Monday, October 17, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

There are times when I wonder if I've made the right decision with my life; by which I mean, to become the political junkie that I am. Nothing makes me wonder more about this than when I see parties take out 'attack ads' on the other guys.

Now, I've talked a bit about attack ads before on the blog...But since the Saskatchewan Party continues to inundate the airwaves with attack ads against Dwain Lingenfelter, I suppose it is worth talking about again.

While sitting down and watching TV after a long afternoon and evening of canvassing, I sat down and was blasted by two different, but similar, attack ads from the Saskatchewan Party against Dwain Lingenfelter. Of course, the advertisement directed viewers to check out a website based around Dwain's record.

Needless to say, this looks a lot like an attempt to follow the popular s**t harper did website tha popped up in the last federal election. Although, since it was done with party blessing, obviously expletives are not used in the web domain. Now, I'm not going to post a link to this website. If only because the facts and figures on it are of questionable accuracy.

Instead, I'm going to paste some the claims here and we can talk for a moment about why they're completely off base. Then, once we've picked apart a few of these claims, we'll talk about attack ads in general.

"Lingenfelter says he wants more head office jobs in Saskatchewan, but when he went to work for Nexen he moved their head office and his own job from Regina to Calgary.
  • When times were tougher in Saskatchewan, Lingenfelter quit his own NDP government and moved to Calgary to become an oil company lobbyist for Nexen.
  • Right after Lingenfelter went to work for Nexen as a paid lobbyist, the NDP changed the law to allow Nexen (which used to be the government-owned Crown Corporation, SaskOil) to move its head office from Regina to Calgary.
  • At the time, the NDP promised that Nexen's head office would stay in Regina.
Let's explore this one, since it sticks out the most to me.

So, here's the first problem: Dwain Lingenfelter left Saskatchewan, as such, he doesn't deserve to be Premier. That's basically the argument be made by this sentence. Essentially, the Saskatchewan Party seems to be making the argument that leaving Saskatchewan makes you ineligible for public office.

Surely, there's no hypocrisy in the Saskatchewan Party ranks...Right?

Enter Wayne Elhard, candidate in Cypress Hills. According to the Saskatchewan Party website bio:
"Wayne is a Saskatchewan native son, who obtained most of his education in Alberta. He graduated from high school in Medicine Hat, obtained a B.A. in history and philosophy from the University of Lethbridge, and later earned a Master's Degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas."

So, he was most educated outside of the province. He spent a lot of time outside of the province. Heck, he even worked OUTSIDE of the province.

"Wayne also worked as a personnel recruiter for one of Canada's leading recruiting and consulting firms. Based in Edmonton, he worked on behalf of many of the nation's foremost engineering and construction companies, recruiting professional personnel. It was that job which helped form his views on the significance of economic growth and the importance of labour mobility."

Yet, no one is calling Wayne Elhard an 'opportunist' or attacking his motivations for entering the public service in Saskatchewan. Well, I suppose some might say I'm attacking him now...But that's besides the point. Why is it okay for for Mr. Elhard to serve Saskatchewan, but we question Dwain Lingenfelter for wanting to do the same thing?

And it's not just Elhard; Prince Albert Carlton Candidate Darryl Hickie was born in Winnipeg. Prince Albert Northcote Canadidate Victoria Jurgens received her MBA from Athabasca University, a university located in Alberta. Regina Lakeview Candidate Bob Hawkins, "...has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Canon Law from St. John’s College, University of Manitoba and holds degrees in law, economics and history from Oxford, Yale, the Panthéon-Sorbonne, Toronto and Manitoba." Gasp, many of those schools are outside Saskatchewan!

I can assure you, there's plenty of Saskatchewan Party members who have lived, worked, and studied outside of Saskatchewan. Yet their time abroad is not being called into question; which is quite audacious considering it is the Saskatchewan Party itself who is most vocal into calling notice to Dwain's time outside of Saskatchewan.

So, I think I've managed to pop the bubble of 'someone who left Saskatchewan doesn't belong in politics'...Let's move on to the next point.

The Saskatchewan Party website suggests that Lingenfelter had a personal hand in moving what was left of' 'SaskOil' out of the province and into Alberta. Let's explore what's wrong with that sentence.

For starters, the SK Party website mentions that SaskOil used to be a Crown Corporation. They leave out the bit where it was privatized in 1986 by the Grant Devine Government. They also suggest that Nexen, the company that was formed when Wascana Energy Inc was BOUGHT OUT by Canadian Occidental in 1997 was moved out of Saskatchewan.

Well, for starters, Canadian Occidental was based out of Calgary which was owned by a mostly American board.

So, we have a Calgary based company in charge of what used to be a Saskatchewan based oil company, which used to be a crown corporation but was introduced to privatization by the Devine Government...

And the SK Party has the audacity to suggest it was the NDP who moved towards destroying SaskOil?

Of course, it is true that the NDP government repealed the Wascana Energy Act which more or less kept the office in Regina and made the board of directors 50% Saskatchewan residents. Though, let's keep in mind that the government sold its shares in Wascana Energy to Canadian Occidental in 1997.

But, let's examine something else as well.

What was Lingenfelter's job with Nexen? Well, according to his bio he was in a Vice-President in charge of Government Relations. What does that mean? It means it was his job to interact with government officials on behalf of the company. From what I know of Dwain's personal history, these types of interactions occurred outside of Canada; in places such as Yemen, and Colombia.

There is no proof, written or otherwise, that Dwain ever lobbied the Saskatchewan Government on behalf of Nexen. As such, the claim that he moved to the company and a year later the Wascana Energy Act was repealed is a bit of a straw man argument and hearsay of the worst kind.

Keep in mind, as well, the SK Party is blaming Lingenfelter personally for this. Yet, at the time, he'd been out of government and Saskatchewan politics for a year.

So, why did the NDP government of the time write off the Wascana Energy Act? That's a question I can't answer. I don't know why...But I can guess. At the time, it was likely considered odd that the government of Saskatchewan was legislating the purview of an independent company that existed outside of Saskatchewan.

Keep in mind, the Saskatchewan Government had no shares in Wascana Oil at the time and Canadian Occidental/Nexen was the majority shareholder. Now, I know businesses...They don't like being told what they can and cannot do by someone who has no stake in the company. And most people would say that the government had no right legislating Wascana Oil given that they didn't have a stake in it.

As such, it seems possible to me that the government realized the awkward position they were in. And either Nexen was getting ready to challenge them over how their company was being run...or some other type of situation. This blog is not really designed for speculation over the hypothetical, so draw your own conclusions.

Effectively, the Saskatchewan Government was already out of Wascana Oil in the late 90s; the repealing of the Wascana Energy Act in 2001 was the recognition of this fact and nothing more. Perhaps they had an agreement with Nexen to keep the office if the act was repealed, and Nexen simply disregarded the terms...Or perhaps the government of the time allowed the office to be closed based on projections and figures that this blogger does not have access to.

Either way, all of this occurred outside of Lingenfelter's watch and to try and tie him to it is simply absurd.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg...I had planned only to refute those claims, but there's more hypocrisy that needs to be pointed out.

"In an October 26, 2005 Leader Post article entitled Lingenfelter Campaigns for Nuclear Plant, Lingenfelter said, "If Tommy Douglas were here, [nuclear power] would be exactly what he would be doing."

What did the Saskatchewan Party leave out of this quotation:

"And his idea is getting some qualified support from some unlikely sources including Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall, Liberal Leader David Karwacki and even former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool President Garf Stevenson who all say it's a notion worth exploring."

That's right! In 2005, when Lingenfelter was musing the idea of building a nuclear reactor to supply power to Alberta Oil Sands development, then Opposition Leader Brad Wall agreed with the idea.

So, apparently, it was alright in 2005...But now it's not?

Now, I don't support nuclear power...If only because of the problem with what to do with nuclear waste. So, I wouldn't agree with either leader if they wanted to pursue nuclear power. But let's look at the most recent NDP energy proposals:

The NDP has committed themselves to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. There is no mention of nuclear power anywhere in the NDP energy platform. Yet, Brad Wall was gung-ho about nuclear development during his first time as Premier. Who could forget the public consultations which condemned nuclear power, yet were almost all but ignored by the SK Party?

Who could forget Wall's rush to convince Stephen Harper to build a replacement for the Chalk River isotope facility here in Saskatchewan?

So, yes, Lingenfelter mused about nuclear energy in the past...But Brad Wall agreed with him then, and is still pursuing it now.

Then we come to the nuclear waste site...Lingenfelter's quote on this is actually a bit misrepresented. In the speech Lingenfelter made, he suggests that Saskatchewan is acting hypocritically by mining a large percentage of uranium for export, but by calling it too risky to use at home.

Why, that sounds like the argument people use against asbestos mining.

Lingenfelter suggested that either we close the mines or we open ourselves up to using nuclear energy. While I disagree with the conclusion, the logic behind it is actually fairly sound. But again, Brad Wall is rewriting history on this subject.

After all, under his watch 3 Saskatchewan communities have more or less demanded the chance to build these nuclear storage facilities in order to create jobs in their communities. Wall has remained mostly 'mum' on the issue, and backtracked just enough to not step on too many toes over the subject. But, he didn't say whether his government would step up and create a law to prevent the construction of such a facility.

As such, Wall's waffling over the issue shows that he's not opposed to the idea either...And will likely move on it after it becomes politically palpable.

"Some, like former NDP deputy premier Dwain Lingenfelter, say Saskatchewan's wide open spaces make it ideal for every step of the cycle, including power generation and waste storage. While conventional reactors are widely seen as producing too much power for the province's needs, Lingenfelter argues Saskatchewan could become a power hub and supply energy to the rest of Canada and the United States."

Read that carefully.

Why?

Because the argument Lingenfelter uses there is the same one Brad Wall used when he proposed nuclear power for Saskatchewan shortly after being elected in 2007. He's used the idea that Saskatchewan has enough vast space that no one should worry about nuclear reactors in their backyard.

He's also used the argument that excess power can be provided to the USA and other provinces as a means of generating income for Saskatchewan.

So, once again...Why is it bad when Lingenfelter says it, but it is okay when Wall says it?

Like I said before, I oppose nuclear power. But, again as mentioned before, the NDP platform shows that a nuclear Saskatchewan isn't on the table under a NDP government. And even if Lingenfelter still wants to produce nuclear power as Premier, there's plenty of anti-nuclear proponents in his caucus and in the party that would never allow the party to pursue nuclear power.

The same can't be said for the Saskatchewan Party.

To use a Wall quote: "Who knows what opportunities lie ahead in this area for the province?" Premier Brad Wall said recently. "I believe we can lead in this area, certainly in research and development."

So, why can the Saskatchewan Party attack Lingenfelter over nuclear power when their own party is just as willing to take Saskatchewan down that road?

Now, there are many other problems with this so-called website being run by the Saskatchewan Party.

To examine just a few more, in briefer detail...

Let's look at their claim that the NDP raised taxes 17 times while in government and shut down 52 rural hospitals.

Jeez, that sounds awful doesn't it? Why in god's name would they have to do that...

Oh yeah...The massive ballooning deficit and near bankruptcy Saskatchewan teetered towards after the Devine Government. No where does the Saskatchewan Party website mention the state of the province's finances after the 1993 election. They neglect the fact that our province was near the breaking point, and the NDP had to scale back their vision for our province because of crippling levels of debt that tied their hands in regards to social spending.

Yes, hospitals were closed. Yes, taxes were raised. But anyone who's managed a budget or a household knows that when times get tough, you have to make tough decisions. You have to cut spending and you have to increase the amount of money coming back into the budget. Unfortunately, hospital closures were one thing that had to occur to achieve this.

Ask Roy Romanow, who I've had the pleasure of hearing lecture on health care, and he'll tell you that in 1993 he didn't want to, or expect to, close hospitals when he became Premier. He'll tell you it was the last thing he wanted to do, and one of the regrets he had during his time as Premier.

Yet the SK Party is making it sound like the NDP did these things for fun or sport; which simply isn't true...Much like all the claims on this so-called website.

Now, this post has already gotten pretty long...Making me wonder if I should even speak to the nature of attack ads in the first place. Perhaps I'll save that for another post, but I will say this:

It is a sad state of affairs when political discourse becomes the arena of they who scream loudest win. When it becomes not about the free flowing exchange of ideas, but about the destruction of opponents for pure ideological, egotistical, and personal benefit.

Politics is supposed to be the realm of the possible, where idealists come together to strive and create a better world than the one they inherited from the previous generation. It is not supposed to be a shouting match between two increasing angry sides that reject civil debate and reason in favour of blind ideological belief and malice.

We deserve to an adult conversation when it comes to how our country, and our province, are governed. We should not be talked down to as children; nor should we be flat out lied to by those who are seeking to lead us.

In the Westminster political discord, we award the title of Honourable to those who serve in our legislature. It's about time we demanded they live up to that title.

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