By Janet Keeping, leader, Green Party of Alberta
[This blog was written before the premier announced her resignation last night.]
There is much talk these days of the premier’s unpopularity, especially within her own party, many members of which seem distinctly disenchanted with her. If a poll released March 17 is even close to accurate, many voters are turned off too. There is good reason to be less than enthusiastic about a leader that spends $ 45,000 of public funds to travel to an event that while of personal interest to her is of no consequence to the work of the government she heads. Matters got worse when she admitted it was wrong to spend this money but for weeks refused to repay it. A clearer sense of entitlement is hard to imagine.
Many commentators are making the same point. But it is worth saying a bit more about some aspects of the political mess the premier finds herself in. First, where does this sense of entitlement come from? Second, did this culture of entitlement start with her or should we be looking elsewhere for the source of the problem?
A person who feels entitled to something thinks she has a right to it. And this is what we’ve seen with the premier recently: by refusing to return money she admitted was mistakenly spent on such lavish travel (the premier of Nova Scotia made the same trip for less than $ 1000), she was acting as if she thought she had a right to those public funds. But since the purpose of the travel was a personal want not a government need – to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral had nothing to do with her responsibilities as premier – she was clearly out of line in making the trip on taxpayer funds.
It is appropriate to go even further: by flatly refusing for weeks to return the money, she was abusing her office as a premier and showing a deep disrespect for the hard-working Albertans who pay their taxes in good faith, assuming they will not be used for the personal gratification of individuals in public office.
This disrespect is the real story of the prolonged refusal to pay back the $ 45000 for the trip to South Africa. And it is this disrespect that has led some commentators to refer to her, a la Marie Antoinette, as the “let them eat cake” premier. In a democracy, politicians and other public servants hold office because we put them there, whether directly through the ballot box or because those we elect hire them on our behalf. When individuals who are supposed to be serving the public show they don’t respect us, then something has gone seriously wrong.
But given where we are today in Alberta’s political history, is the correction that’s needed merely replacement of one offender with a different individual? No. I agree with those – such as writers for the Medicine Hat News who say the problem is systemic: “The position the provincial Tories find themselves in today is the by-product of more than four decades in power.”
A party that has been in power too long – in Alberta the PCs have formed government continuously since 1971, that is more than 42 years – forgets that it can lose. And in forgetting it can lose, disdain for the voter sets in. On one interpretation of our history, it looks like the PC leadership can do anything it feels like – throw money at the feet of homeless people while in a drunken stupor or fly off to South Africa with no regard to how much the trip is going to cost or whether it is legitimate to expense it to the taxpayer – without fear of being tossed from office. But hopefully in 2016 Alberta, voters will show this to be wrong.
Alberta needs the election of a non-PC government. Given the current state of affairs, it looks as if Wildrose is probably going to achieve that result in the next election. We should hope the result is a minority Wildrose government with as many candidates as possible elected from the NDs, the Liberals and the Green Party to form a vibrant, progressive opposition.
Wildrose cannot deliver the government Alberta needs – one committed to lessening our dependence on hydrocarbons, supporting the transition to renewable energy strategies, tightening environmental regulation, revitalizing democracy and ensuring greater social justice (including reducing the gap between rich and poor through progressive income taxation at the provincial level.) But we’ll never get any of these things while the PCs retain their strangle-hold on government.
The problem isn’t Redford, it’s the party she leads. They have to go.
This opinion piece was first posted on Troy Media’s website at http://www.troymedia.com/2014/03/19/alberta-needs-a-change-of-government/