“Hello Alberta. I’m listening.”

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


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15 Responses to “Hello Alberta. I’m listening.”

  1. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    My only one comment, “less talk more action, please.”

  2. Jane Walker says:

    Thanks so much, Susan; another great column.
    As a retired health service administrator who dealt routinely with the funding shortfalls in service and program funding, I am acutely aware of the impact on the system of ‘unfunded liabilities’. Your comment: “MLAs have a pension scheme which creates a huge unfunded liability” raises red flags that I am sure not all levels of constituents would understand and many would not stop to appreciate. It is a hard cold fact that these contractual obligations are not accounted for in futuristic identification of the fiscal challenge they offer. In addition comes the fact that we have added seats to the legislative assembly without reporting their long range cost implications, either. Compounding those.expenditures indicates a requirement for significant funding that will have to come from somewhere …. probably services and programs “because the greatest cost to our sytems is the cost of staffing” … we’ve heard it before. Who is more important to Albertans?
    My suggestion for ‘accountability’ ….. the need for holding our representatives accountable to the people for the ethical/moral allocation of our resources. Let’s make this our mantra for the future and let that be the ‘action’ that we see from this government.

    • Jane, thanks for pointing out the implications of not addressing this problem. The longer the government ignores it, the worse it becomes. The private sector has moved aggressively to shift all employees to a defined contribution plan because they know shareholders won’t bear the risk of mounting unfunded liabilities. My previous employer shifted every employee under the age of 50 over to a defined contribution plan in a two year period. My present employer doesn’t have a pension plan at all–we get a percentage of our base pay as a benefit allowance and it’s up to us how we want to spend it. That’s the new world and it’s time the government got in sync.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan, the Fraser idea is perfect. As far as I am concerned Alison Redford’s skills are as good as Fraser and the confusion is a bit worse. I agree fully with your comments and I just add that most of what she is doing is her personality but also with the spin that is now absolutely ingrained in Alberta politics. The so called ‘Save my ass’ stream of politics. No vision, no clear objectives other than reviews and no real change at all and a lot of appearances and imagined truths. She will not change the pensions at all because she will have to get one before she leaves. It is possible that at this pace, we will be paying taxes just to pay the management and politician pensions.
    The changes required are short of revolutionary in order to get the house in order and it is certainly not Alison Redford who is going to make them, she just does not have the competency to do it. Her democratic and government skills maybe have been good enough to Mandelas’ South Africa but are not good enough for 21 century Alberta. Of this I have no doubts.

    • Agreed. I had high hopes for Ms Redford when she entered the leadership race, but I haven’t seen her deliver on her promise to create a “different” PC party. She’s called a Red Tory, but she seems to be all over the map. It could be that the die-hard Torys are holding her back, or she’s afraid of the Wildrose and doesn’t want to be seen as weak, or she simply doesn’t have enough experience to be the leader. In any event I expected a lot more of her as leader.
      So we watch and wait to see what’s going to go sideways next. Thanks Carlos.

  4. roy wright says:

    There is another promise that appears unfilled. During the election, Alison promised the electorate that any PC Members who benefited from the “No Meet” committee would have to refund the money if they wanted to be part of caucus. Since the election, I have only heard one report only suggesting PC members were still working out the details of how much to pay back. I presume these funds have not been paid back. Surely Alison should be able to deliver on this one…if she is truly the boss of the PC Party all she has to do is issue the edict of “Pay up if you want to play”. There is no legislation to change, there is no study to undertake and there is no public consultation to do, and therefore no excuse or delaying tactic that I can see.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Hi Roy – You are absolutely right but the question is – Does she really believe that to be the right thing to do? If she did, the money would have already been refunded. Working out the details is synonymous to “Soon people do not even remember it and will be another forgotten issue’.
      Maybe we should keep reminding them with emails.

    • Roy if I remember correctly Ms Redford did say something along the lines you suggest, namely every one of her MLAs would have to refund their “no meet” committee payments or they’d have no place in her government. But after she was elected we heard nothing further on this issue. Makes me wonder whether this was more pre-election politicking with no follow through.

      I like Carlos’ suggestion that we remind her with more emails. Perhaps a deluge of emails from Alberta voters might convince her that we intend to hold her to her promise.

  5. Midge says:

    Redfords “review” panels are all chaired by old PC party hacks who ensure that everything that is reviewed comes back just fine!. This whole “conversation with Albertans” is a complete and total farce, because along with the latest set of meetings in opposition held ridings, they continue to be invitation only and behind closed doors, and as some one described it already, a perfect example of “selective transparency”. The “new” government is may have shuffled the players, but they are still dealing from the same old corrupt deck.

  6. Midge, Redford’s behavior after she won the PC leadership and after she won the election fits your description to a T. In her first cabinet shuffle after becoming leader she put Ron Liepert in the Finance Minister slot. He did a “consultation” with Albertans on the 2012/13 budget–but the only Albertans invited to participate were PC party members hand-picked by the presidents of the PC constituency associations. (He reported that Albertans did not want a tax hike…surprise). After Redford won the election she reshuffled cabinet. The Merali affair blew up. Horne muttered that it’s not his fault and they tagged Don Scott, the associate minister for accountability, transparency and transformation to hire HR experts to evaluate hiring practices for senior officials.
    Within a week of this announcement it’s revealed that Evan Berger, the agriculture minister who lost his job to the WR candidate, is offered a position advising the deputy minister of agriculture.
    Time to call off Don Scott…we don’t need to evaluate Tory hiring practices…it’s cronyism. Unbelievable.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Well many people are not going to like this article but it certainly is an important one in the series about oil and Canada.


    I totally agree with him but I came to the conclusion that we no longer have people that can make decisions like Mr. Wiborg. We have way more Merallis and money rather than the future of Canada is way more important in the Canadian value system. We will pay a tremendous price in the future for this kind of atittude.

  8. Wow, that was a great article Carlos. I can’t help but think that Mr Wiborg is right. He said that politicians don’t have what it takes to stand up to the oil companies. The fall-out from Mr Stelmach’s attempt to realign Alberta’s royalty structure would bear that out. The oil/gas companies threatened to leave and the government folded. Contrast that to Norway’s approach which gives the state a 60 to 65% share in the projects…,sharing the benefit and sharing the risk. It’s like night and day.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan I personally have no doubts whatsoever that Alberta politicians do not have it at all to stand up to the oil companies. To me the reason behind that incapacity is what is more worrying. First of all they think that the interests of the oil companies and development ‘no matter what’ is before our interests as Albertans. Secondly the party is in bed with these companies. Furthermore, if a politician stands up to them and tries to defend our interests, it is immediately shot down as socialist, nutter……left wing nuts and on and on. It is cultural and that is the great difference between us and Norway. The problem is not economics or experience in the oil industry, it is clearly a belief system which is now ingrained in the province and almost impossible to overturn.
    Have you ever heard anything coming from our govenment in terms of why we do so poorly? No, because in their view we are priviledged to get the 14% the oil companies tell the government they can charge for our resources.
    My late father, a man that thought this situation to be absurd, use to tell me that Albertans were like lions in a cage. They never attacked their owners because the cage life took away from them the belief that they were actually stronger than humans.
    To me, this situation is an embarassment to all of us. Mr. Wiborg actually came here to get his Master’s degree in the Oil Business. The difference is that he is proud of his country and understands what it means to be a citizen rather than being just a consumer. Although our politicians claim the same, they are incapable of feeling anything other than the strong urge to have more and more and go on junkets for power and notoriety. I call them Justin Biebers in waiting.

  10. Carlos, your father’s analogy is very fitting…lions in a cage…just think what we could do if we stopped for a minute and looked around at what we have and what we could do with it. Thanks for sharing.

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