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Alberta's 13 most under-reported political news stories of 2013

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Soon it’ll be 2014 and the mainstream media can get back to doing what it does best: panicking the populace with lurid crime coverage and making excuses for Stephen Harper and Alison Redford.

For the time being, though, journalists everywhere are compiling lists of the 10, 12 or, this year, 13 biggest news stories of the past 12 months -- which we all pretty much knew anyway.

But dozens, perhaps hundreds, of important news stories, often with of great significance to large numbers of people, go all but unreported because covering them properly is too much work for a short-staffed news industry in decline or doesn't suit the agenda of our highly ideological right-wing media bosses.

As is well known, mainstream media also suffers from a profound case of pack mentality -- and short staffing, shrinking advertising revenues and readers inclined to find their own news on the Internet, thanks very much, only makes this worse.

Now, it's actually a little too bold, as was suggested in the headline above, to say this list comprises the 13 most under-reported political news stories in Alberta in 2013. After all, there’s sure to be something lurking out there so far under a log that everyone has overlooked it, and plenty more this blogger has failed to see.

Let's just say this list, in no particular order, is made up of 13 significant Alberta political stories that in 2013 were either ignored outright, or given short shrift by the mainstream media’s overworked minions.

1)    Pipeline failure: If the Keystone XL Pipeline plan flops, as is quite possible since U.S. President Barack Obama doesn't owe any favours to its backers, and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline founders too, thanks to its sponsor company's lousy environmental record and determined political opposition in British Columbia, what is the Harper and Redford governments' Plan B to market Alberta bitumen? Hint: No Plan! No Plan!

2)    The Rising Wildrose Tide: How serious a threat does the Wildrose Party pose to the 42-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty now led by Alison Redford? Half-hearted coverage of this story may just be a matter of timing, as professional journalists slip back into the lazy habit of thinking and acting as if nothing can ever change in Alberta. When they get a look at some of the polls coming down the pike soon they may smarten up. It's said here that, like it or not, the next premier of Alberta will be Danielle Smith. Supplemental question: How dirty will the Tory campaign to hang onto power be?

3)    Opposition to COOL: Why are both the Alberta Government and most Alberta beef producers opposing the U.S. Government’s Country of Origin Law (COOL) when it will help Alberta beef farmers? We have the healthiest beef herd in the word, raised in the cleanest environment by some of the best farmers, and the Alberta government rejects this marketing bonanza! The reason is because it will cost the huge international companies we have allowed to dominate our cattle industry -- and in Alberta, what industry wants, industry gets. No wonder everyone's in a dither because A&W is marketing hormone-free patties, another sign of things to come.

4)    Climate change refugees: How long will Canada's first refugee camp for climate change victims remain open? I was going to say North America's first such facility, but I guess you could make the case that was the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. So how many people are still living in the temporary trailers lined up in the so-called Saddlebrook neighbourhood of High River, site of the worst of the flooding in June 2013? Saddlebrook may be a luxury refugee camp, complete with a recreation centre, but it's a refugee camp just the same.

5)    Family Care Clinics: What the heck's a Family Care Clinic and how much will it cost to run? Nobody is asking this question, and the Redford Government isn't providing any answers. The idea for FCCs, whatever they are, was dreamed up buy someone on Premier Redford's leadership campaign team back in 2011. Now they're being set up, and there's still no clear explanation of their cost or function. Dig a little deeper and you'll find the government's supposed pay-freeze deal with Alberta's physicians is no such thing. Thanks to FCCs, docs will see plenty more pay without the embarrassment of an official pay raise. This helps justify attacks on the people Alberta Tories really hate -- low-level public employees.

6)    Regulation Privatization: The Alberta government is surrendering almost all environmental, water and public land regulation to a privatized entity funded entirely by industry. Fish cops, foresters, biologists and rangers are racing to join the new corporate "regulator" because it pays better than the government pays unbiased public employees. The Edmonton Journal did a good job of covering this story, although only after the damage had been done. It required a Freedom of Information request to get any information, so we can be confident the secretive Redford Government will work hard to squelch this story.

7)    AHS Leadership: Who's really running Alberta Health Services? The giant public health care provider, which on many days appears close to collapse, may be advertising for a new permanent president and CEO, but anyone who pays attention knows the president and CEO doesn't actually run AHS. Top executives seem just to be lightning rods, compensated to the tune of more than half a million dollars a year, to keep the heat off the real CEO. That, of course, is Health Minister Fred Horne, who now directly runs the organization, firing or driving out boards and senior managers who dare to defy him. Smart mid-level managers are racing for the exits.

8)    Fraser Institute Sins: Well, we can't say no one covers the stream of press releases issued by the so-called Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based advertising agency for far-right nostrums, not to mention similar AstroTurf publicity groups like the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses and the National Citizens Coalition, each one of which deserves to have its name placed inside quotation marks. But when is the media going to look into those organizations themselves -- the links and movement among their small group of propagandists, their secretive funding sources and the holes in their research so big you could drive a Coors beer truck through them?

9)    Bill 45: Why hasn't Bill 45, the Redford Government's attack on the free speech rights of all Albertans, which makes it illegal for baseball umpires to call anything except balls, been proclaimed into law? Its companion bill, Bill 46, which robs Alberta civil servants of the right to impartial compulsory arbitration in compensation for the fact they can't legally strike, was given Royal Assent on Dec. 11 and proclaimed into law the same day. Bill 45 has been given Royal Assent, but has not been proclaimed. Here's a theory: The government knows perfectly well this amateurish law can't withstand a court challenge. Lacking the courage and principle to use Section 33 of the Charter to override Albertans' free speech rights, they've left it sitting there, a big hammer, un-proclaimed. That way, the threat is real, but the courts can't overturn it. Dave Hancock, the bill's sponsor, who knows this, should be ashamed.

10) Pension Plan Danger: Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner has launched a major attack on Alberta public employees' pension plans, aided and abetted by pro-privatization AstroTurf groups like the six-member CTF. The media's covered the story, but played it as a he-said-she-said dispute between the government and public service unions. The new plan the minister intends to impose after a period of sham consultation is so bad, though, many public employees who have the option -- part-timers, for example -- will opt out. If enough of them do, Horner's bland assurance current pensioners will not be affected will be rendered meaningless and the plans could be in deep trouble. Who pays when thousands of pensioners see their retirement savings start to evaporate?

11) Fracking Inside City Limits: A Calgary-based outfit called Goldenkey Oil Inc. wants to use fracking technology to drill four gas wells inside Lethbridge city limits. Folks living on the west side of the Southern Alberta city, where the company wants to drill, are worried about environmental impact and safety. After all, where there are gas wells, there may be deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. It would be fair to say hydrogen sulfide and homes and schools don't mix very well. A University of Alberta study suggests having a gas well within four kilometres will reduce your urban property’s value between 4 and 16 per cent. Will residents of other Alberta cities soon face the same thing?

12) U.S. Auto Efficiency Standards: In the summer of 2012, President Obama issued new auto efficiency standards that mandate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per U.S. gallon for cars sold in the United States by the 2025 model year. The allowable average was about 29 miles per gallon when the new standards were enacted. They are supposed to reach 35.5 MPG by 2016. When President Jimmy Carter did something similar in 1979, the price of oil fell steadily. What happens to the Redford Conservatives' budget projections if the same thing happens this time?

13) Carbon Capture: Everybody with an ounce of sense suspects the Alberta government's investment of $2-billion of taxpayers' money to so-called carbon capture technology is a huge boondoggle. It's sort of like trying to find a way to bottle farts when everyone knows the problem is we’re eating too much cabbage! As of now, there’s virtually no CO2 in the ground and the companies initially interested are quietly distancing themselves from an idea they seem to have concluded will never work. So what happened to our $2 billion?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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