Brilliant, but a bit too late

The spirited performance of Premier Ed Stelmach during his visit to Red Deer causes one to ask where this guy’s been all this time?

The spirited performance of Premier Ed Stelmach during his visit to Red Deer causes one to ask where this guy’s been all this time?

Stelmach’s emphatic defence of Bills 19, 36 and 50 as enhancements of landowner rights, his emotional hearkening to roots as the son of immigrants who were landless serfs in Ukraine, his defiance of the cost-cutters in building his last budget . . . this isn’t the Ed Stelmach who won the leadership of Canada’s longest-running political dynasty.

In Red Deer, we saw the premier who Alberta had been waiting for, after drifting through the last listless years of Ralph Klein’s 12-year reign.

Unfortunately for the Tories, it’s hard to see how this final-act aria can save the show’s 40-year run.

It’s also hard to see how — with 40 years experience in drafting legislation, and with a civil service that has never worked for anything but the same political master through two career lifetimes — that such a large portion of the province could misinterpret the government’s surface-rights agenda so badly.

How can a group like UPTAG read these bills and conclude that cabinet can deem a farmer’s field ripe for expropriation without consultation, without even having to show need, when cabinet itself is saying the exact opposite?

“This is absolute bull—-,” said the premier during his visit to Red Deer on Wednesday. “It’s not true. Bill 19 gives better landowner rights to farm than ever before. It’s the best landowner protection in the country of Canada.”

Yes, well . . . haven’t Alberta premiers also said Alberta has the best environmental protection laws in the country?

But Stelmach assures us that all information to the contrary is pure misinformation. That would put the land-rights lobby in a league inhabited by conspiracy theorists, hunched over keyboards mining Google for evidence that today’s weather is proof there is no global warming.

“We’re going to set this record straight and we’re going to introduce amendments in the house that, no matter what the lawyer is, cannot misinterpret the legislation.”

If this is true, if we can interpret this to mean landowner rights are going to be enshrined in law better than they are now, that’s terrific news.

Funny, though, that a government with 40 years experience drafting legislation didn’t do that the first time. That a government with 40 years of lessons learned about effective governance could not have communicated their real intentions from the start.

A better performance from Stelmach concerns his determination that Alberta will continue its investments in infrastructure, to prepare Alberta’s roads, schools and hospitals for the next provincial boom. He’s not going to scared off by “drunken sailor” protests, and use reserve funds set aside for this purpose — before we hit a crisis, not after.

This, we like. Ever since Klein obsessed with paying the entire provincial debt in time for the Queen’s last visit, the Alberta government has made our boom-and-bust cycles worse, not better.

Klein shut down spending in hard times, when spending was needed, and opened the taps in boom years, raising the cost of the boom for everyone. Then, crash, everything was shut down again.

Our physical infrastructure and our civic planning resources were totally unprepared for the population boom and rapid development in the days of high energy prices.

This time, it looks like the Alberta government is getting it right. Build now, when it’s cheaper, and we’ll be ready to roll the trucks when industry needs them to move.

But trust has been broken here. It’s just too much to believe that so many loyal Tory voters could feel this badly betrayed, without cause.

This was worth a standing ovation, but it still feels like the show is over.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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