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It's hard to talk about the Tories' record without going negative
April 10, 2012
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CALGARY, AB, Apr. 10, 2012/ Troy Media/ – The Wildrose campaign has been criticized for being negative.
This is a fair criticism, but Wildrose has a problem: how to tell what the PCs have done in and to this province in the past decade without appearing negative? The PCs have a record to defend, but their culture of corruption and entitlement is simply indefensible. That’s not being negative. That’s fact.
Let’s look at corruption first
Consider first old-fashioned corruption. The chief electoral officer has investigated more than 70 allegations of illegal donations and found that a third were improper. No non-PC associations were contacted.
PC executive director Kelly Charlebois said the illegal donations were “innocent mistakes.” Premier Alison Redford said she was “completely open” about the issue. Her campaign manager, Stephen Carter, said they were “as open and transparent as possible.” Except they didn’t reveal the names of the offenders. Redford said this would prevent “McCarthyism.”
Charlebois’ former boss, Gary Mar, was ordered to take a leave without pay from his position as Asian envoy while undergoing an ethics investigation. He is accused of using his official position as a representative of the Crown to pay for debts incurred during his leadership campaign. Mar said he didn’t think he did anything wrong. Such are the mores of the PCs that he was likely telling the truth.
The most interesting response to the current Mar scandal was offered by John Chomiak, a generous PC fundraiser. He called Mar’s suspension a “stupid move.”
This is not the language people inside the machine usually use to describe the actions of their leader.
For years the machine has exerted control through intimidation of school boards, municipalities, doctors and hospital staff by threatening to withdraw funding. Even the notorious compensation for non-existent committee work contained a hidden threat: make waves and you will be removed.
So much for the indefensible. Equally remarkable is how the premier dealt with the political fallout when these practices became public. Initially, Redford asked PC backbenchers to return the compensation they received for member-ship on the committee that never met, but only for the time since she had been premier. Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid reported that the PCs actually thought Albertans would be pleased. For what? Their generosity? Their honesty?
Then she ordered committee members to pay back “every penny” or face expulsion from caucus. But, as Richard Marz, a former PC MLA, pointed out, ministers were not included. Yet they received lump-sum payments for identical committee work. She then suspended “from this day forward” (and so, not retroactively) the lavish MLA transition allowances now totalling over $10 million. But these were empty words: it takes a vote of the members’ services committee to make the change.
Or there was Amanda Wilkie, fired for mocking Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith for not having children. She was a member of the premier’s staff in the McDougall Center, not a rogue volunteer in the PC campaign team. As in other one-party states, which shall remain nameless, it’s hard to separate party work and official duty.
Summing up her own performance, Redford said: “I made a mistake on these issues and now I’m fixing them. I hope we can now get on to talking about other issues that matter to Albertans in this campaign.” In short, she (sort of) did the right thing after she was caught not doing the right thing. Naturally, the PCs prefer to discuss “other issues,” not the most important one.
Let’s review one of them, Redford’s detail-free call for a $3-billion “investment” in another government organ, the Alberta Oilsands Technology and Research Authority. Peter Lougheed’s 1974 authority still exists. AOSTRA-2, as Redford called it, would improve oil sands technologies and “allow us to market them around the world.”
Who is this “us”? The fact is the private sector, not government, has developed and marketed most oil sands technologies. As with the new drunk-driving law that imposes administrative penalties when there are no violations of the Criminal Code, AOSTRA-2 looks like another government-knows-best policy from an authoritarian lawyer.
Media reports that several senior PCs are sitting on their hands or are helping Wildrose confirm a persistent rumour that Redford leads a faction that many Tories no longer support. Maybe that’s “negative” news, but it’s also fact.
Barry Cooper is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.
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