Not business as usual

If you think governments or political parties don’t listen to their critics, you need to pay attention to what came out of the two provincial party meetings held in Alberta over the weekend.

If you think governments or political parties don’t listen to their critics, you need to pay attention to what came out of the two provincial party meetings held in Alberta over the weekend.

That, plus our federal government’s behaviour at the meeting this weekend of the leaders of the G20 group in Australia.

If you haven’t been paying attention to them, here’s some assurance that they are paying at least some attention to you.

I’m heartened by the confluence of these events. I think democracy in Canada might just have gotten a bit stronger over the weekend. So let’s pay attention and see how things work out.

Traditionally, the annual general meetings of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party have been pretty happy affairs. Not so much in the past couple of years, perhaps, but this weekend’s party meeting in Banff reminded me of meetings past.

A premier and party leader in full control of the agenda. A nice standing O for former leader Dave Hancock (and no mention of Alison Redford). Confidence, all round, but the reports I saw contained less swagger than in the past.

Other than Prentice’s comment that Albertans sleep better with the province in Tory hands, those of us still awake want to see government working a little harder. And Prentice seems to be getting that.

He promised in a CBC interview that he’s not going to be the kind of premier who hangs around for a couple questions in the legislature and then leaves. He says he’s seen that we want him to be available and answerable, even in the noise and swordplay of question period.

He’s not going to “snap back” at cheap shots, he says, and he expects his cabinet colleagues to follow suit. Watch and see.

In the Red Deer meeting of the opposition Wildrose Party, we got the promise that there will be less negativity from them in the coming months, and a greater elaboration of policy alternatives.

At a meeting that might not have gone well at all for leader Danielle Smith, we got a tone of second chances, rather than ultimatums. Even though Smith gave the party a sort of ultimatum of her own as the meeting began.

Two hard-fought election battles into their history, and two decisive defeats later, Wildrose could easily have collapsed on itself. But it didn’t, at least publicly. There was far less internal strife reported than could have been the case. Far less recrimination and finger-pointing, and more forward thinking.

Smith promised that a third defeat would be her last; she either emerges from the next general election as premier or as a footnote of history. That assures that the long knives stay hidden, for now.

Again, we’ll see.

But with Prentice’s promise of more decorum from the ruling party, and the opposition’s promise of more debate on policy alternatives, the next session of the legislature might actually produce a working government.

Isn’t that what we’ve been saying we wanted for the past few years?

And speaking of leaders who give us what we want, I’ll take it as a positive that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to talk about the need for action on climate change at the G20 summit without looking positively ill.

OK, Canada has no policy regarding climate change. But now there will be funding from Canada for action on the issue for developing nations. When you’re starting from zero, even a one is a step forward.

At previous summits, Harper wouldn’t have even been in the room if climate change was likely to be mentioned. I say the change came because the federal party has been paying attention, even while they pretended not to, while pretending to pay attention. Catch my drift?

Harper knows we appreciate him being a tough guy, confronting Vladimir Putin over Russian activities in Ukraine.

But what we really want is some assurance that he understands Canadians are as worried about climate change as everyone else in the world. Call me a rose-coloured optimist here, but this could be evidence of a thawing process. Let’s watch and see.

And that’s the whole point today. If you pay attention, I think you’ll find that government pays attention, too.

How bad do things have to get in government before people start paying attention?

In Alberta, we found that out about two years ago.

Lobby groups and self-appointed watchdogs can bark all they want, but you won’t see a change in government attitude until they notice that you’re noticing.

You may want honest, civil government, but it won’t come until governors truly believe they’re being widely watched — and widely judged.

On a variety of levels, we seem to have their attention now. So pay attention back. See what the next months bring — and expect that it’s not business as usual.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email

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