CALGARY — Tory MLA Hector Goudreau stepped in one huge cow pie when he told a northern school board last month that offending the wrong people could delay funding for a new school.
Which does not mean it wasn't the truth.
Local politicians have known for decades not to criticize the PC government, especially around election time. To speak is to risk the continued free flow of public money.
But Goudreau's Feb. 9 letter was certainly an inconvenient truth, especially when, only days later, Alberta's municipal affairs minister, Doug Griffiths, blasted as slanderous any suggestion that money is distributed for political reasons.
Linda Sloan, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, who made that point, was told she lied, maliciously, in an infamous public tweet by Stephen Carter, then the premier's chief of staff.
The government's Valentine's Day assault on Sloan wasn't just over the top; it was also a spectacularly stupid invitation to prove the PCs wrong.
It's a big province and if even a few cases were out there, the government was going to look both frightened and mean-spirited.
And Goudreau's letter was already out there.
When the Edmonton Journal revealed it Friday, opposition parties instantly jumped on the Tories.
Wildrose led the charge, alleging a culture of intimidation.
Writing to Betty Turpin of the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division, Goudreau said: "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 here on out. . . . 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."
What on earth had set off Goudreau, a former minister who's now chair of the cabinet policy committee on community development?
In late January, the Journal ran a story about the Holy Family School in Grimshaw, which sounds grim indeed.
For instance, the library is so cold that students have to wear winter clothes to study. The principal routinely takes carbon monoxide readings in the school.
In the story, Turpin described continuing efforts to deal with the school's many problems while the board waits for a new one.
"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," she said at the time.
Then Goudreau sent his letter. It can be seen as politically threatening, for sure, but he was also giving good advice on how to get that school.
This is simply how things work in Alberta: be nice, don't embarrass the government, and you might get your reward.
A few days later, Griffiths went on his rampage at criticism — also in a newspaper story — about politics being connected to funding.
And gosh, the very day this uproar was at its peak, Goudreau wrote a second letter to Turpin.
After repeating his support for the school, Goudreau added: "I did not mean to imply that an investment in a new school was contingent on certain actions."
He hadn't implied anything, though — he said it straight out. Upsetting the PC government could delay funding.
The next day, remarkably, Goudreau sent yet another letter by e-mail.
Acknowledging that he'd been displeased by the board's comments about the Grimshaw school, he said: "My e-mail response of Feb. 9 2012, however, 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."
But the first impression sounded entirely accurate.
You'll hear about this one in the election campaign, again and again.
Calgary Herald, Sat Mar 3 2012
Byline: Don Braid