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Alberta opposition locked-and-loaded as spring election looms

If Alberta's opposition parties were looking for some firepower to attack the long-ruling Progressive Conservative government, ammunition seems to conveniently keep dropping at their doorsteps as the province heads toward a spring election.

The latest comes after a dustup over an aging, crumbling school in northwestern Alberta, which resulted Monday in the resignation Tory MLA Hector Goudreau as chairman of the cabinet policy committee on community development as a result of some questionable letter-writing.

"He offered to resign and I was pleased to take his resignation," Premier Alison Redford told reporters, "It's not how I believe that we should conduct government."

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Mr. Goudreau, who represents Dunvegan-Central Peace, dispatched a missive dated Feb. 9 to Betty Turpin, superintendent of the Holy Family Catholic School Division.

Ms. Turpin had previously talked to local media about problems at Grimshaw's Holy Family School, where among other deficiences, children have to wear their jackets indoors and their hands get too cold to hold pens. She had also asked Mr. Goudreau to find out during question period in the legislature whether funding was forthcoming.

"In order for your community to have the opportunity to receive a new school, you and your school board will have to be very diplomatic from here on out," he responded.

"I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communication as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals," he added, "This could delay the decision on a new school."

A few days later, Mr. Goudreau sent two more letters, which were far more conciliatory in tone and described his initial letter as "inappropriate."

Mr. Goudreau's office said he was not available for comment Monday.

His letters came as the government was embarrassed by a row involving Linda Sloan, the president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, who suggested grant money is linked to partisanship. At the time, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths had issued his own letter, which pledged to boycott the association's breakfast event, and Stephen Carter, Ms. Redford's then chief of staff, now election campaign organizer, turned to Twitter to accuse Ms. Sloan of lying. Ms. Redford later forced Mr. Carter to apologize, while Ms. Sloan and Mr. Griffiths patched up their differences.

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On Monday, Ms. Redford dismissed that incident as comparable to the Goudreau letter. It raised issues of concern, she said, adding she was pleased with the outcome.

Meanwhile, the Health Quality Council of Alberta, which had been probing problems in the health care system, issued a scathing report in which it found evidence of doctor intimation and silencing.

Ms. Redford ordered a judicial inquiry, but it will focus on the issue of queue jumping. Issues of bullying may come out in that probe, she said in response to critics who accused her of flip-flopping on her leadership campaign promise. John Z. Vertes, a former senior judge of N.W.T. Supreme Court, was named inquiry head on Monday.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said if the opposition parties can demonstrate a trend, it could be persuasive to voters.

"The biggest argument that any opposition parties has is, it's time for change, that this is the pattern of 40 year one-party government," Prof. Bratt said.

The left and the right in Alberta has spent a lot of time lately linking these incidents together to accuse the government of being a bully.

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Official Opposition Liberal leader Raj Sherman, a former emergency room who said he'd seen the bullying first-hand, accused the government of running the province like "warlords." The Wildrose Party is now issuing press releases with the logo "stop the PC culture of corruption" and its leader, Danielle Smith, has said the government uses "thug tactics." Citing the Goudreau incident, the NDP called government decision making "discretionary, arbitrary and political."

Ms. Redford rejected allegations of a culture of bullying within her government.

"It doesn't reflect the way that I've ever worked in my life," she said, "It's not the way that I want our caucus to work, our government to work. It doesn't reflect my values."

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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