Alberta’s new reality

Bill Lough, president of the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services, gave voice to a demand that all governments elsewhere in Canada face routinely: give us what we want or we’ll vote you out. That’s been said in Alberta before, in letters to the editor and in small group gatherings, but in reality it’s never had much force — nor even much conviction.

Bill Lough, president of the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services, gave voice to a demand that all governments elsewhere in Canada face routinely: give us what we want or we’ll vote you out.

That’s been said in Alberta before, in letters to the editor and in small group gatherings, but in reality it’s never had much force — nor even much conviction.

In Alberta, griping about government is about as effective as griping about this past winter, which has been here longer than we care to remember and just won’t go away.

But for the second time in a month, a significant protest gathering marched in Red Deer demanding something the government seems unprepared to give: cancelling the shutdown of Michener Centre.

This is not an Occupy group, Council of Canadians or other similar group that has taken to the streets. I happen to believe government does indeed pay attention to public interest and protest groups, but in Alberta, members of such organizations don’t generally vote Tory, so there’s no power behind anything they demand.

However, the Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services — and for that matter (I surmise) a significant portion of prison guards picketing on the same day, Tuesday — are part of that large group of true blue voters the Tories cannot afford to lose.

Lough said as much. “We’re going to tunnel under the fortress of the (Progressive Conservatives) and look for the soft underbelly. We’re going to make them think and make them realize we are voters. We voted them in. We can vote them out.”

Therein lies the catch-22 of democracy that has finally caught up with the Alberta government.

In other jurisdictions, when significant numbers of voters gather to say what they want, government is under pressure to provide it. But no government anywhere can give people everything they want, not without angering a large group of other voters.

A whole lot of people are looking at the money being spent housing the fragile and aging Michener residents, and suggesting quite a few million dollars a year could be saved using other means of care.

Saving taxpayers money has become important in Alberta once again, and if you’re looking for the soft underbelly of this government, look for a label that reads: “Spending.”

It was interesting to see two Wildrose MLAs at the protest Tuesday. They represent another side of the catch-22 that governments face.

Wildrose makes daily condemnations of the Alberta government for the way it spends money. Yet here were Joe Anglin and Kerry Towle, demanding that the expense at Michener continue — and hoping to build party support by doing so.

No talk here about privatizing long-term care, no siree. They’re solidly with the provincial labour union and families of residents on this one. And if you’re ready to believe that, then by all means vote Wildrose.

If the NDP is consistently ignored by both government and voters, at least their leader Brian Mason’s comments at this protest are consistent. “The government has allocated in this year’s budget $10 million not to keep (Michener) open, but to close it. They have announced that this is actually a budget decision. It’s not driven by improving care for the people in Michener.”

Opposition groups on the right and the left are free to interpret the decision to close Michener in ways that fit their ideology. But if either were government, they would face the same catch-22 the Tories face now.

You can’t always give people what they want.

Government has an obligation to do what’s right for the residents currently living at Michener. I’m not qualified to judge what that would be, but doing what’s right should include consulting the families and guardians of those residents.

After that, it’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t. In all other parts of Canada, that’s called government. It’s taken a long time for this to catch up to Alberta.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.