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Thursday, October 15, 2009

ed stelmach's pre-recorded televised address [take 2].

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


Not a PC fan but, said...

I don’t know Dave, perhaps we could send you on junket with Graham Thompson to study the “politics of cynicism” and how Alberta always seems to need an enemy in order to feel good about itself. I am not a P.C. fan, but at least Ed did not say he was going to resort to slash and burn policies of the 1990’s, but committed to infrastructure as long as the value for money was present. Like what is the Premier to do? Should he get everyone’s attention by saying he is going to lay off the entire civil service and everyone could get serviced by a kiosk? The only real difference here between Ed and Ralph, is that Ralph tried to take credit for Alberta’s economy when in fact it was commodity prices that made the Alberta economy what it was, and Ed was more honest by giving a more global picture and detail in broad strokes how he is going to manage the books.

Urban Spork said...

Personally, I don't think he stood in front of enough flags.

Steve said...

Please, Not a PC Fan, try to keep realism out of this. That has no place on the interweb

Anonymous said...

I think Not a PC Fan missed the point. First, Ed was Ralph's biggest slash and burn cheerleader back in the 90s. In fact he was infrastructure Minister for a time when all that critical public infrastructure was crumbling making it more expensive to build during the boom years, which is partly why we're in the fiscal mess we're in. It's not ALL about a global recession. It's also about really bad long-term fiscal management, and Ed played a central part in that. Second, Ed isn't more honest - how long would it take the google machine or some other mechanism to find Ed trying to take credit for the oil and gas under the ground. Third, what is "detail in broad strokes"? That's a pretty weak plan. It doesn't really tell me anything. The first point is really more part of the goal or end point, not part of what you do to get there. The other 3 are fine but also obvious. The devil is always in the details. We didn't expect many details, but we got fewer than we deserved. And it begged as many questions as it answered. Is he going to slow capital spending at all? Is he committing to not cutting core programs? No way to know. Artfully vague.

It's also a legitimate point to make about his own raise. You can't be a leader if you don't take the lead.

On the performance and production - it's hard to see how sophisticated folks give it a passing grade. The man is really wooden - 8th grade public speaking contest kind of wooden. It was slow, plodding, and really boring. In terms of production, as Dave mentioned, weird choices on b-roll footage and clunky graphics. Painful. Not as bad as Dion's infamous video, but you would have expected much more given the time, effort and money put into it. After the re-branding fiasco, this is more bad value for tax-payers money, and probably won't do Ed much good in his bid to prop himself up in his own party (and his own party against the Wildrose Alliance). But maybe the tens or hundreds of thousands of public dollars that will be spent on follow-up paid advertising will get it done.

Anonymous said...

This could have been done so much better. The party had a chance to really instill some confidence, but I am not sure that this was achieved. Say what you will about Mr. Klein, but he was a master communicator. Perhaps Mr.Stelmach needs some new advisors.


Anonymous said...

I think it's clear that now, more than ever, during these difficult economic times:

Alberta needs more MLAs.

Three more MLAs to be exact. That's the kind of service oriented, intelligent approach to getting us out of deficit that Alberta needs.

See every MLA is like a tiny economy, what with their own massive pay and the army of beauracrats required to keep every MLA up and running.

Three more MLAs and three more years. Then we'll be out of deficit. Brave ideas from a brave leader.

Anonymous said...

We need at least 15 more MLA's. People want responsible democracy and our population keeps increasing.

Ryan said...

Well said, Dave. Good ideas aren't partisan or ideological, no matter what they keep telling us.

Disappointed by Stelmach said...

Thanks for Take 2 Dave. Yes, we would like to see a positive plan - not a plan from the 20th century (to use the Education Minister's words) but one that reflects the possibilities of the 21st century - with some thought to building for future generations. Diversifying our economy is critical - people can debate the how but not the why any more. Didn't hear anything about that except the CCS investments.

Anonymous said...

Stelmach's speech was so bad that he made David Swann look like Barack Obama in comparison.

Craig said...

A really great and thoughtful article, Dave. Thanks for the read.

Richard Bunky Bell said...

Ya want reality?
Who gives a f#%k eh?
Voters of Alberta are stupid, plain and simple. That's right, I said stupid. They are classless, brain dead, moronic idiots just like the zombies we see in the movies, stumbling down the streets moaning and and reaching out hopelessly for who knows what.
The very existance of the Wild Rose Alliance Party is my proof.
And that's the reality.

Here's more reality.
This royal blue government can do whatever they want and there is not one damned thing anyone can do to stop them.
You and I and every other Albertan are truly powerless.
Yet somehow everyone is so satisfied that they believe that this government is as good as it can possibly get. Nobody can ever make a better government than this one.
It must be because even the idea of wanting a change in government is pointless and simply out of the question.

I personally can't stand the selfish right wing mentality of this province, so my choices are either move out of the province or shut up and be happy because nothing is EVER going to change here in Tory blue Alberta, and trying to effect a change is pointless because the outcome will be the same again and again and again.

I'm not cynical, I'm just tired. All my life I've watched this BS go on. I've watched the people of this province get kicked like worthless dogs and then turn around at election time and kiss the hands that had beaten them down.
I don't have think about what's going to happen in the next election. It doesn't matter what the issues are. I don't have to bother investigating which candidate in my area is best suited to represent me. I already know beyond a doubt who's going to win the next provincial election, And so do you.
If Uncle Eddie wins the PC leadership race even as unpopular
as he is (and I swear he could have a 2% popularity rating) the PCs would still win the next election by a landslide. They could put Hitler in as their leader and they would still win (Sorry about the Hitler thing Eddie).
Your article though well written is pointless.
My comments are pointless.

Any hope is futile. All your dreams are dead.
That's reality.

CrescentHeightsGuy said...

Thanks RB Bell.

There is an unproven idea in circulation that the net migration to Alberta will water down the right wing politics. I suspect the opposite is true – that Alberta exports its native born musicians, artists, writers, intellectuals, liberals (you want examples: Warren Kinsella, Feist, Moe Berg, Calgary Grit, all the cool people I went to the U of C with) to places like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver and in return the rest of Canada sends us their get-rich-quick-and-don’t-make-me-pay-taxes non-citizen consumers. Many of the 3rd generation Albertans I know are Liberals and environmentalists. I was in a meeting at work and the two guys from Alberta were for gun control, and the guys from N.B. and Ontario were pretty much packing heat.

I’ve forgotten what my point was. Are you going to finish those fries?

Justin said...

I've been reading this blog for a long time, but never have I seen a sign off as cool as either of the two above:

"Any hope is futile. All your dreams are dead. That's reality."

"I've forgotten what my point was. Are you going to finish those fries."

Bravo commenters, and thanks for that little dose of awesome.

Tom said...

I didn't expect much but watching Stelmach read directly from the cue cards was painful.

daveberta said...

To be clearer, PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's quote from last night was: "Lowering Premier's salary... good politics, but it hardly makes for a good plan for Albertans."

Interesting that Lukaszuk wasn't kept in the loop before he went on air.

Anonymous said...

Re: Ending tax free allowance

Easier said than done. Allowance is actually a provision of the Income Tax Act that applies to virtually all elected public officials in Canada. Vaguely recall there being some semi-cogent reasons for it, though I can remember the specifics. Repealing it would therefore require either lobbying the feds to amend the ITA to except Alberta MLAs or trying to pass some kind of provincial leg to repeal it, (which would probably be unconstitutional anyway).

Anonymous said...

Dave, you have lived through some bold leadership. When Jean Chretian told George W Bush he could get stuffed & that Canada would have no part in invading Iraq, that was bold.

The man may not come off as a statesman, waving his golf balls in a judge's face and all, but Jean Chretian was the best damn leader I've lived under. He also set in motion some other great things like Canada's eventual recognition of everyone's right to marry who they please, campaign finance reform and a movement towards rational drug crime policy.

Boris said...

Solid work here Dave. There still might be a job for you at the Journal.
Lukaszuk's quote is still accurate. So they lowered their salary, big deal. Pure politics, but at the end of the day, it's pennies compared to the actual budget of the province. With all the noise over the money to the branding campaign, it's way less than the city of Edmonton is spending ($43 million) to upgrade the zoo.
P.S. Careful what you wish for about the Bold Leadership. If you ask people who worked in the GOA when Peter Lougheed was running it, things were way more centralized than even Harper is doing in Ottawa. Guy would have been Boutiliered even faster under Lougheed.

Mark said...

With a 20% turnout in the last election, it's not hopeless, it's just apathy! :D

Anonymous said...

Dave makes some good points here but one that is dead wrong is more money for the auditor general. If everyone is cutting back, the auditor general can live within his own budget too. No exceptions!

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm generally no great fan of the opposition parties' efforts. I often think they do pretty poorly, and I'm not a member of any provincial party. But your criticism of opposition parties not having positive alternatives to offer is bunk. They have policy alternatives galore on virtually every subject (even though some of it may be a bit thin, probably because they don't have big budgets and staff). Your critique is based largely on what you read in the paper or see on the news. But that's driven more by the tactical imperatives of what gets included in the story, and even, ultimately what people want to hear. Conflict is a fundamental news value. If you don't give it, you'll soon disappear, and that's not something the opposition can afford. Secondly, good policy alternatives should be grounded in a solid critique of the government's policies. That's a core part of the opposition's job - to oppose. Conflict is also a fundamental democratic value, and I think you risk underestimating its value in the system. Lives and livelihoods are ultimately at stake, and if people have fundamentally different values and prescriptions about how to approach the options and tradeoffs, this should get heated and partisan. For all your talk about how "hyperpartisan" commentary alienates everybody, it also tends to get people's attention, which is half the least half. Bottom line, done well, "partisan" "attacks" (whatever those two terms mean) often do work. Even people who disapprove in real time of "attacks" are often influenced by the same attack. And that's not even necessarily a bad thing. We need more good, substantive attacks, not less. And if you can sum it up with a clever line or nickname for your opponents, all the better. If it's all there is, if political exchange becomes just name calling, sure, it's not healthy, but your naive post-partisan schtick (which really just seems like a front for mushy headed centrism) is getting really tired.

Oh, and one final note to the Anon above who thinks that it's a good idea, in times of fiscal restraint, when finding waste and efficiencies is more important than ever, for the AG to have a reduced budget...when the AG's mandate and expertise is to find such waste, inefficiencies and improper use of public funds...REALLY? A fearless, well-funded AG is absolutely critical. Notice how Dunn only felt he could express his outrage at this incompetent government when he was on his way out. Gotta love Alberta.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Eddie tried to pull a fast one:

Scott Hennig, Alberta’s director for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said the numbers are misleading.

The so-called salary cuts being suffered by senior politicians only apply to their ministerial pay, Hennig said, adding the politicians also rake in cash through MLA and committee pay.

Part of the MLA pay is tax-free.

The ministerial slash amounts to a 5.4% decrease for the premier.

For cabinet ministers, it is the equivalent of a 3.4 wage cut.

“It was very misleading,” Hennig said. “This caused a lot of confusion and it’s taken what would have been a good news story for the premier and turned it into a bad one.”

Before the pay cut, Stelmach was making $226,265, by the CTA’s estimates. He’s now earning $214,069.

Cabinet ministers, who the CTA estimates were previously bringing in $196,865, now earn $190,474.

Rather than trim their ministerial pay, politicos ought have rescinded a 34% pay hike awarded to cabinet ministers in 2008, Hennig said.

“While it’s tough to applaud a premier and cabinet that gave themselves a 30% pay hike last year for giving back a mere fraction of it, it certainly is a start,” Hennig said.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the release said exactly what they were doing. If Hennig and the Sun and others misread it, how is that Stelmach's fault? And the release was accurate, so how did he pull a fast one?

Clayton said...

Dave Rutherford said it best this morning:

"You can't give yourself a 30%, take away 15% and say you took a hit"

Anonymous said...

This guy has 'Don Getty' written all over him.

A child welfare worker said...

Dave I would like to challenge you to think deeper other than to just simply say “mess inside Children and Youth Services department.” If your statement is based on highly publicized deaths of children in the care of the department I ask you to point out any child welfare jurisdiction in the world that has a perfect record? I only bring this up because if public perception of how well ACYS is doing is based on not hearing about child deaths, then the net effect will be to incentivize ongoing secrecy within the department. This is not to say we don’t have serious issues in the department Dave, but to “clean up the mess” means to some in a position of power to cut the department and shift responsibilities over to families and their extended relatives to offer child protection, and other services to their own kin. How successful do you think this would be ?