Over-the-top letter bolsters criticisms Tories govern through intimidation, pork-barrel politics
When the leaked letter first crossed my desk, I thought somebody was pulling my leg.
I suspected a prankster - probably one of the opposition parties - was having fun at the expense of the Conservatives. The letter, apparently on official government letterhead from MLA Hector Goudreau, warned school officials in his home riding of Dunvegan-Central Peace to stop complaining about the government or risk losing a proposed new school.
"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," said the letter addressed to Betty Turpin, superintendent of the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division. "I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals." And the kicker: "This could delay the decision on a new school."
Given the opposition complaints of government bullying, the over-the-top letter smelled like a parody of government bullying.
It is no parody.
The letter is real. Goudreau sent it on Feb. 9 after a front-page story in The Journal described how Cora Ostermeier, principal at Holy Family School in Grimshaw, has had to become the building's unofficial caretaker. "Last Friday, there was no heat in our gym," said Ostermeier. "It's ice cold, we have presentations and we're getting kids to bring their jackets down. Then I'm calling maintenance and trying to co-ordinate someone to come in and look at the furnaces to find out why they're not running, and it's below zero in my gym."
Superintendent Turpin pleaded for help: "It's frustrating and it's concerning and it would be totally unacceptable somewhere else. We can't understand why we're being ignored. We don't know what we have not done for somebody to wake up and see this."
The complaints certainly woke up Goudreau who responded with his terse note to the school board. Given the letter's menacing tone it's a wonder Goudreau didn't deliver it courtesy of a rock tossed through a school board window.
Keep in mind this is not Goudreau making an ill-advised but spur-of-the-moment phone call to the school board. It is not him making a regrettable Tweet.
This is a government MLA - chair of the cabinet policy committee on community development - putting his irritation in a care-fully composed and threatening letter. Just four paragraphs long, the letter is hardly an opus but it does have an eloquence all its own, inadvertently speaking to the long-standing complaints from the opposition that, after four decades in power, the Alberta Conservatives govern through intimidation and pork-barrel politics.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith called Gou-dreau's letter "thug tactics," as apt a description as any.
No surprisingly, Turpin complained about the letter to the premier's office and on Feb. 15 Goudreau wrote an apologetic, of sorts, followup letter saying his original note was "inappropriate."
"I am also concerned that I left you with an inaccurate impression of how the Government of Alberta makes school capital decisions, and I regret that," said Goudreau. "All government decisions regarding school capital projects are merit-based."
Goudreau wrote his retraction the same day the government was scrambling to retract or at least downplay its ill-advised letter to Linda Sloan, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, in which Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths threatened to boycott a breakfast meeting with municipal leaders. The AUMA's "crime": openly criticizing the government's pre-budget consultation process and complaining about pork-barrel politics. Adding insult to the government's injury, Griffith's petulant letter was followed by the infamous tweet from Stephen Carter, the premier's chief of staff, accusing Sloan of lying "maliciously." Carter later apologized and Griffiths attended the breakfast - but not before the government was taken through the ringer by the opposition parties.
What the government seemed to have forgot-ten in the AUMA affair is that, as a majority government with 41 years experience, it is sup-posed to be the grown-up in the room. There is no excuse for the government to play petulant bully or, bizarrely enough in the AUMA case, petulant victim. And threatening to punish the AUMA only reinforced the charge that the government plays partisan politics.
And then there is Goudreau's response to a school board that has been pleading for a new school for 10 years to replace a crumbling relic where, according to Journal reporter Andrea Sands, the school principal "routinely inspects her school's mechanical room, checks faltering furnaces and electrical breakers, monitors plumbing and mops up overflowing toilets in the 50-year-old building."
The school board was only standing up for its (very cold) students, something Goudreau, as MLA, is supposed to do as well.
Goudreau couldn't be reached for comment Friday but Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he "did not approve" of Gou-dreau's initial letter and added that if he had penned such a note, "I would be packing my desk and I imagine I wouldn't be an insider (in cabinet) tomorrow."
Goudreau is not a cabinet minister but, as chair of the cabinet committee on community development, he is an "insider" of sorts.
Premier Redford might want to reconsider his status. I hear there's an opening for a caretaker at the Holy Family School in Grimshaw.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 6 2012
Byline: Graham Thomson