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Saturday, November 08, 2008

alberta's first minister should be representing alberta at the first ministers' table.

As Premier Ed Stelmach jets off to the old Continent to hobnob with European businessmen, he is skipping this weekend’s First Ministers’ meeting on economic issues called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Now, I can sympathize why Stelmach wouldn’t want to attend this meeting. Can you imagine how awkward the first post-election meeting between Harper, Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest will be? Probably not very fun, but that’s not the point. As Alberta’s First Minister, Stelmach has a responsibility to represent Albertans at First Ministers’ meetings.

After officials in the Prime Minister’s Office rightfully rejected Stelmach’s bizarre request to join the meeting by phone, he announced that he will be sending his (arguably most competent) Minister, Dave Hancock, in his place. But, Stelmach should not be quickly forgiven for his absence. He may be miles above Stelmach in competency, but as Minister of Education, Hancock is in no position to make the types of commitments on economic policy that a Premier can. Hancock is not the leader of the Government, and does not have the authority to fill the role of a Premier at that table.

When it comes down to it, Stelmach’s absence from the meeting is embarrassing for Alberta. It’s embarrassing that the leader of the most economically powerful province in Canada doesn’t grasp the important role that Alberta should have at the big table. After all his big talk about protecting Alberta’s energy interests against Ottawa during the federal election campaign and recent demands about wanting to attend future meetings between Harper and incoming American President Barack Obama, Stelmach shouldn’t have thought twice about taking Alberta's seat at the table.


Ian said...

Between the first ministers meeting and his demands to sit at the big-boys climate talks table, I'm a bit embarrassed that he's our premier right now. Too bad these feelings are unlikely to resonate with Stelmach's support base (who likely would love to finger the rest of Canada).

Anonymous said...

Pretty embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Disappointing but not surprising. Hancock will do an excellent job but as you wrote, he does not have the political stature of a Premier to sit at that table.

Alberta should be a leader at that table but instead we barely show up. I guess we can just hope that they don't make any big decisions without us.

kenchapman said...

Why aren't these guys using videoconferencing? It is great for such meetings, saves time , money and carbon emissions from flights.

I have a very cost effective high def system in my office and love it.

Stelmach can fully participate from London and be just present for such a session.

Get with the technology guys!

Anonymous said...

Sound a bit familiar?

"Oil prices, which provide the bulk of state revenue, were well over $100 a barrel in late August when Ms. Palin left to campaign with Senator John McCain. Now they are slumming south of $60 a barrel, below the level required to balance the state budget."

Anonymous said...

"Why aren't these guys using videoconferencing? It is great for such meetings, saves time , money and carbon emissions from flights."

Decent point Ken, but this assumes that the agreements and decisions are being flushed out in the meetings rather than over lunch or during a smoke break. Like most conferences I would assume that a lot of the decision making is reached through personal relationships developed throughout the entire conference.

Alberta loses when our Premier isn't present to make the kind of personal relationships between Premiers that will help strengthen Alberta's role in Confederation.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach has had this European trip planned for months. These meetings are not easily re-scheduled.

The timing of this meeting is poor, to say the least. A three-hour meeting on the Monday that straddles the weekend and Remembrance Day makes everyone miss ceremonies in their own jurisdictions.

The Premiers just got together to meet on the economy. They asked Harper to attend that one (it was right after his re-election) but he said he wasn't available. These meetings are important, but Stelmach has met all of the other Premiers, on numerous occassions. It is unfortunate to miss this one, but the idea of cancelling - or severely truncating - a series of meetings in Europe to attend a three-hour gabfest that is already being advertized as just an initial organizational meeting would be a real waste.

The question to ask is, if the Prime Minister were really eager to foster better relations with the provinces and work more cooperatively, maybe someone in his office should have made a few calls about availability. it's common courtesy where I come from, anyway.

Glad Daveberta likes Dave Hancock. Dave H is a good man, and will do a fine job. And he was "competent" enough to support Stelmach in the PC leadership when his own run was finished.

Anonymous said...

Good points all around, Dave. I don't agree with you that often, but you head the head on the nail on this one.

Anonymous said...

Dave Hancock the most competent minister????

Anonymous said...

Oh and Ken Chapman has a great idea. Videoconference, people.

Anonymous said...

Why can't Stelmach do his job and go to the conference and then video conference with the Europeans?

Anonymous said...

The purpose of Stelmach's trip is to follow up from Mel Knight's and Rob Renner's trips to Europe. Wow, these guys like international travel on the public dime.

Life is nice when your face is dug into the public trough.

“My purpose is to follow up on Mr. Knight’s visit as the energy minister, to follow up on the visit of Rob Renner, who is the minister of environment, and to meet with decision makers and say ‘look, Alberta is a good place to invest.’ We’re going to continue and we’ll talk about a good investment climate that we’ve accomplished over the last number of years and to me, and I’ve said that before, I take a firm stand on this. That’s most important.”

Anonymous said...


kenchapman said...

Anon @ 11:05 - VC is not great for people who do not know each other directly first. It works best between people who alreay have a familiarity with each other from face-to-face relationships.

The European visits are actually speeches by the Premier to groups about dirty oil and other things as I understand. Not good enough to VC it in at first instance. Follow up maybe but it would not be effective as the first contact.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one Dave. The Premier shouldn't be dismissing his obligation in this case. While I'm sure that Minister Hancock will be an excellent representative, he is not in any position to make the kind of commitments that are needed.

I also wanted to make a point on the videoconferencing idea. Decisions that are of the magnitude of those that will be needed to make serious economic reforms can not, and should not, be made without everyone in the same room. The value of these meetings is not solely in what is said, but in the attitude of the room, body language, and side conversations that gives you an idea of where each person is coming from. Premiers have to be very careful about what they say in public (a concept that is frequently emphasized on this blog) and I assume that like most elected officials, you can gain a better sense of what might be possible in future negotiations from these indicators that are not captured by a camera on the speaker.

John Clark said...

Careful when you banter around the price of oil!

Prior to the last Provincial Election Mel Knight reduced the royalty on the tar sands from 25% to 19% which it is now.

Then, when the US$ and the Canadian $ were at par he switched the currency in the agreement from US to Canadian.

This is significat because the US economy is said to be balanced with the Canadian economy when our dollar is at 85 cents.

Essentialy he dropped our royalty by 15% lower running occasionaly to 22%

There is nothing in the "new' oil regime that returns anything like these numbers. The whole program is still another scam.

Conversly the 60 dollar barrel of oil today is returning the same amount of money to the oil companies as did a 77.00 barrel of oil last year.

Oil companies are not fighting the new deal; they want to hang onto the exceptionally low rates.

Considering there are no agreements in place for the shut down of these same plants, thoes costs will fall to the Govenment of the day.

Bottom line is we are paying the oil cmpanies to take our resource in return for getting some immediate coin!

Stelmach can't defend this in a public forum.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

The message is out there and I don't think many Albertans are losing much sleep over Stelmach's absense - the European trip was scheduled long ago, and Stelmach has been meeting with various provincial Premiers for some time.

When you are seeking to solidify the economic future of your Province, you don't cancel out on some of your biggest potential customers so you can attend a meeting that will be primarily a photo-op for Stephan Harper to show he's serious about the economy.

Oh, and btw, I'm quite sure Mr. Harper didn't worry too much about having a chat with Premier Stelmach before he unloaded the bomb about restrictions on bitumen exports during the election.

Anonymous said...

As much as I think Stelmach is a knob, this type of meeting is pure bologna.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to the day when I won't be embarrassed by my Premier.