Speaking of GSAs

It goes without saying that this was a very tough week for those of us involved in the debate about Gay Straight Alliance clubs in the Alberta legislature. We had to debate some very emotional and heartfelt issues that go deep to the individual values we each hold. I have great respect for all those who attempted to find the balance between creating a positive and accepting environment for LGBTQ students and promoting equality, while respecting religious freedom and parental rights.

I supported Laurie Blakeman’s Bill 202; I did not support the government’s Bill 10. A few people have asked me for a link to my speech on second reading on Tuesday which explains why.

While I respect that we need to find a balance with parental rights and with religious freedom, I think we need to also respect that in the case of these mature youths this really is a case of life or death for some of them. We really do have a number of youths who have nowhere else to go if they’re not accepted by their community, not accepted in their home environment. It’s a very confusing time to go through puberty at the best of times. These kinds of clubs are providing an opportunity for these students not just to feel safe from bullying, which is important, not just to be able to provide an avenue to be able to educate their peers but also to make sure that they can deal with the confusing thoughts that come along with what it is that they’re dealing with, which is compounded by everything that kids this age are going through.

Now, these students who are going through this, who are already facing these extreme emotions: in some cases these kids are cutting themselves, they’re attempting suicide, and in some cases they are actually succeeding in committing suicide. To take these kids and say that the solution when their teacher says no is to go before a school board and try to argue their case or go before a lawyer and a court and try to get a judicial decision for them to be able to set up one of these clubs: that’s not reasonable, Mr. Speaker. That’s not the balance that we were looking for in this bill. I think that Bill 202 found that correct balance.

Here is the full text.

I’ll post the video in the morning. I am grateful for the comments I have received since I spoke about these issues. As you will be able to tell, it was from the heart. I am glad Bill 10 is now on “pause”. I suspect the debate is not over quite yet.

UPDATE: Watch the video here: http://youtu.be/LYlTfbPJYDg

A tale of two speeches…

Last night was my keynote speech at the Red Deer AGM in which I gave a 5 point plan to our members about how we can win government in 2016. It is true that I said I no longer will be Leader of the Official Opposition after the next election – but that is because I intend to be Premier. :) Political parties exist to win elections so they can form government and implement their ideas, not to be permanently in Opposition.

In my speech I acknowledged some of the challenges we face in getting our message out. The media generally does not cover positive releases from the Opposition because they don’t consider it news. There’s a reason for this. When government announces something it’s because it is happening right now; when the Opposition announces something it can only be implemented after the next election. So, when the media do cover something the Opposition says, generally it is because we are being critical of something the government does, which leads to the impression in the general public that all we ever do is complain.

It’s even more complicated because of the fragmentation of the media market. There was a time when everyone read a daily newspaper, and listened to the local radio, and watched the local evening news. Today, to advertize our positive message across all platforms and get the same reach that was possible 30 years ago would cost millions of dollars and we only get 30 seconds or 50 words to make a single point.

It’s even harder because we know people don’t want to be mailed. They don’t like junk mail. We know people don’t want to be called. They hate robo-calls. We know they don’t come out in large numbers to town hall meetings. Too much effort. We know they don’t sign on in large numbers to our telephone town halls. Too busy. They don’t want us to email them. They don’t like spam. They don’t follow us on Social Media – even though I have nearly 35K Facebook friends and 23K Twitter followers – we are a province with 2.4 million voters. We’re only reaching a tiny fraction online.

This is the reality a modern political party faces in trying to reach mass numbers of voters with their positive message of change. It requires a new way of doing politics.

In my speech last night I gave 12 concrete examples about how we are different from the governing party. I then gave my five-point plan for how we are going to win the next election.

If you are interested in reading the full text, you can find it here. I welcome your feedback.

Questions from the week ending November 7, 2014

I received two questions this week that I’ll try to give a stab at answering here.

Question 1: Our energy economy is certainly important, but what are the Wildrose’s plans for preparing Alberta to move away from depending on an oil economy? With global warming, U.S. Oil production expansion, and a falling oil price, we can’t depend on oil forever. Also, can we move away from coal being our primary source of power? There is always a blend of nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar.

Answer: Last month I spoke to the Greenhouse Gas Summit. I believe the only way we are going to get market access for our products is by making meaningful progress on improving our overall environmental record, in particular greenhouse gas reductions. This speech is not a complete answer to your question, but it can be a starting point for how we can redefine what it means to be an energy superpower. Here is an excerpt from my speech:

But we are not winning this public relations battle for the simple reason that we are not actually doing the only thing that will truly help us get on the right side of global public opinion, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this province in a way that is honest, measurable and explainable.

This will take time and won’t be easy. Reducing oilsands emissions will cost money and require technologies and processes that don’t yet exist. But real progress will only come with real and constructive dialogue. Alberta should not be saying “if” or “can you”, but when, how and by how much. Only then can we head down a path towards real progress on emissions reductions which will ensure true long-term economic stability.

You can read the full text of my speech here.

 

Question 2: Danielle I was watching a news piece on the Grey Nuns Hospital the other night. I saw something that actually shocked me. Every single day an entire kindergarten class is born there (19-28 babies). That is just one hospital in one city. If that rate holds, by the time those kids start school at the age of 5, it will mean over 1800 classrooms required to accommodate them. One hospital in one city. We already know that school enrolment is exceeding available space in many areas. We need to consider too the rate at which families are moving to Alberta from other parts of Canada and the world. They all need to be accommodated from an infrastructure perspective. We also have an infrastructure deficit in Alberta from years of budget neglect in the name of “no debt”. I am struggling to understand why infrastructure debt is such a bad thing. Most especially given the favourable borrowing climate we are, and have been, in. Even the most conservative financiers make a distinction between good debt and bad debt. That applies to individuals and governments. I know I am not alone in my belief that Alberta has a lot of building to do to catch up and a whole heck of a lot more to get ahead of the curve. This is about a quality of life that Albertans’ expect and deserve. The WRP needs to clearly articulate how it plans to address those factors without debt. Sure there is fat that can be trimmed in government but that fat, if trimmed, would not build many classrooms or hospitals. So what is the solution?

Answer: I believe infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads, long term care beds, etc – is core provincial government spending and should be funded on a pay as you go basis. The reason I oppose Alberta going into debt is because if we start down that path now, at a time when we have record high revenues, I predict it will keep on accelerating and we will never pay it back. Under this government, we already have $11.5 billion in debt. By 2016 the province is on track to have about $21 billion in new debt costing us nearly $1 billion a year in annual interest charges. At this alarming rate, we could be at $40 billion in debt by 2020, or $60 billion by 2024. As you point out, Alberta is on an aggressive growth track. We may grow from a 4 million population to a 5 million population by 2035; a recent Maclean’s article suggests we could even grow to 8 million people within my lifetime. If we double in population we will need double the number of schools we have now, and double of everything else as well. We have to figure out a way to keep up with capital investment and pay for it without going down the same track as Ontario and Quebec. The reason government debt is not like a family mortgage is because you don’t have to buy a new family home every year. You pay once for your home and then pay the debt back over 25 years. The reason government debt is not like business debt is because most businesses pay off a piece of capital equipment in 5-7 years or less. But Alberta will never have a year where we can declare we are caught up and can stop building. If we are growing, we are going to have to spend a minimum of $4 billion to $5 billion a year, each and every year in perpetuity, to build the schools and other infrastructure that we need. The current government total annual revenues are about $45 billion. I don’t think it is unreasonable to earmark a minimum of 10 per cent of all the revenues we receive to build critical infrastructure on a pay as you go basis, create a capital spending strategy that forecasts and plans 10 years out, and avoid going into debt. As revenues grow, so would the amount earmarked for investment. That’s how we’d keep up with growth and stay debt free.

 

If you have any other questions, let me know. I’ll be taking a few days over this weekend for rest and reflection. Be back again next week.

We will remember them

The Remembrance Day celebrations came early this week with all parties in the legislature giving remarks at the Day of Remembrance celebration yesterday. It was particularly meaningful for all of us in light of the deaths of Corp Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, and the attack on the nation’s Parliament. My husband David is a member of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves Cadet Instructor Cadre and he’d just gotten a promotion to second lieutenant last month. The day of the attacks he and the cadets were told not to wear their uniforms in public for a week. I was glad to see so many men and women in uniform in the Rotunda yesterday, proudly wearing their uniforms again, so we could honour their service to our country.

Danielle Smith - Service of Remembrance

Here are my remarks:

It is my honour to be here today on behalf of the Legislature of Alberta and the Wildrose Caucus, to join in our Service of Remembrance.

August 4, 1914 was the day Canada was drawn into a global conflict which would claim the lives of more Canadians than any other. One hundred years ago, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on behalf of the entire British Empire. The Canadian Parliament was notified via telegraph from London, and immediately preparations were made to join the fighting which had just begun across the Atlantic. In 1914, Canada had a population of around 7 ½ million. With a regular army of barely more than 3,000, Canada was a country ill-prepared for war. Yet despite its small size, Canada’s contribution to the war was enormous. Two months after the declaration of war, 30,000 Canadians, the vast majority of whom were volunteers, set sail across the Atlantic under the banner of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Canada’s involvement in the First World War forever altered Canadian history and forged a Canadian identity. Men and women from West coast to East coast joined together in the first truly pan-Canadian effort. There were other changes as well: back home, women joined the workforce in huge numbers, many of them for the first time, and in 1916, women were first granted the right to vote and to serve as parliamentarians. The incredible contributions of a young country earned Canada the respect of the world.

The years following the war marked a period of rapid political change. Canada became truly independent from Great Britain. When World War II broke, Canada’s involvement was our choice. And we went willingly to protect freedom and democracy. By this time, Canada had already built a reputation as a country of willing volunteers, as a country that could pull together in the most challenging of circumstances, and as a country that was willing to defend peace, security, and freedom around the world.

Today, the world still needs Canada to stand up for peace, security and freedom. And Canadians still volunteer to go into harm’s way and take on the forces of repression, hatred and inhumanity. This Remembrance Day, let us remember those who served in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, whose sacrifice has helped to build and shape our nation.

Let us be ever mindful of the efforts, hardship, and loss of those who came before us. Let us never forget the sacrifice of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo. And let us be especially grateful for the dedication of our current service-men and women who continue to protect Canada and the world with the utmost resolution and devotion.

Speech to the Acheson Business Association: It’s the economy stupid

Today I spoke to the Acheson Business Association at their Annual General Meeting. I sat through about a half hour of their formal agenda as they talked about all the charitable work they were doing in their community. It almost felt like I’d gone to a meeting of a service club. But that is the amazing thing about our entrepreneurs: you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface of a successful business leader and you’ll find a generous philanthropist.

Danielle Smith - Lunch Meeting

My speech to the Acheson group is one that I have given before to groups of financial advisors about the economic challenges I see that Alberta faces and how a Wildrose government would solve them. Here is an excerpt from my speech:

“Over 20 years ago James Carville, a campaign strategist for Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton, coined the famous line, “It’s the economy, stupid”. This helped Clinton win two terms as U.S. President during which he led a strong turn-around of the American economy. Unemployment fell steadily. Poverty shrunk. GDP climbed. Inflation stabilized and wages grew. Business leaders know how it works: Capital flows. Investments are made. And jobs, wealth and opportunity are created. Lo-and-behold lots of people’s lives improve – a lot. But all of that only happens when investors have confidence that the political and fiscal regime under which they invest and operate is stable and predictable. We used to call this the “Alberta Advantage”. You don’t hear much of that these days…

“After over 43 years, I think Alberta needs a new government, new leadership. If you haven’t come around to that conclusion yet, I hope what I’ve shared today has got you started. Albertans have never thought that standing still is good enough, or that our past is somehow currency for the future. The challenges of today and the opportunities of tomorrow don’t care much about what we accomplished yesterday. We must face those challenges and seize those opportunities. And I believe we shall. A new generation of leadership can lead the way.”

To read the full speech, please click here. As always, I value your feedback.

We need to lead the way on a northern economic utility corridor

Today I spoke to Gas Processing Association Canada (GPAC) at a lunch meeting at the Petroleum Club in Calgary. The topic of the speech was the need for a northern economic utility corridor so that governments can take the lead to help build a new transnational highway, rail line, pipelines, utilities and other infrastructure across the northern part of our nation. I’ve given this speech in Vancouver and Saskatoon, and a few other times in Alberta. I also submitted a motion to debate this concept in the legislature. It’s Motion 525 so we are unlikely to get to it this session, but I believe we need to start a national conversation about a new approach to ensure market access for all of our resources. Here’s an excerpt from my speech:

“Imagine this: A nationally negotiated transportation, commercial and utility right of way going from northwest Canada from Northern Ontario and Manitoba – through Saskatchewan and Alberta – all the way to the West Coast…

“A trans-national commercial corridor through the north of western Canada will be for this century what the St. Lawrence Seaway Project was for the previous one and maybe even what the Canadian Pacific Railway was for the one before that: A unifying venture that will define a generation and lay out the foundation of our economic prosperity for decades, even centuries to come .”

To see the full text of my speech, please click here. The best time to have started negotiations on this proposal was 10 years ago. The next best time is now. I welcome your feedback!

Farewell to a great Albertan: Rod Love

Rod Love’s memorial service yesterday held beautiful tributes from Thompson Macdonald, Heather Forsyth, Mike Harris, Don Martin as well as a heartfelt statement from his family. I knew him as a political advisor but so many others will remember him as a man whose world revolved around Charlene and their three children, James, Katie and Haylee. As per his request we were told that anyone else who tried to speak would have the microphone shut off and a sniper ready to take them out. It was the kind of tribute where you wish he could have been there to hear the wonderful stories and the impact he had on so many lives.

I have three clear memories of Rod Love before he became a friend.

Rod Love Memorial Edited

I was the President of the campus PC club at the U of C and dropped some literature on his (ultimately unsuccessful) byelection campaign for Calgary Buffalo in 1992. Perhaps it’s a good thing he lost – his ability to tell it like it is often laced with profanity would have created havoc for the comms team. I went to a PC policy forum some years later where he explained that health care reform was needed because otherwise it was going to crush provincial finances (at the time health care was 20 per cent of government spending; today it is 40 per cent). He knew the problem was coming and that speech has stayed on my mind for more than a decade. Then a few years after that, CBC had us up against each other talking about whether Alberta needed a lobbyist registry. Even though I am convinced I was on the right side of this debate (the yes side) my friends all felt sorry for me because Rod beat me up so handily.

So when our mutual friend Hal Walker suggested that Rod and I meet on October 5, 2009 – 2 weeks after Paul Hinman had won the Calgary Glenmore byelection and 2 weeks before the Wildrose leadership vote I had mixed feelings. Fear, admiration and curiosity. It was one of the most important meetings of my political career followed by several more over the next 5 years and 3 premiers.

Every few months I’d tell my staff I’d need to get together with Rod so he could “do his trick” as we came to call it. Rod’s strategic brilliance was to identify a key point in the future and then work backward with events, speeches and strategy to get there. More often than not, it was drawn up on the back of a napkin or a random scrap of paper. More often than not, it was over a glass of wine. As Alison Redford’s mistakes grew and we were exposing more and more of it I asked Rod if he thought we should ease up. He told me, “If you do, you should be held criminally liable for negligence.” I remember meeting at his home in the first weekend of February lamenting that we didn’t seem to be able to get any traction over Redford’s increasingly lavish travel without looking petty and parochial. Within days of that conversation the Mandela travel bill story exploded, followed by the government planes story and six weeks later Redford was finished.

Perhaps the most important advice Rod gave me came from his experience in crisis communications. He told me when a crisis hits it’s important not to overreact or underreact. The challenge is figuring out which way to go when you are in the middle of it. He always seemed to know. When he saw we were really messing something up, one of my staff members would get a call.

As the last PC race was drawing to a close I called Rod to ask for his help on my fourth Premier, who was set to be elected a few days later on September 6. He seemed distracted. The next day he shocked us all by announcing on his blog that he had cancer.

Rod emailed me on October 5. Subject: Mischief. He wanted a lawn sign from the John Fletcher campaign. I got it dropped off right away and he asked for me to call him to complain. “No. No. No. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’ll be out on my porch and John Fletcher will come by doorknocking. He’ll put up a sign and post a picture on Twitter so Don Braid and Rick Bell will know I’m not dead.” He wanted to wait until after his last chemo treatment to do this bit of mischief but we never got a chance to speak again. Not long after I was told that he could no longer get out of bed.

His web host company – Not Your Average Jo – has said Rod’s blog, rodlove.com, is going to stay up. It’s fitting that someone with such a long reach in politics is going to continue to insert himself in it. What I will always be grateful to Rod for is his service to Alberta. This part of his biography sums it up so well: “As Chief of Staff (to Premier Ralph Klein), Mr. Love was involved in all aspects of the restructuring and refocusing of the Government of Alberta that led to the elimination of the deficit, the rapid elimination of Alberta’s debt, the highest credit rating and the lowest personal and corporate income taxes in Canada.”

The memorial service ended with a Johnny Cash song and I can’t help but think that Rod was trying to create one last piece of mischief with his choice of music: Ghost Riders in the Sky.

RIP my friend. You will be missed.

 

Welcome to my blog

Since the byelections on October 27 I have been asked a lot about what makes us different from the other Alberta political parties. The reason I ran for Wildrose leader in 2009 is because I felt we deserved better government than we were getting. I still feel that way. Even more now than ever in fact, but this isn’t going to be a place to complain. It is a place to explore solutions and talk about our vision for Alberta under a Wildrose government.

One of the things I love about Albertans is we are always looking forward. We are a province of entrepreneurs, achievers and community builders. We believe it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves, our families and each other. We know that strong families and well-paying jobs are the best social programs we could possibly have. We know that when we do well we have an obligation to give back, to the non-profit groups and charities that perform such important work. But we also know we need our provincial government to be there and work well for us when we need it. Right now it doesn’t.

So what makes our party unique?

In the Wildrose, we champion our energy industry and small business because we want a robust economy that employs people and generates tax revenue. We are fierce supporters of property rights because we believe our landowners are the best stewards of our beautiful landscapes and they have a right to manage their property with minimal interference from government. We support balanced budgets because we don’t want to waste Albertans’ precious taxdollars paying interest charges to the banks. We want to be debt-free because we believe we have an obligation to save some of our resource wealth for future generations. We want to cut wasteful spending and excessive layers of managers so we can direct more dollars to the frontline services that actually help Albertans, especially our most vulnerable. We want to give more authority and funding to local levels of governments because we believe the people who live in a community are best able to make decisions in the interests of their community. We allow free votes in the legislature because we believe the role of an elected representative is, first and foremost, to speak for the people who voted for them. And we believe changing government from time to time is good and necessary, if only to end the cronyism and self-dealing that happens when a single party has been in power for too long.

Simply put, we believe we need honest, ethical and capable government again.

If you want to know more about what we stand for please read our member-passed policies on our website.

Why do you support Wildrose? What more would you like to know about us? I’m happy to answer your questions and thank you in advance for joining the conversation.