Yesterday’s pre-recorded televised address by Premier Ed Stelmach left a lot of room for criticism. I admit that it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of only criticizing, and with the many vague platitudes that were presented yesterday evening it is also very easy to become highly cynical of the people that a minority of Albertans elected as our representatives in the Legislative Assembly.
Last night, I stated via Twitter that I was:
“Waiting for the opposition leaders to come up with a plan that is more than criticisms.”After a good night sleep, I realized that as I was criticizing the opposition leaders I was not holding myself to the standards that I was expecting from others. Prolonged exposure to an institutionally mediocre government has made it very easy for me to fall into the trap of prolonged cynicism on this blog, but I have and will continue to try and put my cynicism aside and provide a more nuanced opinion on the politics of Alberta. Last night, I was not practicing what I was preaching, and therefor, I decided to re-write this blog post.
Following the announcement that over 6,500 public servants would be the subject of a two year pay freeze, many Albertans (including myself) likely responded with the normal cynicism towards a politician not practicing what he preaches. In 2008, Premier Stelmach and Cabinet Ministers were unrepentant after they voted themselves a 34% pay hike in a closed door meeting.
Viewers of last night's edition of Alberta Primetime, who will remember Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's questionless defence of the Premier's choice not to take a pay cut, will be suprised by a morning media release announcing that Stelmach will be taking a 15% pay cut ($12,196) and that Cabinet Ministers will be taking a 10% pay cut ($6,391 per Minister). According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the pay cuts are actually 5.4% and 3.2% when you factor in the tax-free portion of their salaries, but the message this action sends is not literal, it is political. Announcing the end to the annual one-third tax-free allowance that MLAs receive would have been a more meaningful move, but I will give the Premier and Cabinet Ministers credit for the pay cut that they did announce.
In the spirit of providing ideas, here are some things that I would have liked to have heard in last night's pre-recorded televised address:
Auditor General: In an effort to weed out Government inefficiencies, I would have liked to hear the Premier commit to increasing funding to the Office of the Auditor General. In March 2009, Auditor General Fred Dunn announced that his office would be canceling or deferring 27 of 80 planned financial or system audits due to lack of funds.
The mandate of the Auditor General of Alberta is to 'identify opportunities and propose solutions for the improved use of public resources, and to improve and add credibility to performance reporting, including financial reporting, to Albertans.' Ensuring financial and systematic efficiency through these audits is one of our government's most important responsibilities to the hardworking citizens and taxpayers of this province.
Energy Innovation and Diversification: The Governments of Alberta and Canada have recently announced multi-billion dollar subsidies to energy companies like Shell and TransAlta to research the Carbon Capture scheme.
Coal fired power plants are incredibly dirty. Instead of investing billions of public dollars into finding new ways to hide old pollution, I would like to see our governments think outside of the box and recognize the role that Alberta can play in developing new and innovative energy sources. I would like to see our government focus serious funding into the development of new research and development and innovation strategies in areas such as renewable energy. I would like to see more than a new take on an old scheme. I would like the Government of Alberta invest the funds we currently receive through our gift of natural resources into generating new Alberta-based companies that will have the ability to compete around the globe by providing Alberta-based renewable energy ideas and solutions.
Legacy of bad budgeting: Alberta's economy has depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for over sixty years and has seen much worse economic times. After years of unsustainable growth, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that Alberta's economy has slowed down. In the past year, the Alberta Government has gone from a projected $8.5 billion surplus to a projected $6.9 billion deficit. I have no doubt that Alberta is in a good position to recover from the economic slowdown, but I would like to see some evidence that after nearly 40 years in office, the elected members of the current governing party have learned how to handle this type of budgeting cycle.
Health Care: While describing that "difficult but necessary improvements” will be made through “innovation and the leadership of our health-care professionals,” Stelmach remained vague in describing what changes to the health care system will look like. Earlier this week, Health Minister Ron Liepert admitted faults in his governments communications strategy around health care. I would have liked to have seen the Premier give Albertans some clear indication as to the changes his government plans to make in our health care system.
Childrens Services: This has less to do with the economy and more to do with the integrity of government. I don’t hold Minister Janis Tarchuk personally responsible for the mismanagement inside the Department of Children and Youth Services, but it is time that a new Minister was appointed to this portfolio with the explicit mandate to clean up the mess inside this Department.
Bold Leadership: I am 25 years old and don't believe that I have experienced it in my lifetime, but I am a big fan of bold leadership from my elected officials. Growing up, I remember listening to my parents talk about the bold leadership while they were growing up - Pierre Trudeau and Peter Lougheed - but I remain waiting for the kind of leadership that I have only read about in the history books (or seen in the movie theaters).
Related and Recommended:
Alex Abboud: Rapid Reaction: Premier Stelmach's address
Chris Labossiere: Do as I say, not as I do
CalgaryLiberal: Well, that's "Steady Eddie" for you
D.J. Kelly: Why Stelmach looks disingenuous today
Kevin Libin: Ed Stelmach's TV show is a rerun
Susan O: Keep it Real, Ed