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
I read your blog with interest as you have expanded your critical eye to some very fundamental questions that need to be addressed by Albertans. The first issue raised deals with how two very senior government ministers, now seeking the leadership of their party, can stand before us and deny responsibility for their actions in Cabinet and attempt to cover up their role with regard to legislation addressing electrical transmission and land stewardship. Albertans will have to ask themselves if this is the style and character we expect of our political leaders.
The second issue revolves around the production of a future looking “position paper” produced by a remarkable collection of blue ribbon panellists. I give credit to the government who saw the need to commission such a study and who were able to entice such individuals to serve on such a committee. What happened? The report has not been accorded the attention and respect it deserves. There appears to be no government support, the concepts and ideas expressed have not been shared with Albertans and there has been no effort to engage the population in discussing what our future might hold. I am also concerned about how those illustrious members feel and whether we ever will be able to assemble such a group again, given the political treatment their hard work received?
Lastly, I am concerned about the cavalier attitude of the government toward issues that transcend electoral time frames. Issues such as environment, the economic structure of the province, sustainability and social justice cannot be addressed in four year time bites, but need a longer term framework to set out the direction before attempting to implement short term actions. The government was presented with a wonderful opportunity to do just that with the Report of the Premier’s Council. Instead, the government effectively killed the report by silence and lack of attention. Its apparent unwillingness to engage Albertans in open and transparent discussion about our province and our future, other than during the few days of an election is an affront to me. I see lost opportunities, and narrowing choices for our province and I am very worried about how much longer we can continue down this path without suffering irreparable damage to which there is no coming back despite all the re-writing of history.
Roy, you’ve identified the key disconnect here and that’s the politicians’ inability or unwillingness to address issues which require a time horizon that is longer than the usual voting cycle. Politicians are well aware that they’ll need to expend some political capital to work these issues. Unfortunately few politicians have the courage or the conviction to do so.
You’re also correct when you note that my soapbox has gotten bigger. In future columns I’ll be discussing a number of issues (in addition to healthcare) that impact Albertans. I welcome your continuing feedback.
I’m very glad you have not been swallowed up by the Rapture, as you give important voice to the issues we must confront as Albertans. Please be very careful crossing the streets – we need your input!
Thanks Sheila. Apparently Harold Camping has re-set the Rapture date to Oct 21, 2011. We’ll all be so busy for the next few months attending leadership speeches by the 6 PC candidates and the 4 Liberals candidates and platform speechs from the NDP, Wildrose and Alberta Party that by the time October rolls around we’ll be glad to be sucked up into the heavens just to get away from it all!
Just kidding, for the first time in a long time Albertans have an opportunity to make a change in government. We owe it to ourselves to get out there and hear what everyone has to say.