A few kinds words about a Progressive Conservative. Seriously.

This is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write. But I feel compelled to say a few kind words about — shudder — a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Oh, this is gonna hurt.

Dave Hancock has announced his retirement from politics. At 59, and after 17 years in elected office and pretty much every position in cabinet from minister to premier, it must have been a difficult decision. He would almost certainly have won another term, regardless of how the next election goes for the PCs, and have enjoyed a very well paid semi-retirement as a backbencher and respected party elder. But, as he quoted a former cabinet minister, it’s better to leave the stage while they’re still applauding. In keeping with that theme, I’ll give him a round of applause.

I served in the legislature while Hancock sat on the other side, always in the front row.  Hancock was a formidable foe, and in a good way. A lot of ministers during the Ralph Klein/Ed Stelmach governments answered even the most honest questions with a snarling insult. Hancock wasn’t that kind of guy. Ask him an honest question, and he would give you an honest answer. But he was no pushover. If he thought a question was stupid (and, believe it or not, that happened) or was unnecessarily combative, he could dish it out with the best of them. When he was angry, it was (apparently) genuine anger, unlike the feigned outrage that cabinet ministers would so often summon. While many cabinet ministers clearly dreaded question period, I always got the impression that Hancock relished it. He even had a sense of humour, the rarest of commodities in government.

Perhaps most importantly, he was competent. You’d like to think that anyone in a provincial cabinet would be competent, but — prepare yourselves for a shock! — many of them were not. Honest! There was no shortage of complete and outright boobs in the Klein/Stelmach governments, second-raters who rose up the ranks thanks to their ability to kiss the right asses. Hancock was not one of them.

Former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey was known as ‘The Happy Warrior’ for his upbeat attitude and his obvious relish for politics. I think you could say the same thing about Hancock, a happy warrior for the cause. Oh sure, it was the wrong cause, but he was just the kind of guy we need in politics.

Time to stop beating on Alison Redford … she’s already dead.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a Krusty the Klown impersonator for hire. At the opening of a new Krusty Burger, he savagely attacks the Krusty Burger version of the Hamburgler for stealing Krusty Burgers. Watching the beating, a child in the crowd says “Stop! He’s already dead.”

That’s the way I feel about Alison Redford. The announcement that Premier Dave Hancock has asked the RCMP to look into Redford’s use of government aircraft makes me think, “Stop! She’s already dead.”

Redford has already resigned in disgrace, mostly for being insufferably arrogant. She has been trashed mercilessly by two of the also-rans running for the leadership of the PC party, mostly by the oily Thomas Lukaszuk, who was one of her biggest supporters and his best political ally. This week, while Tories were running from her like she had the ebola virus, she resigned her seat in the legislature. That wasn’t good enough for the cowardly premier Hancock, who has asked the RCMP to investigate the auditor general’s claim that she had ‘ghost passengers’ listed on the manifests of government planes so she could ride without being surrounded by the hoi polloi.

Now, let’s look at this. If there really were doctored documents that ensured the princess premier would travel alone, and if the premier knew about it or authorized it (she denies it, and the fact she asked the auditor general to look into government travel tends to back up her claim), how is this possibly a criminal matter worthy of the precious time of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Surely this is light years away from being a criminal act. Stupid and arrogant, sure. Obnoxious, certainly. But criminal? Ridiculous.

The sad fact is that people seem to hate Redford with a passion, and it’s now seen as perfectly OK to pile on her mercilessly. Ralph Klein used government planes as his own personal taxi service. Nobody complained, because King Ralph was a beloved, rascally old alcoholic who playfully threw money at homeless people and told them to get a job. What a kidder! Redford, however, is a patrician snob who probably would have thought the idea of throwing money at homeless people to be in ‘poor taste’. What a killjoy.

Hey, I’m no fan of Redford. But nobody in recent Canadian political history has risen so high, so fast, and crashed so shamefully as has Alison Redford. Calling in the cops to investigate was is, at worst, petty use of government dollars is shameful. The Tories are using the RCMP as a shield to deflect attention away from their own culture of entitlement that allowed Redford to run rampant. And by calling in the cops, the PCs can now say they can’t comment on any matter that is ‘before the courts’ (which it isn’t). Also very conveniently, the RCMP is unlikely to make a decision on charges until after the PCs elected Jim Prentice as their new leader.

Redford’s use of government aircraft is disgraceful, and she has paid a high political price for her hubris. The PC party’s tossing Redford under the bus — then putting the bus in reverse, running over her again, then getting off the bus and kicking her, then calling in a tank to run over her again — is equally appalling.



Lots of talk under the dome — at least on one side.

Well, with all the excitement about health care and MLAs getting turfed, it’s easy to forget that there are other things going on under the dome.

For example, there was Monday night’s debate on Bill 29, the controversial Alberta Parks Act.

Now, I will confess that I know little about the Alberta Parks Act. I’ve read a few comments about it, and it appears that is gives too much power to the minister, or something along those lines. I’m betting that it’s a bad bill, which would be in keeping with this government. But, I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that if the opposition doesn’t like a bill, they do what they can to delay it, since stopping it is impossible in a majority legislature.

One of the ways opposition parties (and the government if they want it, for that matter) try to quash a bill is to amend it so that it is revisited six months hence, which in effect kills the bill since it disappears from the order paper. The government has done it sometimes when they realize that they’ve got a dog of a bill that needs to be put to sleep. It is more likely for the opposition to try the tactic — called a ‘hoist’ — to slow it down or stop it.

The opposition parties, led by the Liberals, tried to hoist Bill 29 on Monday night. So, how’d that go?

Not so well, as expected. From roughly 8 p.m. to about 11 p.m., the legislature debated hoisting Bill 29. It wasn’t much of  debate, however — for nearly three hours, only opposition members spoke on the hoist. Not a single government member rushed to the defense of the bill for three grueling hours. That includes such stellar performers as Doug Elniski and Naresh Bhardwaj of Edmonton.

Why wouldn’t at least one government member speak up in support of the bill, if they believe in it? Because it they did, it would prolong the session even longer, and the last thing the Tories want right now is a long session. They’re taking a beating, and nobody wants a beating to go on any longer than it has to.

In the end, Bill 29 passed second reading, as soon as the hoist bill was defeated.

Much the same thing happened on Tuesday afternoon. Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft introduced a motion concerning the Alberta Health Act, attempting to strike out a contentious paragraph of the bill. Again, it was too complicated for the likes of people like me, but as Taft put it, “the remarkable intent and effect of this particular paragraph is, in our view, to put the minister and the health advocate and any employee or agent of either of them above the normal law.”

Serious stuff, I guess. But again, the result was a couple of hours of debate, almost entirely from opposition members. Only Dave Hancock, the very smart (and not afraid to let everyone know) minister of education as around to swat the amendment around, although for the most part he was content to just throw in shouted asides.

The amendment, of course, was defeated, and a couple of hours of time was frittered away. If you ever wonder why I couldn’t stand being in the legislature, this is why: all talk, no action. But good on the Liberals, Wildrose and NDP for doing their jobs.

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.