Losing focus on the job

Mary Anne Jablonski wants to focus on serving her constituents in Red Deer North, never mind all the political bickering.

Mary Anne Jablonski wants to focus on serving her constituents in Red Deer North, never mind all the political bickering.

It’s a lofty goal, and one that parliamentarians at all levels in this country too rarely strive for — or attain.

The problem, of course, is that the bickering goes to the root of what is wrong with the system: a lack of transparency, accountability and respect. Just imagine the chaos that would occur at your workplace or your home if it was dominated by such a climate.

Too few members of Alberta’s legislature, for example, seem interested in conducting themselves in the way that Jablonski suggests.

The same critique can also be applied to far too many members of all parties representing Canadians in Ottawa.

“My job is to represent the people of Red Deer North and to work for them,” the Progressive Conservative MLA told the Advocate last week when asked about the Opposition Wildrose Party attempting to solicit funds from an Olds College administrator, in violation of fundraising rules.

“I have issues I have to take back to the legislature and get some work done for them,” she said. “This sort of stuff I don’t think makes any type of progress. I don’t think it’s positive in any way, shape or form.”

That’s pretty succinct. And it’s a message worth heeding if you are a public representative — except, of course, that it runs smack into the reality of party politics, particularly when a majority government is involved.

If you were going to build a model of effective government — where representatives are accountable to voters, where issues are openly and honestly debated, and decisions are made in a transparent fashion — it would look far more like the municipal framework than the parliamentary one.

But party politics have turned provincial and federal decision-making into an in-camera game, in which decision-making rests with cabinet and, occasionally, caucus of the party in power. And an on-camera game, in which fingers are pointed and disparaging words are spoken, often quite apart from the business of governance.

The opposition, for the most part, are left to poke at government members during question period, and through the press. If they want answers to their questions, and the questions that voters are asking of them, then these are the available forums.

It is not uncommon, of course, for cabinet ministers (the prime targets during question period) to obfuscate, stonewall or simply disappear.

This week, the Wildrose Party released a wanted poster, seeking an unlikely suspect: Premier Alison Redford.

Her crime? Ducking the legislature, and question period — or simply refusing to answer questions put to her in the house.

NDP Leader Brian Mason says that Redford has answered just two of the last 17 questions put to her in the house. She has been in the house for only about half of the question periods since the spring.

Redford is busy doing Alberta’s business elsewhere, with other leaders at home and abroad, says Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

By comparison, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says that Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has not missed question period this fall.

While it’s not reasonable to expect Redford to be in the house at all times (selling Alberta abroad and defending our interests elsewhere in the country are vital roles of a premier), there should be a balance that shows respect for the process and the electorate.

And let us not forget that Redford has repeatedly said that transparency is a cornerstone principle of her government.

Yet increasingly, as the knives are drawn, Redford and the Conservatives seem to withdraw.

They would be better served — and provide better service — if they took notice of Jablonski’s mantra: “I prefer to spend my time and my efforts working for the people who elected me.”

What a refreshing — and uncommon — notion.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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