Ms Soapbox’s Great Adventure—Off to the Leg (it rhymes with “edge”)

Last week Ms Soapbox was introduced to the Legislative Assembly by Liberal MLA, Laurie Blakeman, the oldest (as in longest-serving, not age!) opposition MLA.  Ms Blakeman noted that Ms Soapbox was a lawyer but said the House wouldn’t hold that against her.  Ms Soapbox stood to receive the “traditional warm welcome” of the Assembly.  The MLAs thumped their desks and waved, warming the cockles of Ms Soapbox’s heart!

The Caucus Meeting

When Liberal MLA, Dr David Swann, invited me to attend a Liberal caucus meeting I leapt at the chance.  In less than 10 minutes I was booked on the 6 a.m. (groan) Red Arrow motor coach;  apparently they’re not called busses any more.

Jonathan, the chief of staff, greeted me at the Legislative Annex and fortified me with muffins that we filched from the snack table reserved for MLAs in Committee.         

We settled into the caucus meeting.  Party leader Dr Raj Sherman and Jeff, the communications guy, were running late due to an interview with Rutherford.  The MLAs and staffers are an animated bunch…so much so that Ms Blakeman (did I mention that she’s the oldest serving opposition MLA) was forced to reel them in with stern looks and threats to confiscate their cell phones.  Dutifully we turned our attention to the white board.

The first topic: finalizing questions for Question Period.  What are the right questions?  Who’s going to ask them?  What are the other opposition parties asking?  What’s the press interested in today?  Who gets the first question, the second, the third?

This is not a trivial exercise.  Question Period is an opportunity to hold the government to account but only if the opposition can bring the issue to the public’s attention.  The best way to engage the public is to grab a media headline.  Hence the questions are phrased in delicious little sound bites that play well in the media.  The opposition doesn’t expect a decent answer from the government (although a foot-in-mouth response is always welcome).  It’s the question, more than the answer, that’s important.

With question period settled, the meeting turned to other things.    

The Tunnel, Library and Cafe

After caucus we entered the eye of the storm—that moment of serenity when MLAs disappear into their offices to do some real work before the tempest hits.

David took me to the Leg through the underground tunnel.  Who knew there was a tunnel connecting the Annex to the Leg?  An escape route in case disgruntled Albertans storm the ramparts?     

We emerged in the rotunda; smack in the middle the Vaisakhi Day celebration marking the 314th anniversary of the foundation of the Sikh community.  Music, food, men in turbans, women in sparkling saris, children everywhere.  Is every day this exciting at the Leg? 

We ducked into the Library, a lovely room with tall windows, dark furniture and old IMG_0211 croppedfashioned stacks, but alas, no people.  Blame it on the Internet.  Then off to lunch at the Leg Cafe where a good-natured bear of a man told us where to find the best pizza in Calgary.

The Visitors Gallery

David dropped me at Security next to the Visitors Gallery.  I relinquished my briefcase and purse but they had to prise my cell phone out of my hand.  Then it was off to the metal detector.  Odd that the metal detector is on the second floor, giving disgruntled Albertans armed with tomatoes free access to the MLAs just outside the Assembly Hall.    

I took my place the front row and after Laurie’s delightful introduction, listened while the oldest opposition MLA in the Leg introduced the lady sitting beside me—Dr PearlAnn Reichwein,* a university professor deeply concerned about the changes being inflicted on Alberta’s 26 institutions of higher learning.

Following the introductions, the Assembly moved to the best part of the agenda—Question Period!

Question Period

Question Period is a blood sport.  TV doesn’t do it justice.   The opposition parties were in fine form, badgering the government over revoking veterans’ hospital parking passes, delisting generic drugs without providing replacements, the carbon tax (or lack thereof) and insufficient post secondary funding.

The government responded with excuses and platitudes, demonizing the opposition as the “extreme left” and “extreme right”.  Meaning that the PCs are the “moderate centre”?

And so it went, the opposition baiting the PCs and thumping their desks in appreciation of each other’s questions, the PC ministers rising one by one, like lumbering bears, trying to defend policy decisions that defy explanation.  At one point the opposition gaffawed so loudly that the Speaker scolded everyone.  Decorum broke out…for all of 2 minutes.  God, I love Question Period.

Reflections on the Red Arrow

Tucked into the back of the motor coach, watching the safety video narrated by my passenger service representative, I reflected on the day.

The PC dynasty is crumbling.**Only a miracle will save it now.  The Wildrose will likely form the next government.  The big question is whether it will be a minority or majority government.

IMG_0228This is where you come in.  Do you want to balance a Wildrose government with a progressive option?  Then contact your favourite progressive MLA and find out what you can do to help out now.  Ask to meet with caucus.  If they truly want to serve Albertans, they’ll find a way to accommodate your request.

*In one of those Casablanca moments (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”) I discovered that PearlAnn was the daughter of a friend I’d met through the Whitemud Citizens for Public Health.  Pure serendipity. 

**Here’s a great Youtube video that sums up Albertans’ frustration with the PCs:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPlo1nNJGyE&sns=em

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8 Responses to Ms Soapbox’s Great Adventure—Off to the Leg (it rhymes with “edge”)

  1. jillbrowne says:

    Wow, that’s all quite exciting, Ms Soapbox! I had no idea you were hobnobbing in corridors of power. Thanks for the report.

    • Thanks Jill. I was really pleased that the Liberals extended the invitation. Seems to me that all of the opposition parties should try to make themselves more accessible to their voter base. Inviting voters to spend a day at the Leg is a great place to start.

  2. Way to go Ms soapbox, more folks should be involved in what the politicians are doing. I am supporting the wr presently but leave my options open in case there is a exodus of the present Alison’s pc people to the Wild rose. I was not impressed with them taking under there umbrella the ft. Mac mla who was excommunicated for not going along with the caucus,also he had a bad reputation for procrastinating to much. The liberals are looking better all the time so there are alternatives. My chief complaint is with the voters in leaving the same party in power for so long that everything is now corrupted and may be very hard to change as the gov’t in power has so much money leverage to maintain there status quo. Anyway keep up the good work

    • Thanks Tom, I too am watching ALL of the opposition parties to see how they handle themselves over the coming months. The PC government is on shaky ground, the voters won’t fall for the same fear mongering tactic that spooked them the last time. So the big question is how will the votes shake out this time around. It’s going to be a very interesting election!

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Well well little did I know that you have access to these exotic places like the Leg.
    I worked in a building as close as one can get to the Legislature and was never invited for anything, never mind muffins and getting an applause. They would not want a radical in there anyway with or without tomatoes.
    After reading your post it is easy to realize you are a Calgarian and a Leg rookie. There are tunnels that take you to the Brownlee building close to the Courts without ever coming up. Can you imagine having high officials having to face the cold? Like you suggest I also agree they will serve a purpose when the revolution comes.
    Question Period! It is more hilarious than ‘This hour has 22 minutes’. I am not sure what the purpose is other than insulting each other.
    I hope you are right in the fall of Ms Alison Redford. I predict that as well. She started with the approval of only one caucus vote and I now understand why. She will have none in the next convention. If her support increases then I have no doubts the PCs will be gone. The only problem is that it will be the Wildrose that will replace her and not a Progressive party.
    As far as helping the progressive parties I would if they helped themselves, but they are not interested in anything other than power, so they can continue their ‘going nowhere and helping elect the far right’ objective. They cannot get over going at it alone and so alone they will. They have gotten nowhere in the last 41 years and they never will. Without a coalition the next premier is Daniel Smith or some other lunatic of the far right. We will continue moving to the right and if they get elected it will make Klein look like a real democrat/socialist.

    • Carlos, I’d love to be a fly on the wall at PC party headquarters when they debate whether to trigger a REAL leadership review this fall. They have two tricky decisions: One: is it better to get rid of Ms Redford now or closer to the election? There’s some logic to letting Ms Redford carry the burden of debt and slashed social services until closer to the election and then replacing her with a fresh new face who’ll energize the party (and maybe some gullible voters). On the other hand the longer Ms Redford is at the helm the lower the PCs sink in the opinion polls. Two: who will they replace her with? Not Doug Horner–he’s one of the old guard and no one trusts them anymore; not Doug Griffiths–he’s alienated the cities and just about everyone else; and please not Thomas Lukaszuk–that man is both arrogant and dense.

      We’ll see whether the progressive parties find away to work together in the next election. It was interesting that Joyce Murray came second to Justin Trudeau in the federal Liberal leadership race. She was very vocal about the need for the progressives to work together to defeat Harper’s conservatives. The fact that she beat out the other candidates says something about what Canadians are thinking.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan I think that I would like to be in the room but as a person so that I could actually have a chance to say something to these people without have to be pepper sprayed.
    To me Alison Redford can go any time as long as she goes I will feel a little better about our future. As far as the others, there is really no replacement. Like I said before if Thomas Lukaszuk takes over I will move. Dense is a good word. I consider it the kind version of ‘incapable of thinking’ or one level lower IDIOT.

    The problem in my view is that with this political culture fully entrenched in the province, good people stay away to avoid having to deal with what you call the dense people. It is not an easy job to change bad habits at any level but especially at naturally powerful groups like political parties.
    Fortunately the scandals keep coming and now it is another bill for another executive to go to the Mayo clinic to confirm that whatever chemotherapy done in Alberta was actually good enough. A double joke of course. Weatherhill approved it. She definitely was the Empress of our slowly dying Health Care System. The fact is that she got a couple millions and she is probably in the Cayman Islands where the money went without paying any taxes. The fact is that every single prime minister and premier in Canada talks about Health Care and no one does anything about it after they get elected. NOTHING. What is the Federal Government Health Care policy? Waiting until it is so bad that they can then implement private care. This is strategy used by the communists in the countries where they take over. Talking about dictatorship type governments, I see that comrade Chong and comrade Lemieux are challenging chairman Harper about that so called freedom of speech! Interesting.

    What you said about Joyce Murray certainly reflects, in my view, what Canadians think, but let us not be naive Susan, who cares what we think? Justin Trudeau has already made it clear that he has no intention whatsoever to have anything to do with the NDP even at the constituency level during elections. So the future looks rosy and the slow decline of Canada as a progressive, compassionate and decent nation will continue for the time being. Oh but we will have jails for all of us do not worry. The 10 by 5 bunk bed with a toilet is starting to look like a good prospect for retirement years. 🙂

    Amazingly we get surprised to see some normal looking individuals loosing their minds and shooting at others sometimes for no reason other than mental disturbances. We will see more and more I believe. People are getting hungrier and hungrier and the fact is that those that control power in our current pseudo-democratic societies have not intention or interest in changing anything and are ready to confront us with the utmost police power like they always did. This is just history repeating itself. Most of us know what the end of these cycles are and they are not pretty. Despite despising violence I cannot wait for the steam release coming soon. I have no doubts it will come. Humans have a tolerance limit especially in face of no change.

    • Carlos, your point about how difficult it is to change behaviours, especially in a government that’s become entrenched after 42 years in power, is very true. I once worked at a large utility company that was under pressure from its customers to reduce costs. It was amazing how difficult it was to shake off the old “spend it because the customers are paying for it” attitude. Someone likened it to trying to turn the Titanic before it hit the iceberg. The analogy certainly fits here.

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