompany me on the streets of Whitemud, dropping flyers (you don’t even need to knock on doors) or door-knocking and talking with people.

Thanks very much for reading and considering supporting us.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Virginian Mandel?

“Lately, friends have been asking me, “Munsey, are you crazy, running in Edmonton-Whitemud against Stephen Mandel?

Well, I don't think I’m crazy, and here’s why. 

First of all, I didn’t intend to be the Alberta Party candidate in a 2014 by-election.  I was looking ahead at throwing my name into the ring for the 2016 general election in the riding of Leduc-Beaumont.

Then, back in the winter and spring, the wheels started falling off the PC government bus.  Alison Redford’s government was the focus of the ire of so many Albertans her caucus got scared and decided to pitch her under that same bus.

Enter Jim Prentice as our new as-yet-unelected premier.  You would'a thought a fiscally conservative premier would have sought the already vacant seat in Calgary Elbow, but that’s not what’s happened. Nope.  Mr Prentice appointed two unelected ministers to his new cabinet... and they PCs need to look for three seats. 

Then, Whitemud MLA (and former premier), Dave Hancock stepped down, even though he had another 16 months to serve… even when no one was asking him to resign (well, not constituents, anyway).

Now we have a by-election in Whitemud so Stephen Mandel can sit in the legislative assembly (I've heard he's already moving into Mr Hancock's office).  I admit that caught the Alberta Party a bit unprepared. 

So as the PC party “renews” itself yet again, the rest of us have to dance to a tune we didn’t choose.  The Alberta Party had a local resident-member interested in becoming the candidate for Whitemud in the 2016 election and another expression of interest from someone not yet a party member but our potential candidate was not in a position to put her name forward now.  Our constitution requires potential candidates have to be members for 30 days prior to the nomination process so while we're interested in the person who expressed the interest, we were left us scrambling

As the president of the Alberta Party for the last two years, and having already decided to seek the nomination in near-by Leduc-Beaumont in 2016, I am well-positioned to fly the Alberta Party flag.  I fully recognize I’m not a resident of Whitemud, but I suspect Whitemud voters recognize The Alberta Party is committed over the long-term to local fielding local candidates and accept that we’re simply adapting to another “rebuilding/rebranding” of the PC Party.   

I will fly the Alberta Party colours with pride.  Again, I recognize the importance of local people representing constituents and I’m not about to try to minimize that.  However, if elected, I will work for the people of Whitemud from morning to night at least five days a week, knocking on every door in the constituency prior to the 2016 election and being available to any and all constituents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I’m a railroader, after all, and I’m ready to go to work day or night.

And as my wife assured me, “ Stephen Mandel probably puts his pants on two legs at a time… just like you do, dear.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Let them eat cake!

Marie Antoinette

In a recent Twitter exchange I was taken to task for criticizing the cost of accommodations for Premier Alison Redford’s Executive Assistant when he stays overnight in Edmonton.

I tweeted, “he could have found decent accommodations for a cheaper rate than $200 per night for him to stay at the Hotel MacDonald.”

Someone replied the issue is a “tempest in a teapot” and that in the scheme of things $200 a night is not expensive… that Brad Stables (the premier’s EA) needs to be housed in safe, convenient, clean accommodations.

That response is valid, and I almost conceded the cost was not all that excessive, especially since the Hotel MacDonald offers provincial employees a special rate.  Yet, for some reason, I just can’t let go of the level of luxury the young EA seems to enjoy, or the way the evidence is piling up that Ms Redford is oblivious to the way her spending is affecting the way we see her.

First of all, her EA is not an elected official.  When our elected officials travel away from home they should be accommodated appropriate to their status and the business they are doing on our behalf.  But, Brad Stables was not elected. He works under contract, paid out of the public purse.

It’s not like I expect him to stay at some grungy motel on the edge of town, but I’m starting to get the feeling our current premier has no idea how many of the rest of us live.  She doesn’t even attempt to keep costs down when it comes to her own comforts and to those she favours.  

Her unnecessary trip to London during the Olympics, the $146,000 spent on hotel rooms that went unused, her use $45,000 in associated costs to fly home from South Africa after Nelson Mandela’s funeral, including the $20,000 spend on flying her EA to and from Johannesburg on a private journey.

I don’t want to come across as a spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.  I think the premier needs to travel… and I think she needs to travel in a style that befits her elected position.  She is, after all, the premier of our great province.  Nor do I expect the people who do the work of this province—and travel away from their families and homes—to stay in Spartan of conditions. 

It would be refreshing if our political leaders tried to operate in a way that made us believe they understood where the money they're spending comes from.   We all appreciate a bit of comfort, but wouldn’t it be something if our leaders... you know... actually led... by example.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Target Acquired! F-Bombs Away

So, this is what it's come to.  While hundreds of families around the province struggle to get their lives back together after the June flooding, the partisan feuding between our government and our official opposition takes centre stage.  If it didn't point to such a fundamental problem in our approach to government, it would almost be entertaining.  But it does... and so it isn't.

The leader of our official opposition party calls a public forum to stir the pot on an issue that has been, in my opinion purposefully spun in a partisan fashion.  Private property was seized by the RCMP during the evacuation, and yes, some of that property was in the form of guns.

As I understand it, each firearm seized has now been returned and there are mechanisms in place to seek compensation for doors broken down and gun safes damaged in those seizures.  But that's not enough for some people.  They want to know why these seizures happened in High River and not Calgary or Canmore or any of the other municipalities that had evacuation orders.  The inference is that the government was punishing High River residents for electing an opposition MLA.

That's patently ridiculous.  The flood happened much faster in High River and caused more damage than in other municipalities and the evacuation order lasted longer.  The RCMP have taken responsibility for the decisions made to seize property.  I'll leave that decision for them to explain.

What's so sad is that this is the issue that the opposition has chosen to focus on.  There're still a lot of families suffering and so many questions of compensation left to deal with.  Getting people back into their own homes before winter should be at the top of our list of priorities.

Yet to a certain extent, we've all come to expect opposition parties to seize upon any notion of government wrongdoing to stir the pot of voter discontent.  That's the quagmire we find ourselves in.  The spirit of cooperation that existed in the worst hours of the flood have been long forgotten.  It's back to politics-as-usual.  Find the mistakes of the other guy and exploit them for self-serving reasons.

In this case, the government's response is no less surprising.  Minister of Municipal Affairs, Doug Griffiths exploded in raw anger at the accusation that his government targeted the people of High River and somehow ordered the seizure of firearms in the community.  His reaction was not one of calm response... which was so readily available to him.  Instead, he reacted in unbridled fury, roaring that Danielle Smith's claim was "fucking embarrassing."

The relationship between our government and our official opposition has become so toxic, it brings Doug Griffith's own words to mind.  On a train engine, or in the middle of my berry farm, I might scream the same thing.  But I expect more from the people we elect.  I expect them to remember they were elected to serve the interests of everyone in this province and not their own party's interests before the good of the province.

The whole episode is made sadder because so many Albertans have already muttered (about our provincial political scene): "F-this!"  So many have given up on the system because it's so beneath what we expect.  We're way better than this.

There're tons of good F-words our government ought to be focusing on:  foresight... forthrightness... forethought... and future.

As an old berry farmer in standing out in my field.  I'd say, "it's about FLIPPING time for my government to start working for the best interests of this province and stop putting narrow interests first."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Last minute decision

A couple of nights ago, I was called as the engineer on train 41251-10, from Edmonton to Vermilion.  It was over 10,000 feet long and weighed just over 10,000 tons.  About 15 miles east of Edmonton, I had 412 doing the speed limit of 35 mph.  We were cruising around a curve in the dark when I spotted what I thought was a deer between the rails.  That's not rare, and usually as you get closer, deer jump out of the way.  

But as I rounded the curve and my headlights found the straight rail, I saw that it wasn't a deer between the rails, but a person.  He was standing there, looking back over his shoulders and me and 412 bearing down on him fast.  Only about 250m away, there wasn't much I could do that would make any difference... if he didn't decide to move.

I blew the whistle.  I grabbed the brake handle (even though there was no chance of stopping in time).  And then, just when I was sure we were going to get him, he  stepped over the rail and sat down, right on the roadbed.  As I roared past him, I looked out my side window to see if he'd been far enough away from the side of the train.  He was clear of us by a foot, or so.

I'd expected to see shear terror on his face.  Instead, I saw a man in his mid-twenties with an expression I can only describe as overwhelming sadness.

On the radio, I called the Rail Traffic Controller and told them about the guy, who I'd pretty much decided was out to kill himself.  The train in front of me heard my call and told us  they'd seen the man standing in the farmer's field adjacent to the track about 20 minutes earlier.

I figured the guy was just 'measuring' trains to see how to kill himself... figuring out if we'd be able to stop if we saw him... how fast we travelled... if it would be quick.

All of that ran through my head in the three or four seconds I had between thinking he was a deer in my headlights and the time we roared past.

After I'd reported the incident to the Rail Traffic Coordinator, a CN supervisor called and asked me if I was all right.  "Do you want to stop your train?" he asked.  Until then, I hadn't thought about being affected one way or the other.  I started to go a bit weak in the knees, realising that his last minute decision had been a very good one for both of us.

Later that night, as 412 rumbled closer to Vermilion, the RTC called us and told us the police had found the man... nothing else.  I hope he finds some help.  I hope his last-minute decision to get out of the way of 41251-10 works out for him.  I know his decision saved me a whole lot of turmoil.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Head in the (oil) sand.

For the last three months, bitumen has been leaking to the surface of northern Alberta wetlands at an uncontrollable rate, and no one knows how to stop it.  Yet, Alberta's own Minister of the Environment, Diana McQueen, has made no public statement, other than to say our environmental regulations are tough.  Our premier, who showed so much leadership during the flooding of southern Alberta, is also noticeably absent.  And now the leader of the official opposition is writing op. ed. pieces for the NY Times, telling Americans why Alberta's bitumen is their best option for energy.

No one in our own government (or the official opposition) appears outraged by this massive, and continuing spill. That this tragic leak has killed wildlife and polluted the traditional lands of several Metis and First Nations communities rates no indignation.

Quite possibly, the ramifications of this spill are simply too dire for our government to consider.  If it turns out the seeping bitumen is a fundamental flaw in the injection process, rather than a one-off problem with an old well casing, it brings into question why leases were approved without the due diligence required to ensure our environment is sufficiently protected.  Better--it seems--just to cross our fingers and hope the seeping stops.  We've seen this lack of accountability over and over when it comes to holding industry to the standards Albertans agree are some of the best in the world.

While CNRL has apologized for what they have call "the incident," neither they nor the government has any idea when (or how) the spill can be brought under control.  In the meantime, our environment minister is nowhere to be found.  Our premier continues to expound to fellow premiers and American politicians about our "world-class" regulatory process.  Even our official opposition leader is spending her time writing pieces to the NY Times to convince Americans their own government is wrong about using Alberta's energy resources. 

Alberta has developed many state-of-the-art energy extraction methods.  However, that becomes meaningless when our political leaders ignore disasters such as the Primrose spill, in lieu of preaching standards they have no intention of enforcing.  In the marketplace, integrity means something in the long run, and Alberta's integrity is at stake.  It's time to enforce the regulations based on our values to build strong communities by building a viable, responsible and sustainable economy.  That cannot be done by ignoring problems.

William Munsey
Alberta Party

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Too Bad Ad

In the larger view of a provincial budget, $30,000 isn't a lot of money. The Government of Alberta and the companies so heavily invested in the oil sands stand to lose a whole lot more than that if Keystone XL is not built.  So the government’s latest effort to ensure the building of that pipeline (in the form of a paid ad in the New York Times) isn't surprising.

What is striking, however, is that one of the ad's focuses was Alberta’s “superior” environmental standards, making the argument that buying unrefined bitumen from Alberta is somehow more environmentally sustainable than producing more shale oil in the USA itself or importing from other nations.  The fact that Alberta spent the last decade spending more money and effort on green-washing our bitumen than actually enforcing regulations and providing leadership in sustainability is the true irony here.  Only lately we’ve committed to a world class monitoring system.  For years, both the Alberta government and oil and gas lobbies have worked to limit regulations on the oil sands.  Now we’re bragging about our environment record.

Because we refused to see the world changing… because we ignored the growing thirst for cleaner energies… because we’re so dependent on one source of revenue, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner, trying to convince potential markets that we’ve done enough on the environmental front.  The truth is that we have consistently missed our annual greenhouse gas emissions targets and we have given oil sands producers the go-ahead on 27 high-risk and experimental end-pit lakes in the Athabasca boreal region* and virtually ignored the downstream effects of the industry.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly said the economy of the United States must be built on a more sustainable energy future. The New York Times editorial last week (to which the Alberta government ad responds) argues that Keystone XL is the first project that should be turned down in order to start along the road to more sustainable energies. 

If the Americans decide not to go ahead with the project, Alberta will be left with hundreds of billions of dollars invested in a commodity that will become increasingly hard to market.  We’re playing catch up because we never looked ahead.  We didn’t want to put environmental regulations and monitoring in place because of the costs to industry.  Now, our argument has become our “great” environmental record.  This irony should not be lost on Albertans. 

Had we put as much effort into actually creating and upholding environmental controls and providing incentives for sustainable energy, our argument today might ring a whole lot truer.  Had we been more prudent in not allowing runaway development of the oil sands and had we provided as many incentives for greener energy in this province as we have subsidies and tax breaks for oil sands development, we would not have so many of our economic eggs in one basket.

No, it’s not the $30,000 the Government of Alberta has spent on the ad in the New York Times stands out.  There are billions of dollars at stake here and the government is only trying to protect potential revenue.  The sad irony is we all but ignored a changing worldview on energy and allowed runaway development of the oil sands without a parallel focus on our environment.  Now the world is wondering just how valuable our bitumen really is.  The writing is on the wall.  Will we continue to ignore it?  Much depends on the American decision on Keystone XL, but even more depends on recognising the changing global market for energy... and the consequences of not doing enough to defend against climate change and the environment.

* a fact gathered from the blog Susan on the Soapbox... a friend who always has her facts straight.