Tag Archives: stelmach

Shuffling the deck, or: other assorted sinking ship references

January fifteenth 2010, Premier Stelmach did some light shuffling to his cabinet. The opposition has come up with many witty phrases remarking how this shuffle was little more than a last ditch attempt to appease right wing Progressive Conservatives to keep the PCs strangle hold on the Alberta Legislature, and while this might be true there is something to be said about the changes that were made.

Stelmach changed two visible and divisive portfolios, putting former Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton into the ministry of Finance and Enterprise and placing Gene Zwozdesky – MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek – into the ministry of Health and Wellness. Other substantial changes included moving Iris Evans, the minister who bore the brunt of the fiscal downturn out of the Finance portfolio and into International and Intergovernmental relations, keeping Doug Horner in the Advanced Education and Technology portfolio, and moving Ron Liepert from Health and Wellness to Energy.

The shuffle was a clear shift to the right, placing some of the most vocal “fiscal conservatives,” including rookie MLA Jonathon Denis, who is a member of the ‘fiscal four’ into cabinet as Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. Considering the province’s pledge to end homelessness by 2019, Denis has quite the challenge in front of him. A minister from Calgary, his previous right wing affiliation has come into play when meeting with student groups, including his defense of the pro-life club in last year’s University of Calgary vs. pro-life club situation. Denis is not the only conservative minister to secure an influential spot in cabinet. Every top-level position has gone to an MLA who has supported fiscally and/or socially conservative policies within the Progressive Conservative party, not to mention exhibiting extreme party loyalty.

Truthfully, it’s a fairly boring cabinet shuffle, giving truth to the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Fiscally, Morton in cabinet is every true progressive’s nightmare come true. Morton has been vocally in favour of privatization of services, both in his education and political life, as well as in his alliance with the University of Calgary’s “Calgary School” and the now-famous Friends of Science. All told, this does not bode well for social services and those that support them in Alberta. These moves hit especially hard in light of the recent choice to make substantial cuts to disability funding in Alberta. Moving Morton to Finance also gives what might be viewed as a public blessing from Stelmach and could denote a possible incoming PC leader, an “anointed one” to replace Stelmach when he moves on.

Moving Ron Liepert out of Health and Wellness was a politically sound decision, and will likely buy some time for the Alberta government to do some work to fix up this portfolio, damaged by the administration of the H1N1 vaccine last fall. Liepert’s charm will lend itself better to the Energy portfolio, where his efforts to schmooze will go over better with multi national oil executives than it did with out of work nurses and senior care officials.

The somewhat new faces in cabinet are also Calgary and rural centric, likely in response to the threat the Wildrose Alliance poses to taking Calgary and rural seats from the PCs. This shuffle is more in response to an upstart party with one legitimately elected member in the legislature, two floor crossers, and a newly elected leader who has yet to win a seat.

The opposition has yet to take advantage of the shift to the right in Stelmach’s cabinet, nor have they capitalized on the PCs’ rewarding of party loyalists. Instead, they have shifted their attention to criticizing the Wildrose Alliance, and speculating on the threat that they pose to the PCs. It is disappointing to see Alberta’s Official Opposition bow to a party that has yet to even achieve official party status.

This shuffle does little to spell change for Alberta’s legislature and until the next provincial election, I highly doubt too much will change in the way of Alberta’s political workings. The shift to the right is not favourable in light of tight fiscal choices and a seeming de-prioritization of public services but in reality the change is little and party loyalists are party loyalists, regardless of the seats they occupy.

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Our Truth and Effort

My first stab at The Meliorist’s opinion piece:

Political change in Alberta tends to reflect the open expanse of land and the spread too thin homesteads that dominate our prairie province. Pockets of individuals alienated and disaffected by the central government, afraid the brave the harsh climate they perceive. Coupled with groups of elites, people in small and shaky compartments, lifted away from the groundswell, and isolated from each other.

These past six months have seen the political landscape in Alberta shift. It may be small and it may be that only the most hard core of political pundits have followed the minutia of our political landscape, but this shift is cataclysmic in terms of Alberta politics.

With another provincial election still three years away, voters are already questioning what their elected officials are doing to reflect their voice, in the legislature and in policy decisions. Albertan’s expressing dissidence have evolved past letter writing and direct engagement with MLA’s through town halls and the like. The calls for change are progressively more vocal and more public.

Pieces of legislation, such as Bill 44, are debated in the streets, in cafés, on Twitter, blogs, and through mainstream media. Daily newspapers now have blogging added to their web content to allow their journalists to be ever more present in Alberta and ever more relevant, and these journalists are using that to express and reflect Albertan’s dissatisfaction with their governments.

The Wildrose Alliance Party, a party that few Albertans took note of a mere 4 months ago, now has over 11 000 members, a seat in the Legislature, and more media coverage for their leadership convention than the opposition parties could muster for town hall on health care.

The visible advantage the WAP has gained is in large part due to their vocal criticisms of the Stelmach-led government. While the current opposition seems content to rest on their laurels and travel the province speaking to small groups of disenchanted Albertan’s, the WAP was aggregating legions of Albertan’s frustrated with the lack of responsiveness by their MLA’s and channeling that desire to “send Ed a message.” The Glenmore by-election win was the first public clue that we are indeed in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way Albertan’s are participating in their provincial democracy.

Progressives are seeing this, and noting the advantage it presents. Split the right to strengthen the left is a historically oft-used tactic, though in Alberta, changes in government rarely go left but they do always go big.

Events like ChangeCamp, and other grassroots movements do what the WAP has done already. They bring people together and work to unite them around a common cause. For the WAP it was to “send Ed a message”, which its new leader, Danielle Smith, seems to have taken up as her personal war cry. For the progressives, the rallying cry seems still unclear.

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In brief

In April of 2009, the Government of Alberta brought down and voted in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, projecting a $4.7 billion dollar deficit. This included a $2 billion promise to invest in Carbon Capture and Storage (a subject I have discussed at length on this blog).

In June of 2009 the Alberta Finance Minister asked Alberta’s public sector to just find $4 billion to cut somehow from somewhere.  ‘Just let the Government know when you have figured it out’ kind of thing.

In July of 2009 Premier Ed Stelmach announced the retraction of the alcohol tax in Alberta and made a public and decisive promise to not raise current taxes or levy new ones.

In August of 2009, first quarter results looks like an announcement to the tune of a $6 – $8 billion deficit. This comes alongside a curious lack of Stelmach presence in Alberta. This also comes along side the decisions mentioned above in relation of Alberta’s financial path.

My concerns are not with a provincial deficit. We are not protected against the rest of the world, which should resonate quite strongly since our major source of revenue is a world commodity and we trade globally ( or at the very least, trade to America which seems to think they are the globe…). My concerns are, that when this happened to Alberta in the early/mid nineties we reacted strongly and quickly and cut services across the board to every sector publicly administered in Alberta.

It paid off the debt yes, but look how far that has gotten us.

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Goverment of Alberta creates site to correct media…

The Government of Alberta has created a site dedicated to …well…in their own words:

“All media outlets make mistakes, on occasion. Unfortunately, not all media outlets have a policy or forum to correct their mistakes. This site exists to help in that situation.”

This is a departure from the typical way governments (all sorts) minimize the impact and subsequent damage from bad press. Refusing to comment, issuing press releases to contradict press reports, even going as far as to influence media conglomerates to no longer carrying articles written by certain “radicals” (see Avi Lewis and Canwest’s blockade of journalists critical of Liberal government).

An interesting choice by Alberta’s conservative government who is no stranger to taking direct action against those they disagree with (see Daveberta’s fight with Ed Stelmach over a $14.00 domain name). This site is small and has had little no media coverage about its creation (though, would that only lead to another “media correction”?) and I wonder how effective it will be to help dispel what the Alberta Government believes to be unfair and untruthful rumours.

I also wonder if it means an all out media war right here in our sleepy province. Government v. media…What would such a fight look like?

Blogs erupting with rhetoric and biased perspectives, media conglomerates forcing their EiC’s hands, twitter mania…

Oh wait. We’re already here.

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