On Apr 23, 2012, the day that Alison Redford’s PC government was re-elected, Albertans fell down a rabbit hole. On Nov 24, 2012, they crashed through the Looking Glass and their rate of descent is rapidly approaching terminal velocity.
What’s so special about Nov 24? That’s the day that Don Braid, a columnist I respect even when we disagree, described the Wildrose Party “a slavering pit bull of an opposition” and slammed them for using Question Period as a free negative campaign. He said their behavior transformed the Alberta Legislature, once the “…most muted, decorous Canadian legislature…[into one] as raucous as Quebec’s, B.C.’s or the federal Parliament”.
Are you kidding me???
I’ve been reading Hansard for 5 years (yes, I know, I need to get a life) and I can assure you that there’s no change in how any of the opposition parties use the few minutes allotted to them in Question Period. Furthermore there’s no change in how the PC government rebuffs them—sarcastic vacuous responses are still the order of the day.
When all else fails, they resort to name calling. The recent episode where Deputy Premier Lukaszuk called Danielle Smith a “bottom-feeder” is typical. He defended his comment by saying it “was not directed at the Leader of the Official Opposition but actually was a more general application and was aimed at all members of the Official Opposition.*
We’ve come to expect bowery boy behavior from Mr Lukaszuk. What surprises me is that Don Braid would overlook it when he called the Wildrose slavering pit bulls. But then again, we’ve fallen through the Looking Glass and things are not what they seem.
Having said that, something wonderful is happened on the Opposition side of the House; the Wildrose MLAs are working with the other opposition MLAs to raise the quality and intensity of debate.
The debate over Bill 2 (the Responsible Energy Development Assurance Act) which merges a number of energy statutes under one regulator is a good example** All of the opposition parties supported Bill 2 subject to a critical amendment that would require the regulator to consider the public interest test before he approved a project.
Mr Bilious (NDP) spoke in favour of the Wildrose amendment to restore the public interest test by saying it gives all Albertans a way to consider the impact of a project on the economy, the environment and social policy.***
Mr Anglin (Wildrose) argued that “..the public interest actually plays a very important role in the whole process of our legislative makeup, of our legislation, even dealing with individual property rights…It’s always that balance that we have to measure.”***
Mr Hehr (Liberal) spoke in favour of the amendment by arguing that our oil and gas reserves had to be developed in a socially responsible, economically friendly way that benefits the long-term interests of Alberta.***
All of the opposition MLAs asked the PCs a simple but critical question: Why did the government eliminate the public interest test when it had been in previous incarnations of this legislation for decades?
Here’s the PC’s response. Remember we’re on the other side of the Looking Glass so brace yourself for arguments that are incoherent and wrong under the law.****
Mr Hancock: The public interest test was removed because the whole act is an act in the public interest therefore it’s not necessary.
Ms Delong: It was removed because it is “extremely dangerous to private property rights.”
Mr Hughes, the Energy Minister in charge of this Act, was all over the place: It was removed because it’s confusing and “we’re seeking greater clarity in this act, Bill 2 so we’re not including it in this act”. It doesn’t matter if it’s removed because it will continue to exist in the other acts that this regulator will administer. It might be put back in the form of a regulation.
Just to recap, once you find yourself on the other side of the Looking Glass the answer to the question: why was the public interest test removed from the Act is this: it’s evil, it’s confusing, it’s unnecessary because the Act itself is in the public interest (which we’ve just said is evil and confusing), it’s unnecessary because the Act will regulate other acts which include the public interest and/or if it is necessary the PCs might put it back in the form of a regulation.
Got that? No? Perhaps it’s time to take a page out of Alice in Wonderland. Alice burst into tears when she whacked her head on the ceiling after eating the EAT ME cakes that turned her into a giant. Her tears became a sea that swept up all sorts of strange creatures. She and the creatures managed to crawl out of the sea but could not get dry. The Dodo suggested a Caucus-Race, which consists of everyone running in a circle with no clear winner. This was pointless but Alice managed to frighten the silly creatures away by talking about her “moderately ferocious” cat.
Given the PCs over-reaction to the Wildrose, I suspect they see a moderately ferocious cat (not a slavering pit bull) on the opposition side of the aisle and like Alice, I’m really glad it’s on our side because here in Wonderland we’re going to need all the help we can get!
*Hansard Nov 19, 2012 p 710
**Hansard Committee of the Whole, Nov 19, 2012, starting at p 731
***Bilious p 737, Anglin p 736, Hehr p 744
****Hancock p 737, Delong p 741, Hughes p 743
Susan, question period for most Canadians is a synonym of psychiatric ward discussion. The intersting thing about it, is that if someone from the gallery shouts something like ‘Get serious, go back to real work you bums…’ he/she will be removed at light speed and possible taken for psychiatric evaluation. 🙂 Makes sense of course because there is always the possibility of a terrorist attack to such a serious democratic institution.
In a time when spin is no longer enough to win elections, as the ‘people’ are now becoming imune to this kind of treatment, we now have a new mode of political process that is even proposed as the way forward by most political leaders. We are now being trained to accept that hiding our real moral values, ethics and principles in order to get power is fine. It is kind of similar to ‘Greed is good’. They will do it so many times that sooner or later people will just take it like another acceptable strategy. I see Danielle Smith is now part of the club. She went from libertarian to what I call ‘pretender’ in just a few weeks and the plan is on. Do not talk about any real beliefs or issues until you are government. If you cannot avoid talking about it just lie.
Delong at least says it in the open “extremely dangerous to private property rights.” In the present environment I have to confess that I have some respect for people like him, at least we know what to expect.
Carlos, your comment made me think about the purpose of question period so I did a little research and found an article by Frances Ryan in the Canadian Parliamentary Review. Ryan says that question period is “…generally viewed as the most powerful tool the opposition has to ensure the executive is held accountable for its actions…”, however over time it’s lost this purpose.
Part of the problem stems from the structure of question period which allows MLAs only 35 seconds to state their question or provide an answer. Add to that the introduction of televised sessions and you’re left with a lot of partisan posturing.
Your second point about “spin” is a good one. Generally speaking we don’t trust politicians. We know that their pre-election promises are simply “spin”. What I can’t figure out is why we continue to re-elect them after a term in office–we’ve heard their pre-election promises, we can compare that to their actual performance in the Legislature and we elect them a second time. Have we lost our minds?
Susan, your question is very relevant and yes I think we have lost our minds. I do believe that we are ‘conditioned’ to behave in a certain way due to many different factors and the reason we get that way, in my opinion is because there is not a balanced exposure to political ideology unless a person specifically chooses to do so by reading or through courses …..etc. Most of today’s powerful media supports the neo-conservative ideology and even when they do not directly do so, they also ignore reporting anything that may cause them any major problems. During the Iraq war this was tremendously obvious and basically 99% of the media supported the war. Right now it seems things are slowly changing and the by-election in Calgary is an example of that. We are finally cracking the teflon wall the right wing media has had in place for many years.
As far as Question Period – Useless as far as I am concerned and democracy cannot be practiced in seconds to accommodate television.
As a long time observer of the Alberta Legislature, I have to disagree — in my 43 years of watching I have not seen a more mean-spirited, less policy-oriented Opposition than Wildrose and its Question Period performance. Unlike Peter Lougheed who, as Opposition Leader, used those precious minutes to introduce new ideas into the public debate, Ms Smith and her colleagues seem determined to concentrate on mud-slinging and the slandering of individuals who are not in the House (the Premier’s sister and ex-husband). If all Alberta has to worry about is $3,000 in expenses from a government relations person at an authority that no longer exists (and, I must say, an individual whom Liberal MLAs saluted for the way she responded to their concerns), the province is in very good shape. Even worse is the latest “scandal” — her ex-husband by all accounts did not even work on the multi-firm file that was set up several years ago. Significantly, these attacks are not repeated outside the house where privilege would not be available and suitable legal response could be initiated.
To their credit, the NDs and Liberals are doing their best to raise real issues in the House — your coverage of Bill 2 is an excellent example. Ms Smith seems determined to avoid debate over contemporary public policy (understandable, given the lack of it in Wildrose) and engage in slander instead.
Those who have watched Alberta politics are not surprised — this is exactly the behavior that Ms Smith indulged in as a public school trustee which led to the entire board being suspended.
Wildrose was rejected by all Alberta voters except for those in the rural South — for very good reasons. The disgraceful Question Period performance is a good example why the voters made that choice.
And Albertans should be thankful that the handful of ND and Liberals MLAs are trying to make public policy the centre of debate.
Kevin, I’ll take your word for it that question period in the Lougheed era was more civilized and productive than it is today, but I disagree that it’s only the WR who are creating a new level of discord. All of the parties, including the PCs, show no reluctance to get down and dirty.
Mr Mason (NDP) made a very blunt comment with respect to the Tobacco Recovery Lawsuit. He asked the Premier to stop avoiding the tough question and “admit that this is a question of common-sense ethics and that [the Premier] has fallen far short of the standard that Albertans expect from their leaders?”
He followed that up with this: “…given that the current Justice minister is attempting to define this question in a way that completely misleads Albertans and given that the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics has stated that the then Justice minister, now the Premier, behaved, quote, unethically and possibly illegally by not recusing herself from this decision, unquote, will the Premier admit that her conduct in this case . . . [interjections, point of order, the Speaker allows the question] was at best a mistake and apologize to Albertans for her breach of ethical standards?” (Nov 28, 2012, pp 1110, 1111)
I’m not sure how we ended up in this situation but I don’t see it changing any time soon.
I do have to agree with your final statement — and by extension your earlier one that government ministers are every bit as much responsible for turning Question Period into an exercise in bear-baiting instead of an exploration of accountability issues (or alternatives) in public policy.