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A Tale of Two Cities: Where's former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel now that his city really needs him?

Stephen Mandel

Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel has rather airily and informally announced that Calgary will be getting its new cancer hospital after all, even if it's at a different location than where it was originally expected.

When the news leaked out a few days ago that the project might be cancelled, there was a great deal of anger, and justifiably so, down in Cowtown. Consequently, Mandel quickly leaked word the project will be back in next month's provincial budget to a friendly Calgary Herald columnist.

Of course, that was before Premier Jim Prentice took a notion yesterday afternoon to hold a news conference with Finance Minister Robin Campbell and announce that every provincial department's budget was going to be cut 9 per cent, so everything may have changed again.

Then again, probably not this re-announcement, because one of the eternal laws of Alberta politics is that when well-connected Calgary MLAs say jump, PC governments shout "How high?" on the way up. So why should things be any different with Jim Prentice, the MLA for Calgary-Foothills, at the helm?

Still, times are tough here in the Richest Place on Earth, and the pain is going to have to shared all round, so don't expect to see any plans for the desperately needed new Edmonton hospital in March's budget. Or the one after that, for that matter, assuming as we all do that Alberta's Unity Government will be re-elected again whenever Prentice feels like calling an election.

Nor will there be room for such frivolities as the type of wellness facilities that are left as a legacy after a city hosts an international sporting event.

Indeed, just yesterday, Edmonton City Council announced it was withdrawing from the bidding for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which the city had been widely expected to win.

The reason? Times are tough and we all got into this together, as Prentice keeps grimly reminding us, so Edmonton will just have to tighten its belt, take a haircut and make do with 9 per cent less. Meanwhile, the province continues to charge the lowest resource royalties in the world and doesn't even bother to collect what it's committed to recovering. Oil prices are low, dontcha know?

"Should Edmonton or any city decide to proceed with any future bids, the economic context must be favourable and the bid must have the full support of all three orders of government," said Tourism Minister Maureen Kubinec, MLA for the Edmonton-area dormitory community of Morinville in a government news release.

The province was going to focus any new spending on core priorities like health and education, she explained, aiming for a tone of spurious reasonableness and not mentioning anything about where that core spending is likely to take place. You know, like on a nicely situated $18-million, 18-hole golf course close to Calgary in Kananaskis Country, but certainly not on frivolities like the protection of children in the care of the state.

There was a day when Mandel, not so long ago elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud, would have had to something to say about a development like the provincial decision to bail from the Commonwealth Games.

Back in 2010, when he was mayor of Edmonton, Mandel ripped into the federal government and especially Edmonton Spruce Grove MP and Harper Cabinet member Ronalee Ambrose for failing to come up with the cash he expected from Ottawa for another international event, Expo 2017.

"She failed our city and failed the opportunity for this province to have an incredible celebration for the 150th birthday of our country to focus on the city that she's supposed to represent," he said at the time.

Ambrose didn’t even bother to phone with an explanation, Mandel bitterly complained in a bridge-burner of a response to the federal funding failure. "We don't believe they gave it a fair shot. We believe they will tell you that, but the fact of the matter is they didn't. They didn't care about Edmonton or the opportunity for our citizens."

Nowadays, though, Mandel is strangely silent on such matters. Speak up for the city he represents? Apparently that's not part of his mandate as a member of Prentice's cost-cuttin' cabinet. Or maybe he's just tired. After all, we all slow down a little as we grow older, as this blogger can personally attest, and Mr. Mandel will be 70 in July.

However, while Mandel has no complaints about the suspension of funding for Edmonton's plans -- even ones for a which a strong economic case could be made to keep Albertans employed and invest in the future at lower cost before oil prices bounce back, as they eventually will -- he did have things to announce.

He said Tuesday the Prentice Government is about to revivify the Alberta Health Services Board, which was canned in its entirety by then-health-minister Fred Horne back in 2013 and replaced with a single highly paid "administrator."

Don't worry, that administrator, former KPMG Consultant and Vancouver Island resident Janet Davidson, was kept on as deputy minister of health at a salary of about $650,000 a year, presumably a bargain at the price even in tough times like these.

Horne had been feuding with the board over contractual payments of bonuses to AHS managers, which had become something of an embarrassment for the government of disgraced PC premier Alison Redford (Alberta's old management).

When board members advised him they wouldn't break legal contracts, Horne fired the lot of them … then paid the bonuses anyway because, you know, he couldn't break a legal contract.

Things have stumbled along pretty normally ever since at the board-free health system, and Horne has moved on to seek new opportunities in the private sector.

But now we're going to get an AHS board again, as Prentice promised when he was campaigning to become Alberta's new chief executive officer.

Still, this suggests that the government wants some distance between itself and the unpopular decisions it will not be able to avoid implementing in health care if it's actually serious about cutting all government services 9 per cent across the board, as Prentice and Campbell seemed to say yesterday.

Except, presumably, not in Calgary. So where's Stephen Mandel now that Edmonton needs him?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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