Last week's revelation that Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert consults a secret committee of 25 energy industry big shots for advice on how to do his job is yet more evidence of how clued out the Conservative government of Premier Ed Stelmach has become.
What is really astonishing, though, is not that this tired old government would get its instructions from energy insiders -- it's done that for years -- but just how remarkably inept it has become at managing the public perception of its cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry.
Liepert, of course, possesses a kind of reverse Midas touch -- everything he touches turns to …. something other than gold.
When he was education minister, the province's teachers were in a state of near rebellion and the possibility of a wildcat province-wide teachers strike, while unlikely, did not exactly seem like something from the realm of complete fantasy.
After the 2008 general election, Premier Stelmach sent in the more diplomatic Dave Hancock as education minister to restore order.
But the premier can be a slow learner himself when matters of personal loyalty are involved, so after the election he appointed Liepert to an even more important post -- minister of health and wellness.
As health minister, Liepert went from being a disaster to being an outright catastrophe. He so botched that vital file that the entire province approached a condition of apprehended insurrection. With a polling apocalypse looming, Stelmach dialled 9-1-1 again and sent in his smoothest player, the sometime professional crooner Gene Zwozdesky, to apply his patented healing balm to the nasty eruption in health care.
But rather than cashier Liepert, as a more sensible premier would have done, Stelmach packed him off to the Energy Ministry, where the great minds in the premier's brain trust must have concluded he'd get on just fine with the oil barons and could do no harm. Now that too has blown up in their faces like the proverbial exploding cigar.
What’s next? Gene Zwozdesky or Dave Hancock as energy minister? It may have to come to that.
It's remarkable -- and rather troubling in a comedic sort of way -- that Premier Stelmach continues to put so much faith in Liepert's abilities. There really should be a three-strikes-and-you’re out law for cabinet ministers in this country, but we clearly don't have one in Alberta.
It's even more troubling, of course, that the premier, Liepert and all the other Alberta Tories seem to see nothing at all wrong with the energy minister sitting down in secret with 25 top industry executives so they can write legislation and royalty policy for the government, or whatever it is they do when they’re not slapping each other on the back and lighting up the Cuban cigars that aren't available when they're back home in Houston and Wichita.
"It's just another means of me listening to what's going on out there, getting some advice on what government should or should not be doing," Liepert lamely told the Calgary Herald.
In truth, he likely didn't need to meet this particular group, in public or in secret, to figure out what kind of advice they’re going to give.
If Liepert possessed an ounce of sense, he would have included a few environmentalists, farmers and labour types on his panel and then made the membership list public. He could have listened to whomever he wished, of course.
But the Alberta Conservatives' attitude seems to be, why waste time keeping up appearances when you're going to be the government no matter what, forever and ever, amen?
This is precisely the thing that drives members of Stelmach's cabinet to accept gifts of West Coast fishing trips, out-of-province golfing extravaganzas and Rod Stewart and Lady Gaga concert tickets from lobbyists, corporations and just-plain billionaires without so much as a wink or a blush.
They just don't get it.
They are beyond getting it.
They have a sense of entitlement as vast and deep as the great pools of oil that coagulate beneath the forests of northeastern Alberta!
And you know what? They'll have been in power for 40 years in less than a year! As long as we Albertans keep re-electing them by massive majorities, what do we expect?
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.