Rural MLAs sowing their mild oats.

This session of the Legislature is now two whole weeks old — which, in the wonderland that is the Alberta legislature, means they have met for eight days — and things are just warming up. Which must mean it’s time for a break.

After eight days/two weeks of watching question period and skimming Hansard for amusing nuggets, I noticed something interesting. Some of the Tory’s rural MLAs are actually taking their jobs seriously.

Thursday, in particular, was a feisty day for the gang from the sticks. It started with Richard Marz, the lugubrious member from Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills. Marz asked a question about market value of land across the province. When Ron Liepert, the ever-snarling Minister of Energy, gave him an answer, Marz said  “Well, I’m getting a bit of a different story.”

OK, that’s not exactly open rebellion, but for a guy as mild-mannered as Marz, this is practically like waving a red flag and calling for a revolution.

It got better. Pearl Calahasan, the brassy long-time MLA from Lesser Slave Lake, asked this rather cutting question to the minister of housing: “The minister of housing has been all over the news in the last little while, a month or so, cutting ribbons, announcing affordable housing projects but all in big cities. It appears to me that this minister does not recognize the dramatic shortage of affordable housing in rural Alberta. With no plan for rural Alberta what will this minister say to the people in my area who cannot afford housing? Move to Edmonton? Move to Calgary? I’d like an answer.”

Whoa. Good one, Pearly. Anyway, when Jonathan Denis, the minister of housing, gave an answer that didn’t suit Calahasen, she shot back: “Well, Mr. Speaker, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, et cetera, do not qualify as rural Alberta. To the same minister: how can you assure this House that the RFPs that you will be providing for those opportunities are for developers in rural Alberta, giving them the same opportunity as those in big cities like Edmonton and Calgary?”

These are questions worthy of an opponent, rather than a member of the team.

Then there was Jeff Johnson from Athabasca-Redwater, who asked why work was not being done on an unsafe stretch of highway in his constituency. When Transportation Minister Luke Ouelette answered the question is his inimitable style — shouted, breathless gibberish — Johnson replied: “I appreciate the comments, but I don’t think the minister answered the question.” After another question and another gasping reply, Johnson somewhat mockingly said: “We’ll let the minister take a breath while I ask the next question here.”

And finally, George VanderBurg of Whitecourt-Ste. Anne, who already asked a tough question last week, asked some pointed questins about Internect connectivity “or, in the case of Whitecourt Ste. Anne, the lack of it.”

Are rural Tory MLAs being overlooked by their party, or are they just gutsier than the spineless city slickers from Edmonton and Calgary? Or are they simply bumping up their profiles in preparation for an election, which I get the feeling will come well before Ed Stelmach’s promised March 2012 date?  Or, in the case of people like Calahasan and VanderBurg, maybe they’re just a couple of former cabinet ministers who know their political career trajectory is trending downwards, so they have nothing to lose?

Whatever the reason, it makes QP a little bit more fun.

Speaker for Life, Pope Kenneth the Infallible, lost his cool on Thursday.

It’s difficult to get a feel for things on television, but it sounds like Rob Anderson, the Tory-turned-Wildrose, was being a naughty little boy. At least, he was treated that way.

At the end of QP, Pope Kenneth rose from his majestic throne, and singled out the member for Airdrie-Chestermere (Anderson) and the whole Wildrose caucus, for a little tongue lashing.

“Airdrie-Chestermere, just cool it, okay? “ thundered Pope Kenneth. With his finger wagging like an angry elementary school teacher in front of a room of antsy kids, Pope Kenneth warned “one of the things I’m going to look at – and I want to look at the deputy leader of that party and that caucus – is that in the last number of days we’ve been getting a lot of complaints in my office from people outside of this Assembly about the noise coming from there.”

Then, lowering the boom, Pope Kenneth threatened to move the Wildrose Alliance members closer to his throne so he could keep an eye on them.
“One of the items I’m looking at for the spring session is to actually move the chairs and the desks here so that you’ll be right close to me.”

Calm down, children, or you’ll be moved to the front of the class.

And one last bit from Anderson. In a later debate, Anderson was called on a contradiction on his voting record as a PC, and revealed what it was like to be a backbench Tory.

“I know. I spoke to it. I spoke to the land-use framework,” Anderson said.  “It just ticks me right off.”

Speaking of his time as a Tory, Anderson said: “That’s what happens when you’re a trained seal. You’ve got to get in there. You get a speech handed to you, “Here’s the speech; read it,” and you’ve got to read the speech. You’ve just got to do it … You give the speech, and then you realize: ‘Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ ”

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How to ask a question, government MLA edition.

Legislature, day 4:

Hello, would-be politicos. Today, for those of you considering becoming a Progressive Conservative MLA, I present two examples of PC MLAs in “action” from the Leg on Wednesday. One is the right way to be a government MLA, the other is the wrong way.

First, the right way. This happens so rarely, I thought it should go first.

George VanderBurg is the long-time MLA for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne. VanderBurg sets an example for his spineless seatmates in how to ask your own government worthwhile questions. Here are parts of an exchange between VanderBurg and Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner.

“Within Whitecourt-Ste. Anne my constituents are concerned about the challenges facing home-schooled students as they seek admittance to Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. While government approves and even regulates home-schooling, my constituents find that postsecondary institutions are less open to the idea and lack consistent policies for accepting home-schooled students. My questions are to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. Minister, it’s easy for every foreign student across the world to come to Alberta; there are policies. When are you going to create a policy for our own Alberta students, for our own home-schooled students?”

See how it’s done, future MLAs? Raise a legitimate issue of concern to your constituents, and ask with some authority.

After Horner’s typical non-answer, VanderBurg came back with this zinger:

“Well, I think, Minister, that you’ve missed my point. You’re the big wheel here, and the home-schooled students are watching you. What are you going to do to help them prepare for postsecondary institutions?”

Good one, George. After Horner again tap danced around the answer, VanderBurg redirected his last question to the Minister of Education, because he said Horner was “passing the buck”.

See, future MLAs? That’s the way it’s done. Now, here’s how you don’t do it.

The MLA for Calgary-Montrose, Manmeet Bhullar, participated in a shameless display of ass-kissing with buffoonish Infrastructure Minister Luc Ouelette.

After praising himself for “two years of lobbying”, Bhullar asked when an access road from 84th Street to 100th Street  in Calgary would be completed.

Ouellette lumbered to his feet, and said: “I’ve got to say that those constituents in that area should be very, very thankful for having an MLA that just gets out there. I still have the scars from all the lobbying he does. I have to tell you that I have very good news for this member. The road is under construction as we speak …”

Bhullar, who of course knew the road was under construction, called it  “wonderful news, Mr. Speaker. Wonderful news.” He later referred to Ouellette as a “wonderful minister”.

Sheesh, boys. Get a room.

See what I mean, future MLAs? VanderBurg asked a real question, going to bat for his constituents, and refused to accept a non-answer. Bhullar asked a non-question designed only to promote himself as a great hero to his constituents, someone who almost single-handedly got a road built. Basically, he wasted the Legislature’s time, and wasted an opportunity to ask a real question.

That’s how it’s not done.

And finally, once again the amazing Wildrose Alliance MLA Guy Boutilier caught my attention with a truly Donald Rumsfeldesque question. Rumsfeld, you may recall, was the former Secretary of Defence for George W. Bush, who once said:  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Here’s Boutilier’s Rumsfeld moment from Wednesday. He was asking Stelmach about a letter sent two years ago warning about the emergency room crisis. Stelmach was trying to say that it didn’t go to the current minister, or something like that. It all got very confusing, resulting in Boutilier asking this poser:

“He refers to the minister. Is that the minister who really wasn’t the minister or the minister who wasn’t the minister then? We need to know. Given that and the non-answer that he just provided – and all the folks in emergency rooms watching Access television are watching for the answer – do you know, do you not know, or do you not know what you don’t know?”

Does anybody know what this means?