Lessons in Leadership from a Red Tory

Are there any Red Tories left in Alberta?

If so they should consider what Kim Campbell has to say about leadership and apply her comments to the men vying for the leadership of the UCP.

Kim Campbell was Canada’s 19th Prime Minister.  A few short months after being sworn in as PM she had “political retirement thrust upon [her] by the Canadian electorate.”*

Campbell picked herself up, dusted herself off and went to work in academia and with organizations working to strengthen democracy and improve the role of women in leadership.

She reappeared on Alberta’s radar screen in 2014 when she was appointed the founding principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) at the University of Alberta.


Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell

Campbell describes herself as a Red Tory without a party, but her comments about leadership are helpful to anyone who wants to lead a political party regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.

The “dot” theory

Campbell says a leader is like a dot inside a small circle.  They can’t go beyond the circle without risking alienating their followers.

The circle surrounding UCP leaders is much smaller than the circle surrounding the NDP, the Liberals and the Alberta Party because, with the exception of Doug Schweitzer, UCP leadership candidates prefer to stay silent on social issues like minority rights and LGBTQ issues.  The UCP circle will stay small unless the men hoping to lead the party (and the province) have the courage to push the boundaries.

Case in point:  the UCP was told it could not march in Calgary’s Pride Parade because it lacked a clear policy supporting gender and sexual diversity.

The UCP Interim Joint Board shifted into damage control mode and passed a resolution affirming the UCP’s support for the LBGTQ community.

This was a bizarre move given the Interim Board’s limited mandate (it appears to have the power to make administrative decisions, not policy ones) and the fact the resolution was passed “on behalf of just the board” (ie the 12 individuals, whoever they are, who sit on the board) not on behalf of the party.

UCP leadership candidates have not commented on the Interim Board’s resolution.  There is no indication that any of them, except perhaps Schweitzer, would support the resolution at the UCP policy convention next spring (assuming it gets that far).

If the UCP leadership candidates want to show support for Calgary Pride all they have to do is show up on the sidewalk on parade day and wave a rainbow flag.

It’s not rocket science…but it requires leadership to demonstrate empathy and step outside the circle.

Leadership qualities

Can leaders be taught how to lead?

Kim Campbell says yes.  The Peter Lougheed Leadership College teaches students the importance of diversity in developing good leadership skills by assigning them to working groups that are “designed for conflict”.  This exposes them to people not like themselves and they become better leaders as a result.

A “designed for conflict” learning opportunity recently fell into the lap of UCP leadership candidate, Jason Kenney.  Kenney is well known for his stance on outing students who join gay-straight alliances in schools and his reluctance to discuss “social issues” in general.

k. d. lang offered Kenney a chance to expand his understanding of LBGTQ issues by promising him tickets to her concert if he’d sit down and talk with her. He refused. He was too busy.

The fact that this self-styled “servant leader” turned down an opportunity to learn from one of Alberta’s most famous LBGTQ advocates speaks volumes about Kenney’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof) and his ability to represent all Albertans if he becomes premier some day.

The fact that none of the other UCP leadership candidates volunteered to take Kenney’s place and share what they would have learned from k. d. lang with their caucus and supporters is even more mind boggling.

One final lesson

Campbell says it’s critical for politicians to learn to respect others, to acknowledge differences and find common ground.

She asks: how will you ever change the world if you refuse to go outside your envelop?

One hopes Red Tories are asking their UCP leadership candidates this question…and are prepared to walk away if they don’t get a satisfactory answer.

*This quote and other comments attributed to Kim Campbell come from her key note address at the ATA Summit Aug 2017

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A Pop Quiz

Ms Soapbox is shocked.

She just returned from the Alberta Teachers’ Association Summer Summit on Public Education and discovered that she knows far less about education and teaching in Alberta than she thought she did.


What education looks like today

So pop quiz!  (Stop grumbling, many politicians are pontificating about the state of education in Alberta with far less information than you have).

Question 1:  The Alberta Teacher’s Association is:

  1. A partisan group pushing the NDP’s social engineering agenda
  2. A bunch of teachers flogging the latest fads in education
  3. Nothing more than a teachers’ union
  4. A nonpartisan group that encourages its members as individuals to be politically engaged

Answer: 4.  The ATA was created by the Teaching Profession Act after William (Bible Bill) Aberhart came to power with the Social Credit party.  Every public and Catholic school teacher belongs to the ATA.  Its mandate is to advance education, improve the profession and increase public interest.  It has performed this duty under the SoCreds, the PCs and now the NDP.  Its power to bargain on behalf of teachers comes from the Public Education Bargaining Act.   

Question 2:  The ATA allocates what percentage of its budget to union activities?

  1. 90%
  2. 50%
  3. 30%
  4. 10%

Answer: Surprise!  The ATA allocates 10% of its budget to union activities.  Ninety percent of the budget is used to advance the profession, improve recruitment into education, improve teachers’ competence, advise and discipline teachers, assess competence, increase public awareness, and work with national and international organizations with similar objectives.     

Question 3:  Who is the teacher’s boss?

  1. The principal
  2. The School Board (Trustees)
  3. The School Superintendent
  4. The ATA
  5. None of the above

Answer: This is a trick question.  Teachers work in a collegial setting, they don’t have ONE boss.  It’s the principal’s job to ensure a teacher is meeting professional standards, but complaints brought by parents or others about a teacher’s competence go to the Superintendent and may result in a Competence Review; complaints about a teacher’s conduct go to the ATA and may result in a Conduct Review before a discipline committee. 

Question 4: The ATA always provides representation to teachers undergoing a competence or conduct review:  

  1. True
  2. False

Answer:  False.  The ATA provides representation for teachers in a Competence Review (eg the teacher consistently fails to show up for class, doesn’t teach to the curriculum) but never provides representation for teachers in a Conduct Review (eg the teacher has an inappropriate relationship with a student, gets caught drunk driving or pole dancing at the local pub).  The ATA’s advice in a Conduct Review is: tell the truth and consider getting a good lawyer.   

Question 5: The biggest challenge facing students in Alberta is: 

  1. Social media (distraction, anxiety, depression, digital addiction)
  2. Overcrowded classrooms
  3. Lack of preparation for the jobs of the future
  4. Crabby teachers
  5. Helicopter parents

Answer:  The ATA has identified 1, 2, and 3 as some of the many challenges that must be addressed if Alberta’s students are to succeed in the 21st century. Crabby teachers and helicopter parents are irritating but not as serious as the first three.

Bonus question:  The Curriculum Redesign is a secret activity that will:

  1. Undermine parental authority
  2. Be riddled with politically correct themes like colonialism, oppression, and climate change
  3. Prevent schools from teaching military history including Canada’s participation in two world wars
  4. None of the above

Answer:  4.  The government typically undergoes a curriculum review once every seven years, however past conservative governments slowed down the review cycle to avoid costs.  Programs such as fine arts have not been updated for 30 years.   

The review process creates a conceptual outline that becomes more concrete through the efforts of a working group made up of teachers, specialists including university profs and others.  The process includes public consultation and the final result should not be a surprise to anyone. 

The politicization of the process by (let’s be blunt) opportunistic politicians creates distrust in the very people who are in the best position to educate our children.  Hardly an appropriate outcome for someone professing to have the best interests of the students at heart.    

How did you do?

This isn’t about getting 75% of the questions right and earning a gold star.  It’s about deepening your understanding of education and educators in Alberta.

Talk to a teacher, call a member of the ATA.  You’ll find it far more enlightening than the rants of a politician who hasn’t set foot in a classroom since the collapse of the USSR.


My thanks to Jonathan Teghtmeyer and the ATA for inviting a group of MLAs, school trustees, and others including Ms Soapbox to the Summer Summit.  We learned a lot!

NOTE:  The reference to social studies as an outdated program has been corrected.  Thank you to the readers who caught the error.  

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What a Week

The week started out strange and got a whole lot stranger.

Derek Fildebrandt’s Bev Oda moment

This week we learned that Derek Fildebrandt Airbnb-ed his taxpayer subsidized apartment, pocketed the cash and claimed the full rental expense in his housing allowance.

Most people would call it double dipping but Mr Fildebrandt said it was a Gen X thing (who wouldn’t Airbnb their apartment when they weren’t using it?).  A few days later he reluctantly apologized and took a leave of absence from the UCP leadership race.  Given that he has not yet endorsed a candidate we’re left to speculate who told Mr Fildebrandt to sit this one out.

We’ll miss Mr Fildebrandt.  He would have spiced up Jason Kenney’s no-policies leadership campaign by lobbing in some libertarian ideas.

Take Mr Fildebrandt’s Nanny State Policy as an example.  It calls for the repeal of laws protecting self-sufficient adults from themselves.  If self-sufficient adults want to drink alcohol in public places, smoke flavoured cigarettes and tear around the countryside on ATVs without helmets, let them.

What Mr Fildebrandt failed to explain was who decides whether an adult is “self-sufficient”.  Non-self-sufficient adults often think they’re self-sufficient (eg seniors who refuse to accept they can no longer drive).

If non-self-sufficient adults can’t be trusted to self identify would the government make the call?  Would it force people to take IQ tests and emotional quotient tests to measure self-sufficiency?  What happens when a self-sufficient person  injures himself?  Should the government deny him healthcare because he should have known better? We’ll never know because Mr Fildebrandt’s libertarian policies have been grounded along with Mr Fildebrandt.

Jason Kenney thinks he’s Rachel Notley 

Jason Kenney was quick off the mark to thank Brad Wall when Wall announced he was retiring from political life.

Kenney tweeted:  “On behalf of Albertans, thank-you @PremierBradWall for fighting for us when we’ve been abandoned by our own provincial government.”

What arrogance!

Our government has not “abandoned” its people and the only person who can speak for Albertans is the premier, Rachel Notley.  Jason Kenney is an unelected politician who speaks for no one but himself.

If Mr Kenney wants to share his admiration for Mr Wall he can start by explaining why it’s okay for Mr Wall to increase the provincial sales tax to 6%, rack up public debt to the tune of $22.6 billion and tax Saskatchewaniens anywhere from 10.75% to 14.75% which is higher than Alberta’s lowest tax rate and only .25% less than Alberta’s top rate.

While he’s at it, Mr Kenney can also explain how Mr Wall was “fighting for Albertans” when he offered incentives to Alberta corporations to entice them to relocate to Saskatchewan.

Donald Trump’s Dr Strangelove moment

It’s funny how we forget the Earth is round and the shortest route for a nuclear-tipped missile launched by North Korea at the US is through Canadian air space.


Dr Strangelove

This has been the case since the Cold War.  In 1957 Canada and the US created NORAD to protect themselves from the Soviet Union.  Since then successive Canadian governments worked with or pulled back from American efforts to beef up American missile defence systems.

Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric reminds us that Canada can’t pick up its borders and move to Australia.  We need to pay attention to events unfolding in the US or face the prospect of “incineration without representation”, a phrase coined by Canadian politicians to garner support for the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

What should we do?  Who knows, but relying on MAD when Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un are threatening to lob nukes at each other won’t get us very far.


There’s a lesson in all this madness.  Weed out your loonie politicians before they gain power and mess it up for everyone else.





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Jason Kenney: Servant Leader…what?

Now isn’t this a conundrum…

The impetus to unite the Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative parties was the assumption that only a united conservative party could beat the NDP in the next election.

The two parties united and now the polls are showing that any one of the UCP leadership candidates, Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Doug Schweitzer or the I’m-still-thinking-about-it candidate Derek Fildebrandt, could lead the UCP to victory.

So how will the UCP members decide which one to pick.  They can’t compare the candidates’ policies because one of the candidates, Jason Kenney, refuses to provide specific policy commitments and budget numbers (he says to do so now “lacks credibility”).

He intends to differentiate himself from the others by his leadership style.  He calls it “servant leadership, a leadership characterized more by humility than arrogance.”  He is careful to point out that servant leadership isn’t just “a foil to avoid talking and expressing my own views.”


Jason Kenney, Servant Leader Candidate

Okey dokey, let’s see how Mr Kenney stacks up as a servant leader.

Servant leadership

Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leadership” in 1970.

Greenleaf developed the concept after reading Herman Hesse’s book Journey to the East in which a group of travellers fail to reach their destination when their servant, Leo, disappears.  Years later they discover Leo wasn’t a servant but a servant leader without whom the group could not function.

Greenleaf’s concept is based on the theory of “contemporary prophesy”.  He believes “prophetic voices of great clarity…and insight are speaking cogently all of the time” pointing the way to a better life.  “Seekers” respond to such prophets and make them their leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants.

Greenleaf gives examples of a good servant leader:

  • A servant leader is not preoccupied with criticism; Greenleaf says it’s sterile and harmful to the servant leadership movement. Kenney doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize Notley’s policies arguing she’s destroyed the Alberta Advantage by raising taxes and creating policies that align with Trudeau’s climate change policies.    
  • When faced with a problem, a servant leader doesn’t pin the blame on someone else, he listens carefully to find a solution. Oil commodity prices are hovering at $50 a barrel.  Oil majors like Shell anticipate “lower forever” oil prices.  Kenney blames Notley for making Alberta’s economy worse but never explains how he will make it better in a “lower forever” world. 
  • A servant leader always accepts and empathizes, he never rejects. Four words:  gay straight alliances and niqab. 
  • A servant leader must sense the unknowable, foresee the unforeseeable, and bridge the information gap with intuition and foresight. It’s an ethical failure if he fails to take steps today to address problems that are foreseeable in the future.  Kenney says climate change has been happening since the dawn of time.  He promises to dismantle everything the NDP has done to mitigate climate change and offers nothing as an alternative.               
  • A servant leader is self aware and composed in times of stress. Kenney called a university professor a communist because the professor asked a question Kenney didn’t want to answer at a town hall meeting.           
  • Servant leaders provide conceptual leadership. Kenney has shown no Big Picture thinking and attacks anyone who suggests it’s time to shift from a resource based economy to value-added and diversified economy. 

Greenleaf says there’s no accurate way to distinguish a true servant leader from a false one, and suggests we look to examples from literature—Mac Murphy and the nurse in One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest—to help us identify leaders who build people up and make them stronger versus leaders who are “strong, able, dedicated, dominating, authority-ridden, manipulative, exploitative” who ultimately diminish and destroy others.


Does Jason Kenney really believe this stuff or is it a smoke screen to avoid divulging his own views?

Kenney quotes William F Buckley in support of his refusal to set out policies.  Buckley said he’d rather be governed by the first 4000 people listed in the phone book than by the faculty of Harvard.  This is a comment about government by common folk not experts (and a tad ironic coming from Kenney, an “expert” politician).

The more relevant quote comes from Ronald Reagan:  “Trust, but verify”.

One can only hope that UCP members follow Reagan’s advice.

They may “trust” Kenney will be a good servant leader, but they should “verify” that his views reflect their own before they elect him the leader of the UCP.

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UCP Merger…a message from the this-could-get-ugly department

Jason Kenney is busy ticking off the boxes in his quest to be the next premier of Alberta:

  • Become the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party—check.
  • Maneuver Brian Jean (WR) into accepting a merger proposal—check.
  • Merge the PC and WR parties into the United Conservative Party—check.
  • Become the leader of the UCP—ongoing.
  • Lead the UCP to victory in 2019—eureka!

The last two boxes might get a little messy.

The détente between Jason Kenney and Brian Jean shattered the minute the PCs and WR agreed to merge into the UCP.  From here on it’s every man for himself.

We can expect Kenney and Jean to roar out of the starting gate like King Kong and Godzilla, beating their chests trying to convince conservative Albertans that the other guy doesn’t have what it takes to beat Rachel Notley (Fay Wray?) in the next election.


Godzilla versus King Kong

They’re both fiscal and social conservatives; neither of them is brimming with charisma so how do they intend to differentiate themselves from the competition?

Fiscal conservatism

The most obvious point of differentiation for a fiscal conservative isn’t his promise to cut public services (everyone says they’re going to “cut waste”) but whether he’s honest about how deep he’s going to cut in order to eliminate the deficit.

Both Jean and Kenney say they’ll balance the budget without cutting the front line (Kenney goes so far as to urge nurses and union workers to join his party).  This is nonsense.  The only way to balance the budget without cutting the front line is to raise taxes.  That’s never going to happen.

Both candidates know it and are being equally dishonest with the electorate by refusing to admit they’ll cut health, education, and social services as much as it takes to eliminate the deficit.

Social conservatism

There are many points of differentiation among conservatives on social issues.

Some social conservatives blast their views from the roof tops.  Brian Trost is well known for his discomfort with “the gay thing” and Lisa Raitt says her personal views on abortion won’t impact the status quo.  Others hide their beliefs by pretending social issues are irrelevant—governing is all about the economy, right?

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney fall into the latter category;  for example, they’re consistently “otherwise engaged” when Pride parades are scheduled, however Jean has shown a willingness to be a bit more “progressive” when it comes to “the gay thing” and children.  Jean made it clear he doesn’t support Kenney’s position that schools should “out” students to their parents if they join gay-straight alliances.

Jean appears to trust the electorate enough to reveal the extent of his social conservatism, Kenney on the other hand, continues to duck social issues, content to let his minions speak for him.

And that’s why the King Kong vs Godzilla leadership battle is going to get messy.

The existential battle for Alberta  

Kenney and Jean pitched the merger as the first step in an epic battle to wrestle Alberta away from the socialists and give it back to hard working ordinary folk who’ve been victimized and ignored, over-taxed at home and under-represented in Ottawa.  They positioned the UCP merger plan as the only way to reclaim the Alberta Advantage and reinstall Alberta to its rightful place in the firmament…and yet 45 to 50% of card carrying conservatives didn’t bother to vote in the referendum.  They stayed home.

If the survival-of-the-province-depends-on-you message wasn’t strong enough to mobilize almost half of the card carrying conservatives to vote for the merger, what’s it going to take for the UCP to get the vote out in 2019?

Jean and Kenney are keenly aware that Albertans strongly supported the federal Conservatives in the last election.  They’re also aware that conservative politicians like Kellie Leitch (Canadian values test) and Brian Trost (that gay thing) built up significant support using wedge politics.

We already know how far Jason Kenney (niqab ban) will go in search of votes.  If Brian Jean follows Kenney down this squalid path we expect the UCP leadership race and the runup to the next election to be two long years of dog whistle politics.

So, here’s the plan, while King Kong and Godzilla are busy duking it out over there, let’s get behind our favourite progressive politician and prepare to take on whoever crawls out from the rubble to battle for Alberta in 2019.

(Hello Fay Wray!)

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The Communists are Coming!

Jason Kenney says he has not heard a “single voice of opposition” to the unification of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties except for “a communist professor from the University of Lethbridge”.

Wait, what? 

Public political discourse

The philosopher Jason Stanley says the most important political ideals in a liberal democracy are liberty, freedom and the norms governing political speech.


Mr Kenney

Political speech is flying around all over the place; in town hall meeting, in the speeches, platforms and statements made by candidates and their campaigns, in the Legislature where our representatives express their views on policy and proposed legislation, and in the media, both mainstream and social media.

Political speech should be reasonable and rational.

The last thing anybody needs, according to James Maddison, is political speech which divides mankind into parties, inflames them with mutual animosity and causes them to oppress each other rather than co-operate for their common good.

Sage advice.

Sadly, we live in a flawed democracy; often political speech is biased…but red-baiting is beyond the pale.

Kenney sees a Commie

In an interview about the upswing in Wildrose memberships and what this means for the unification of the PC and Wildrose parties, Jason Kenney said that in more than 20 townhall meetings, “I have not heard a single voice of opposition to the agreement, save a communist professor at the University of Lethbridge.”

Dr Jay Gamble, a University of Lethbridge professor, has been identified as the “communist professor” Kenney was referring to.

Mr Kenney’s comment is odious for many reasons including the following:

  • The implication that most Alberta conservatives support unification is questionable. A sitting PC MLA, Richard Starke, has expressed his concerns about unification and at least three Wildrose constituency associations are discussing breaking from the United Conservative Party if the merger goes ahead.
  • Dr Gamble did not speak up at the townhall to oppose unification, he asked a three-part question about
    • policy—why does Kenney believe schools should out LBGTQ students
    • strategy—where will Kenney run for a seat (in other words which PC or WR MLA does he expect to step aside)
    • integrity—where is the evidence to support the contention that conservative voices in Alberta’s post secondary education system have been silenced
  • Dr Gamble is not in fact a Communist. (He has however changed his Twitter handle to Jay Guevara @DrJayDrNo and his Twitter icon now sports a dashing Che beret).

The Red Scare

Dr Gamble asked a legitimate question which would not have raised an eyebrow under ordinary circumstances, but Mr Kenney reacted as if he just met a card-carrying Commie.

Dr Gamble took Mr Kenney’s attack on his character and reputation in stride, however Albertans should not let Mr Kenney get away with this kind of anti-democratic behaviour.

Mr Kenney is an experienced politician.  He has held many key federal portfolios including Immigration and National Defence.  He’s represented Canada around the world.   He knows what Communism looks like.

In 2010, he commemorated Ukraine’s historic election by quoting Stephen Harper’s comment that Canada stands with Ukraine and other “captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe” which were not “free people, living in free nations” and which were “grateful to the strong western leaders who stood firm against the Communists and their apologists.”

In 2010, Mr Kenney, a federal minister, described Canadians as free people led by strong leaders who stood against Communists.

In 2017, Mr Kenney, a candidate for the premier’s office, violated the norms of political speech by calling a university professor a communist because he didn’t like the questions the professor had asked him in a public political meeting.

It took less than seven years for Canadians who question conservative politicians to go from being “snowflakes” to “communists”.

Joseph McCarthy would be proud.

Source: How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley pp 80, 94

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This was going to be a Ms-Soapbox-is-stampeding-see-you-next-week-blog…then she remembered something.

Ms Soapbox’s sister and brother-in-law popped into town just in time for the Calgary Stampede.  We did the fair grounds, the Dog Bowl, the Clydesdales and the llamas, we ate raindrop cake and teriyaki perogies and ducked into the casino to escape the heat.

The highlight of our day was the Stampede Grandstand Show; a tribute to Canada’s 150th birthday combined with a simple message, our future is better together.

As Ms Soapbox watched the hoop dancers, the Inuit throat singers, and the acrobats, singers and dancers she wondered whether Canadians would be able to carry the spirit of unity unfolding on stage into their everyday lives.

Then the stage darkened.

A strong voice sang the first few words of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. 

“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord…”    

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen was a thoughtful, inquisitive, and unassuming artist.  Hallelujah is a complex, confusing and hauntingly beautiful song.

No one really knows what it means but Alan Light provides this thoughtful interpretation:

“Like our forefathers, and the Bible heroes who formed the foundation of Western ethics and principles, we will be hurt, tested, and challenged. Love will break our hearts, music will offer solace that we may or may not hear, we will be faced with joy and with pain. But Cohen is telling us, without resorting to sentimentality, not to surrender to despair or nihilism.  Critics may have fixated on the gloom and doom of his lyrics, but this is his offering of hope and perseverance in the face of a cruel world. Holy or broken, there is still hallelujah”.*

Can Canadians achieve a future that is better together?

If we see beyond despair, if we offer hope and persevere, we will get there.


*excerpt from The Holy or the Broken http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/exclusive-book-excerpt-leonard-cohen-writes-hallelujah-in-the-holy-or-the-broken-20121203

Posted in Culture, Politics and Government, Vacation | Tagged , | 33 Comments