Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons — Part Two

386290D9-77B4-40D1-8654-A05C03828D85.jpegI’m hopeful that after reading the Open Letter To My Teenage Sons, the two of you realize that you’re not rich. Hopeful, although perhaps not confident. But before we move on to more important things — like health and happiness — I thought it might be time to pass on some wisdom given to me by your grandfather when I was even younger than you are today. Pay attention.

Before I get to the point, I need to tell you that your grandfather is a great man. I feel the need to tell you that, because the man you know so well is a shadow of his former self. So understand that before he was visited frequently by the ravages of time — and before Alzheimers altered his being forever — your grandfather had a number of extraordinary chapters to his life.

You never really got to know the man who raised me. A man whose drive and passion allowed him to accomplish great things. So I have to tell you that for most of his life Jim Hawkes was a big deal.

I suppose it started with him helping to support his mom and three younger brothers at age 16 after his dad died suddenly in a work accident. From true poverty he went on to earn his doctorate — despite being the first person in our family to even attend university.

Dad was also an all Canadian university basketball star, started a couple of successful businesses, became a full tenured University Professor, ran a successful national Leadership Campaign, was the Program Coordinator for the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, got himself elected as a Member of Parliament, was Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and spent 5 years as Chief Government Whip. And while he was doing all that, he was universally respected and well-liked by just about everyone that knew him.

But to me, he was just Dad. He taught me to swim. Taught me right from wrong. Coached my basketball team (I was horrible, but he put in the time nonetheless). Led by example. Worked his tail off. Loved us all. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a great dad.

From a young age he talked to me. He was a social scientist and had an enduring passion for learning and helping others develop their full potential. As a father, that meant he spoke to me and my sister like we were adults. He taught us how to think, knowing that that was the true life skill. The skill that would allow us to handle whatever life dealt up. It was an extraordinary gift.

So when I tell you your grandfather passed on some wisdom, please give it the weight that you should. What he told me has changed my life. It’s a lesson that most people never seem to learn. And I remember it clearly, even today.

When I was 7 or 8, we were living in Fort Collins, Colorado. I wasn’t doing well in school and putting in less than my best effort. Dad had left the University early one day to retrieve me from school, following some transgression which I thankfully can’t recall. We had stopped for ice cream, which seemed odd at the time as I knew he was ticked. And as we sat there each with our own thoughts, he turned to me, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know what money is?” Taken aback by such an odd question, I think all I could manage was something like, “It’s what you need to buy stuff?” I knew that answer was correct, in a technical sense, but I also knew that wasn’t what he was looking for.

“Money is freedom”, he continued, “That’s exactly what it is. It’s no more, or less, than that. But freedom is everything, and that’s why money is so valuable”.

Of course at the time I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. I do recall that I asked some questions and he explained further, but I was too young to appreciate what he was telling me.

As time went on I understood more and more what he was trying to teach me. Today, so many years later, I believe it is one of life’s simple truths.

If you have “enough” money, you can do whatever you want. That’s freedom. By “enough”, I don’t mean lots. I mean enough. If you don’t have enough, for rent, food, whatever, then you have to work. There is no other practical choice. My father went to work to support the family at age 16 because he had to. He didn’t question it, but he lost a lot of his freedom in those years because he (and my grandmother) didn’t have enough money.

“Enough” is the key. Enough that you get to choose how to spend your time. It means having the money you need to do what you want to do in life. Do you want to travel through Europe after high school? Go to university? Get married? Have kids? Join the Peace Corps and build low income housing in Central America? Whatever you want to do, you need a sum of money that will allow you to do it. You need enough. That amount is different in each case, but once you figure it out you then know what you have to do to earn the ability to spend your time the way you want to. Money is freedom.

A couple of equally important truths readily present themselves.

The first is that trading money for “stuff” is often a very bad idea. Some stuff can be used to enhance our lives (a reliable car, great books, a computer, music — all jump to mind, they can enhance your life and increase your freedom and abilities), but more often money spent on stuff is wasted. The initial thrill of ownership is short lived and more often than not possessions can drain our time and attention. At the very least they drain our resources, limiting our freedom to spend our time as we prefer each day.

The second is that “enough” means just that. If you have enough money (or have developed the opportunities and abilities to earn enough on a go forward basis), it may well be a mistake to seek more. At that point, investing more of your time to amass more than “enough” money, robs you of freedom. It takes from you the very thing you are working for in the first place. Your time and energy.

So when you buy a video game, or junk food, or Apps that “solve” a problem you don’t actually have, you are not trading money for those possessions. You are trading the freedom that money represents. To travel, to read, to spend time not working, to save for university (or the opportunity to attend the university of your choice), the list is endless.

But be clear, I’m not telling you to refrain from buying that game, those chips or the inventive App. I’m telling you to understand what it means when you spend your money. Understand the difference between spending for experiences, investing in opportunities, saving for future experiences/opportunities or spending to acquire stuff. Understand the choice you are making. And act on it.

Knowledge lets you make an informed decision, which will ultimately lead to better choices and allow you to build the life you really want.

If you make those choices and your dreams come true, make sure to give your grandfather a call every so often to say “thanks”.

Posted in parenting | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Early Election Call May Define NDP Fortunes

A fair bit has been written over the last week, analyzing why the federal Conservatives called the election so early. The issue arises because by law we now have fixed election dates in Canada, but the law allows the government to call the election sooner than the required minimum period before election day (the writ must be dropped to allow for at least a 36 day campaign before voting day). In this case the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to dissolve the House of Commons 77 days before voting day — October 19, 2015.

The common narrative is that the Conservatives called the election so early because they have considerably more money than their opponents and they can therefore take advantage of the situation by outspending the opposition. The opportunity to do so arises because Canadian election spending limits are determined using a formula that allows a certain amount of additional spending for each day of the writ period. Put simply, the Conservatives have the money needed to spend the limits. The opposition aren’t even close.

This narrative is correct.  That is almost certainly one of the key reasons for the early election call. But it’s not the entire story.  There is another, equally compelling, reason for starting this election in early August.

I’ll start with what is a now well-known political axiom: if a politician fails to define his or herself, then they leave that opportunity to their opponent.  The best, and most recent, example of that was the Conservative’s early and consistent campaign (advertising, statements by the PM and his Ministers, conservative spinners and commentators, and so on) to define Justin Trudeau.  The messaging, in various forms, was that Trudeau isn’t up to the job. It started right after he was elected and was very aggressive for a number of months.  It dissipated in intensity, but has continued up to the present, becoming more pointed again leading up to the election.

The Liberals did little to counteract the campaign.  Their main thrust was to complain publicly about the Conservative’s negative campaigning, but they largely ceded the ground to the Conservative campaign. There are differing views on whether it has worked, but I believe that it has and that Trudeau has an uphill battle in trying to define his image more advantageously.

The target was Trudeau, as Trudeau was the leader who could replace Harper as Prime Minister. Of course the NDP had Mulcair, but few seriously entertained that the next Prime Minister wouldn’t be Liberal or Conservative, as every Prime Minister has been one or the other stretching back to the 1800’s.

But things changed recently, when the NDP defeated the PC’s in Alberta to form the provincial government. Shortly thereafter the polls shifted significantly federally as well and the NDP surged, moving from third place and 10 points back in early May, to a tie for first by the beginning of June. Since then the NDP have slipped into the lead by a small margin. The NDP winning in Alberta was quite the shock, given Alberta’s “conservative nature”, raising as a legitimate possibility that they might win government nationally.

As the Liberals have slipped into third place Mulcair, naturally, has leapfrogged Trudeau in importance, creating a very interesting situation.  Mulcair, has been around for a long time.  He served as a Member of the National Assembly in Quebec for 13 years, and was a cabinet minister for many of those years until he and Charest had a falling out.  He was then elected as a Member of Parliament in 2007 and followed Jack Layton as leader in the spring of 2012.

Yet despite 21 years of almost uninterrupted public service and despite having led the NDP federally for more than 3 years, I don’t believe that Mulcair is defined yet.  To be clear, I do believe his image is well-developed in Quebec, but the NDP have been so marginal federally for such a long time, that in the rest of Canada I just don’t believe that voters have paid enough attention to him, to have a sense of who he is.  Remarkably, that creates the opportunity to define Mulcair as the Conservatives would like to define him. Such are the realities of politics.

The second reality is that the power to decide when the election will be called offers a huge advantage.  Because the Conservatives, and the Conservatives alone, knew when they were going to drop the writ, they could time their arrangements accordingly: when to start the leases for the campaign plane and buses (and when the artwork and execution had to be done), campaign office leases across the country, sign and stationary purchases, staff contracts, and the list goes on and on. Further, the Conservatives could plan the first few weeks of the campaign, rallies, tour, etc., knowing that it would happen.  These advantages are significant and add up.

But as important as all of this is, the real advantage was the opportunity to define Mulcair. You see the most effective tool for getting your message out is TV advertising.There are a bunch of reasons for that, but trust me — TV is king.  What is less well-known is how TV is booked and purchased.  I would explain that, if I could, but I don’t really understand the process either. What I do know is that TV takes time. Not the time to produce the ads, (you’d have to expect that the Liberals and NDP had content ready to go in anticipation of the election, and TV ads can be produced overnight), but the lead time to book TV. You can’t book TV overnight. More to the point, it takes time to book TV ad slots on the right programs (again, an interesting topic for another day), being programs that your target audience is more likely to be watching.

Boiled down, I’m saying that the Conservatives, by knowing when the election would start, could book a week or perhaps two of prime placement TV advertising, without a single NDP (or Liberal) ad airing in response.  Being so effective, TV advertising allows the Conservatives to take their shot at defining Mulcair and reinforcing their earlier defining of Trudeau.

This week the Mulcair ads paint Mulcair as a career politician that we just “can’t afford”. Trudeau continues to be “not up to the job”. Whether these ads will be effective, remains to be seen. It is the middle of summer and TV  is watched less this time of year than at any other.  Public interest in the election is also at an all time low.  It still doesn’t seem real, and typically the public only dials in during the last couple of weeks.

But the ads will have some effect.  Even if it is only 2 or 3 points, those could be critical points. In a tight three-way race, everyone is looking for an advantage. I believe the Conservatives found one.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Do You Really Want To Do?

The key to happiness, they say, is spending each day doing what you love to do. Since most of us have to spend much of our time making a living, we’re urged to find a job we would do even if we weren’t getting paid. It’s even been boiled down to a variety of pithy sayings, such as “find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. The devil, however, lies in the execution.

Even once you figure out what you love to do, and how you can make a living at it, the bloom can come off the rose over time. One of my uncles started selling insurance for Allstate out of a booth at Sears. He was 22. He worked hard, did very well, and was able to start his own brokerage just three years later. The brokerage prospered and he was making great money by the time he was 30. The problem was, he hated selling insurance. It took years, but he finally decided to give it up.

By that time he had figured out that he loved sailing and he was really good at it. He moved to the coast, secured a great sailboat and started running local charters.  He was taking groups of 4 vacationers on week long excursions and teaching them to sail in the Gulf Islands. For the clients, the real draw was a week of sailing, gourmet meals off the back of the boat and lots of nightcaps. And he was great at hosting too. Demand soon outstripped his ability to deliver, so he secured some more sailboats, hired some captains and the bookings flowed in.

Fast forward a couple of years and he had 8 boats, and was working night and day on bookings, turning the boats around, supervising the sailing instructors, buying the food and libations, and every other detail that goes into running a vacation sailing business in the Gulf Islands. And, you guessed it, he hated it. My uncle is a talented entrepreneur, but that’s not what he enjoyed doing. He did love sailing, but it turns out that’s not what the job entailed.

The challenge is to figure out what a job (or an opportunity, if you’re an entrepreneur) actually entails. Not the big picture, but day to day. It’s pretty hard to know whether you’d enjoy spending your day doing something, if you don’t know how you’d be spending your day.

Look, this obviously isn’t easy. If it were, there would be a lot fewer people who hate their job. But it’s worth the effort. If you live for Friday; can’t wait for quitting time; get depressed as your vacation is coming to an end; spend much of the work day surfing the internet; you really need to start planning a change.

If you’re ready for that challenge, don’t just look for what you’d “like” to do. Don’t settle. Figure out what you “have” to do. What you were born to do. Take some time and put in the effort to figure out who you really are.

Stephen King credits his staying power to finding his calling:

 “Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

Is King right? Is it really that simple? I believe it is. But if King is right, why don’t we all just find jobs that we love to do? It’s because “simple” is not synonymous with “easy”. It’s not easy to figure out what you were born to do. It requires work.

We all know people who dream about being a writer. They fantasize about book signings, six figure advances and the New York Times best seller list. About being recognized in public. But if they don’t fantasize about sitting in a windowless room in front of a keyboard for multiple hours each day, or spending days in the library researching their topic, then they probably don’t want to be a writer. They really just want to be rich and famous.

I know many lawyers who don’t like their job. On one level that’s not surprising. Long hours, lots of stress, conflict on a regular basis and the work is often very tedious. Yet it is a job that many lawyers love. They have more control over their time and work environment than the vast majority of employees. Many make high incomes and a lot of lawyers love being able to help people — to have a job that means something.

Just like lawyers, pretty much every job is loved by some and hated by others. So the difference lies not in the job, but in the individual. If doing what you love to do each day is the key to happiness, you have to figure out what that means for you. No one else can do that for you.

What could you do each day that would fulfill you? Give you a buzz? Bring you pure joy? We may not all be as fortunate as Stephen King — to find our true calling in life — but the first step is in knowing that we should be looking.

Oh, and my uncle? He went on to find happiness in public service. Turns out he was good at that too, but more importantly, for him, it was a better reason to get up in the morning.

Posted in Personal Development | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Tom Brady Was Not Suspended For Deflating Footballs

Tom Brady is back in the news this week after appearing at the appeal of the suspension he received after the NFL’s investigation into Deflategate. Turn on NFL radio, watch the sports news on TV or pick up the sports pages of pretty well any paper and the spinning is in high gear.

This is about defective gauges, Roger Goodell being wild with power, the NFL’s anti-Patriots bias, a shoddy investigation. Except, it’s not. It’s really, really not.

Step back from the spin and it’s clear that Brady wasn’t suspended for deflating footballs. He was suspended for failing to cooperate with the NFL investigation. Let’s look at the facts, which can be very inconvenient when you’re spinning.

NFL VP of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, had earlier written to the Patriots noting Brady’s lack of cooperation with the investigation.

“Another important consideration identified in the Policy is ‘the extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigation.’ The Wells report identifies two significant failures in this respect. The first involves the refusal by the club’s attorneys to make Mr. McNally available for an additional interview, despite numerous requests by Mr. Wells and a cautionary note in writing of the club’s obligation to cooperate in the investigation. The second was the failure of Tom Brady to produce any electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information….

“Finally, it is significant that key witnesses – Mr. Brady, Mr. Jastremski, and Mr. McNally – were not fully candid during the investigation.”

The facts:

– Brady and the Patriots had an obligation to cooperate with the investigation;

– Brady refused to turn over his texts, despite being offered “extraordinary safeguards”;

– Brady and others with the Patriots were  not fully candid during the investigation.

So everything you hear or see about how the NFL failed to prove conclusively that Brady is guilty, is literally irrelevant.  We don’t know what happened. It looks like Brady did it, but we don’t know for sure. And the reason we don’t know for sure is that Brady refused to turn over the key evidence and he wasn’t fully candid when interviewed. We don’t know, because Brady stopped cooperating after the investigation started to get traction.

Would the evidence have exonerated him? Who knows. We can guess not, or he would have turned it over, but we don’t know. That’s the point. Only Brady had the power to make sure that we did know. That is why players and owners are obligated to cooperate. And Brady refused to.

Brady was suspended for failing to cooperate. Not for deflating footballs.  A four game suspension for deflating footballs is probably excessive. But it’s entirely in line with hiding evidence and not being candid with the investigator.

This is not criminal law. The NFL is a closed shop. It is a privilege to be a player or an owner. Part of the cost of admission is that players and owners have to cooperate with League investigations. Brady and the Patriots said they would cooperate and then they didn’t.

And all the irrelevant arguments in the world won’t change those facts.

Posted in Character | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Even Good Ideology Makes For Bad Government

I’ve been involved in politics for a long time, so I suppose it’s only natural that a number of my friends and colleagues are asking me what the new Alberta government is likely to do in so many areas. The short answer is, I don’t know. I have my hopes, I have my fears, but not having been involved in the 2015 election I really don’t know.

What I do know is this. Ideology makes for bad government, or more accurately making decisions based on ideology makes for bad government. Now before the comments section lights up like a Christmas tree (which would be three comments, based on my past experience), hear me out.

I get that every party, even those in the centre, come into government with their own firmly held beliefs, which is really what ideology boils down to. What I’m saying is that good government flows when those governing step outside their beliefs, consult widely, listen and then act on what they hear. Act to figure out what makes sense for the province. Government gets particularly good when they consult with experts in the area they’re about to legislate in and give genuine weight to what they find out.

The key here is to understand that this is true whether or not the government’s pre-existing beliefs are correct. I’m saying that even if their ideology is spot on, their government will be stronger and more successful if they proceed as if nothing is set in stone and all ideas are open for fulsome discussion with the public, within their caucus, within Cabinet and most importantly with the public service. Even good ideas can be better and plans can always be improved.

Of course, even greater benefit is delivered if you do that in circumstances where the pre-existing ideology is not correct. If the government’s ideology has them heading down the wrong road, how valuable is it to have off ramps, stop signs and, even better, U-turns? Pretty damn valuable.

The reason why this is so important becomes evident when you consider the difference between the goal and the path to achieving the goal. It is not ideological to want to end poverty. The left wants to do that, but so does the right and those of us that tend to hang around in the middle somewhere. The path to accomplish that goal is where we differ. We don’t agree on the “how”. And what you believe about how to achieve a goal, tends to be where you’ll find ideology.

As an aside, I always found it ironic that there was no greater slur we could hurl at an MP eager to share what he/she had learned about whatever issue they were studying in Parliament, than to accuse them of having been “Ottawashed”, or “we elected you to represent us in Ottawa, not Ottawa to us”. What they were really saying was, don’t try to challenge what we believe. Sadly, though never articulated, it was: we aren’t interested in facts that don’t support what we believe. It was a truly disheartening culture. The NDP may face that very phenomenon with their base, which is what makes governing with facts, rather than ideology, so challenging.

So how does ideology work in practice? Let’s start with ending poverty. How do you end poverty? Do you fund public daycare, provide free public transport so everyone can get to work and increase the minimum wage to wherever it has to go so that a single parent working 40 hours a week will be above the poverty line? Or, do you focus on measures to strengthen the economy generally, so that the private sector can create jobs that will lift their new employees out of poverty?

Different ideologies suggest different paths to address the same problem. The goals are often similar, but the beliefs on how to achieve the goals are usually different. Which approach above, if either, would work? I’m not suggesting we tackle that today. That’s the stuff of great debates and memorable university classes. When you’re 19 and full of ideas it’s all great fun.

But governing is an entirely different exercise. Decisions have to be made. Even not deciding is a decision. And decisions have consequences, which are sometimes disastrous. The National Energy Program was one such decision. It gutted the Alberta energy industry, destroyed businesses – and the resulting stress destroyed marriages and families. If you didn’t live through it, you may not understand how vivid the memories are of those who did.

The National Energy Program was very much driven by ideology. The details matter, but I’d make a hash of trying to set them out fairly. The takeaway is that the government of the day had a belief that higher Canadian ownership of our resources was not only desirable but necessary, that energy prices needed to be lowered for the benefit of Canadian industry and consumers and that government should receive more revenue, primarily through taxes.
The government didn’t consult widely before announcing the program and they didn’t listen to the negative feedback from experts, the industry, Alberta MP’s or even from their own Alberta candidates and organizers.

The Trudeau government appeared to believe that all of the naysayers were exaggerating what the negative effects would be and that the energy industry could easily weather any adverse impact because they were so profitable. Or perhaps those were just talking points. Either way, they pressed ahead.

What actually happened is well-documented. While the plan was to redistribute wealth between the regions, what actually happened was the wholesale destruction of wealth. Investors fled the jurisdiction before the ink was dry on the policy. A massive political fight followed, but the Liberals in Ottawa had a majority and ultimately prevailed. The industry was crushed and Albertans as a whole paid the price, both those who were well off and those living near the poverty line. Based on my personal experience, those well off lost more, but the losses to those who could least afford them were more devastating. It took more than a decade for Alberta’s economy to come most of the way back (in fairness, due in part to low global energy prices in that period – although that is unfortunately similar to what is going on in the markets today).

Returning to 2015, what can we hope for in Alberta? We can hope that whatever the new government of Alberta sets as its priorities, they consult on how to get there; that they consult widely and they listen with an open mind; that they approach change with a measured approach. Listen to the experts. Listen to the public servants who have lived with these issues and programs their entire career. If you want to improve the lives of Albertans, make doing so your only goal. Be aware of your bias, and factor that into account when you’re weighing the options.

Alberta may well be the best jurisdiction to experiment with increasing the minimum wage by 50%. It may provide the definitive results needed to show that such a policy works, or that it kills jobs and sometimes the entire company. Wouldn’t you like to know? I suppose I would, but not at the expense of those working in the businesses that would be affected.

This government was elected to govern, not to test ideology. The voters asked the PC’s to leave, and not politely. The desire was so strong, that the main question for many voters, if not most, was “who has the best chance of defeating the PC in my riding?”. That’s who they voted for – and why. It was not an endorsement of any ideology. It was a vote against, not for. It’s not yet clear whether the new government understands that.

So what will the new government do with this mandate? Will they seek the best “how” or will they govern ideologically? If they do, will it be the ideology that the party and its new key advisors have espoused over the last few years?

There are a lot of questions as there always are with regime change. In this case the answers may well determine whether the NDP govern 4 years or if this is the start of the next Alberta “dynasty”.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

If You Build It, They Will Come*

*With apologies to W. P. Kinsella (for ‘borrowing’ and misquoting “If you build it, he will come”)

I’ve now heard or read a dozen plus politicians, former politicians, wannabe politicians, commentators and politically savvy folks of all stripes, note that the right outpolled the NDP, 52% to 41%.  The right, of course, is the PC’s and the Wildrose combined.  This point is made variously by those advocating that the right unite and by others who advance any case based on the point that the right remains bigger than the left in Alberta.

All of this, while entirely predictable, is entirely wrong. Life, and in this case voting, just isn’t that simple.  And it’s not the math that’s hard here, as 28% and 24% do indeed add up to 52%, it’s just that 28% and 24% don’t add up to 52% at the polls.  That’s because the PC’s and the Wildrose aren’t accurate proxies for “the right”.

The argument, even on its face, is preposterous.  The “right” has spent 3 years, 6 years, longer than that really, telling anyone who would listen that the PC’s are not right wingers and, indeed, they’re really more like liberals. Suggesting, then, that the PC’s bring 28% worth of “the right” to the equation strikes me as, what’s the word . . . ? Wrong.

Look, let’s start with reality. The election we just lived through was extraordinary. While previous PC voters, in significant numbers, voted NDP, the bigger shocker is that a meaningful number of folks who voted Wildrose in 2012, voted NDP in 2015. That explains how ridings where the NDP base was 10%, went NDP at 50%.  So does that mean that right wingers voted for socialism? That those Wildrose voters weren’t actually all that right wing in the first place? Or that they were right wing, but became socialists over the last three years? I suppose any of these scenarios are possible (though converting to socialism strikes me as least likely), but for the most part that’s not what happened.

Many, if not most, of those voters simply voted to get rid of the PC’s in 2015.  And many of them were voting with exactly the same motivation in mind in 2012.  That is, they aren’t NDP today and they weren’t Wildrose in 2012. They were anti-PC both times. The obvious implication is that ideology took a back seat – both times – to a basic belief that the PC’s had to go. The two unifying features were, first, that the PC’s had to go and, second, that voting Wildrose (in 2012) and NDP (in 2015) was the best way to get rid of them.

Now I’m not going to delve into why the PC’s had to go.  The short answer is that “the reason” was different and varied for disparate groups of voters, but after 44 years tension builds up, mistakes get made, and remade, and people want a change.

The takeaway is that the ideology based premise is fundamentally flawed. The “right” didn’t get 52% because neither the PC’s nor even the Wildrose are proxies for the “right”. If you believe in a spectrum, be clear that voters span it in all parties. But in reality, most voters aren’t driven by ideology, whichever party they are in.  While some are driven by ideology, I’d argue that larger numbers are tribal (meaning they vote for their party, regardless of the current platform) and that increasingly voters are going with their gut, their intuition, to vote for the party, and by that I really mean leader, with whom they feel the most comfortable.

There may be more ideological voters in the NDP and Wildrose than in the other parties, and the PC’s, liberals and NDP may have decades-old tribal followings, but increasingly that is not what drives voters. Voters decide based on which leader they perceive as being the best for them, their families, their community, right now. Who seems more genuine? More trustworthy? More competent? If it’s close, the tiebreak is ‘who is more likable’?

People vote based on who they perceive cares about the issues most important to them. Their job, healthcare, education. Not who promises to build more schools, but who they believe will make the right decisions to better educate their children. Does that mean more schools; more teachers? Perhaps those are proxies, but if they don’t believe you can get it done or, worse yet, that you don’t intend to get it done, you have no shot. Integrity and competence matter – and they should.

“Uniting the right” is appealing because it sounds easy. It avoids the hard work. But it can’t be done.  Oh, you can try, if that’s what members in both parties decide to do, but I’d suggest that the results won’t be what people expect. However you slice it, combining the two parties doesn’t result in 52% — not by a long shot.

That’s why I don’t believe it will happen. In the end the PC’s will work to renew, rebuild and try to earn their way to power. As will the Wildrose. It won’t be easy, particularly for the PC’s. The NDP and the Wildrose will not agree on much, but they’ll almost certainly agree on changing campaign financing to benefit the NDP/Wildrose parties and disadvantage the PC’s. They’ll agree that the accumulated mistakes and misdeeds from 40+ years in power need to be exposed and condemned and they’ll agree that the PC’s are dead and should be buried. Rebuilding will be hard, so hard in fact that the outcome is far from certain.

But what I am sure of is that people want leadership.  They want competence, vision, leading by actions, not words, and they want integrity. They want leadership. And not just by the Leader – by MLA’s, political staff, candidates, party officers, party staff and even volunteers.

The party that offers that – whether in government or from the opposition, will succeed. It starts with leadership, which draws others – compels others – to join the cause. Candidates, organizers, volunteers, fundraisers, all brought together by genuine leadership.

Peter Lougheed spent a couple years of his life crisscrossing the province, listening to people who knew what they were talking about, building support, recruiting candidates and preparing to govern. It came at a high personal cost – his kids were young – but he did it anyway. People had a sense that when the chips were down, Lougheed would do the right thing. He went from nothing to six seats, to a massive majority, in two elections. Now don’t get me wrong, Premier Lougheed wasn’t a saint. He wasn’t above politics – a notable example being that rather than engaging his Alberta opponents, he ran steadfastly against Trudeau, again and again, because it worked.  But at base, Lougheed won repeatedly because he was a leader.

There are lessons there for all of us. Build a party worth supporting and the support will be there – and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s PC, Wildrose, NDP, Liberal, the Alberta Party or the next iteration of a Party to be named later. But build it right. No excuses, or half measures. On every issue, search for the solution to the problem. Go with what you find. Make every situation better. Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Don’t shy away from making a tough decision. And above all else, ignore what you think will be popular and what people want to hear. It might not work in the end, but it might, and wouldn’t it be fun to find out?

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An NDP Majority Would Be A Problem, Because An NDP Majority Would Be A Problem

So there is one week to go in the 2015 election and if you’re reading this you’ll realize that my resolve not to blog during the 2015 election wasn’t as firm as I thought it was.

Let’s start by setting a couple of things straight. The polls in 2012 weren’t wrong. They were actually quite accurate. The shift that occurred in the last 72 hours of the campaign – from Wildrose to PC – may well have been unprecedented in Alberta, or perhaps even Canadian political history, but it happened.  And it happened largely after the final media polls were out of the field, so it went un-measured by those pollsters and therefore unreported. Internal polls captured much of the movement, which gained momentum even after we were out of the field as well.

The second thing to understand is that the Wildrose lost the 2012 election. The PC’s didn’t win. Trust me on that.  I was co-chair of the PC’s 2012 campaign. I had a front row seat. It was not a fun show to watch, though I did like the ending. The Wildrose lost for reasons now well-understood, from ‘lake of fire’, to ‘white candidates being better able to represent voters’, to Wildrose leadership taking the position that candidates would be able to freely ‘speak their mind’, no matter how intolerant, in a Wildrose government.  It was that last position that lost it for Wildrose not the eruptions that preceded it. My opinion, of course.

Why is that relevant today? It’s relevant because the polls today aren’t wrong. When the headline reads: NDP Majority Within Reach, as headlines will sometime this week, it’s because an NDP majority is, well, within reach. Of course that’s nonsense, or that’s what we’ll be told, what we’ll believe, or at least what those of us who are centre or right of centre will want to believe. But it’s true. It is true today and the polls are just catching up.

So is an NDP majority a problem? [cue the ‘scare tactics’ stories] Well the short answer is not ‘it depends’.  The answer isn’t ‘if you’re NDP it’s great, if you’re PC or Wildrose it’s not’, and so on. Trust me, that’s the easy answer but it’s wrong. The reality is a bit more complicated.

Another answer that’s wrong is ‘well, it depends on whether they follow through with their stated policies’. That may be closer to the truth, but it’s also wrong because the answer is far more time sensitive than that.

An NDP majority is a problem because we think it’s a problem. Now to be fair, I’m using ‘we’ in a not entirely inclusive context. An NDP majority is a problem because business and investors (which is most of us, when you include small business owners, market participants and even most pension beneficiaries) believe the NDP will be disastrous for the economy. In other words an NDP majority government would be dangerous because that belief alone would be disastrous for the economy.

The problem is that Alberta doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For years the Alberta economy boomed because business and investors avoided Saskatchewan and BC and sought out similar opportunities in Alberta.  Saskatchewan and BC, in those days, had NDP governments. Given a choice, business flocked to Alberta and Alberta’s resources were developed. Investment means jobs, jobs mean prosperity. Alberta profited at Saskatchewan’s, and BC’s, expense.

Which brings us to today. We have conservative governments in both Saskatchewan and BC (O.K., they’re Liberal in BC, but it’s common knowledge that they’re not liberal). If Alberta becomes a bad place to do business, Brad Wall is there with open arms. With a reliable, steady, business climate, resources to be developed and a similar labour pool. This game works both ways, and no one would welcome an NDP government in Alberta more than Premier Wall (privately that is – he’s a smart guy).  He’s probably already booked a room at the Hyatt for next week to meet with industry leaders. Premier Clark too, but given the time change she’ll be a couple of hours late.

In today’s world, business can shift focus, and investment, almost overnight. Investors can bail on Alberta companies even faster. Just pop online and enter a sell order. It takes longer for skilled labour to follow investment, but not that long. If you lived in Alberta 10 years ago, you know how many Saskatchewanians relocated to Alberta. Jobs are created by investment.

So is that what happened in Ontario under Premier Rae, Saskatchewan under Premier Calvert or BC under Premier’s Harcourt, Clark, et al? That’s a good question. Was it NDP policies that caused business to avoid their jurisdictions or was it the perception of increased instability, increased risk? Or was it both?

Are the Notley policies really that scary? A few of them may be, but honestly that’s not the problem.  Business and investors will make up their mind on election night or shortly thereafter – before the first NDP budget, or their promised royalty review, or Premier Notley’s first reversals (when she announces she’s going to Washington after all, or limiting her royalty review to just part of the regime, etc.). The damage will be done long before any of that.

Will the NDP win a majority? A minority? Will they finish second or even third? Who knows. A week is an eternity in politics and studies show that few voters pay attention until the latter stages of the campaign. But the NDP rise can’t be denied and voters are now facing a real choice of very different philosophies when they cast their ballots. It is a choice many will make as early as this week in advance polls.

Now, I’m not part of the 2015 PC campaign and, frankly, I’m not sure this analysis helps them much. Many voters will be unaffected by these considerations and who knows whether voters who want to stop the NDP will turn to the PC’s or the Wildrose in key ridings. But I am sure that an NDP majority is a problem, because, well, an NDP majority is a problem.

That may or may not be fair, but a review of history tells us how investors view the world – like it or not.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons

As I watch you develop and grow, and I think back to my childhood, I’m amazed at what you are accomplishing in life.  Whether it’s school, sports, guitar, cooking, your ease with technology, or simply just who you are becoming as exceptional people, I’m often in awe.  But I’m also concerned.  I’m concerned because, well, frankly, you have advantages in life that I didn’t have. And, yes, that concerns me.

Let me start by saying that this is not about being happy.  Happy is the most important, but it’s a bigger topic for a different day.  Today is about earning your way in life.  That’s one element of being happy, but it’s just that – one element. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that our life is easy, but it is privileged. You kind of came along after much of the adversity was behind us. That concerns me, because I’ve come to believe that adversity is important.  It’s how we develop and grow.  It prepares us for the variance that is life. It doesn’t seem like it at the time, but the struggle is what makes us successful.  It’s what makes life good.

And our life is pretty good.   So I think it’s important that I offer you some advice. I’ve been waiting a while to say this — until you were old enough to understand.  Now is that time. So here it goes.

Have you noticed that we’re rich? Not rich rich, but rich enough that we have a nice house, nice cars and we generally we have a nice lifestyle.  We go to Hawaii, or somewhere nice, every year. Life is good. But here’s the thing. We’re not all rich. Put another way, your mom and I are rich, but you’re not.

Now, that’s not surprising, as you’re just 12 and 15, but it is important that you understand that you’re not rich. Sure, it seems like you’re rich, as you live in the same house as your mother and I do, ride in the same cars and vacation wherever we go. But that’s our lifestyle. You enjoy it because you’re living with us, but after you move out, after school, once you start working, you will most definitely realize that you’re not rich. So I’m offering this advice to give you a head start.

Sure, when the time comes you’ll get a job, or start a business, and you’ll have money for rent, food, an iphone and who knows what, but that’s not “inner city house paid for” money, not luxury car money, not Hawaii money.  If you want that — if you want that lifestyle — you need to achieve that on your own. You need to earn that.

That means more than getting good grades just because you can, choosing what’s easy over what challenges you and much more than believing that good, is good enough.

You need to work hard, really hard, at whatever you do. Sure, you get to play video games, watch TV and relax, but that should be the break from the hard. Good at math? Be great. Good at cooking “for your age” — be great for your age, be great period. Guitar, football, whatever you choose to invest your time in, go all out.  Be curious and don’t be put off. Speak up and care about whatever you’re doing.

Look, I don’t know what you’ll be passionate about when you’re older, and I’m sure you don’t yet either, so just be open to every opportunity and work to be great at whatever you do. Do that and one day you’ll wake up to discover that your dreams are coming true.

Then you’ll be rich. Probably not rich rich — but then again you never know.

Posted in Character, parenting, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Since when has mocking led to greater understanding?

OK, as the vaccine debate turns increasingly ugly, I have a few thoughts about the importance of searching for the truth, rather than defending a “position”. These thoughts are based on my experience as both a political hack and as a litigator. In both those arenas there is more harm done by pursuing victory at any cost than any other phenomenon.

If you cut through all the pro and anti-vaccine rhetoric, it seems pretty clear that:

1) vaccines work (some better than others) and have saved hundreds of millions of lives;
2) the medical community says they are safe;
3) by “safe” they mean statistically safe, which is to say if 1 out of a million people die, then that is statistically safe as the rate of death is “statistically insignificant” (unless you’re 1 in a million, in which case it’s pretty significant);
4) society is safer as a whole if everyone gets vaccines; and
5) despite #4, people currently have the right of self-determination, which is to say that they can choose to refuse vaccines, both avoiding the risks they pose (usually small, although the risks appear to be higher in younger, older and physically compromised individuals) but also losing the benefit vaccines bestow of likely immunity from whatever that particular vaccine would have addressed.

The real shame is that the debate is so heated. Pro-vaccine commentators suggest that folks who don’t vaccinate are addle-brained, or worse. Anti-vaccine folks suggest that by calling vaccines safe the medical community is perpetrating a fraud on the public. The truth, as always, is somewhere less extreme.

The pro-vaccine lobby might well be more successful by acknowledging, instead of skirting, that while adverse reactions may be rare, and severe reactions even more rare, they are nonetheless real and do occur. Rare simply means they don’t happen that often statistically. That might give skeptics more confidence in the information they are receiving.

Similarly, the anti-vaccine folks could also benefit from being more open to the science in the area, or at least science not funded by pharmaceutical companies, and by examining more critically theories that question the overall effectiveness of vaccines. It might also help to keep in mind that most health care professionals simply accept the information they are given that vaccines are “safe”. That doesn’t make them part of a conspiracy.

I’m generally pro-vaccine, which is to say that I believe the benefits — both individually and collectively — outweigh the risks. But I’m troubled by two things.

First, the mocking/sarcasm/bullying and other forms of hostility being employed in the “debate”, is really counterproductive. I should say that these traits are most often displayed by the pro side, and then most often by folks who appear to have actually not looked into the issue at all. They support vaccines on faith, which is perhaps a poor intellectual position from which to mock folks with a different set of beliefs.

Second, I’m troubled that the public health/medical community choose messages designed to convince folks to vaccinate, without addressing concerns about the risks. I’m increasingly concerned that there are no good answers to the concerns about the dangers of adverse reactions, and more specifically, why adverse reactions aren’t studied more, why physicians don’t receive more training on recognizing and treating such reactions. I’m concerned because if there were good answers to those questions I would expect that we would have seen them by now.

If we, as a society, want better take up rates in what is still a voluntary preventative medical treatment, we need to stop ridiculing concerns and start addressing those concerns. People are generally smart and sensible. If they get objective information on the risks, most will still choose to vaccinate. But if the risks are much higher for vaccinating infants, or for combining multiple vaccines into one shot, don’t people deserve to know that? That is the very essence of informed consent.

At base, I think we’d all be better off trying to have a discussion that leads to greater understanding and truth, rather than trying to “prove” that whatever idea we currently hold is 100% accurate and that the only need is to convince others, rather than critically examine our own beliefs.

Posted in Character, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Will we ever stop bullying?

Recent tragic events have made bullying into a topical news story, but that will fade and the problems associated with bullying will continue — unless we start to address the root cause.

I have been involved at the board level with the Impact Society for many years. There is no doubt in my mind that the programs Impact delivers in schools are the foundation upon which educators of the future will build their school curriculum and school cultures.   The heart of the challenges we see in our current education paradigm highlight where the solution lies. Impact finds itself in a situation where the demand for its programs, while growing year over year, has reached an inflection point. The organization is quite frankly in need of significantly more resources to satisfy this growing demand. It is extremely frustrating to be in this position of not being able to help all those that are requesting it today. While we envision a day when Impact will derive significant funding directly from the school boards, currently the main source of funding for the organization remains donations from individuals and corporations.

If you have a couple of minutes to consider these issues, I’d strongly urge you watch the short video found here: Morgan’s Choices.  A player loads, hit play and it runs about 2 minutes.  It explains the importance of what we do better than I ever could.   

You can also visit the website  to get acquainted with the great work the organization is doing. On the top of the home page is a “donate” button — you know what that’s for.

If you’re interested in getting involved or finding out more about presenting the HEROES program in schools, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the Impact team so you can further develop your relationship with Impact.

Thanks for your consideration.

Posted in Character | Leave a comment