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Sunday, July 19, 2009

guy boutilier's free agency.

There is a serious leadership vacuum in Alberta. Most of the time it appears that PC Premier Ed Stelmach is absent from the important political debates and indecisive as our provincial leader, but every now and then he sporadically overcompensates. We saw this overcompensation with his recent pledge to never raise taxes and again this weekend with the over the phone firing of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier.

I wasn’t shocked to learn that Guy Boutilier had been kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus and I have a difficult time believing that Boutilier didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Boutilier must have known that he was playing with political fire when he publicly accused Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert of “talking gibberish” and then criticized Stelmach for not wanting a cabinet minister “who graduated from Harvard with Barack Obama.” Boutilier admitted that he never met Obama while at Harvard, but I imagine that comment was a bit stinging to a Premier who never completed his University degree.

Boutilier's criticisms of Liepert stemmed from the state of seniors care in Fort McMurray, and while it would be easy to commended him for breaking from the party line, his 12 years in the governing PC caucus have given him many better opportunities to publicly champion health care in Fort McMurray. He is now on his way out.

This isn’t the first time that Boutilier’s bizarre political actions have raised eyebrows.

While testifying to the Alberta Energy Utilities Board in 2006, Boutilier told Mikisew Cree First Nation lawyer Don Mallon that at the time, he was not speaking as the Minister of the Environment, but as an MLA. When asked how he could do this, Boutilier testified that he could actually turn off the part of his brain where he was the Minister of Environment. An impressive feat.

Boutilier led a loose coalition of PC MLAs who had yet to endorse a candidate in their party’s 2006 leadership contest. The group called itself the C5 ("Conservative, Competitive, Caring, Conservationist Coalition") and included Clint Dunford, Ty Lund, Pearl Calahasen, Ivan Strang and LeRoy Johnson. Boutilier and Calahasen eventually endorsed Lyle Oberg, and were both eventually dumped from their cabinet positions after Stelmach became Premier.

During my time as Chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, I met with many MLAs and Cabinet Ministers. None of the meetings I experienced was more bizarre than my final meeting in that role in May 2007, when I met with then-Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Guy Boutilier. In his office at the Legislature, myself and the CAUS Executive Director presented our post-secondary education advocacy points, only to be continually interrupted by Boutilier's gesturing to his wall-mounted Harvard degree and giant wall photo of his first Bull riding experience as Mayor of Wood Buffalo. He was obviously quite proud of both of these, but his focus on them may have prevented him from actually digesting anything we had to say during the meeting. It gave me a glimpse of how difficult a person he must have been to work with at the cabinet table, so I'm not shocked that he has quickly fallen out of favour with the cabal of Stelmach loyalists that replaced Ralph Klein's inner circle in 2006.

What are Boutilier's options now?

He could sit as an Independent MLA, as Oberg did, and then wait for a chance to return to the PC caucus if that opportunity presents itself. Not many Independent MLAs have been successful in their bids of seek re-elected in Alberta. In 1993, Clover Bar MLA Kurt Gesell left the PC caucus and ran as an Independent candidate in the newly created Clover Bar-Fort Saskatchewan riding. He was defeated by former Fort Saskatchewan Mayor and Liberal candidate Muriel Abdurahman.

He could join another political party. While there isn't much precedent of PC MLAs joining the Liberal Party in Alberta, a couple of PC MLAs have joined other parties. Former Edmonton-Norwood MLA Gary Masyk left the PC caucus in 2004 to join the fledgling Alberta Alliance after his riding was abolished. Masyk ended up running in the newly created Edmonton-Decore riding, but was defeated by Liberal Bill Bonko.

With three years until the next expected election, Boutilier has the option of representing Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo in Alberta's Legislative Assembly without having to adhere to the discipline of a party Whip. For better or worse, citizens in Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo are no longer represented by a PC backbencher, they are now represented by a free agent MLA.

23 comments:

Ken Chapman said...

Well documented post Dave. I could tell you so much more that is also at the outer limits of BIZZARO but client confidentiality forbids it.

Chester J said...

The formula's clear: independent runs for re-election, splits right, Liberals take seat.

It was a good day for Swann.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

Yet darkly insinuating some unverifiable claims is permitted, somehow. How does that work?

And if Chester thinks Swann's set for a big win in rural Alberta, well, lets just say I don't call him Grant Mitchell II out of love.

Chester J said...

F&C's Love Child,

Never said a big rural win. But McMurray has never been overly hostile territory to the grits. In fact, before Boutilier, it was a Liberal riding.

Sponge Bob Stelmach said...

Why on earth would he join the Liberals? Their inspiring leader? Their great performances in the Legislature? Their demonstrated ability to run highly strategic campaigns? Perhaps their large party staff?

As much of a long shot as it is, if he really wants to piss off Stelmach, he switches to the NDP. That's the ticket to being a thorn in the side of the people who kicked him out of cabinet and caucus.

Anonymous said...

Sponge Bob Lou Arab should keep on dreaming, Guy will never join the NDP. They offer him nothing of value as even with him the NDP aren't an official party. Also, aren't the NDP (and SoCred and WRAP and everyone else of no value) the parties that always say they wouldn't even accept cast-off members? Wouldn't Brian Mason demand Guy run in a by-election, which Guy'd be sure to lose under the NDP banner?

Anonymous said...

How about Connie McRae? She ran for the PC's in Fort Mc in 1993.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he could run as a Green... oh, never mind...

David J. Climenhaga said...

An excellent, insightful post with some great insider details. There's nothing like meeting a minister of the Crown in his or her own office to really see what makes the sucker tick. In fairness to Guy, I don't know if a person can shut off a segment of his brain, but certainly one can decide what evidence is admissible and what isn't, like a judge, or even a juror.

Party of One said...

Sorry Dave, but I doubt very much that CAUS is very top of mind for any minister, or any MLA, so it doesn't really surprise me that you may have had a "bizarre" meeting with Boutelier. I would be considerably more surprised if you had had a productive meeting.

The fact of the matter is that student leaders in Alberta, and maybe throughout Canada, don't really have the power that they need to affect change. What change has come has usually come because the party was leaning in that direction in any case.

Student leaders cannot command as much respect as they should (and I DO support them on many issues) because they really aren't able to rally students to their cause on a sustained basis. Even students don't take them that seriously as their own representatives, as evidenced by deplorably low student voter turnout for their own leaders. Furthermore, they can't deliver a vote; students are dispersed throughout the province, and generally vote in their local "home" ridings; if they were more concentrated in ridings, they might have a hope.

So if Boutelier may have seemed distracted, it was probably because he viewed the meeting as a courtesy only.

daveberta said...

Party of One: having been at the meeting I got the distinct impression that Boutilier was trying to impress us.

Fair enough comment about student apathy, but the SU election that many student governments have a higher voter turnout than some provincial ridings.

During my time as CAUS Chairperson, I had a number of highly productive meetings with other MLAs and Minister that led to policy changes (indexing tuition increases to CPI, student loans, affordable student housing, etc). Were these monumental changes? Absolutely not, but I think that has more to do with the people sitting around the Cabinet table than the student advocates.

Anonymous said...

Don't think Guy will be joining the ND ranks anytime soon...

Anyone remember the bizarre occurrence of Guy crashing NDP MLA Ray Martin's press conference back in 2005 - and the two sharpshooters settling on each other, guns-a-blazing, while the TV cameras rolled? Damn, wish I could find video of that...

Anyway, despite the fact that the ethics commissioner cleared him, it still looked shady... and Dave is right, Boutilier is renowned for his bizarre behaviour, whether at a Press Gallery xmas party or simply popping by his constituency office.

http://www.vivelecanada.ca/article/154307299-alberta-environment-minister-crashes-ndp-news-conference-on-alleged-sweetheart-l

Anonymous said...

Hey Chester,

What happened to your formula in Manning last election?

Chester J said...

Anon,

Allow me to clarify. A CONSERVATIVE runs for re-election as an independent and splits the right.

Why would a Liberal running for re-election as an independent (as in Manning) split the right?

Anonymous said...

Chester J,

Dan Backs ran for the PC Nomination in the fall of 2007, was handed his hat by Peter Sandhu, then ran as an Independent. Backs was no more Liberal than Guy, in fact, less so.

Anonymous said...

Daveberta,
Your little meetings as a student leader were definitely not the primary cause of any of those policy changes. Get over yourself. Student leaders rode the wave of policy change that was the result of the government wanting to plug a PR and electoral hole that came more from parental outrage than it ever did from students. Sure SU activities helped this a bit, but the underlying dynamic had nothing to do with you. You've revealed how naive you are about how policy change actually happens. But you're right about Boutilier being a self-obsessed goofball who loves to point out his Harvard degree - much to Harvard's dismay....

And I agree with F&C's Love Child's comments about Chapman's comment. Chapman, we know you love to tout your insider knowledge and PC connections, but if in fact you do have insider knowledge, and it's a result of contact with a "client", it seems unprofessional of you to insinuate that there's a bunch of further "bizarre" information about this mess. After hearing that, I certainly wouldn't hire you.

roblaw said...

Good post, all in all, Dave, though I take some issue with the suggestion that there is a leadership vacuum.

Boutilier might just want to recall an old Rolling Stones song..

"You can't always get what you want.. but if you try real hard, you just might find, you get what you need."

Anonymous said...

Dave,
If you think student government has any power -- any -- in the real world, you're seriously kidding yourself. AS someone who interviews and works with all of the major players on occasion, I can tell you that most special interest lobbying has next-to-no effect on them, unless there are dollar figures preattached.

As for the way he behaved in his office, provincial Tory ministers are taught this as a technique to waste time and keep meetings on their agenda, not yours. Just ask every member of the leg gallery about their annual Christmas interviews with Stelmach, in which he does exactly the same thing.

Really, these kind of posts speak to a deep-seated naivete about Canadian politics, the kind of belief that pushes people into intransigent ideological camps instead of working together. Just because we have an adversarial system doesn't mean we have to keep one.

Anonymous said...

I also find Ken Chapman's comments at the top to be so full of self-aggrandization, as to be pathetic!
Yes, we know well where he stands on Boutilier, but does he have to stoop so low, and infer he knows 'all the dirt'!! Get over yourself Ken!

It's highly reminiscent of Lyle Oberg's skeletons comment and the tired old threats used municipally by the late Alderman Ed (Suitcase) Leger in Edm. City Hall!!!
-ema

SD said...

Great post, Dave. I suspect we will hear more from Mr. Boutillier in the months to come.

Fran Irwin, Medicine Hat said...

I know that Stelmach has already been threatening to bring out the "skeletons" on Guy - his second whammy to other PC MLAs who may be tempted to unermine his "leadership"...Conservatives are already saying that Guy is toast. I think this, along with his health (Guy has pretty out-of-control Diabetes) might mean a "retirement" come next election.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave

I continue to check back on this subject to see if Mr. Chapman had planned on responding to his critxs regarding his loose fitted confidentiality "closet"...Any idea if he has "cut and run" on this one?

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. Where are your solutions people? Decision-makers want solutions not problems and all you do is bicker.

Now if you could go to the next level, and analyze your policy beliefs and form another party with promise for us all of join another party other than the PC (PIG COMMITMENT) that would be progress.

WE NEED CHANGE IN ALBERTA-NOT SPARE CHANGE-BUT POLITICAL CHANGE