Corbella: Tory bullies lose their hand with poker-faced advocate

Linda Sloan would make one great poker player.

The president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association was handed a royal flush late last week, and when given the opportunity to lay down her cards and crow a bit during a Herald editorial board meeting Monday, she betrayed not the least bit of emotion — her lips did not crack into even the slightest grin, and even her eyes did not smile. However did she do it?

To say that the Edmonton councillor and former Alberta Liberal MLA was justified, would be an understatement. The entire, smug Tory government was hoisted on its own petard after Hector Goudreau's now infamous letter that borders on blackmail was made public last Thursday.

The leaked letter was written by Goudreau in response to complaints by Betty Turpin, superintendent of the Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division, with regard to a dilapidated school in Grimshaw that is so cold, students must wear their outdoor gear in the gym and they have troubles holding onto pens in the library because of frozen fingers. Ceilings have collapsed and toilets regularly overflow, turning the principal of Holy Family School, Cora Ostermeier, into a part-time custodian and plumber.

"In order for your community to have the opportunity to receive a new school, you and your school board will have to be very diplomatic from now on out," wrote Goudreau to Turpin in the letter dated Feb. 9.

"I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals."

In case Goudreau didn't make the bullying tactics of his government clear enough, he wrote: "This could delay the decision on a new school."

Goudreau, it's vital to point out, was the Municipal Affairs minister under Ed Stelmach's Tory government. While no longer in cabinet, he was the chair of the cabinet committee on community development, a post he resigned Monday as a result of this letter becoming public.

The Tory government is now trying to claim that the message behind Goudreau's letter is an isolated one. If you believe that, I have a nice, old (cool) school to sell you in Grimshaw.

In short, the release of that bullying letter spells V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-I-O-N for Sloan, who was accused of lying "maliciously" by Premier Alison Redford's chief of staff, Stephen Carter, in a tweet on Feb. 14.

Carter's tweet, which he has not deleted, but has apologized for, was in response to Sloan alleging that provincial funding was more generous in Tory ridings than in Liberal, NDP or Wildrose ones.

Her allegation that provincial funding to municipalities was doled out on a partisan basis was first made in a Herald column published last December, when she wrote that government grants to municipalities have been: "unpredictable, subject to reductions and political partisanship in their distribution."

That allegation was so vehemently objected to by Alberta's current Municipal Affairs minister, Doug Griffiths, following the provincial budget that the entire Tory caucus voted to not attend the AUMA's breakfast meeting with municipal leaders on Feb. 16.

Griffiths initially insisted that Sloan would have to apologize and retract her statement if Conservative MLAs were going to attend the breakfast. In the end, Griffiths and the other Tories did attend the meeting, but the province's message was clear: If you criticize us, you will be chastened publicly, we will call you names and we will bully you into not criticizing us publicly again.

Sound familiar? Isn't that exactly what Alberta doctors say is going on, only they're threatened with their very jobs when they advocate for their patients. The independent Health Quality Council of Alberta came to that conclusion in its recent report and Premier Redford vowed to hold a judicial inquiry into doctor intimidation, among other issues plaguing Alberta's health system. Something clearly spooked her because Redford has since reneged on that promise.

Numerous town councillors from small municipalities, along with school board officials, have made a habit of making illegal contributions to PC fundraisers with public money presumably to help grease the gears of government in their municipalities' favour.

Now, thanks to Goudreau, we not only have the smoking gun into political intimidation, we have the still-warm corpse with a bullet lodged between its eyes.

In Monday's editorial board meeting, Sloan was flogging the AUMA's new public campaign to seek a funding formula for all of the 277 Alberta municipalities that she speaks for. She made it clear, time and again, that she wants to leave the story about partisan funding behind.

"Our focus and our message is about municipalities. It isn't about the story or the headline associated with the intimidation, whether it is there or not there," said Sloan, who added that the AUMA's relationship is stronger today than it was on Valentine's Day, when Carter's libellous tweet was sent out.

So, is she being intimidated into saying this. She insists that she is not.

She is clearly holding a strong hand close to her chest. Whether it's another royal flush or just a pair of aces remains to be seen. Expect an announcement about the province working to develop a new funding framework for municipalities sometime soon.

Calgary Herald (editorial), Tues Mar 6 2012
Byline: Licia Corbella

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