Public Values

Profiles of public interest advocates from Alberta

Conference brought activists together to think about action in critical times.

Scenes from the Public Interest Alberta conferenceby Ish Theilheimer, with files from Samantha Bayard

EDMONTON, AB, April 5, 2009, a special report from — Public Interest Alberta's 3rd Annual Advocacy Conference, Beyond Band Aids and Bailouts: Public Solutions in Critical Times, brought activists from across the province together. For three days, they learned from one another and strategized about ways to work together.

"We are living in critical times," the organizers wrote. "Governments around the world are being called on to take strong leadership and immediate action. But the public debate about solutions in Alberta has been far too limited, and the private interest lobby groups are mobilizing behind closed doors to secure their bailouts.... We can actually invest in Albertans in a way that will build strong public services and programs for healthy communities and strong economy."

The conference, the third in the organization's five-year lifespan, brought together leaders from community organizations, environment groups, and unions to share success stories, ideas and problems.

Straight Goods News attended and participated too. We interviewed as many conference speakers and participants as we could given the difficulty of getting participants to take time from the short program.

Here is the full YouTube video playlist of interviews:

Here are links to individual interviews with (alphabetically):

Elaine Bernard, a Canadian, is Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law, who says the public sector needs to be framed as a wealth producing entity. She says the myth that the public sector consumes wealth reflects a misunderstanding of what wealth is.

Larry Booi, chairperson and a founder of Public Interest Alberta, discusses avoiding fragmentation by bringing together people in coalition. He feels the economic crisis offers an opportunity for progressives.

Danielle Droitsch, executive director for Water Matters, discusses the threats to water in Alberta from climate change and industrial use. The priority for water economics, she says, must be adjusted to guarantee a basic amount of water for human needs first, then the environment, and lastly businesses. She also discusses how charging industry for water could be an incentive to more careful and wise usage.

Tom Fuller, one of the founding members of Public Interest Alberta and a member of the executive staff of the Alberta Federation of Labour, discusses the challenges facing unions in the province of Alberta. It is harder to organize in Alberta because the laws make it easier for employers to retaliate and punish. The Christian Labourers Association of Canada (CLAC) is a real threat here, he says, because they shy away from confronting employers.

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Alberta, speaks to the benefits of investing in environmentally and socially friendly jobs in wind and solar energy. He feels that these green alternatives are more socially responsible than the Alberta Tar Sands, and more economically viable than underground carbon sequestration, which studies repeatedly show to be an ineffective use of money.

Ron and Lynda Jonson, of Hinton, AB, have travelled tens of thousands of kilometres throughout Alberta campaigning to help seniors in long-term care across the province.

Carol Lawson, a Calgary social worker, is an advocate for people with disabilities, many of whom find themselves newly poor.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, says we need to think of public sector solutions as values and assets. He says citizens need to counteract the pro-business tilt of responses to the economic crisis by getting together to talk about public solutions.

Diana Gibson, Vice-Chair of Public Interest Alberta, in a clip from her keynote speech, talks about the implications of the recognition at the G20 summit that "the Washington consensus is dead."

Mandy Melnyk is a resident of Grand Prairie, Alberta, who has been campaigning against nuclear power installations in her part of the province. She is co-chair of communication section of the Coalition to keep Alberta Nuclear Free. The group wants to start public awareness against nuclear power; their vision is to change legislation and promote alternate energies, such as wind, hydro, geothermal, and co-generation, which she has seen work in the Alberta lumber industry.

Margrete Strand Rangnes, Deputy Director of the Blue Green Alliance in Washington, DC, speaks about her alliance, which was founded by the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club, and which has grown to include other organizations. Their work to develop policy and public support for a green jobs strategy helped inform Barack Obama and build support for him.

Judy Rebick, activist and author of Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political discusses her book's main premise, which is that power is changing - it is building from the ground up. She feels organizations are using the web to connect, while promoting change at a grassroots/ local level. She says many of these things are occurring in Latin America, the US and Europe. She uses the examples of the slow food movement in Italy and the offline use of network politics in the Obama campaign.

Lindsay Telfer, the Prairie Chapter Director for the Sierra Club of Canada, discusses polls taken by the Sierra Club and Public Interest Alberta, which suggest that, in spite of their conservative political leanings, Albertans are open toward green energy investments, energy and environmental policies, and preserving water.

Dave Werlin, as President of the Alberta Labour History Institute, is part of a group developing an online labour history museum - He is a former president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. He says Alberta labour activists were among the founders of the CCF, forerunner to the NDP.

Dr Robert Woollard, President of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, is a rural doctor from northern British Columbia and Alberta who now teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Dr Woollard says it is important for progressives to learn to tell better stories - not just cite facts and figures - in support of their cherished values, especially medicare. His talk gave participants ideas of how to tell the medicare story. He says there is increased pressure for privatization "under the guise of shortening waiting lists or dealing with some of the issues that we know exist under an imperfect system." A clip of his keynote speech is included.

In addition, we interviewed New Democrat MP and environment critic Linda Duncan (Edmonton-Strathcona) about the federal government's abdication of responsibility for damages caused by tar sands exploitation.

Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine,, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of

Posted: April 11, 2009

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