Archive for July, 2009

MLA’s firing is not the whole story: Stelmach foes plot ‘67% Solution’


This column appeared in today’s edition of the Saint City News.

It’s not just Guy Boutilier.

Mr. Boutilier is the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo backbench MLA who was kicked out of the Alberta Conservative caucus July 17 by Premier Ed Stelmach. But Mr. Boutilier’s battle with the premier was just one shot in a bigger war with much higher stakes.

Mr. Boutilier’s ostensible sin: speaking up frankly on behalf of his constituents about the government’s decision to indefinitely postpone construction of a seniors’ continuing-care facility in his riding. He was pretty blunt, accusing Health Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” for suggesting there is no urgent need for seniors’ care in a youthful town like Fort Mac.

No sooner was Mr. Boutilier skidded than the premier’s propaganda machine went into overdrive, doing its best to paint him as isolated, selfish and arrogant, a renegade angry because he failed to land a cabinet post. He was also portrayed as a whiner, desperate to be readmitted to caucus. Chances of this happening, the premier suggested, are less than zero.

This portrayal is not entirely convincing. Mr. Boutilier was certainly proud of his Harvard masters degree – a fact that may have made low-achievers in the Stelmach cabinet uncomfortable. But it defies credibility that a politician with a dozen years’ experience in the Legislature, who held important portfolios in premier Ralph Klein’s cabinet, would not have understood the implications of what he was about to do.

Mr. Boutilier’s frank comments and the premier’s graceless response, firing him over the telephone, exposed one crack in the façade of the seemingly monolithic Alberta Conservatives. But Mr. Boutilier’s remarks – and the positive public reaction they received after he was fired – are evidence that Premier Stelmach’s position is more precarious than should be expected for a leader with such a massive majority in the House.

Mr. Stelmach’s problem is that he’s the candidate most of his party didn’t really want – the compromise who “rode up the middle” in 2007 when stronger contenders stalled out. He seems indecisive. He takes harsh positions to prove he’s not – rolling back booze taxes or firing Mr. Boutilier.

Fact is, significant numbers of Conservative MLAs, especially those from sophisticated urban ridings or associated with other leadership candidates, are growing restive with the way the premier runs his government.

Many were embarrassed by Bill 44, legislation allowing religious crackpots to opt their children out of the provincial education curriculum. Others, some quite conservative in their economic views, are nevertheless worried about the political implications of the premier’s stubborn refusal to raise taxes during a recession.

So if Mr. Stelmach thinks firing Mr. Boutilier solved his problem, he should think again. Mr. Boutilier was just the lightning rod for a bigger storm that’s brewing. While Mr. Stelmach’s anonymous foes within his own party are happy to let Mr. Boutilier take the hit for now, they’re sharpening their knives.

They’ll unsheathe them in November, when the Conservatives hold their 2009 convention in Red Deer. Mr. Stelmach’s enemies are beavering away behind the scenes, trying to ensure results of his mandatory leadership review by delegates are not too enthusiastic, unlike the 90-per-cent endorsements routinely received by King Ralph through most of his reign.

Their target: a vote below 70 per cent – call it “the 67-per-cent Solution” – that would set the stage for Mr. Stelmach to go gently into that good night and some other Conservative with more charisma and public appeal to float to the top.

Needless to say, Mr. Stelmach and those who benefit from his leadership will not let this happen without a bitter fight.

So don’t expect the apparent demise of Guy Boutilier to be the last interesting Alberta political story of 2009.

St. Albert Taxpayers Association weighs in on municipal audits

St. Albert city officials, elected and administrative, may be unanimous in their opposition to the notion of a provincial auditor for municipalities, but as predicted here recently, ordinary taxpayers seem to be much more open to the idea.

One example of this grassroots public support was the July 20 submission to the Legislature’s Committee on Community Services by the St. Albert Taxpayers Association, which called for creation of a provincial auditor for municipalities.

The all-party standing committee of the Legislature had sought submissions from the public about Bill 202, the Municipal Government (Municipal Auditor General) Amendment Act, 2009, a private member’s bill introduced in the Alberta Legislature by Calgary MLA Art Johnston.

On its Website, the St. Albert Taxpayers Association describes itself as having been formed in 2008 to oppose “excessive taxation and major unnecessary capital expenditures made by our municipal government over the last eight years.” More than any other issue, the controversy surrounding the cost of building and operating Servus Place spurred formation of this group.

The association is dismissed as a group of chronic complainers – “the usual suspects” – in certain circles at St. Albert City Hall. But it clearly represents a significant group of St. Albert citizens, and a way of thinking about St. Albert’s spending priorities that extends well beyond its active membership. So municipal politicians in St. Albert ignore it at their peril, even if they disagree with the positions it takes on specific issues.

In its submission to the Community Services Committee, the group says its principal goal is to “encourage better spending by our council as well as accountability of city managers in creating ‘value for the money they spend.’” The submission goes on to summarize the increases in costs that it says have confronted St. Albert taxpayers between 2000 and the present:

  • Property taxes that have doubled since 2000.
  • User fees and utilities up 126 per cent.
  • Municipal employment up 87 per cent on a population increase of 13 per cent.

Unsatisfied with the response to its members’ concerns from City Hall – “we have asked questions of council and administration regarding how this small population increase can justify these types of increases, but to no avail,” says the submission – the association told the legislative committee it sees a solution in Bill 202.

The audits required by Bill 202 “would assess the programs, systems and procedures of municipalities to assess whether resources are being used well,” the submission says. “Right now, Alberta requires only financial audits be done by a municipality. …”

In other words, the association recognizes that what is being proposed in Bill 202 is more than merely a verification of the accuracy of a municipality’s bottom line calculation. Provincial and federal auditors general are also charged with determining if governments have made the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars, and this new office, if created, would do the same thing.

The association’s submission goes on: “Performance audits provide information to taxpayers, council and administration about the effectiveness and efficiency of their programs. (They) also can provide best practices and benchmarks for measurement of a municipality’s performance. … (This) will perform a service that will help improve municipal operations. We believe that this will both provide accountability and transparency for municipal government. As a result, the St. Albert Taxpayers Association strongly supports this proposal for a Municipal Auditor General.”

Provincial legislatures don’t usually pass private members’ bills, but the Alberta Legislature does now and again – as it proved on May 26 with Bill 203, which put in place tough new rules governing financial contributions to candidates for municipal office throughout Alberta.

Councillors and administrators all over the province are probably right to fear Bill 202, if for no other reason than because holding their decisions up to scrutiny creates new possibilities for political embarrassment. Of course, if this results in better decisions, many ordinary taxpayers are also right welcome the idea.

My guess is that if the Legislature receives enough responses like that of the St. Albert Taxpayers Association, our MLAs might pass Bill 202 as well, to the deep consternation of municipal officials throughout Alberta.

NOTE: Members of the public have until Friday to make written submissions to the committee. Details on how to make a submission can be found on the committee’s Website.

Declining crime rates and an old murder case: notes from the annals of crime fighting

The ability of Reform Party style social conservatives, such as those that now inhabit the husk of the old Conservative Party of Canada, to believe in their nostrums with religious fervour in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is both appalling and weirdly admirable.

Has the unregulated financial market proved to be a catastrophe for all but the most obscenely wealthy? Well, says the typical Conservative supporter, obviously we need to deregulate everything.

Has there never been a “public private partnership” in history that has saved taxpayers money? Nope? From this the typical Conservative concludes that more P3s are in order.

Has private medical insurance been an unparalleled financial and health disaster wherever it’s been tried. Quick, they say, no time like the present to privatize health care!

Indeed, as a general rule of thumb, a good indicator of whatever does not need fixing is whatever our minority Conservative government in Ottawa is hot to fix.

God knows, Canada has plenty of profound social problems – from the continued collapse of the Canadian manufacturing sector, to the sorry condition of the environment, to child poverty, to the possibility of a nationwide influenza pandemic. So what is our Member of Parliament here in the sixth-safest community in Canada, Conservative Bret Rathgeber (at right), focusing on? You’ve got it: crime!

At least according to a recent mail-out I received from Mr. Rathgeber, he is calling for the usual assortment of cruel penalties and mandatory prison terms beloved of social conservatives everywhere – and proved to be ineffective and a burden to taxpayers as often as they are tried. However, they make us feel good when they are applied, which no doubt accounts for their popularity.

If you wondered what the Conservatives think is a good issue for getting enough support to move to majority status, just check out Mr. Rathgeber’s Web site. Of the 14 news releases his office has issued during 2009, fully 10 dealt with issues of crime and punishment! (His other topics were funding for roads, gas tax transfers to municipalities and his famous Canada Day flag challenge.) Topics not deemed of sufficient concern to justify a news release would seem to include the economy, the environment or health care.

Indeed, Mr. Rathgeber’s most recent press release accuses Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of allowing his Senate caucus “to stop legislation that is urgently needed to protect the safety of Canadian families.” Not that laws to put more people in jail for more time will necessarily make Canadian families safer, but in Western Canada there’s never a bad time to bash the Senate, so this news release kills two birds with one stone.

Today, however, Statistics Canada reports interesting news that indicates the current approach to crime fighting – which the Liberals, presumably, are responsible for, and which, furthermore, those naughty Senators are trying to continue – seems to be working.

Statistics Canada said today that police-reported crime in Canada continued to decline in 2008. “Both the traditional crime rate and the new Crime Severity Index fell 5 per cent, meaning that both the volume of police-reported crime and its severity decreased. Violent crime also dropped, but to a lesser extent.”

The neutral federal statistics agency noted that 2008 saw the fifth consecutive annual decline in police-reported crime in Canada. “There were about 77,000 fewer reported crimes in 2008, including 28,000 fewer thefts of $5,000 and under, 22,000 fewer break-ins and 20,000 fewer motor vehicle thefts.”

“Homicides, which make up less than 1 per cent of violent crime, were one of the few violent crimes to increase in 2008,” Statscan noted.

You can read the full Statistics Canada report here.

So you’re safer than ever in 2008. And if you live in St. Albert, you live in one of Canada’s safest communities. Not that this will abate in any way whatsoever on the calls by Mr. Rathgeber and his neo-conservative ilk for harsher penalties and fuller prisons – not, at least, until we are as safe here in St. Albert as they are in St. Louis or Detroit.

+ + +

When I opened the newspaper today, I was reminded of a sad story from the start of my journalistic career.

I started covering crime in 1972 as a junior reporter for the still-unhyphenated Victoria Daily Times. One of the first serious crimes I reported on was a nasty murder that took place on Radar Beach near Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

Thirty-seven years and one month ago to the day, a young couple, generally described as hippies were camping together on the beach when someone shot them to death in their sleeping bag.

Police found an abandoned campsite nearby, with the name Job Weeks in a Bible that had been left behind. The occupant of the campsite, a young man thought to be some kind of religious fundamentalist armed with a rifle similar to that used in the killings, had complained to passersby that he didn’t approve of unmarried people sleeping together.

Job Weeks and his rifle disappeared, presumably forever.

For years, the RCMP looked for one Joseph Henry Burgess, whom they suspected of being Job Weeks. They never found him. Since it was one of the first news events of significance I ever covered, I checked up on this story from time to time, wondering if this crime would ever be solved.

Now it appears it has been – at least as much as can be hoped under murky, 37-year-old circumstances. At any rate, a news report from New Mexico yesterday reveals that Burgess was killed last week in a shootout with police in the Jemez Mountains.

Burgess, 62, is pictured at left, in old RCMP photo and a more recent New Mexico State Police photo. He had been called the “Cookie Bandit” for his habit of stealing food from summer cabins.

He shot it out last Thursday with two deputies from the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department who had been sent to nab the cookie thief. Sadly, one of the police officers was also killed.

I don’t suppose harsh penalties would have made the victims much safer, as the killer was never caught. Anyway, the opportunity for martyrdom seems to spur on religious nuts, not restrain them. A national gun control registry might have helped, but in those days that idea wasn’t even a glint in a Liberal’s eye.

Regardless, a very old, very sad news story appears finally to be at an end.

It’s official: It was right for the premier to dump Mr. Boutilier! Thank God we know!

Messrs. Boutilier and Stelmach in happier times. Photo snatched from the Internet.

The Edmonton Journal, semi-official organ of the Stelmach government, was finally out this morning with the regime’s position on the cashiering of Ft. McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier.

Granted, it’s been two days since the deed was done, but as in the bad old days of Pravda (Truth) and Izvestia (News)*, sometimes it takes the regime’s tame journalists a little time to get the story straight that they’re about to stick to. (And stick to it they will – at least until it changes.)

Plus, in fairness, there was that storm Saturday night that shut down the Journal’s pressroom for a few hours and, in so doing, knocked out an entire day’s edition. (That the Journal’s managers cancelled printing of the daily newspaper’s Sunday edition because of the blackout is a real sign of the times; recognition, perhaps, of the role print newspapers actually play nowadays in the daily news cycle. Why pay the overtime to get the rag out? Yeah, they had a bazillion hits on their Web site. Too bad no one can figure out a way to make money from an Internet edition!)

According to a column on the front page of today’s Journal, it turns out that the Conservative caucus is simply delighted with Mr. Stelmach’s unilateral decision to skid Mr. Boutilier for daring to question the actions of Health Minister Ron Liepert, at least insofar as they related to plans to build a continuing-care facility in his Fort Mac riding.

What’s more, according to the Journal, Mr. Boutilier “has been slowly digging his own political grave over the past year.” He’s been “pouty” because he was dropped from cabinet. (Bet he wasn’t the only one!) “He was acting like a prima donna.” “He was distracted by a new part-time job teaching at the University of Alberta.” And, oh yeah, he also sounds “plaintive” and hopes to be readmitted to the caucus.

And one other thing: According to the column, Conservative caucus members can be as critical of the premier and cabinet as they like! As long as they, you know, only do it in private where the public can’t hear. What could be more reasonable than that?

OK, that’s the (semi) official line. The sources for this trashing of Mr. Boutilier are members of the Conservative caucus, courageously speaking only anonymously for fear of … oh, I don’t know. For fear of having to answer for what they said?

Oddly enough, these anonymous MLA comments sound very much like milder versions of the comments left on my blog last Saturday that I, nervous Nellie that I am, prudently decided to censor. Hmmm…

Some parts of this column are probably true, at least insofar as they accurately reflect views actually held by Stelmach loyalists in caucus. Other parts are questionable. The suggestion that Mr. Boutilier plaintively awaits readmission to caucus, for example, strikes me as far-fetched. As Liberal blogger Dave Cournoyer said in an excellent post that provides interesting background on the situation, “I have a difficult time believing that Boutilier didn’t know exactly what he was doing.”

There was no noticeable discussion in the Journal’s coverage about the fissures in Mr. Stelmach’s caucus, or the merits of Mr. Boutilier’s comments about health care. So everyone will now go back to sleep, presumably, until the next time our premier lurches from indecision to arbitrariness.

+ + +

* You know what they used to say in the Soviet Union – “v Pravde net izvestiy, v Izvestiyakh net pravdy!” (There’s no news in the Truth and there’s no truth in the News.) Not much has changed since then except the names. Sorry about that Soviet analogy.

Auditing municipal budgets: Is it really such a bad idea?

Notwithstanding the anguished cries of municipal officials, elected and otherwise, from Manyberries to Zama City, I very much doubt many Alberta taxpayers are all that concerned about Calgary MLA Art Johnston’s private member’s bill to create a provincial auditor for municipalities.

Indeed, I suspect that a majority of voters support the idea behind Bill 202 and hope the provincial Legislature passes it.

The arguments being trotted out by various municipal officials, here in St. Albert and elsewhere, mostly have the sound of “this is our turf, stay off it!”

For example, when you hear the suggestion this bill, if passed, would “interfere with municipal autonomy,” that’s a turf argument.

Alas for those who say this, in the Canadian regime, municipalities aren’t autonomous, and municipal officials don’t really have their own turf. Canada’s Constitution is crystal clear that municipalities are creatures of provincial governments. As such, municipal turf is provincial turf.

Municipal officials may not like this irrefutable fact – and, indeed, there is an argument to be made that things shouldn’t be organized this way – but constitutionally speaking the opinion that provinces don’t have the right to interfere with municipalities’ autonomy doesn’t hold water. The Constitution, whether you like it or not, is the supreme law of the land.

According to the local press, the Mayor of Morinville, Lloyd Bertschi, has fired off a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach protesting the “horribly redundant” idea in his capacity as president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

But Mr. Bertschi’s arguments, as summarized in the local papers, mostly won’t resonate with voters. For example, he is quoted as arguing the existence of a provincial auditor of municipal books would take away from municipal administrators’ other duties. Well, presumably they’d have an obligation to open their books, but this hardly sounds like enough additional work to keep them from, say, filling a pothole now and again.

The claim by a St. Albert official that fulfilling the provincial auditor’s requirements would take up to three weeks each year seems to me like an overstatement. It’s not as if the entire city staff, garbage collectors included, would be working on this. Would it take even one person three weeks? Unlikely.

Mr. Bertschi is also quoted as arguing that municipalities ought not to have their books audited because they are fundamentally different from senior governments in that their financial statements are already audited by outside agencies. Again, I suspect most taxpayers wouldn’t see it that way. I’ll bet that in some places, pretty cozy relationships spring up between municipal officials and the auditors who depend on them for work. I am sure most of us would not object to a sober second audit, to coin a phrase.

About the only argument that can really be made against this proposal is that it is redundant and therefore a waste of taxpayers’ money. But really, in terms of the potential benefits the cost would be small. Anyone who rides in an airplane from time to time should understand why redundancy isn’t necessarily a bad idea!

Provincial legislatures don’t usually pass private members’ bills. However, the Alberta Legislature does now and again – as it proved with Bill 203, the Local Authorities Election (Finance and Contribution Disclosure) Amendment Act, which became law on May 26. If there appears to be enough public support out there for Bill 202, our MLAs might just pass it too.

In the past few days, I’ve heard several St. Albert taxpayers say of our municipal officials, “What are they afraid of?” While I don’t think for a minute any financial hanky-panky is going on in our municipality, I do think this sentiment says a lot about how the majority of municipal taxpayers react to the idea of Mr. Johnston’s Bill 202.

Opponents of the bill, therefore, might be wise to not be so vocal in their protests. MLAs might just conclude, to paraphrase the Bard, “The councillors doth protest too much, methinks!”

+ + +

NOTE: The Legislature’s all-party Standing Committee on Community Services is seeking public input on this legislation. Members of the public have until July 31 to make written submissions to the committee. Details on how to make a submission can be found on the committee’s Website.

On your way so soon, Guy? Here’s your hat! Stelmach sacks Boutilier

Clearly hoping to get his restive and factionalized backbenchers into line, Premier Ed Stelmach today fired Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier out of the Conservative caucus.

The former Conservative cabinet minister, shown at right, was made to walk the plank for not toeing the government line on health care funding cuts in his riding.

The CBC reported today that Mr. Boutilier was “asked to leave” the caucus Friday evening after discussing his complaints with Premier Stelmach. For his disobedience, Mr. Boutilier was also skidded from his post on the Alberta Treasury Board. Liberal blogger Dave Cournoyer reports the deed was done over the phone, and adds interesting details.

“It was clear to the premier that the MLA is not prepared to support government policy,” the premier’s spokesman, former Edmonton Sun publisher Paul Stanway, told the national public broadcaster.

As noted earlier in this blog, Mr. Boutilier’s frank comments about how his boss is doing his job is another sign that, despite its massive majority, all is not well aboard HMS Stelmach.

Arguably, being tossed out of the Conservative caucus does not bode well for Mr. Boutilier’s political future in Alberta. His removal from Treasury Board will reduce his paycheque a little.

However, the Fort Mac MLA with a reputation as a caucus maverick is mad enough at Mr. Stelmach (at right) that he doesn’t much seem to care.

Since the premier can throw him out of caucus, but only voters can fire him as their MLA, Mr. Boutilier still has options. He could sit as an independent, join one of the Opposition parties (unlikely), or grovel and eventually be readmitted to the Conservative fold. He could complete his term and retire well, thanks to the generosity of the Alberta taxpayer.

Or, intriguingly, perhaps he could become the Wildrose Alliance representative in the House. …

High-speed train from Edmonton to Calgary is a political idea, not a good one

Several generations of high-speed trains like this have been a success in Japan because there is appropriate public transit infrastructure at both ends of the line. This is not so in Alberta.

This column appeared in todays edition of the Saint City News.

Last week a high-speed passenger rail link between Edmonton and Calgary reared its head again, creating some media buzz. Let’s put this notion under the microscope.

In the past, proponents have pushed this scheme as good for Alberta’s economy. Nowadays, they promote it as “green” – environmentally friendly and all that.

It is neither. Arguably, a high-speed rail link between Alberta’s two principal cities would be both a financial and environmental disaster.

But a bad idea is never so dangerous as when it allows self-interest to masquerade as high principle. This is precisely the situation in which Alberta’s government now finds itself. Premier Ed Stelmach desperately needs a newsworthy project that will burnish his government’s tarnished environmental image at home and abroad. At the same time, his government loves mega-projects that promise its private-sector friends pots of money at public expense.

A multi-billion-dollar fast-rail link between Edmonton and Calgary would satisfy both criteria in the eyes of this government. That makes it a dangerous idea, as well as a bad one.

The idea fails for three principal reasons:

  1. Providing power to run the trains would be both a financial and environmental burden.
  2. The line itself would create grave environmental problems.
  3. The project would cost a fortune and likely fail commercially.

Modern high-speed passenger trains are not pushed forward on billowing sails. They need electricity, and lots of it, to move. Just how much is subject to vigorous disagreement – they may be more efficient than passenger airplanes, or less efficient than automobiles. It depends on whom you talk to.

But one thing is certain. In Alberta, the power required to drive fast trains from Edmonton to Calgary comes from coal-fired plants. That means greenhouse gas emissions. So while the train itself would be superficially “clean,” its power would not.

So if we build this line, expect calls for a nuclear power plant – another expensive technology that is superficially “clean” but really isn’t.

High-speed trains are almost unimaginably fast. The old ones run at about 250 kilometres per hour. An experimental train in Japan, where they don’t have to contend with blowing snow, hit speeds in excess of 580 km/h! Can you imagine what happens when a train hits a deer at that speed?

So forget about level crossings anywhere between Calgary and Edmonton – and add that to the cost. Expect significant impacts on animal migration, surface roads and existing rail lines. Get ready for lots of bird deaths along the power lines. Be prepared for significant upward impact on initial cost estimates.

The cost of the Edmonton-Calgary line was estimated at between $3 billion and $20 billion. In reality, $20 billion is probably far too low. An environmental analysis for a similar U.S. proposal put the cost at $33 billion US – enough to cover Alberta’s health care deficit 16 times!

The most compelling argument against this seductive idea, however, is the gaping flaw in its business model. It simply cannot succeed without billions of dollars of infrastructure at either end. A big parking lot in Edmonton and Calgary is not sufficient.

Travellers will not use a high-speed rail connection without efficient public transport at either end. If they can’t get around the other city – and they can’t now – they will drive. The trip takes only three hours. If this sounds to you like Edmonton International Airport, you’re right.

So another multi-billion-dollar mega-project is needed just to make the business plan make sense. Who is going to pay for all this stuff?

Remember, this is a political idea, not a practical one. If Albertans are looking for an environmental project that makes sense, we should spend our billions on urban public transit, or even just sidewalks.

Housekeeping matters related to comments and the demise of the Tiny Perfect Blog

Comments on this blog are moderated, meaning that the author reviews them before publication and reserves the right not to publish them.

It is my view that it behooves the authors of blogs like this to be thoughtful and careful about what they say, for reasons I outlined in one of my first posts.

It is my goal that every critical comment that appears in these pages is reasonable, accurate, based upon provable facts and fair – at least in the sense that a reasonable person could draw the same conclusion from the same facts, even if the reader disagrees.

I certainly don’t mind if a reader disagrees with me and I hope for comments that debate my opinions.

Lately, however, a couple of posts on this blog have prompted some responses about individuals that are, shall we say, fairly direct and personal in their criticism. They are probably fair. Nevertheless, in several cases I have made the decision to edit, or simply not to post, such comments. Probably, I am too cautious. Posters of such commentary must forgive me if that is so. It’s based on bitter personal experience.

On a related topic, there is no secret about my identity or the identity of my employer, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. I generally make an effort in this blog not to bloviate on issues directly related to my employer’s business or activities.

It is also well known that I have been an admirer of the Tiny Perfect Blog and have enjoyed the commentary provided by its anonymous author (pictured at right, as he/she chose to be portrayed), feeling, shall we say, that it likely provided some insight into the workings of the official NDP mind in Alberta. I often agreed with Tiny’s commentary and provided a link on this blog to Tiny’s effort.

Recently there has been a lot of buzz concerning the identity of Tiny Perfect, who has stopped commentating (at least under that name) and has hung up a gone-out-of-business sign on his/her blog. In the last few hours, Tiny pulled the comments section of the Tiny Perfect Blog.

Since according to Tiny there was an AUPE angle to this story, I have begun to receive comments on my blog related to Tiny’s situation, appended to unrelated stories. Some of these have taken the form of questions to me about Tiny’s identity, and so on.

Alas, I have a traditional newshound’s sense of propriety regarding commentary – to wit, that it should stick to the issue being commented upon. As I am unlikely to have much more to say about Tiny or the TPB, I won’t be publishing comments of this sort.

However, readers who would like to direct their questions about my views regarding Tiny to me personally may do so by email at djclimenhaga (at) gmail.com where I may be prepared to answer their queries privately.

Fort Mac MLA reveals another crack in the façade of Stelmach monolith

Premier Ed Stelmach’s Conservative government is not the mighty monolith that it appears.

Another crack appeared in the façade yesterday when Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier (pictured at right) – who in happier times occupied important posts in Ralph Klein’s cabinet – went public with his dissatisfaction with Mr. Stelmach’s stewardship.

The cause of Mr. Boutilier’s outburst was seemingly a small one: Health Minister Ron Liepert’s decision last spring not to proceed with construction of a new seniors’ facility in Fort Mac that had been announced by the government a year and a half ago.

But when a sitting MLA says he is “not at all pleased,” and expresses such sentiments in emails sent openly to his constituents, that is the political equivalent of a cry of bloody murder!

When one of Mr. Boutilier’s critical constituent emails leaks to the Canadian Press, and the MLA tells inquiring reporters that he really doesn’t care whether or not the government disciplines him for the indiscretion and what’s more he stands by his statements, that is a very powerful testament that all is not well in the House of Stelmach.

MLAs don’t diss their premier because premiers hold so much power in our British Parliamentary system – including, most importantly, the power to hire and fire cabinet ministers from the ranks of mere MLAs. Cabinet, of course, has all the power in our system – not to mention most of the perks.

So when a sitting MLA – and a former cabinet minister to boot – says things like Mr. Boutilier said, no matter how politely couched, that is not just a crack in the façade, it’s a gaping crevasse! It means the premier is losing his hold over his MLAs.

Mr. Boutilier’s remarks are one more piece of evidence that Premier Stelmach’s position is more precarious than would be normal for a leader with such a massive majority in the House.

The fact is that significant numbers of Conservative MLAs, especially those who are from sophisticated urban ridings or who were associated with other leadership candidates after Mr. Klein stepped down, are unhappy with the way Mr. Stelmach and his rural cronies in cabinet are running the government.

It’s well known that many in the caucus were embarrassed by Bill 44, the government’s law allowing religious fundamentalists of all stripes to opt their children out of the provincial educational curriculum. Others, some quite conservative in their economic views, are nevertheless very worried about the political implications of the premier’s stubborn resistance to raising taxes during a recession.

Needless to say, those like Mr. Boutilier who were associated with another premier cannot be happy at being cut out of the cabinet action. What’s more, this problem is going to get worse if the premier wants to show some personal leadership in tough times, because about all he can do is shrink his cabinet.

So that’s two, and possibly three, big factions within Mr. Stelmach’s own huge majority who are growing restive and dissatisfied with this weak, compromise leader who “came up the middle” of a hotly contested party convention, much like the unlamented Conservative prime minister Joe Clark.

Add to that potential losses of die-hard social-conservative voters in several urban areas to the loony-right Wildrose Alliance Party, and this adds up to a real problem for the premier.

Indeed, about the only bright spot for this troubled premier, is that the two opposition parties to his left have weak leadership and troubles of their own.

‘Our Future is Now’: Then again, maybe not!

I used to think that if the Green Party didn’t exist, Conservatives would have to invent it. In my more conspiratorial moments, I thought maybe they financed it too.

After all, Greens make the perfect side dish for red-meat Conservatives. They advocate essentially the same right-wing economic policies but steal votes from parties farther to the left. Go figure!

In British Columbia last May, we saw a provincial government with a terrible environmental record re-elected in large part thanks to votes snatched from the New Democrats by the Greens.

Yes, the Greens and the Knee-Dippers disagreed on the B.C. Liberal-Social Credit Coalition’s dubious carbon tax. But, on balance, the New Democrats had a much more responsible environmental package. But this did not matter in the wake of the particularly revolting endorsement of the Liberal-Socred Coalition by several prominent Greens, a decision I expect they will live to regret.

However, if anyone imagined the Greens played a similar role in Alberta, where the Conservatives enjoy so much support they roll over everyone and everything like the proverbial juggernaut, they were mistaken.

Not only have our Alberta Green conspiracy theories unraveled before we could so much as don our tinfoil hats, but so have the Alberta Greens!

Riven by an internal dispute, it appears the Greens have folded their tent and gone to their various homes.

Leastways, according to an “important notice” under the banner of “Our Future is Now” on the Alberta Green Party Website, albertagreens.ca, the “Green Party of Alberta has been de-registered by Elections Alberta as a political entity in the Province of Alberta.”

The Greens say little more about what has befallen them. “De-registration of the party is an administrative opportunity to re-organize and rebuild the party into a viable political organization,” the site optimistically predicts. “The importance and mainstream acceptance of the Green Party’s values and principles are on the rise, and the Green Party’s many supporters can now look forward to a fresh start. The ‘Alberta Greens’ Green Party of Alberta Society is now registered as a non-profit corporate entity in the province of Alberta for the purposes of advancing a ‘Green’ agenda, and preparing the Green Party’s political future.”

“A meeting will be announced in the very near future to plan a path forward,” the site concludes. “More information will be released as soon as it becomes available.” Of the rest of the Greens’ Website, to quote a poet: “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay … boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Tar sands, that is.

The CBC reports that the Greens decided to pack it in after a dispute between the former and present executive. If you click here, you can read the CBC’s account of the slim pickin’s they were fighting over. Elections Alberta’s news release is found here.

The impact on the Alberta political scene is likely to be inconsequential.

Alberta Liberals, and even more so Alberta New Democrats, will no doubt be relieved by this development – although, as the tallies from the last provincial general election show, it probably matters not in the great Alberta electoral scheme of things.

Both Opposition parties with seats in the Legislature will probably redouble their efforts to cast themselves as the green alternative to the Conservatives – although whether this is in fact a promising gambit remains a debatable proposition.

As for Premier Ed Stelmach’s Conservatives, if they are paying attention to anything at all – always a good question – it is more likely to be the yips of the far-right Wildrose Alliance as it nips at their heels.