All posts tagged Alison Redford

In one day, the ground shifts in Alberta politics in ways unexpected, sometimes uplifting, sometimes troubling

On March 23, Lewis Cardinal became the first nominated federal NDP candidate in Canada for the expected 2015 election. (Photo by Dave Cournoyer, used with permission.) Yesterday he stepped aside in the face of undisclosed health problems. Below: Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.

What a strange day it was yesterday, at times uplifting, at times profoundly depressing, and at times just disorienting.

In the morning, Alberta suddenly dropped most aspects of its official homophobia. This less formal kind will continue to longer for a spell, of course, but as an issue for most Albertans it’s done like the family’s dinner.

At mid-day, the Opposition Wildrose Party – supposedly to the right of the governing Tories – announced that if it’s elected, it will end the Progressive Conservative government’s war on public sector workers and their unions by repealing Canada’s most anti-union legislation.

And at the end of the day we learned that Lewis Cardinal, one of the best NDP candidates in recent memory, was after years of hard work withdrawing from the race to become Member of Parliament for the Edmonton-Centre riding because of an undisclosed health issue.

Who would have thought even a few days ago that any of these things were on the radar?

While one can’t shake the feeling they were dragged to it, kicking and screaming, in the morning Premier pro tem Dave Hancock’s Legislative caucus voted in favour of changes to provincial laws that would remove the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The rule changes will also allow transgendered Albertans to change their birth certificates without having to prove they’d had gender-reassignment surgery. All three opposition parties, including the Wildrose, embarrassed by some of its own supporters’ homophobia in 2012, were already there.

The highly political preamble to the Marriage Act, containing the restrictive definition and a meaningless grumble about this history of marriage and the foundation of society, was introduced by the government of Ralph Klein in 2000 when the issue of same-sex marriage convulsed the province.

For a couple of years now, like pretty well everywhere else in North America, no one much really cared about this any more but for a few religious extremists and angry ninnies, a disproportionate number of whom seem to have time on their hands and access to social media. For the rest of us, “live and let live” and “get on with it” are the watchwords as Alberta reaches a consensus we have other priorities more worthy of our attention than meddling in people’s personal lives.

It will be harder for the PCs to change Bill 44, a holdover from the premiership of Ed Stelmach that tries to use the Human Rights Commission as a hammer to whack teachers who dare to teach about sexuality in the classroom. But this too will come.

No sooner had that been reported than the Wildrose Party released a statement on Bill 9, Finance Minister and would-be premier Doug Horner’s odious public service pension legislation that signals the end of the progressive coalition that saved the short-lived premiership of Alison Redford in the 2012 general election.

The statement, attributed in the Wildrose news release to Finance Critic Rob Anderson, broke new ground for the party’s leadership and indicated a willingness to try to build bridges to groups they had previously eyed warily.

“As usual, the PC government’s standard operating procedure on labour relations issues is that of bullying instead of good faith negotiations,” Mr. Anderson stated.

“Wildrose has long supported the view that contracts and agreements must be respected,” he went on. “That includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners who chose their careers in the public sector based, at least in part, on the promise of the current public pension arrangement.”

“Although we feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long term sustainability of public pensions, we believe that any such changes need to be negotiated openly and respectfully with union leadership, and that any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have yet to be hired, rather than those already employed or retired.”

Significantly, Mr. Anderson ended by promising not just to repeal Bill 9, but to dismantle the unconstitutional Bills 45 and 46, the first of which makes even talking about illegal strikes by public servants illegal, and the second which attempted to force the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees to accept a wage freeze by circumventing the collective bargaining process. That act is in abeyance for the moment thanks to a court injunction won by AUPE while it appeals the constitutionality of the bill.

“Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 9 if elected in 2016, along with Bills 45 and 46 which also unjustly ignore the legal rights of our public sector employees,” Mr. Anderson concluded.

This didn’t just come about without relationship building between the Wildrose leadership and that of AUPE, as first reported in this space.

Naturally, there are many in the union movement whose distrust of the Wildrose Party will make them suspicious of this promise – but it is clear and unequivocal enough, it is said here, that it would be hard for the party to back away from.

Progressive voters will have plenty to complain about if there is soon a Wildrose government in Alberta, but this position at least suggests that for the moment the party doesn’t intend to engage in open warfare with working people and public employees as the Redford-Hancock Government is doing.

Finally, around 6:30 p.m., media and bloggers were emailed the simple statement from Mr. Cardinal, who was such a promising and hardworking candidate.

“I would like to take this time to express deep appreciation to so many supporters and volunteers who have helped me in the federal riding of Edmonton Centre. Their commitment and energy demonstrates the passion for political change that is growing in Edmonton Centre and throughout our city,” Mr. Cardinal wrote.

“I have decided that due to personal and health reasons to step down as the nominated Federal candidate for the Edmonton Centre NDP. This decision was a very difficult one for me to make, but I know that a strong candidate will step forward to build the future that Edmonton Centre needs and deserves.

“I know the desire for change in Edmonton Centre is strong, and that the people here will continue to fight for the things we hold close to our hearts and the future we all wish to see.”

Less than a month ago, on March 26, Mr. Cardinal was nominated with great hope as the New Democratic Party’s first candidate for the next federal election. He had been campaigning in the riding for more than a year after a strong showing in the 2011 federal election. His announcement yesterday is very troubling, and not the first significant health setback to afflict the NDP in recent years.

The NDP will now have to scramble to find a candidate in a riding where a wide-open race was expected with Conservative MP Laurie Hawn retiring and a history of also electing Liberal members.

If yesterday proved anything it’s that the adage attributed to Britain’s Labour prime minister Harold Wilson in the 1970s, that a week is a long time in politics, considerably understates the matter. A single day can be a long time!

This post also appears on

Redford-Hancock Government moves ahead with plan to gut public sector pensions

Alberta Environment Minister Robin Campbell, right, in one of the rather undistinguished jackets that are causing such a brouhaha in the provincial Legislature this week. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Doug Horner, below, is moving to attack the pensions of 300,000 Alberta public employees and no one is paying much attention. Below him, NDP Leader Brian Mason, who opposes his plans, and former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright. But you’ll have to read to the bottom if you want to know what Mr. Wright has to do with this story.

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner gave notice yesterday that the government is about to introduce bills allowing him to go ahead and gut the retirement security of provincial public employees.

Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, will be proof, if any more was needed, that the Progressive Conservative Government’s current survival plan does not include trying to rebuild the progressive coalition that pulled its fat from the fryer in April 2012.

If everything Mr. Horner has said up to now is true, the public sector bill is likely to significantly reduce the pensions paid to UNA members and other public employees over time, and quite possibly induce a run on the pension plans before then as it sinks into recently hired and new members’ heads what a lousy deal they’ll be getting for the same cost paid by current members.

Also based on past statements, the government hopes to leave unions representing some of the plans’ members holding the bag for the chaos that will inevitably ensue, an unlikely scenario.

In a news release yesterday, the Alberta NDP said the party’s legislative caucus will focus on the government’s attack on public service pensions for the rest of the legislative session.

With only four members, the New Democrats have little chance of stopping the carnage, even with the help of other Opposition parties. But the NDP release contained a nice jab at the Opposition Wildrose Party, which may or may not be farther to the right than the Redford-Hancock Tories.

“This is an incredibly important issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Albertans,” NDP Leader Brian Mason stated. “While other parties focus on jackets and junkets, we are focusing our efforts on real issues that affect real Albertans.”

Both the Wildrose Party and the media have been concentrating their efforts the past couple of days on stories about former premier Alison Redford’s many flights on government aircraft with her friends and relations, especially her pre-teen daughter, and on the government’s plans to spend $9,475 to dress government MLAs and their friends in unfashionable promotional jackets.

These stories don’t add up to much compared to the attack on the retirement security 300,000 working Albertans and their families, Mr. Mason seemed to be saying – a tactic that recognizes the NDP and Wildrose Party will be fighting it out for many seats in the Edmonton area in the next general election.

On Monday, in a related development, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock said the province’s non-union employees will have to live with the same wage package the government has tried without much success to impose on members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

In February, AUPE managed to prevent the government from forcing its members to swallow that bitter pill when it sought and got a Court of Queen’s Bench injunction blocking the use of Bill 46, the so-called Public Service Salary Restraint Act. The injunction was to remain in effect until the union’s appeal of the bill on constitutional grounds is complete, a process that could take years. The scathing injunction ruling by Mr. Justice Denny Thomas stated flatly “that Alberta did not meet its obligation to bargain in good faith.”

The Redford Government had intended to use Bill 46 to impose a contract and wage freeze on the 22,000 direct employees of the province represented by AUPE, and also likely as the template for other public sector bargaining units in health care and education. Now the Redford-Hancock Government continues to claim it believes the law is constitutional and that it can win on appeal. It is also appealing the injunction.

Mr. Hancock’s comment to the Edmonton Journal’s reporter, however, suggested he knows otherwise. “Hancock said the deal given to non-union staff may be re-evaluated in the future if the AUPE secures a better deal for union employees,” journalist Miriam Ibrahim wrote.

In other words, once the courts have had the opportunity to rule on Bill 46, the government knows perfectly well it is going to have to settle its dispute with AUPE through binding arbitration, as set out in the current law as an alternative to the right to strike.

It knows just as well that no independent arbitrator will allow it to force AUPE to take the deal it had intended to impose.

So Mr. Hancock knows, it is said here, that his government is just hosing away taxpayers’ money for political advantage. If he says otherwise, he is not being entirely forthright with you.

+ + +

No surprises as PCs release leadership race rules

Also yesterday, the PC Party released the timeline for the ongoing leadership contest required by the firing of Ms. Redford by her caucus last month.

Candidate nominations will open on May 15 – at which point cabinet ministers like Doug Horner and Thomas Lukaszuk will have to make a call or get out of the booth. All paperwork such as nomination forms and proof of party membership must be submitted by May 30.

Candidates must pay a $20,000 fee when picking up their nomination package and $30,000 more when handing it in. Aug. 15 will be the last day to withdraw from the race. Nothing was said about what will happen if a candidate withdraws and then discovers the party has already spent his or her fee on, say, communications advice.

+ + +

Tories decide to throw Mama from the plane

Finally, word came yesterday that in their desperation to pin decades of entitlement on the former premier in order to survive the coming election, the PCs have opted to throw Mama from the plane by allowing the Auditor General to investigate Ms. Redford’s many flights aboard government aircraft with her young daughter.

This was fine with her ministers when it was happening, but it is deeply disturbing to them now. So the AG will poke around until July and either exonerate Ms. Redford, in which case the government will tell the rest of us to get over it, or not exonerate her, which will allow the government to point to what a fine job it has done of blaming the former premier for what until a month ago was standard operating procedure.

In similar news, the RCMP said yesterday there would be no charges against Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, for paying $90,000 of suspended Senator Mike Duffy’s living expenses, which it turns out was merely a really nice gesture.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along please.

This post also appears on

The ‘Self Preservation Society’ wants Jim Prentice for ‘The Alberta Job’ – but can he forgo his ambition to be PM?

“The Alberta Job.” Will the original “Self Preservation Society” get to keep the Tory gold? Is Jim Prentice – above, not exactly as illustrated – the man to help them do it? Read on to find out why we’ll probably never find out. Below: The actual Jim Prentice. Below him: Possible, rumoured, putative PC leadership candidate Stephen Mandel.

The question Jim Prentice really needs to ask himself is this: “Do I really want to ride that bus all the way to the bottom of the cliff and be sitting in it when it bursts into flames?”

The question the lawyer, banking boss and sometime federal Conservative politician will actually ask himself will likely be a little more polished, and a little more complicated. To wit: “Can becoming leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party help my ambition to become the prime minister of Canada?”

But in the end – since the metaphorical bus in the first question represents the Alberta PC Party, the original Self Preservation Society, the cliff it’s teetering on represents the election that is going to have to be called sooner or later, and the gold in the back represents the gold in the back – the questions are actually pretty much the same.

If Mr. Prentice is the person he appears to be, the answer to either question is likely to be a resounding No!

With an excellent and extensive political resume, and the opinion widely held in Alberta political circles that there’s no one in the current Alberta PC caucus and cabinet likely to be able to fend off a challenge to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party whenever an election gets called, it’s natural that die-hard PCs see Mr. Prentice as a potential saviour of their party after the disaster of the Redford-Hancock Government.

The other potential savior that gets some Tory hearts going pitty-pat these days is former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. But notwithstanding Mr. Mandel’s great collection of bow ties, it seems as if it’s Mr. Prentice that has them mopping their brows and fanning themselves.

Mr. Prentice is available, sort of, having quit his job as Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre North and resigned from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet, in which he had held a number of important posts, back in November 2010.

And he can probably afford the $50,000 entry fee, seeing as since January 2011 he’s been employed as senior executive VP and vice-chairperson of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. And heaven knows, they need the money!

Sounds like he’s dipped his toes in the leadership lake a couple of times too, just to see how warm the water is, as he’s been known to do once or twice before in similar circumstances.

But you’ll notice that, notwithstanding the understandable buzz from desperate Alberta Tories dreaming of a way to hang onto power one more time, Mr. Prentice doesn’t seem to have made any announcements, or said anything much of consequence at all. This, presumably, is because he’s still mulling over his chances and what they mean to his ultimate ambition – to wit, the prime ministership of Canada.

As I see it, there are three things that could happen if Mr. Prentice throws his hat in the Progressive Conservative leadership ring and tries to get “The Alberta Job”:

  1. He could lose to one of the other candidates – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.
  2. He could win the nomination and then lose the election – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.
  3. He could win the nomination and somehow win the election – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.

The problem with Point 3 from Mr. Prentice’s perspective, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention since 1896, when the 69-day ministry of Charles Tupper came to an end, is that Sir Charles was the last provincial premier ever to become prime minister of Canada.

And it’s likely to stay that way. After all, why would Canadians elect a provincial premier as national leader – a surefire guarantee, in the public mind, of a leader who won’t consider the needs of the entire country.

Someday, I suppose, we may elect a PM who was a premier first, but it won’t be any time soon, and it will most likely be a short-lived accident like Sir Charles Tupper.

Ergo, unless he’s given up on his prime ministerial ambitions, Mr. Prentice would be nuts to run to be premier of Alberta.

Also, he’d have to give up his current job as a big shot with CIBC, which almost certainly includes a pretty comfortable bi-weekly pay packet and some nice additional perks.

On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Prentice has concluded, like me, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will never willingly let go. Yeah, I know, the Ottawa Press Gallery has been in a frenzy for a year about how Mr. Harper is depressed, Mr. Harper has no friends left, Mr. Harper will quit any minute now…

But it’s said here that reading this kind of stuff every day would make it pretty hard for a man of Mr. Prentice’s inclinations to take a chance on the Alberta Job.

Still, if you’re a desperate Alberta Tory, you can dream of just such a miracle.

And if you’re the Bull Goose Strategist for the Wildrose Party – whoever that is now that Tom Flanagan spends his days writing judgmental books about the prime minister we have at the moment – you can have nightmares about it.

+ + +

Who knew? The loons of the Right were right for once!

If you Google the terms “Lorne Gunter” and “Nanny State,” you will discover that this particular combination has been posted to the Internet more than 4,400 times.

Mostly, the Sun Media columnist seems to have been complaining about things done by the Alberta government, such as banning the use of cellular phones while driving, but other governments appear to be guilty of trying to create a nanny state too in Mr. Gunter’s relentlessly consistent worldview.

It gets more interesting. Replace “Lorne Gunter” with “Monte Solberg,” another Sun Media columnist of similar views, and you will Google 21,200 articles. After that, it just gets better: Ezra Levant: 47,500 articles using “Nanny State.” Brian Lilley: 72,300. Michael Coren: 203,000!

OK, we already knew these guys were drinking from the same bathtub. Still, it turns out they were right. Really!

At any rate, CBC Edmonton investigative journalist Charles Rusnell reported yesterday that when Alison Redford was still premier of Alberta, and before that when she was minister of justice, she not only took her daughter on 50 flights aboard the government airplane, but on at least one occasion she brought the nanny along too.

So it turns out Alberta really is a “nanny state”! Leastways, the nanny really was aboard the state plane. Who knew?

This post also appears on

Rob Anders loses by a nose in Signal Hill as Cowtown Cons make the best of a bad choice

Lost by a nose … but what a nose! A 22-year-old Rob Anders in 1994, heckling an Oklahoma politician. Below: Calgary Signal Hill nomination victor Ron Liepert; Mr. Anders as he looks today.

There was blood in the water of the Bow River as it flowed through Cowtown last night.

After a while, it became clear the metaphorical blood had been shed by the ever-embarrassing Rob Anders, who at a mere 42 years of age had served an excruciating six terms as the Reform, Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament for the Calgary West riding, which will soon cease to exist.

This, however, was not immediately obvious. After more than an hour and a half of waiting for ballot counters in the new Calgary Signal-Hill electoral district to figure out whether Mr. Anders or challenger Ron Liepert had won the hard-fought Tory nomination, the Calgary Herald posted a story saying they both had!

It was soon apparent Southern Alberta’s Website of Record had published a draft version containing two alternative leads, causing a few minutes of confusion before the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., whose employees were victims last week of massive cuts by the federal Conservative government whose nomination Messrs. Anders and Liepert were fighting over, came to the rescue of political news junkies and confirmed the former provincial cabinet minister’s victory.

The CBC reported that about 2,400 of the riding’s 3,250 eligible Tories voted, but said the party refused to release the final tallies. Tweets earlier in the evening had claimed the two were separated by only five votes.

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, and myriad Twitterists took advantage of the hour and half of silence to get up to all kinds of mischief, posting old Youtube videos of Mr. Anders in a Pinocchio nose being humiliated while heckling an American politician and dozing off in the House of Commons, and making jokes about how it takes time to fix a good election.

But in the event, it appears the election wasn’t fixed at all – notwithstanding endorsements of Mr. Anders by the likes of Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. In retrospect, the PM’s endorsement seemed half-hearted at best, so this may be a rare case of the rats being chased off a sinking ship.

Leastways, the contest obviously wasn’t fixed in Mr. Anders’ favour. So Mr. Liepert, a 64-year-old former AM radio disk jockey and Progressive Conservative minster from the cabinets of Alberta premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, was eventually declared the victor, leading one Tweeter to crow that party members in Signal Hill had chosen “the lesser of two weasels.”

This may not be a bad summation, actually.

Appropriately born on April Fools’ Day, Mr. Anders’ foibles are almost as well known as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s.

In 1994, he travelled south to act as a “professional heckler” for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a “foreign political saboteur” for his trouble by CNN.) He later assailed Ralph Klein as a “cocktail Conservative,” too soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.

As Calgary West MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that Quebeckers should be able to form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. His was the only non-Bloc MP vote for the proposition. He also famously called Nelson Mandela a Communist and a terrorist and was the only legislator to vote against giving the South African liberator honourary Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Anders once boasted about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he’d taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he explained to a astonished and appalled reporter, he had “gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will.”)

In 2012, he was captured on TV falling asleep on TV in the House of Commons. The same year, he accused NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair of hastening Jack Layton’s death.

As for Mr. Liepert, while hardly able to reach Mr. Anders’ sub-orbital levels of idiocy, he was nevertheless the perennial bull in the china shop of Alberta provincial politics.

As a short-tempered minister given the Education portfolio by Mr. Stelmach, he soon roused Alberta’s teachers, hitherto practically a branch of the Progressive Conservative Party, to a state of open rebellion.

Later, as minister of health and wellness, he launched Alberta’s catastrophic experiment in health-care centralization, pushed seniors’ care toward a high-cost private model, watched a crisis in the province’s emergency rooms boil over, and brought in Stephen Duckett, the egotistical and undiplomatic Australian PhD economist, to lead Alberta Health Services into a black hole, where it remains.

Mr. Liepert became so unpopular as health minister seniors would boo spontaneously when he walked into a room. Mr. Stelmach eventually had to shuffle him off to the energy ministry to get him out of harm’s way.

To the astonishment of everyone who hadn’t been paying attention to their political history, upon taking power, former premier Alison Redford jumped Mr. Liepert up to the finance portfolio, his provincial swansong before what obviously turned out to be an insufficiently engaging retirement.

His history with Ms. Redford? He managed her unsuccessful 2004 campaign to … wait for it … try to topple Mr. Anders in Calgary West.

As a result, no love was lost between the two, and Mr. Anders in particular ran a sleazy campaign, claiming Mr. Liepert was backed by “temporary Tories” from Liberal and NDP ranks, portraying the old privatizer as a tax and spend liberal and employing misleading phone calls to attack his opponent.

The conventional Alberta wisdom is now that Mr. Liepert will go on to automatically win the next general election for the Harper Tories and that Mr. Anders has had his last dance, but one wonders.

Even with redrawn boundaries, the sinking of Rob Anders is a political event of sufficient force to register on the Richter scale. Could it be that Mr. Anders’ accusation was true and Mr. Liepert’s ten-minute Tories will return to their own parties while his own gun nut and fundamentalist Christian supporters stay home on election day?

Or, even better, that Mr. Anders might run as an independent to bleed off the vote of the sizeable Conservative lunatic fringe in the riding.

These seem like improbable scenarios to this former Calgary resident, but hope springs eternal on the dusty plains of Alberta. After all, a Liberal very nearly knocked off Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt in November 2012, and may have a better chance to do so next time.

Mr. Anders could also get the nod from his friends in the party to seek another Calgary riding’s nomination, thereby surviving to make a fool of himself another day.

Nevertheless, the defeat of Mr. Anders by Mr. Liepert last night marks the end of an era in Alberta.

That is, except for the fact he will continue to serve as the MP for Calgary West until an election is called, leaving plenty of time for new embarrassments.

This post also appears on

Alberta Tories on public service pensions: ‘We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?’

As Tory leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, standing, and Doug Horner look on, Alberta Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock tries out the barrel in which the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party will lead their caucus over the falls. Actual Tory premiers and would-be premiers may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: International Affairs Minister Cal Dallas and Alberta Tory dynasty founder Peter Lougheed.

They may have skidded their most disastrous leader, but the brain trust now running Alberta’s foundering Progressive Conservative Government has made it abundantly clear they intend to press ahead with their scheme to demolish the progressive coalition that saved their political bacon in 2012.

Obviously, they have concluded this will improve their chances of re-election whenever they decide to call an election, an event that for cynical tactical reasons will likely take place outside the “fixed election period” they legislated in late 2011.

Well, good luck to them with that!

The mechanism for this demolition project is the government’s determination to carry on with its plans to gut the modest public service pensions that are the retirement security of some 300,000 Albertans and their families, a fact explained surprisingly bluntly in the Legislature Thursday by Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas.

The Tories’ rationale is interesting, appearing to be: Why? Because we can.

Also interesting was Mr. Dallas’s tacit admission to the Legislature that the government under premier Alison Redford and Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock lied to Albertans about the reasons for the pension cuts – which are clearly designed to achieve the seemingly hopeless aim of wooing back the substantial numbers of right-wing voters who have abandoned the government for the Wildrose Party.

Speaking for conveniently absent Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose ministerial responsibility it was to make this announcement, Mr. Dallas put it very clearly: “The current unfunded liabilities will be paid down over a period of 12 years.”

In other words, Mr. Dallas was tacitly admitting to MLAs that the unfunded liability the government has up to now claimed was the principal reason its planned cuts were required will in fact disappear very soon under funding arrangements already put in place by employees and employers – just as the unions involved have said all along.

The new principal reason for the cuts is apparently that the government wants to save money at the expense of the retirement security it promised its front-line workers – especially if they happen to be modestly paid women. A fair summary of the government’s revised position, then, as explained by Mr. Dallas, would be: We lied. So what are you gonna do about it?

Well, not collectively bargain improvements to compensate for the takeaway, that’s for sure, since the government has all but ended the practice of legal collective bargaining for public employees in this province.

Moreover, Mr. Dallas said, the legislation will include a moratorium on even talking about fixing that problem until 2021 – at which point, he fantasized, management of the plans will be turned over to the unions so that they can take the blame for the retirement-security disaster that will most likely follow. Good luck getting that to happen too!

Nor will employees and retirees affected by this scheme be likely to strike illegally, openly advocate striking illegally, talk theoretically about striking illegally, write blogs discussing striking illegally, or even think about striking illegally since the government has with totalitarian efficiency outlawed all of those activities too – except perhaps the last one.

Eventually, one expects, the courts will deal efficiently enough with this unconstitutional nonsense – but not without several years of delays the Tories clearly hope can they can spin out through legal foot dragging and obstruction of Albertans’ fundamental rights.

In the mean time, I suppose, vicious compliance, retirements and the movement of many skilled health care workers to other jurisdictions will be the orders of the day. Political and financial fallout from a run on the various public sector plans as members try to find ways to bail out is also a strong possibility.

Obviously, all this will be popular in certain quarters here in Alberta – at least until it sinks in that it means no one can trust any Progressive Conservative government to honour any contract or any constitutionally protected right.

But how helpful this will turn out to be for the Redford-Hancock Government is not so clear when, as noted above, the voters it is most likely to appeal to with such a policy have already loaded up the truck and moved to Wildrose Country.

Perhaps the Tories think progressive voters and public employees can once again be stampeded into voting for them by fear mongering about Wildrose social values.

This seems increasingly unlikely given the magnitude of the betrayal, and the fact most of their own caucus has just been exposed as unwilling to take even a modest and risk-free stand against institutionalized bigotry in our province’s schools.

Since both Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and Mr. Horner are advocates of this attack on pensions and both are leading candidates for the party leadership, campaigning not-quite openly so they can retain the publicity opportunities afforded by their cabinet posts, there is no way this can be blamed after the fact on Ms. Redford alone. It must continue to be a party responsibility.

Historians will argue for a long time about what group or factor bought an end to the Tory dynasty that was founded by Peter Lougheed in 1971.

As is often the case, each group will advance explanations that promote their own interests. Economic conservatives will argue the Tories were no longer financially responsible enough, social conservatives will claim their social attitudes were too godless and liberal, and progressives who were fooled into voting for Ms. Redford in 2012 will conclude it was because the government broke its promises and abandoned them. Indeed, many of these progressive voters will think: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Perhaps in the end there will be something to all these interpretations.

The key to Tory success hitherto in Alberta has been that the PCs were a big-tent centre-right party with something for almost everyone, and nothing too offensive for anyone.

By sawing off the third leg of the three-legged stool they’ve sat upon for 43 years, they have now became a party that offers nothing to anyone and has something to offend everyone.

All the Redford-Hancock Government has left is the charming notion Alberta without Progressive Conservatives at the helm is unimaginable – just as Alberta without Social Credit seemed unimaginable in 1970.

When they get the opportunity, I expect Alberta voters of all ideological stripes will draw the Tories a clear diagram that illustrates why they should have been more imaginative. It cannot happen too soon.

This post also appears on

If Albertans can’t trust actuary’s conclusions, why did AHS hire the same firm? Hint: it’s not the firm you can’t trust

The Alberta Health Services computing division, figuring out how much they spend on consultants this quarter, hard at work. Actual Alberta health bureaucrats may not appear exactly as illustrated.


It was interesting, surely, to read the Wildrose Party’s revelation yesterday that Alberta Health Services had spent close to a quarter of a billion dollars on consultants for such services as communications advice, executive coaching and fine arts expertise in a mere 18 months in 2012 and 2013.

But it was revealing, too, in a small way, to take a peek at whom some of the favoured consultants were on the list kindly provided by the Opposition party’s research department.

Among the $248.8 million doled out to private companies by the massive province-wide public health provider for about 500 contracts – many of which, of course, are bound to be for completely legitimate work, even if it would have been better done by AHS staff – was this interesting tidbit: George & Bell Consulting of Vancouver, to advise how to manage a cancer-prevention legacy fund.

Hmmmm… Let it be said right now that George & Bell is a completely legitimate actuarial firm, widely respected in its specialized area of expertise. Moreover, no one at Alberta Diary will complain about the propriety of this contract.

On the other hand, alert readers may recall that George & Bell – the very same firm – has been in the news lately, its good name treated dismissively by senior spokespeople of the same Progressive Conservative government that created and runs AHS.

These powerful folks were unhappy with the results of a study done by the same firm saying there was no need for the Redford-Hancock Government to trash 300,000 public employees’ and pensioners’ retirement plans to shore up its flagging support on the right.

This, of course, was because George & Bell was the firm to which a coalition of public service unions went for an assessment of the sustainability of Alberta’s public service pension funds – which the government in general and Finance Minister Doug Horner in particular were loudly proclaiming required “reform” to ensure their “sustainability.”

The pension coalition chose Vancouver-based George & Bell because it is an independent, professional firm with a good reputation – in other words, respected by all and beholden to no one. The firm’s study of Alberta’s public-sector pension plans demonstrated that they are healthy and well on their way to fully-funded status thanks to the efforts of plan members and employers – without any need for the change in benefits sought by the government for political reasons.

The results of the study flew in the face of arguments used by Mr. Horner, Mr. Hancock and other members of the Redford-Horner Government to justify the plan to roll back the modest pensions paid to Alberta’s public service pensioners.

Various government spokespeople tried to suggest that George & Bell’s conclusions couldn’t be trusted because the company was doing the study at the behest, and the $20,000 expense, of the union group.

In one story, Mr. Horner accused George & Bell of sticking its (presumably collective) head in the sand. A sheet of talking points misleadingly entitled “Myths and Facts” – Facts and Myths would be more like it – that the government has circulated to Alberta civil servants tries to blow off the study as sloppy piece of work that looked at an inadequate number of scenarios.

This is all baloney, of course, but just the kind of thing you’d expect when the government tried to reduce a fact-based argument over policy to a he-said-she-said scrap, the better to discredit the other side.

Not surprisingly, the government then ignored a union suggestion that the parties agree to another firm and commission another study – which would have cost the province about $10,000, small potatoes compared to the $3 million spent by the same people on public relations advice.

As an aside, that money may not have been spent well if the consultants suggested the approach taken yesterday by AHS’s communications staff to media questions about the Wildrose release: they hunkered down, refused to answer media calls and posted a stream of defensive Tweets. Tweets! Trust me, this is not considered a best practice in the PR field!

So this raises the obvious question: if George & Bell’s methodology is so inferior, pray, why are Alberta Health Services and its masters in the Redford-Hancock Government using the same firm for the same kind of purposes?

The answer is pretty simple and obvious. The problem isn’t the conclusions reached by George & Bell, it’s the ones reached by Doug Horner, Dave Hancock and, of course, Alison Redford.

The appearance this morning of this post – written late at night in a couple of airport waiting rooms – is proof of the obsessive need of its author to publish something on Alberta Diary every day.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes quits Alberta cabinet – presumably to run for PC leadership

Half-confirmed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ken Hughes, on the night in 2011 Alison Redford won the party’s leadership. Well, that was then and this is now, as the appalled looking unidentified passerby seemed to have sensed. Below: Doug Horner. Anyone else?

Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister quit his cabinet post yesterday, by the sound of it because he intends to run for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.

If that’s the reason for Ken Hughes unexpectedly showing up in one of the back rows of the Legislature’s latest seating chart – he didn’t give a lot of notice that he’d asked to be moved there – it will surely come as a huge relief to the PC Party executive.

Mr. Hughes, who was also former premier Alison Redford’s Energy Minister for a spell after he got elected to the Legislature in 2012, may not be the most scintillating or charismatic guy you’ll ever meet, but at least he seems capable of doing the premier’s job in a pedestrian sort of way.

So if that’s what this is actually about, after a week of old party warhorses publicly saying “hell no, I won’t go,” it can no longer be said that no one who can actually do the job is interested in it.

It’s said here it was a little odd Mr. Hughes didn’t just say he’s running, instead promising to make another announcement about something soon and referring everyone to an evocatively named website that tells about how he “has demonstrated personal strength of character,” “has a frugal approach to money,” and “has an ability to dream big and then deliver.” (Examples please!)

Presumably in an effort to establish some outsider cred, the site also says the former Southern Alberta Member of Parliament is “someone who has not spent most of their last 15 years in and around politics,” which if you ask me is a bit of a stretch, if not an outright howler.

It’s true that as the Chair of the Board of Alberta Health Services from 2008 to 2011, Mr. Hughes wasn’t actually an elected politician. But since premier Ed Stelmach did away with regional health authorities in 2008, it’s hard to imagine a more political job in this province – or a job that anyone could land without being politically connected.

Well, that was back in the days when Alberta Health Services still had an independent governing board, before Redford Government Health Minister Fred Horne went and fired them all for paying insufficient attention to his orders. It’s safe to say that if Mr. Hughes hadn’t resigned that position in 2011 to run for Ms. Redford’s party, AHS would still be governed by its board.

More likely, though, this was just a way to squeeze two news hits out of an essentially dull story weirdly scheduled on a day when the national media had bigger fish to fry. To wit: the widely predicted defeat of the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec.

Either that or Mr. Hughes hasn’t quite raised the $50,000 he’s going to need to get his name on the ballot and has a few more calls to make.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, as is well known, several other cabinet ministers have been dropping hints about being interested in the leadership race without actually doing anything that Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has decreed would require them to give up their cabinet posts.

This list includes Finance Minister Doug Horner, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Energy Minister Diana McQueen.

Of this group, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner are probably the most likely candidates, based on their experience and diplomatic skills. Although, for his part, Mr. Horner is also still doing the dance of a thousand fans – hinting at plenty but not actually revealing very much.

Regardless of whom is chosen, it still seems quite possible it will turn out to be a fairly short-term gig, although with the hope of a more permanent position afterward as leader of the opposition. So perhaps we shouldn’t rule out Mr. Lukaszuk, who seems to have no friends in his own party but does have the sort of aggressive personality usually associated with the opposition benches.

There’s a school of thought – nicely articulated by Old Warhorse Jim Dinning in his recent I’m-not-a-candidate announcement – that the only way the party can survive is by choosing a real outsider. So far, though, while several names have been mentioned, none has actually put up his or her hand and volunteered.

Rumoured outsiders have included former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who at nearly 69 seems a little long in the tooth to start a new career; banker and former Conservative Parliamentarian Jim Prentice, who those in the know say is more interested in a timely return to the greener pastures of the Ottawa Valley; and current Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose putative candidacy, presumably, is merely somebody’s fevered pipedream.

Regardless, if more candidates don’t come forward soon, the party may have to adopt a “negative option leadership candidacy” policy or resign itself to an extremely boring runoff between Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner, with a bow-tied Mr. Lukaszuk taking annoying potshots from the peanut galleries.

This post also appears on

Say what? After 36 years, secret Alberta Tory slush fund comes to light

Senior Alberta Progressive Conservative Party officials and guards remove election campaign funds from the vaults of the “Tapcal Trust.” Actual PC party officials may not appear exactly as illustrated: Below: PC Party Executive Director Kelley Charlebois; Public Interest Alberta Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon.

So, there’s this law in Alberta that allows the ruling Progressive Conservative Party to have a possibly huge and definitely secret slush fund, but makes it illegal for any other party to do the same thing.

What’s more, the fund’s been around for at least 36 years and no one’s uttered a squeak of protest, presumably in the case of the public, the press and the opposition because they didn’t know about it.

Since 1977, it’s also been illegal for any other party to have a similar secret slush fund, but according to an expose in the National Post, the Tory version was grandfathered into the law, so it’s OK. Moreover, since the Tory trust was exempted from election disclosure laws, the secret has only deepened.

You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding, right? Well, apparently not. April 1 is behind us now, although that is the date on the Post’s persuasively detailed account of the “Tapcal Trust,” previously known as the “P.C. Bill 24 Trust” and the “Legislation Trust.”

Anyway, this is Alberta, where we like to enshrine our political corruption with the notion that it’s not corrupt if all the paperwork’s been done properly. The laws for the rest of us, naturally, don’t apply to the government and its friends.

Meanwhile, an orderly and properly conducted election is under way today in the province of Quebec, a jurisdiction that a surprising number of Albertans would associate with corruption. Perhaps we Albertans need to recalibrate our perceptions a little. I’m just sayin’.

According to the Post, which did good work on this story, nobody knows how much money is in the trust – least of all Elections Alberta, the provincial body charged with overseeing funds like this when they are the property of parties not assumed to be the natural government of Alberta.

The Post quoted an Elections Alberta official saying, “I don’t know if there’s $1 in there, $100 dollars or $1 million.” Or, one supposes, $100 million, although the shrinking contributions from the fund to the party that were enumerated by the Post would suggest otherwise. Quoth the official: “It’s something they have that other parties aren’t allowed to have, that’s fair to say.”

If, like Bill Moore-Kilgannon of the Public Interest Alberta advocacy group, you think the PCs – whoever happens to be leading the party this week – should disclose this fund like the law requires all the other parties to do, well, don’t hold your breath.

Kelley Charlebois, the party’s executive director, told the Post Alberta Tories don’t talk about that kind of thing, thank you very much.

“If this wouldn’t be allowed under current financial disclosure rules,” said Moore-Kilgannon, “then they need to close this loophole and make sure that all parties are treated equally.” D’ya think?

This may not add up to an ethically sound policy on the part of the PCs, but it might make some strategic sense from the party’s perspective – whether the secret slush fund is empty or full. Although, that said, it could also have the unintended effect of making the opposition parties go hammer and tong raising more money on the theory the otherwise broke ruling party’s slush fund is overflowing with cash.

How did this come to light just now? This is not entirely clear, but one supposes the fact a large number of former high PC mucky-mucks have decamped for the Opposition Wildrose Party, taking their insiders’ knowledge of party affairs with them, may have had something to do with it.

The fund has been around long enough, at any rate, that it can hardly be blamed on former premier Alison Redford, who will now get to carry the load, one senses, for a lot of Tory sins she had relatively little to do with as what’s left of the PCs under Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock attempts to restore its virtual virtuous fig leaf.

No, the Tapcal Fund or whatever it is called originates in the fundamental belief of the Alberta Conservative elite – given with their mothers’ milk and nurtured through the 70 or so years of increasingly radical “conservative” rule we have endured in this one-party petro-state – that the rules are for everyone else.

And what do you want to bet that it’s not the only example of this kind of thing, either?

Which leads to another thought: In the days between the next Alberta election and the swearing in of the new government, someone had better have the paperwork drawn up and ready to file to stop the shredding that’s bound to be going on at a feverish pitch in the offices of outgoing PC MLAs and ministers!

Might not hurt to have the fire department standing by either.

This post also appears on

Tales from the Tory crypt: Apres Alison le deluge

Tory leadership non-candidate Jim Dinning with your blogger, back in the day. Below: Former premier Ed Stelmach and non-candidates Ted Morton and Gary Mar.

If we were to speak for former Alberta premier Alison Redford today, here is what we would say: “Apres moi le deluge!”

There is plenty of fight left in the Alberta PC Party. The trouble is, it is all directed inwardly, at other Tories.

On everything except the policies that must be changed to save the party, Alberta’s crumbling 43-year-old Progressive Conservatives dynasty is disunited, playing out its increasingly bitter rivalries in public.

Given that, who could be found in possession of both an ounce of sense and $50,000 in spare change to step forward to be the party’s saviour? Count on it, the list of leadership contenders that actually joins the race will be both shorter and less impressive than the catalogue of candidates now being touted by pundits and the media. The numbers of ten- and even two-minute Tories persuaded to sign up and vote for them will hit historic lows as well.

Every day the list of promising leadership prospects no longer interested in the job gets longer.

The Opposition Wildrose Party – really just another faction of the same “conservative” family – is truly a “government in waiting now,” impatiently tapping its metaphorical toes and drumming its metaphorical fingers as it awaits the opportunity to beat the hapless Tories like the family mule and install Danielle Smith as premier.

Consider what the voices from the Tory crypt now making themselves heard are saying.

Yesterday in Regina, former premier Ed Stelmach, the one whose underachieving leadership now looks stellar compared with that of the catastrophic Ms. Redford, told an audience of Junior Achievers that “now’s a time for a leader with modesty (and) humility.”

Well, as the Bard said and Mr. Stelmach went a way to proving while in office, “nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.”

Mr. Stelmach told the young Achievers that, in his opinion, it wasn’t Ms. Redford’s policies that got her in trouble, “it was just poor judgment.” Well, yeah, but it’s possible, isn’t it, that one flowed from the other?

Later today, presumably, interim Tory leader and Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock will be in the news lambasting Mr. Stelmach and taking the rest of Mr. Shakespeare’s advice: “…but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favor’d rage.”

Yesterday, as it happens, Mr. Hancock was busy responding to another former leadership contender who has been telling tales from the crypt: Jim Dinning, the front-runner in the 2006 contest who unexpectedly lost to the aforementioned Mr. Stelmach, who in turn became Alberta’s unlucky Premier No. 13.

Mr. Dinning had taken to the pages of the Calgary Herald on Wednesday, saying that any new PC leader would have to deal with a dysfunctional and entitled party – and advising everyone that he wasn’t going to be the one who saved the unsalvageable Tories. His message in a nutshell: “This party needs someone like me. Too bad it can’t have me!”

Whoever leads the party, Mr. Dinning said, needs to be an outsider. He went on to take a hard shot at Finance Minister Doug Horner, who is probably the most credible candidate still remaining inside the battered PC caucus and cabinet.

“Let’s return to the simple and clear accounting rules used to get our government back in the black,” Mr. Dinning said, a reference to Mr. Horner’s confusing new-math accounting that appears to have been invented to conjure up a desperate pre-election budget “surplus.”

He went on: “The budget is one of the most important things the government does, because it drives almost everything else. Albertans sacrificed a lot to have a debt-free future. We don’t want that hard work put at risk, and we should be able to understand the government’s books.”

By the end of the day, this had Premier Hancock on the defensive, sniffing that Mr. Dinning, a former finance minister under Ralph Klein, is entitled to his opinion, but that Mr. Horner’s scheme is a “very good and simple accounting process.”

“I sure don’t like that word entitlement,” Premier Hancock huffed. “I do not know anybody on any side of the house in any party who ran for personal gain and is there for personal gain.” (Eye rolls all ‘round.)

With the Herald now the go-to site for disgruntled former would-be Tory leaders, the previous Monday its pages were graced by another former finance minister and sometime leadership front-runner, Ted Morton, who is still the worst premier Alberta never had.

The PCs’ former chief party ideologue and separatist Firewall Manifesto signatory is now working as a teacher in the University of Calgary’s cult-like School of Public Policy. He was considerably harsher and more explicit in his judgments of the current PC leadership as he too ruled himself out of joining the 2014 lemming run.

Dr. Morton, who hails from California and Wyoming, ripped the latest former PC premier for relying on political advisors from Ontario as her political brain trust.

And he hammered Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner alike for the new accounting rules that Mr. Dinning also assailed. “You can’t say that you’ve balanced the budget when you are borrowing billions and only saving millions,” he complained. “The math doesn’t work.”

“For many PC faithful – I was one – this was our hallmark, the PC brand,” Dr. Morton went on. “We may agree to disagree on social issues, but when it comes to paying our way and telling Albertans the truth about how much we are spending, and how much, if any, we owe the banks – that’s untouchable.”

Ms. Redford and Mr. Horner, he grumbled, “threw that brand overboard.”

Dr. Morton’s pitch, in turn, can be summed up as: “You were stupid not to choose me, so nuts to you.” Nevertheless, it will resonate with the many former PCs who are now making their way to the Wildrose Party.

Gary Mar, the front-runner from 2011, had earlier ruled himself out of the race too, although with considerably more grace. Likely, though, Mr. Mar is thinking many of the same things as he wonders where his career will take him when he leaves his lavish exile in Hong Kong, which is bound to happen soon.

But this is only the beginning of what is certain to be long series of denunciations of the Redford-Hancock-Whoever Government.

Even unmemorable leadership aspirants entrusted with minor cabinet portfolios by Ms. Redford are turning on her, grasping for an ethical fig leaf by reciting insincere samokritika about the need “to re-earn the moral authority to govern” and the like. Sheesh!

Alison Redford opened the can and let loose the first wave of snakes. It’s only going to go downhill from here as the decision on who will lead the final PC government in Alberta history nears. The end is nigh.

This post also appears on

A mystery that won’t go away: Why do Alberta patients still face such long waits for lung surgery?

A horse with a silver blaze, curried mutton and a dog that did nothing in the night-time helped Sherlock Holmes get to the bottom of a mysterious death. Will it take a legendary detective to uncover the problem with lung surgeries in Alberta? Below: Dr. Verna Yiu; Dr. Raj Sherman; Dr. Ciaran McNamee.

Scotland Yard Detective: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Sherlock Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Detective: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

There was something eerily familiar about the Edmonton Journal’s report Tuesday, “Alberta lung cancer patients are typically waiting twice as long as other Canadians for surgery, a distressing trend the provincial health authority says it is struggling to understand.”

But what was it? There was no hint of it in the story, which was published on April 1 although it was evidently not meant as a joke.

The story was based on a report by the respected Canadian Institute of Health Information, known throughout the medical field by its acronym, CIHI, which is inevitably pronounced Ky-High. The CIHI study compared wait times across Canada for a variety of medical operations, putting Alberta close to the national average for many.

But Alberta was “dead last” in the Journal’s unfortunate turn of phrase when it came to lung surgery, with patients last year undergoing the procedure within 85 days. The Canadian average was 49 days; Ontario’s was 36 and B.C.’s 32, CIHI said.

“It’s a real challenging issue,” the Journal quoted Alberta Health Services Chief Medical Officer Verna Yiu as saying. The Journal’s reporter intoned: “Yiu did not have a definitive explanation for the delays in Alberta.”

Well, does anyone in Alberta remember retired judge John Z. Vertes’ Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry? Professional journalists are forgiven if they have forgotten. After all, since the summer of 2013 there’s been a lot of water under the bridge behind the Legislature that crosses the North Saskatchewan River to the University of Alberta Hospital.

Nevertheless, the report contains a hint of something that might be related to the mystery that is stumping Dr. Yiu – or, rather, its absence, rather like the Dog that Didn’t Bark, contains the hint. Let me explain:

The inquiry, created back in the days when Premier Dave Hancock was still loyally toiling in the cabinet of Alison Redford’s already troubled government, seems to have been ginned up in response to the premier’s leadership-contest promise of a real judicial inquiry into accusations of line-jumping and bullying in the health care system.

Apparently an inquiry by a retired judge reporting to Health Minister Fred Horne was deemed good enough for most voters, and the whole $10-million affair now seems to have drained quietly down the Memory Hole.

After months of testimony, the commissioner reached the conclusion there was no basis for the startling allegations of routine line jumping that contributed to the brouhaha that sparked the inquiry – claims made in public principally by Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman and former AHS CEO Dr. Stephen Duckett.

The final report of the inquiry all but called Dr. Sherman a liar – or, as I wrote at the time, at the very least a deluded fantasist.

But at this late juncture, the April 1 CIHI report suggests a glimmer of vindication for Dr. Sherman.

Why was it that the inquiry failed to call a witness who was at the centre of one of the most spectacular allegations of medical queue jumping in recent decades? To wit: that lung surgeons were being denied operating room time and resources because other kinds of surgeons had political access to the people who ran the health care system in the late 1990s?

That accusation was made by Dr. Ciaran McNamee, once the head of thoracic surgery at the U of A Hospital, who had sued the former Capital Health Region.

In his lawsuit, Dr. McNamee claimed he’d been improperly hounded out of his surgical practice for complaining publicly about his patients’ long waits for surgery. He also claimed Capital Health Region officials had improperly questioned his competence and even his sanity.

Indeed, according to the CBC at the time, one allegation in Dr. McNamee’s lawsuit was “that his budget for lung surgery had been all, or in part, effectively taken over by other surgeons at the hospital.”

But despite the fact that this was one of the incidents that led to calls for a real judicial inquiry into bullying and intimidation of medical professionals in the Alberta health care system, Mr. Vertes’ inquiry declined to call Dr. McNamee as a witness because, as a spokesperson said at the time, “it was decided his information was ‘dated’ and would provide little useful information about queue-jumping that may be occurring now.” (Emphasis added.)

Dr. McNamee – who by then was practicing medicine in a little U.S. backwater called Boston and teaching at a provincial school known as Harvard University – had made it very clear he was “willing to co-operate, in any form or fashion” with the inquiry.

His allegations became public at about the same time as Dr. Sherman’s assertions in the Legislature that 250 people had died, many from lung cancer, while on a 1,200-name surgical waiting list in the 1990s.

Unfortunately for those who would have liked to cast a light on what was going on in Alberta’s health care system back in that decade, the lawsuit was settled out of court in 2001 and Dr. McNamee was bound by a convenient non-disclosure agreement – unless he was subpoenaed to testify.

In a contemporary blog post by Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann, which has since disappeared from the Internet, the former party leader accused the inquiry of “deliberate avoidance of the most dramatic allegations of queue jumping.”

“Many of (Dr. McNamee’s) lung patients were ‘bumped,’ allegedly by other surgeons given preferential access, resulting, allegedly, in preventable deaths among his patients,” alleged Dr. Swann, who like Dr. Sherman is a physician.

Of course, much has changed in Alberta health care since the late 1990s. Most importantly, Capital Health and nine other health regions no longer exist – they have all been rolled into Alberta Health Services. Most of the key players have been shuffled around, and some of the most important ones have changed, been fired, quit or retired.

But as this week’s CIHI report has made clear, serious, life-threatening problems persist in how lung surgeries are provided in Alberta.

Could it be that the problems in the Capital Health Region pointed to by Doctors McNamee, Sherman and Swann were real, and have never been resolved?

Could it be that the same kind of politics that Dr. McNamee pointed to in his now settled lawsuit are still being played within Alberta Health Services?

Could it be that like so much else done by the Redford-Hancock Government, the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry was a half-baked promise at best that no one intended to keep and that, by accident or design, didn’t achieve very much?

Perhaps this curious coincidence is something Dr. Yiu should look into.

This post also appears on