My Advice to Alberta’s Opposition Parties (Because They Wanted to Know)

TLDR: Alberta’s opposition parties (especially the progressive NDP, Liberals, and Alberta Party) need to work together to give a lot more Albertans a voice in the Legislature.

Let's get representin'!
Let’s get representin’

Now, the long version:

So, I wouldn’t call myself a very political person. I’ve only ever volunteered to help one candidate do some door-knocking and I think I’ve only donated to one candidate (the same guy actually).

I’ve certainly been aware of politics and government, thanks to 15 years as a journalist. And, not being from Alberta, I am fascinated by a province that has had the same provincial government longer than any one party has ruled provincially or federally in Canada’s history.

Watching the opposition parties – the NDP. Alberta Liberals, Wildrose, and Alberta Party – fight amongst themselves for a few seats and a few newspaper quotes gets a guy down when he’d like to see a little evolution in political thinking and governance.  Certainly the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has stayed in power so long thanks to some re-positioning and swings around the right and centre of the political dial, but I can’t help but think they are also helped by the way we elect MLAs through a “first-past-the-post” vote (which is the standard across the country).

When we vote in a provincial election we choose the one person from the one party (or no party if they’re independent) we feel will best represent us at the Alberta Legislature. It’s a pretty good system and some of the time it gives a riding the person that most people felt was best. But, in some cases it sends a person to the Legislature who captured the most votes but fell short of convincing a majority of people in the riding they’re the best choice.  When an MLA can win with 40% or 30% of the votes cast it starts to feel like there’s got to be a better way.

Now, I am in favour of changing the way we vote, using some kind of proportional representation to elect government. This might mean a preferential ballot, where you rank candidates 1,2,3 and if the leading candidate isn’t everyone’s first choice they are probably at least second best. That’s still better than the least favourite choice of more than half of voters winning (as currently could happen).

I don’t think we’re going to see that kind of change in Alberta (or maybe not even anywhere else in Canada) for at least a couple of elections. (The federal NDP is pushing for such change.) So, in the meantime I would ask the opposition parties to think about NOT running against each other in every riding.

I like to be for things instead of against them, I think it’s a better way to make change than being a hater. Instead of saying this about knocking the PC Party out (which would be a negative approach) I’m positioning this call for co-operation as a positive, in that plenty of people in Alberta cast votes that don’t get them representation so maybe shake things up for an election or two until a more permanent, better way is created and we have a new option when we vote. We certainly saw progressive voters put the PC Party back into power in 2012, some likely holding their nose to vote to keep the Wildrose from forming a right-leaning government. That election is why I think progressive voters need a better choice at the ballot box.

I think the Alberta Party has been the most vocal, along with some Liberal MLAs about working with the other progressive parties. I would add the Wildrose to the mix in some of the ridings the party still holds after a mass defection to the PC Party. The NDP and the Liberal party itself appear to be against co-operation but I think it’s to their detriment. And that means it’s to the detriment of progressive, socially-minded voters who would support those two parties.

Laurie Blakeman has managed to swing some change in her riding of Edmonton-Centre. She will be the candidate for the Alberta Liberals and also the Alberta Party and Green Party of Alberta (a non-factor in our current system with first-past-the-post voting) meaning Edmonton-Centre voters can shoose Blakeman, the PC candidate, or the NDP candidate. As the incumbent, Blakeman’s already got a headstart on challengers, but this is a good model for other ridings.

I’m not endorsing moving to a two-party system where it would be a left-leaning party and a right, or PCs vs. NDP, which is why I think co-operation is the right move right now. And once the non-PC parties can form a coalition or minority government they could table legislation to change the voting system. Then they could go back to all running candidates in every riding because everyone would have a fairer chance at winning over voters.

In practical political terms, the smaller parties are in tough against a well-funded PC Party of Alberta. That means the PCs have money to put into the dozen or two campaigns where they face a challenge and spend a lot of money on advertising. If the opposition parties worked together and made more of the races ONE candidate vs. the PC candidate the long-governing PC Party now has to spend money and work for votes in almost every riding. It spreads their election machine thinner, which means they really do need to have winning candidates and policies to form government again.

Right now, they’ll face 20 or so tough races and outspend the other parties which will be lucky to win 20 or so of Alberta’s 87 seats.

I don’t know what the right plan is, or what the political campaigns could look like, but I think the opposition parties, especially the NDP, Liberals, and Alberta Party, need to work together to run the strongest candidate they can in every riding to give progressive voters a choice against a tired, oil-reliant PC government. There may be some voters who have to hold their nose while they vote, not happy about casting a ballot for the NDP or the Alberta Party, but I think that’s better in one election than watching the PCs sweep to another majority where their governing policy seems to be hoping for high oil prices.

/unsolicited political advice

No matter what happens in the next election (expected almost immediately), if you want to know more about the political parties in Alberta, head to their websites. Once the election is called you’ll be able to learn more about their policy ideas and how to volunteer and donate for the ideals and ideas you most believe in.

Alberta Party – Currently has no MLAs elected

Alberta Liberals

Alberta NDP

PC Party of Alberta – Current governing party

Wildrose Party – Current Official Opposition

Daveberta also has a candidate list, tracking everyone being nominated for each party in every riding.

The ABCs of Journalism: Always Build Community

In an effort to not bury the lead, my news today is I am going to be the new Product Strategist at Postmedia Labs, headquartered (locally) at the Edmonton Journal. New job! New responsibilities! New places to eat lunch! (Downtown lunch recommendations welcome.)

robot, knit, tie
Mr. Roboto, the business robot, says successful media businesses are built on community.

Now then, on to what I think that means about community, or: the long read begins.

With media of all kinds being rocked continually by digital innovations, I think two things lead the way in allowing a media source or producer to stand out and remain relevant. The first is original content. Even the Huffington Post could only get so far re-purposing news content, and original content is what will drive Netflix’s continued growth.

On a smaller scale, or at least in more local media situations, the audience being a part of the process, in some way, shape, or form, is a key. That’s why I find this new opportunity at Postmedia Labs so exciting. While the newspaper arm of the company continues to create content, this startup branch is creating community-based projects to try and establish the newspaper of record (here, the Edmonton Journal) as a true hub of local knowledge, information sharing, and connection. It creates two-way conversations instead of old-style media which just pumps out content.

It’s these kinds of projects, these kinds of chances, from media organizations that will set them apart in an increasingly crowded social media stream. I think in a couple of years it will be projects and products like Capital Ideas, Gastropost, local events, and even bold ventures like the Winnipeg Free Press’ News Cafe, that help traditional media creators continue to do what they do (understanding that “what they do” is also changing). By connecting with the audience, by learning from and listening to them, new products are going to launch, new communities will be fostered, and maybe a little money can be made along the way to keep things afloat. And, really, everyone wins a little bit if we’re working together toward success.

The community aspect of Postmedia Labs is what draws me to the job.

For the last seven years I’ve been the Manager of Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) bureaus in Edmonton and Winnipeg. It’s been a tremendous opportunity and I’ve been a part of many great productions in audio and video which made media forms more accessible (such as audio versions of print material), highlighted disability issues, and helped this pioneering media organization work towards its important mission of making all media accessible to Canadians.

A couple of years back, I was also one of the two editors of local community website (and TV show) the edmontonian. Even with 14 years in traditional media this was probably where I learned the most about journalism and audience. My partner, and the main contributors who helped make the edmontonian what it was, taught me news and media is nothing without an audience and really becomes something special if it’s got the same audience top of mind while producing content.

At AMI I learned about Canada’s disability communities, and keeping them front of mind meant AMI’s shows and stories always had a reason to be produced and thus served a community. At the edmontonian, it was all about Edmontonians (obvs.) who were part of the conversation, and part of the editorial team when they wanted to be. Otherwise it would have just been Sally and I yelling at the Internet. Building up a community, and around one, is what made the edmontonian work and what makes AMI so unique in Canada’s broadcast system. Lessons I won’t soon forget.

Personally, this is an exciting opportunity for me because it’s my first step away from media work. While Postmedia is a large media company, the Labs is a startup within the larger corporation and doesn’t create editorial material like the newsrooms do. I also get to join a great team at the Edmonton location of the Postmedia Labs (Karen, Brittney, Vickie, Sam). I can’t wait to get over there to work with them and the many community partners they’re building with.

Pogo: Edmonton’s First Car-Sharing Company

Pogo car

I love Pogo. I love driving with Pogo. Pogo is good for Edmonton.

Alright, notions of  journalist objectivity now tossed aside, let me tell you about my first three months driving with Edmonton’s car-sharing service Pogo. (It’s also the three month anniversary for Pogo having cars on the road.)

As someone who doesn’t own a car, it’s been an obvious bonus to be able to grab a car if I’m running late for work, or want to get across town in a hurry. And, yes, we went to Ikea. You have to, it’s the law!

It is great to have a new option in my transportation portfolio. I ride transit, I walk, in the summer I ride my bike, I can call a taxi (ride-sharing and the Uber debate is a topic for another day), and now I can hop in a Pogo after a few clicks of a smartphone app or website. That it really is that easy makes it even better (and even a little fun).

Signing up for Pogo was easy. You do a standard contact information/login details kind of online form, slide them $35, and wait for approval within a couple of weeks. They do pull your driver’s abstract, so you’l need a (fairly) clean driving record. You get a fob or keycard in the mail and then you’re behind the wheel.

Finding a car is as easy as opening the Pogo app or website and choosing a car from a map. Cars are parked in a central zone (where all trips have to end) which encompasses areas like the downtown, Old Strathcona, 124 Street and Oliver. I’ve been lucky to always find a car within five or six blocks. For 47-cents/minute you get to drive, gas and insurance included, and can park for free (including at City meters, one and two-hour zones, and in all neighbourhoods). My only complaint is that it is easy to start driving a little too much…gotta make sure my bus pass remains worth the monthly cost!

Jeff's first Pogo
I was pretty excited to take my first drive with Pogo in November.

 

It makes sense that anyone who doesn’t own a car (or truck) would be interested in a car-share. The thing that  surprised me when grabbing coffee with Pogo co-founders Alexis Alchorn and Kieran Ryan (two of the five staffers) was that most of the other Pogo drivers have a car already.

“A large amount of our customer-base is people who already do own cars. We see that being one of our largest markets. The appeal is that you can have a car wherever you are at any time. There’s a convenience factor that really appeals to people,” Alexis said.

The convenience is allowing people to use Pogo cars instead of taking their own vehicle to work. And it could mean people can cut down to being a one-vehicle household (or none, but I know that still sounds a little weird to most Edmontonians).

Sitting down with Alexis and Kieran in early January, I was happy to hear how many Edmontonians have already signed up to car-share.

“We just passed 350. We’re pretty happy with that.” said Kieran. “Users are usually very keen on the service and telling their friends about it. And, it only gets better as more members and more cars come on.”

I mentioned that you can park pretty much anywhere you want with Pogo. It’s got a deal with the City of Edmonton where the company pays for parking and the drivers get to leave the car anywhere you can legally park. For free. This is unlike a lot of other car-sharing set-ups where vehicles have to be returned to “home base”, that is, a designated parking spot.

“The City of Edmonton has been working with us on parking,” Kieran said. “And politicians are being supportive. The City wants us to work. At all levels they like the concept, they want Edmonton to have a system like this. They’re very good working with us. We’re working with them to make sure there’s the least amount of friction on things like parking.”

I’ve noticed more Pogo cars recently with handy parking reminders stuck to the glove compartment, which will help us Pogo drivers remember where not to park and keep the tickets to a minimum (you are responsible if you get a ticket when you park the car).

There are some big car-share companies out there (Car2Go is in Calgary, ZipCar is another mainstay) but Pogo is different from those because it’s an Edmonton-based business.

As Kieran explained. “There’s five of us. We’re all local Edmontonians. I used to live in Calgary and saw a service come there and saw how successful and how convenient, and everything like that, and started talking [to another co-founder] ‘Why isn’t anybody doing it in Edmonton”‘. We started doing the research. What are the different components? And started rolling from there. Nine months from ‘Let’s think about this to handing the mayor a fob.”

Pogo's Kiernan and Alexis

Pogo has about 30 cars on the road now and wants to expand to 150 before the end of this year. They also plan on expanding “the zone” where you can park a car at the end of your trip. Some of that is dependent on how many people are signing up, where cars are being used, and where people using Pogo live. From the quick uptake, and the ease of use, I would guess those targets are going to be hit and you’re going to be seeing a lot of Pogo logos on the street.

*****

Questions for you, the reader of this post:

Have you used Pogo, or another car-share? Would you?

What should Pogo drivers be known as? Pogo-ers? Pogos?

*****
I had the pleasure of talking with Ryan Jespersen about Pogo on his radio show.
Take a listen:

Free Birthday Stuff (and not just gifts)

Red Robin birthday burger

Happy Birthday! (If it’s your birthday, that is.)

Today for my birthday I decided to scam find as much free food as I could. I mean, free stuff is always great, and nobody wants to take out a loan just to celebrate their birthday. A pending free birthday beverage at Starbucks got me thinking about other places I could get freebies on my date of birth.

Turns out, there are quite a lot of spots to pick up free food, beverages, and discounts. Maybe next year I’ll also ask for a letter from some local dignitary.

Anyway, after scoping things out and a mad rush to sign up for customer loyalty programs, here is what I  got today:

Breakfast – Free Grand Slam at Denny’s. All you need is some proof of your DOB at the ready and breakfast is yours.

Lunch –  Free burger (and fries) at Red Robin. You have to sign up for this one. But I only did it yesterday and still got the coupon (which is good for 2 weeks).

Dinner – Nothing free. I am actually happy to report I ate a salad.

Other freebies – Chai latte at Starbucks. A 2 for 1 coupon from the Dairy Queen Blizzard Fan Club (another signup and good for 2 weeks).

Note, while some places will give you free things with proof of birthday, most want you to sign up for their various customer loyalty or email programs (which, I suppose, you could always unsubscribe from right after scoring free birthday food).

Not only was Denny's the easiest place to score a free birthday meal, they are the only folks who wished me a happy birthday. Nice job, Denny's!
Not only was Denny’s the easiest place to score a free birthday meal, they are the only folks who wished me a happy birthday. Nice job, Denny’s!

 

Seattle Takeaways for Edmonton

Seattle Ferris Wheel at sunset

We just had the pleasure of a vacation to Seattle. What a great city!

Here are some things I think Edmonton could incorporate into its own city life. Because our city is great too but we can keep getting better by stealing good idea from other places.

Businesses Selling Merch – We kept noticing a lot of the bars, restaurants, and coffee shops we stopped in were selling their own t-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise with their logo on it. Seattle is definitely more of a tourist city than Edmonton but we’ve got some great businesses with nice logos that could get into this ongoing promotion. How cool would it be to be sitting an airport somewhere and cross paths with someone wearing a Transcend or The Empress t-shirt. (You can already buy swag at The Empress.)

(Bonus idea: The Seattle airport has a full-on Sub Pop store. Talk about a unique tourist purchase.)

Top Pot Doughnuts, one of many businesses selling merch in Seattle.

We Can Be A Bike City – I had the same feeling after visiting Minneapolis last year and Seattle just kept that rolling. While the Pacific coast has nicer year-round weather than Edmonton, those hills are deadly. Good on Seattle cyclists for tackling them! It also felt totally normal, and safe, to be walking around the city. The car might be the most prevalent transportation option in Seattle but it does not rule all. Edmonton transportation definitely has to include everyone and move beyond personal vehicles (we’re starting to think that way).

Coffee Is The Nectar Of The Gods – Yes, there are a lot of Starbucks in Seattle. But it felt there was an independent coffee shop for each of the chain locations. There were even a couple of spots in Capitol Hill on the street and in a sliver of storefront without seating. Small can be big!

Street Art Is Here To Stay – I think we live in Edmonton at a fascinating time. This mid-size city is becoming a true urban metropolis. We’re seeing the transportation conversation evolve, people choosing to live in apartments or smaller homes, and business interests beyond energy are starting to take on real importance. We also need to get over the criminalization of street art. There’s nothing wrong with going after gang tags and signs, but expressions of art belong in a vibrant city.

Business Sloth street art

Access That Water – I don’t think we need to have a restaurant and boat launch at every possible accessible location of the North Saskatchewan River, but we need to do something with our central river area. I’m thinking of the area between Louise McKinney Park and the High Level Bridge. We need to make it easier to access for tourists, visitors to Edmonton, and those who aren’t just running or biking. The work around Walterdale Bridge and Queen Elizabeth Park, the de-commissioned Rossdale power plant, and connecting the northside of the river can, and should, be Edmonton’s version of Seattle’s waterfront boardwalk. Or, maybe a better comparison is The Forks in Winnipeg. Accessible, family-friendly, respectful and inclusive of our aboriginal history, a place to gather more than once a year for fireworks or a picnic. And a little bit of commerce around that location won’t hurt too badly.

I’ve got a whole bunch of Seattle photos up on Flickr capturing more of our vacation. It was a fantastic city and I would definitely go back. If you’ve ever been, let me know what you liked about Seattle (in case I do go back and need more vacation ideas).

And Amazon lockers would be a great addition to Edmonton for us apartment dwellers.
And Amazon lockers would be a great addition to Edmonton for us apartment dwellers.

Journalist, Producer, Edmontonian