The Great Scrap Metal Debate

Remember Rob Anderson’s comment from last week that when he was part of the government, he felt like a trained seal who read whatever was put in front of him?

Well, welcome to the circus.

Of all the pieces of legislation facing this government, it appears the one of greatest importance to the government is the highly contentious, controversial and red hot Bill 205, Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act.

Yes, you read that right. The Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act, a private members bill from the Tory member from Strathcona, Rob Quest.

What, you may ask, is the Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act? Apparently, it is aimed at deterring scrap metal theft, which is supposedly a pretty big deal. Good. Anything that deters theft is fine with me. But to at least 11 members of the Tory caucus — including leading lights like Carl ‘Take My Wife, Please’ Benito — felt so strongly about the bill that they rose to speak during discussion of private member’s bills on Monday. Each one read out lo-o-o-ong, detailed descriptions of why the Scrap Metal Dealers and Recyclers Act was so important. All of them praised the bill, and its sponsor. This debate took up a minimum of 90 minutes of house time.

My guess is that if you asked any of the 11 Tories who stood up to speak in favour of this bill, you’d be lucky if you could find one who even knows what they were talking about. I have sympathy for the poor sod in the Public Affairs Bureau who had to write the same speech over 11 slightly different ways.

Why would they waste so much time on such a trivial matter? The key words are ‘wasting time’. The longer they debate trivial government motions that are going to pass anyway, the less time there is to debate opposition motions.

It’s all so silly. Just like the circus.

And Kudos for Alana DeLong, the Calgary MLA, for standing up and lobbing the most shameless softball questions at Ted Morton. They were:

1) The B.C. government recently announced a 15 per cent personal income tax reduction. They claim this means that B.C. taxpayers now pay the lowest provincial income tax in Canada on incomes up to $130,000. My first question is to the Minister of Finance and Enterprise. Has Alberta lost its tax advantage?

2) Can the minister tell us what tax advantages Albertans continue to enjoy?

3) Does the minister have the numbers to back up his claim that Albertans remain the lowest taxed in Canada?

OK, Alana, you’ve done your time. Next time the puffball question has to be asked, you are within your rights to say: “Hey, I asked a humiliating puffball last week!”

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Small town cheap.

Legislature, day 5.

Monday’s Leg session hit new lows in boredom, which is really saying something. It was so boring, that even Ed Stelmach fled the country rather than spend another day in the chamber.

About the only thing interesting that emerged Monday was the release of the MLA public disclosure statements. Turns out that government MLAs don’t have a problem  with accepting free tickets to concerts, fishing trips with well-heeled supporters, and a bunch of other borderline ethical treats.

Liberal leader David Swann, in the Leg today, said government MLAs were “compromised by a plethora of free gifts”, and that they “could afford to pay for their own Lady Gaga tickets”.

The report from the ethics commission said 17 of 68 MLAs accepted gifts of more than $400. None of the opposition members accepted such gifts, possibly because nobody offers opposition members anything.

Some of the items the MLAs accepted were pretty small time, proof more of the profound cheapness of the MLAs rather than any sign of corruption. Employment Minister Tommy-boy Lukaszuk got free tickets from Edmonton Northlands to see Lady Gaga perform. Lukaszuk should have put aside some of the money he spends on hair products to pay for his own tickets, but it’s unlikely he is going to be corrupted by the tickets, although it’s embarrassing that a middle-aged guy would go see Lady Gaga. Same goes for Treasury Board president Lloyd Snelgrove,  who took his wife and son to see Fleetwood Mac thanks to the largess of Telus. Education Minister Dave Hancock  saw Rod Stewart, courtesy of Altalink.

This is pretty small time, more shameful than scandalous. Up a level or two, however, is Finance Minister Ted Morton and dimbulb Edmonton MLA Doug Elniski who went salmon fishing on someone else’s dime. Morton, whose trip was paid for by a Calgary zillionaire and PC sugar daddy, justified the trip by saying he was “comparing notes on fish habitat restoration,” presumably while killing some of them.

Elniski travelled to the Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, B.C. He told the Journal that he paid for the flight and accommodations, but the ethics commissioner’s report said it was paid for by Hemisphere Engineering. Well, of course it was — if he paid for it himself, he wouldn’t have needed to report it to the ethics commissioner.

The most hilarious excuse offered by one of these junketing jerks belongs to Gene Zwozdesky. Dr. Zwoz attended a golf tournament, and he did it because: “They asked me if I could participate at this special Pro-Am and talk to some people there about encouraging more … physical activity. I spent the morning there speaking with some of the pro golfers.”

‘Fore’ shame, Gene.

However, my favourite bit of dirt to arise from the report involved, Carl Benito, the embarrassing Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA who, it was revealed, has not paid property taxes on his four rental properties. That probably has something to do with his donating his salary to create a scholarship fund for Mill Woods kids, and he probably just didn’t have the money.

Oh wait, he hasn’t really done that.

Benito explained to the CBC today that he was late in paying the bill because his wife forgot to do it, and she’s on holidays. Always a good idea to blame the wife, especially if she’s not home.

In a couple of years, he’ll have a legitimate reason to not pay his taxes … he’ll be out of work.

Bottom line: there’s nothing truly scandalous here, just questionable. Every one of these guys makes six figures, and could easily pay for their tickets or fishing trips, but they’re too cheap. That’s the real scandal.