If I could make only one wish for a child, I’d wish him the quality of lovingness – Dr. Benjamin Spock
As 2020 draws to a close, most of our attention has been on the pandemic. But it is hard to overlook the childish behaviour of Alberta’s provincial politicians.
There are sharp ideological divides between the United Conservatives (UCP) and the New Democrats (NDs). The UCP are repealing NDs’ legislative agenda and are approving new policies on the right of the political spectrum. And the strategies of the parties are at odds. The UCP wants to move quickly and the NDs aim to slow legislation down.
But sadly, beyond policy and strategy differences, the two sides have filled the atmosphere with half-truths, spin and personal animosity. The arguments aren’t “I am right – you are wrong” – policy discussion has descended into “I am good – you are bad”!
The Legislature’s debates are often about the ‘blame game’ they are sometimes outright infantile. One MLA became so irritated by another member making faces that she called him out; and was bounced for the day for unparliamentary language. Even the Legislative Committee meetings, once the place for genuine dialogue often become infected with this discord.
Question Period has no parental controls. It is home to “gotcha questions” and “talking point” answers. It is a challenge to watch these behaviours without wanting to make them all go stand in a corner.
Twitter has become a place for slinging mudpies. While both sides are guilty, perhaps the worst part of that puddle is that taxpayer funded government workers are paid to launch personal attacks at MLAs, citizens and spread partisan spin!
Alberta’s problems of health care have resulted in temper tantrums. The Health Minister seems perpetually hostile. The government ‘took its ball and went home’ by cancelling its funding agreement with doctors and unilaterally making payment changes. Even when the pandemic struck, the attacks on the doctors continued. The approach was so negative it caused the doctors to take out newspaper advertisements in defense.
Negotiations between nurses and government stalled out. Government wanted an extension to bargaining deadlines, but the nurses’ union said ‘no soap’ when government would not reciprocate by postponing significant layoffs. The Finance Minister pouted; the nurses are: “rejecting stability during a pandemic”.
Alberta’s conflict with Ottawa has sounded like a playground spat. The Premier decided to criticize Canada’s Chief Medical Officer and he pushed further to announce that Alberta might not wait for federal approval of COVID-19 vaccines. Then, petulant Alberta decided not to endorse the national infection tracing phone app. Some government MLA’s turned up their noses at “Trudeau’s app”.
The Premier had a meltdown over Michigan’s legal challenge to an Enbridge pipeline. Targeting Governor Whitmer, (an ally of the incoming US President), he felt it necessary to say: “I mean, how brain-dead do you have to be to try to shut off your largest source of energy?”
The Auditor General’s (AG) annual report pointed out some pretty serious juvenile delinquencies:
- The UCP moved the date of payments for 170,000 welfare recipients from a few days before the end of the month to the first of the next month. The idea was to make the welfare department’s budget look better at year end.
- The government fudged the numbers related to selling off rail cars by misstating $637 million in expenses.
- The UCP skewed the real timing of $100 million payment to backstop the Keystone XL pipeline.
- A troubled refinery deal has resulted in a $795 million expense that wasn’t properly accounted
- The so-called Energy War Room was apparently very cavalier about issuing sole source contracts.
We are suffering a really tough economy, and the pandemic has cost lives and livelihoods. So, for 2021, here are a few resolutions for severely normal Albertans:
- Let’s not tolerate Ministers making nuisance phone calls or haranguing people on their driveways
- Let’s ask the politicians to replace the accusatory “You” with “Your ideas” in their deliberations
- Let’s ask the UCP to re-write the job descriptions of issues managers and communications staff to exclude personal attacks on taxpayers and opposition MLAs.
- Let’s ask government departments for scrupulously honest budgets and financial accounting
- Let’s expect better behaviour from our political leaders.
- Let’s remind our government they work for all of us, not just their voting base.