Archive for November, 2012

HMS Alberta Tory: All hands to damage control! Is Commodore Mar aboard?

The scene in the Alberta Legislature yesterday, with Premier Alison Redford at the centre of things. Actual Alberta politicians may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Gary Mar, Premier John Brownlee, Vivian MacMillan.

I suppose the question has to be asked: Is it too late for the Tories bring back Gary Mar?

Mr. Mar had his flaws. Give me a minute and I’ll see if I can remember what some of them were. Oh yeah, there was that payment to a former aide for doing nothing, or not much anyway, back when Mr. Mar was a member of Ralph Klein’s cabinet. Plus there was something about the way his fundraising letter to pay off his Tory leadership campaign last year mentioned his current job as Alberta’s trade “envoy” to Asia. However, an investigation by Alberta’s ethics commissioner cleared him of any problems connected to that one and Mr. Mar returned to Hong Kong after a brief suspension.

Mr. Mar didn’t sign no stinkin’ bazillion-dollar contract with his ex-spouse, that’s for sure! Of course, not having an ex-spouse was probably handy in that regard.

Well, neither did Alberta Premier Alison Redford, according to the stout defence she put up in the Alberta Legislature, but opposition parties of all stripes kept up the pressure on Ms. Redford yesterday. Everyone piled on and accused her of trying to lie her way out of the imbroglio caused by the CBC revelation Wednesday that she, or someone, had hired her ex-husband’s law firm for some litigation against Big Tobacco that could run up some pretty significant bills over the next few years.

The NDP called the Progressive Conservative argument that Ms. Redford was no longer justice minister when the decision was made nothing more than hair-splitting. Yesterday party leader Brian Mason demanded that the premier temporarily step down until an investigation by the ethics commissioner can be arranged.

Wildrose Opposition House Leader Rob Anderson called the affair “the biggest scandal in the premier’s office in history, period. Certainly in my lifetime.”

Alberta Diary respectfully disagrees. It is said here the business of what happened between Premier John Brownlee and Vivian MacMillan, his family friend and secretary, still holds that title. But in fairness to Mr. Anderson, he most certainly wasn’t born in 1934, when the action was begun against Premier Brownlee under the Alberta Seduction Act. (I’m not making that up.)

Mr. Brownlee, by the way, was found not to be liable for damages under the act, but his political career was in tatters by that time and he resigned in July 1934.

Alberta law doesn’t define doing deals with an ex-spouse as a conflict, and it’s far from clear from this vantage point whether the current premier did anything wrong at all. But count on it that no amount of damage control is likely to fix her reputation with Alberta voters any time soon.

And surely a lot of Mr. Mar’s plentiful former supporters – of whom there were many more than Ms. Redford had at the start of her leadership bid – must be muttering, “I told you so!” It’s hard to believe, at any rate, that an old hand like Mr. Mar could have been more inept in handling a revelation of this nature than Ms. Redford and her party insiders have been.

Alas for Mr. Mar’s well-known ambitions, it seems unlikely that the PC Party could ask him nicely to come back from Hong Kong now and get the ship of state back on course. No, expect this ship to continue drifting, trailing smoke and jetsam.

The opposition parties will persist in their demands for Ms. Redford’s resignation, of course, or at least for an investigation by the ethics commissioner. But they will be fervently praying nothing of the sort will happen.

No, they very much want the smell of this mess to be clinging to her and her party when the next Alberta general election rolls around in 2016, which suddenly looks a lot closer than it did even a week ago.

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The Calgary Herald started out in a tent at the junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers, but when I first worked there in the 1970s it was in a fine, marble-clad building at the corner of First Street and Seventh Avenue.

The Herald’s newsroom had a low ceiling, but was big enough to feel as if it belonged in a big city, which is what Cowtown strove to be and what the management of the Herald encouraged with evangelical fervour.

We all smoked at our desks, so the ceiling tiles were stained an unattractive yellow. Legend has it that when a crew was hired to clean them, one member was injured when he lifted out a ceiling tile over the News Desk and was hit on the head by the empty whisky bottle that slid out. Further investigation revealed hundreds of such dead soldiers scattered across the ceiling tiles above the more populous parts of the newsroom.

As I recall, there was a mild brouhaha about a year ago when it was announced that building was soon to be pulled down. Last time I was in Calgary, though, the old place was still standing.

In 1981, the Herald moved to a brick bunker in a depressing industrial section of the city’s east side. But the new newsroom there was a sight. The place was equipped with the latest in soon-to-be-obsolete technology, including a complex new vacuum tube system for moving paper stories from the newsroom to the pressroom. The ceilings were too high to store our empties, but the room was big enough to house the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Now I hear the Herald has leased that massive newsroom to a payroll company and the staff must move into the old editorial library, which back in the day, appropriately enough, we knew as “the morgue.” Staff didn’t find out about it until someone saw a classified advert – on the Internet.

The move to the morgue is said to be only temporary. Next year they will move on again. One wonders if it will be to a tent. Alas, the old spot at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow is no longer available, since it was long ago zoned as a park.

How the mighty have fallen!

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Potted history: why the winter of 2012 feels like the summer of ’73

Richard Nixon after his overwhelming 1972 re-election victory. Below: George McGovern, Alison Redford.

Here in Alberta’s icy capital, the winter of 2012 is starting to feel like the summer of ’73.

If you’re an Alberta Progressive Conservative, this is not a good thing.

Let me explain. In the spring and summer of 1972, Richard Nixon, a Republican, was running for re-election as president of the United States.

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested in the wee hours breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington.

On Nov. 11, 1972, Mr. Nixon was re-elected by a crushing landslide that swept away his peacenik Democratic opponent, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota. Sen. McGovern died at 90 in Sioux Falls, S.D., just 40 days ago.

But it turned out that those five fellows at the Watergate had something to do with Mr. Nixon’s campaign strategy. The rest, as they say, is history.

And so the summer of ’73 became the Summer of Watergate. Like the proverbial Chinese water torture, barely a day passed without a scandalous new story on the front pages that connected the dots back to that “third-rate burglary,” as Ronald Ziegler, Mr. Nixon’s press secretary, bitterly characterized the incident at the Watergate.

Even here in Canada, the grim parade of stories had their cumulative effect, the results of which – with 20/20 hindsight – now seem inevitable.

There was speculation not long after Mr. Nixon was finally driven from office in August 1974, and has been ever since, that the removal of this Republican, who on his domestic record was surprisingly liberal, had the hallmarks of a coup.

Fast forward to 2012, with Alison Redford, a surprisingly Progressive Conservative on some counts unexpectedly chosen as the leader of that party in the fall of 2011, securely re-elected as the Premier of Alberta in the spring with a comfortable 61-seat majority in the Legislature.

But the election was not as comfortable a one as her party’s seat total suggests. Ms. Redford’s principal opposition came from the market-fundamentalist Wildrose Party, which draws inspiration and ideas from the American right all the way back to Mr. Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which was only laid to rest south of the Medicine Line earlier this month by demographics and President Barack Obama.

As Alberta’s spring election campaign progressed, it increasingly appeared that the Wildrose Party was in a position to form a majority government, but at the last minute – frightened by the outbursts of some Wildrose candidates who drew attention to just how far to the right their party stood – voters flowed back to Ms. Redford’s comfortably familiar PCs.

Wildrose strategists, tied to the Republican-inspired federal Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were shocked at first by the way their victory had turned to ashes, but quickly regrouped.

Off the record, they admit frankly their strategy from now to election day 2016 will be to relentlessly paint the Redford Conservatives as corrupt – a tactic that worked for them during the campaign, only faltering in its last hours. It worked because the arrogance and entitlement of a party in power for more than 40 years gave the accusations a whiff of authenticity.

Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan, who is no dummy no matter what you think of his views, says there will be no far-right bozo eruptions next time to save the day for the Tories. “The lesson for the future,” he recently told the Globe and Mail, “message discipline.”

The aggressive Wildrose tactics, combined with a new drumbeat of little scandals reported principally by CBC Edmonton’s investigative reporting team led by journalist Charles Rusnell, who seems to have become modern Alberta’s answer to the Washington Post’s Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, has in the words of blogger Dave Cournoyer “stunned the Tories into a stammer.”

Their responses to the series of accusations and scandals emanating from the CBC sound rattled and lame. Cabinet members run from interviews with the media, then have public temper tantrums when the stories don’t go their way.

The PCs’ unwillingness to have a thorough public air-clearing over accusations that physicians were intimidated, that public employees improperly donated public funds to the Conservative party, that one of those public employees was the premier’s sister, that outrageous expenses were incurred by health officials and no one blinked, and now that the premier herself may have had a role in selecting a law firm where her ex-husband worked for a potentially enormously lucrative government contract add up to a destructive drip, drip, drip of revelations.

Premier Redford sounded persuasive to me when she stood up in the Legislature to deny the latest allegations she was in a conflict of interest when she, or someone, chose her ex’s law firm to litigate the government’s fight with Big Tobacco – which, as alert readers will recall, has a committed friend and advocate in Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

Premier Redford stated yesterday: “When the decision was made by the government of Alberta as to who to retain on this file, I was not the justice minister, I was not a member of cabinet, I was an MLA running to be the leader of this party.”

But the drumbeat of corrosive accusations, even when they are effectively parried, is having its toll – and that is what so strongly reminds me in the winter of 2012 of the summer of ’73.

Will Ms. Redford, too progressive on too many files for the comfort of the people with their hands on the levers, be hounded from office as Mr. Nixon was?

Are some of the people doing the hounding, inside and outside Wildrose ranks, former Conservatives who have benefited from the same too-comfortable way political business has been conducted for too long in Alberta?

Just asking.

Regardless of the answers, Ms. Redford is going to have to sharpen up her game if she wishes to survive.

She might look to the sage advice of Mark Twain, the 19th Century American author who counselled those who find themselves in situations like hers to tell the truth: “It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”

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And the winner is … no one: everybody missed Monday’s biggest story

Alberta families like this one just stayed home Monday and watched TV. Below: Pollster Janet Brown.

So who stayed home?

While poll analysts and pundits pontificated yesterday about what the somewhat-less-than-stellar victory of Conservative Joan Crockatt in the Calgary-Centre by-election might mean for the national political parties, the real story went largely unexamined – to wit, the wretched voter turnout.

With fewer than 30 per cent of the eligible voters in the inner-city Calgary riding able to bestir themselves to wander out and cast a ballot, it’s pretty obvious that a clear majority of electors truly didn’t give a hang about who governs them, or how. Indeed, given recent historical trends, the same thing can probably be said of all of Albertans.

“The big story from Monday night isn’t that Calgary Centre is leaning more left or more right,” observed the well-known Alberta pollster Janet Brown in a note she sent me. “It’s that the vast majority don’t care who represents them in Ottawa.”

“Although it got far more news coverage than the other two by-elections that were held Monday, Calgary Centre had the lowest voter turnout,” she observed, noting that 30 per cent isn’t all that unusual for a by-election, but it ought to be for this one.

“It was shockingly low for this particular by-election because the news coverage was so intense,” Ms. Brown said. “Every national public affairs program … covered the Calgary Centre by-election on multiple occasions.”

Well, maybe. Ms. Brown certainly speaks the truth about voter turnout. It was at 55 per cent in the riding in the 2011 general election, and at 29.4 per cent Monday it compared unfavourably to 35.8 per cent in Durham, Ont., and 43.9 per cent in Victoria, B.C., neither of which received quite the national publicity.

So what caused this truly pathetic turnout? We can only speculate.

It has been fair in the past to accuse the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of engaging in Republican-style voter suppression tactics, especially in the last federal general election, but it is said here this likely did not pay much of a role in Monday night’s Cowtown tally.

True, the efforts by the Conservatives and the party’s Sun News Network auxiliary to dredge up old comments by prominent Liberal Party figures and spin them as anti-Alberta were an effort of sorts to persuade some Liberal voters to stay at home.

If nothing else, this suggests the private polls to which the Conservatives had access made it clear Liberal candidate Harvey Locke was not losing support to Green candidate Chris Turner, and that in their estimation he still had the potential for growth.

Still, with Ms. Crockatt seemingly languishing in voter enthusiasm, the Tory effort this time focused more on a desperate drive to get out their vote than an organized effort to keep anyone else from the polling booths. Anyway, there was no way the national neoconservative party would take the chance on creating a Pierre Poutine-style scandal in a low-stakes Alberta by-election when observers and opponents were sure to be on the alert for misbehaviour of just that sort.

They’ll save that for the big one in 2015 or whenever, and for more desperate circumstances than these.

So who stayed home, and why?

It’s doubtful New Democrat stay-at-homes had much impact, if only because there were so few of them. More likely, the majority of the small number of committed NDPers in the riding who voted strategically against Ms. Crockatt would have switched their votes to the Greens, although it sounds as if a fairly significant number held their noses and went Liberal too.

Mr. Locke seems to have held the Liberal vote, and Ms. Crockatt also held onto her always-motivated Alberta Wildrose Party base. Moreover, fringe candidates managed to collect only a fringe vote.

So, it is said here, the largest group of stay-at-home non-voters in Calgary Centre Monday were Redford Red Tories, the kind of people who supported former MP Lee Richardson in past elections without qualms and who, in the event, just couldn’t live with themselves if they voted for a Wildroser like Ms. Crockatt and at the same time couldn’t bear to vote for anyone who wasn’t a Conservative.

If this theory is correct, the split on the right played out relatively harmlessly from Ms. Crockatt’s perspective, while the split on the left meant Mr. Turner drained votes from Mr. Locke. Oh well, as said here last time, there’s no point moaning about this, it’s the way the system is designed to work and it’s not likely to be changed any time soon.

But Ms. Brown thinks I’m giving Alberta voters way too much credit. “I think people stayed home because they simply don’t care who represents them in Ottawa,” she argued “They feel so disconnected from their federal representatives on a day-to-day basis, that they don’t feel much of a stake in who wins.”

She holds out hope they’re likely to be more engaged in a general election, when there’s more attention on the personalities and the policies of the leaders.

Well, it’s all grist for the mill. Maybe someone will do some ex first-past-the-post facto research and find out for sure.

Regardless, if my speculation holds any water, it goes to an important point. Both New Democrats and Liberals, if they are to have any chance of success in the next federal general election, need to do more than just fight over their own split voters.

One or the other of them is going to have to find a way to persuade soft Conservative voters – those legendary Red Tories – to come across and vote for someone who isn’t a Conservative.

In most places, convincing them merely to stay at home won’t make the grade.

Well, Ms. Crockatt has already jetted off to Ottawa to be sworn in and this will be the last I will have to say on this topic for a little while.

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Go back to sleep everyone: another Tory win in Calgary

Joan Crockatt, the first pest past the post, flanked by Calgary MPs Rob Anders and Jason Kenney, gives her victory speech in Calgary last night. Actual victorious Alberta Conservatives may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: The unsuccessful Liberal, Green and NDP candidates; the real Ms. Crockatt.

Oh, how very depressing.

Progressive voters outnumbered Conservatives, Big-P Progressive and otherwise, by a largish margin in Calgary Centre – and split their vote in last night’s by-election so tidily between the Liberals and the Greens, with a smattering to the NDP, that Joan Crockatt, one of the weakest Conservative candidates in a generation, managed a comfortable victory.

Just over a quarter of the eligible electors voted.

So after all the Calgary Centre hype, here in a nutshell is the Harper Conservative election strategy for 2015. It seems to have worked just fine in Calgary last night.

Indeed, if I were a true-blue Tory, I’d be thinking of opening up my wallet right now with a generous donation to the Greens!

Of course your blogger is personally disappointed by this outcome in that he predicted a Green victory in the by-election, and thus was double-skunked, seeing as the Liberals’ Harvey Locke had considerably outdone the Greens’ Chris Turner and in turn been outdone by the Tories’ Ms. Crockatt by the time the dust had settled. No matter, though, he’ll just remind readers that he originally bet on Ms. Crockatt, who when the closing bell had rung was indeed the winner.

At any rate, the progressive vote split, so convenient to the Conservatives, allowed Ms. Crockatt, a tiny but apparently sufficiently perfect neoconservative for Calgary’s tastes, to hang on to a victory that while close enough to make the evening exciting at times was nevertheless convincing enough, and grew more convincing as the night went on.

And that was in the Calgary riding that had the best chance of electing someone other than another Harper Tory.

The Harper Conservatives and Ms. Crockatt’s supporters in particular must be thanking the first electoral god past the pantheonic post for the undemocratic vagaries of Canada’s electoral system.

Ah well, no point moaning. That’s the way the system was designed to work, and it stood the challenge of democracy once again, so everyone can go back to sleep for the moment.

If there are lessons in this, they are Delphic, more auguries than axioms.

But if anything is clear from the opposition standpoint, it’s that notwithstanding hoked-up allegations of anti-Albertanism, even in Cowtown’s hotbed of Conservatism, it sure doesn’t hurt to have Justin Trudeau come out and campaign for a fellow.

Presumably this has been duly noted by the Tory slime machine, and as this is written they are no doubt topping up the tanks of sticky psycho-reactive goop for the 2015 election campaign. Mr. Trudeau had best be braced for icy jets of psychomagnotheric slime from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unsavoury gang of Gritbusters.

The Greens too can take comfort that their support is wide, even if it is not satisfactorily deep, which is always a problem in our unbeloved system of single-member plurality, otherwise known as the first pest past the post.

The news is not really all that good for the Harperites either of course, despite two comforting by-election victories, unless progressives can be induced again to split their vote – as happened last night in Calgary and Victoria. In that case, the outcome may be happy enough for the W.L. Mackenzie King of the 21st Century.

As for my New Democrats, I am hard pressed to spin this their way, unless it was simply the better part of valour that led to their uninspired and unenthusiastic campaign in Calgary Centre. One can only hope.

Which leaves us where exactly? Well, pretty much where we were yesterday, as a matter of fact, only without the bracing tonic of an impending by-election.

As predicted here before, Ms. Crockatt has the right attitudes to do well in the Harper Tory caucus, and will soon be a key player by the PM’s inner circle.

Wildrose leader to Albertans: You’re gullible and stupid!

Pastor Allan Hunsperger in exile, as seen by the Wildrose Party’s leadership. Below: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith (mean photo by Dave Cournoyer); the real Allan Hunsperger; party strategist Tom Flanagan; Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson.

Despite an amusing Pierre Poutine moment before it started, the Wildrose Party’s one-day annual general meeting in Edmonton yesterday seems to have gone swimmingly for Leader Danielle Smith, whose key messages were transmitted uncritically by media and apparently accepted in a similar spirit by members.

Reading between the lines of the media coverage, Ms. Smith’s three main points to her right-wing supporters were as follows:

  1. Bozo eruptions by bad candidates, not Wildrose policies, caused the party’s election loss on April 23
  2. Nothing substantive in the Wildrose economic agenda needs to change, but the party may have to be sneakier about some of its members’ social conservative views
  3. Albertans are gullible and stupid and were easily fooled by fear-mongering Tories into not voting Wildrose

OK. I admit it. I’m not a Wildrose supporter! I wonder what gave me away?

But really, people, how else are we to interpret Ms. Smith’s statements, as channeled to us by the Edmonton Journal?

It’s certainly apparent that poor old Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the Lake of Fire guy, is going to be made to to wear last spring’s election loss for all of eternity by the party brass.

It’s said here that most Albertans would have forgiven the party the pastor’s Bronze Age theological views – after all, he seemed sincerely concerned about the fate of certain voters’ eternal souls no matter how quaint his interpretation of how they were endangering them may have seemed to Albertans in this secular age – if they hadn’t so distrusted the party’s economic policies, particularly on health care.

But in the Wildrose worldview, the policies are fine, the problem with them is caused by fear-mongering, smear campaigns and Tory perfidy. Well, fair enough – Tories are pretty perfidious! It’s just that nowadays here in Alberta, they’re also sticking pretty close to the centre, and voters obviously liked the centre a whole lot better than the far right fringe.

Ms. Smith, at least, showed some recognition of this reality, calling for reassessment by party members of such contentious policies as “conscience rights” (code for allowing discrimination against gays and inconsistent application of reproductive rights), abolishing the Human Rights Commission (which smacked of encouraging bigotry to a lot of Albertans) and such nutty relics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s independentiste Firewall Manifesto as replacing the Mounties with an Albertan-speaking provincial police force and heaving the Canada Pension Plan over the side.

This is progress of a sort, even if it doesn’t quite add up to the “fresh, innovative and forward-looking” policies Ms. Smith promised.

In addition, bozo eruptions by ill-prepared candidates will no longer be tolerated. While Ms. Smith won’t come right out and admit it was a mistake to stand by her men last April, she did note that “if the candidate created such a controversy that it’s going to bring down the entire party, that it’s going to affect our ability to form government, I hope they would have the respect for their colleagues and choose to fall on their sword.” And if they won’t, depend upon it that an able swordsman will be found.

As for the economic agenda, the Wildrose Party will continue to be sneaky about its plans for health care – describing the U.S.-style market system it wants to impose as “European” and emphasizing its own brand of fear-mongering about debt financing and fair taxes.

That’s OK too. There are lots of voters who support such views in Alberta just as, quite obviously, there are more who prefer a more centrist approach.

As for Point 3, well, here’s her argument and what she said: The whole party got smeared with Pastor Hunsperger’s bozo eruption – just as, you know, Wildrose supporters of Joan Crockatt’s federal campaign in Calgary Centre are trying to get supposedly anti-Alberta comments by Liberals Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty to stick to the Liberals’ popular candidate in that riding. (Psssst! This is called politics.)

“Frankly, I didn’t think Albertans would fall for it,” Ms. Smith said. “I was wrong. I thought people would understand that having a couple of candidates make controversial comments doesn’t cast a pall on all 87. I was mistaken.”

Sorry, as noted, it was Wildrose policy that caused voters, who it is said here were in a mood to punish the Tories by handing them a minority government, to stampede back to Ms. Redford when the polls made it look as if they were about to elect a far-right Wildrose majority.

Or, as Wildrose 2012 campaign manager Tom Flanagan accurately told the Globe and Mail, the strategy didn’t work in part because the party hadn’t expected to be as far ahead as it was by mid-campaign. “We thought our job was to scratch up to parity, not to defend a big lead.”

The party wheeled out (figuratively speaking) the ancient Dr. Flanagan, who has a well-known sideline drumming neoconservative nostrums into the heads of University of Calgary students, with a more believable assessment for the crowd of what went awry on April 23.

To wit, said Dr. Flanagan, 68, while the Tories were losing their most right-wing supporters to the Wildrose, the government’s pitch to those closer to the centre was working.

Plenty of folks on the left side of the political spectrum will agree with Dr. Flanagan’s prescription that, “we have to liberate those left-wing voters to go back and vote where they would actually vote.”

According to the Globe and Mail, Perfesser Flanagan also trotted out a suspect Abingdon Research opinion poll that supposedly shows the Wildrose Party firmly back in the hearts of Alberta voters. The word from the trenches of opinion research is that a poll replete with loaded push-questions about Daryl Katz’s political donations has been making the rounds, so supporters of Ms. Redford should probably wait for another survey before lining up to jump off Edmonton’s High Level Bridge.

In an interesting historical aside, the Globe revealed in its mini-interview that Dr. Flanagan said he himself wrote the infamous 2001 Firewall Manifesto, which then-premier Ralph Klein wisely tossed into the recycling bin. I wonder if the other noted western separatists who signed it, men (all men) like Prime Minister Harper, disgraced B.C. political advisor Ken Boessenkool and Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, remember the drafting process the same way?

OK, about that Pierre Poutine moment. Some naughty person – another perfidious PC, presumably – circulated an email to party members a couple of days before the AGM reading in part, “Rob Anderson needs our help if he’s going to become leader of Wildrose!” The email suggested that names candidates to support for party office to “be successful at forcing a post-AGM leadership review.”

It concluded: “With your help, we will make this a reality and elect Rob Anderson as Premier in 2016!” Mr. Anderson, a Mormon bishop who is party House leader and a particular favourite of the Wildrose social conservative wing, would no doubt love to be premier, but he really has pledged his fealty to Ms. Smith.

Anyway, the fun was soon spoiled by an email from Wildrose Chief Administrative Officer Jeffery Trynchy: “Please be advised that this email is fraudulent. We are currently taking steps to determine the identity of the sender.”


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EXCLUSIVE! Calgary Centre and Stephen Harper’s Canada bashing fallout! Did I say exclusive?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tells the rest of Canada to be afraid, very afraid. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: the real Mr. Harper, sort of; the “despised” Bill Phipps.

In the wake of Sun News Network’s stale “exclusive” about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s commentary on Alberta politicians two years ago, Alberta Diary has exclusively uncovered shocking exclusive proof that Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks down on all parts of Canada except Alberta. Alberta exclusively, that is!

Actually, this isn’t an exclusive at all. Your faithful blogger merely cut and pasted these actual Harper quotes Globe-and-Mail-style from a useful blog dossier posted by the CBC’s Laura Payton in April 2011.

Still, despite its plagiaristic provenance, some of this stuff is interesting in light of the ongoing brouhaha about Mr. Trudeau’s remarks, for which the Liberal leadership candidate has apologized even though they seem harmless enough to this Albertan. Indeed, they would seem harmless and irrelevant to Sun News too if it weren’t campaigning openly to resuscitate the flagging Conservative campaign in the Calgary Centre by-election.

The same may be said of the more-recent comments about the trained seals in Mr. Harper’s Alberta caucus that were made by Ontario Liberal MP David McGuinty, who not only apologized but resigned his post as his party’s parliamentary natural resources critic.

So what Alberta Diary wants to know is when is Mr. Harper going to apologize for his 2001 dismissal of every part of Canada except Alberta as “a second-tier country run by a third-world leader with fourth-class values”? (He has, presumably, since revised his assessment of the leader.)

In the same statement, Mr. Harper suggested that Canada is better off when Alberta politicians are running the show, at any rate, he boasted in those pre-Alison-Redford-Red-Tory days, “we are the only province in Canada keeping pace with the top tier countries in the world.”

In 2003, Mr. Harper dismissed non-Conservative voters in urban western ridings west of Winnipeg as “recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.” You know, in electoral districts like Calgary Centre.

I don’t recall hearing an apology for that one either, but, hey, it was more than two years ago. He also famously said in 2002 that he despised Bill Phipps, the moderator of the United Church of Canada, although it wasn’t clear if that applied to other members of the church or was merely because Rev. Phipps was running for the NDP in the PM’s Calgary riding. Rev. Phipps still preaches at a church in Calgary Centre.

In other words, to further plagiarize Sun News, this raises the issue of whether Mr. Harper’s anti-everybody-else-in-Canada attitude is baked into the DNA of the federal Conservative Party, and a whole lot worse too.

Among the Harper quotes compiled by his own party as potential problems, and kindly posted on the Internet last year by Ms. Payton, were the following:

On the French language in Quebec: “That special status is needed to protect the French language in Quebec is simply false.” (2002)

On what Alberta conservatives think of Quebec politicians: “I don’t think anybody, frankly, in this party is very scared about pissing off the Bloc.” (1996)

On his future in politics: “It has never been my intention to seek a second term or to become a career politician.” (1996)

On Alberta’s role in Confederation: “Canada does not love us … let’s make the province strong enough that the rest of the country is afraid to threaten us.” (2000)

Actually, there’s a pretty rich vein of this stuff emanating from the lips of Mr. Harper. Oddly enough, Sun News Network seldom writes about it.

My guess is that we’ll be waiting a long time for the prime minister, or any of his minions on the ground in Calgary Centre, to apologize for this stuff.

Speaking as an Albertan here – certainly as Albertan an Albertan as Mr. Harper, coming from away a very long time ago just as he did – I have to wonder what Canadians make of the paranoid view of Confederation expressed by this prime minister in his many past independentiste musings about the need for Alberta firewalls, Alberta economic exceptionalism and putting the fear of Alberta into Canadians elsewhere.

It seems to me that what Mr. Harper wished for – Albertans running the show, a certain kind of Albertan anyway, in a way that puts the fear of God and E.C. Manning into the rest of Canada – has come about pretty much as he hoped.

Yet here we are, as prickly and paranoid as ever, still the perpetual outsiders when other Canadians react with understandable concern, and at times with intemperate language, to our behaviour.

We who live here know, of course, that there’s much more and much better to this province than the prime minster’s narrow and paranoid view of the world and Alberta’s place in it would suggest.

We would do well to demonstrate that to our compatriots in other provinces by sending more than just a phalanx of parochial and inward-looking neoconservatives to Ottawa as our representatives.

I must say, as a resident of the Edmonton area, I envy my fellow Albertans in Calgary Centre for having the opportunity to do just that on Monday.

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On Monday in Calgary, will the Tories come second … or third?

Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt campaigns in Calgary while a supporter covers his face in embarrassment. (Joke.) Below: The winner of Monday’s by-election, as forecast by Perfesser Dave, Chris Turner.

The great political minds of Alberta are pondering today where Conservative Party candidate Joan Crockatt will place in Monday’s Calgary Centre by-election.

Will she come second? … Or third?

You think I’m joking? This is no joke – especially for Prime Minister Stephen Harper!

Face it, people, if the Conservatives lose the safest seat of safe seats – in downtown Cowtown, for crying out loud – it is not going to tell a happy story about where Canadians are at when it comes to Mr. Harper’s angry neoconservative caucus, a government so cranky it can’t even stay on the same page as its provincial cousins who run the government in Edmonton!

But the contest now as it’s coming to be seen here in Alberta is that by election day each of the Liberals, Greens and Conservatives will own about 30 per cent of the committed vote in the riding, and the NDP will have the remainder.

So the race could go any of three ways, and in normal times there’s just enough of an edge from old habits that die hard for the Tories to win it easily.

But these, as they say, are not normal times. The Harper Conservatives, so focused on ideology they couldn’t see the dangers of their alliance with the far-right Wildrose Party, which they enthusiastically backed in last spring’s Alberta provincial election, have upset their own political applecart.

They have so alienated the riding’s traditional Tories – the kind of people who are comfortable backing Red Tories like their neighbour Alison Redford, the Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, and former federal PC leader Joe Clark, who once represented the riding – that many of them are determined to teach their no-longer-comfortable federal political party a lesson by voting for someone else.

What’s more, despite her ability to articulately present her thoughts, Ms. Crockatt has turned out to be a far-from-ideal candidate.

Apparently thoroughly controlled by her Wildrose/Harperite advisers, the former journalist and right-wing commentator has avoided all-candidates’ forums, earned the wrath of Calgary’s popular mayor and run away from the media she’s supposed to understand. In economic terms a harsh, far-right ideological candidate, Ms. Crockatt seems to have assumed she could count on the riding’s traditionally reliable Tory vote without thinking too deeply about what kind of Tories many of those voters are.

But a lot of them, it’s turning out, are Red Tories just as disturbed as other Canadians about the authoritarian tone the country has taken on under Mr. Harper’s heavy hand.

Yes, Ms. Crockatt is a good door-to-door campaigner. But a lot of Calgary Centre voters, it is said here, are paying attention for once to the issues, and as a result we have a real race.

So what’s going to happen? Well, I’ve been wrong before and I will be again, but it’s said here Green candidate Chris Turner, an author, will win by a whisker.

The logic behind this speculation?

Easy. Liberal Harvey Locke, a lawyer, may hold most of his 30 per cent of the vote, shown in two recent Forum Research polls, helped a little by the recent visit of the undeniably charismatic Justin Trudeau and hindered a bit by the Albertans Go Home ejaculation Wednesday of former federal Liberal Energy Critic David McGuinty.

The bogus two-year-old “exclusive” about supposedly anti-Alberta remarks by Mr. Trudeau, dredged up by the Sun News Network in an attempt to resuscitate Ms. Crockatt’s flagging campaign, will likely have little impact – or at least not the impact its generators intend.

Mr. Turner, meanwhile, will hold the quarter of voters committed to voting Green who were identified in the last Forum poll and look to gain more support from other anti-Tory camps.

NDP candidate Dan Meades will lose a few more of his remaining 8 per cent, as soft Knee-Dips continue to migrate to the next-best anti-Tory candidate. They will go to the Green because it’s just too hard for a New Democrat to vote for a Liberal.

Then there are the Tories – deeply split now in the riding between the Wildrose rightists and ideological hardliners who dominate Ms. Crockatt’s campaign and the Redford-style Red Tories who were happy with their softer-edged former Tory MP, Lee Richardson, who is now Ms. Redford’s principal secretary.

But if it’s hard for NDPers to vote Liberal, it’s even harder for Conservatives – and that would be true even if the former Liberal natural resources critic hadn’t shot off his mouth about Tory Albertan MPs. That’s why, it’s said here, Mr. McGuinty’s ill-timed commentary and Mr. Trudeau’s long-ago remarks won’t have much impact on the outcome Monday. Many disaffected Red Tories have already made up their minds to go Green, rather than Liberal or NDP, and as usual Mr. Harper’s brain trust has concentrated its fire on the wrong opposition candidate.

So what’s the risk to these unhappy Conservatives of teaching the Harper-Wildrose crowd a lesson by voting for a Green? Virtually none. Heck, everyone’s pretty green nowadays anyway!

So Mr. Turner will pick up a few strategic NDP votes and lot of strategic Red Tory votes. At the last minute, he’ll even pick up some extra strategic Liberal votes, cast by electors either unhappy about Mr. McGuinty’s blathering or following those soft New Democrats to the strongest anti-Tory candidate.

Then the patented Alberta come from No. 3 strategy will have worked again! Indeed, a fourth Forum Research poll is said to be about to be released within hours that will confirm this predicted flow of votes toward Mr. Turner.

So Monday’s vote will be really close, I predict, but it’ll shake out in this order:

  1. Greens
  2. Liberals
  3. Tories
  4. NDP

Then again, I may be out to lunch. Maybe the NDP will come third. We’ll see on Monday.

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Expense account outrages? Only in government, you say? Puleeze!

Executives of Covenant Health enjoy a bottle of 2001 Il Piggione over lunch at Edmonton’s Characters Restaurant. Catholic health care executives may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Liberalbertaliberal Leader Raj Sherman.

Alberta’s health care gong show continued to wheeze along yesterday with another revelation by the CBC that a couple of senior execs at a publicly funded Catholic care provider bought expensive bottles of wine at lunchtime and billed them to their taxpayer-financed expense accounts.

Since the original founder of the Catholic Church is said to have made pretty good wine but also to have spoken disparagingly about extravagance, one could easily be conflicted about the $110 bottle of Il Piggione 2001 purchased by Covenant Health VP Jeffery Robinson in 2008.

But me, I have to admit I’m having trouble getting my knickers in a twist about this particular episode of the CBC’s long-running expense accounts series. Perhaps expense claims fatigue syndrome is setting in. Leastways, I felt that way until I heard Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s bloviations on the topic.

Dr. Sherman has been pretty quiet for the past few days while the Wildrose Party on the right and the New Democrats on the left did the heavy opposition lifting on this issue. (Government members got their exercise by running … away!)

So Dr. Sherman must’ve felt it was time for him and his Albertaliberals, Liberalbertans or whatever it is they’re calling themselves nowadays to step back into the ongoing brouhaha. He’s a medical man, don’tcha know, and therefore uniquely qualified to prescribe instant cures for all the Alberta health system’s many ailments.

“Here we have a religious organization – good people, God’s people – spending money on alcohol,” Dr. Sherman told the CBC. (So far, so good; with my previous caveat about God and alcohol in mind.)

He went on: “You tell me, which employer will allow their employees to start drinking on the job and ask the employer to pay for it? I only find this in government. It’s ridiculous and ludicrous.”

OK. Ridiculous and ludicrous it is, I guess. But Dr. Sherman only finds this in government? Excuse me? He must have lived a sheltered life. Sheltered in particular from the routine practices of the so-called business community, where making shareholders pay for a glass or two of high-priced booze at lunch is not exactly unheard of.

The difference, of course, between the expense account practices of the public and the private sectors is that everything in the private sector is a total secret. Shareholders and customers pay, and we never find out. The extravagances are much worse, but no one knows about them because (a) it’s a secret, and (b) we’ve been thoroughly propagandized into believing businessmen can do what they want with “their” money. And it’s still “their” money, in this view, even when it comes indirectly from taxpayers’ pockets via contracts with public agencies.

If there’s a reason expense account abuses are becoming more prevalent in the public sector, its said here, it’s because for the past 30 years or so we’ve been buying into this barrage of palpably false right-wing propaganda about how business does everything better.

So if we have to hire half-million-dollar-a-year executives instead of career public servants to run our public enterprises, they’re bound to bring their questionable private sector perks with them. And that includes, I’d suggest, $100-plus bottles of wine with lunch.

Indeed, now the rot is seeping more deeply into the public service where we feel compelled to pay outrageous private-sector salaries to get “the best people” and end up instead with some who are, let’s say, not the best.

The idea of public service – which was what built our great national public institutions, including our universities and public health care – has gone out the window, to the great detriment of our society.

Is it only me, or is it powerfully ironic that we hired these characters from the world of business to run our public services (and in many cases, where right-wing governments are in the driver’s seat, to intentionally run them into the ground to justify their privatization) and now we’re complaining that the managerial malpractices they brought with them are typical of the public sector?

Or, as Dr. Sherman outrageously misstates the facts, “I only find this in government”? Please!

We’d do better to consciously try to recreate the public service model of the not-so-distant past than pay attention to the anti-public-service blatherings of Dr. Sherman, a former Tory health apparatchik himself.

While we’re speaking of Alberta’s doctors, as predicted last time in this space, Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne now appears willing to restart negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association after he unilaterally ended them.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Horne now says he’s willing to reopen talks with the docs – but not about money. However, with the physicians’ powerful union threatening job action – while promising to do nothing to harm their patients – you can expect the government to crater soon on that commitment too.

This is not necessarily bad news for any group that faces negotiations with the Alberta government in the next couple of years, and the political consequences for the government are probably less severe than those of a full-blown physicians’ uprising as the next general election in 2016 grows closer.

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I’ve been ranting here for months about how there’s only one true word in the title Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and that’s Canadian. And for all we know, even that might not be true.

It’s certainly not a federation and it surely doesn’t represent the interests of taxpayers. It’s another far-right AstroTurf group set up to advance the neoconservative agenda of “austerity,” anti-unionism and corporate tax breaks.

So what a delight it was to read of the CTF in Thomas Walkom’s column in the Toronto Star yesterday morning that this group “is an interest group, not a federation of taxpayers.” Thank you, Mr. Walkom, for stating this obvious and necessary truth. I believe this is a first for mainstream media.

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Why tossing Alauddin Merali under the bus may not have been a good idea

Health Minister Fred Horne contemplates the Ghost of Firings Past. Or, wait, maybe that’s Michael Giuffre with the Ghost of Pre-Election Advertising Campaigns Past. Whatever, it’s not as grim as the Ghost of Elections Yet to Come, and players in Alberta’s health care system may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Allaudin Merali, Sheila Weatherill, Dr. Giuffre and Mr. Horne.

The Alberta Tories fired Alberta Health Services Chief Financial Officer Alauddin Merali in haste last summer when the CBC revealed he’d made extravagant expense claims in a previous job at the Capital Health Authority.

Now they can repent at leisure, since their hasty action has unexpectedly created a new and serious political crisis for them.

The firing of Mr. Merali came back to haunt the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford because the latest senior health care executive to come under the CBC’s scrutiny for iffy expense accounts filed with a previous employer happens to be the premier’s sister.

So are the Redford Tories going to fire Lynn Redford too?

They might have to escape the political consequences of what they did to Mr. Merali – or, to be technically accurate, what they pressed Alberta Health Services management to do to him. They’re extremely unlikely to do anything of the sort, of course. If the video of their response yesterday is anything to go by, they’re going to refuse to say anything at all and bull aside anyone who gets in their way.

The CBC’s revelations last July about Mr. Merali, who had not long before been appointed Chief Financial Officer and senior VP of Alberta Health Services, was that he had made lavish expense claims back when he was CFO of Capital Health.

Outrageously lavish as some of those claims seemed, it was said here at the time Mr. Merali ought not to have been fired because all his Capital Health expenses had been properly approved, and because there was no evidence he had done anything wrong while employed by AHS.

But the embarrassment was too much for the government, and they quickly made the AHS toss him under the bus.

Now the CBC has revealed Lynn Redford also had some improper expenses while she was a senior executive with the Calgary Health Region. Today, rather like Mr. Merali was, she is a VP of AHS. Like Mr. Merali’s claims, her Calgary Health expenses were also approved by a more senior executive.

So just what are the differences in the cases, other than the obvious?

In Lynn Redford’s defence, the expenses she claimed that have been queried by the CBC are vastly lower than the approximately $350,000 expensed by Mr. Merali over three and a half years.

On the other hand, unlike Mr. Merali’s claims, some of hers appear on their face to have been illegal – public funds used as donations to her sister’s political party in violation of Alberta election financing laws enacted in 2004.

If Mr. Merali can be fired from AHS for doing nothing technically wrong in a previous job, how can Lynn Redford be kept in a similar role with the same organization for doing the same thing, and breaking the law to boot, also in a previous job?

Mr. Merali was fired from AHS on Aug. 1. That day, Chris Mazurkewich, who was acting as CEO of the province-wide health agency, said he had spoken to Mr. Merali and “we agreed that under the circumstances it would be difficult to fulfill his current role of CFO. He did have an employment contract and the employment contract has been terminated.”

The next day, Health Minister Fred Horne announced that Sheila Weatherill, who as CEO of Capital Health had approved Mr. Merali’s expenses, had offered her resignation from the AHS Board and he had accepted it.

According to Mr. Mazurkewich’s logic, can Lynn Redford now fulfill her current role as AHS’s special projects vice president? Can Patti Grier, who as a senior Calgary Health executive signed off on Lynn Redford’s expenses, continue as chief of staff and corporate secretary of AHS?

Please note that I’m not saying Ms. Redford ought to be fired. Au contraire! I am saying Mr. Merali was fired for nakedly political reasons and little moral justification.

Nor is the Opposition calling for Lynn Redford to be fired. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith did tell reporters, though, she thought Ms. Redford ought to be required to pay the back expenses that ended up going to Tory fundraisers.

Mr. Merali, it is said here, will almost certainly succeed if he sues AHS for wrongful dismissal. He was fired for something irrelevant to the job he was kicked out of, he can likely show he didn’t do anything technically wrong anyway, and now he can also show other people who did the same thing are not treated in the same way.

If he sues and succeeds, the taxpayers of Alberta will have to pay the freight.

And if what went around has now come around and bitten the Alberta Tories on their exposed posteriors, well, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for them.

Indeed, the only person whom comes out of this whole sorry affair looking better than before is the Cookie Monster himself, Stephen Duckett.

Dr. Duckett, the first CEO of AHS, tightened up practices in the Alberta health care system to ensure there was reasonable justification for executive expense claims. It’s largely thanks to Dr. Duckett Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne can now say the problem has been fixed.

And what happened to Dr. Duckett, you ask? Oh, he was fired for political reasons too – although allegedly for being spectacularly rude to a journalist with a cookie – when he became a lightning rod for the health care failures of the same government under the previous premier, Ed Stelmach.

Cookies all ’round!

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Speaking of cookies, good luck to Alberta’s physicians, who pleaded with the government yesterday to reopen the pay negotiations Mr. Horne shut down last Friday, imposing a four-year settlement on the Alberta Medical Association and telling the docs there would be no further discussions.

Alberta Medical Association President Dr. Michael Giuffre sent a letter to the minister yesterday “calling on government to return to the negotiating table to complete an agreement with Alberta’s physicians,” as an AMA news release about the letter put it.

The tone of the letter and the news release didn’t make it sound as if the physicians are ready to acknowledge the reasons the government pulled the plug on their negotiations. They’re still demanding a compulsory arbitration process to reach a deal.

Well, who knows? Maybe Mr. Horne will take pity on them now that he’s rapped their knuckles. That might be better from the government’s perspective than having the docs still stirred up and furious the next time a provincial election rolls around in 2016.

But if he does, you can count on it he’ll want assurances from the AMA they will never do anything again like they did last April, when they bought large ads in local newspapers assailing the Conservatives and suggesting between the lines that voters elect the right-wing Wildrose Party in the election a few days later.

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Cone of Silence won’t make Albertans any less angry at expense account shenanigans

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne, at right, and a representative of the media go inside the Cone of Silence to discuss the latest health care expense account revelations. Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated, but, boy, Maxwell Smart sure looks like Dalton McGuinty! Below: Premier Redford’s sister Lynn, CBC reporter Charles Rusnell and the real Mr. Horne.

Aw, geeze! Just when you thought it was safe to say something nice about Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government and bury the phrase “culture of corruption” once and for all, another shoe drops in the apartment upstairs.

This time it was yesterday’s report by CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell that a senior executive at the old Calgary Health Region used public money earmarked for health care to make donations to PC Party fund-raisers in the mid-2000s with more than a little help from her generous expense account.

Some of Mr. Rusnell’s previous reports, as alert readers will recall, have catalogued similar donations of public funds to the Alberta Tories from school boards, community colleges, universities and health regions – a sort of long-standing money laundering scheme in which taxpayers’ public dollars were routinely converted into private cash for partisan use.

But the really embarrassing thing about the harvest of this latest CBC Freedom of Information search is that the executive in question, one Lynn Redford, is Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s sister.

We will pause here for a moment for all Progressive Conservative supporters reading this to do the traditional palm-to-face gesture that signifies the expiration of all hope. While we wait for them to separate their fingers from their foreheads, we can ponder an interesting question: How many more well shod feet does this Tory centipede have?

According to Mr. Rusnell’s lengthy report yesterday, which shares the byline of Jennie Russell, Lynn Redford was a Calgary Health Region executive when she attended some Tory events back when Alberta still had nine geographically based health regions. These included party fund-raisers, a premier’s dinner and a golf tournament. These Progressive Conservative Party events apparently benefitted mightily from her Calgary Health expense account.

Items claimed as expenses, according to the CBC report, included “fund-raiser tickets, travel costs, mileage, hotel rooms and even more than $200 for liquor for a Tory barbeque.”

Indeed, according to the two CBC reporters, Lynn Redford also expensed a dinner with her sister, now the premier, after Alison Redford was first elected as a Calgary MLA in the 2008 Alberta election.

Alas, political contributions with public funds have been illegal since 2004.

The trouble is, as is becoming increasingly apparent, doing so was absolutely standard operating procedure and nobody even thought twice about it. Indeed, it would seem that to a degree at least this is still so, if Health Minister Fred Horne and Alberta Health Services are to be believed.

Leastways, Mr. Horne told the Edmonton Sun, “I’m not going to make any comment on past health regions. What I can tell you is we have very strict policy here at Alberta Health Services with respect to these sort of donations.” So, the past is irrelevant?

As for AHS, the Calgary Herald quotes an AHS statement saying that when Lynn Redford worked at Calgary Health expense account rules “were not well defined and were open to interpretation.” Ms. Redford was “meeting the expectations and norms at that time,” the AHS added.

This is relevant, of course, because nowadays Lynn Redford is Alberta Health Services’ vice-president of special projects. Patti Grier, the Calgary Health boss who approved her expense accounts, is now chief of staff and corporate secretary.

Which raises an interesting question. Not so long ago, Mr. Rusnell also uncovered the sorry case of Alauddin Merali, the former Capital Health Region chief financial officer who had racked up some pretty spectacular expense account claims. Mr. Merali was swiftly thrown under the bus by the Redford Government and AHS top brass, who had rehired him to do the same job for the province-wide health agency. This was despite the fact there is no evidence he ever broke the rules at Capital Health.

So why are these different former regional health executives being treated differently by the government and the AHS executive suite?

Look, this sort of thing is why cries of “culture of corruption” by the Opposition parties in the Legislature – the right-wing Wildrose Party has been loudest, but the left-leaning NDP is certainly in enthusiastic agreement – seem to be taking on increasing credibility among ordinary Albertans.

Even jaded old bloggers like this one, who have a pretty cynical view of opposition calls for inquiries, commissions and investigations, not to mention claims like those of Opposition Leader Danielle Smith that what we have here in Alberta is “a continued, systematic, systemic, institutional breach of the elections law,” are starting to feel as if there’s an actual problem.

And this perception sure as heck isn’t going to go away anytime soon just because Mr. Horne is trying to lower the Cone of Silence over it!

For one thing, while Stephen Duckett, the Australian PhD hired to run Alberta Health Services in the spring of 2009 and then fired in the fall of 2010 by then premier Ed Stelmach when he became a lightning rod for the health system’s failings, tried to clean things up, it’s far from certain the problem of officials not being able to distinguish between the public’s interests and the PC Party’s didn’t extend well beyond his purview.

For another, it’s hard to shake the feeling there’s some tit-for-tat leaking going on by former officials of both the Calgary and Capital Health Regions – you fink out our Mr. Merali, well, we’ll fink out your Ms. Redford!

So, while anything is possible in a province where voting Tory is such a deeply ingrained habit, maybe these Redford Tories are finding themselves mired deeper than they expected, and it won’t be that easy a task for them to dig themselves out.

Never mind, by the way, that these various sins took place under previous PC premiers. The sniff test has as much to do with how the government on watch when the transgressions are discovered reacts as which one was in charge when the sinning actually took place.

So what should the Tories do, assuming – as it’s presumably safe to do – they’re serious about getting re-elected in three and a half years?

Ms. Smith’s suggestion they simply throw open the expensive account records of all health regions back to 2005 is reasonable one. Why not? It was our money anyway. And if the news is bad, it’s smarter to let it all loose in one massive blast. As has been said here before, if Richard Nixon had done that, he’d likely have served out his term as U.S. president.

It sure doesn’t sound like that’s what the Redford Government has in mind, though.

Likewise, NDP MLA Rachel Notley’s call for an independent inquiry increasingly seems like an excellent way to clear the air.

Past experience with Alberta Tories and calls for wide-ranging public inquiries, though, also suggest this idea is a non-starter.

Regardless, this government needs to do something positive about the whole question of weak election financing laws from which they have benefitted for a long time but which are now weighing them down like the proverbial millstone.

That something could be a tough election financing law, fully transparent, that put meaningful limits on the amounts that could be contributed to parties and political candidates, including party leadership candidates, and controls on the ways those donations can be made, including multiple donations by corporate front groups.

Don’t hold your breath for that outcome either.

Still, these may be the only ways to lay to rest the accusations of a pervasive, embarrassing, deeply entrenched culture of political corruption here in Alberta.

If the Redford Tories don’t do something about the sense something is deeply wrong with the way elections are financed in Alberta, the stink will linger – possibly long enough to do them real harm when the next election rolls around in 2016!

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