How much power is enough for our Alberta government? Apparently, the government no longer feels a need for even lip service to the democratic process or constituency representation.
In short, nobody’s vote counts in Alberta anymore, not even that of a senior Tory MLA.
Premier Ed Stelmach staked out his presidential leanings recently when he blindsided cabinet by announcing a ban on tax increases. He also unilaterally cancelled a tax hike he had recently put on alcohol.
In a time of low provincial income, this ties the hands of cabinet considerably, but especially in health care.
When the province shut down all its health regions and put health management under one supreme portfolio — with an appointed CEO — the government knew there would be problems internally.
The chain of events that led to Guy Boutilier being kicked out of the party over the weekend was predictable.
It is not “government” policy that rules health care today, it’s Alberta Health Services, with its appointed CEO and “superboard” that is setting the future of health care for Alberta.
Their decisions could be so controversial, it is deemed necessary to remove them from politics. If politicians had to answer for what’s coming in health care in their ridings, the theory goes, there’d be revolution.
Thus, Tory MLA and former cabinet minister Ty Lund had no knowledge the hospital in Sundre would have its helipad shut down.
The supreme powers behind the decision are so unused to explaining themselves, they couldn’t even produce a believable story out as to why.
So Lund was able to stand up for his constituents and be critical of what happened — and survive.
That’s one thing. But setting back for four years a health care project that had already been approved is quite another.
The Fort McMurray region, population 100,000, has no long-term care facility. Lund and the people of Sundre can probably swallow the “feds-did-it” baloney that AHS gave them over the helipad. But Boutilier simply could not take the baloney sandwich he was given that there are so few old people in Wood Buffalo that they don’t need a long-term care facility. If that were true, why was it approved in the first place?
Boutilier is a 12-year Tory MLA with broad support in his constituency. That’s not an easy thing to do, even in Alberta. He’s a former mayor of Fort McMurray, a city with tremendous internal problems due to its far-north location, explosive economic growth, lack of infrastructure and the social ills associated with big, sudden wealth.
When he discovered that the long-term care project was off the books — after being announced for approval in January 2008 — Boutlilier chose his constituents over the baloney.
“I’ve spoken directly to the premier and the minister of health, and I indicated to the minister of health that it is gibberish and the information the bureaucrats are feeding him (is) incorrect — and that seems to be a habit these days,” Boutilier said.
Stelmach couldn’t allow an MLA to let local politics get in the way of health-care reform, so he personally and unilaterally punted Boutilier.
First a unilateral decree on taxes, then shutting out MLAs on decisions with a high impact on their ridings, and now the punting of Boutilier. Do we have the message?
Ralph Klein was a bully; he even bullied his own caucus.
Stelmach doesn’t even see a need for caucus to govern anymore; he just named himself president.
How much power is enough? Maybe we’ll find out at the Tory party leadership review this November.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.