Byproducts of power can be strange

Low-level bullying is bad, but high-level bulling is fine. There's the latest news flash from an inconsistent government.

For writing a stupid letter to a local school board, PC MLA Hector Goudreau was thrown under the wheels of Premier Alison Redford's campaign bus Monday.

It was painful to see, because Goudreau is a well-meaning fellow whose advice (shut up or you won't get your school) was actually quite practical. That's just the way it goes in Alberta.

A smack was in order, though. A democratic government that orders its citizens to be quiet, on pain of punishment, has truly lost its way.

So Redford accepted Goudreau's resignation as chair of a choice cabinet committee. She even scolded him in the legislature. Albertans must feel free to speak out, she said vigorously.

But the premier's words seem hollow when we recall that a senior minister got away with far worse only three weeks ago.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffith wrote a pouty letter that could only be seen as a threat to more than 200 communities that belong to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

Attacking Linda Sloan, the president of AUMA, Griffiths said the entire cabinet and caucus would boycott an association meeting the next day.

He wrote, "You have chosen to make false accusations in the newspaper while claiming you want to work together. This situation can be remedied if you publicly apologize and retract your erroneous statement."

Elsewhere he said: "Your comments are deliberately inflammatory and erroneous."

Sloan's sin was to allege that the government sometimes distributes money for partisan reasons - a widespread impression among the munis.

In an article for the Herald last Dec. 20, Sloan wrote: "Historically, these grants have been unpredictable, subject to reductions and political partisanship in their distribution."

Sloan wasn't saying any of that on her own. As president, she's mouthpiece for the AUMA board and sticks precisely to its majority decisions and views.

But Griffiths went politically postal, insisting that no money is ever distributed for partisan reasons.

And then, he was quickly faced with evidence that it is.

Bonnyville Mayor Ernie Isley, a former PC minister, said his town has been shafted ever since he joined Wildrose. Goudreau's letter showed that money can be denied if the wrong people are offended.

And that, one suspects, is what got Goudreau in so much trouble. He was proving pretty much what a minister was denying.

After the board superintendent of a rundown Catholic school in Grimshaw complained about government inaction, Goudreau wrote:

"I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school."

On one level the Griffiths and Goudreau messages are quite similar; if you make us mad, there's a penalty to pay.

After the AUMA fiasco, the minister relented and went to the meeting, saying it was all good because Sloan assured him she was taken out of context.

She has never repeated that publicly; in any case, it's quite hard to be taken out of context in an article you write yourself.

And what did Redford do about all this? She dumped Hector Goudreau and praised Doug Griffiths. The byproducts of power can be strange indeed.

Calgary Herald (editorial), Tues Mar 6 2012
Byline: Don Braid

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