Sherman ouster deserved, but a mistake

For a while, it looked like Raj Sherman had dodged the bullet.

Sure, he blasted the health care system in no uncertain terms. But after Sherman has a let’s-all-cry-like-men meeting with the Tory caucus, all was forgiven. He was under stress, he wrote the now notorious email at 3 a.m., and it wasn’t meant for public  consumption. Just a bad day at the office for a good guy.

And it would have stayed that way, too, if he hadn’t Boutiliered.

Guy Boutilier, the former Tory MLA for whom the term ‘Boutiliered’ has been named (by me, just now) was famously tossed from the Stelmach cabinet in July for saying Energy Minister Ron Liepert was “talking gibberish” and suggesting that he should have been in cabinet because he is a Harvard grad. Arrogance is not worthy of expulsion, but criticising a fellow MLA — and a powerful, thin skinned, notoriously nasty one at that — is just not done. He deserved to be tossed. It’s one thing to defend your constituents, but you can’t do it while belittling the other members of your team.

So Sherman was doing fine at first. He blasted the system, then he took a run at the men who run the system, blaming them for “knuckleheaded” decisions. OK, that was a bit of a low blow, but still, his buddies on the team were unscathed.

But it wasn’t until Sherman took aim at Liepert — again — that Sherman sealed his fate, blaming the former health minister for being “rude and offensive” to front line medical staff.

Sure, Liepert no doubt was rude and offensive to health care workers. He’s basically rude and offensive to everyone; that’s what he does. He’s the Dick Cheney of Alberta politics, and apparently just about as powerful. But the comments were pointless and personal.

As Boutilier discovered, you can stick up for constituents, you can blast the civil service, but never, NEVER criticize one of your own. Consider if a benchwarmer on the Eskimos said QB Ricky Ray was a jerk. Or if a fourth-liner on the Oilers called Ales Hemsky a lazy so-and-so. That would be the end of his career, and rightly so. And so it is with Sherman.

I don’t know if Sherman overplayed his hand, didn’t recognize what he was saying was going to get him in trouble, or did it deliberately. But he threw down the gauntlet to Stelmach, who promptly picked it up, slapped Sherman in the face, and sent him packing.

Mistake? Yes and no.

If a backbench MLA steps out of line and doesn’t apologize, he deserves to get turfed. You can’t have members of your own team badmouthing other members of the team for public consumption. But, in this case, the Tories overreacted. If they had let the matter rest, his “rude and offensive” comments would have been forgotten. Somebody should have pulled Ron Liepert aside and said, “Suck it up, princess. Take one for the team.”

Even is Sherman deserved getting kicked out, it was a mistake. Now, instead of having a loose cannon under your control, you’ve got a loose cannon firing back at you. This is sure to backfire.

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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?

Boutilier in full-flight livens up dreary day.

Day 3 of the Legislature

It was not a day for the ages in the Alberta legislature on Wednesday. Lots of questions about health care, emergency services, ducks, etc., and lots of platitudes and uninspiring answers. Still, it had its moments.

George Rogers, the PC member from Leduc, entered the Puffball Pitcher of the Session contest by asking this set up question of Failing Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky:

“Mr. Rogers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Auditor General released his fall report. This report outlines several accounting and financial management issues related to the formation of Alberta Health Services. These questions raised by the Auditor General are very serious and, I believe, beg some clarification. My question is to the Minister of Health and Wellness. What is the cause of these financial issues? Has this money been properly accounted for?”

After Zwozdesky’s typically long-winded answer, Rogers replied with a soothing: “Mr. Minister, I’m pleased to hear that this money is safe.”

Phew. So am I.

But the highlight of a dull day was the performance of Guy Boutilier, for former PC turned Wildrose Alliance member from Fort McMurray.

Guy has always been an excitable type, with arms flapping away like he was being controlled by a drunken puppetmaster. Well, Guy was positively outraged — outraged, I tell you — by how hard-done by the poor oilsands industry was by Premier Stelmach. Here’s what he said:

“First of all, I want to take this opportunity to compliment – I said compliment – the Minister of Energy because he was the only, the only one, who didn’t throw the oil sands industry under the bus yesterday with the unfortunate duck situation. The Premier and the Minister of Environment clearly did. My question today is to the Minister of Environment. Will you apologize to the workers who are at the Mildred Lake site, working 24 hours a day, and, rather than being a judge and a jury and an executioner, wait for the findings first rather than the inexcusable tone that you used yesterday?”

Environment Minister Rob Renner was somewhat dumbfounded by the question.

“I have been doing my very best to turn down the rhetoric from members on the other side of the House from the media and point out to them that we have an investigation under way, and until that investigation has been concluded, we should not be jumping to any kind of conclusion.”

But Guy was just getting started:

“Perhaps the Minister of Environment can communicate that to his leader because the headlines today read that the Premier demands answers – he demands – yet here are the companies working out there, extraordinary lengths with technology, working 24 hours a day. They fail to talk about the motherhood that took place yesterday. It’s inexcusable, his tone and the Premier’s tone. So will you apologize for the Premier for what he had said in the media yesterday?”

Motherhood?

Anyway, Renner did his best to calm down Boutilier.

“The Premier is saying the same thing as I am saying: yes, we do want some answers. That’s why we’re conducting an investigation. We want to know – the Premier wants to know; I want to know – whether or not there were infractions of our regulations. That’s what the investigation is all about.”

Running out of steam, Boutilier gave it one last shot.

“Mr. Speaker, given that the minister is reassuring all Albertans that they’re not going to be inflammatory as they continue to put gasoline on fire, why hasn’t the minister, in fact, visited onsite that very situation? Why hasn’t he been there? Why hasn’t the Premier been there relative to the situation? Clearly, we hear about the oil sands. We hear about how important it is, but it’s not important enough to go and visit.”

Exhausted, Renner responded with “Mr. Speaker, the only person inflaming the situation in this House is that member over there.”

To get the full effect of Boutilier in action, you really have to see it. Arms chopping, eyes bulging, voice raising; it’s really a sight to see.

Rest assured, oilsands, you have a friend in Guy Boutilier. He’s a little nutty, but he’s in your corner.