Thursday, August 7, 2014

A political rant, c/w frothing, and trenchant wit

Once upon a time, on August 30, 1971, a new government was elected in Alberta, the Progressive Conservatives. This doesn't happen often; we've had three, count 'em THREE governments in 108 years. In less than a month, that same government will have been in office for 43 years. On Sept 5, 2014, the Alberta government will become the longest serving government in Canadian history. The people that voted in that first government are now almost all senior citizens.

The quality of premiers are in order, excellent, pretty bad, pretty good, dreadful, worse, and currently unelected. Even people that don't follow politics will have heard of Alison Redford. It is a name that will live in infamy in Alberta politics. It might, just might, bring down the government next election. We can only hope.

To set the stage, I'm an ordinary Albertan, perhaps a bit more politically aware than many. I like to follow politics, but I don't make a fetish of it. I'm currently furious with the whole situation. I'm furious with the PC's for a whole raft of reasons, some of which I'll get into. I want them voted out, preferably today. I want them GONE! I am not alone.

My problem is that the Wildrose party is standing next in line, and they're worse. Essentially they are PC's too, just older, angrier, whiter, and ever so much more Christian. Wildrose are the party with the  "lake of fire", against the Charter of Rights, and anti-gay bigots as candidates, with a leader that said this was ok because "free speech". Uhuh. They've said they've changed. Uhuh. All that means is that they are better at either hiding the bigots, or resorting to dog whistle politics, and hope it passes muster.

Last election Redford pulled the PC party's chestnuts out of the fire. Wildrose was coming on strong, and people were pissed at the PCs. Redford duped I mean, sweet talked the teacher's union into supporting her. Wildrose said some really stupid things. Albertans are conservative (sigh) but most of them are not outright bigots and haters anymore. At least not publicly. Redford and the PC's won with the normal strong majority. (Alberta has never, ever had a minority government, not even close.)

Then look what happened. Bill 9 and 10 to allow the owners of pension funds to rape and pillage at will. Draconian anti-union legislation that essentially said take what we offer or else. Endless Alberta Health Services scandals over extraordinary expense claims. "Cookie" Duckett will live on in infamy too, though really it was his own doing. He could have told reporters, "Give me a minute to eat, and we can scrum on the front steps". But no. There are numerous other issues that just get onto the radar, then fade. The PC party is not without experience in hiding problems.

Then we started finding out about Redford's expenses. Holy cow. She makes Bev Oda's $16 orange juice look like a piker. There was $45,000 for a trip to South Africa. Understating the cost of government trips by many 10's of thousands of dollars by simply not including the costs of some of the staff. Block booking government airplanes with fake passengers who cancelled at the last minute so that Redford could fly alone. That doesn't happen by accident.

Then we find out it was routine for Redford to take her child with her on trips, sometimes with a nanny, and sometimes with a friend of the kid. How nice for them. I know lots of people that would like to take their kids on business trips. I know that some people have combined a family vacation with a business trip, and exquisite care was taken to separate company and private expenses. Let's just say that care was not taken in Redford's case.

Of course, the PC party has thrown Redford under the bus. Again and again. It's the only thing they know how to do. They hounded her out of the Premier's office, and now they've hounded her out of politics. They are frantic to blame everything on her. They want it all to stick to her, and dupe the electorate in the next election with their shiny new leader. It worked last time, after all.

They can't blame unfreezing their own salaries, and giving themselves a raise, on Redford. They did it, hoping the electorate wouldn't notice in all the other smoke.

All the Redford excesses did not happen in a vacuum. It's all of a piece. The whole PC party is like Duffy, the Senator recently in the news, who felt entitled to his entitlements. The PC's are arrogant, secretive (they recently released a blank report as a FOI response), vindictive, (it's well known that if various organizations don't support the party, there will be no government $ for them after), and I certainly perceive the party as altogether corrupt. And why would people stay in a corrupt system? They want in on the gravy train.

Today's auditor general report is scathing and damning. Here's the conclusion from the front of the report. quote

Overall conclusion
Premier Redford and her office used public resources inappropriately. They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources—in other words economical and in support of a government business objective. Premier Redford used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes. And Premier Redford was involved in a plan to convert public space in a public building into personal living space.
The Department of Treasury Board and Finance has not explained to Albertans why it believes the extra cost over alternatives to owning a fleet of aircraft is judged to be worthwhile.
Where there was a lack of desirable clarity in polices (for example, the appropriateness of a family member travelling on a government aircraft), we have inferred the policy intent from the overriding principles. Use of a public asset in the absence of a government business objective is personal use and inappropriate.
Overall, the expense practices and use of public assets by Premier Redford and her office have fallen short of publicly stated goals. How could this have happened? The answer is the aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned. We observed a tendency to work around or ignore rules in order to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for decisions. Other areas of government were wary of challenging decisions made in the premier’s office. All of the failings might have been prevented or detected earlier with oversight designed to provide substantive challenge. 

Most ordinary people would call a lot of that theft.

Then there was the conversion of the 11th floor to private space exclusively for Redford. Again, a quote from the same report.

Conclusion—The Office of the Premier became involved in the redevelopment plan for the 10th and
th floors of the Edmonton Federal Building in May 2012. This resulted in a change in use of space on the 11th floor from open hosting space for government caucus to a premier’s suite. The Department of Infrastructure accepted floor plans signed by the premier’s executive assistant as the authorization to change the use and design of the 11th floor to a premier’s suite and incur additional project design and construction costs. It accepted the plans even though this was a significant change in use of the space. The department told us that it viewed Premier Redford as the authorized decision maker for the 11th floor user group (cabinet and government caucus). 

I don't know why Alberta politics are the way they are. It is what it is, and change is difficult. Yet, I believe change is coming. Lots of people I know are more than willing to place their vote elsewhere. Perhaps force of habit and fear of the unknown prompted many people to change their votes at the last minute during the last election. But every day Alberta gets more liberal as people move in from the rest of Canada.

There is currently a contest to choose the next premier. The leader by far is a guy that has never been in office as an Alberta PC, though he has federal experience. His hands are clean of Alberta muck at least. The other two candidates are up to the muck to their eyeballs but they don't want you to notice. One was actually Redford's deputy premier, and he was right there helping to throw her under the bus. The other was perceived by many as a bully on a payback mission during the civic election, and every City employee I know was relieved he didn't become Mayor. He tries to take credit for stopping the redevelopment of the Federal Building, which he didn't. The report makes it clear it's still going ahead, though not with personal quarters for the premier and family.

Something I think I should mention. Gender has nothing whatever to do with this. Redford's personal failings are what got her into this mess. She demonstrated incompetence at the highest provincial office, just like her predecessor. Unfortunately, there are some that think this is what happens when we elect females. There are words for them, but I won't dignify them by using the polite words, and since this is a family blog I won't use the vulgar ones.

Something else I should mention. It's entirely reasonable that our civil servants travel on public business, stay in reasonable hotels, and get reasonable meals along the way. Reasonably nice is fine, I don't want to stay in a dump, and I don't expect my representatives to do so either. But neither should they be in the swankiest hotel in town, unless we're talking small town Alberta.

And another thing. In all this I'm not referring to rank and file public service workers. Teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, rank and file shufflers of paper that are essential to a modern society, those sort of people. Everyday people doing their jobs, and probably chafing under really tight rules while seeing their lords and masters living high on the hog. I'm on about elected politicians and the very senior staffers. They are the ones that do not seem to be subject to the rules.

Even the loose policies that we do have are not enforced. We know that most politicians are like pigs at the trough; they have no concept of reasonable. We need clear rules about what is or is not reasonable, and everybody in public service should be getting their expense account reviewed and approved in accordance with those rules before being compensated. All of them should be made public within a reasonable time period, say 6 months. It's our money, after all.

I am angry that everybody involved says "they want to put this behind them", and get back to governing. That's exactly what a thief would say, lets put the issue of the theft behind us, and move on so I can enjoy my gains. We should be turning over every rock in the provincial government, looking for improper use of public funds. I want heads rolling. Redford should just be the first. Lots of other people should be thrown out of government service, and not be allowed in any other public service job ever.

The Twitter hashtag #mistakesweremade is brilliant and sad at the same time. Redford et al are not regretting the mistakes. They are regretting getting caught. There was a blog I read recently, and the gist of it was "stop beating on Redford, she's dead already". I disagree. The beating should continue till we know we get to the end, not just to where's it's convenient for those in power. The beatings should spread out as needed. We need examples made of politicians that abuse our trust.

The image of politicians in Canada is so bad that even people with unimpeachable integrity are looked at askance if they run for elected office, and that's a sad thing. But this is what happens when a group covers up for it's own. They might think it's just a few bad apples, and they should be overlooked, but that Australian General totally nailed it. "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." For too long Albertans have walked past unacceptable actions on the part of their politicians. Time for a change.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I could not have written it better myself. I am every word in agreement with you.

    I also share your fear of the Wild Rose Party being the likely heirs of the PCs. If things can possibly get worse, they certainly will if we move in that direction.


Looking forward to reading your comment!