Why does the public go bananas when Danielle Smith, the leader of the Official Opposition, criticizes the PC government? They say she’s too negative, too shrill, too something. Can’t she be more positive they ask? More supportive?
Clearly they haven’t a clue about the role of the Opposition.
A thankless job
Winston Churchill grumped that being shot was a kindness compared to being the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. He’s right.
Consider this. Danielle Smith, as the leader of the Opposition, has the privilege of being the leader of the government-in-waiting without having access to the levers of power that she needs to make things happen.* It’s her job to point out the idiocy of the government’s legislation, its policies and, all too frequently, its misconduct.
At the same time she needs to keep a wary eye on the leaders of the second and third opposition parties who are busy scoring points of their own in an effort to move into the pole position prior to the next election.
Add to that the loose cannons on the independent side of the aisle, notably former Wildrose caucus member Joe Anglin, who responded to the Throne Speech with a diatribe on Wildrose nepotism before praising the premier for tabling Bill 1—a bill that purports to reaffirm the government’s commitment to individual property rights by repealing the government’s own un-proclaimed Bill 19 which purportedly took away an individual’s property rights. Got that?
Rachel good; Danielle bad?
At first I thought the public’s anger with Danielle was a manifestation of the general bias against powerful women—an assertive man is the “boss”, but an assertive woman is “bossy” and needs to tone it down and be “nice”.
But that theory doesn’t align with the public’s affection for the new NDP leader, Rachel Notley.
Rachel made her debut as the NDP Opposition Leader on Nov 18, 2014. It’s clear from her comments on the Throne Speech and her go-for-the-jugular style in Question Period that the new premier and his 43 year old government are in for a rough ride.
Here are some examples:
On the government’s failure to deliver on its promise of new schools, greater access to post-secondary education and more long term care beds she said: “After promising not to be your father’s PC Party, it looks like dad is back in charge.”
On plummeting oil prices she said (with a touch of sarcasm): “…after 43 years in government no one could ever have predicted that oil prices might fluctuate…”
On the closure of the ER at the Miseracordia hospital (the roof collapsed when the building flooded for the third time this year) she asked: “Why has [the Premier’s] government, through their incompetence and grossly negligent behavior, been allowed to put the health and safety of Albertans at risk?”
On the unelected Education minister jumping the queue to deliver new school modules in Calgary-Elbow, a riding where he was fighting for a seat, she asked: “…Does the Premier understand that by his failure to deal with his Education minister’s conduct during the by-elections, his caucus’ integrity problem is now his integrity problem?”
Rachel’s tone is every bit as harsh as Danielle’s, sometimes more so, however she’s viewed as delivering “mild jabs” while Danielle is vilified for crossing the line.
The eye of the beholder
The answer comes from Gerald Schmitz, a political writer, who says “the role of an opposition party…is to check and prod, but ultimately to replace the government party”**
Schmitz notes that “[t]he balance between compromise and obstruction, co-option and reflex opposition, is often in the eye of the beholder.” This is enormously significant because one’s view of how well or how poorly the Opposition parties are performing is biased by which party one supports.
Albertans content with the PC government (or fearful of the Wildrose) behold Ms Smith as too negative, not because she is, but because she leads the party that almost deposed the PCs after four decades in power. When she exposes the government’s shortcomings she increases the chances that the WR will push the PCs into the dustbin the next time around.
Rachel Notley on the other hand, is the leader of the NDP and it’s a given that the NDP will never form government, right? So as bright and quick as she is, when she attacks the PC government she’s not viewed as a threat by Albertans satisfied with the status quo.
John Diefenbaker said “It is human nature for government to find the Opposition distasteful and the longer governments are in power the more they become convinced that they govern by Divine Right and that their decisions are infallible.”***
Nowhere is Mr Diefenbaker’s warning more poignant than in Alberta—a one-party petrostate with nothing but contempt for the Opposition parties and the few democratic processes (like Question Period) that remain at their disposal.
So here’s a message to the Opposition parties. The 28th Legislature is now in session. Danielle, Rachel and Raj: Give it everything you’ve got!
Thank you Susan for another excellent analysis of Alberta politics.
To be fair to Danielle, Rachel doesn’t have to deal with as many wingnuts in her caucus.
Yes, you’re right John. I watched Joe Anglin’s response to the Throne Speech. The man is steaming mad and loaded for bear. It promises to be entertaining but not very helpful.
The opposition, and in particular, Danielle Smith are being portrayed as negative, whiney and less than helpful in the running of our province. Thank goodness for her comments as they have uncovered all sorts of incompetence, malfeasance and just plain bad government. You captured the essence of what the opposition tasks are…keep the present government honest and open to scrutiny. All three opposition parties have done their job in spades.
However, the media, be it print, or otherwise has not kept their part of the bargain in ensuring the public knows how life is unfolding politically. My understanding is that the basic responsibility of the media was to report the news, not shape it. Columnists and editorials have that responsibility. However, when you see the media ignoring alarming reports coming from the opposition (all three parties), it makes you wonder if the media has been actually co-opted into the government PR arm which is growing and peddling its particular version of the factoids. The most recent example from this week in the legislature occurred when Laurie Blakeman of the Liberal Party, on a point of privilege, raised concerns that a number of Ministers had taken the government plane to Grande Prairie, and should be investigated as well as the premier…not a word of it in the press, but the media were quick to tar our previous Premier when the Auditor General came out and clearly stated there was no “government business” associated with the flight other than a political event for the PC party. Rumors have circulated for years that the PC Party previously had threatened to cut off newspapers and reporters that did not play nice….maybe its time to take off the gloves and do some honest, integrity based reporting in the province for a change, and show the same courage our opposition MLA’s in all three parties have displayed.
Excellent point Roy. The media bears a huge responsibility for ensuring that the public understands what the government is doing but it’s dropped the ball. The most obvious example is the love-in with Jim Prentice. The media simply repeats the premier’s talking points. Prentice has been all over the map with respect to bitumen pipelines. First he’s up in arms because the US is preventing TCPL’s Keystone from getting our bitumen to “tidewater” (he’s told us this will have a catastrophic impact on our economy), then he tells us not to panic when Quebec and Ontario impose seven additional conditions on TCPL’s Energy East pipeline (including an assessment of the pipelines impact on global warming).
In both cases bitumen does not flow, but one is a problem and the other is not. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s up to the media to pin Prentice down on this and so far they’ve done nothing.
Journalism has to be more than regurgitated talking point and twitter feeds.
Ms. Smith has a hard field to grow crops on full of boulders of media but the farming hands she has don’t help her either. I mean they could have simply come into the future over the last few years and joined the modern world but no –they don’t do this. It’s not helping their image as rural hicks in politics. I think Ms. Smith is a bright young woman and certainly has done well as an opposition leader. I won’t vote for her but I am grateful that she has shown me the true performance of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta which seems to be rather poor.
The media are pretty much all Tory supporters in Alberta and this might be because this is just the way it is in Alberta (we may be a strange province). If you understand the media’s major bias it might help you to avoid their conclusions and simply investigate the actual facts of every issue.
But certainly the media could evolve in Alberta.
I think blogs like yours will help them to evolve since it is hard to be prattling nonsense when you have a writer dissect their reports and find glaring omissions or outright faults in their thinking abilities. Besides this sort of exposure by bloggers like your self helping to evolve the less than bright journalists that appear to be rampant in Alberta we also now have other citizens yapping day and night about their environmental problems on their blogs so that will help the media to develop the intuition that readers are no longer gullible anymore in Alberta and won’t take the myth making by the media anymore.
The bias of the journalists is frankly disgusting.
Mr. Wright raises an important point that no one seems to emphasize enough in Alberta which is the major bias of some columnists for specific political parties. These opinion columnists sprout all sorts of baloney in order to burnish the non-existent performance of specific political candidates and it makes me feel that there should be a sort of warning after their yapping that they are not really journalists but the unofficial media representatives of particular politicians.
I call these sorts of columnists unpaid PR folks. I don’t like this sort of unofficial PR work by the media and yet Albertans tolerate it without complaining to the editors of the newspapers. It is right to complain about this sort of bad reporting (as I have done) because folks are dumb and/or naive and will believe media folks despite their obvious dedication to propaganda.
Albertans have been subject to myth making from the beginning of the Progressive Conservative Party dynasty. The Tories have paid for this myth making with our tax dollars and we didn’t even know this.They have called this communicating with us. At the same time they were “communicating” with us (in a one way street fashion) they were using focus groups to find out how to do policies (consultation). Then they simply did what they wanted to do after assuring us that they had consulted and received word from the bottom of how to do the work at the top. This is called fooling us.
They also intimidated folks, called other folks environmental radicals, fired folks like Dr. Fanning and acted like bullies and overlords just to do the perfect record playing business. I had no idea that they weren’t perfect. From all the advertisements, the billboards, the leaflets, radio, TV and action plans I thought they never did anything wrong.
I mean I had no idea that there were two oil spills a day in Alberta. Why hadn’t any of the newspapers in Alberta done the sort of reporting that was done by environmental groups who paid for this sort of research out of their own pockets?
Why did the Edmonton Journal not report on the messes in the environment until these environmental groups woke up the public to the messes?
Besides not reporting on critical events in the environment we have had important environmental problems put in the back pages or delegated to a few lines. The case of Jessica Ernst is an important one and deserves front page exposure and yet any sort of information on Jessica is minimal and does not do justice to the many years of struggle and painful work done by this citizen.
The failures of the media to report environmental damage has been a shock to me.
Then the failures to do any sort of investigation into the criminal waste of cash at Alberta Health Services is also another area of dismay.
I mean the Auditor General of Alberta should have been working harder than this office has been in the past— but certainly investigative journalism should have provided the public —-with the less than satisfactory expenditures of cash for AHS hires.
For example just look at the hiring of the Amrhein guy. We don’t know what he is being paid and when I ask the government they refer me to a blog post and an advertisement that does not give me figures. Why is this? I would guess because he is being paid big bucks to do nothing for 7 months.
His hiring is a curious matter. Was he hired to occupy a room at AHS—so that Ms. Janet Davidson could do the job of health minister while the Mandel guy finds his fingers and toes in the health body? Or was he hired to save the University of Alberta the embarrassment of having a newly hired president with a rejected candidate for president? Or were the Tories simply soothing the ruffled feathers of the old duck of the party who didn’t get the prize that the party had promised him as the president of the University of Alberta? The way this guy was advertised by the government and the University of Alberta folks it was like he was the second coming and yet the folks at the university were not convinced by the myth making and hired someone else.
So why are we paying for the short term contract of a rejected candidate for the job of the president of the University of Alberta? The Amrhein guy seems to be the one man they use for the chop chop at places. He may be placed at the AHS place to do the chop chop or be the smiling face of no-change for 7 months.
In any case, no one in the media questions why we have given a lucrative 7 month contract to a guy who knows nothing about health and who is off to the Conference Board of Canada for another useless job next year.
No one asks about what his benefits are and how the expenses he incurs will be published. The secondment isn’t provided to us as a contract that we can review.
He is supposed to get some more contracts after he goes to a new job. Why? And why can he double dip in this way? Why can’t we simply have a competition instead of this parachuted candidate? There is no indication of what his after job contracts (sole sourced special courtesy of the Tories) will cost us or what they will be. We are simply to shut our mouths while more taxpayer dollars go out the window and door and out of the roof. Why should we shut our mouths? This is our money. I am not mollified by the assertion that he will work night and day.
I don’t believe that for a moment.
The media publish such nonsense and the distortion of reality is so profound that I sometimes wonder if I live in a Kafka world in Alberta.
Reporters have become Ken and Barbie figures to me.
I have to find out all the real answers by asking the questions and repeating them over and over again as in the correspondence below.
And another thing, why are all our questions being answered by the public affairs group at the government? Why can’t I get a response from individual departments such as Alberta Health or the folks at AHS?
Why the 1984 response team to manage the message at the government of Alberta?
Do we have a controlled message from top –down?
I’d say so.
As for Ms. Smith, although the media are BBQing her now, if she is the next oil monarch they will be fawning all over her. The one thing I have learned in Alberta is that flattery will get you everywhere and investigations of government will not.
From: “jyali” <jyali@
To: AlbertaConnects@gov.ab.ca, "AHS Corp" , “official administrator” , “janet davidson” , “jillian barber” , “edmonton whitemud” , “edmonton highlandsnorwood” , “edmonton rutherford” , “edmonton meadowlark” , “edmonton castledowns” , “edmonton ellerslie” , “edmonton glenora” , “calgary foothills” , “calgary elbow” , “calgary greenway” , “calgary west” , “calgary hays” , “calgary acadia” , “west yellowhead” , “lethbridge west” , “draytonvalley devon” , “fortmcmurray conklin” , “highwood” , “stephen harper” , “james rajotte” , “thomas mulcair” , “justin trudeau” , “elizabeth may” , email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, “Margo Goodhand (Edm Journal)” , firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, “Office of The City Auditor” , “don iveson” , “Bryan Anderson” , “tony caterina”
Cc: “Velvet Martin” , “Diana Daunheimer” , “Stewart Shields” , “Jessica Ernst” , “Darren Boisvert”
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2014 2:29:25 PM
Subject: Re: costs for Dr. Carl Amrhein secondment(ACR-366964)——I think you need to look at what I have asked and provide the exact answers I am looking for. This is our money. This money is not for government to spend on whoever it wants to waste the money on just because it has the power to do this. That’s called corruption in my books. Nope. What the government has to do is to justify the spending of this money, the addition of another layer of management to the AHS place and provide every detail of what the new hire will be doing day and night in his new job. The money has to be spent for useful work done by people we hire—-and I want to have full accountability and transparency. Please get me the details or do I have to yap to the premier for ages? He did say something about transparency and accountability in his yapping yesterday I think. Provide it please.
1) Can you tell me how much he is getting please?
No dollar amounts are mentioned here.
I want the dollar amounts.
2) And you have not told us if his expenses will be posted.
Please indicate this.
I feel it is important to have complete transparency.
3) You actually also need to give me a job description for this hire.
I see no reason to go to a blog post for the information you are all too lazy to provide. Please do your jobs.
In addition this blog post isn’t written by the government of Alberta.
Surely your human resources people can provide the details I am seeking?
You must have a job description for this position.
Please direct me to it.
I think you need to look at what I have asked and provide the exact answers I am looking for.
This is our money.
This money is not for government to spend on whoever it wants to waste the money on just because it has the power to do this.
That’s called corruption in my books.
What the government has to do is to justify the spending of this money, the addition of another layer of management to the AHS place and provide every detail of what the new hire will be doing day and night in his new job.
The money has to be spent for useful work done by people we hire—-and I want to have full accountability and transparency.
Please get me the details or do I have to yap to the premier for ages?
He did say something about transparency and accountability in his yapping yesterday I think.
Provide it please.
I will cc this to the Health Minister and to others.
To: “julie ali” <julie.ali@
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2014 2:10:55 PM
Subject: RE:costs for Dr. Carl Amrhein secondment(ACR-366964)
Thank you for visiting the Alberta Government feedback web site. Following is the response to your question prepared by Health :
Alberta Health received your comments and inquiry regarding Dr. Amrhein's position with Alberta Health Services.
The appointment of Dr. Carl Amrhein as the Official Administrator of Alberta Health Services is a secondment until June 30, 2015. More information about his role and responsibilities is available at these two links:
During his secondment, the Alberta government will pay the base salary that he received as Provost and Vice President (Academic) at the University of Alberta.
Thank you for your comments and for contacting Alberta Connects.
On 2014-11-18 19:45:00.0 you wrote:
I am writing about the restructuring of Alberta Health Services
Organization and Structure on my blog.
AHS is currently undergoing yet another executive alternation
with the movement of Ms. Janet Davidson out of her role of
official administrator and back to deputy minister of health.
It is curious she is leaving her job when she was just moved
there. Could this job change be to support Mr. Mandel who knows
beans about the health care portfolio? In other words, is the
return of Ms. Davidson to Alberta Health due to the lack of
knowledge of the current health minister?
Or could the transfer of Ms. Davidson simply be a way to assuage
the failed aspirations of Dr. Amrhein? This parachuting of top
dogs to positions is getting really tiresome. First the Mandel,
then the Amrhein into the health arena.
Why are we introducing another layer of complexity into an
already disorganized entity? AHS appears to be a basket case to
citizens like myself and certainly I imagine might be a very
political and toxic workplace. But instead of getting Ms.
Davidson to do the work of repairing the mess you bring in Dr.
Amrhein who has never struck me as an evolutionary force. In
other words, the Amrhein guy doesn't seem very useful and yet we
have had him put into this top dog position despite all the words
of wisdom that Ms. Davidson offered us in her report on the AHS
In Ms. Davidson's report here, there was supposed to be a
reduction in the executive team.
Review of the Alberta Health Services
Organization and Structure, and Next Steps
3. Beyond front line staff, up to and including the President and
CEO, any additional layer or layers in the organizational
structure need to be justified on the basis that they add value
to the organizational objectives of providing high quality
patient care, teaching, and research. The first priority always
needs to be on giving people the knowledge, skills, tools, and
techniques they need to do their jobs effectively, and not simply
to add a supervisory level.
This report seems to be saying that we don't need yet another
layer of managers and yet we now have another layer of
management. In addition this manager is here for 7 months and we
are possibly paying double for the privilege of his presence.
I don't think this is a move that benefits anyone.
Most of all it doesn't benefit taxpayers.
How much are we paying for this employee?
Why is he handpicked for this job?
It seems to me that Dr. Amrhein was looking forward to the job of
the President of the University of Alberta but didn't get picked.
So the folks in the government of Alberta gave him a consolation
prize of a 7 month position at the AHS place and further
opportunities for further work when he returns to the University
of Alberta (if he does).
There are several money questions I want answered by AHS or
They never reply to my e-mails so hopefully there will be an
answer from the public affairs folks who seem to answer all
citizen queries now.
I want answers to publish on my blog so please be detailed.
1) I want to know how much Dr. Amrhein will cost taxpayers. The
guy is on a secondment which means that we pay the University of
Alberta for the salary he would have got as the Provost.
2) I want to also know if he gets another salary as the official
administrator in addition to the University salary.
I want to know the total cost of this employee.
3) I also want to know of any and all contracts given to Dr.
Amrhein because it is my opinion that sole source contracts
should receive extra scrutiny.
4) Can you indicate to me what exactly Dr. Amrhein will be doing?
Since he is only doing this job for seven months, I don't think I
can see him doing much.
5) What about his other commitments? Are they simultaneous with
Doesn't he have another job at the Conference Board of Canada?
When does he do the Conference Board of Canada job?
On his weekends?
Please ask AHS to provide salary details, the expenses and such
like on their website as citizens like myself will be following
the money and publishing the results on their blogs.
The Alberta feedback site is constantly updated to provide you with important information about Alberta programs and services. We invite you to visit us soon. Your Alberta, a new e-newsletter from the Government of Alberta, will keep you up-to-date on the province’s latest projects and plans.
To sign-up, visit http://www.alberta.ca/contact.cfm
Internet http://www.Alberta.ca (AC-366964)
Julie, your question with respect to Dr Carl Amrhein’s appointment as the Official Administrator proves just how inept our media is.
So far all we’ve heard from the media is that he’s been appointed. We didn’t need a journalist to tell us that because the government put paid announcements in newspapers all across the land telling us about his appointment.
What we need is an answer to your question WHY? Why did the Health Minister appoint Dr Amrhein to the position of Official Administrator pursuant to section 11 of the Regional Health Authorities Act under a secondment (which means he’s on loan from the UofA) for a short 7 months?
The history of the Official Administrator over the last couple of years has been bizarre. First ex-health minister Horne fires the entire AHS board for refusing to breach the lucrative employment contracts of AHS senior management (contracts that he or the previous health minister presumably approved in the first place). Then Horne appoints Janet Davidson at a hefty salary, she barely gets going before she’s parachuted into the Deputy Minister post on a 2 year contract, once again at a hefty salary. She’s replaced by Dr John Cowell, formerly of the Health Quality Council, once again at a salary in excess of $500,000/year. His contract expires after 12 months and Ms Davidson returns temporarily to man the barricades and then “poof!” she’s gone and replaced by Dr Amrhein who will serve for a mere 7 months.
My question is this: Given that Dr Amrhein is only going to serve for 7 months why didn’t the Health Minister just extend Dr Cowell’s contract by 7 months and keep some measure of continuity. It’s no wonder Alberta’s healthcare performance is only mediocre when compared with the rest of Canada…the most important governance position, that of the Official Administrator, is nothing more than a revolving door…and the media doesn’t know or care.
Yes it is Danielle ‘s role to criticize. But she is far, far too negative and it turns voters off. She needs to articulate a vision. She also needs to stop being simply another opposition party and instead stick to her conservative beliefs (if she has any). This means complementing the government when they’re right.
Smith clearly isn’t up for the job and should resign.
Stephen, the WR appears to be changing its tact. I watched their response to the Throne Speech last week. Danielle Smith, Rob Anderson and a number of the WR caucus couched their comments in conciliatory and supportive language, saying they looked forward to working together with the government to make its proposed legislation even better.
While I agree that it’s not helpful for the Opposition to fly into outrage at every opportunity I do believe that criticism (which by definition is negative) is part of its job. Lester B Pearson described the job of Opposition in these words: “I watched the Opposition perform their duty vigorously and industriously, with courage and determination. They rightly insisted on their right to oppose, attack and criticize, to engage in that cut and thrust of debate, so often and so strongly recommended by those concerned with the vigour and health of Parliament and the health of democracy.
I would hate to see the WR throttle back when it comes to exposing the failures and shortcoming of the PC government just because they think that being “nice” will get them more votes, it won’t.
Interesting comments about the difference between Daniele Smith and Rachel Notley. I agree with you that their roles have a definite influence but I think that there is more than that. Daniele Smith has this trait I also see in Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Mackay and many others which I call the Glen Beck delivery. It feels like an arrogant joke without a laugh. Daniele Smith has done that many times when she talks and it is quite annoying and patronizing. Rachel Notley on the other hand is not a very passionate politician and sometimes she says something, which I believe she is waiting for a reaction, but nothing happens. Not exciting enough for the troops to react. Their jobs are not easy and being a charismatic and strong leader is something very few have it naturally but I am just describing what I think about them. Raj Sherman is the worse of them all. He has been basically invisible, I even forgot there is a Liberal Party in Alberta. He is probably ready to go back to being a doctor and I do not blame him. Any emergency room environment is saner than our Legislature.
As far as the Opposition role in our system, it is to me insane. It is an outdated system and created when the chiken still had teeth. It is about time to change it and fast. It is surprising that with 10 distinct provinces and free to do so, nothing new has developed in today’s challeging times. It is easier to get an appointment with the pope than trying to change anything political. The mentality is as old as the constitution and mostly more rigid. Proportional Representation, for example, would go a long way to give us a much better chance of representation and changing of the guard, but no one is even contemplating it, never mind taking it seriously.
I fully agree with Roy’s comments. Very true.
Carlos, I enjoyed reading your description of the opposition leaders (I’ll admit I had to google Glen Beck to see who he was and based on what I read you’re probably right in your characterization). From what I’ve observed over the last 2 weeks Rachel Notley has become a very passionate leader, but she needs to be careful that she doesn’t boil over into outrage too often or she’ll be dismissed as melodramatic. Brian Mason is a master at taking the government to task. Yesterday in the Leg he made an excellent comment. Prentice says plummeting oil prices means it’s not business as usual. But Mason said, cutting services when oil prices drop is definitely business as usual. “This government promised for years to get off the royalty roller coaster but here we are once again coming over the top of the rickety track, about to plunge down amid screams and white knuckles and white knuckles.” A wonderfully witty way of stating the problem.
Raj makes some good comments in the Legislature but the media doesn’t give him much air time.