Friday, November 30, 2012

The Wildrose Nightmare, or why I'm glad these clowns didn't form government

The local news has been inundated in recent months with stories from the legislature about comments and questions raised by the Wildrose party with respect to the governing Progressive Conservative party. The most recent allegations have been directed specifically at Alison Redford, the Premier of Alberta and leader of the PC party, but other allegations have included the improper raising of a criminal sexual assault case in the Airdrie area, by that area's MLA, Rob Anderson of the Wildrose party, where the charges were stayed by the Crown. It was improper because (1) Mr. Anderson is the party's finance critic, not its Justice critic; and (2) it was raised in a manner contrary to the rules of the Legislature. I am not in a position to comment on the merits of the case, so I will not do so, (in the interest of full disclosure, I do work as a prosecutor, so I do know a few things about the file in question, as well as the inner workings of justice) but when Mr. Anderson raises the issue under the auspices of claiming that the reason for staying the charges had to do with underfunding the Justice portfolio, when at the same time his party ran on a platform of rolling back government salaries to save costs, it sounds an awful lot like he's talking out of both sides of his face at the same time.

Returning specifically to the allegations that address Ms. Redford directly, there have been several allegations about extravagant spending expensed to the government, the most recent involving Ms. Redford's sister, who was working for the Calgary Health Region at the time the expenses were incurred, and who now works for Alberta Health Services. The Wildrose makes the suggestion that the spending occurred on Ms. Redford's watch and that she is somehow responsible for it. Ms. Redford is the one who called for the inquiry into government expenses, but apparently because she went to breakfast with her sister shortly after being elected to the legislature, Wildrose takes the position that she is now complicit and has to answer for all the expenses referenced in the investigation. As Ms. Redford has quite rightly pointed out, she as no direct knowledge of what was expensed, nor is she aware of what the expense policy was at the time. While some might say this is analogous to Cain and Abel and the whole "Am I my brother's keeper?" argument raised by Cain following his murder of Abel, the real questions should be directed to the persons who approved and authorized payment of these expenses.

The analogy would be more properly drawn to a situation where my brother and I work in different divisions of the same company. I join the company after my brother has been working for it for several years. My position is temporary and graded on performance. Shortly after joining, my brother takes me to breakfast and pays for it using his company credit card. The years pass and I am upwardly mobile, eventually making my way to CEO of the whole company. An investigation into the finances of the company occurs, as the debt level has increased beyond normal levels. That investigation uncovers the fact that my brother has expensed some items, that while not illegal and not contrary to policy, may have influenced the company and possibly been indirectly responsible for my rise through the ranks. Some shareholders are calling for me to take responsibility for my brother's actions. In what universe is that even logical? How does one breakfast, which I may or may not have known was paid for by the company, put me on the hook for the whole of my brother's actions? It's absurd, but so is political life most of the time.

The most recent allegations against Ms. Redford are of conflict of interest; specifically, that when Ms. Redford was Justice minister, she approved the appointment of a consortium of lawyers for the purpose of recovering health expenses from tobacco companies. The appointment itself is innocuous, but what is being alleged as a conflict is that Ms. Redford's ex-husband is a partner in one of the firms. Let me preface my comments on this issue by saying that conflict of interest is a far more complicated issue than has been portrayed in the media, whom I consider fully complicit in this "smear" campaign, particularly the CBC. They were the ones who requested the documents that paint Ms. Redford in an unfavourable light, and they continue to pursue the story in an effort to generate controversy, even after having interviewed experts in the field of conflict of interest, some tied to the Wildrose party who take the position that, while the optics of Ms. Redford's involvement in the decision-making process don't look great, ultimately she did nothing wrong. Yet the Wildrose continues to waste time in the legislature by smearing the ruling party.

What the Wildrose fails to consider is, by wasting legislature time by continuing in this vein and not establishing how Wildrose would avoid such controversy if it was the ruling party, it comes across to the public as mudslinging for mudslinging's sake. It does nothing to build on the Wildrose's voter base and may actually erode it. We have just endured what may be one of the nastiest US elections in history, which burned me out politically. in provincial politics, I am to the point that every time I hear the name Danielle Smith, I turn off the radio, switch channels or turn on my iPod. I can't stand the sound of her voice; it sounds like a shrieking harpy or wailing banshee to my ears. That's not how to get the body politic interested. I knew Rob Anderson in law school. He's a bright guy, and while I don't understand why he crossed the floor in 2010, I know it's not a decision he would have made lightly. The Rob Anderson I knew in law school doesn't come across in the sound bites of the media, which is a shame. I honestly hope he hasn't changed too much, because the image given to me by the media is a narrow-minded person who wants to party like it's 1994; who refuses to follow proper legislative process because it doesn't get the knee-jerk reaction the party wants. I sincerely hope that the media is distorting the message (which they are wont to do), although I cannot rule out the other possibility.

So any of my friends who are Wildrose supporters, consider this: a new party in the legislature always has potential, but that potential is being squandered right now in destructive, media-baiting mudslinging. If this continues, you will never form government.