November 1st

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening…Borish Johnson managed to persuade the UK parliament to vote themselves out of a job and an election is underway in Britain. Voting on December 12th. While Borish begins with a huge lead in the polls and Jeremy Corbyn is being pummeled by his enemies within his own Labour Party, it will be a roller coaster ride. The ride will be made more interesting by Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit party, who wants a deal with Borish on condition that he tears up the deal done between the UK and the EU which parliament kind of voted in favour of. 200 years from now, when the Brexit negotiation celebrations continue, we will be asking “what was Borish thinking?”. Silly question – does he ever?

Donald Trump (a.k.a as the Kremlin Employee of the Month), fresh off his performance as Commander of Kill Team al-Baghdadi, now faces a public impeachment process in the House and on CNN. It will be great television and Twitter will make a fortune. Meanwhile, Ivanka and Jarred are quietly plotting a takeover of government while “The Yellow One” is distracted. Their plan includes installing Barron as Secretary of State, selling the Pentagon to the Israeli’s and offering Betsy de Vos up as a sacrifice to assuage the impeachment gods. Ivanka herself will be offering a new line of impeachment shoes. It’s no wonder that the Donald has moved his official residence from New York to Florida.

In Canada, the Wexit party is seeking to separate some Western Provinces from the rest of the country. (For my British readers, this is equivalent of seeking to separate Lancashire from the rest of the UK – not necessarily a bad thing, but then I am a Yorkshireman!). They are angry that they cant control the economy, the weather, plant growth and the NHL – I think that’s right. I must say, it is all very confusing. They want the world to buy Alberta oil and gas at a very high price so that we can all go back in time for tea.

Justin-time Trudeau has asked former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Anne McClelland to help him think about how to connect to Western Canada. She has suggested moving parliament from Ottawa to Lethbridge, gifting the Trans-Mountain Pipeline to Treaty 6 First Nations and selling the National Energy Board to CNLR might be a good start. She also thinks declaring Quebec a terrorist state would appease Jason Kenney, the Premier of Alberta-Wexit. Scrapping the Carbon Tax and replacing it with free money for anyone who can demonstrate Welsh ancestry is, apparently, now off the table.

A large energy company currently based in Alberta has decided to move to the USA. Encana, soon to be called Ovinitiv (just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it), cites access to capital and the fact that the CEO is American who lives in Denver and can’t spell Alberta as the basis for the move. They say there will be no job losses, but then Brexit was due to be done yesterday, climate change is “just a theory” and Big Foot is alive and well.

Halloween passed without much fuss. An elderly gentleman followed his grandchildren around with a shot glass in the hope that, while the kids got candy, he could get a top up of scotch. I must stop doing this. People will soon catch on that the kids aren’t even my own grandkids!

November 3rd

I am engaged on a year long set of explorations. One is to rediscover poetry – a fascinating exploration which I am really enjoying. Another is to continue to explore music which others tend to ignore. For example, last night’s Edmonton Symphony concert included two pieces not often performed – the Rachmaninoff 4th Piano Concerto and Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony (1905). Stunning. Simply stunning. A third exploration is to explore my self – understanding what makes me tick.

I am using a program of questions to do this – The Mind Journal. I chose this (and also a set of cards from Best Self) so that I didn’t have to ask myself the questions I need to explore, they are asked of me. All I had to do was to explore – this is just the same as a mountain climber – the mountain is “given”, you just have to work out how to climb it.

The question today was “what is your biggest fear – why and how does thinking about this fear make you feel?”. Good question.

My response is blindness is my biggest fear – losing my sight.

It seems unlikely that this will happen. I have regular check-ups and will, at some point around 3-5 years from now, need cataract surgery (pretty straightforward these days), but I dont have a genetic disposition to blindness (at least, according to 23&Me) and at 69 my sight is fine.

But it comes from the day that I was told my sight was bad and I needed glasses – I was 10 or 11. It was an awful moment. I have worn glasses ever since (and have no interest in contact lenses).

Why is this a big thing? I am a writer and the key to writing is reading – I read a lot. I am also a very visual person – movies, art, dance, opera, television, cooking (a very visual activity) – are all key to my life. Right now, as I write I am listening to music (Dohnányi Piano Quintets), writing and keeping an eye on second screen. Not being able to see would be a huge change for me, and one that I would find extremely challenging.

My other fear, I realized, was that I would have to become a full time carer. I had a long chat with friend and colleague whose father has dementia (I have several friends who have or have had parents with this condition) – it is so distressing. I am not good as a patient, but I am even less good as a nurse. I couldn’t stand day in and day out being on call, cleaning up after someone, not being recognized and being (basically) abused every day.

What I don’t particularly fear is death. “I am not afraid of death – I just don’t want to be there when it happens” – Woody Allen, who also said “I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I am bringing a change of underwear!”. (Woody is a naturally funny man. Saw him do stand-up in New York once – he came up with the line “I was in analysis. I was suicidal. As a matter of fact, I would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss!” and also “I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me”).

Such explorations, when you get to my age, are interesting. It is a good time to consider writing fiction!

November 4th

How easy it is for someone to be captured by a narrative and not be able to escape it. Another energy company has shuttered its doors and laid off its staff and a colleague blames Justin Trudeau. He may just as well blamed the bloke with a flat cap who took his whippet for a walk around Tyersall Park in Pudsey (nr. Leeds) yesterday afternoon.

Company decisions are based on a range of factors and market uncertainty is one, but so too are poor management decisions and really bad risk taking This company offered completion services for gas and conventional oil – .as drilling is declining, due to price and demand, demand for their services has fallen. They are a US owned company, though headquartered in Calgary. Around 90 people will lose their jobs.

The Trudeau argument has these elements to it:

He has said several times that oil and gas has a limited future – this upsets people, despite the fact that world-wide demand is falling and other forms of energy (hydro, thermal, wind, solar and hydrogen) are growing quickly and, given the advances in storage and battery technology, will accelerate. Trudeau is telling it as it is.

He has also introduced legislation – one putting into law a voluntary ban on tanker traffic which has been in place for 30 years and another cleaning up environmental review legislation which was a mess. It was this latter mess that led to court ordered delays in the construction of a pipeline which Trudeau then (a) bought; and (b) consulted on again; and (c) approved for a second time.

Trudeau also is said to have ignored the plight of Calgary, despite having poured twice as much money into the economy in 4 years as Stephen Harper did in 10.

The reality is somewhat different from the narrative. Alberta’s conventional oil production has been in decline since 2014 (-4.5 percent CAGR). Overall
production for oil (not including penates plus and condensate) fell from 590 Mbpd in 2014 to 490 Mbpd in 2018. However, the declining trend ceased in 2017 – 2.5 years into Trudeau’s term. Pentanes plus and condensate output has been on the rise (17.9 percent CAGR over the same period) reaching 351 Mbpd in 2018, adding 170 Mbpd since 2014 (CAPP 2018).

What this whole argument is about is finding someone to blame for the world changing in front of your eyes (see my post on The In-Between Time). The narrative could not possibly blame oil and gas companies, the way capital markets work, shifts in the economy, company management or the attractiveness of other markets. After all, doing so is what we do when retailers like Mothercare (UK) or Sears Canada collapse, but “oil and gas is different”. We get to blame someone in particular.

I get it. Calgary is hit badly by the change in the energy economies worldwide. But so are other energy economies. EP Energy in Houston declared bankruptcy last month with debts of $4.97 billion. Of the 21 Houston companies that have gotten delisting warnings from their various stock exchanges since the start of 2019, 12 of them were either oil and gas producers or direct service providers to such companies. The biggest filings for bankruptcy in Houston so far include the oilfield services giant Weatherford International and a slew of oil and gas producers such as Houston’s Sanchez Energy, Halcón Resources, Vanguard Natural Resources and Midland-based Legacy Reserves.

Stop looking for a scapegoat and try understand the economy and how business works in complex capital intense markets. Expect more pain, not less. We’re witnessing a massive shift in the nature of investing, in capital flows, in intangible asset growth and the way corporations manage debt.

November 18th

I have been away – exploring the future of K-12 education with colleagues from Australia, US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Ireland, UK and Europe as well as colleagues from the OECD and Education International. We met in Manchester (one of the wettest places I have ever spent time in).

Our conclusion: public education is under attack all over the world. Fighting for public education is a must if we want to build a civil society. Neoliberalism and new public management are seeking to erode public education in favour of private interests. Indeed, globally, education is a $6.5 trillion “business” with most of this expenditure being from the public purse.

We know all about this in Alberta. On Friday I spoke to the Public School Boards Association (you can see my presentation here). I called for collaborative action against: (a) significant and damaging budget cuts; (b) challenges to a professionally developed curriculum; (c) challenges to the professionalism and integrity of teachers; and (d) a return to practices which we know (from evidence based research) damage learning and impair the ability of teachers to teach.

What is clear is that teachers are experiencing more moral distress when faced with the kind of challenges we see here. Moral distress occurs when teachers know, as professionals just what needs to be done in a specific situation, but do not feel able to take the appropriate action because of the “rules” and “regulations” and “accountabilities” they work within and because of the lack of resources.

What is also clear to me is that the quality of education in Alberta – currently seen as one of the best education systems in the world – will deteriorate as class sizes grow, classroom complexity grows and moral distress grows. We can expect: (a) a decline in the performance of students on measures like PISA and Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs); (b) increased staff turnover – which impacts the wellbeing of students, teachers and school systems; (c) increased truancy and school absenteeism; and (d) an unwillingness of of teachers to step into leadership positions – who wants the pain?

It is time to fight back. We need coalitions of teachers, students, parents and trustees to work together to fight against the attack on public education in Alberta. We need the education research community to come together and identify four or five major focal points for research which would highlight impacts of the changes currently been made on student and teacher wellbeing, engagement, performance and moral distress. We need to have an impact. Politicians try get to get in front of parades that have traction – we need to have traction.

I am speaking to trainee teaching assistants tomorrow at Mount Royal University in Calgary. I will share the exact same presentation I have to trustees. The intent: sharing an analysis that should help mobilize action.

While here in Alberta we know we have economic challenges – unemployment remains high, inflation is up, house prices are falling, bankruptcies are increasing, oil and gas is suffering – it is important to see this in a bigger context.

We are at the edge of a major global slowdown. The IMF calls the global economic situation “precarious” and many economists see a long lasting global recession as imminent. Trade wars do not help, especially when the US and China are “dancing” to different tunes with different dance steps. The situation will get worse before it gets better and Canada is vulnerable, since we are a trade dependent nation.

Alberta is especially vulnerable because, while we have been diversifying the economy for the last thirty years (it takes time) and have grown a petrochemical, forestry, value added agriculture and technology sector as well as a strong alternative energy sector, key parts of the economy still rely heavily on oil and gas.

Our situation is not helped by a government that still thinks trickle-down economics – giving a big tax break to already profitable corporations – is a strategy for economic recovery and lowering unemployment. It is not, as a range of focused economic studies (including one from the IMF) have demonstrated. Corporations, given tax breaks, pay executives more, buy-back shares and invest in technologies aimed at lowering employment while increasing profit.

Investors are also becoming much more conscious of environmental impacts and ethical issues – a large bank has pulled out of oil sands investments for these reasons and some large energy companies, who are transitioning to green energies, have also left Alberta.

Rather than trying to get back to the past, which is Alberta’s current strategy, we need to embrace a different future. One in which, while oil and gas still has a place, it is not the primary focus and not a source of government operating revenues. A focus on emerging sectors, a sales tax, tax incentives for investments in a range of industries we want to grow, a tax on carbon are all key to our future. The resistance to these measures signals an unwillingness to engage in a real conversation about the future.

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening..

A new book on how dysfunctional Donald Trump’s white house is will appear this week. It is written by “anonymous”, so speculation is rife as to who he or she is. They clearly have access to all sorts of resources within the white house and know what is going on really well. My money is on Ivanka. She must have realized by now that her dad is a bit of  fruitcake. She is also known to have given up on designing handbags and shoes. I suspect, with the aid of her husband and Kellyanne Conway, they have crafted a masterpiece.

Meanwhile, The Donald is the subject of impeachment hearings in the house. So far they show, as we all know, that he is deceitful and stupid person. Meanwhile, Trump made an unscheduled visit to the Walter Reed hospital. I assume he was having his bone-spurs checked out in case he needs them as an excuse. I also assume that the mental health test he did last year was repeated with the same result: he’s bonkers.

In Britain, Borish Johnson is running a wild and scary election campaign matched only by the vagueness of his opponent, Jeremy Corbyn. With the Liberal Party promising to cancel Brexit and Jeremy promising whatever works today, Borish should have a clear run at a majority. Yet it seems he is managing to make this less likely every day. The betting when I left the UK on Thursday was that he might win a small majority of six or seven – not enough to provide comfort to the Brexiteers. I suspect the election result, due December 13th (ish) will provide no clarity on strategy, direction or the time-table for exit.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justintime Trudeau will announce his cabinet (more like a chest of drawers) this week and speculation abounds. Will he invite a Senator to join cabinet to represent the West? If so who? Thomas Chabot is a solid defender for the Ottawa Senators hockey team and would fit right in. My money is on a significant role for Chrystia Freeland. She is from Peace River in Alberta. A former Rhodes scholar and an expert on Russian history and literature, she is one smart lady. She could teach the Western Premiers a thing or two and by goodness, someone does need to teach them a thing or two.

Sri Lanka, which I visited and fell in love with, has a new President – Gotabaya Rajapaksa or “Gotcha!” (Gotabaya) to his friends. He is a retired military officer and has promised to put security and peace at the top of his “to do” list, along with rooting out corruption. His brother Mahinda was also President for a time. Best of luck to him. I hope he can improve the Jackfruit Curry at the Galle Face Hotel – that would be my first priority.

A new series of The Crown started this week-end on Netflix. Olivia Coleman plays HRM Elizabeth with the series beginning in 1964 with the election of Harold Wilson, who I knew and worked for as a young student (writing parts of speeches). While some have criticized Olivia for looking a little dowdy, especially when contrasted with Helena Bonham-Carter, who plays HRH Princess Margaret, I thought Olivia did a good job in the first three episodes. The “new” Prince Phillip – Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully in GoT) – is also pretty solid. Lots to work with, including the pernicious 4th man in the Cambridge spy ring, Sir Anthony Blunt. Seems to me the humour is getting better too.

Looking forward to next week’s impeachment episodes. I am hoping that Kellyanne Conway’s husband does a turn along with Trevor Noah – would be more entertaining than some of those from last week.

20th November

Let’s take a quick stroll around the world and see what is happening..

Prince Andrew, not the brightest of the Royals, has announced that he is stepping back from public duties while he burns his diaries, deletes emails and tries to distance himself from his past deviant behaviour involving underage girls and Jeffrey Epstein. The Queen, who is 756, approves of this move as does Prince Charles, who is just 105. Prince Andrew gave an excruciating TV interview demonstrating just how thick he is and that is staff, who suggested he do the interview, know it.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is furious that people are going around telling the truth. Today, the US Ambassador the US Hon Gordon Sondland admitted that Trump held back funds approved by Congress for Ukraine until Ukraine agreed to investigate the Bidens. This is not very exciting. We have known for 30 years that Trump is a mafia-like goon who bullies and cajoles to get his way and that his skin is so thin you can see through it to his socks. Nothing good will come of this, except making it more likely that Trump will be re-elected next November (sadly).

In Alberta, Jason Kenny has fired everyone who doesn’t like him – teachers, Election Commissioners and others – either directly or indirectly. In a move that reeks of corruption, according to a University of Calgary Political Scientist, he is taking on ghosts, jackalls and good people all at the same time. When the former Premier, Rachel Notley called him and his government out on their lies and deceits, she was asked to leave the chamber.

Pierre Trudeau has named his new cabinet. Chyrstia Freeland is now Deputy Prime Minister. From Peace River, she is one smart lady and her promotion is well deserved. He has also appointed Ms. Mona Fortier as Minister of State for Middle Class Prosperity – I have already written to her to provide bank transfer information so that she can send me my share of Canada’s wealth.

In Britain the debate between Borish Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was about as exciting as watching sliced cheese dry up when left on the counter for a couple of hours. Both spouted nonsense and both made it more difficult for either of them to win a majority. Britain is headed for the dog house (a.k.a. House of Commons) on December 12th through an election which will resolve nothing.

Things look worse each day in Hong Kong – so bad in fact, that I have re-routed a journey from Dubai to New Zealand to avoid it. I can see no end to the challenges to China and to the government in Hong Kong – the demands of the protestors cannot be met without China accepting a greater degree of democracy, which is just not part of its DNA.

I seem to have caught some kind of bug which affects both my head and my bowels, but in different ways. There’s nothing worse than wondering if your headache is caused by Trump’s latest tweets or your diarrhea by thinking about Prince Andrew’s behaviour. I am taking tablets for both, which make me think of Taylor Swift (or is that the cannabis)?

21st November

For the last two years I have been working with colleagues in New Zealand – helping them to think differently about skills and education. I have been connected to and have worked with the New Zealand government and have been in New Zealand several times.

New Zealand is a country about the same size as Alberta in terms of population (4.8 million in New Zealand and 4.3 million in Alberta), but its political focus is very different. Budget 2019 in New Zealand is referred to as the wellbeing budget – the Prime Minister made clear that the fundamental purpose of government was to enable and support the wellbeing of all New Zealander’s. Budget 2019 released new funds for mental health, support for tackling family violence and seeks to eliminate child poverty. Rather than seeing GDP growth and the “usual” economic indicators, New Zealand is focused on wellbeing metrics – psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and living standards. These will be used to support policy-making and track the effectiveness of policies over time.

In contrast, Alberta is dehumanizing Alberta and harming wellbeing – closing sporting organizations and cultural institutions, denuding education at all levels, actively seeking to increase poverty and unemployment through dramatic cuts in public funding and employment, favouring profitable business through $4.5 billion in tax cuts at the expense of entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations. Indeed, the pursuit of austerity and the elimination of debt take precedence over the wellbeing of Albertan’s.

One smart thing we could all do is to compare and contrast the performance of New Zealand versus Alberta on the same wellbeing and economic indicators. It would make clear what we could be doing versus what we are in fact doing.

29th November

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening.                  

Rumours abound the Her Majesty the Queen, at her 95th birthday in 2021, will ask the Prince of Wales to act as Prince Regent – effectively taking over the monarchy, even though Elizabeth will remain in the background. Some of us are old enough to have studied the last time this happened in 1811-1820, when Prince George the Prince of Wales took over from his father, who was suffering from a mental illness (captured in Alan Bennet’s wonderful play / film The Madness of King George). This didn’t work out too well, but Charles is a very different kettle of kale from George. George was basically a dandy seeking attention (a kind of cross between Elton John, Richard Branson and Johnny Depp), captured well in Black Adder the Third. Charles has matured into a slightly eccentric organic farmer with a fascination for homeopathy. Harmless enough, Charles will make a good Prince Regent.

Speaking of people acting as a King, Premier Jason Kenney in Alberta is behaving as if he is immune from public opinion and not required to act in accordance with his promises made during the election, held just eight months ago.  He promised not to cut education or health budgets, but has cut them; he said nothing about hijacking public sector pensions, but has done so; he said nothing about changing election finance rules to help him win the next election and to “quiet” the now criminal investigation into the way he won his leadership of his political party (over $200,000 of fines issued so far and an RCMP investigation). His new imperial behaviour borders on the dictatorships common in several eastern European states. As puppet master in chief, he is ensuring his Ministers continue to wander around Alberta telling porkies about the Provincial budget and the coming economic renaissance. He is as disastrous for Alberta as Trump is for the US and is insightful as a bucket of duck fat.

The US courts reminded Donald Trump that he is “not a king” and not above the law. This came when the courts indicated that the President could not prevent those in his employ from being required to testify when a subpoena is issued by Congress. Trump made a quick visit to Afghanistan – his staff got him to go by telling him they were off to Texas. He thanked the troops, told the Taliban that he was open to a good deal, shook hands with several people, took selfies and flew home. Soon he will fly into the UK for a NATO summit. Borish Johnson has already asked him not to say anything about the UK election or how Borish is a “suitable”, “great guy” for PM. The betting is 75:1 that he will say something, and it won’t help. Melania went with him to Talibanland and will go shopping in London for shoes.

Borish Johnson is on track to win a large majority – up to 68 seats – in the UK parliamentary election to be held on December 12th, unless something dramatic happens between now and then. Harold Wilson famously noted that “a week is a long time in politics” and Harold McMillan, when asked what worried him most as PM, replied simply “events, dear boy, events”. A lot of events can occur in the next thirteen days and its close to two full weeks. Borish skipped a debate on climate change, refuses to answer questions about his children and relationships, continues to recite a simple mantra “let’s get Brexit done!” and continues to make promises and commitments which cannot possibly be delivered. He is matched by the promises made by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party who has produced the most radical labour manifesto since Michael Foot’s in 1983. The surprising thing about this election is the way in which Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democratic party – which is campaigning to stop Brexit and stay in the EU – has imploded staying basically “flat” at 14% of the polled voters (Borish is at 44% and Labour at 32%). The Brexit party is polling at 2%, thanks largely to the work of Nigel Farage, who is to British politics what a scorpion is to a dinner party in Spain.

Today is Black Friday – a day we should all be encouraged not to shop. In the US and Canada some $87 billion is expected to spent today and over the weekend in a frenzy of shopping for things many do not need. I was thinking of buying some leeks and parsnips to make a nice soup but have decided use things we have in the house and to make sweet potato fries instead.

30th November

There are few moments in a lifetime when clarity arrives on waking. I awoke today knowing beyond doubt that Alberta is in peril and that the time for polite conversation is over. Now is the time to confront, demand, challenge and oppose. There is a clear and present danger to our democracy and way of life coming from a government which, though elected in a democratic process, is behaving as a dictatorship and acting on matters for which it has no mandate, no evidence-base for decision making and using untruths to justify its actions. Worse, it is directly going against its own commitments made to the electorate during an election held just eight months ago. It is also refusing to engage in serious debate or conversation, belittles and demeans those who oppose it and engages its base in promoting hostility. Time for our union leaders to act in decisive ways, our thought leaders to collaborate in developing thoughtful analysis and alternative policies and time to support any and all who actively oppose the deceitful dismantling of our democracy.