EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Alison Redford publicly chastised and announced the demotion of a backbencher Monday for trying to muzzle constituents complaining about their crumbling school.
Redford said she accepted the resignation of Hec Goudreau as chair of a legislature policy committee.
“He offered to resign and I was pleased to take his resignation,” Redford told a news conference.
“It’s not how I believe we should conduct government.
“It doesn’t reflect the way that I’ve ever worked in my life. It’s not the way that I want our caucus to work, our government to work. It doesn’t reflect my values.”
Goudreau continues to represent the sprawling northern riding of Dunvegan-Central Peace.
The move comes three days after a Feb. 9 letter from Goudreau to the Holy Family Catholic School Board was made public.
In it, Goudreau responded to the school board going public with complaints about the dilapidated state of the Holy Family School in Grimshaw.
The school has poor heating and ventilation, flooding, blocked fire exits and sewage problems. Even Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has agreed major work is needed.
But in the letter, Goudreau warned the board such criticism could prove disastrous.
“I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications, as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals,” he wrote.
“This could delay the decision on a new school.”
He later wrote two follow-up letters saying that, in fact, schools are built based on objective need criteria and not political whim.
Goudreau told reporters Monday that the stress of getting the school built, along with other pressures at home and the office, led to the ill-advised missive.
“I certainly regret the first letter. The wording was not as appropriate as I should have used,” he said.
He said the resignation was his idea.
“I thought it was appropriate to do that,” he said. “I can certainly spend more time on the issues of my constituency.”
He said the “individuals” he wrote about in his letter, who might be upset with criticism, are in fact himself, and that he was referring to himself in the third person.
The three-term legislature member said he never previously tried to muzzle or intimidate anyone while serving as a backbencher or minister.
He won the riding by a wide margin, with 52 per cent of the vote, in the 2008 election and is nominated to run again in the next one, which is expected to be called in a couple of weeks.
Lukaszuk disavowed the comments in the letter, saying that schools are picked based on objective criteria of need.
He said they are working to get a new school for Grimshaw, adding that no one should be afraid to criticize the government.
“I welcome criticism. I know our premier welcomes criticism,” said Lukaszuk. “I hope there’s no one out there who feels they’re putting themselves in peril by criticizing this government.”
But opposition politicians said those who speak out against the government do have cause for worry.
They have jumped on the Goudreau letter as smoking-gun evidence of what they term to be mounting evidence of the Progressive Conservative government’s culture of corruption.
In recent weeks, the head of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has said that municipal grant money is doled out based on who is friendly to government.
A report from the Alberta Health Quality Council found doctors who spoke out on poor patient care in recent years have been bullied into keeping quiet or have lost their hospital privileges.
Elections officials are also investigating allegations of improper donations in 10 Tory riding associations.
“The fact Mr. Goudreau felt it was just a matter of course to write a letter like that, that he didn’t even self-edit, that’s why we’re saying it’s a culture of corruption,” said leader Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Party.
“They have created an environment where they don’t even really know that what they’re doing is wrong, because it has become so ingrained. This is just how they do business.”
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the weight of the evidence itself is a statement.
“The PCs are corrupt. They lie. They intimidate. They take illegal campaign donations. They’ve lost the moral authority to govern,” said Sherman.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said Goudreau was not punished for trying to muzzle his constituents.
“He just made the mistake of putting it in writing,” said Mason.
“They can deny it all they want, but it’s how they operate. It’s how they rule this province.”