4:45 p.m. May 28, 2011. On the off chance that I am not going to be sucked up into the heavens at 6 p.m. May 28, the Day of the Rapture, and will still be kicking around 30 years from now I thought it might be useful to read the Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy. It’s called Shaping Alberta’s Future and lays out 5 strategic priorities or themes which the authors suggest must be addressed now in order to ensure that in 2040 Alberta will be a good place to live, work, raise families, contribute to and enjoy society.
I don’t intend to discuss the 5 themes today (that would take a while and what if I’m wrong about the Rapture) instead I want to focus on an interesting paradox that became apparent when I read the Report against the backdrop of the Conservative leadership race.
But first, a little background about the authors. The Premier’s Council was chaired by David Emerson, former MP who held positions in Industry, International Trade and Foreign Affairs. It included Anne McLellan (former Deputy Prime Minister), James Gray (former CEO of Canadian Hunter), Sir John Bell (Oxford professor and Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) and other luminaries.* The Council spent 21 months reading, listening, talking and thinking about how to ensure that in 2040 Albertans would enjoy a desirable quality of life and the province would prosper.
The Report was published earlier this month. But I don’t think that any of the Conservative leadership candidates have read it—or are even aware of its existence for that matter. Was Premier Stelmach off on a frollick of his own or are the leadership candidates deliberately ignoring the Report in the hopes that their own contradictory positions will not brought to light?
Let’s examine two glaring examples of this disconnect: electrical infrastructure and land stewardship. The Report highlights the need for a reliable, cost effective, supply of low carbon electricity as a platform for sustaining economic growth. The Council is firmly of the view that Alberta’s transmission infrastructure is inadequate to achieve this strategic goal. More importantly, the Council acknowledges the conflict between the government, landowners and Aboriginal groups over power line siting and infrastructure placement and urges the government, landowners and Aboriginal groups to find a solution and move forward.
Compare this straight forward approach to how Ted Morton responded to the controversy. Since declaring his candidacy for PC leadership Mr Morton discovered that he has serious reservations about how his government has handled this issue. Mr Morton states “…I have never been persuaded of the need for two DC lines between Edmonton and Calgary. I was not persuaded as a private member, I was not persuaded as a cabinet minister, and I am still not persuaded today”.** And yet, Mr Morton managed to overcome these reservations and support Bill 50. Mr Morton also notes that Cabinet does not have the expertise to decide whether additional power lines are required and the resolution of this issue requires a high degree of expertise and also independence and impartiality. Perhaps Mr Morton would care to review the resumes of the 12 Council members. Their sterling credentials may put his mind at ease.
Turning now to the land stewardship issue, the Report identifies the risks posed by expanding energy development and its impact on natural habitats, agricultural lands and Aboriginal communities. The Report calls the Land Stewardship Act and the integrated planning approach through the Land Use Framework a transformative step—one that is required to balance the need for urban and industrial development lands and agricultural and conservation lands. Rather than suggesting a delay in the process, the Report urges an acceleration of the work required to develop regional land use plans and recommends strengthening the consultation process with people who live and work on the land.
Contrast this desire to meet the issue head on with Alison Redford’s comments about the controversial legislation. Shortly after she joined the PC leadership race Ms Redford took issue with the Land Stewardship Act and the amendments that had been proposed in an effort to satisfy disgruntled landowners. She suggested that all planning and development work related to the Act be suspended. She described the legislation as unclear and confusing and noted that people didn’t “…feel they were consulted on it..(t)he legislation and the process of developing the legislation (were) not transparent”*** What makes Ms Redford’s comments particularly troubling is (a) she’s a lawyer who is more than capable at identifying confusing legislation and (b) she was Justice Minister when the legislation came into force. In other words this happened on her watch.
1:30 p.m. May 29, 2011. I haven’t been swallowed up by the Rapture and neither have Mr Morton and Ms Redford. So think about the message that these two leadership contenders, each from the opposite ends of the Conservative spectrum, have delivered: A long term strategy, no matter how well thought out, will be delayed (if not sacrificed) in the interests of political expediency. Unfortunately a good strategy cannot be pushed aside while a politician is advancing his or her own political agenda. Any politician who tries to do so creates a lack of trust and credibility—rather like Harold Camping who predicted the Rapture (again) and must now explain why it failed to materialize.
*Premiers Council For Economic Strategy Membership: David Emerson, Elyse Allan, John Bell, Robert Brawn, David Dodge, Jauan Enriquez, James Gray, Clive Mather, Anne McLellan, Courtney Pratt, Lorne Taylor, Jennifer Welsh.
Shaping Alberta’s Future, p 78
**Calgary Herald, May 20, 2011, p A14
***Calgary Herald, May 16, 2011, p A3