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Saturday, February 13, 2010

all aboard the alberta winter olympic train.

As far as international events go, it is hard to beat the size of the Olympic Games. Over 80 countries from across the world will be participating in the Winter sports event that kicked off in Vancouver last night.

With hundreds of millions of dollars likely being spent on wining and dining, it might feel like a drop in the bucket for the Province of Alberta to spend nearly $15 million dollars to promote the province to attendees, including the sponsorship of six Rocky Mountaineer train cars and the Alberta Pavilion.

Unparalleled comfort in the premier business networking venue at the Games.

The Rocky Mountaineer expense is billed by the Government of Alberta website as an opportunity to "provide the premier business networking venue at the Games" for only $499 for a round-trip ticket from Vancouver to Whistler. Who will be networking with the elite business Olympians of the world? Premier Ed Stelmach and eleven cabinet ministers will be there to wine, dine, and "offer guests unparalleled comfort" during their stay on the Alberta train! While experiencing this luxury, most passengers on the Alberta train this week would probably have a hard time believing that Alberta is in the midst of "tough economic times" and that just four short days ago, these 12 elected officials tabled a provincial budget that included the largest deficit in Alberta's history.

Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train
Sending Premier Stelmach, Tourism Minister Cindy Ady, and Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett makes sense, but what of the other nine cabinet ministers? Are Albertans well served by covering the costs of sending eleven cabinet ministers to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games? What business could Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden, Justice Minister Alison Redford, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, or Finance Minster Ted Morton have at the Winter Olympic Games? I am sure the "unparalleled comfort" of the posh train cars will live up to its reputation, but is it really necessary to have half of Premier Stelmach's cabinet on site?

As Graham Thomson pointed out in his Edmonton Journal column this morning, other PC MLAs will joining them, but "nobody in government seems to know exactly how many backbenchers are going." I do not oppose Alberta having a presence at these games, but modesty is virtue our elected officials should not forget.
Alberta Train - Vancouver 2010 OlympicsAlberta Train
Time and money well spent?

Would Alberta's cabinet ministers travel time be better spent flying elsewhere? Perhaps Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Iris Evans' first mission to Washington DC in her new role this week would be more effective if she had some backup from her colleagues? Alas, no one wants to fly to DC during a winter blizzard!

Other Provinces?

When compared to our provincial neighbours, Alberta's elected officials look like the rich kids whose parents picked up the annual tab for their spring break in Mexico. The Province of Saskatchewan is spending $4.1 million on their pavilion and Premier Brad Wall has committed to keep their political presence low at the Winter Games. Premier Wall will be joined by Tourism Minister Dustin Duncan and Enterprise Minister Ken Cheveldayoff. The Province of Manitoba is spending $6.4 million and sending a two-person team of Premier Greg Selinger and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson.

What about the real Alberta train?

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith raised an interesting point this week while criticizing the expense:
"I would rather have seen any kind of travel budget being spent in Alberta,” Smith said. “They’re communicating to the wrong people.”
When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who spent this kind of money to sincerely communicate with Albertans? I am not talking about fancy videos commercials, visits to the Rutherford Show, or hiring expensive advertising companies to brand new messages. I am talking about actually travelling across this province and holding open town hall meetings outside of a highly managed and artificial election environment.

This feeds the perception that our elected officials are only accessible to those with political power or business interests. When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who allowed himself to be publicly accessible to any Albertan, regardless of political persuasion or income-bracket? When was the last time a Premier of Alberta hopped aboard a train filled with ordinary people of Alberta?


chuck said...

What do you think of the BC re-branding commercials Dave? Any idea of their price?

Anonymous said...

Great post Dave.

Why aren't we spending the money to send families of Alberta's athletes to Vancouver? It would be a lot more meaningful than sending politicians to hob nob on fancy trains!

- Kiri

Christopher Spencer said...

Politicians love trains. They can't help it.

John Diefenbaker made his last journey from Ottawa to Saskatoon by train. It was his final request. The baggage car which carried his casket had specially-made picture windows, each adorned with a wreath.

The train rental cost $750,000, though members of the Progressive Conservative Party, not the taxpayers, paid the bill. Some of the Chief's enemies probably that it was a small price to pay to be rid of him, finally, once and for all.

Pierre Trudeau took a train trip three years later, in 1982, that also ended up in the history books. While he was urging Canadians to tighten their belts, the PM opted to take a vacation in a private rail car. The train became an obvious target for protestors. At Sudbury, entrepreneurs sold rotten eggs and fruit to the waiting mob, who were successful in forcing an emergency departure.

Trudeau finally lost his cool in Salmon Arm, famously giving his critics the middle-finger salute.

But the best Trudeau train story dates from the 1974 election. A fat cub reporter got off at a town in the Beauce to file a report for CHUM radio. He heard the whistle as the engine hauling the PM's train left the station and he started running as fast as his chubby legs could carry him, leaping off the platform and onto the tracks. He gave chase for half a mile when he started hearing shouts of encouragement coming from a lone figure standing at the rear of the last car. "Come on. You can do it," Trudeau shouted at the gasping journalist. Alas, he couldn't, and the PM gave the order to stop the train, a mile or so down the track.

"I ran again. Trudeay and Margaret applauded as I closed in on them. They were acting as though I'd won an Olympic gold medal."

Despite the act of kindness, the running man did not develop any Grit sympathies. No did it kindle an interest in physical fitness: and that's a frequent target for critics of Senator Mike Duffy.

Vuk said...

Great post Dave.
I live in the state where people like us is hard to find.

Berry Farmer said...

As a locomotive engineer, I'm wondering why Ed didn't bring me along.

I would have run his train for a cut rate.

And it's not only true that politicians love trains. Some railroaders love politics.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dave. I wonder how many DM's ADM's, EA's and sundry others got the Vancouver 2010 'Ady and Ed's Excellent Adventure.'

Also confusing is the actual amount 'we' spent on this train wreck. I have seen everywhere from $7 million to $27 million.

I know that the budget for fiscal year April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011 includes an additional $5 million for the 2010 Olympics. I have a hard time wrapping my head around how that can happen . . . unless it is, of course, for that wretched luxury train to continue to run in its shrink wrapped Alberta condom, until the fall, as the government so proudly announced yesterday as some sort of coup . . .

I'm not sayin' I'm just sayin' . . .

Anonymous said...

I think this is money well spent promoting Alberta to the world. Vancouver is very close nearby and the cost is relatively low.

Anonymous said...

I think this is money well spent promoting Alberta to the world. Vancouver is very close nearby and the cost is relatively low.

Anonymous said...

Private business is perfectly capable of doing their own marketing and sales without government getting in the way.

Government, please get out of the business of promoting Alberta because all you do is make a big hash of it. Just spend less and lower taxes and get the hell out of the way.

That is how business is done.

Anonymous said...

Rob Anderson had a good point in the legislature this week. We should abolish tourism, parks, and recreation fully and completely. It's a waste of money and only the Wildrose Alliance will do this.

Gauntlet said...

Private business may be perfectly good at advertising themselves, but nothing says "look at the control we have over the provincial government" quite like making them pay for you to travel to the olympics in opulence.

Anonymous said...

Got to hate the bullshit and hyperbole that the lefties get up to. Rob Anderson did not suggest the abolishment of Tourism, Parks and Rec and that anon poster knows it.

But hey, why let the truth get in the way of your own political agenda, rite?

The fact is that this government has just let go of roughly 700 staff, most from Service Alberta and Sustainable Resource Development.

Does it do more for Alberta's image to run a train in BC, or to have secured IT infrastructure? Do we combat the "dirty oil sands" image by letting go of SRD eco-enforcement staff? Of course not.

People think the 2010 budget was great because it showered money into health and education. But the only way this PC government knows how to spend money anymore is by bloating the middle management even further. They have a mental block against hiring and empowering the kind of front line staff that actually deliver services.

A change of government is long overdue. The Wildrose may not be that different than the PC's in terms of political ideology, but at this point just changing the crew in charge is vital. Albertans will be well served by a new government.

Anonymous said...

The last poster is ridiculous. Change for the sake of change. No thanks. Nor do I want the crazy wild Sarah Palin lovers running this province. Again, no thanks.

Jeff J. said...

"When was the last time Alberta had a Premier who spent this kind of money to sincerely communicate with Albertans?"

The election in 2008 Dave. That's what elections are for. I know you would prefer that there be an election every single year, but for some of us, we're happy with every 4 years.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, it was "sincerely" communicate. Unfortunately, what the premier said during the election has nothing to do with how he's governing. Still waiting for those long-term care beds he promised.... And that health-care overhaul...would have loved to hear about that during the election.

So the Premier is rubbing elbows with the business elite out in Vancouver. Are these folks registered under the lobbyists act...or does this fall into one of the massive, gaping loopholes in that pathetic piece of legislation?

rc said...

"The election in 2008 Dave. That's what elections are for."

Snicker. Ever seen any PC MLA at a town hall style meeting, or all-candidates forum, taking unscreened questions from the assembled masses?

Neither have I. I think that was Dave's point.

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