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The Santa Clause: A holiday gift of biting humour from Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley

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Rachel Notley

No one can say Rachel Notley hasn't upped the Alberta NDP's game since she was elected party leader in October.

Yesterday, the provincial New Democrats put out a biting public statement on their proposed amendments to Premier Jim Prentice's so-called Alberta Accountability Act that was funny enough to make me laugh out loud.

The Progressive Conservative government's Bill 2, as noted in this space earlier today, seems to have been designed mainly for show to smooth over the horrible impression left by the scandals that erupted under the leadership of former premier Alison Redford.

There's a case to be made satire and politics don't mix -- leastways when the satire is being provided by politicians themselves -- but I think readers will agree that the NDP's approach to its quite serious amendments will stick in the minds of any Albertans who have been actually paying attention to the operations of our government these past few years.

Premier Prentice, needless to say, is unlikely to be amused.

The news release, like the setup for any good punch line, was delivered deadpan, metaphorically speaking. It began: "In response to PC legislation claiming to increase government accountability, NDP Leader Rachel Notley called for a series of changes that would effectively protect Albertans from several forms of inappropriate behaviour demonstrated by the PCs over the last several years."

Many of the "necessary clauses" the NDP says are required to bring the legislation up to snuff are named for the PC members and insiders whose shenanigans gave rise to the need for the amendments. These include:

-    The Katz Clause, named for Edmonton Oilers owner and drugstore billionaire Daryl Katz -- "changing the Elections Financing Act to prevent massive vote-buying donations."

-    The Sandhu Clause, named for PC-Independent-PC MLA Peter Sandhu -- "changing the Conflicts of Interest Act to ensure that no member uses their position to lobby on an issue that directly impacts their financial interests."

-    The Dirks Clause, named for Education Minister Gordon Dirks -- "fixing the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections or by-elections."

-    The Redford Clause, named, of course, for former premier Redford -- "changing the Conflicts of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from involvement in decisions that benefit political confidantes."

-    The Berger Clause, named for defeated PC cabinet minister Evan Berger -- "expressly prohibiting the waiving of cooling-off periods for former political staff or former MLAs and cabinet ministers."

There are other clauses, and they can be read in the party's news release. The actual details of all the proposed NDP amendments -- which despite being sound policy that would actually help Bill 2 do what Premier Prentice says it will do are doomed to be defeated by the PC majority in the Legislature -- are found here.

News media reported some of the NDP's suggestions, interestingly, but for the most part didn't dare to repeat the news release's barbed tone.

"Each of our recommended changes corresponds to an obvious breach of the public trust on the part of this PC government," Notley was quoted as saying dryly at the end of the NDP statement. "This isn’t rocket science -- it's just making the changes that are necessary for Albertans to believe that this government is actually taking accountability seriously."

The NDP news release, however, did not mention the most egregious part of Bill 2, that is, the fact the proposed rules for governing such important policy areas as sole-source contracts and political advisors' salaries will be embedded in the regulations of the Treasury Board, which by law are not subject to access requests by the public and media under Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

It wouldn't be a complete surprise, however, if that topic came up in the House today.

Also missing from Bill 2, if you didn't happen to notice, was Prentice's other big promise for that particular piece of legislation -- term limits for MLAs.

That idea appears to have been quietly abandoned as unconstitutional, as was pointed out to Prentice almost the instant the words left his mouth back in the summertime when he was still running for the leadership of the PC party.

Meanwhile, in completely unrelated news, yesterday was marked by the United Nations to be International Anti-Corruption Day.

+ + +

The 'Price Trough' is the new 'Bitumen Bubble'

When Alison Redford was at the helm, Alberta had a "Bitumen Bubble" that was going to pop the province's budgeting plans. Now we have Jim Prentice in the same office and we're going to have to dig our way out of a "price trough."

Prentice gave the bad news yesterday in his "State of the Province Message" to one of Alberta’s real legislative assemblies -- the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

Oil prices have plunged, dropped, fallen, collapsed, skidded, plummeted like an elevator with a broken cable, the premier told 700 of the best burghers of E-Town, so once again our government is going to "have to make some tough decisions and the impact will be felt in every corner of this province."

When you've been around as long as I have, you begin to get a little cynical about how right-wing governments like Prentice's keep changing the reasons for the same story.

When it comes to public spending, at least, when Alberta is in one of its periodic busts, there's no money for infrastructure and public programs so we'll need to wait till the economy is booming.

When the economy is booming, alas, everything costs too much and there are no workers, so we'll need to wait until things cool off.

Repeat as required. Nothing will be done, however, to smooth out these usually predictable revenue peaks and valleys. Read our lips: There will be no new taxes. Ever.

Well, I'll give him this, the drop in oil prices has been steeper than the government of Alberta expected and it is real, although it is said here it's unlikely to be long lived.

Whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is pumping crude like crazy to put the U.S. shale oil gas industry out of business as has been theorized by some (highly unlikely) or with the encouragement of the U.S. Government to make the sanctions imposed on Russia bite (certainly part of the story), here's betting it won't last for long.

You may have noticed, though, that balloons are already being floated by Premier Prentice in friendly corners of the mainstream media about an early election as a result of the petroleum price decline.

That way, as Redford did, the more confident Prentice could wait till he was safely ensconced in office with a real mandate before telling ordinary Albertans we're all going to have to have another haircut and tighten our belts.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's Blog, Alberta Diary.

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