Paging Ms Redford…Ms Redford…? I’ve been looking for Ms Redford since the day she was elected as Premier of Alberta. My Ms Redford said “The strongest leaders are the ones that can be authentic…so that you’re truly saying to people during the campaign, ‘this is who I am. If you elect me, this is who I’ll be’”*. My Ms Redford promised change, transparency and democratic renewal.
Unfortunately my Ms Redford is missing in action. Taking her place is Premier Redford, who stacked her cabinet with the same “old boys” she disparaged during her campaign; Premier Redford who ignored comments made by her Finance Minister and her Health Minister which conflict with her campaign promise of a judicial healthcare inquiry and, perhaps most egregious of all; Premier Redford who trashed the principles of democratic renewal by hi-jacking the business of the Legislature on the first day of the Fall Session and calling for (get this) a Standing Order 30.
Every organization should have a Standing Order 30 which can be pulled out at the drop of a hat to bring business to a grinding halt while the powers-that-be spend the day addressing “…a matter of urgent public importance…”**
Don’t get me wrong, invoking Standing Order 30 to address critical and time sensitive matters of urgent public importance is a vital legislative mechanism. It’s been invoked to address excessive ER wait times, inadequate preparations for the H1N1 pandemic, tailings pond management and the PC’s refusal to provide information in support of the 2009-10 budget. The need for a timely resolution of these problems is obvious.
However on Oct 24, the PCs invoked Standing Order 30 because “…Nothing could be more important at this moment in time to Albertans than to hear from their leadership, the Premier and the leaders of the opposition parties in this House, about issues that concern them because Alberta trades out into the world…and the world markets are in an incredible state of disarray.”** I beg your pardon?
Once the Premier grabbed control of the agenda and she launched into oratory. It was based on the premise that “debt is the trap” which brought Europe to its knees and could soon topple Alberta. But not to worry, the PCs will save Alberta. Premier Redford conceded that Albertans have no debt, but warned us not to be complacent. “We can stay safe from these threats…We will make the tough decisions…We will introduce the necessary reforms to make sure that this province keeps growing. There is no other way.”***
Wow…I had no idea we were on the brink of financial extinction and was all agog to hear how the PCs would save Alberta from the perils of global economic volatility.
What followed next was a mishmash of lofty promises and banal statements of the obvious. The PCs will maintain our quality of life, support public healthcare, protect the environment, create jobs and support the arts. Asian markets are important, the energy industry must grow, energy revenues are key, and small businesses and entrepreneurship are valued. If this sounds like the typical hodge-podge you’d hear off the back of the “Go Alison” bus on the eve of an election, you’re right, it is.
But here’s the best part. The one thing that will protect Albertans and keep us safe (Ms Redford’s words, not mine) is the budget.
Cue the Finance Minister. For those of you who get a bit antsy whenever Mr Liepert steps on to the stage, take heart, Premier Redford promised to engage in a public consultation process in November and offered round-tables with ministers, a public survey and requests for submissions. The 2012 budget will reflect Albertans’ priorities and morph into a balanced budget by 2013-14.
Many of us who participated in Fred Horne’s public consultation on healthcare are tickled pink to be given a second chance to see our suggestions end up on the flip chart labeled “parking lot”.
The Opposition thought it would be responding to a speech about international opportunities in a volatile global economy. They did a brilliant job of switching gears to respond to what Mr Mason called a “faux Throne Speech”. (Nice turn of phrase by the way).
Their response to the veiled threat of a harsh budget was most illuminating. Let’s focus on just one item on Premier Redford’s laundry list—resource revenue that makes up 30% of revenue. The Opposition pointed out that corporate taxes and royalties could increase by $11 billion and Alberta would still be the lowest taxed province in Canada. Add to that the upgrading of oil sands crude oil in Alberta and you’d create a sustainable long term economic driver that would serve future generations.
Unfortunately neither of these options was included in the Premier’s “Save Alberta” list. It will be interesting to see whether they surface in the ministers’ round-table consultations and make it to the final feedback briefing document.
Stripping away the partisan rhetoric, Standing Order 30 was all about preparing the public for another round of budget cuts. Which brings me back to where I started—paging Ms Redford. Just once I’d like to page Ms Redford and not have Mr Liepert answer.
* Calgary Herald Oct 29, 2011, A4
** Hansard, Oct 24, 2011, 1152
***Hansard, Oct 24, 2011, 1154