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