The idea of new is always associated with cleanliness, purity and hope, but one can hardly link any of these propitious notions to the new session of our provincial legislature.
The Speech from the Throne, delivered by Lieutenant Governor Norman L. Kwong on Feb. 4 included many stereotypes that one can find in any government’s list of promises: bold new steps in education and health, using the sustainability fund to protect municipalities and social programs, support to new research for environmental protection. etc. etc.
While those words may sound like music to some ears, early steps for a new legislative session, with a redesigned cabinet, do not inspire much hope as to the probability of some sort of change coming to the ways and means of governance under Premier Ed Stelmach.
Let’s take a few examples: First, as the legislature was about to begin its session, it was announced that both funding and other privileges, like the question time they can use, were being cut for opposition parties.
Second, Ted Morton, the new finance minister of the Stelmach cabinet indicated that the new budget would require everyone “to give a little bit”.
Third, the first piece of legislation submitted to the legislature for passage was a bill aimed, indirectly, at subsidizing the oil companies.
All added together, the picture you have is one of a government that prioritizes strengthening its political position over its responsibilities to the electorate.
Silencing opposition through funding cuts and limiting their legislative privileges is certainly not a step that can be described democratic.
And trying to mend fences with the oil and gas industry, which Mr. Stelmach antagonized when he first became the premier, is neither timely, nor shrewd. It is very clear that Mr. Stelmach is trying to buy back the allegiance of the oil patch in a desperate attempt after it emerged that the Wildrose Alliance clearly established a strong position with the oil and gas companies.
As these lines were being written, there was a major demonstration in Red Deer against the prospect of further cuts in social services, the cuts described by the new finance minister as “everyone giving a little”.
While Mr. Stelmach dreams of an Alberta that will pull Canada out of recession, he may be well advised to check some recent employment figures: Alberta job postings in January 2010 was 6.7 percent lower than in January 2009, while job postings in Ontario increased by more than 16 percent during the same period.
Mr. Stelmach should be told that these are rainy days. The $17 billion sustainability fund was supposed to be used in these days, but they lie in the safe of a bank or a fund manager in return for a few million dollars of interest revenue.
People need jobs and it may well be time to use that money.
— Mustafa Eric