Archive for November, 2011

The Annals of Politics in St. Albert: Hold Page 1! Big city newspaper mocks local Conservative MP!

Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgaber wonders why Rick Mercer got the job, or something. Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Brent Rathgeber as he really appears; Globe founder George Brown.

St. ALBERT, Alberta

There’s an old saying in politics that goes, “it doesn’t matter what they say about you, as long as they spell your name right.”

Just in case you’re wondering, the name in question is spelled R-A-T-H-G-E-B-E-R. Brent Rathgeber.

But I’ve got a little political secret for you: It’s not really true.

Well, if you’re a Conservative Member of Parliament out here in darkest Alberta, as Mr. Rathgeber is, I guess that whatever you do or say, no matter how embarrassing, doesn’t really make much difference to your re-election chances. Not just yet, anyway, although hope springs eternal. But it does tend to crimp your chances of ever becoming a cabinet minister, say.

Arguably, the more serious consequences are for those of us who live in the riding where this guy can get re-elected, Edmonton-St. Albert. Face it, people, when our local MP becomes a national embarrassment, guess what, it’s kind of embarrassing. We have to know that wherever we go, be it Toronto, or Vancouver, or Trois-Pistoles, or Dildo, there’s never a moment somebody isn’t looking at you sideways and wondering, “Did he actually vote for that guy?”

Obviously, some places just don’t care. Consider Calgary West, which habitually re-elects Rob Anders, the guy who called Nelson Mandela a terrorist and who has trouble staying awake in the House of Commons. (Who wouldn’t? – ed.) Doesn’t seem to bother most of them a bit!

Living here, though, one has to hold out some hope for Edmonton-St. Albert. Still, we have elected Mr. Rathgeber a couple of times now, so you’ve got to wonder.

After having been for months a big advocate of shutting down the national rifle and shotgun registry, lately Mr. Rathgeber has been self identifying as Sun TV’s – I mean, the Harper Government’s – pit bull on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. In his taxpayer-financed blog, he recently called for federal funding for the CBC to be replaced by charitable donations from those of us silly enough not to want to watch Fox re-runs on cable.

It was in “Brent’s Blog” that I first encountered the useful factoid that the CBC’s billion-dollar budget costs each of us taxpayers $69. Seems like a bargain to me, and I call this insight the Rathgeber Scale. Sixty-nine smackers to the billion is a useful way to measure what we get for various federal initiatives.

Consider those one-engined, flame-out-prone, radio-free F-35 stealth fighters that Mr. Rathgeber’s party is so keen to buy. You know, the ones that require a million-dollar paint job every time you change a sparkplug or whatever, that lose their stealthy qualities when you put enough gas in ’em to fly over and intercept a Russian bomber anywhere close to Russia, and that don’t fly as fast or as far as the ones we’ve got now. Depending on how you calculate the total budget, according to the Rathgeber Scale they’ll cost each one of us anywhere from about $700 to $2,000!

Or the annual operating cost of the long-gun registry that Mr. Rathgeber so disdains: About the same as one tall Starbucks vanilla latte.

But, je digresse.

On Monday, Mr. Rathgeber was in Parliament asking tough questions about the CBC. For example, he wondered, “did the CBC hold an open tender for a political satire show for the Mercer Report or was the contract untendered?” Now, it’s just possible that Mr. Rathgeber, like that lieutenant in Good Morning Vietnam, thinks he’s funnier than Mr. Mercer and should have had a chance to bid. And, of course, in this case it might just be that he’s right.

Regardless, this caught the attention of the Globe and Mail’s television reporter yesterday, who proceeded to mock Mr. Rathgeber, and, just as I had feared, also made fun of “the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert.” (You can just hear them chuckling, “Cue the banjos,” down there in T-Town.)

I’ll let you read the article for yourself. It’s pretty funny and makes a couple of good points about Mr. Rathgeber and the Harper Conservative attack on the arts generally and the CBC in particular. And don’t forget, while you’re working yourself into a good old Alberta eastern bastards swivet: nowadays the Globe and Mail is a Conservative newspaper. (Though it wasn’t always so, and George Brown, who was born just yesterday, only in 1818, must be spinning like a top at the thought of it!)

Now, I have to digress here again and remind myself that it’s a sure sign you’re from a small town when it’s news that some local guy went to New York or got mentioned in Toronto. Well, St. Albert is a small town – and we like it that way – but we don’t necessarily like it that our local MP is a national laughing stock, or worse, that he often deserves to be.

So, my fellow St. Albertans, you read it here first: Big city newspaper mocks local Conservative MP!

As Mr. Rathgeber said in his most recent blog post, which complained about the federal government’s belated contribution to the Royal Alberta Museum, “I do see the value in the preservation of history.” (But why build a museum now that we have Google picture pages, he doesn’t quite go on to say, although I figure he was working up to it.)

In the previous post, the one about the CBC, Mr. Rathgeber complained about being caught up in a “minor blogger eruption” and then continued with his attack on the CBC. (I suppose I should feel hurt to be characterized as a minor blogger, but, as they say, “it doesn’t matter what they say about you, as long as they spell your name right.” It’s C-L-I-M-E-N-H-A-G-A.)

The post before that he defended the appointment of a unilingual Supreme Court justice. “Merit, not language, guides Supreme Court appointments.” But then he sort of had to. He had a hand in it, after all.

And the one before that he complained about the same court’s decision to allow the Insite Safe Injection Site in Vancouver continue to operate. Without going any further, I think you get the general idea about this guy.

Of course, when bad things with a federal twist happen in our region – like when Ottawa suddenly decides not to follow through on the dough it committed to the Royal Alberta Museum – he generally goes more quiet that HMCS Chicoutimi when it’s not being towed back to port on the surface. Then you don’t hear much from the guy at all, except maybe the occasional expression of veiled skepticism about that whole history thing.

As has been noted in this space before, Mr. Rathgeber does have one unusual qualification: He’s one of the few Alberta politicians ever to have been beaten by a New Democrat.

Last time it happened in a nearby provincial riding. Well, I think that we, the good people of Edmonton-St. Albert, should get Mr. Rathgeber’s name in the Guinness Book of Records. The next time there’s a federal election, we should make darn sure he’s the only Alberta politician ever to have been beaten twice by the NDP!

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Redford government’s legislative record: a broken promise a day?

Alison Redford promises there will be a health care inquiry during the Alberta Conservative leadership campaign. Or somebody promises something during some Conservative leadership campaign, anyway. Politicians pictured may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Billionaire Daryl Katz.

The list of promises broken by Alberta Premier Alison Redford just seems to keep growing.

Indeed, you could argue it grew again late last week with the mysterious disappearance of a reference to not making middle-class and low-income taxpayers pay for big arenas to further enrich billionaires from one of Ms. Redford’s recent speeches.

We wouldn’t have known about this one, of course, until the government handed over the cash to Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz (net worth, $2.4 billion) sometime after the next provincial election had it not been for an embarrassing fumble for some poor sluggo in the Pubic Affairs Bureau, the Progressive Conservative Party’s publicly financed in-house advertising agency.

And, theoretically I guess, we won’t really know it’s a broken promise until the cash is on the billionaire’s barrelhead. That interpretation notwithstanding, presumably speechwriter’s head is going to have to roll because the line wasn’t deleted that explained that building outdoor rinks in Alberta villages and hamlets is a better use of our tax dollars, than “being squandered on superfluous things like pro hockey arenas.”

This is sentiment with which most of us can agree, so the only real surprise is that it made it into even an early draft of the speech!

It’s pretty reasonable to conclude from this contretemps that, as expected by the more cynical among us, now that she’s premier, Ms. Redford has decided to change her tune and shuffle some more taxpayer largesse to the local billionaire with the most billions. And why not? Otherwise it might get hosed away on something like health, education or public transit!

In other words, we have another broken promise, No. 8, if your blogger’s count is right.

Now, for the sake of fairness, balance and accuracy, as they used to say, Premier Redford denies that any promises have been broken. “I am making commitments to Albertans that reflect exactly what Albertans want,” she told the Edmonton Sun. “They’re what I said during the campaign and we’re going to carry through on them.”

Still, just for fun, let’s make a list:

  1. There will be a fall session of the Legislature. Well, there was going to be one, then there wasn’t, then there was, but it was so short it really wasn’t.
  2. There will be a judicial inquiry into health care. No, we’re going to get an inquiry by a captive Health Quality Council of Alberta that is sure to be intent on not embarrassing the government.
  3. The Legislature will pass a fixed election date law. Instead, we get an unfixed election date law that we’re going to call a fixed election date law! Do we need remedial English classes for legislators?
  4. There will be an independent child advocate. Well, OK, not independent.
  5. AISH recipients will receive an extra $400 per month. Albertans who require Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, our province’s most vulnerable citizens, are still waiting, and still doing without.
  6. There will be big changes to the land assembly laws. This was supposed to assuage the concerns of Albertans in a dither about “property rights.” Instead, they’ll get “clarifications” and a task force.
  7. There will be no overall budget increase to cover restoration of education funding. Well, maybe not.

And now… No. 8… No provincial money will be given to billionaire arena owners. “Ms. Redford, Mr. Katz on Line 1!”

And how many days is the Legislature in session? Eight days, this go-round. That’s a broken promise for every day MLAs are sitting! And that’s just my count…

Obviously, depending on one’s political and philosophical perspective, some of these promises are more important than others, and some never even should have been made. For example, it’s said here that putting the money back into education is more important than paring it out of other departments when the province’s long-term prospects are so strong, and it would have been OK just to say so.

That’s not the point, however. What we’re seeing here is a rather troubling tendency on the part of Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign not to follow through on promises apparently casually made before she had the job.

This does not bode well for our confidence that she will follow through on the promises her government is sure to make in the election campaign that’s coming soon.

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Fixed election periods? Take your pick: hypocritical, cynical, impractical or all of the above

An Alberta monogamist with his many wives and children. Alberta’s “fixed election dates will be flexible.” Do we speak English here any more? Almost anything in Alberta may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Government House Leader Dave Hancock.

Premier Alison Redford’s unfixed-fixed election dates bill is touted as a way to make Alberta’s elections just a little bit more fair to everyone.

As the Calgary Herald blandly stated in a story on a related topic, as if it were an undisputed fact, the Conservative government’s legislative scheme of having a three-month fixed-election period has the goal of putting “all political parties on equal footing in campaign planning.”

In fact, Bill 21, a.k.a. the Election Amendment Act, 2011, does nothing of the sort, and it’s hard to believe levelling the proverbial playing field was the intention of its drafters.

Indeed, combined with the vagaries of buying advertising and former premier Ed Stelmach’s election-speech muzzle law, the vague and confusing third-party advertising provisions of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act of 2010, it has the opposite effect.

Whatever the Conservatives’ goal may actually be, one can plausibly argue that the election period bill is a cynical effort to tilt the playing field even further in favour of the governing party.

Conservative propaganda touts the bill as a sensible compromise between the benefits of a fixed election date (what benefits? – ed.) and vagaries of weather and happenstance that know no date.

“There needed to be some flexibility that any future premier needed to have,” extemporized Government House Leader Dave Hancock in the St. Albert Gazette, presumably while keeping a straight face. “If you are in a particularly bad winter, you might want to have a later election date.”

Oooh! Alberta’s not like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, both of which have fixed election date laws that actually fix the election date, insofar as that is possible in Canada. But then, there’s never any bad weather in Saskatchewan in November, or in B.C. in May. Right?

Actually, whatever reason the Alberta government finds to move some future election date, it’s unlikely to be bad weather. There’s nothing Conservative parties in Canada like better than plenty of snow on election day, and this Alberta political party is no exception. Inclement weather suppresses the vote and gives the party with the most corporate bucks the best chance of moving its supporters to the polls.

However, Bill 21 introduced an interesting new wrinkle to the art of election manipulation – especially when combined with the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the unconstitutional but as-yet-unchallenged provincial law that suppresses the right of third parties to use advertising to criticize the government during the election campaign. (All we need to do now is ban criticizing the government after the election and we’ll have the place in a full neo-Con “free-speech” lockdown.)

This limits criticism of the government during the election period, leaving the field to cash-poor opposition parties and the deep-pocketed governing party.

Meanwhile, Ms. Redford’s new rules let the government pretend to have imposed a fixed-election date while retaining the entire advantage of being able to pick the precise moment of the election and spring it on the opposition.

This is the way our system works, warts and all, and has been argued in this space before, it is essentially impossible to change it because Westminster-model Parliamentary democracy is enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.

To repeat the civics lesson: Our system of government is called “responsible government.” This phrase means that the ministry (that is, the cabinet) is responsible to the Legislature (that is, in Alberta, the Legislative Assembly). If the Legislature votes no confidence in the ministry, the government must fall and either an election must be held or the Crown’s representative (the Lieutenant Governor) must ask the Opposition if it can form a government.

So fixed election dates – or for that matter, three-month fixed election periods – are simply impossible to legislate or otherwise guarantee in the responsible government system. Anyone who is paying attention, and that obviously includes Premier Redford and the other advocates of this legislation in her party, knows it.

What is irritating about the Redford “fixed-period” law, however, is not the fact it’s a meaningless gesture that the government can ignore with ease whenever it suits it, but the sheer hypocrisy of pretending to change the system while doing nothing of the sort.

Also annoying is the way it illustrates how no one in the paid media seems to understand the English language any more. Examples of this are legion. My local community rag, for example, announced in a headline: “Fixed election dates will be flexible.” This is a good one, akin to saying “Monogamists may now take multiple spouses.” But that’s a current event to write about another day…

In addition to retaining the traditional surprise factor in favour of the government, Bill 21 tilts the playing field even further against opposition parties – especially those on the progressive side of Alberta’s political equation that rely on donations from ordinary citizens not huge corporations to finance their campaigns.

It’s hard to believe this is not intentional. Examples:

  • Advertising: Now political parties need to book billboards, TV time and newspaper space for a full three months – because if you don’t book you don’t get the space, simple as that. This is expensive and impractical, especially for small parties with limited budgets. Of course, it’s no problem for the government, they know when the gun’s going to go bang, so they can tie up available ad space, just like before. Plus, of course, they have sufficient money to buy it all if need be.
  • Campaign space rental: Same problem. Now opposition parties have to rent campaign space for the full three months. At up to $4,000 a month for appropriate office space, times 87 ridings, this can burn through a limited campaign budget pretty quickly.
  • Candidate leaves of absence: Parties that rely on working people for quality candidates now have another problem – the need created by Bill 21 to arrange very long leaves of absence for their candidates. Employers will resist the longer periods, and many candidates will feel they can’t afford to go without pay that long.
  • Volunteers: Bill 21 also makes it harder to get volunteers – no problem for corporate-financed parties like the Conservatives and the Wildrose Party that can buy the help they need, but a major issue for everyone else.

In other words, Bill 21 is either the all-time exemplar of unintended consequences, or it’s a manipulative and cynical attempt to do one thing while trying to fool voters into thinking the government is doing the opposite. I know what I think.

Either way, it’s another broken promise by the Redford Government, a list that is growing rather long these days.

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Future bleak for Alberta liberals; among progressive parties, only NDP has momentum

The Alberta Liberals: running out of gas and running out of road? Below: Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, NDP Leader Brian Mason, NDP candidates Shannon Phillips and Deron Bilous.

If you want a useful yardstick of the relative health of Alberta’s opposition parties, you need look no further than the number of candidates they have nominated for the next provincial election.

Using this measure, it is very unlikely the increasingly marginalized Alberta Liberal Party under Leader Raj Sherman will be capable of fielding a full slate of candidates on election day.

There will be 87 seats in the provincial Legislature after the next election. Here is a prediction: The Liberals will be unable to field a slate of even two-thirds that number, and may only be able to find candidates for about half the seats in the Legislature.

This is not idle mean-spiritedness. It is a forecast based on the difficulty all Alberta opposition parties have finding and fielding candidates, and the number of candidates the parties have nominated to date – with a general election possibly as close as three months away and certainly coming no later than six months from now.

Here are the nomination numbers for the three major opposition parties, which any sensible Alberta Liberal supporter must find deeply troubling:

New Democratic Party: 60
Wildrose Alliance: 58
Alberta Liberals: 19

Anyone who knows politics knows that while it may be possible to find warm bodies to fill out a slate of candidates, even for governing parties it is difficult to find good candidates with whom electors will really be thrilled. One needs only consider some of the lags in Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative caucus to know the truth of this!

Nevertheless, obviously both the NDP and the Wildrose Party have been doing their work with commitment and seriousness and will have full slates ready to go whenever the writ is dropped. Only the Conservatives will know when that is, of course, because Premier Redford’s “fixed election dates” law doesn’t fix an election date. It does, however, set the three-month period in which the vote will fall, which is why we can be confident the Liberal nomination numbers are going to be a big problem for the party.

Lacking key political staff and watching their support sag, the Liberals would be in a more difficult position anyway than the NDP or the Wildrose Party, even if they had more candidates.

Nomination numbers are moving targets, naturally. Last night, New Democrats in Edmonton-Centre nominated Candidate No. 60, Nadine Bailey, a veteran campaigner who ran federally for the party in May in the nearby Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont riding. (She was also, I kid you not, nominated in the Canada’s Sexiest Candidate contest started by a Toronto blogger who obviously had too much time on his hands.)

The NDP and Wildrose numbers tend to go back and forth as both parties proceed competently toward nomination of full slates. In fact, both will likely have 70 or more nominated within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the governing Conservatives, at 51 nominations, are a little behind, but given their position as Alberta’s Natural Governing Party with a large elected caucus, they will have less trouble finding qualified candidates for the few ridings in which they don’t already hold seats. The Alberta Party, which has never made it onto the province’s political radar screen and is unlikely to do so now, has nominated only eight.

But while everyone else’s numbers are building, the Liberals’ tally stumbled backward Monday with the defection of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor to Premier Redford’s Tories. This brought nominated Alberta Liberal candidates down from the 20 noted in Dave Cournoyer’s useful Daveberta blog, consistently the best source on Alberta nomination tallies and names.

The loss of Ms. Pastoor comes on top of announcements by the backbone of the Liberal caucus – experienced MLAs like former leadership candidate Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald, former leader and Edmonton-Riverside MLA Kevin Taft and Calgary-Varsity’s Harry Chase – that they won’t be seeking re-election. Another former potential Liberal leader, Dave Taylor, quit the caucus months ago and now sits as the Alberta Party’s sole MLA. He too won’t be running again in Calgary-Currie.

This collapse in MLA support is arguably even more serious to the Alberta Liberal Party’s prospects than its decline in popular support as recorded by public opinion polls from better than a quarter of the Alberta electorate in the 2008 general election to somewhere between 11 and 15 per cent today.

As for the NDP and Wildrose Party, while they have similar numbers of candidates nominated and arguably possess similar levels of political skill, they cannot simply be considered interchangeable destinations for protest votes.

You can judge a party by its platform statements or by the people who support it. By either measure, the well-funded Wildrose Party is far to the right of the governing Conservatives. And never forget that despite Wildrose rhetoric to the contrary, Premier Redford and her Conservatives are pretty far to the right.

The Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute functionary Danielle Smith, is dedicated to the proposition all government services ought to be privatized – and that goes particularly for the work done by the “publicly funded” public health system they promise to maintain with nuanced precision.

By contrast, the NDP led by Brian Mason is unabashedly a party of the progressive centre-left, committed to maintaining and improving publicly financed, publicly operated health care. (This is not something the Liberal leader, not so long ago the Conservative junior minister for health, can say!)

Mr. Mason earned his living doing a real job, driving a bus, before remaking himself as an effective Parliamentarian and legislative leader. With Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the small NDP caucus has consistently punched above their weight in Question Period.

With neither the Liberals nor the Alberta Party likely capable of nominating full slates of candidates, obviously the NDP is the only progressive opposition party where progressive voters can hope to get any impact with their votes.

Moreover, unlike some elections in the past, the NDP this time has been able to attract remarkably good candidates in all parts of the province. In addition to Ms. Bailey in Edmonton-Centre, there is five-term city councillor Lorna Watkins-Zimmer in Red Deer, Alberta Federation of Labour researcher Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West, and former councillor Wanda Laurin in Peace River.

In Edmonton, where the NDP enjoys a significant regional advantage, running ahead of all other opposition parties according to a recent Environics poll, there are candidates like Friends of Medicare Executive Director David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder, a former MLA, teacher Deron Bilous in Edmonton-Beverly and social worker Lori Sigurdson in Edmonton-Riverview.

So, sorry, but by every measure, the future looks very bleak for the Alberta Liberals.

The Wildrose Alliance is a radical right-wing party that would lead Albertans down a dangerous path to wholesale privatization of public services.

In this election cycle in Alberta, the New Democrats are the only progressive party with enough momentum to have a meaningful impact in the next election.

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It’s not just unions any more: Time to consider fiscal openness for professional associations, private companies, think tanks, churches

The board of the Fraser Institute meets to discuss their next dubious call for lower taxes on billionaires and the corporations they own. Who finances them, anyway? Secretive organizations may not appear exactly as illustrated.

It’s not just unions any more.

The more I think about this, the more the idea makes sense: the time has come to shine a bright light on the fiscal operations of all organizations to which Canadian citizens must pay dues in order to work, as well as on all those that benefit from taxpayer-paid subsidies, enjoy charitable status or attempt to influence public policy.

We can do this by passing laws in Parliament and in our provincial legislatures requiring minimum public financial reporting standards for several categories of organization that do business with public funds, represent members who must join in order to be able to work or otherwise take advantage of public funding.

The financial reporting requirements faced by corporations whose shares trade publicly on the stock markets should be the model for the degree of fiscal transparency required.

Entities subjected to these reporting requirements should include:

  • Organizations like the bar, medical, engineering and other professional associations that members must join in order to practice in their fields
  • Private corporations that receive any form of subsidy paid by taxpayers
  • Private corporations that bid on any publicly financed contract
  • Any corporation or organization that exists for the purpose of influencing public policy, including lobbying firms and “think tanks” not associated with public institutions, which have their own reporting requirements
  • Associations of corporations, businesses or individuals that by definition try to influence public policy and trade practices
  • Churches and religious organizations that raise funds for other than purely spiritual matters, including the operation of charitable, educational or public policy institutions
  • Any organization that can give charitable tax receipts for donations
  • Unions

And if this idea started with right-wing groups – including several of the groups on this list – as a way to poke a stick in the eye of trade unions, which are about the only group left other than the few remaining Occupy campers willing to stand up to the modern state’s corporatist agenda, well, so be it!

One of the points raised by advocates of applying this kind of fiscal transparency to unions is that they receive “hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits” from the government of Canada and the provinces.

This is certainly less true of unions than every other group on the list above – including churches, which enjoy tax-free status on the basis they are engaged solely in spiritual matters. Nevertheless, in many cases they actively lobby their members to vote in a particular way and to take specific stands on many public policy issues.

Public reporting of private corporations’ books would bring a welcome end to the excuse used by democratically elected governments in Canada and elsewhere to avoid providing the details of P3s and other publicly financed contracts with private corporations on the grounds they would expose private business dealings.

This argument would be moot if private corporations hoping to benefit from public largess were required to report their revenues, earnings and activities anyway – to the enormous benefit of taxpayers in the area of deciding how best to finance public projects and activities.

The rule should be a simple one: If you want public money, you must open your books.

Moreover, the benefits are again clear in the case of groups established with the sole purpose of influencing public policy – such as think tanks and lobbying firms. Surely the public is entitled to a reasonable degree of fiscal transparency from such groups. If nothing else, we would finally get to see who finances these often-secretive organizations, which would assist us in assigning appropriate value to their arguments in the free marketplace of ideas.

It makes even more sense when you consider that many of these groups, like the propagandistic Fraser Institute for example, are legally entitled to “charitable status” so that wealthy donors can enjoy a further break on their taxes for supporting an organization dedicated to the principle rich people shouldn’t have to pay taxes!

As I have said in this space before, while not required by law to do so, many unions already publish their complete audited financial results and distribute them to 100 per cent of their membership, either by mail or over the Internet. I worked for such an organization for more than a decade, and other than the cost of paying for an independent audit, nothing but benefits flowed from that practice.

Regardless, this is an idea that is now on the public agenda, and it’s time that progressive members of society start talking about the need for fiscal transparency among all these entities.

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The Wildrose Party’s Redford Files: Not nearly as funny as the first time…

The Redford Files website: evidence the Wildrose Alliance is on the ropes. Below, an image grabbed from the site.

If “the Redford Files” really are “authorized by the Wildrose Party,” as the blog-style attack website that appeared on the Internet a few days ago indicates, it is the best evidence yet the whole ramshackle far-right project is crumbling in the face of Premier Alison Redford’s Tory juggernaut.

The former Wildrose Alliance was never really the right-wing Prairie fire media made it out to be and its most devoted adherents sincerely believed after reading their own press clippings. But this little exercise in mean-spiritedness is nothing more than a puff of greasy smoke, a whiff of desperation.

The Wildrose Whatever’s game plan started to fall apart the day last January that Conservative premier Ed Stelmach announced he’d had enough and would pull the plug on politics. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and her closest advisors were gobsmacked, and the party’s rise in the polls, which was a real phenomenon though one that always came with a certain degree of exaggeration, never recovered or resumed. Nothing has changed since Ms. Redford succeeded Mr. Stelmach last month.

But this pathetic effort at – like the deceptive push poll the party financed last month – indicates Wildrose insiders now really fear their effort to move Alberta even farther to the right is on the ropes.

Cornered, they must have concluded their situation is so desperate they have no choice but to plumb the depths of the bag of dirty tricks given to right-wing operatives everywhere by such odious Republican strategists as Donald Segretti, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist.

Almost all political parties talk a good line about civility and generosity when things are going their way. It’s when they’re in a corner and feeling desperate that their true character is revealed. So neither the appearance in October of a thoroughly disreputable push poll, followed by the Redford Files website this month, are good indicators of the kind of character that underpins the Wildrose effort.

Indeed, is a blog-style pastiche of cheap shots stitched up like torn-up documents recovered from a garbage can and scotch-taped together for a scoop in a right-wing newspaper. What’s next, one wonders, a paranoid accusation that the thoroughly right-wing Ms. Redford is a secret Bolshevik? Oh, wait. That’s all but already on the site, whose anonymous author suggests the Conservative premier is “too RED for Alberta.” After that, Swift Boats for sure – or, in the case of the Wildrose Party, perhaps, Swift Bats.

In addition to its rather quaint attempt to red-bait the premier – here’s betting most Wildrose supporters nowadays identify the colour red with their beloved American Republicans – includes an obviously PhotoShopped image of Ms. Redford sitting with her controversial Chief of Staff Stephen Carter, tries to tie her to the Liberals (quelle horreur!) and (even worse, apparently) the NDP.

“Liberals feel at home in Redford caucus,” is today’s commentary on the return of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor to the party she started out with. “Federal NDP endorses Redford,” is yesterday’s posting, showing an image of a Tweet by Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan suggesting Ms. Redford is adopting NDP polices.

Another post yesterday, in the style of a Western Wanted poster, accuses the premier of “total absence on the Keystone XL Pipeline … when her province needed her most.” Now, there are those of us who think the pipeline is not a particularly good idea, but one can hardly deny the premier’s frenetic efforts to sell it to the U.S. Administration of President Barack Obama, even if she was talking to the wrong politicians south of the Medicine Line.

In other words, is not only mean, it’s lame!

Just as they tried to brazen it out when caught using a push poll, if this should become controversial, count on the Wildrose Party to try to pass it off as just an exercise in good fun – sort of like the progressive blogs these normally tireless property rights advocates steal their best lines from. (Face it people, the “Redford Files” was funnier the first time, if I may say so myself.)

Actually, many of us in the centre and on the left had been hoping for a strong-enough Wildrose showing in the Edmonton area to split the right-wing vote and make a little room for an Orange Wave, or an orange ripple anyway.

If the Wildrose Party can’t do better than this, we may have to resign ourselves to another 40 years of Tory government!

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Alberta Liberals hit by defection as implosion continues; new poll suggests NDP potential for growth

Bridget Pastoor, still a Liberal to the party’s missing webmaster. Below: Raj Sherman.

No one can say the Alberta Liberals don’t have movement. The trouble is, it’s all down hill.

That the slow-motion implosion of the Alberta Liberal Party is gathering speed was evident on two fronts yesterday, as one of the party’s veteran MLAs skedaddled for the government benches and a new poll by Environics Research Group confirmed the party is mired in third place among the province’s opposition parties.

The departure of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor, 71, was hardly the surprise the media made it out to be. She’s been openly flirting with the governing Progressive Conservatives since early 2009, and like a lot of Alberta politicians of various stripes she was a Conservative before she was anything else.

But the timing of Ms. Pastoor’s floor crossing was dramatic, a symbolic slap in the face of the Liberal leader by freshly appointed Premier Alison Redford, on the first day of Part II of the Legislature’s abbreviated fall sitting almost a year to the day after Dr. Sherman threw a spanner into the Conservative works by getting himself fired as Parliamentary Secretary for Health, kicked out of the Conservative caucus and setting the stage for then-premier Ed Stelmach’s unhappy departure from power.

Back in November 2010, with the province in a tizzy about the state of health care and Dr. Sherman openly lambasting his own party, the part-time Emergency Room doc and Tory MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark seemed like the most popular politician in the province. And while the sun shone last summer and fall, the by-then Independent Dr. Sherman was able to make hay with his popularity – getting himself elected leader of the Alberta Liberals on Sept. 10.

But that was then and this is now. The stumblebum government of Mr. Stelmach has been replaced by a more sure-footed version of the same thing led by Ms. Redford, who was sworn in at the start of October, and Dr. Sherman and the Liberals find themselves in dire straights.

Hugh MacDonald, the seasoned veteran of many Liberal campaigns and effective MLA who challenged Dr. Sherman for the party leadership, has pulled the plug in disgust at the outcome of the weird leadership race, in which the party foolishly allowed anyone to vote, whether or not they were party members.

Liberal MLAs Kevin Taft, Edmonton Riverview, and Harry Chase, Calgary Varsity, had already announced they wouldn’t run again. Back in 2010, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor quit the party, sitting for a spell as an Independent, then as an MLA for the fledgling and barely noticed Alberta Party. He’ll retire from politics too when the next election is called.

Party staff is scuttling down the hawsers as the Liberal ship settles in the water.

As for Ms. Pastoor, she will run as a Tory in the next election, which, presumably, will fall between March 1 and May 31, according to the fixed-election law promised in this Legislative session by the Redford Tories.

If the latest Environics polling suggests anything, it may be that while Albertans generally liked Dr. Sherman as a rebel Tory, and didn’t mind him as a principled Independent, they’ve grown tired of him as the leader of the Opposition. The slide of the Liberals also suggests that Alberta’s substantial numbers of die-hard Liberals are finally losing interest in their moribund party with the Conservative Dr. Sherman at the helm.

The Environics numbers – which were collected for the Calgary Herald between Nov. 4 and 8, then sat upon by the newspaper until now for some reason – show Ms. Redford’s Tories with a commanding 51-per-cent lead, indicating Albertans are quite satisfied with their government at the end of a tempestuous year.

The province-wide breakdown looks like this:

Progressive Conservatives – 51 per cent
Wildrose Party – 19 per cent
New Democratic Party – 14 per cent
Alberta Liberals – 13 per cent

There’s not much joy here for the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith, whose fortunes have also fallen with the departure of Mr. Stelmach and the rise of Ms. Redford.

If normal recent patterns persist, you can expect the Wildrose Party to release a poll of dubious provenance in a day or two that shows that party at a higher level and the Conservatives lower, with everyone else in about the same place.

Significantly, however, the Environics results showed Alberta’s New Democrats under the steady old hand of Brian Mason second only to the Conservatives in the Capital Region, enjoying 21-per-cent support in the area.

This suggests that the NDP is the only opposition party with the potential for growth in the present circumstances. Coming into the 2008 provincial election at a lower level of support, they lost two of their four pre-2008 Edmonton seats and held on to Mr. Mason’s in Edmonton-Highlands and Rachel Notley’s in Edmonton-Strathcona.

If their current numbers hold, especially if the Wildrose Party can make a strong showing and split the right-wing vote, it’s realistic for New Democrats to hope to recapture the two seats they lost in 2008 and return to four seats in the Legislature.

If the New Democrats want to move beyond that, however, they are going to have to move their support into the 25-per-cent range in the Edmonton area – a development that is within the realm of possibility with the continued decline of Dr. Sherman’s Liberals.

Since the NDP’s regional advantage around Edmonton plays more strongly at current support levels than the Wildrose Party’s regional advantage in Calgary, it could be a very close contest between the two parties to see which one emerges as the official Opposition.

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Never mind non-disclosure claims or Bill 24: Albertans still deserve an independent judge-run health inquiry

Zipp it! You have a non-disclosure agreement. Below: Premier Alison Redford; Dr. John Cowell of the Alberta Health Quality Council.

Albertans who want to see a judicial inquiry into allegations of intimidation and bullying against physicians, line jumping and political meddling in the Alberta health care system are being subjected to a full-court press by the government of Premier Alison Redford, which appears desperate to prevent such an inquiry from taking place.

The latest chapter in this saga is the effort to persuade us there’s no point to an independent and impartial judicial inquiry because non-disclosure clauses in severance agreements signed by physicians who say they were driven out of Alberta would prevent them from testifying.

The sub-text to this message is that we’ll just have to trust the Alberta Health Quality Council, which is neither independent nor impartial, to get to the bottom of things.

The next chapter will be the introduction today of Bill 24, which would allow the HQCA to conduct inquiries “when cabinet determines it is in the public interest to do so.”

The theory that non-disclosure clauses make a truly independent and impartial inquiry impossible was stated as incontrovertible fact in an Edmonton Journal story last Friday.

“The only way those people can talk to the review committee is to have both parties – the individual and Alberta Health Services – agree to set aside the confidentiality obligations of the severance agreements,” the Journal story stated, quoting Dr. John Cowell, who is the CEO of the Health Quality Council.

The story also said a former Alberta chief justice who was described as an advisor to the review committee “affirmed that position,” and quoted him as saying having a judge run the inquiry does not change the fact a non-disclosure agreement is binding “unless the parties agree to allow portions or all of it to be disclosed.”

So, we are encouraged to conclude by the story, there’s really no point having a judicial inquiry and an effort by the upgraded HQCA is the best we can hope for.

Well, this is not necessarily so. A real judicial inquiry – properly constituted under the Alberta Public Inquiries Act and led by a judge who is both independent and impartial – is quite possible and exactly what is needed. First, however, a little backstory is required:

Premier Redford’s political problem is of her own making. She promised back on June 7 when she was still running for the job she now holds to strike a judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of what’s been going on in the province’s health system.

The problems appear to have been so pervasive and so prolonged that Albertans are beginning to distrust not just the health care system, but to grow cynical about our entire form of democratic government. So her seemingly courageous commitment was welcomed by many citizens, some of whom went out and bought $5 Tory party memberships and helped push her campaign over the top.

But that was then and this is now. On Oct. 12, she put former health minister Ron Liepert back in her cabinet, this time as finance minister. This was the same Mr. Liepert who just one week before had vowed to fight the then-Premier-designate’s promise to call a judicial inquiry.

Oct. 12 was the day, it can be argued, that her Progressive Conservative government got back to doing things the same old way with the same old people as under premiers Ed Stelmach, Ralph Klein and Don Getty.

Instead of the promised judicial inquiry, the government asked the HQCA to poke around and see what it could discover. When Albertans pointed out that the HQCA was a creature of the government, neither independent nor impartial, Ms. Redford’s new health minister, Fred Horne, floated the idea on Nov. 1 that the Legislature could pass a law giving the body the power to conduct inquiries, including issuing subpoenas.

As was said in this space on Nov. 2, the problem with that scheme was that the HQCA would still be “a provincial body under an all-powerful dynastic government that his been running things its way and only its way for more than 40 years. There’s no way on God’s green earth that such a body can be called independent, no matter how many press releases the government’s Public Affairs Bureau spins out.”

Which brings us back to last week’s claim in the Journal that confidentiality agreements signed by departing doctors as part of their severance from the Capital Health Region or Alberta Health Services would render a judicial inquiry impotent.

Well, I’m no lawyer, but I can read, and what I read in the Public Inquiries Act under the heading “Evidence” is this:

“The commissioner or commissioners have the power of summoning any persons as witnesses and of requiring them to give evidence on oath, orally or in writing, and to produce any documents, papers and things that the commissioner or commissioners consider to be required for the full investigation of the matters into which the commissioner or commissioners are appointed to inquire.”

This seems pretty definitive. Surely this gives a properly constituted inquiry the power to compel witnesses to set aside the confidentiality obligations of their severance agreements.

It is very hard to believe that any Alberta judge would countenance a situation analogous to Vincent “Vinne the Fist” Cannelloni telling a court he couldn’t testify in a criminal trial because he’d signed a confidentiality agreement with the Mob!

If you wonder how real-life Alberta judges deal with circumstances similar to this, consider the 1998 ruling of Madam Justice Adele Fruman, later a judge of the Alberta Court of Appeal, in a civil case in which, she wrote in her decision, “a plaintiff in a lawsuit entered into a confidentiality agreement which prevents potential witnesses in the litigation from providing information to the defendant.” Her conclusion: “One litigant’s entitlement to freedom of contract bumps up against the other litigant’s ability to get at the truth. Truth wins.”

Now, the Journal’s interlocutors are quite right to say that if an inquiry is not set up under the Public Inquiries Act, it wouldn’t make much difference whether a judge or someone else led it. But that is an answer to a question that is not being asked by most Albertans.

Albertans want an independent and impartial inquiry, with the power to subpoena witnesses and compel them to testify fully and under oath. The HQCA cannot deliver that – even after Bill 24 has been passed.

So nothing has changed: Albertans are still right to distrust an investigation conducted by a body that is a creature of the government. And failure by the government to hold an inquiry led by a judge under the Public Inquires Act is still a promise broken.

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If we’d heeded Tom Kent in 1981, our democracy would be healthier today

Tom Kent, chair of the Royal Commission on Newspapers, 1981. (Canadian Press photo). Below: The cover of the 1981 Royal Commission report; Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber.

Today we mark the passage of Tom Kent, the man who got it right about the state of Canada’s news media and was ignored to the country’s great disservice.

Mr. Kent – who had a distinguished career as a journalist, code-breaker, senior civil servant, Liberal Party activist, adviser to prime ministers, businessman and academic – was asked in 1980 by the government of prime minister Pierre Trudeau to lead an inquiry into what was then so clearly going wrong with the Canadian newspaper industry, and by extension the rest of the media.

The Royal Commission on Newspapers, which began its work in 1981 under Mr. Kent’s chairmanship, was created in response to the moves by powerful corporate special interests to dominate and control the flow of news essential to our democracy through the concentration of media ownership.

It seems faintly quaint today that the event the sparked the inquiry was the sudden closing of two venerable daily newspapers – the Ottawa Journal and the Winnipeg Tribune – in a sleazy deal worked out between their two corporate owners to allow each company to totally dominate the then highly profitable print advertising business in one of the two cities. No one would blink an eye if something similar happened today.

But where things were then was much different – and much healthier – than they are today, with our mass media in an advanced state of decay and corporate domination and only the chaotic threads of the Internet offering any succour to the democratic necessity for freedom of information and expression.

“Where we are is, in the Commission’s opinion, entirely unacceptable for a democratic society,” the final report of the Royal Commission stated in July 1981. “Too much power is in too few hands; and it is power without accountability. Whether the power is in practice well used or ill used or not used at all is beside the point. The point is that how it is used is subject to the indifference or to the whim of a few individuals, whether hidden or not in a faceless corporation.”

Since those words were written we have seen how that power has been used, and has been abused for malign purposes, for 30 years. Today, as we know and are powerless to change except for our pinprick efforts on the Internet, the situation is infinitely worse and more sinister than it was then.

Indeed, as this lament is written, despite claims to the contrary, our Conservative government in Ottawa is preparing to destroy the CBC – pretty much the last remaining major news media organization in operation in Canada not entirely devoted to the corporatist line. That said, plenty of fault can be found in the CBC’s coverage in this regard as it seeks to ingratiate itself with the government to save itself from the depredations of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s neo-Con ideology.

We can say this about the government’s intentions toward the CBC with reasonable certainty because, as has been noted in this space before, we are able to observe and understand the behaviour of the prime minister’s well-disciplined spear-carriers in the ranks of his Alberta caucus. So when you hear the likes of Brent Rathgeber, the MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, assailing the CBC as he did during the May 2011 election campaign or advocating its significant de-funding as he did on his taxpayer-financed MP’s blog earlier this month, you can be confident that something is in the wind.

This time Mr. Rathgeber, who claims he actually likes the CBC, proposes restructuring the network along the lines of the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States. “I favour continuation of the CBC, but on a charitable model rather than on a perpetual subsidized basis,” Mr. Rathgeber wrote. “Rather than compelling every taxpayer to pay $69 towards the CBC, viewers could contribute whatever amount they like voluntarily and get a tax receipt for so doing. This certainly works well south of the border for its Public Broadcaster (PBS), which continues to produce great documentaries, while promoting American culture.” (Emphasis added.)

“There was a time when, given Canada’s large geography and sparse population, it was not commercially viable for private broadcasters to reach the remote north or even much of the rural west,” Mr. Rathgeber went on, echoing the points he made during the election campaign. “The advent of satellite dishes has certainly remedied that. So in 2011, seventy-five years after its inception, the role and efficacy of the CBC must be critically addressed.”

It would be a fair observation that Mr. Rathgeber is not a politician who steps out of the Conservative message box very far or very often. And it would be reasonable to assume on that basis that his remarks provide a reasonable indicator of where the Harper Government intends to go to emasculate and if possible destroy the CBC.

Alas, no $69-dollar-a-year calculation will ever be done to account for the cost of tax breaks and special favours for Mr. Harper’s CBC-hating rooting section and echo chamber at Sun Media, which is rapidly becoming the Conservative Party’s semi-official version of Pravda.

That said, perhaps there is some merit to the idea of assigning all of our taxes on a charitable basis, as Mr. Rathgeber proposes for the CBC. He might be surprised what Canadians, given the choice, would opt to fund, and not to fund.

Regardless, if we had listened to Mr. Kent’s suggestions three decades ago, we would not be in the fix we find ourselves in today. Indeed, from this troubled vantage point, he looks like a prophet.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations included prohibitions on further concentration of media ownership, which was far less severe then than now, tax incentives for wider media ownership and tax breaks to newspapers that devoted more space to local news coverage. Under the legislation proposed by the commission, no budding Conrad Black would have been allowed to own more than five newspapers, and each of those would have had to be more than 500 kilometres from any other.

Alas, these principles were only half-heartedly endorsed by the Trudeau Government, and they were quickly discarded by prime minister Brian Mulroney. Like that of the United States after President Ronald Reagan, when limits on media ownership concentration were eliminated, Canadian media ownership was soon almost entirely controlled by a handful of corporate owners with little interest in the needs or prevailing views of the communities in which their papers were published. Our democracy has suffered accordingly.

Needless to say, in their reports on his death, media (including the CBC) passed very lightly over the Royal Commission and its recommendations, if they mentioned them at all.

Mr. Kent was 89 when he died on Tuesday. He will be missed.

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Weird Alberta Tory trifecta: Sales tax si! Yankee no! Plus a car chase

Alberta Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, above left, assists the St. Albert Mounties with controlling a mob of the town’s toughest customers. Public-spirited Alberta Conservatives, not to mention St. Albert citizens, may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: “Mr. T” as he appeared in the local press.

What’s the deal with Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta’s new minister of education and well-known Lord Greystoke look-alike, pursuing alleged young miscreants through the slippery streets of St. Albert in the darkling hours?

Mr. Lukaszuk was in the pages of a local tabloid pifflesheet yesterday morning playing a public-spirited hero who cornered two young motorists described by the paper as “fake-cop punks” after chasing them in his government car through the Edmonton suburb’s chaotic streets during the area’s first winter snowstorm.

According to the education minister’s confusing account of Monday evening’s events, versions of which appeared in all local media and some national papers too, the unidentified 18- and 15-year-old were pretending to be police officers and tried pull the minister over by flashing a light at him on a street in St. Albert, a pleasant city of 60,000 just northwest of the MLA’s Edmonton-Castle Downs riding.

“I gave them a good chase, and they were not the smartest and they weren’t the best drivers either – because a few blocks later I had them pinned in a parking lot between an apartment building, so they couldn’t go anywhere,” Mr. Lukaszuk said in a hyperventilating interview with a Globe and Mail reporter.

“I called 911 and cops showed up immediately,” Mr. Lukaszuk went on breathlessly. This observation – which doesn’t make it entirely clear who the Mounties were rushing to protect – was followed in the Globe by a lengthy and rambling account of the new education minister’s seemingly uninformed views on school discipline.

Needless to say, these shenanigans delighted the local media – especially Edmonton’s moribund Quebecor tabloid. But as a St. Albert resident, I have to tell you it leaves me less than thrilled that a minister of the Crown in a government car is out there starring in his own version of Police Academy VIII on the same greasy streets through which I was trying to navigate safely home.

Indeed, the local Mounties had a word of advice for Mr. Lukaszuk and others who might give in to the urge to chase their fellow citizens: Don’t!

“We have the training and the equipment to actually do the stops and deal with people,” a St. Albert Mountie diplomatically advised the twice-weekly St. Albert Gazette.

“We would never encourage that,” agreed a cautious-sounding Sgt. Tim Taniguchi, the RCMP’s Alberta spokesperson. He told the Globe and Mail’s reporter: “We would never encourage people to block people in, because you never know what type of response you’d get from the individual.”

Sgt. Taniguchi did, however, respond to the reporter’s questions by wondering: “What did Thomas do?”

It’s interesting to note that the Mounties from the St. Albert Detachment, whom one would think might take impersonating a police officer quite seriously, advised media they didn’t have enough evidence to lay charges against the boys chased down by the minister. Could it be they had their doubts about the Hon. Member’s, uh, observational skills, what with the excitement and all?

One also wonders if this can be the same Thomas Lukaszuk who during last summer’s speeding season complained vociferously to the same local weekly about the use of photo radar in St. Albert, where according to the Gazette he lives.

“I have never bought into the argument that it is for safety,” Mr. Lukaszuk pontificated back in August. “I think that it is a cash cow and I think we should be frank about it.”

Perhaps as a safety measure the education minister’s government car should have a light bar installed and the words Truant Officer painted on the side.

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Meanwhile, how about that Ron Liepert?

Mr. Liepert, now Alberta’s minister of finance, is the perennial bull in Alberta’s cabinet china shop.

Not long after “Mr. T” gave chase to the fake-cop punks or whatever they were, Mr. Liepert was seized with the inspiration to muse publicly about a sales tax.

This happens from time to time to politicians out here in the New West. No one is certain why. It’s always a mild surprise because a sales tax is the one issue Albertans of all political stripes are united in opposing.

The immediate reaction of the chattering classes was that the famously crusty minister’s remarks to the 2012 economic outlook luncheon of the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. Tuesday must have been brilliantly strategic – cleverly framing pre-election finance debate along the lines of, “Do you want a sales tax, or do you want cuts in services?”

You can get away with this sort of thing in Alberta because it’s simply assumed a phrase like “fair petroleum royalties” would no more be uttered in polite society than one would discuss one’s undersilks in a proper Victorian parlour.

But the morning wasn’t halfway over before that explanation flew out the window. A “clarification” from Mr. Liepert’s office explained that, “in the interest of absolute clarity, Premier Redford, Deputy Premier Horner and all of my cabinet colleagues are committed to preserving Alberta’s ‘NO PST’ status.

“Roundtable participants are asking government to spend wisely and be more efficient including the delivery of healthcare and education,” Mr. Liepert went on to make perfectly clear. “It will be these ideas that will be considered by the Alberta government caucus over the coming months, not a sales tax.”

Got that, people? We are left to search for another explanation, as well as a solution to the mystery of how Mr. Liepert remains in senior cabinet posts despite the trail of devastation he leaves everywhere he goes.

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Finally, Premier Alison Redford, who on Oct. 12 appointed both Messrs. Liepert and Lukaszuk to their important cabinet portfolios, was in Toronto yesterday to inform the Economic Club that Canada simply must reduce its economic dependence on the United States.

Ms. Redford was just back from her hurricane tour of Washington, D.C., and New York, where she met several people with absolutely no influence over U.S. President Barack Obama to plead for the restoration of the $7-billion Keystone XL Pipeline.

The project was designed by TransCanada Corp. of Calgary to export Canadian jobs to the United States and increase our economic dependence on our neighbour.

Presumably, Ms. Redford also took a few moments out to set Mr. Liepert straight about the sales tax issue and to train Mr. Lukaszuk not to chase cars.

Soon after that, she was off to Ottawa to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the slogan she and her aides presumably cooked up during their pleasant trip from Washington to New York – “the North American Energy Strategy” – as well as the still-nameless effort to wean Canada from dependence on the United States after decades of Conservative efforts to do the opposite.

One supposes they could always call the latter plan “the Third Option.”

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