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During the last four years, the NDP Opposition has fought for the priorities of ordinary Albertans, against a government that seems more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations, and in holding on to power at all costs. Our priorities include protecting public health care, ensuring quality accessible education, providing safe and affordable care for seniors, and affordable electricity prices. We want to ensure that Albertans get full value on the royalties for the resources we own together, and that we process these resources here in Alberta to maximize jobs for us and for future generations. Alberta belongs to all of us, not just the very wealthy.

The past four years have seen a number of victories for our caucus. The NDP caucus has successfully campaigned for restoration of the $110 million cut to the education budget, the increase in AISH payments to the disabled, an independent Children’s Advocate to stand up for children in government care, improved water monitoring in the oil sands, and fixed election dates, to name but a few.

Rachel Notley and I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve the public. Alberta is a wonderful place to live, and we believe it can be even better. Thank you.

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Christmas Curry (a non-political post)

One of my favourite non-political activities is cooking Indian food. Not that I usually have much time for it, but the holidays provide an opportunity. Facing the traditional post-Christmas fare of leftover turkey, I decided to experiment with a little holiday fusion, substituting turkey in my standard chicken curry recipe. I was pleasantly surprised by the result, so for those that still have turkey left in the fridge, here’s my recipe for Curried Turkey with Cranberry Rice.

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 inch piece of ginger, grated

1 tbsp Madras curry powder

1/4 tbsp paprika

1/4 tbsp garam masala

1/2 – 1 lb of leftover turkey, cut up

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup brown mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup coriander (cilantro)

1 cup basmati rice

1/2 cup cranberries, chopped

 

Turkey

In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat; cook onions for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add garlic, ginger and the spices. Cook, stirring, for one minute. Add turkey. Slowly add 1 cup of water, stirring, until it boils. Turn down heat and simmer, stirring regularly. After about 10 minutes add the frozen peas and the mushrooms. Cover and continue simmering while you make the rice. Add more water as needed.

Rice

In a small sauce pan, bring the cranberries to a boil in 1 cup of water. Cook about 5 minutes or until the cranberries are soft and the water is a nice shade of pink. Strain the cranberries. Save 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Cook the rice according to the instructions on the package. When adding water to the rice, substitute 1/4 cup of the cranberry cooking water. After removing the rice from the heat, sprinkle the cranberries on top, and let sit, covered, according the instructions. Prior to serving, stir the cranberries into the rice.

Garnish with coriander.

This is recipe is pretty mild to my taste, so if you want a little more heat, increase the curry powder and the paprika. I like to serve Indian food with Nan bread. I buy it frozen, and fry it in a large cast iron frying pan, with olive oil and a little butter. Brown it on both sides, then squeeze dry with a paper towel. Enjoy with a glass of Gewurztraminer. Tinhorn Creek in the Okanagan makes a nice one.

Cheers!

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Crude comments from the media.

Bitumen is not crude oil. Bitumen must be upgraded into synthetic crude, after which it can be further refined into gasoline, diesel, motor oil and so on. The Keystone XL pipeline expansion is intended to carry bitumen for upgrading and refining in the US. This is worth noting because media stories (CBC, Calgary Herald to name just a couple) are regularly referring to the XL line as a “crude oil” pipeline. It’s not.

It’s important because Peter Loughheed, the Canadian Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta NDP amoung others, are calling for the upgrading of bitumen at least to synthetic crude before being exported. And if people are given the wrong information about what the pipeline is intended to carry, they can’t be expected to understand critical aspects of the issue.

Upgrading bitumen requires considerable investment and creates a significant number of permanent jobs – good jobs. It is this investment and jobs that will be lost to the US if Keystone XL is built. This part of the story is being ignored.

Media seems to want to boil this down to a simple environment vs. jobs story, but there is another important dimension to the debate. By failing to report on this issue completely and accurately, they do a disservice to their audience.

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A night at the museum.

It’s a fascinating situation. Last evening at 6:30 PM, a very odd time for a news conference, Jeff Johnson, Alberta’s newly minted Infrastructure Minister announced that the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) project was being put on “hold”. He blamed the Federal government, who he said had withdrawn a $92 million committment to the museum project.

But Federal Minister Rona Ambrose says that all that the federal government had ever committed was $30 million, and that is still on the table. Apparently, an additional $92 million was discussed, but never promised. Today, the feds confirmed it would not be forthcoming, leading to Johnson’s hurried news conference.

But wait a minute folks. Unless I’m mistaken, the province committed their share to the museum based on a $30 million committment from the Federal government. So why bail out now? And what’s the amazing hurry? I count three hours between the bureaucrats at Alberta infrastructure getting the call from their federal counterparts and Johnson’s newser.

I can’t help also wondering about the coincidental timing, being the same day as Edmonton City Council voted to go ahead with Darrel Katz’s arena project. There’s still a $100 million hole in the funding plan for that scheme. It’s a hole that Katz and Mayor Mandel want the province to fill. But during the PC leadership race Alison Redford ruled out funding for the hockey palace, which is intended to be a for-profit business enterprise. Alberta’s NDP challenged the notion that taxpayers dollars should subsidize the business operations of billionaires, forcing the PC leadership contenders to take public positions before the vote.

But the pressure on the green and inexperienced Redford government to fund the arena is strong. The last provincial budget committed $180 million over 3 years to the RAM. If the province was off the hook for that, it could be argued that it frees up funds for the arena. And the Alberta Tories could be portrayed as stepping up to the plate to help Edmonton, unlike their Wild Rose supporting federal cousins. As a bonus, Mayor Mandel again gets to excoriate Rona Ambrose, who he blames for refusing to fund his pet project, the Expo 2017 bid.

Perhaps there is some other explanation for this sudden decision.  But we need to be asking lots of questions about this strange turn of events. The hair-trigger reaction of Jeff Johnson in cancelling a signature project for Edmonton is, at the very least, irresponsible. We need to get to the bottom of it. Soon.

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Fall Session Victory!

On Sunday, I called on Premier-elect Redford to reverse her position and allow a fall session of the Alberta Legislature. Today, following the Tory caucus meeting, it was announced that the fall session was back on.

This morning, I pointed out that Ken Hughes was in a conflict of interest as Chairman of the Alberta Health Services because he accepted a position on Alison Redford’s transition team. Within hours, he announced he would step aside from AHS.

I welcome both decisions. They are evidence that the Alberta NDP’s constructive approach to opposition is already paying dividends.

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Hold on a minute, Ms. Premier.

Congratulations to Alison Redford on her startling win of the PC leadership race. By virtue of her victory, Redford becomes the interim Premier of Alberta, until she can test the voters in an election.

It was a stunning upset, made possible in part by her willingness to adopt positions made popular by opposition parties, including Alberta’s NDP. In fact, there are a number of her proposals that we can support, including restoring needed funding to school boards, a Judicial Inquiry into allegations of intimidation of health care professionals, and having the Children’s Advocate report to the Legislative Assembly.

But Ms. Redford proposes to do all these things and more, without holding a fall session of the Alberta Legislature. That’s wrong. Today I called on Alison Redford to call the Legislature back into session as soon as possible to debate three things:

First, the provision of additional funds to school boards so they can rehire laid-off teachers and bring class sizes back to where they’re supposed to be. This is a $100 million hit, and that’s way too big an amendment to the 2011 budget to be decided behind closed doors. The Tories pushed the budget through the Legislature over our objections, and they need to fix it in the Legislature. The NDP will support speedy passage of an amendment to the 2011 budget that restores funding to school boards. We would also support the government giving immediate short-term funding to school boards until the Legislature could pass such an amendment, so that school boards could begin rehiring immediately. 

Second, Redford promised a Judicial Inquiry into allegations of intimidation of health care professionals within 90 days. She was in the legislature when a united opposition raised example after example of intimidation, only to be stonewalled by the government of which she was a member. The Terms of Reference for the inquiry should be determined by the legislature as a whole, not by a government that still has an enormous amount to lose.

Third, fixed election dates formed part of Ms. Redford’s platform. That’s wonderful, but we are expecting an election next year, possibly in the spring. So when is it to be? The date for the next provincial general election needs to be set now, and with discussion by all political parties. If it is set arbitrarily by the government without a long lead time, it’s really little different from what we have now: a race where one contestant gets to yell GO! when she’s ready, and others aren’t.

For all these reasons, and more besides, Redford should call a fall session. Alberta’s NDP will cooperate with the government and other opposition parties to assure that all three measures are approved without delay. There are parts of Redford’s agenda that we can support, and we are prepared to work constructively to realize them.

At this point, Ms. Redford’s only mandate comes from the PC membership. Her attempts to govern without reference to the legislature are troubling. They are also contrary to principles of parliamentary government, which serves as a check on the power of the government by requiring approval of its policies, and especially its spending.

I look forward to working with Alison Redford, and a constructive and vigorous debate about the future of our province. Congratulations again.

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The curious case of Keystone.

U.S. President Barack Obama will soon announce his decision about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Opposition to the pipeline has been growing. We have seen celebrities seeking arrest in front of the White House this summer, and an open letter to Obama from Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama. Opposition to the pipeline has been based almost entirely on environmental grounds, from protecting the Ogallala aquifer to ending the use of “dirty oil.”

Proponents of the line counter with economic arguments, citing potential investment and jobs in both the U.S. and Canada. Thus we see a classic “jobs vs. the environment” argument being played out in both countries.

But do the economic arguments of the pipeline proponents stand up? Will the pipeline, which will dramatically increase the export of raw bitumen from Alberta to the U.S., bring significant new investment and jobs? The answer is, “Yes and no.”

“Yes” if you are the United States and “no” if you are Alberta.

Alberta’s NDP wants bitumen to be upgraded here in Alberta. So do other organizations, including energy and construction unions. Increasing the amount of value added before export will increase investment, jobs, and tax revenues in our province and in Canada as a whole. This has been acknowledged by the Progressive Conservative government. Before the 2008 provincial election, Ed Stelmach likened the export of bitumen to “scraping the topsoil off your farm and selling it.” He promised to reduce the amount of bitumen being exported from Alberta.

Of course, he did nothing of the kind. The percentage of bitumen being processed in the U.S. has steadily risen since the 2008 election, and now the government is talking positively about an increase from the current 1.3 million barrels to six million. Almost all new oilsands projects will involve upgrading in the United States. Tens of thousands of new jobs are being created in the U.S. building or upgrading refineries on the Gulf coast and in the Midwest, based on upgrading Alberta bitumen. Potential jobs for workers in Alberta and the rest of Canada are literally going down the pipe to the U.S. Ironically, Stelmach is now touting the oilsands as the “economic engine of the U.S.A.”

A report on Keystone XL dated Aug. 12, 2011, and prepared for the U.S. State Department and Department of Energy, confirms this. It states: “Any no-expansion (of Keystone) scenario could increase the incentives for expanding such capacity. To the extent this happens, and leads to the export of product not bitumen to the U.S.A., it will shift refinery/upgrading processing, investment, jobs and ‘value-added’ from the U.S.A. to Canada.”

The United States understands the value of the Keystone expansion to their economy. Unfortunately, this will come at our expense. Why, then, is our provincial government enthusiastically supporting this project?

The answer lies in the far-too-cosy relationship between the Progressive Conservatives and the oil industry. Over the past 10 years, the PC party has received millions of dollars in donations from oil companies. Industry representatives sit with Tory politicians and bureaucrats to make provincial energy policies. And PC leadership hopefuls recently held private debates in front of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s lobby group. This relationship is extremely unhealthy. The provincial government represents the owner of the resource: Albertans. Its present relationship with the corporations that enter into leases to extract the resource represents a massive conflict of interest.

The results are plain to see. Poor environmental regulation, billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for future cleanup and some of the lowest royalties in the world mark this government’s failure to stand up for Albertans.

While other oil-rich countries such as Norway have dramatically raised the standard of living of all citizens, average Alberta families still struggle to pay their bills each month and hundreds of thousands still live in poverty.

It’s time for a government that takes its job as steward of Alberta’s resources for all generations seriously. That requires establishing an appropriate, arm’s-length relationship with the corporations that extract those resources. An NDP government will strengthen conflictof-interest rules, close loopholes in the lobbyist registration legislation and eliminate corporate donations to political parties.

Alberta’s natural resources give an opportunity to create prosperity and quality of life unparalleled in Canada. We must develop them thoughtfully and in the interest of all Albertans. We all own them together and we all must benefit.

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