Complacent no more

So much for complacency. Less than two weeks ago, we suggested that Albertans might be too complacent to make an issue of the fact that 21 Alberta members of a government committee received money for nothing.

So much for complacency.

Less than two weeks ago, we suggested that Albertans might be too complacent to make an issue of the fact that 21 Alberta members of a government committee received money for nothing.

The current members of the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing met five times in 2008, for a total of four hours and 38 minutes.

They have not met since and had no other discernible committee duties, but until recently were paid $1,000 a month for their membership on this body.

Based on years of voter indifference over government mismanagement, waste and arrogance, it seemed likely that heedless grabbing at public money by a committee that did not meet for 39 months would flash and fizzle.

But the outcry proved more powerful, and the court of public opinion ultimately was harsh, swift and just.

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ray Prins, at the vortex of this controversy as chair of the committee (for which he received an additional $500 a month, for a total of $18,000 a year), has demonstrated just how harsh, swift and just.

Late Tuesday, the Conservative announced he would not seek re-election in the riding he has represented since 2004.

Certainly public opinion moves with more surety and quickness than the sloth that is government — and party — decision-making.

The belated Conservative caucus decision to have its members who sat on the committee pay back their cheques retroactive to last October (when Premier Alison Redford took over) seemed too little, too late.

Certainly opposition members on the committee thought so, several having already returned the entire amount gained by sitting on the idle committee over more than three years.

Ask Prins how much more powerful and efficient public opinion can be.

In the letter announcing his imminent departure from provincial politics, he wrote how the revelations about committee pay “resulted in the media, opposition parties and the public questioning my integrity as a person and an MLA.”

Prins heard the message delivered in newspapers, on Twitter, on websites and open-line talk shows.

No doubt he heard it from constituents in his riding office, on the phone and on the street.

And it wasn’t just the people of Lacombe-Ponoka — Albertans of all political stripes, from all corners of the province, joined the chorus to denounce the pay-for-nothing gang.

But for many people in the provincial riding of Lacombe-Ponoka, and a growing group of Albertans (who pay members of the legislature), the concerns run deeper than this committee or Prins.

It is about the Conservative dynasty’s attitude of entitlement.

It’s the party’s lack of understanding that government should be about stewardship.

It’s the inability or unwillingness to consistently behave in a way that earns and keeps the public trust.

(Certainly the opposition is not blameless in this mess. Until the Canadian Taxpayers Federation blew the whistle on this committee earlier this month, opposition members were just as happy to take the money and run. None of them sounded the alarm about waste and mismanagement over the 39 months.)

By resigning, Prins avoids having to put his record and his reputation before voters this spring in a provincial election.

Before the spring is out, his fellow Conservative caucus members who remain in the glare of this scandal may wish they had joined him.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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