A Distant View

Gold mining and politics have one thing in common.  Sometimes it’s best to take a distant view of the field and look for patterns that might indicate a rich vein.  We’re down to the final days of the PC leadership race.  The candidates are all from the same party, they appear to share the same basic values, how do we find the gold buried in the clay?

Step back, take the distant view.  What do you see?

I see Gary Mar, a candidate so mired in PC groupthink that he appeared at the Global TV debate behind a podium covered with scraps of paper and stickie notes–no doubt to remind him of his stance on the controversial issues in case he forgets.  I see Doug Horner who’s moved a little outside the PC groupthink bubble but is not as articulate or clear thinking about the issues as you would expect from a candidate at this point in the campaign.  Finally I see Alison Redford, focused and confident, who addressed the issues crisply without reading from a cheat sheet to keep her facts straight.

The worry that non-PCs have about any PC leadership candidate is that 40 years of power has created a groupthink mindset that no candidate, regardless of their intelligence or integrity, can overcome.  Let’s examine that proposition.

Groupthink is “a pattern of thought that is characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”*  It’s elements are:   pressure to conform (those who disagree are excluded—Raj Sherman springs to mind),  closed-mindedness and an overestimation of the group’s strength, intelligence and moral superiority.

Mr Mar’s campaign is replete with examples of groupthink.  Listen to his justification for taking his $478,500 severance package after he said he’d defer it.  His rationale:  “I did say I would defer it to some point in the future. I didn’t say when.”  Mr Mar buttressed his explanation with the comment that he did what every other MLA would do.  What he conveniently forgets to mention is that the other MLAs did not make a public pledge implying that they’d defer their packages until after they’d completed their new assignments.

Mr Mar’s explanation of the Charlebois affair isn’t any better.  He paid $390,000 to Kelly Charlebois, his former executive assistant, for consulting advice.  Apparently it was terrific advice, given over the course of 2 years, in connection with rolling up the 17 health regions into nine.  There’s just  one teensy little problem—there isn’t a report, document or shred of written evidence that any advice was given at all.

At first Mr Mar was defiantly unapologetic about the Charlebois affair.  Later he admitted that it was a mistake to issue an untendered contract to Mr Charlebois.  Note that this admission was for the failure to put the contract to public tender, not the failure to document any of the advice he’d been given.  Later still Mr Mar backtracked on the admission of error by saying that that was how things were done back then but the rules had changed since.  The auditor general at that time disagreed.  He found that Mr Mar failed to follow his own ministry’s policies when he issued the contract to his friend.

Hmmm…no wonder Mr Mar’s podium was bristling with sheets of paper and stickie notes.  Any politician so trapped in self-deception and conformity to group values and ethics (that’s how we did it then, that’s what everyone else would do) needs all the help he can get because he’s not espousing his own position but rather that of the group.  In Mr Mar’s case, the group is the caucus created by Ralph Klein and augmented by his new best friends Ted Morton and Rick Orman.   And that is downright scary.

Doug Horner is more difficult to peg.  From a distance he appears sincere and aligned with many of Ms Redford’s views.  He supports public healthcare and does not favour increased privatization.  However on the question of whether he’d support a judicial inquiry into political interference in the delivery of healthcare, Mr Horner is sticking to the PC party line—the Health Quality Council of Alberta has all the power it needs to conduct a fulsome investigation.  This is troubling because the call for a judicial inquiry is based on the need for greater transparency and accountability.  Mr Horner’s failure to recognize that fact demonstrates that he hasn’t ventured far from PC group values and ethics.

Alison Redford on the other hand burst the PC groupthink bubble the day she started her leadership campaign.  She declared her support for a judicial inquiry five months ago and has never wavered.  Not even in the face of Ed Stelmach’s disdainful attack that Ms Redford was no better than the NDP.  Apparently daring to challenge the PC’s official position results in expulsion from the PC party figuratively as well as literally.

Ms Redford has been crystal clear in her support for public healthcare.  In her view “privatization of healthcare is the thin edge of the wedge that begins to undermine public confidence in our most important public service”.**  She is fighting for the honour of serving Albertans and recognizes that those who hold public office must be worthy of the public trust.  She’s demonstrated leadership and courage as she coped with the passing of her mother in the final days of the campaign.

So step back, what do you see?  I look at Alison Redford and I see gold sparkling in the clay.

I’m not a PC party member, but I purchased a PC membership and voted for Alison Redford to be the next premier of Alberta.    You might want to consider it.

* The Perfect Swarm, by Len Fisher, PhD, pp 93, 94.

** Calgary Herald On-Line, Sept 28, 2011


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5 Responses to A Distant View

  1. Ted Woynillowicz says:

    Group think is alive and well in Alberta. As I watched the debate the other night, questions came to mind regarding responses to many of Gary Mar’s comments. Gary Mar has indicated numerous times during his leadership campaign that on a per capita basis Albertans pay more for health care and get least for it. What Gary did not mention was the constant upheavals waged on a public care health system that the majority of Albertans desire. (Bill 37, Bill 11, Third Way, 17 health boards to 7 health boards to 1 super board to name a few) What Gary also fails to mention was that 11 different deputy ministers presided over health care in a span of 16 years over which he shared responsibility as Health Minister for a number of years. What Gary does not factor in is the exclusion of health care experts on the super boards. (Why not include experts such as Tom Noseworthy or Donna Wilson – would an oil company include a dentist on its board because he/she knows about drilling?) Is that an effective way to run an efficient ministry? Would 11 CEOs be able to keep an oil company afloat under those kinds of condiditons?
    What Gary appears not to support is a transparent judicial review of how health dollars are being spent? How many patients are going out of province for various procedures? What are the costs? What was the cost of the out of court HRG settlement in Calgary?
    If the government has nothing to hide, why not support an open judicial review with all its provisions to protect those who are called to testify? Why not make the outcome of such a review to the legislative assembly instead of the to health minister? People are concerned by the exclusion of information, the non answers to questions, and the concerted avoidance of many MLAs to hear and discuss issues that matter to Albertans in public meetings and/or discussion groups.
    Albertans are entitled to an open government that serves in their best interest. That means that if they desire a health system that is publicly delivered, publicly administered, and publicly funded, the government will do everything in its power to deliver that. After all, it is the tax dollars of hard working Albertans that fund health care.
    The insidious manipulation and deliberate orchestration of group think as a tool of convenience
    has vastly undermined democratic expression and silenced vigorous debate in this province.

    • Ted, given the litany of disastrous decisions made by the “old boys club” (of which Gary Mar is clearly a member) one has to wonder why anyone would consider voting for him in the first place. And yet he garnered 41% of the vote in the first round and is working very hard to pick up the remaining 10% he needs to land the big job. You have to wonder what’s going on in the minds of most Albertans. I worry that they’ve fallen for the excuse that it’s not bad government, it’s bad public health care delivery which would immediately right itself the minute the private sector stepped in.

      PS. The analogy of dentists in the board room was perfect!

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    I read with a smile on my face your description of the groupthink. The two events you described and that I very well remember define what I prefer to call groupcrook. Just the thought that I will have to endure another 4 years of having this man as premier makes me wonder why Stephen Harper does not send the troops to liberate us instead. Just the thought that Albertans actually vote for this guy makes my stomach jump and makes me wonder what kind of principles we now actually live by.
    I do agree that Alison Redford is the best of the three but the thought of taking a membership just to vote for any of them is something I would never do. I do not have anything to do with the PC party and I have no interest whatsoever on their affairs. Also I would feel like I had stolen a cookie from grandma’s cookie jar. What we really need is proportional representation so that we can at least have a voice in what they call the Legislature Assembly. I would be more inclined to call it the mad house.
    Tomorrow we will finally know who is going to get the cookie jar empty. I am sure that the first speach, just like the ones before will have the sentence ‘people of Alberta’ thousands of times and especially how much they care for our Health Care Services and the seniors.

  3. Carlos I fully understand your point about wanting to stay as far away from the PCs as possible. This was not an easy decision to make. It has been the topic of intense discussion in my household and workplace for days. Some of my friends and co-workers just couldn’t bear the thought of buying a membership under any circumstances. Others like me worked through it. But at the end of the day it’s a very personal decision and I respect your right to decide what feels best for you.

    Tomorrow will be a very interesting day. There’s no telling how this will all turn out. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Ted’s comment on the judicial review is extremelly important to me and if I may I would like to go back to it. I have never understood the concept of government secrecy and discussions always keep my opinions about it grow a little more.
    In democracies, governments were created to represent the people just like a board represents and manages the interests of the members of any society or association. Now there are special cases, were by law, some information is kept secret to protect the privacy of the people involved, but other than that why no transparency? Why even having this ridiculous freedom of information Act. Most of that information should be available to any citizen that wants or needs to know it.

    Mar should only have received the severance pay if he was leaving the government, not just when it is convinient or when he thinks it is appropriate. This is a clear abuse of power and a total lack of character. The second one is to me amazing. Imagine any government employee to go to finances and request a payment of half a million dollars for a report that never existed. How can someone just have the right to do this without any consequences? What is more amazing to me is that these same people then get surprised when someone questions them and ask for an inquiry as if somehow they have the right to do whatever they think is good for them. I would like to understand in what way is this different from those dictators in the middle east that use their government treasurys as their own bank accounts. They have less obstacles yes, but the lack of ethics and morals behind it are the same. If it is not the same I would like to understand in what way is it different.

    This guy is about to be crowned premier as a reward to this kind of behaviour.

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