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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

democracy derailed.

“With political change so rare, one-party politics has become entrenched in Alberta. The forces that drive political change in other jurisdictions – the legislature, public inquiries, interest groups, opposition parties, the media, and so on - have adapted to this reality in order to cope, or have been deliberately gutted, or have simply deteriorated to the status of a sideshow. As a result of this one-party dominance, democracy in Alberta has been pushed off the rails. It’s time to get it back on track.”
This is how Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft finishes the introduction of his new book “Democracy Derailed: The Breakdown of Government Accountability in Alberta – and How to Get it Back on Track.” I’ve had the chance to read through an advanced copy of the book and I have some thoughts as it is released today.

Democracy Derailed covers a wide range of political and ethical transparency and accountability issues in Alberta’s long-time Tory-dominated political scene. Throughout the 110-page book, Kevin Taft recounts his experiences as an MLA and leader of the Official Opposition in dealing with Alberta’s democratic deficit as well as presenting positive solutions on how to make democracy better in Alberta.

The issues addressed in the book range from Alberta’s lack of whistle-blower protection for public servants and the devolution of power from the elected Legislative Assembly to the lack of power held by Alberta’s Auditor General and the irresponsible use of FOIPP legislation to block opposition research and the lack of resources allotted to Opposition Caucus Offices in Alberta compared to those allotted to the PC Members Caucus and opposition caucuses in other provinces.

One of the interesting facts that Taft highlights is the lack of power held by Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee:
“Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee can meet once a week only when the legislature is sitting, which is all of three months per year. During approximately a dozen 90-minute meetings, the committee must review the spending of 24 provincial government departments with a combined budget of $24 billion.

That’s not all. Unlike the federal Public Accounts Committee, Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee cannot submit a report to the legislature. Legislators outside of Alberta find this restriction hard to fathom. Conservative Member of Parliament John Williams said “It’s shocking. I cannot believe a government majority would use their capacity to set the rules like that.””
According to Taft, underlying many of these problems is the near merger between the Government of Alberta and the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta (which formed government in 1971). This is problem which would occur after any political party has governed for over 30 straight years. Examples Taft uses include the appointments of partisan Tories as elections officials, the Calgary Ward 10, Kelley Charlebois, and Alberta Securities Commission scandals, the partisan nature of the Public Affairs Bureau, and the fluid movements of Rod Love and Peter Elzinga through Government, business, and the PC Party.

The book is also complemented by a website (www.democracyderailed.ca) which includes links and pdf documents sited in the book (such as Ralph Klein’s infamous plagiarized Chile paper), along with an online interactive message board and an online quiz.

The timing of the book is probably better than Taft and the Alberta Liberals had originally planned. With new and untested Tory Premier Ed Stelmach still learning the ropes, a March/April 2007 sitting of the Legislature, and a potential Fall 2007/Spring 2008 provincial election, Democracy Derailed will hopefully raise some much needed attention and debate on some serious problems facing democracy in Alberta.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that Albertans heed Taft's wake up call and hand the Alberta Conservatives their walking papers. Unready Eddie has been given the controls to the machine that Klein built, as Taft describes in the book. Regardless of whichever platitudes the media use to characterize him, nice; steady; decent; stunned; whatever, Stelmach is now at the top of a morally bankrupt government apparatus, and there is nothing decent about that. Great post Dave, and go Taft!

Anonymous said...

If Dr. Taft ever wants to become premier, he needs to stop writing books that will not be read outside of central Edmonton and start spending more time winning over rural Alberta.

michael in calgary said...

Good on Taft for putting this together. It's something that ALL Albertans should take a look at before they make their decision on who to cast their vote for in the next election.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, anonymous 10:38 am. If Taft ever hopes to claim the title of Premier, he should avoid slamming those new cabinet appointees for the sin of happening to reside outside Edmonton or Calgary.

Must not be all that much work being leader of the Opposition in Alberta. I'm sure there are some good points to be made in the book, such as revolving door of lobbyist/government staffers that was apparent in last administration. But most politicians write books AFTER they leave elected office. Because presumably they are occupied with the business of governing, and setting policy, and preparing for the next election.

LIB YYC said...

Anonymous at 10:38: So you're saying that rural Albertans don't read books?

James said...

Anonymous 12:44

Are you saying that politicians have zero downtime in office? What a lark. Your criticism is so ridiculous, it's hard to know where to begin. If the former Premier Klein can spend so much time fishing with corporate executives (even delaying legislative affairs for such adventures), then surely Kevin Taft can spend his spare time writing a book.

And by the way, tons of politicians write books while in office. They're a good PR tool to advance their profile, get on the talking heads' circuit, and advance their ideas. See: SCHUMER, CHUCK; OBAMA, BARACK; CLINTON, HILLARY; TANCREDO, TOM; BYRD, ROBERT; MCCAIN, JOHN; LIEBERMAN, JOESEPH; etc, etc.

Only a complete partisan would utter such nonsense as what you just said.

Anonymous said...

Daveberta, how can one obtain a copy of the book?

Anonymous said...

Democracy Derailed is available at the following locations:

In Calgary:

- McNally Robinson Booksellers, 120 - 8 Avenue SW

- Owl's Nest Books, 815A - 49 Avenue SW

- Pages On Kensington, 1135 Kensington Road NW

- University of Calgary Bookstore, 2500 University Drive NW

- Virgin Books, Calgary International Airport

- All Chapters, Indigo and Coles bookstores

In Edmonton:

- Audrey's Books, 10702 Jasper Avenue

- Greenwoods Bookshoppe, 7925 - 104 Street

- Laurie Greenwood Volume II, 12433 - 102 Avenue

- University of Alberta Bookstore, 166 Students' Union Building, 8900 - 114 Street

- All Chapter, Indigo and Coles bookstores

Independents, Smaller Centers:

- Banff Books and Art Den, 94 Banff Avenue, Banff

- Blurb's the Bookstore, 105, 5220 - 48 Avenue, Wetaskiwin

- Pop'lar Books, 4952 - 50th Street, Camrose

- Lots-a-Books, 5010 - 50 Avenue, Cold Lake

It can also be ordered online at www.chapters.indigo.ca and www.amazon.ca.

For more information, visit www.democracyderailed.ca.

anonymous faculty said...

Taft! Taft! Taft! Taft!

Ed Stelmach doesn't hold a candle to Dr. Taft. I can't wait until the next election.

Anonymous said...

Taft's ideas are not new and it would be dishonest to portrary them as so.

Look back at the Alberta Liberal Opposition platform documents from 1992 and 1993 and papers such as Alberta's Biggest Problem: The System Itself and Mandate for Change, available in the Legislature Library.

Most of these ideas are Laurence Decore's ideas, not Kevin Taft's. For Taft to suggest otherwise would be a fallacy.

trent said...

These ideas have been around since 1993 and the Tories STILL HAVEN'T ADOPTED THEM? WHAT THE HELL?
-Whistle-blower protection legislation?
-A Public Accounts Committee with the power to be accountable?

Good on Taft's Liberals for keeping on pushing these ideas. They need to be adopted! And if the Liberals are then only party talking about real accountability then they have my vote.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that Taft is no Decore and he will never will be. In politics, we call that the stature gap. Taft wll never have a chance to implement any of these ideas, borrowed as they are.

josh said...

I don't think the fact that Taft is no Decore is a problem. It's a completely different political landscape than it was in 1993. Just as Taft is no Decore, Stelmach is certainly no Ralph Klein.

Raymaker said...

Laurence Decore, you may recall, was at 50% support at one time, and blew it all by trying to outflank Klein on the right in the 1993 election.

Just because the guy passed away doesn't make him a genius or a statesman.

So if you say Taft is no Decore, I say "Amen brother."

Anonymous said...

Raymaker:

That's an interesting re-interpretation of history.

Decore was at 50% in the summer of 1992 precisely because he presented a strong agenda of fiscal responsibility and democratic reform and he didn't waver from that position by making a multitude of spending promises he couldn't pay for.

And he didn't lose the 1993 election by trying to outflank Klein on the right.

The agenda has been painstakely developed between 1988-1993 and remained the same right through the 1993 election. The policy platform was extremely detailed.

Decore had a strong Edmonton base from his tenure as a mayor. But he recognized that a winning coalition beyond Edmonton could only be put together by appealing to moderate Tories because they were not enough votes on the left to win an election.

The team of Liberal candidates for the 1993 election was one of the best slate of candidates in Alberta history and many had been nominated two years before the election was even held. That's why he ended up with 40% of the vote in the 1993 election, just 4% points behind the Tories.

I'm surprised that you didn't know that because you and your wife were there.

You know precisely the reasons why the 1993 election was lost. I won't go into them because they are well known and part of Alberta folklore.

The problem with the Liberals since Decore is that they have moved to the left to try to take the ground of the NDs, and appealed to every single special interest group on the left, not recognizing that there are not enough votes to win an election in Alberta by remaining on the left. That's why the Liberals remain mired at 15% in the polls.

Taft has not shown to me that he has the credibility of Decore on fiscal responsibility and that's why he will never an election in Alberta.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

Is it bigger than his last book? Or did they decide to go with the 17-page pamphlet style that won Shredding the Public Interest so many accolades from VUE Weekly?

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

LIB YYC: They certainly won't be bothering to read this one.

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