The Trouble with Hubris: Doug Griffiths’ Bill 28 goes into Freefall

Like Icarus, strapping on wings of feathers and wax, Municipal Affairs Minister Griffiths attempted to glide Bill 28 Modernizing Regional Governance Act through the Legislature.  It sparked an uproar among municipal officials and disintegrated under the Oppositions’ scrutiny.

Griffiths and the Premier responded to the crash and burn with a cheeky “this is exactly what we meant to do along” press release and created a task force to do the consultation they should have done in the first place.

Setting aside the obvious explanation (hubris), what the heck happened?

A “legal technicality”

Griffiths argued that Bill 28 was no big deal.  It simply addressed a “legal technicality” created by his department’s failure to follow its own regulations.  The government passed a regulation creating the Capital Regional Board.  This regulation automatically expires after two years unless the government passes a statute (Bill 28) to roll the Capital Regional Board under the Municipal Government Act.

Big snag (or legal technicality depending on your point of view), the two year deadline expired four years ago. 

To make matters worse, Parkland County launched a law suit arguing that the Capital Regional Board could not interfere with its plans to build an industrial park because the Board was four years past its expiry date.     

Mr Griffith Responds to Questions

Five months after Parkland filed its lawsuit Mr Griffiths unfurled Bill 28.   The Opposition, fueled by enraged mayors and reeves, shredded Mr Griffiths.

Why didn’t you engage in public consultation?  Mr Griffiths was all over the map.  First he said he did consult.  When the opposition said their constituents had never heard of Bill 28, Mr Griffiths admitted he was referring to general consultation starting in 2007.

Mr Griffiths

Then he said there was no time to consult because the court’s decision in Parkland was imminent and if it went against the government the Capital Regional Board and 18 commissions would vapourize overnight and the world as we know it would end.  He pressed on: “Sometimes leadership isn’t just about consulting…it’s about making decisions…and if we manage to make some mistake, then we fix it.”*  (Assuming we haven’t completely screwed it up).

If Bill 28 is meant to correct the Parklane problem why does it apply to every municipality in Alberta?  Mr Griffiths had no answer.  So he defaulted to the government’s usual tactic—attacking the Opposition for fear mongering (and conveniently forgetting that his “the world as we know it will end” argument is fear mongering of the first order).

Then he made a fatal mistake.  He argued that Bill 28 was the “mirror image” of the Capital Regional Board regulation.  The opposition had him for breakfast.

Rachel Notley (NDP) put it best.  Not only was the Capital Regional Board regulation the result of consultation and negotiation, it allowed municipalities to set their own objectives, to appoint the members and chair of the growth management board, and resolve differences through a complaint process.  Bill 28 was born of government edict and did none of those things.**

Which leaves us all wondering…why is Bill 28, an act Premier Redford describes as changing the relationship between the province and the municipalities “for the better” and Mr Griffiths says gives the government no new powers, so draconian?***    

Brian Mason (NDP) suggests it’s a Trojan horse trotted out to “address” the Parklane problem when it’s true purpose is muzzle municipalities so they can’t interfere with the province’s growth agenda (projects like power lines, nuclear plants, whatever).

The “cart before the horse” consultation process

Rob Anderson & Danielle Smith

The Wildrose brought a number of motions (with the full support of the Liberals and NDP) to delay second reading of the Bill so the government could consult with municipal officials, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMD and C).

They were roundly defeated and at 1:40 a.m. on Oct 30 Bill 28 passed second reading.

Then a funny thing happened.  The very next day Premier Redford and Mr Griffiths suspended the legislative process to allow time for consultation with the municipalities.  Premier Redford said, ”Now that it’s been introduced into the House, we know that it’s important to consult with municipal leaders as the minister has been doing on an ongoing basis.”****

And guess what, Mr Griffiths will create a task force, the government’s “cart before the horse” consultation process will begin and the world as we know it will not end after all.

Danielle Smith summed it up with this:  “To the premier’s credit, she listened to the backlash from mayors and reeves.”**** 

The trouble with hubris

Notwithstanding the Premier’s assertion that she truly values our input and perspective, the hubris of Redford’s government is such that they can’t hear us unless our feedback reaches “backlash” intensity.

It’s time to crank up the volume and blast Icarus out of the sky.

*Hansard, Oct 30, 2013, 2640.  

**Hansard, Oct 30, starting at 2606

***Hansard, Oct 30, 2571, 2604

**** Calgary Herald Nov 1, 2013, A5  

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10 Responses to The Trouble with Hubris: Doug Griffiths’ Bill 28 goes into Freefall

  1. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    I am surprised we don’t have this sort of backlash intensity with a great many issues in Alberta.
    But then the people are cowed.

    In this case the people who yapped were the Tory faithful and so, there was some backtracking by the oil monarchs.
    I don’t think it will make much difference in the end though.
    As soon as the queen has her coronation —we will be pushing through this bill much like the way the transmission lines were approved–without our input and consent.

    This sort of anti-democratic behavior by government is now commonplace.
    I am actually surprised that the Tory faithful rose up.
    Normally you hear the nonsense of the sort heard when the Obed Mountain mine spills the entire content of the containment pond into the Athabasca River–that there was no impact, that the response to the disaster was superb, and all that rot.

    My feeling is that this issue was a big thing because the Tory faithful in the small towns and hamlets were ticked off by the high handed behavior of the Tories and let the oil monarchy know this in a major way.

    Since this sort of minor dissent—doesn’t seem to happen often, this must have slightly unnerved the powers that be.
    I don’t really think the Tories can do anything right at this point.
    But certainly they do seem to listen to the few supporters they have left.

    It is amusing that Mr. Iveson agreed to this dumb law (at least I think it is a dumb law designed to force everyone to toe the Tory lie –yes lie–whether we want to do it or not). I mean we do toe the Tory lie anyway but perhaps this law in the making–just made it too obvious to everyone that we are forced to toe the Tory lie. Why make it so obvious to everyone that we are all serfs? We already know we are serfs without making it plain to us in this legal beagle way.

    It boggles my mind that the Tories are so arrogant that they operated the Capital Region Board for four years on an expired regulation and not one of the members of the Capital Region Board let on to the public that they were in fact operating in a sort of legal vacuum? But then again we had that flood report that they conveniently buried until the floods came and the Ark wasn’t here to save us so the operation of the Capital Region Board without a regulation is no big thing. But I wonder, does this make their decisions void? In other words that money that they dedicated to the Katz arena–is that now not valid because they were basically a board with an expired contract so to speak?

    I went to one of these meetings by the way and it wasn’t a pretty sight. All these small town mayors and reeves and the big shot mayor Mandel yapping like a pack of mongrels about their turf and money. Mostly about the money that they think they should have by annexing each other–because they can’t get it from the province. It was very Pac-man.

    It makes you wonder why the few of us that vote — actually bother with this deMockracy in our midst in Alberta.

    I was disappointed by Mr. Iveson’s position in this business. I was hoping for change when I voted for him but he just said he agreed with this bill. Wow. Is he going to be like Mandel? Looks like it.

    I am now interested in Parkland County’s lawsuit. I’d not heard about it in the newspapers. But then in the Edmonton Journal we hear nothing interesting because their columnists are shut up by the powers that be there —and the important news like how we cannot sue the energy regulator for not doing its job as in the Jessica Ernst case is never mentioned. The silencing of journalists is a topic that we should all talk about.

    I never knew that a government–any government could be unaccountable to citizens simply by passing a law like the REDA. But apparently they can.
    http://www.qp.alberta.ca/1266.cfm?page=r17p3.cfm&leg_type=Acts&isbncln=9780779776368

    RESPONSIBLE ENERGY
    DEVELOPMENT ACT
    Statutes of Alberta, 2012
    Chapter R-17.3
    Current as of June 17, 2013

    Division 5
    Administration
    Protection from action
    27 No action or proceeding may be brought against the Regulator,
    a director, a hearing commissioner, an officer or an employee of
    the Regulator, or a person engaged by the Regulator, in respect of
    any act or thing done or omitted to be done in good faith under this
    Act or any other enactment.

    ****************************************

    Is this sort of protection of the government and its loyal troops a common matter?
    I see it is also present in bill 28:

    http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_28/session_1/20120523_bill-028.pdf
    Limitation of actions
    708.19 No cause of action arises as a result of
    (a) the enactment of this Part,
    (b) the making of a regulation, bylaw or order under this
    Part, or
    (c) anything done or omitted to be done in accordance with
    this Part or a regulation, bylaw or order made under this
    Part.
    No remedy
    708.2 No costs, compensation or damages are owing or
    payable to any person, and no remedy, including in contract,
    restitution or trust, is available to any person in connection with
    anything referred to in section 708.19.
    Proceedings barred
    708.21 No proceedings, including any proceedings in
    contract, restitution or trust, that are based on anything referred
    to in section 708.19, may be brought or maintained against any
    person.
    No expropriation or injurious affection
    708.22 Nothing done or omitted to be done in accordance
    with this Part or a regulation, bylaw or order made under this
    Part constitutes an expropriation or injurious affection for the
    purposes of the Expropriation Act or otherwise.

    ****************************************************
    This sounds very 1984.

    How are we to hold folks accountable if we cannot take them to court for poor and even criminal performance?

    In the case of Jessica Ernst for example, all previous energy regulators and the current AER are off the hook in terms of being held accountable.

    This seems very unconstitutional.
    It seems that the Tories can hold everyone else accountable but we cannot hold them accountable (at least not their minions in the energy regulator that do their bidding).

    Maybe the Tory faithful recognized this tactic (that they had to be accountable to the Tories and yet the Tories have to be accountable to no one) and hence the rebellion.

    In addition I think there was that small matter of getting a fine if you didn’t do as they told you to do. Or else you go to jail. Wow. Can we get this put into the laws with reference to the Tories? That if the Tories don’t obey our will –we can fine them or put them in jail?

    http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_28/session_1/20120523_bill-028.pdf
    Information must be provided
    708.17(1) The chief elected official of a participating
    municipality must, when required in writing by the growth
    management board to do so, provide the growth management
    board with information about the participating municipality that
    the growth management board requires.
    (2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an
    offence and liable to a fine of $10 000 or to imprisonment for a
    term of not more than one year, or to both a fine and
    imprisonment.
    (3) This section does not apply to information acquired by a
    municipality that is subject to any type of legal privilege,
    including solicitor-client privilege.

    *****************************************************************

    Mr. Don Iveson didn’t think this was a bit Communist at all since he believes he will always agree with the Redford folks.

    Possibly he will —since the decisions by the new growth management board will probably be in the favor of cities like Edmonton (We seem to be the guinea pig city–as per the SuperLab project –I don’t know about Calgary since the Tories did not consult with Mayor Nenshi about bill 28—and they don’t seem to like him for some odd reason–perhaps because he is a good representative of the people of Calgary).

    I don’t know.
    It seems that politics is a strange animal and it is always running off into the bushes like the hunted thing it is.

    • Julie, I agree. Redford and Griffiths paused not because of the quality of the debate in the House (and it was good, even at 1 a.m.) but because the small town mayors, reeves and councillors went ballistic and found a champion in the WR (and to a lesser extent, the other opposition parties). The WR has a history of standing up for landowners and rural municipalities. They made the point that if Bill 28 went through it would give the government legislative power (in addition to political power) to slap down any municipal official who didn’t toe the Tory line. The fact that Bill 28 included a $10,000 fine and jail time was a huge concern. Incidentally Mr Griffiths said that “mirror image” legislation contained the same provision but the government had never used it so it’s OK. The Opposition rightly said, if that’s the case then why do you need it, take it out. Griffiths wouldn’t do it. Another thing the Opposition argued for was an appeal mechanism so the municipalities had a remedy if they were bulldozed by the province. Griffiths ignored this as well and then lo and behold Redford announced that the task force involved in the consultation would include an appeal process as well.

      I think Redford finally figured out that some of the delegates who’d be voting at her leadership review on Nov 23 actually came from the hinterland and she had to back off if she wanted to keep them on board. I wonder if they’re that dense…but for the fact that Redford was up for review, Bill 28 would have been rammed through just like REDA and all of the other “my way or the highway” legislation that this government has forced upon the people.

      I don’t know if Mayor Iveson really understood what this Bill said, either that or he likes the fact that the big cities would have more power to make the municipalities accede to their growth plans. And there’s no love lost between Mayor Nenshi and Doug Griffiths who, you’ll recall, called Mayor Nenshi a puffed up peacock. Isn’t that rich coming from Mr Griffiths–the man who told the House that he had consulted when clearly he had not. Did he think that the opposition parties weren’t going to check!

      I’m so glad that you’re staying engaged in all this even though it’s a mess. 2016 will come and we will vote the PCs out of office. It will be a great day for Alberta!

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    Well Susan at least you do not have any trouble finding different fiascos every week. It is really a very sad time in Alberta. The mediocrity is appaling. Where did this people come from?
    I am not sure that the cart is before the horse, I feel we never know at any moment in time, where the horse or the cart are. It seems like a bad guessing game where they get caught every single step of the way and then come up with the intelligent explanations like the one in your post.

    • Carlos, you’re right, the cart isn’t before the horse. It’s upturned in the ditch and the horse ran away a long time ago. The WR is working hard to ensure that the people understand just what Griffiths tried to pull here (consultation? who do you think you are?). The NDP haven’t said anything about it yet on their website and for some reason the Liberal website is down. Anyway I hope all the Opposition parties speak up about this, people need to see the erosion of democracy in real time.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    This article explains some of what is going on

    http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2013/11/06/Rob-Ford-Rock-Bottom/

    • I really hope this isn’t the case, although I have to admit that I’m at a loss to explain how someone like Rob Ford can continue to have any support whatsoever with the electorate. Surely we’re better than this.

  4. midgelambert says:

    Thanks Susan. Another great expose of another piece of JUNK (yes, I said junk) legislation so typical of what the PCs continually ram through – poorly written, poorly thought out and just plain power grabbing, just like the land use laws.

    Just the day after the bill was yanked by Redford I was in attendance at a meeting that Griffiths was at, and saw one of the strangest episodes ever. When Griffiths was asked “what is this Bill 28, we don’t know anything about it?”, he dropped his head and shook it sadly. Then he said words to the effect that ‘Well, I had it all ready to introduce on Wednesday, with a conference call and a full briefing for you guys. Then I “was told” to bring it in on Monday, then I “was told” to introduce it’ Then he said ‘I called it the Municipal Government Amendment Act and now what do THEY call it ?- the municipal……regiona….r….(pretending he didn’t know the name of it). We all know that second reading was shoved through – with such urgency that “We don’t have time for consultation” – at Wednesday nights sitting (at 2 in the morning) but by Thursday noon, it was all part of the plan to consult. If Griffiths is the minister, and this bill is under his name, my question is WHO ARE ‘THEY’?

    • Perhaps THEY are facing a leadership review on Nov 23 and wanted to ensure that THEY would not be up against a rival who took THEM on in the last leadership race? Whoever THEY are, this episode demonstrates that Griffiths is a puppet and is willing to throw the municipalities under the bus to stay on the good side of THEM. Fat lot of good that did him! Bizarre.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    THEY lie and they are smoking crak as well. THEY need to be kicked out as fast as possible.
    Alison Redford (THEY number 1) just came back from her 5th trip to the US apparently to convince the idiots that we have an amazing environmental record and the pipeline is good for them (is she smoking crack as well?)

    • Yes I don’t know how she can tout AB’s environmental record given the sorry state of enforcement that we’ve seen to date. The new environmental monitoring body appears to be just more window dressing.

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