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It's Time for Alberta to Lead Again

October 19th, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen – dear friends – Wildrosers – fellow Albertans.

It is thrilling to see so many people here tonight. Thank you all so very much for coming and for helping to build a new, forward-looking political alternative for Albertans. 

And thank you Jim and Gordon for that very kind introduction.

The last time I was introduced at our Edmonton leader’s dinner in March it was former minister Lyle Oberg who did the introduction. He talked about a show I appeared in on CBC called Make the Politician Work. Did any of you see it? For those of you who didn’t, they took me out for two days on a cow-calf operation and then on a feedlot to put me to work as a ranchhand. That’s where I met Chester the horse. Chester didn’t like me much. I got put to work right away and one of my first tasks was taking horseshoes off Chester. It’s pretty tough work and I took so long getting the front one off that by the time I got to the back one Chester had pretty much lost patience with me. Just as I got started he evacuated all down my left hand side. And I had to wear those coveralls for the next 2 days. But I didn’t stop – I kept on going until I got that darn horseshoe off. When Lyle retold this story in Edmonton he said when he saw all of this he thought – yep getting crapped all over and continuing on anyway, that sounds like someone who is going to do pretty well in politics. And so here we are.

Seeing so many of you here tells me that change is in the Alberta air – change for the better. Real change. Long-term change. Purposeful change.

Change to someTHING different, not just someONE different.

Not just a new face – a whole new government.

Tonight we’ll consider what this emerging change should look like.

But first let’s take a look at “where we are” as Albertans in an increasingly troubled world.

 

Alberta Falling Behind

Look around the world. Frankly, it’s pretty scary. We see the United States – the greatest economy in human history, and our biggest trading partner – staggering under unimaginable debt, with social entitlements it can no longer afford, and with political parties Americans have lost faith in. We see Europe on the brink of financial default and the EU facing political dissolution. Canada – the brightest hope in the western world’s wobbly recovery – already has economists downgrading our growth expectations for next year.

Meanwhile our own provincial government is letting us down. Alberta used to be a leader and now our government is letting us fall behind.

We’re falling behind on the fiscal front. We’re on our fourth straight year of deficit budgets, we’re racking up debt and our savings are being obliterated.

We’re falling behind on the health care front. Despite being among the highest per capita spenders in health care in the world, we have some of the worst health outcomes among OECD nations, emergency rooms in crisis and wait lists you’d expect to see in the developing world.

We’re falling behind on how we are viewed on the environmental front. Despite having an industry with an environmental record that is second to none, our opponents have gained an upper hand in depicting us as planet wreckers.

We’re falling behind on the energy front. Fiddling with the royalty structure, breaking contracts, cancelling leases and binding up our industry in reams of red tape have made Saskatchewan and BC more attractive for energy investment than Alberta. And we need pipelines that we can’t get built.

We’re falling behind on the national stage. There has been no leadership from the Alberta government on issues such as energy security, provincial rights, democratic reform and fiscal management – on which we should have a lot to say.

In short, Alberta is losing the Alberta Advantage.

Friends, let’s not kid ourselves. Alberta is sailing through the eye of a hurricane. How we steer ourselves from this moment on will determine our success for decades to come. And here in simple words is the choice we face: we can keep muddling along, aimlessly borrowing and spending money, hoping it’ll all blow over. Or we can turn our bow right into the wind, batten our hatches and set a straight course into the future.

Fellow Albertans, we in the Wildrose think Alberta must choose the second and harder course – so that we can continue to thrive no matter what the world throws at us. Let us remain – as we always have been – a beacon of hope in a troubled world, a place where people from our nation and every nation can come and find work, freedom, peace, prosperity and opportunity. But it will take leadership to get there.

 

The Need for Leadership

Seated in this room I see an impressive cross-section of the business, social and government leadership of this great city of Calgary and of our great province. And this is my message – my challenge – to you here tonight, and to all Albertans.

“IT’S TIME FOR ALBERTANS TO LEAD AGAIN.”

It’s time for us to THINK like – and ACT like – and BE - key players on the national and international stage, as well as leaders at home.

This is the role history and circumstances have thrust upon us. So let’s cowboy up and do it.

Leadership is not easy. It may look easy for those who have never done it, but we here know the courage and sacrifice it requires. Leadership – especially in difficult times – is the most demanding job of all.

Friends, Alberta’s job is to be number one – in everything. Not number five, not number six.  Number one.

It is time for Albertans to lead the continent – in our economy – our social supports – and our government.

Tonight let’s consider what real leadership looks like in Alberta in 2011.

 

Leadership in Energy

For example, what does leadership mean for the oil patch? What does it look like for those talented, tough-minded men and women who find and unlock hydrocarbon wealth deep beneath fields, forests, tundra and oceans all over the world – those who have made Alberta such a hive of activity and prosperity?

The Alberta oil patch itself continues to show leadership – it always has. Pioneering three dimensional seismic imaging, horizontal drilling of multiple wells from single platforms, finding new ways of unlocking natural gas from tight formations, making continuous advances in the in situ processing of oil sands – I could go on. But where is the complementary leadership from the Government of Alberta?

We learned long ago – back in the disaster of Trudeau’s National Energy Program and then with our own home-grown disaster of the New Royalty Framework – that government itself cannot play a leading role in this incredibly risky and complex industry. The oil patch succeeds only when government facilitates rather than intervenes, enables rather than obstructs, provides a framework for responsible private sector initiatives rather than generating clouds of uncertainty through damaging tax and regulatory changes.

Alberta can play a lead role in developing a Western Energy Strategy, asserting Alberta’s place on the international stage through championing vital projects like Keystone, which will provide energy security to the continent; partnering with the federal government, BC and Saskatchewan to clear a path for a much-needed pipeline to the coast so our producers can take full advantage of the exciting growth opportunities in India and China; and working with all levels of government to develop a natural gas strategy that will help consumers make greater use of this abundant, clean and green source of energy.

Albertans lead in many ways in the oil and gas regions of the world. But they are only successful internationally because they are successful at home. We cannot take this industry for granted. It must be more than a source of tax revenues and employment. It is a strategic component of our province’s, our country’s and our world’s economic future.

This is the next great challenge of leadership on the economy and it is time for Alberta to lead again.

 

Leadership in the Social Sector

But as we all know, Alberta is more than the oil patch, and more than profit and loss. What does genuine leadership look like in the social sector? The same principles apply.

First education: Back in the 1990s Alberta provided parents with choice, allowing funding to follow the student, site-based decision-making, measuring performance – and in doing so created a competitive, innovative environment for education while maintaining universal access and public funding. Although the government has since taken our education system backwards a bit, which we need to correct, we can apply these same principles to our health care and other social services.

In health care, leadership means making the public system work – for that is clearly what Albertans want. Many other countries have shown, in Europe and elsewhere, that public health care can be made to work quite well for no more money than we are now spending. Waiting lists can be eliminated, emergency rooms can become functional, and there can be enough family doctors for everyone. Like so many things, it takes a lot of explaining and I ask you to go to wildrose.ca and read our full health care policy.

But the main points are these:  excessive government bureaucracy is as bad for public health care as it is for oil and gas. Top-down government management of health care kills creativity, inflates cost, politicizes priorities, and puts everyone in an incredibly bad mood. Leadership requires us to make Alberta the first Canadian province to apply proven solutions like “activity-based hospital funding” and competitive service delivery. When we do, we will emerge in short order as the leading health care jurisdiction, not just in Canada but in North America. Let’s do what works for public health systems in other countries and get over the fear-mongering that is holding us back.

The same applies for social services and support for the disadvantaged. There will always be a necessary role for the province in funding supports for the vulnerable and needy. That goes right back to 1905. But let’s learn from what worked so well in education and create a structure of creative competition where funding follows the client to the social agency where they receive service. Our government must work with our local non-profit agencies and charities to harness the power of communities to care for each other.

This is the next great challenge of leadership in the delivery of social services and it is time for Alberta to lead again.

 

Leadership in Governance

I’d like to talk more about Albertans taking the lead in the social sector, but time demands that we turn to the third area of leadership – democracy and governance.

The main problem with democracy in Alberta today is that the Legislature no longer reflects the best judgment of the people. Instead of representing the people, the Legislature now represents mainly the ambitions of lobby groups, single-issue fanatics, bureaucrats and career politicians. It has been captured and held hostage by the cabinet and run by the Premier’s office. Until this is fixed, democracy will not work, and voters will become increasingly disenchanted.

The solutions to this problem are easy enough to see. MLAs on both sides of the house – the government side and the opposition side – must resume their proper, original, primary role as watchdogs over the actions and inactions of government. Cabinet must be shrunk so it is less dominant by its sheer size. MLAs must be free to vote according to what they feel is right for their constituents and for their province – regardless of party leaders and caucus consensus.

It’s time for Albertans to see – and for party leaders to accept – that vigorous competition is just as essential for democracy as it is for business.

This means fixed election dates – something already enacted in all major provinces except Alberta and Quebec. It also means enacting a meaningful public right for citizens to initiate laws when politicians refuse to act. It means giving voters the right to fire and replace wayward MLAs in mid-term

This is the next great challenge of leadership in democracy and it is time for Alberta to lead again.

 

Leadership at the National Level

At the federal level, we need to start working and stop coasting. Canada is a federation of provinces. We have seen in the past that provinces can and often do play a leadership role.

Here are several ways Alberta can once again play a leadership role federally.

We can start by setting a good example. We can learn to rely more on ourselves than on government. We can be the province which best enables families and communities to develop themselves – the province where people understand that we must give of ourselves to the community, and not just take – the province which best exemplifies that all legal rights and entitlements must be balanced by personal initiative and responsibility.

Second, let’s start a new discussion in Canada about changing the basis of federal transfers and sharing. Let’s work with the other contributor provinces – Ontario, Saskatchewan and BC – to establish a new federal focus that encourages productivity gains, rather than equalizes government spending. This way, less-enterprising regions will become more independent and creative. Rather than drag all regions down, let’s have a federalism that will build all regions up. Let’s challenge our friends in Quebec, and Manitoba, and the Atlantic to become thriving, self-sustaining provinces in their own right, able to stand on their own two feet without handouts from Ottawa. This is what will keep Canada prosperous.

And let’s reassert Alberta’s leadership in advocating reform of the Senate.

Let’s make the Senate the voice and strength of our province – and every other province – in Parliament. That’s why the Senate was created long ago. Let’s make it work as intended. Sad to say, the champion of true Senate reform today is not Alberta, as it once was, it’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He wants to give the Senate over to provincial elections. But Ottawa can’t force the provinces to represent themselves.

So let’s get behind this and really push and cajole and pester our fellow provinces to accept the invitation to take over the Senate. Canada urgently needs a real Senate – one that can deepen and broaden Parliament’s awareness and discourse of regional concerns. Let’s see if we Albertans can get Senate elections underway in all provinces by 2017, the one hundred-and-fiftieth birthday of this country we all love. What a magnificent birthday present to Canada that would be!

This is the next great challenge of leadership in our federation and it is time for Alberta to lead again.

 

Leadership that Facilitates and Enables Others to Do Their Best

This brings us to the biggest difference between the Wildrose and all the other parties.

We in the Wildrose believe that the ordinary citizen, if left to himself, can be counted on to take care of himself, his family, and his community. He probably doesn’t need the government telling him how. It’s not the government’s business to direct the citizen. It’s the citizen’s business to direct the government.

We believe that democracy depends entirely on the service and dedication of the average citizen, which in turn depends on much greater service and dedication from the leaders of the community.

That’s why to us, leadership means facilitating, enabling, and partnering with those citizens and their families and communities to make Alberta a better home for all. It’s why we would return more money, authority and responsibility to the community – to municipal councils, school boards, hospital boards, local agencies and charities, parent councils and families. Why should the provincial government be making decisions for local communities, instead of giving them the right, the resources and the responsibility to make their own decisions for themselves?

Leadership means making Alberta a model of free speech, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of association and assembly. It means putting property rights beyond the confiscatory reach of politicians.

And leadership means something more. When cutbacks in government spending are needed, genuine leadership does not begin by cutting the frontlines first, it does not begin by cutting teachers and nurses and social workers and police officers. Long before we look at that, let’s see how many useless government consultancies can we get rid of, and how many untendered sweetheart construction contracts we can clean up, and how many peace-at-any-price union concessions can be rolled back, and how many redundant senior civil service management positions can be phased out, and how many costly provincial boards and agencies can be either shut down or governed by competent volunteers, and how many bogus expense and inflated transition allowances politicians can give up.

Because leadership doesn’t just begin in local communities – it goes right up to the top.

If you’ve ever wondered how Alberta has managed to enjoy enviable prosperity for the past 25 years without saving any money, look at what gets spent at the top. Only then can we expect the ordinary citizen to buy in. When they see we’re serious, they’ll get serious too. But as long as the attitude of the elites is “what’s in it for me?” that will be the first question everyone else asks too.

We see around us examples of the failing welfare state – a vision that blossomed in the last century but is now proving impossible to sustain. This was its promise. Give us the power, taxes and responsibility, and we will look after your every need. In reckless pursuit of this notion governments borrowed and spent billions of dollars, in some cases to the point of financial insolvency, without ever truly delivering on its promise.

We must pause to ask ourselves what is happening in the world, with movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the protests at G-20 summits. As long as ordinary people see wealthy, successful corporations exhibiting a lack of ethics, or no responsibility for wrongdoing, or indifference to client needs – as long as they see billions spent on political pet projects while they themselves can’t get help for their autistic child, or hip surgery for their crippled mother, or a family doctor – we can’t expect to restore their faith in either government or the market place.

The basic challenge confronting whoever governs this province after the next election is to restore faith in the power of free people to govern themselves and succeed. This means significantly changing what they expect of government and what they expect of themselves. We must show them that it’s worth it to try hard. That everyone, from richest to poorest, is responsible for ensuring that the community succeeds, and that Alberta succeeds and that Canada succeeds. That citizenship starts with you and me.

This is the next great challenge of leadership in government and it is time for Alberta to lead again.

 

Reasserting Alberta’s Unchanging Values

Now if this is not your idea of Alberta – if you still believe that more government produces more happiness – you have four self-styled “progressive” parties with the old entitlement mentality to choose from. Take your pick.

But if the Alberta I’ve described tonight is the Alberta you want – if you share our conviction that Alberta needs new leadership on the economic, social, and governance fronts, I want to ask you to do three things:

  • Take out a membership in our party, if you have not already done so, so that you can participate in shaping our platform, choosing and supporting our candidates, and building Wildrose from an opposition party into a governing party.
  • Make a financial contribution to our party if you are able. Invest in government of Albertans, by Albertans, and for Albertans.  Donation forms are available on your tables.
  • Ask your friends and family to check out Wildrose online at wildrose.ca. Tell them Alberta need a new and better government.

In doing these things you will be helping the Wildrose and Albertans to “write the next chapter” of our province’s story. The theme of this new chapter will be rediscovery – rediscovery of something vitally important that we seem to be forgetting.

A dear friend of mine, the late Harold Davenport, gave me a book just before he passed away in December and I’d like to recommend it to you. It’s called Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. It could also be subtitled: What Government Can Learn from the Code of the West. That Cowboy Code consists of basic Alberta values which have guided us in every chapter of Alberta’s history. Through the wars and depressions, booms and busts -the values themselves have remained the same: Hard work. Community service. Thrift. Progress. Courage. Risk and reward. Freedom. Fairness. Honesty. Loyalty. Integrity.

Each governing party in our province’s history – the Liberals, the United Farmers, the Social Credit and the Progressive Conservatives – each one applied the same basic Alberta values – the Cowboy Code of Ethics – to the needs of their era.  And when each in turn proved incapable of adapting to new realities, they were replaced by a new party more in tune with the times and more deeply committed to those unchanging Alberta values.

You know about some of the earlier chapters of our history and how inspiring they are – the First Nations chapter written long before the settlers appeared, the fur trading chapter which built Fort Edmonton and brought David Thompson to the banks of the Bow. The chapters in which the railway, the settlers, the ranchers, the teachers and the preachers opened up the West, the chapter in which the Northwest Mounted Police marched west to establish Fort Macleod and Fort Calgary.

And then there was the chapter in which Alberta was born as a province and struggled to get control of its resources from the federal government. There were the tragic chapters of Albertans marching off to the Great War, enduring drought and the Great Depression, then marching off to war again. But then too, there are the glorious and exhilarating chapters of Turner Valley and Leduc and the opening of the Great Canadian Oilsands plant at Fort McMurray, of the 1988 Olympics, of Stanley Cups and Grey Cups for both Edmonton and Calgary.

The important thing is that now, we in this room, you and I, have the opportunity to write the next chapter of the Alberta story – to ensure that it is not the story of “Alberta Falling Behind” but the story of “Alberta Leading the Way.” This is the chapter I want to write and the story I want to live. I invite you to join me.