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.
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.
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!
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?