Jeremy Barretto

Vote holding your heart, not holding your nose

Albertans are talking about strategic voting in the provincial election on April 23, 2012. Strategic voting is choosing a party not because it is your first choice but to stop another party from winning. I urge you to vote for the part that best represents views. Vote for what you stand for, not what you stand against.

When you settle for the lesser of two evils, you still end up with evil

For the record, I don’t think that any person or party is evil. I just like that headline.

The main argument I’ve heard in favour of voting strategically for the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) is to prevent the Wildrose Alliance Party’s allegedly hidden agenda to rescind gay marriage and abortion rights.

In fairness, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith says that contentious social issues will not be legislated under a Wildrose Government. She is personally pro-gay marriage and pro-choice. The same can be said for Premier Alison Redford—and as a bonus she believes that climate change is caused by human activity!

If you intend to vote for the PCs based on statements by Wildrose candidates, then you should also consider comments made by PC MLAs. Let’s look specifically at comments made about homosexuality, abortion and equality rights by members of both parties courtesy of the slick website

Progressive Conservatives

Wildrose Alliance Party


“The gay-feminist project has become a social engineering project – to use the coercive power of the state to undermine the existing family.”

Ted Morton,
PC Energy Minister
Edmonton Journal, May 26, 2009

“To affirm homosexuality is to distort the image of God, to insult the nature and being of God.”

Ron Leech,
Wildrose Candidate Calgary-Greenway
Calgary Herald, January 1, 2004


“I would like today to present a petition on behalf of 105 Albertans … we the undersigned residents of Alberta petition the Legislative Assembly to pass legislation to deinsure abortion.”

Moe Amery,
PC MLA Calgary-East
Alberta Legislature, October 26, 2009

“The courts are out of control [because they have been] striking down the abortion law, the change in the traditional definition of marriage, the legalization of swingers’ clubs.”

Danielle Smith,
Wildrose Leader
Calgary Herald, January 4, 2006


“Men are attracted to smiles, so smile, don’t give me that ‘treated equal’ stuff. If you want Equal, it comes in little packages at Starbucks.”

Doug Elniski,
PC MLA Edmonton-Calder
CBC News, June 22, 2009

“I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian I believe that I can speak to all the community.”

Ron Leech,
Wildrose Candidate Calgary-Greenway
CTV Edmonton, April 17, 2012

This above quotes shows that both the PCs and the Wildrose have members with extreme views. I am by no means painting all the supporters of these parties with one brush. All parties have supporters who are working hard to make Alberta a better place and not making “bozo eruptions“.

However, the question remains whether the PCs are well suited to guard progressive values.

If Ed Stelmach was forced out as PC leader after winning 72/83 seats in 2008, the PC Party could conceivably replace Allison Redford even if she hangs onto government. Would, say, Premier Ted Morton be materially different than Premier Danielle Smith?

Effective strategic voting is complicated, trending towards impossible

Pollster Janet Brown is an authority on Alberta Elections. She accurately predicted that the PCs would win 72-seats in 2008 and was only a couple seats off in 2004.

Brown recommended not strategically voting in a recent interview: “vote for the party that most closely matches your values, that is what democracy is all about … don’t strategically vote.”

Brown said that you should only consider strategically voting if you can answer yes to each of the following six questions:

  1. Do you know which electoral district (riding) you are in?
  2. Do you know if your electoral district was changed in 2012?
  3. Do you know the vote split from 2008?
  4. Do you know how the boundary change affects the vote split?
  5. Is there a high-profile local candidate in the riding who might affect the vote split?
  6. Would you still strategically vote if you knew that your first place party would be shut-out? (i.e. won zero seats)

Many Albertans don’t know their riding and if they do it may have changed in the 2012 redistribution.

Last election I lived in Calgary-Buffalo but the boundary change landed me in Calgary-Currie. Both of these ridings elected Liberal MLAs in 2008 with the PCs finishing a strong second.

So that means that a conservative minded voter should vote PC and progressives should vote Liberal right? It’s more complicated.

The political landscape has changed dramatically since 2008. Current polls show a relatively close race between the Wildrose and the PCs in Calgary with Liberal support plummeting to single digits.

Further complicating matters is that the incumbent MLA Dave Taylor left the Liberals to become an Alberta Party MLA in 2011. Then he retired and Norm Kelly, a criminal lawyer, is running for Alberta Party to replace Taylor. The Alberta Party is a wildcard in this race.

There is a reasonable explanation for a Liberal, PC, Wildrose or Alberta Party candidate winning in Calgary-Currie (and associated matrix of strategic voting options).

Brown says that t’s nearly impossible to predict how provincial polling will play out in a local race due to small local sample sizes and fluctuations in the voting public.

I agree with Brown that in my riding, and many throughout the province, it is very difficult for even experts to predict the ranking of the top two or three parties in the race.

The best way to ensure that a candidate who represents your views is elected is to –wait for it– vote for the candidate and party who best represents your views.

In order to change the government, support the candidate and party that you believe in

The Wildrose elected zero MLAs in 2008. It transformed itself from a fringe party into a government-in-waiting in about four short years. Even the legendary Peter Lougheed elected 6 MLAs in his first election in 1967.

Imagine if Albertans at the time dissatisfied with the Social Credit dynasty had voted strategically for the then-stronger Liberal party.

The development of the Wildrose was remarkably un-strategic: the PC Party warned that the Wildrose would split the conservative vote. Nevertheless, the Wildrose chose a media savvy leader, raised a bunch of money and ran a well-organized campaign. They might be rewarded with the keys to government.

We can learn this from the Wildrose: if you want to change the government find a party that you believe in and support them with your time and money. Political parties are little more than the sum of their people.

If you don’t believe that an underdog political movement with committed volunteers can win the day I invite you to Google “Naheed Nenshi”, “Orange Crush Quebec” or “Phil Davidson Stark County” (okay that last one was just for fun).

A few websites have sprung up encouraging “progressive” voters to either vote for their choice in a certain riding. These websites assume that the Alberta Party, the Liberals, the NDP (and in some cases the PCs) are the same. In other words voting for any of the chosen parties will elect roughly similar candidates. They are not the same. Brian Mason is not the same as Ted Morton.

Vote based on your hopes, not on your fears

As blogger Dave Cournoyer points out, a Wildrose government we will need a real opposition. After four decades in government, could the PC Party fill this role? Cournoyer concludes:

Voters who want more than two conservative voices in the Assembly should ignore the calls for strategic voting and cast their votes for the candidates and parties who best represent their views.

Voters may find something appealing in the platforms of any of the parties. Decide for yourself here.

My personal opinion is that we need a new political alternative to move beyond the status quo. The Wildrose vision of the future appears to be past. The PCs have had 41 years of majority governments and the Liberals have been in opposition for 90 years. It’s been 23 years since the NDP won a seat in Calgary. Voter turnout in the last election was a pitiful 41% (27% in my riding).

The Alberta Party presents a new moderate alternative to move beyond the left vs. right, progressive vs. conservative, rural vs. urban and north vs. south divides in the province. Its policies are based on the best ideas and meaningful citizen engagement.

The Alberta Party won’t form the government this election. But it has a legitimate shot at a handful of seats. A few seats were enough for Lougheed to get a majority the next time around. Electing one NDP MP in Quebec in 2008 paved the way for the orange crush of 59 seats in 2011.

At best, strategic voting may elect the lesser of two bad choices. At worst you will elect a government that you don’t want. On April 23rd, for the first time in a generation Albertans truly have a choice of great candidates and a competitive race in almost every riding.

Vote holding your heart, not holding your nose. Trust me, it will feel good.

What would Lougheed do?

Province building lessons from the past for the future

In 1965, a young Calgary lawyer named Peter Lougheed and his cohorts recognized Alberta was increasingly diverse and urban and that the provincial government of the time did not reflect their vision of Alberta. Lougheed and his team joined a political party that was described as leaderless and stumbling.

In 1966, Lougheed was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. He had never previously visited the legislature. By 1971, Lougheed’s party included former independents, Liberals and Conservatives. They swept to a majority government winning 49 of 65 seats.

Would Lougheed recognize the current government as the party he brought to power with a vision of Alberta? What would Lougheed do if faced with the current challenges in Alberta?

Get Alberta’s financial house in order

The Lougheed government’s first priority was to get Alberta’s financial house in order. To address the provincial deficit without impacting services, energy royalties were increased from 16.66 to 21 per cent raising revenues by $285 million.

Today Alberta’s deficit stands at $5 billion. If we follow Lougheed’s approach to balancing the books revenues should be increased. Options include reviewing taxes, introducing a provincial sales tax, revising the energy royalty regime (again) or finding new sources of revenue such as gaming or environmental charges. Lougheed did not drastically cut government services or blow up the Calgary General Hospital.

Protect individual and property rights

The Lougheed government passed the Alberta Bill of Rights on its first day in the Legislature. This bill, along with the Individual Rights Protection Act, protects and codified Albertan’s rights and freedoms. Legislation strengthening mental health care, seniors Medicare subsidies, housing for disabled children and wilderness protection (including the establishment of Kananaskis Park) soon followed.

Forty years later there appears to be a rapid erosion of individual and property rights.

Facilities for vulnerable Albertans should be improved.  We should ensure that landowners rights are not diminished by carbon under the ground or transmission lines through their fields. Our natural areas deserve more, not less protection.

Find a bold Province building initiative

Today most Albertan’s would be hard pressed identify a bold province building initiative that could create thousands of jobs, attract massive capital investment and sustain economic growth. For Lougheed, Syncrude embodied Province building. Province building and resource control were inseparable. Lougheed invited private companies to come up to Fort McMurray (evidently the historically poor region) in 1974 to start a consortium that would become Syncrude.

Lougheed also sought to further diversify the Alberta economy.

The creation of the integrated economic corridor, with infrastructure like high speed rail, could be a bold new initiative. Also Albertans in the energy sector work on projects around the world.  Government should ensure that Alberta is a centre of global energy management, engineering and expertise (with or without our own resources). We should leverage our energy expertise to attract renewable energy jobs and investment.

Save resource revenues to ensure future prosperity

A portion of Alberta’s surpluses under Lougheed’s government were invested to ensure that future generations have a high level of prosperity.

The government is drawing down savings to pay for the deficit in government savings. Using savings for current needs is antithetical to Lougheed’s vision. Alberta went through another boom during the Klein years, but unlike Lougheed’s era of prosperity, we have little savings to show for it.

Lougheed used savings to make prudent investments to diversify the economy. Instead of putting $2 billion into CCS, Alberta could create a Green Heritage Fund to invest in Alberta-based environmental technology with proven benefits.

Our failure to save resource revenues does not respect Lougheed’s vision and threatens our future prosperity.

Preside over a new pride in being Albertan

Lougheed recognized that Alberta was more diverse and modern than it’s government represented. He increased revenues to address a record deficit, enshrined individual rights, boldly created new industries and saved for our future prosperity. He created pride in being Albertan.

Who can preside over a new pride in being Albertan for a new generation?


Aritha van Herk, Mavericks: An Incorrigibile History of Alberta (Toronto: Penguin, 2002) at pp. 266-274.

David G. Wood, The Lougheed Legacy (Toronto: Key Porter, 1985) at pp. 69-70.

Alberta in the 20th Century, Volume 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa 1971-1984 (Edmonton: CanMedia Inc., 2006) at pp. 52-60.

Thanks to Emma Grace May for her editing assistance.

Why the Alberta Party is a game changer, not late to the game

I have never been a member of a political party, until now. This weekend I joined the Alberta Party and attended their first convention in Red Deer.

At the convention I met a diverse and passionate group of Albertans from across the province. Outside of the convention, some commentators dismissed this movement as “a cool name, but not much else“. They forget that, other than the Progressive Conservatives who took a few tries, every party to form government in Alberta won their first election. I believe that the Alberta Party will be a game changer in the next provincial election for five reasons:

  1. Moderate
    The Alberta Party is zealously moderate: not liberal, not conservative, not left and not right. I had great discussions with members from across the political spectrum. At the convention I met a former Progressive Conservative Minister from the Lougheed government, the former leader of the Green Party of Alberta and disaffected Liberals and New Democrats. Most importantly, I met many members who have never been involved in any political party.  
  2. Brand
    The Alberta Party brand distinguishes it from conventional political labels. The party is able to define itself as moderate because it is not loaded with the baggage of the conventional political parties. It took two years to “renew” the Alberta Party as a moderate political organization. When I knock on doors for the party I anticipate that citizens will ask “what is the Alberta Party?” This will start an inclusive conversation rather than a partisan debates.
  3. Listening
    The Alberta Party spent the first years of its existence listening to over 1,000 Albertans through 100 Big Listen events.  Listening is surprisingly a radical concept. Some critics say that the party has moved to slowly. I disagree. Listening to Albertans is precisely what distinguishes the Alberta Party. Policies reflective of Albertans will, in turn, expedite attracting members and great candidates across the province.
  4. Experience
    A highlight from convention was the “Tales from Campaign Trail”. Candidates or campaign managers from a half-dozen successful municipal election campaigns shared their experiences. The Nenshi campaign team proved that “politics in full sentences” can enable a new political movement to win. Nearly everyone at the convention was involved in big and small municipal campaigns in places like Edmonton, Calgary, Rimbey and Grand Prairie. They are ready to bring a new style of politics to the next provincial election.
  5. Positive
    The conventional parties are focused on “splitting the right” or “splitting the left”. The diverse Alberta Party membership is proof that its positive message attracts support from across the political spectrum. The involvement of many former non-partisans is evidence that the Alberta Party will engage the 59% of voters who did not vote in the 2008 provincial election. This was the lowest voter turnout for a Canadian provincial election in the last 50 years.

The party that engages non-voters and disaffected voters will win the next election. The Alberta Party is dedicated to being moderate, listening to Albertans and engaging in a new positive style of politics. This is how the Alberta Party will win

Why not southeast LRT and BRT?

On Monday November 8 Calgary City Council will likely decide whether to allocate Green Trip funding to a new C-Train line to the southeast (SE LRT). I contend that at portion of the SE LRT should be built and an improved southeast Bus Rapid Transit (SE BRT) should take passengers the rest of the way. Here is a map of the SE LRT from the Calgary Transit LRT Network Plan:

City administration has proposed three options to City Council (which are described in greater detail by Jason Markusoff):

  1. Stub SE LRT and trains – from 10th Avenue S.E. to Riverbend and purchase some Light Rail Vehicles to service new inter-city passengers from regional municipalities and permit four-car LRT service;
  2. Longer-stub SE LRT – from 10 Avenue S.E. to Douglas Glen;
  3. BRT and trains – 50 new C-Train cars, southeast LRT planning work and a comprehensive network of BRT lines.

The Transportation department’s recommendation of Option 3 “BRT and trains” follows a troubling trend by City departments:  choose the most extreme option when funds are limited. The Police Chief threatened to cut 120 positions if his budget was reduced and the Library CEO initially mused about closing on Sundays. City departments should rely on comprehensive and prioritized long-term plans, rather than last-minute drastic options, to secure sustainable funding.

The City’s re-think on the SE LRT has predictably triggered passionate responses from proponents of both LRT and BRT. It has pitched southeast Calgarians against those living in other areas. Why is LRT vs. BRT framed as an either or? A close look at the trains proposed for the SE LRT reveals they could be more easily integrated with an enhanced SE BRT service.

The SE LRT will use used will be low-floor vehicles. These trains are now widely used world-wide since they are more accessible and do not require high platforms like Calgary’s high-floor LRT system. The images below of low-floor LRTs are from Edmonton’s (awesome and more recently updated) LRT Network Plan.  Low-floor LRTs require less platform infrastructure and could be more easily connected with a BRT system.

Calgary’s BRT routes are little more than limited stop express buses. Real BRT systems like those in Ottawa and Curitiba Brazil have dedicated roadways and LRT-like stations. Low-floor LRT infrastructure looks strikingly similar to that used for BRT systems.

BRT in Ottawa and Curitiba

I contend that at least the “Stub SE LRT” should be built to Riverbend. A real BRT system should be put in place from where the SE LRT ends all the way to the new southeast hospital. Unlike the current Route 302, the new “SE BRT” should have dedicated roads and enhanced stations. Wherever possible, the SE BRT should use the same route and stations as the future low-floor SE LRT. As funding becomes available, more rail can be built.

The York University busway in Toronto is a good example of how dedicated BRT can be effective while waiting for subway construction. Toronto is also example of how when rail infrastructure is indefinitely delayed it is often denied.

Indefinitely delaying the SE LRT construction is not an option for three reasons:

  1. All candidates supported the SE LRT during the recent election;
  2. The SE LRT was one of Mayor Nenshi’s top four priorities after the election;
  3. The SE LRT has long been part of the Calgary Transportation Plan and LRT Network Plan.

I urge City Council to get going on the SE LRT and improve SE BRT to finally bring mass transit to southeast Calgarians.

How Nenshi beat the players at their own game

Anna is a middle-aged hairstylist. In many ways, she is a typical Calgarian: she owns a small business in south Calgary — which seems to make you genetically a fiscal conservative — and is socially progressive. She is the type who would call 3-1-1 to tell the city “don’t waste my taxes and pick up my recycling.” She has a seldom-used Facebook account but gets most of her news from her friends, the Herald and TV. She is also my mom.

Many, many journalists have written about how Nenshi effectively used social media. Few have written about how Nenshi and his team also excelled at strategy and traditional politics. As a woman and small business owner, both Barb Higgins and Ric McIver could appeal to Anna. However, Naheed Nenshi not only won Anna’s vote, but also inspired her to campaign for him. I asked Anna why Nenshi won the election. Her responses are in italics below.



McIver & Higgins really believed they could just run on name recognition, they really didn’t need to talk about the issues as the less they said the better it would be for them after they won.

McIver adopted a traditional front-runner “stay the course” strategy. He was completely unprepared when the last poll showed a statistical tie.  I think that if McIver established his “experience” message earlier instead of running as a City Hall insider-outsider he could have won.

Higgins stuck to a “manage the message” strategy. I was shocked when Higgins, a television news anchor for 21 years, refused to debate on TV.  If Higgins used the debate to show herself as a consensus builder and speak directly to voters she might have had a shot.

Nenshi’s strategy was simple, “converse and engage”: 1. Have the most comprehensive and well-reasoned platform; 2. Use social media and outreach events to engage politically savvy volunteers; 3.  Use volunteers to engage thousands of voters through traditional politics.

Nenshi’s team executed the strategy flawlessly. By the end of the campaign, Anna was talking to her clients, friends and family about Nenshi. Higgins and McIver were relying on robo-calls to reach voters. This election was ultimately a three-way two front war. Two armies showed up late and poorly equipped.


[Nenshi] treated all the voters with the same respect, the young adults, the people in their 40’s & 50’s as well as seniors. He attended all the forums even when they were back-to-back, even when the top candidates didn’t show up.

Anna first met Naheed Nenshi at the Afrikadey festival on a Sunday in mid-August.  The festival had some buzz since K’naan was headlining shortly after he finished waving the flag at the World Cup in South Africa. However Afrikadey is by no means a major event on the “political circuit” like the Calgary Stampede. Nenshi was the only candidate we saw at the festival meeting voters and answering questions. During the rest of the summer the Nenshi team was at virtually all of the thirty or so forums and almost every public event.  

Higgins skipped about half of the forums and instead held private town halls where voters were supposed to come and meet her. McIver did not have a presence at many community events (Bow River Flow anyone). All of this culminated with Higgins and McIver’s refusal, or at best ambivalence, to a televised debate with Nenshi in the last week of the campaign. Nenshi worked harder to earn Anna’s vote. This resulted in Anna convincing many of her friends and family to support Nenshi.



Nenshi took the courageous stance and put everything on the line, and for that he earned our respect.  We the voters are not stupid we know he might not be able to deliver everything he talked about but just the fact that he wants to try, has our admiration, we have to give him the chance.

Nenshi’s “Better Ideas” platform was affectionately known during the campaign as “politics in full sentences”. This was surprisingly a revolutionary concept. I was actually supporting Kent Hehr early in the campaign but was convinced by Nenshi’s detailed transit platform. Nenshi did not receive much coverage from the mainstream media until late in the campaign. However, Anna learned about the platform through the forums, coffee parties and word of mouth.

When a Nenshi supporter spoke with a voter, they had an arsenal of information about the campaign. Supporters of other candidates had little more than talking points about “leadership” and “experience”.


The Candidate

We also like that he is extremely articulate and knowledgeable, that makes as feel proud to let him represent us.  When he speaks well, we feel we speak well

After the Calgary election result was covered by CNN, Time Magazine, the Atlantic and even press in Poland (translation: “Nenshi kidnapped the youth vote”), this speaks for itself.

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