Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Epic Saga of Gary Mar: Part one

As promised, I have begun to look into the candidates for the Alberta premier position, and have arbitrarily chosen Gary Mar as the first lucky contestant. Now, as you all know, this position is not publicly elected, so if you feel very strongly about this race, you must buy a membership into the Progressive Conservative party (5$) and then vote on September 17th. You may buy a membership right up until the polls close that day, so if you have to search your couch cushions for change, you have the time. (Of course keep in mind you must be 16 and lived in Alberta for at least 6 months prior)
Without further ado, here are some of the highlights of the first four segments of Gary Mar's platform.

Advanced education and technology policy

All qualified Albertans who wish to attain post-secondary education must be able to do so. (Hilariously, if you include the qualification of being able to pay, this statement becomes deliciously tautological)
He supports funding of both basic and applied research, to ensure that society reaps the full benefit of the research enterprise of our post-secondary system, which bodes well, since basic research tends to be neglected for more lucrative prospects.
He promises to build on the past success of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) (A program that seduced back three scientists from the U.S and funded important spinal research) but also plans to create: The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Bio Research, The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Energy and the Environment,The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Technology Futures, which threaten to bog down the AHFMR's success with superfluous and expensive boards.
He attempts to win over students by talking about increasing positions in university, but then pledges to bring more immigrants in to fill those positions, (Mar will develop a multi-year provincial, national, and international recruitment strategy to ensure that Alberta’s post-secondary system is a destination of choice for the brightest minds in the world.) which would make whole process more competitive, thus denying positions to local students. (I'm not saying we need less immigration, just that he isn't going to win any students by threatening positions in Universities)

He says Gary Mar will work to create new endowment funds from resource revenues that will lay the foundation for economic life after oil. (This comes up more later). With this money, apparently, he will create a stable and predictable funding model, such as tuition caps, for all post-secondary institutions in the province, which actually sounds really good except for considering how volatile the market is. We can't promise money that we can't take back in case of emergency.

He also says he will "undertake a review [of] parental income thresholds and contribution amounts and work with the Canada Student Loan Program and the Federal Government to make appropriate changes." I am not really familiar with the reasoning behind this loan restriction, so I cannot speak to its effectiveness, but it has always struck me as odd.
I am not so adult that I would fail to point out that he refers to himself as "A Mar" at one point.

Alberta in Canada and the world
He starts by promising to establish an Alberta Representative in Ottawa to advocate on behalf of the province’s interests every day, which only leaves us asking why he can't do the job as Alberta Premier.But he is obviously gunning for the "bitter Albertan" vote when he talks about continuing to seek fair and equal treatment under the federal equalization transfer, a program designed to compensate less fortunate provinces for their fiscal disparities. This program has long been a source of grumbling contention in Alberta, but it makes no sense for him to support the payments, then expect to receive the money back elsewhere.

His stand on the environment becomes crystal clear when he says he will fight against any infringement on resource development through stealth environmental policies, regulations or Alberta- punishing new taxes or scheming wealth-transfer initiatives desired by some. We don't cotton to this "envir'mental" policies 'round these here parts. It almost seems like he is building his policies on anger towards the East. It could get him elected, but will we be proud of ourselves?

To combat the theorized upcoming labour shortage he believes we need to work to accelerate the process for foreign credential recognition, a principle I have supported for a while now.
Most of the time the writing switches between being spoken to about Gary Mar (third person) and a dialogue with Gary (first person), so the effect is somewhat like being witnessed to while Jesus stands off to one side and interjects occasionally ("Have you found Jesus?" "Tell him I died for his sins!" "Yeah, I will, Jesus, just hang on a second.")

He doesn't support the gun registry, but does support free-trade, securities regulation, a unified north, the Canadian Premier's Council of federation, and ending the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly.

In line with the new trade agreements with India and elsewhere, Gary promises to take the lead for Alberta in trading with key emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and the Middle East, where he estimates 50 per cent (Source: Export Development Canada) of all Canadian exports will go by 2025.

He talks about two key decisions in our immediate future: the building of pipelines to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the West Coast of Canada. He says he will advocate that the federal government designate these initiatives as a national economic priority for Canada and ensure they receive the needed support to get done, which sounds expensive. He promotes the idea of providing the world with the full facts of credible, science-based information that clearly demonstrates Alberta is protecting the environment today and for the future, but later mentions that

He supports the development of new transportation options, rail and pipeline, to west coast tidewater outlets as a means to diversify and grow new markets and will continue to support industry-driven initiatives and campaigns that sell Alberta as desirable tourism destination. (See the Alberta Tourism campaign fiasco)

Still with me? Just two more - you can do it!
Children and youth policy
Some of the problems he identifies in our child and youth policies are that funding and delivery of early childhood services remains fragmented, spread among many ministries, levels of government, and non-profit agencies. He feels we need to stop funding programs that don’t work very well (Huzzah.) and redirect dollars to expand programs that do and we need to track our progress according to a clear set of measurable outcomes. the issue here, of course, being the nebulous and contentious priorities of childhood development, and the long-term prognosis of even seeing any change at all.
He plans to co-ordinate and streamline the Alberta Government’s many existing early childhood programs and services, encourage the joining up of services at the local level and contain a set of key indicators and outcomes for children’s well-being that will be used to measure progress (again, see earlier issue)
The only one that is not a 'given, sound-good' issue is to focus on improving the availability of mental health services for expectant and new mothers, since everyone needs better mental healthy care, it seems bad taste to give expectant mothers better care.
Some other soundbites include:
A public awareness component to inform Albertans about the importance of early childhood development.
Strengthening the Family Enhancement focus of Alberta’s child intervention system
Ensuring families continue to have access to affordable, quality child care options
Expand the Mental Health Capacity Building for Children, Youth and Families in Schools initiative to more communities (I am concerned by what this means. More diagnosis? More treatment?)

Energy policy
His energy policy is largely copy-pasta'd from earlier policies, which made for easier skimming and I noticed the changed passages were more controversial.For example, "Concerns raised by our American neighbours about the carbon intensity of our energy products and the safety of our pipelines must be addressed.", which as long-time readers (Hi Mom!) know, I am not a fan of. In short it is our damn oil, they aren't going to stop buying it because some people think we smell funny. But he plans to implement the recommendations of the Alberta Environmental Panel Monitoring Report on environmental monitoring of the oil sands, anyway, presumably through the use of an Alberta Environmental Monitoring Authority, which will totally not be corrupt, and education programs to improve Albertan’s understanding of the resources they own and how those resources are being developed. (people barely give a crap now, why would they sit through a presentation?)
Stretching his bounds of offense he plans to work with Alberta’s First Nations and companies in the natural resource sector to develop an Aboriginal Workforce Strategy to enable greater aboriginal participation in resource development. From the sound of it the First Nations' peoples are not very keen on developing resources, since they believe it harms the environment, but good luck on this anyway. Also in the vein of this wishful dreaming policy is to establish an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Energy and the Environment. This Foundation will, allegedly, bring together key government, industry and academic stakeholders, with a focus on developing the next wave of clear conscience energy, because there are few better people to develop altruistic environmental policies than the stingy government and the profit-oriented industries. To develop this wave they will look at current and potential fiscal and regulatory systems to see how they might better encourage innovation and the adoption of new technologies. He says that current regulatory processes require companies to seek a new approval when it would like to upgrade to new, more efficient and technologies and he feels that these types of disincentives need to be understood and, where appropriate, removed, but this whole plan is pretty troubling - how else can we discover if a process IS more efficient?
This board will also ask Finance and Enterprise, Alberta Energy, Alberta Environment and the new Heritage Foundation to work with industry to restructure incentive systems so that they reward environmental innovation that goes above and beyond current standards, but this is unnecessary. Either the process will be more profitable for the company, in which case they will adopt it themselves, or it will be unprofitable enough that we will end up paying them off to 'do the right thing', which is a money sink.
The most hilarious plan of all is when he speaks of asking the AUC and AESO to work with all participants in the electricity market to look for innovative ways to enable lower costs for Alberta industry and consumers while maintaining reliability. I can see that conversation clearly: "Hey, guys? Can you get cheaper? Thanks." He can't even bribe them to work together since he intends to
promote icky competition within the electricity industry anyway, not a good selling point for the companies.

Finally, he is committed to ensuring stability in the current royalty regime for conventional oil, natural gas and the oil sands. but remember that earlier plan to use resource revenues? We can't use money we don't get, and we can't money while ensuring stability financially for those resources. Needless to say, these work at cross-purposes.

After all this I am still less than halfway through his policies. I can only hope that future candidates will be less verbose.

Lady told to put her shirt back on at Toronto's Beer Festival. Victor says they have the right to security enforcement at a private function, I say she has the right to wear what she likes at a publicly organized gathering. Where do you stand? Comment with your view!

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