A warm welcome back to the conservative government of Alberta’s past. It’s been four years and change. We’ve missed you.
Hopefully, absence has made the heart grow fonder for the traditional comforts of a conservative dynasty in Alberta: Cozy sole-sourced contracts, politicians who preach austerity and spend lavishly on themselves, that general aura of shamelessness …
It’s all rushing back now, in the same way a sip of warm milk can instantly bring you back to your days of fuzzy-footed pyjamas. It just feels right, you know?
And noxious political manoeuvres in Alberta – such as effectively merging two right-wing parties behind voters’ backs to neuter your opposition, to pick a random example – just feels so familiar, so right.
It should not be shocking, then, that the United Conservative Party would use an omnibus bill to fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, who has been investigating Premier Jason Kenney’s 2017 UCP leadership campaign. The allegation at the crux of the investigation is that Mr. Kenney’s campaign arranged for a “kamikaze” candidate, Jeff Callaway, to weaken chief rival Brian Jean before dropping out and throwing his support behind Mr. Kenney.
Mr. Gibson was fired once before, by a Progressive Conservative government, in fact. That was back in 2009, when Mr. Gibson was the chief electoral officer behind a couple of damning reports chronicling election procedural chaos and illegal campaign donations. Then, as now, Mr. Gibson learned of his firing from the media. Are we feeling nostalgic yet?
It also should not be surprising that the government would invoke closure right from the get-go to limit debate on the bill that will see to all sorts of changes beyond just tossing the election commissioner. The old PC government wasn’t particularly fond of wasting time in the legislature with frivolities such as “the democratic process,” anyway. There were other important things to do, such as approving floor plans for luxury suites and figuring out how to spend their 30 per cent raises.
It is, however, mildly remarkable that the UCP opted to provide an actual reason for turfing Mr. Gibson, as opposed to just a shrug.
The explanation provided by Finance Minister Travis Toews – that it will save money – is not a particularly good one, mind you. The government estimates the move will save Alberta’s coffers roughly $1-million over five years, or $200,000 a year, which is a rather insignificant amount for the head of someone who, coincidentally, has already levied more than $200,000 in fines – which go back into Alberta’s coffers – against UCP members.
But credit to the UCP anyway for at least offering a somewhat plausible explanation. They could have just laughed and said: “Because he was investigating us, duh” and hardly been worse for the wear.
That’s because we are still in the early days of a new conservative government in Alberta, where the Premier has a strong majority mandate and a scapegoat still fresh in the rear-view mirror. The UCP has absorbed its opposition from the right, destroyed its opposition from the left and is ready to trudge ahead to the past. And as long as Mr. Kenney delivers on the most critical aspect of his mandate – that is, not being Rachel Notley – he should be able to weather all sorts of scandals, just like the many conservative governments that came before him.
So while yes, Mr. Kenney spent $16,000 of Albertans’ money to charter a flight for a couple of Conservative premiers to fly from Calgary to Saskatoon; and indeed, a senior aide in his office billed taxpayers more than $45,000 in travel expenses in half a year; and no, his government won’t look into how Alberta’s public inquiry commissioner ended up awarding a $905,000 sole-source contract to a law firm where the commissioner’s son is a partner – the important thing to remember here is that all of this happened while the governing party had a “C” in its name. That is perhaps its best defence.
Alberta recently tried the devil it didn’t know and, fairly or not, it didn’t like her. Mr. Kenney represents a return to the days of provincial prosperity, where the leadership is unafraid to stand up for oil and gas and proudly lobby for Alberta’s interests to a sometimes-hostile government in Ottawa. Albertans aren’t going to turn on Mr. Kenney now – not with lingering economic uncertainty and festering feelings of Western alienation. And the Premier knows it.
That’s why his government can be so brazen as to axe the commissioner investigating the party; and why it will spend lavishly and shrug off impropriety as if it wouldn’t have been intolerable under an NDP government. It’s expected, familiar, like a mug of warm milk. Albertans have their conservative dynasty back, and evidently Mr. Kenney believes they won’t let go.
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