I had an absolute blast guest-hosting The Rutherford Show on QR77 Calgary and 630 CHED Edmonton. Not only was it great reconnecting with so many people through the strange magic of talk radio, fun to do, and good to discover that after eight years away from it, I remembered how it’s done. It was also a great couple of weeks in terms of stuff to talk about – not the least of which was the daily Gong Show at the Alberta Legislature.
First, a little context: new public opinion research shows nationwide that our satisfaction with the way democracy works in Canada has dropped to an all-time low. Of the Canadians surveyed, only 55 percent expressed satisfaction with the way “the system” works – a twenty point drop since 2004, the last time the survey was taken.
You can read the survey for yourself but in essence, here’s the explanation for the drop. What we most want is for our elected representatives to hold the government to account and represent the views of their constituents. But the thing we feel they do best is represent the views of their party – the very opposite of what we send them to Ottawa or Edmonton to do.
And how has that played out in the Alberta Legislature? Like a slow-motion train wreck.
Look, I know that some – many – most? – of you are turned off by the antics of the Wild Eyed Alliance during this session. Lord knows, so am I. If I had made the mistake of running again (and assuming the voters had put me back in, of course), you probably would have had to keep me away from sharp objects, I was so repulsed by the tone of Question Period. No doubt Alison Redford and her handlers are praying that The Herald’s Don Braid called it right when he wrote that the Wildrose assault has produced “a surge of sympathy for Redford.”
But the government’s behavior was just as low-brow, whether in their responses in Question Period, or, in the premier’s case, refusing time and again to answer the questions put to her, instead punting them to various ministers. Nothing in the rulebook says the premier can’t do that, but doing so repeatedly shows arrogance and contempt.
None of this nastiness should come as a surprise. This is a family feud. The amazing thing is not that the two branches of Ralph Klein’s PC Party now go for one another’s throats like so many rabid dogs. The amazing thing is how they managed to keep the peace under the same tent for as long as they did.
But the behavior of the Wildrose is not the point. The point is the government’s performance and attitude. On that score, I am gobsmacked by how badly Alison Redford and the PCs fumbled nearly everything that came their way.
The premier’s spin machine is promoting the story that the opposition’s attacks somehow hamper her ability to govern. Let’s be real clear – it is not the opposition’s job to let the government get on with governing; it is the government’s job to govern in spite of the opposition.
Fortunately for Alison Redford, parliamentary democracy makes it easy to do that as long as you have a majority, and her government did it in spades, ramming ten major bills through the Legislature in five short weeks. The three opposition parties proposed well in excess of a hundred amendments, all but two of which the government defeated. Redford herself dismissed the opposition amendments as “erroneous, irrelevant, and not important.”
So there’s no question her government governed. The question is whether it’s governing well….and I think we all know the answer to that one.
The budget projections were wildly out of whack. The whistleblower protection law’s most likely impact is to make the process of blowing the whistle so onerous that nobody’s likely to take the chance to do it. Election finance reforms don’t change anything substantial. And Redford stumbled and fumbled from one scandal to another:
- the $430,000 campaign donation from Oilers owner Daryl Katz and his various family members and associates
- other allegations of illegal donations to the PC Party including allegations involving her sister
- the extent of her own involvement in choosing her ex-husband’s law firm to litigate the 10 billion dollar tobacco lawsuit
When she deigned to explain at all, she gave lawyer’s answers: yes, there’s a memo selecting the law firm with my signature on it dated while I was still justice minister, but my selection wasn’t the decision because the contract wasn’t signed until some months after I resigned from cabinet to run for the PC leadership.
Those distinctions work in court, but this isn’t court. This is government, and it operates – or should – both according to what is legal and what is right. Alison Redford and her government are getting tripped up almost daily by what is right.
On that note, the session ended with two more corkers, both of which go right to the heart of the Redford government’s inability to see the ethical forest for the legalistic trees.
The first is the one-bath-per-week for seniors and disabled people in long-term care. The lawyer in Alison Redford sees that the minimum standard is being met. The leader fails to grasp that the minimum standard isn’t good enough.
The second is Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli’s apology for improperly charging more than $10,000 in expenses to her government credit card, including airline tickets to fly her mother and her daughter to the Summer Olympics in London, England. Cusanelli has paid all the money back and said she didn’t fully understand the expense process.
The lawyer in Alison Redford says that the money’s all been paid back and we move on from here. The leader fails to grasp that out here in the Real World, people are asking: “How could a cabinet minister not have known not to do that in the first place?”
Like I said, a train wreck…