Harper to Edmonton: Drop dead

Alison Redford is enjoying an extended honeymoon with the media, still swooning over the fact a supposedly progressive female has made it to the province’s top job.

But Redford’s short time as premier — what has it been now, about a month? — has been riddled with snafus, foul-ups and flip flops.

In her first weeks, Redford has appointed a cabinet made up of cranky old men in top positions, called a legislative “session” that lasted two days, opened up the pork barrel for Gary Mar, and has begun to back away on her promise of a full judicial inquiry into health care allegations.

And now we have the Royal Alberta Museum fiasco.

You know the details of this foul-up. Ed Stelmach’s legacy, his gift to the city that gave him unexpected support in the 2008 election, was a $350 million provincial museum for downtown. This was announced when Unsteady Eddie was well into his lame-duck phase, which gave it a bit of a rushed feel to it, in my view. The design was mediocre at best, but Edmonton was getting another piece of its downtown revitalization puzzle put into place, so everyone was happy.

This week, a $92 million fly appeared in the ointment. Turns out the federal government has decided not to chip in the $92 million the province was counting on for the project, bringing the whole thing to a screeching halt. The feds, in the person of the useless to Edmonton Rona Ambrose, said they never promised the money. The Harper government made the utterly preposterous excuse that the province had told Ottawa that they didn’t want any federal money, because the province was just so darned proud of the project. (This is like a kid turning down tuition money from his parents because he was just so proud of his studies.) The province, in the form of a brand new and clueless infrastructure minister Jeff Johnson, says he was under the impression the money was coming. So now, with the mystery $92 million missing, the whole project is on hold.

Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman thinks it’s all a set up, that the new premier doesn’t want to go through with the project, so they conjured up this whole scenario. I think that’s too Machiavellian, even for the Tories. Personally, I think this is a genuine communications foul up. As far as I can see, there was no mention in public of the $92 million. I think the province just assumed that their conservative brethren would come through with the money. The PCs have learned a hard lesson — you can’t trust the Harper government to come through on a verbal promise, or a written promise, for that matter.

The voters of Edmonton have learned another hard lesson as well — the Harper government takes Edmonton support for granted. They pulled the rug out from the Expo project, and now they’ve done the same with the museum. So, Tory voters, how does your golden boy look now?

(This is one positive from this mess. The province can dust off the plans to expand the existing site and save a bundle. Not everything in Edmonton has to be built downtown. The west end location is excellent, with plenty of room to grow. Keep it there.)

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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.’ ”