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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

answer the question!

Yesterday afternoon, Assembly Speaker and Tory MLA Ken Kowalski ejected Edmonton Ellerslie Liberal MLA Bharat Agnihotri from the Alberta Legislature for refusing to apologize for asking the following question of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture Minister Hector Goudreau:

Mr. Agnihotri: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Premier, Minister of Finance, Minister of Health, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development all have secret donors to their leadership campaign. Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment are not secret friends of top Tories?
Agnihotri probably could have asked a less loaded question, but I shudder to think what Albertans outrage would feel like had this happened to a Conservative MP in Ottawa asking a similar question to a Federal Liberal Minister. Here’s how Kowalski justified his decision:
Speaker: The question from the hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, the first one, which wasn’t dealt with, basically says, “If a group cannot raise matching funds up to $10,000, it will be considered on a nonmatching basis. However, documents tabled in this Assembly show that this government is breaking its own rules.” Well, that wasn’t even contested. There were no rules that were broken.

…political party matters are not the subject of the question period. Then the question: “Can this minister assure this House that groups receiving this special treatment” – now, the question is: what special treatment? – “are not secret friends of top Tories?” Boy, if that isn’t innuendo, you know, I must have just arrived. I’ve been here 28 years, and this is blatant innuendo.
It seems to me that two main forces collided during this moment: a poorly worded and loaded question, and a harsh ruling by the Speaker (who is also one of the most partisan Tory MLA’s in the Assembly). I think it's quite fair to say that the Speaker went way too far in this ruling. The simplist way to defuse this question would have been for Minister Goudreau to utter one word in response to Agnihotri's question: no.

But let’s look at the root of Agnihotri's question: should internal party and leadership race finances be a matter of public transparency and accountability?

On the Federal level, it is very much a matter of public accountability – both endorsed by the Federal Liberals through their electoral financing legislation and through Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government’s Accountability Act. It’s unfortunate that Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party/Government disagrees with their federal cousins on this issue, because it is an issue of transparency and accountability – something that Premier Ed Stelmach even likes to talk about championing.

On Monday, Elections Alberta released their annual political contribution numbers:
The list of companies donating to the Tories dwarfed that of any other party in Alberta.

Energy and power giants listed include: EnCana ($10,775), TransCanada PipeLines ($12,650), Imperial Oil ($10,000), Nexen ($11,400), Atco Group ($10,650), Talisman Energy ($10,000), Suncor ($7,650), Enmax ($7,925), and Syncrude ($4,250).

Federal legislation passed last year bans contributions from corporations and unions, and caps individual donations at $1,000 to each political party. Ethics watchdogs argued the same should be introduced in Alberta.

"Donations are a means of influence," said Duff Conacher, the co-ordinator of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, arguing donations should be disclosed as they're made to parties, rather than once a year.

"If you want to prevent corruption and waste, then you want to have a system of very restricted donations and full disclosure."

The NDP received many large union donations totaling several thousands of dollars, which helped generate party revenues of about $625,000. The Alberta Liberals, who received several donations from the oilpatch, last week reported revenues of more than $1 million in 2006.
Though we are able to see contributions to political parties - and see how incredibly large these donations are - Albertans do not have the transparency and accountability in seeing the political contributions in the races that choose their leaders. This leaves Albertans with no transparency or accountability in the races that will decide who will potentially be Alberta's Premier.

This lack of transparency and accountability leads back to the idea behind the question asked by Mr. Agnihotri: how do Albertans know that undisclosed donors from the PC Leadership campaign aren’t receiving special treatment through this program? Or any other program for that matter?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Agnihotri probably could have asked a less loaded question..."

Uh, yeah. Good attempt to defuse the issue here. Yes, Goudreau did not directly answer the question. This is not exactly the first time a direct answer in Question Period was not forthcoming from a Minister in a Parliamentary sysem of government. Agnihotri crossed the line by a significant margin. And, when given the opportunity to retract - THREE TIMES - he chose not to.

"The simplist way to defuse this question would have been for Minister Goudreau to utter one word in response to Agnihotri's question: no."

The simplest way to avoid getting thrown out on his derriere, would have been for Agnihotri to offer a tepid retraction/apology. Kowalski practically begged him to do so - hardly the actions of "one of the most partisan Tory MLAs in the Assembly". Agnihotri could have gotten out of it. He chose not to, out of "matter of principle" (read: grandstanding).

Would seem to me, that if one really wants less partisanship and a more collaborative form of government, one would refrain from implying your fellow members of the Assembly are corrupt.

James said...

Tories? Corrupt?!?!

*gasp*

Not on the floor of the Legislature!!!

trent said...

The underlying theme IS accountability and transparency. This IS what Ed Stelmach likes to talk about.

Agnihotri's stumbled question hits this point - there is a lack of accountability and transparency in the PC sphere of influence - even though Stelmach sends out $200,000 worth of orange and blue brochures to 1 million Albertans talking about how much he loves Alberta - Albertans have no assurance.

trent said...

The underlying theme IS accountability and transparency. This IS what Ed Stelmach likes to talk about.

Agnihotri's stumbled question hits this point - there is a lack of accountability and transparency in the PC sphere of influence - even though Stelmach sends out $200,000 worth of orange and blue brochures to 1 million Albertans talking about how much he loves Alberta - Albertans have no assurance.

Anonymous said...

Agnihotri's should be very careful with his questions. He accussed Oberg of having secret donors to his campaign. Oberg has not released his contribtions list at of yet. Does Agnihotri has some inside information on Oberg's contribution. Oberg could have raised a point of privledge, but chose not to. The Liberals tend to make baseless allegations, but do it inside the House where they have parlimantary immunity. The best way to handle this sitation is what Ralph Klein also used as his answer: Step outside the House and make that allegation.

Anonymous said...

The funniest part of this whole ordeal was how Agnihotri justified backtracking and apologizing.

Yesterday:
"I put a very fair question to this government and they did not answer my question. I am disappointed, but today my answer is: I'm not going to apologize."

Today:
[H]e said he reconsidered after getting e-mails and phone calls from constituents.

"They appreciate what I have done," he said outside the legislature. "They appreciate that I questioned the minister about the CIP grants. But they said: If you stay outside, you are not going help Albertans. Better you go inside and fight for us."

Flip?:
Flop.

Glen said...

"He accussed Oberg of having secret donors to his campaign. Oberg has not released his contribtions list at of yet."


....if they haven't released the list, doesn't it make them secret by default...?

Enlightened Savage said...

Glen: I have a list of ex-girlfriends. The list isn't "secret", I just haven't released it to the public.

Good thing, too. Fiancee might not like it. :)

- ES

Anonymous said...

Way to be strong Bharat. You have the strength and resolve of a tiger... well, a paper one.

If Bharat was like Ghandi on a hunger strike, he would have missed lunch, but that's about it.

Anonymous said...

Kowalski was way out of line in ejecting Agnihotri over this. Agnihotri's question was not why grants of $10k were being given out but why grants of more than $10K were being given out - 43 times!

michael in calgary said...

I wonder what pushed Kowalski off the deep end?

What's he protecting?

What's he hiding?

Does he know something that Albertans won't like?

Did it have something to do with this:

Agnihotri also referred to an $18,760 grant to a U of A woman's fraternity house for furniture.

Sun Media has learned the 2004 grant application was filed by the daughter of Tory insider Gord Rosko.

Erin Rosko declined to comment on allegations yesterday that she got the grant because of her father's connections to the Tory government.

Rosko, a former Alberta Treasury communications director, worked on the leadership campaign of second-place finisher Jim Dinning. Rosko couldn't be reached for comment.


Why can't we expect a little accountability from the Tories? Where art thou Honest Ed?

Anonymous said...

"Glen: I have a list of ex-girlfriends. The list isn't "secret", I just haven't released it to the public.

Good thing, too. Fiancee might not like it. :)

- ES"


You're also not the Finance Minister.

Glen said...

"Glen: I have a list of ex-girlfriends. The list isn't "secret", I just haven't released it to the public.

Good thing, too. Fiancee might not like it. :)

- ES"

Yeah, and I'm sure a lot of PCs have a list of donors. Better not release them, the public may not like it....

Tony said...

To be fair, the Alberta Liberal Party received numerous large unions and corporate donations as well if I'm not mistaken...

Anonymous said...

Glen:

I like to deal in the facts. If The Liberals have proof that there is special treatment afforded to these so-called secret donors produce the evidence, don't make a baseless allegation.

This is similar to the Taft allegation that Sam Spenglet,a member of the Royalty Review Panel is in the hip pocket of the oil and gas industry because he owns stock options in Shell Canada, and that he is a conflict of interest and should not be able to serve on the panel.

I have a mutual funds and bonds with oil and gas stock. I suspect thousands of other Albertans do as well. Perhaps Taft does as well. Should they all be disqualified from serving on the Royalty Review Panel because of a perceived conflict of interest.

I happen to know Sam Spenglet and he is hardly in the hip pocket of the oil and gas industry.

Let's deal with the facts, not ghosts.

foottothefire said...

Lots of dancing around the transparency issue, above. Exactly what's expected of Alberta Conservatives who have sytematically exempted themselves from audits, accountability and legal responsibility during each tenure from Pete to Ralph.
Why, even the speaker has a shaded past; it was never revealed why Ralph removed the man from his ministerial chair (as he flitted back and forth between Edmonton and Las Vegas) and then just as suddenly, unexplicably became the Speaker right around the time someone revealed that Ralph was in hot water over $10,000 dollars worth of free corporate shares.

Anonymous said...

Just so I am clear here on what constitutes reality to some commenters on this board.

The Alberta PCs are evil incarnate, so the Alberta Libeals, shining light of hope and truth that they are, can cast any number of baseless allegations (within the legal safety of the Legislature) at said hosts of evil, even in breach of established rules of parliamentary procedure and decorum.

Agnihotri was not kicked out because he asked a question about grants. He was kicked out because in the preamble to his questioning, he accused several PC members of corruption. Kowalski was fully within the rules to punt him, after giving him a chance to retract his statement (3 chances actually). You can try and justify Agnihotri's actions however you wish, but it does not make what he did acceptable.

Agnihotri could have spared himelf the embarassment of being kicked out by simply retracting his baseless accusation BEFORE he was kicked out, not less than 24 hours AFTER.

docsanchez said...

Agnihotri was right, but who asks a question like that? Kowalski was right in asking him to retract the question, it wasn't fair. There was a whole lot of posturing going on here.

The issue that I see at the root of the question is the CIP granting program. As a recipient of one in the past (with matching funds however) I can tell you the only way we got the grant was after pleading phone calls to PC MLAs and EAs. The decision to fund our project was made in a caucus meeting not CIP meetings or the Legislature. (Perhaps even by Ralph himself while sitting on the toilet for all I know.) All I really know is the Legislature wasn't in session and our "accepted" grant was a surprise to the CIP folks I talked to until MLAs called them and said to do it.

Which means Taft is right too. Everything in Democracy Derailed is true. But it is the game you have to play to get anything done in this province.

Glen said...

Anonymous - if they have nothing to hide then they should disclose the list. I'm not making allegations, I'm merely curious why the list isn't being made public and why when the government is held accountable, they eject elected members of the legislature.

canuckistanian said...

the question was loaded...so is every question in QP. the question implied a lack of integrity on behalf of gov't members...this is par for the course in QP. and he was ejected???

lets look at the HOC. the prime minister questions the integrity of liberal members: robillard, jennings, alghabra, bains, dion; with baseless accusations of impropriety...why did peter millikan not eject him??? if the question was clearly loaded, baseless and implied impropriety; why does the prime minister continue to sit in the house???

this is an issue of accountability and transparency. the legislative decorum aspect is quite the red herring.

Anonymous said...

Glem:

I agree the list should be made public. No queston about that. The first question was perfectly justified. It was the second question that was crossed the line. I'm not accussing you of making allegations. I am accussing the Liberals of making baseless allegations. If they would just stick to the facts. What it have not have been more appropriate for Agnihotri to just repeat the same question as his first supplemmental, rather than talking about secret donations to leadership candidates. And I would like your views on the Spenglet matter.

Anonymous said...

From Kowalski's website

"· While human beings can create laws, the laws of God must take precedence."

He's one of those...