Premier Redford just announced another review—this one to ensure accountability when cabinet ministers and senior government officials report their expenses. It’s the latest in a string of reviews, consultations and inquiries intended to demonstrate the premier’s commitment to doing business differently. Her press secretary says “It’s not a public relations exercise. She really wants to make sure that we have an accountable system”.*
You all remember Ms Redford’s commitment to authentic leadership—leadership that is open, accountable and transparent.
The premier’s announcement brought to mind Dr Frasier Crane, the TV sitcom psychiatrist, who opened his radio phone-in show with the phrase “Hello caller. I’m listening.”
Do the reviews, consultations and inquiries (let’s call them “reviews”) implemented over the last 10 months demonstrate that Ms Redford is “listening” to Albertans? Or are they simply window-dressing engineered to give the illusion of “listening” while waiting for the criticism to be overtaken by the latest news crisis?
Well, if Ms Redford were “listening” she’d call a review into expenses before a CBC journalist was about to embarrass the government with a file full of Mr Merali’s extravagant expense claims.
If Ms Redford were “listening” she’d announce the on-line posting of expense claims by cabinet ministers and senior government officials without skirting the fact that the posting of cabinet ministers’ expenses is already 10 months overdue and her promise to post MLAs expenses appears to have dropped by the wayside.**
If Ms Redford were “listening” she would have announced a public inquiry into ER wait times, cancer deaths and physician bullying under the existing Public Inquiries Act, without having to create brand new laws to enable the Health Quality Council to run a mini-public inquiry into the non-issue of queue jumping–thus delaying the public inquiry for an additional year.
Lastly, if Ms Redford were “listening” her government would have created the Property Rights Task Force to address the concerns of rural Albertans over the loss of their property rights before the Wildrose Party successfully captured the votes of rural Alberta.
All this is not to suggest that Premier Redford has never initiated reviews on her volition. She gets credit for calling the MLA compensation review led by Justice John Major. She also deserves credit for rejecting Justice Major’s recommendation that she double her salary.
However, her decision is tarnished by her failure to also reject Justice Major’s recommendation that MLA pensions should continue as is—MLAs have a pension scheme which creates a huge unfunded liability. Instead she referred the question to the limbo of legislative committee. I double we’ll hear from the MLAs (who have the most to lose) anytime soon.
Meanwhile Ms Redford continues the PC tradition of stealth consultation. The premier and her MLAs are “fanning out to communities across the province this summer to talk face-to-face with Albertans” about her promise to create 140 Family Care Clinics. But the government’s website offers no information on how to participate in the FCC consultation process.***
To understand the premier’s motivation in calling for these and other reviews one needs to consider what triggered them (FOIP requests and public outrage or a sincere search for a better way of doing things), how they were conducted (an open, transparent process or behind closed doors with a hand-picked group of supporters) and what the government did with the results (new responsive laws and policies or duplicative laws and additional legislative reviews which delay the matter further).
Until Ms Redford gets real about authentic leadership and demonstrates the openness, transparency and accountability she promised, the phrase “Hello Alberta. I’m listening” will have as little impact as if it had been said by a fictitious psychiatrist on a TV sitcom.
*Calgary Herald, Aug 13, 2012, A1 quoting Kim Misik
**Calgary Herald, Aug 9, 2012, A4 quoting Scott Hennig, Alberta director of Canadian Taxpayers Federation
***Government of Alberta Official Website