I’ll say this for Ed Stelmach — the guy has all the political instincts of a squirrel.
Wednesday’s QP was an example of Stelmach at his worst.
Liberal leader David Swann was asking some very pointed questions about long term care.
“The Premier likes to talk about not splitting up senior couples when they need long-term care, but the much bigger problem we’re hearing about is three people squeezed like sardines into rooms built for two,” Swann stated. “We’re not talking about the remand centre here; we’re talking about our public health system. To the Premier. It’s become common practice in Alberta Hospitals today to squeeze three patients into rooms built for two. Is the Premier aware of this? How does he justify it?”
Anyone with an ounce of political savvy would have expressed regret at the situation, vowed to repair the system, blah blah blah. But not our Eddie.
“Mr. Speaker,” Stelmach stammered, “a bit of an irony here because when we were attempting originally to move patients from Alberta Hospital, from multiple patients in one room to a facility that gave individuals their private bedrooms, more green space, better accommodations, that party opposed it. Now they’re saying that, well, that’s not the right thing to do.”
Well, that got Edmonton-Riverview Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, former leader of the party, genuinely livid. Here’s what was said right after Stelmach’s answer:
Dr. Taft: Oh, come on, Ed.
Mr. Stelmach: Well, they’ll have to decide where they stand on this particular issue.
Dr. Taft: You know perfectly well that in acute-care rooms people are squeezed in three to a two-person room.
The Speaker: The hon. leader.
Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker . . .
Dr. Taft: Don’t evade these life-and-death issues so badly.
The Speaker: Hon. leader, would you just tap the hon. Member for Edmonton-Riverview on the shoulder? You have the floor.
Dr. Taft: It’s offensive. This Premier is offensive.
The Speaker: The hon. leader has the floor.
Dr. Taft: He’s offensive to the people of Alberta.
The Speaker: The hon. leader has the floor. Edmonton-Riverview, if you want to take over, you go and fight that out behind these doors, but the hon. Leader of the Official Opposition has the floor.
This exchange, along with Pope Kenneth The Infallible’s snippy little cheap shot, really riled up Swann.
“The Premier continues to dismiss these issues and talk around the issue rather than addressing the question. Albertans are not fooled. This Energy minister is the cause of the problems in the health care system today. Unbelievable. His arrogance and incompetence created such suffering in this province, and he sits over there and laughs. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why don’t you staff the beds that are needed so that we stop this squeezing of three patients into two-bed rooms?”
The energy minister is, of course, Ron Liepert, Stelmach’s disastrous previous choice for health minister. I couldn’t see Liepert, but I can well imagine him snickering away at the exchange. That’s the kind of guy he is.
You don’t often see real passion in the dog-and-pony show that is the legislature, but this was the genuine article.
Less genuine were questions from a couple of Edmonton MLAs, who were apparently trying to show that they can be tough on the government, too. Last week, I pointed out how some rural MLAs weren’t afraid to ask tough questions. Edmonton-Decore’s Janice Sarich, and Edmonton-McClung’s David Xiao tried to play tough on Wednesday, with embarrassing results.
In questioning Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, Sarich was apparently trying to say that there was too much social housing in Edmonton. I guess she was. Read it yourself and try to figure it out:
“Several communities in Edmonton have repeatedly raised concerns over housing projects in their communities and have come to the realization that these concerns, quite frankly, are not making a lot of progress. My questions are for the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. What will the minister do to slow the growth of government-funded housing projects in Edmonton communities?”
Sarich was actually asking the housing minister to build LESS government-funded housing in Edmonton. Fewer homes for those who are struggling. Fewer homes for the disadvantaged. Incredible.
She followed that up with this garbled question: “Given that it’s not very appropriate to ignore community concerns, the community would like to know: why won’t this minister recognize that there seems to be a growing disconnect between the concerns of the community and the wishes of the residents and the will of government to have a concentration of low income housing in Edmonton?”
Sarich, I suppose, was trying to make a point that there is a lot of social housing in Edmonton, maybe more than there should be. If that was the case, she should have backed it up with numbers and some reasons why this is a bad thing. She botched her questions badly.
Worse, however, was the shamelessly self-serving and disingenuous series of questions from Xiao.
Xiao, the wealthy international man of mystery, jumped to the defence of a core constituency of his middle-to-upper middle class constituency — panhandlers.
Speaking in a way that indicates Xiao may have no mother tongue, Xiao asked the housing minister this baffling question:
“The Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs was very outspoken about the panhandling issue this past spring and promised action by this fall. Since then, the Calgary Homeless Foundation released a report saying that panhandling, according to the research, is not an issue. My questions are to the minister. How long has this minister been out of step with one of the biggest stakeholders, and why does he pick on such a disadvantaged section of society?”
Denis responded by “that report does not indicate that panhandling is not an issue. It indicates that instances of it have gone down.“
Xiao, not content to look foolish with one question, waded in with another.
“This minister promised action this fall. It’s now mid-November. To the minister: are you doing anything about panhandling, or are you planning more grandstanding?”
Man, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Xiao racing to the defence of panhandlers, something he has never mentioned in the past, is the height of grandstanding. Denis replied by calling Xiao’s questions “unduly caustic and self-serving”.
Xiao applied the coup de gras to his own credibility with this befuddling question: “My last question to the same minister: if he has nothing planned, whether he has a real handle at the provincial level, and instead is dumping this issue on cities to address it, what will he do if the cities have no plan or intention to address panhandling?”
Again, WFT? Even Denis had to say “I had some difficulty understanding this member’s question.”
While his questions are befuddling to read, to get the full impact of the cynicism behind them, you’d have to watch the video. At the end of the question, Xiao sat down with a self-serving, aren’t-I-a-naughty-boy smile on his face, like he’d done something really smart and clever.
This is the first we’ve heard from Xiao, and hopefully it will be the last. As the saying goes, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubts.