I love a good mystery, everything from the bucolic Midsomer Murders BBC series to a “whodunnit” board game like Clue. I wrestle my daughter for the privilege of being Miss Scarlett and pout if I can’t have the miniature candlestick as my token. We roll the dice and march around the board until some bright light (not me) triumphantly announces that the murderer is Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe.
So you can understand why I’m riveted by the NDP’s announcement in the House last week. They’re playing a game of Clue—on the political game board. They’ve been digging into the government’s decision to amend the Alberta Health Act to make it more “flexible” (read: more open to the privatization) and at the start of the Fall Session they rolled the dice and made their first move.
Miss Scarlett, oops, Ms Notley made a Standing Order 15 application. It is recorded in Hansard under the heading “Privilege, Misleading the House”.* Ms Notley advised Professor Plum, oops sorry, the Speaker Mr Kowalski, that the former Health Minister, Mr Zwozdesky. had mischaracterized the sources of information for the Moving Forward report presented to caucus and thus crippled the Opposition’s ability to question the authors of a report which significantly changed Alberta’s healthcare policy.
Misleading the House? Did Ms Notley just say that Mr Zwozdesky lied?
Standing Orders are rules of procedure established by the Legislature as part of the system of checks and balances designed to make government answerable to the Legislature. Clearly a Standing Order on a point of privilege alleging that a member lied to the House is not undertaken lightly (notwithstanding my silliness just a minute ago).
Ms Notley has to meet certain “tests” before she can proceed. First: notification–it was duly provided to the Speaker. Second: raising the point of order at the earliest possible moment–the first day of the Fall Session is about as early as you can get. Finally, the member must be present to hear the accusation and be given an opportunity to respond. Mr Zwozdesky was away from the House attending to a family matter so the application was deferred to Nov 21 when the House returns from its 3 week hiatus.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, here’s the first clue. Mr Zwozdesky said that the Moving Forward document that was presented to caucus and laid the foundation for the new Alberta Health Act was based on input gathered from a public consultation process spearheaded by Fred Horne.
But—and here’s the second clue—that very same “input” appeared in a confidential Ministerial Report drafted by government bureaucrats for the Health Minister before the public consultation process was completed.
So either Mr Zwozdesky had a crystal ball and foresaw exactly what the public was going to say before the public said it or his staff developed a new healthcare model, recommended it to Mr Zwozdesky in the confidential Ministerial Report, and Mr Horne force-fit the public input he acquired later to support it.
In either case, when the Moving Forward document was leaked to the public it created a firestorm of controversy. The Opposition argued that the amendments to the Alberta Health Act and the plan to “consolidate” 5 statutes that protect publicly funded and delivered healthcare into who knows what was proof that the government intended to move Albertans into a 2 tier public/private healthcare system. The PCs argued that this was wild-eyed paranoia and they had absolutely no such intention.
Add to this chaos a third clue, well, maybe it’s more of a strange fact. Ever since the controversy broke, Mr Zwozdesky has taken great pains to tell all and sundry that not only did he not present the Moving Forward document to caucus, he wasn’t there at all and can’t speak to what happened in caucus. (Perhaps he was attending to a family matter).
And finally there’s the most puzzling mystery of all. Where do all these confidential documents come from? Who sent the Moving Forward document to the Liberals in Nov 2010? How did the NDP get their hands on the confidential Ministerial Report? Is there a Deep Throat in the Department of Health and Wellness who is willing to risk his/her career to slip this information to the Opposition? If that doesn’t prove that some insiders are worried sick about where the PCs are taking the public healthcare I don’t know what does.
I love a mystery and can hardly wait until Nov 21 to see how this will end! Will we find Mr Zwozdesky in the library with a smoking gun—proof that the PCs killed the healthcare consultation process? Or even more relevant today, will we catch a glimpse of Mr Liepert bludgeoning another public consultation process (this time about the budget) into the ground.
The game is afoot!
*Hansard, Oct 24, 2011, 1151
FYI: the key elements of the game of Clue are: Characters: Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, Mr Green, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock; Weapons: rope, lead pipe, knife, wrench, candlestick, pistol; Rooms: kitchen, dining room, lounge, hall, study, library, billiard room
Susan, I thoroughly enjoy your blog, it is very intelligent and well researched.
I was at one of the meetings with Fred Horne and what I found interesting is the facilitators (people appointed by the government) had pre-written questions (topics). It did not take long to figure out the direction the government was taking. I thought it was very disingenuous when they say they consulted with the public, in my opinion this was not a consultation, this was them asking leading questions and not caring how we answered.
But, with this government are we surprised? No.
I read with a smile the process Malasande refers to in his post. This is what I call ‘Guided Consultation’ when I post any comments about it and think to myself as Bull……
I have been in a couple of those run by the city and they always have the experts that tell us how to go through the process. In the end everything is shelved and the city gets the conclusion they were looking for. Ideas are purposely manipulated so that they achieve what they intended to. Just like lobbyists they should all be banned from any process. What these meetings need is someone who can organize it and keep it moving along. Not easy of course, but democratic process was not intended to be fast and without obstacles. Some people are of the opinion that we cannot afford to take time anymore society needs to move faster and faster. Well if that is true then just do not call it consultation and get rid of the democratic process and bring in some expert to make as fast decisions as possible. Let us not live in some kind of illusion of democratic process.
The subject of your last post is of great interest to me. In the eighties and nineties there was a great push on Greed being good and the answer to our societal problems. Books and TV programs and magazines promoted ME and more ME and all for ME ad nauseam. The new push is now lying. This I believe is the last step on the acceptance of Neo Darwinism in politics and society in general. It is the ultimate to a full Capitalist society where one wants more and more and lies to make sure to get it. I should not use the word ultimate, the new ‘in’ word is extreme. This is extreme madness. The rules of this new push are to lie and then believe in what you said so profoundly that one cannot even be caught on a lie detector. Something in the lines of positive movement when the glass is always half full and one looks at the mirror and everyday convinces oneself that everything is just great.
Why am I talking about this? Well Alison Redford seems to be one of the students of this new push and your article touches on this very important subject clearly.
On your second paragraph you mention the word ‘flexible’ as the replacement of ‘more open to privatization’. This is a clear example of what goes on in the meetings I mentioned above. Everything is colored with words that mean nothing and can be changed conveniently by whoever uses the report. If one for whatever reason raises the issue as lying, immediately one of the experts jumps up astounded as if an awful word as been used and it is not proper. After all we Canadians are tolerant and kind. This is now the norm on any discussion be it racism, immigration, crime …..etc. By the way I forgot to mention that lying is now the wonderful anorexic MISLEADING. One cannot even use the word lying in the Legislative Assembly.
Your second very important point is the confidential. Everyone in the government is extremely concerned about confidentiality except that once in a while thousands of records disappear into some black hole or just like the very recent example on Veterans Affairs, someone’s file is accessed for no apparent reason even by people that have nothing to do with it. It is only very important when the government of course is MISLEADING the public. I bet the NDP found the report on top of a water tank in some toilet in the legislature.
As far as being hopeful for the 21rst of November I would hope for something else. They will dance with words and lies and in the end, another issue will be shut down. Once again the process is molded to the benefit of those who hold power in this province. In this way our great province and country are being slowly run to the ground by ruthless misleaders and lackeys of a system that just like the corrupt kingdoms of Europe will be hammered down by force and not by process.
I do not believe Alison Redford is a supporter of a well funded and run Health Care System and I do believe that was a ploy designed by her chief of staff Carter in order to get elected. He knew very well, just like many of us did, that Mar had shoot himself fatally in the foot when he came out strongly for a privatized system. A big lie was then necessary to increase the chances of electing Alison Redford and so they lied. Now the process is to mold that lie to a misleading and to spin it to a point where that lie is actually a truth.
Before my Dad passed away 2 years ago, he use to tell me something I thought worthless but that I came to understand lately very well. Perfection is impossible in the world, but there is a very successful way of running a society. Keep the bad stuff to the minimum level possible. Unfortunately, with our very corrupt ideas and beliefs we are now keeping the good at the minimum level. The consequences are evident everywhere but we seem incapable of understanding it anymore. I now also understand why the great leaders of recent times were all depressed. People with this kind of mental illness fully understand reality more than so called optimists. You see they have to everyday face their reality rather than some optimal illusion.
Carlos, your father sounds like an interesting man…I like his comment about perfection and agree if we could get even half way there in running a society, we will have achieved something worthwhile. So notwithstanding our frustration at the consultation process I still think we need to get involved for two reasons (1) we’ll have a better idea of what the government is up to and (2) we won’t let them wash over us like a tidal wave without having made some effort to present our points of view. So now I’m going to go through the frustrating effort of responding to the government’s on line budget survey. I’m even considering sending in a submission. Yes, this is probably a complete waste of time but what can I say, I’m an idealist. Thank you for your insights Carlos.
Malasande–thank you and welcome aboard. I agree with your comment that the process is disingenuous. And yet the PC government continues to use it again and again. The end result is a document that purports to represent our views when the opposite is true. Then to add insult to injury the participants have the pleasure of seeing their names listed in the appendix at the back thereby giving the impression that they supported the recommendation when in fact they opposed it. Sorry state of affairs and one we should not tolerate any longer. Thanks for joining the conversation.
So maybe the game of “Clue” is the answer. If I remember correctly, the game starts with 3 cards being put in an envelope. The winner of the game is the person who guesses the correct murderer, weapon and room which is then confirmed by revealing the cards originally put in the envelope.
Is there some sort of legislation we can invoke that requires all documents be put in an envelope, or a time capsule, based on the amount of time it is taking to get an efficient health care system in place. Maybe working the system backwards will require everyone to be honest and bring about ideas that everyone can approve. After everything is decided, then we will look and see if what evolved was actually what the public wanted and if not, let’s roll the dice again.
I may not know all the ins and outs of politics but I do know what a dog looks like when it is chasing it’s tale and right now I’m seeing a dog.
See what happens when I step out of the room for a minute…you guys start talking amongst yourselves and before we know it we’re grabbing pitchforks and torches and storming the Leg!
All kidding aside, you’ve all pointed out the serious–no make that the fatal–flaws in the PCs consultation process on health care…handpicked participants, a prearranged script guaranteed to shape the feedback to fit the desired outcome and PR hacks acting as facilitators to ensure that outcome is achieved–all to convince the public that they’ve been consulted.
Since burning down the Leg is illegal (I am a lawyer after all) let’s vote them out of the Leg instead. The election is coming in the spring…we can do it. We have to. Thanks Rose Marie, Elaine and Carlos, great comments.
Thanks, Susan, for explaining the relevance of Rachel Notley’s application for a Standing Order 15 regarding Gene Zwozdesky’s misleading “the House”. As a lay person, I appreciate having someone with a legal background speak to this issue, although, as a citizen I should make myself more knowledgeable about the goings on in the Legislature! The thing is, it’s not only Zwozdesky misleading the House, it’s Fred Horne, Alison Redford and the rest of the PC government. And, it’s not just misleading the House, but the good citizens of Alberta about the real intentions of the Alberta Health Act and its far-reaching implications regarding privatization of our health system. It burns my garters when I think of all the time and effort people put into going to the so-called “Community Consultations” on the Alberta Health Act and making lengthy and earnest written submissions, and visiting MLA’s offices, and writing the Minister, Premier and so on. Do they think we have nothing better to do? It’s cynical and dishonest for them to ask for “input” on the Alberta Health Act when the whole thing’s fait acommpli. When the document, “A New Foundation for Our Health System”, was leaked and we realized that it had been presented to the Conservative caucus BEFORE we galloped along with the Dog and Pony Show (that’s what one of Whitemud Citizens’ supporters in Peace River called the Community Consultations) it was beyond the pale. And to add insult to injury, when we showed up at the Legislature for our meeting with Gene Zwozdesky he had the gall to say he knew nothing about it, even though it was from his Ministry and was presented to caucus by his own deputy minister. What the ??? So, we also will be looking forward very much to his response in the Legislature on November 21. What could he possibly say? And back to what Malasande said regarding the government appointing their “facilitators” to help with these consultations, many people don’t know that they also contracted to a PR firm to organize and run them. Not only does the government have a department or two dedicated to Citizen Engagement, but there is also a huge industry based on it and many PR firms are specializing in it. It would be interesting to know what that whole exercise cost- or, what it’s still costing in terms of consultant’s fees and government employees’ time (including the Minister’s and Deputy Minister’s).
Well, there’s an interesting question…what did this exercise in non-consultation cost the taxpayer? An opposition MLA told me that the government’s Public Affairs department’s budget is $14 million/year. Add that to outside PR firms, consultants like Kelly Charlebois and the lost productivity of the participants who thought they were helping to shape policy but turned out to be window dressing and you have a colossal pile of money which could have been spent elsewhere–like maybe providing health care. Thanks for the insider’s perspective Elaine. Your comment that it was a Dog and Pony Show pretty well sums it it.
In connection with Elaine Fleming’s point, if the government does it’s homework, and I like you attend those community meetings for that specific purpose, why do they hire PR firms to do more digging. When they do that type of survey, and I have gotten calls, I simply ignore them as I have spoken, or mostly listened, to what happened at the community meetings. Isn’t that why they are arranged so we have a chance to address issues and our concerns with the people that WILL make a difference. I alway get the feeling that they are, again, selecting a small portion of the population that they feel will give them the answers they want and the community meets were simply an area in which they can pick and chose who they wish to use as the “public forum.”
I just don’t understand how they can honestly say they are working for the people.
Rose Marie you made an interesting suggestion earlier which was to start with a clean slate and build the proper public health care system from the ground up and once you’re done pull out the 3 cards in the envelope and see if you’re close. If nothing else we’d be free of the PR people and political hacks who so deftly obliterate our fresh ideas with “reasons” why we can’t do this or that. Wouldn’t that be a lovely start to a true public consultation session?
The so called consultation meetings are just idiotic guided tours that justify a tick on the to do list to get the democratic approval seal. These people could not care less about anything we say or think. The intention of the meetings are simply to avoid criticism. The people that run these meetings and that try to guide us like cattle are very well paid and very well trained in the art of pretend democracy. We cannot run anything anymore without experts and gurus and people with five titles after their last names that cannot even listen to anyone other than their own voices. There is some truth to the definition of expert as those who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. I am absolutely over this pretend crap which is now used everywhere. In a meeting I had to attend at city council room I was even questioned as if I had some brain deficiency.
Carlos, the heartening thing about your description of the consultation process is that notwithstanding the fact that the politicians hijack the agenda (and our feedback), people like you, Elaine, Rose Marie and me continue to participate. We worry that it will be a waste of time, but we still come in the hope that something will change.
I attended a fundraiser for the homeless yesterday and the keynote speaker said: If you want to change history you have to participate. I believe that’s true and that people like us who are passionate about making a change will eventually prevail.
Thank you for sharing your experience Carlos. Please continue to participate in the consultation process…our voices must be heard.
Public engagement processes are relatively new in the political process and came about in the 1960’s where people were not happy about land use and transportation changes in their respective cities. (Given I come out of an urban planning background, I tend to be a bit egocentric about my discipline discovering everything!) Urban planners of the day realized citizens could become valued co-conspirators and encouraged a level of community engagement on a regular basis (other than just at election time). Today, local levels of government routinely undertake such exercises, often with huge grass roots support. However provincial and federal efforts with public participation often strike me as being somewhat clumsy and not as transparent as to we have been accustomed to at the civic level.
Engaging the public can take one of two forms. You can go out and “inform” the citizenry about what you plan to do, or you can go out and “engage” to public to help you figure out what to do. Problems always arise when those two options are not clear (intentionally or otherwise). If the province went out to “engage” the public, but had already written its desired result, then it was not being very clear and it should have gone with the first option, that of “informing” us. Sometimes I hear of participants being stunned with the results of such processes when they are told the meeting agreed to x when in actual fact x was not even talked about. Such a sham of public processes eventually catches up to people who play this game. I am wondering if social media may be the key to exposing such distortions as discussions at such meetings happens instantaneously via social media tools, rather than participants waiting for the government agency to summarize its understanding days or months later.
Spreading the word via blogs, activist groups and social media will make it increasingly difficult for such agencies to pretend we have agreed to such silliness…keep up your efforts!
Roy–very informative comments…particularly the distinction between the “engagement” and “informative” processes.
I was trying to figure out how I’d characterize the government’s consultation process. Clearly it didn’t want to “engage” the public and elicit their views because the plan was in place before the consultation process was complete. Also I don’t think the government meant to “inform” the public because the public was led to believe that their views would become part of the final package. One wonders whether it was simply a PR exercise to give the impression of engagement when it was nothing of the sort. It will be interesting to see how Mr Zwozdesky answers Ms Notley’s questions on Nov 21.
Yes I truly believe that it is a PR exercise to give the impression of engagement. The fact that we dismiss this as being no big deal is to me the problem. I truly believe that this undermines democracy enormously and it is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to get people out to any kind of meeting. People are very suspiscous and will not put up with this sort of event. As I said before, on Nov 21 Mr. Zwozdesky will come up with a spaghetti answer that will not answer anything or clarify anything and once again we move on in the dark. People are tired of this kind of behaviour and that is why civil disobedience is starting to happen. I truly believe it is the only way to move forward.
Yes I am willing to participate but I am no welcome mat for pseudo democracy. I am very ready to push the envelope as far as necessary.
Carlos: I too have the feeling that people are less willing to put up with this type of PR side show for the very reasons you’ve set out–it undermines the democratic process. The next election is a golden opportunity to express our displeasure. We need to identify strong candidates who have a real chance of winning against the PCs. This will require a high level of cooperation among the opposition parties to ensure that we don’t split the vote. I’m not sure how we do this but it might be the only way to succeed. Thank you for your comments.
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