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Start work at nine in the morning? Never! Alberta's Wildrose picks another great hill to die on

Brian Jean

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You have to admit, Alberta's Wildrose Opposition sure knows how to pick a fight!

When they're not dissing The Globe and Mail's Alberta reporter for asking hard questions, thereby ensuring she gets a raise and a promotion, they're preparing to filibuster long into the night on a question of high moral principle -- to wit, their God-given right to sleep in till a civilized hour on days when the Legislature sits.

Well, that's Team Angry for you!

Permit me, then, to summarize the Official Opposition's argument as it is certain to be seen by most Albertans:

Are you serious? These bloody NDP socialists want us to start work at 9 o'clock in the morning! Well, on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, anyway. What the hell is the matter with them?

Don't those Dippers know that Wildrose MLAs are up till all hours meeting with corporate lobbyists and oil industry bagmen, fighting the good fight for the rights of multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes, work their employees' fingers to the bone and, when that still costs too much, can them? You know, like we want to do with the bloody civil servants!

Don't they understand that if you don’t provide a civilized workplace at the Legislature, you won't attract the very best people to public life? … Like us?

OK, enough roleplaying. In reality, the Wildrosers insist that this isn't about a lousy 9:00 a.m. start time at all, it's about a bigger principle … the right to sleep in till noon!

No, that's not quite fair either, although there's enough truth to it to make it dangerous … to the Wildrose Party.

Anyway, according to Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, the 22 members of the party's Legislative Caucus are all in their offices most days by 7:00 a.m., or even six, even when the Legislature isn’t sitting! (Yes, that’s actually what he told CBC political reporter Rosemary Barton.)

What's really happening, Jean argued, is that by asking MLAs to work mornings on days they would only had to come in for the afternoon under the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP is in effect cutting the Opposition’s opportunities to ask questions. (No wonder Jean lamented that the old system worked just fine!)

His logic goes like this: Since there's a Question Period every afternoon the Legislature sits, by asking MLAs to work in the morning too, "what they are also doing is eliminating 50 per cent of our Question Periods as a result of the extension of hours!" (As an aside, we have all heard arguments like this, haven't we? … from our children.)

Jean went on: "Now they’re actually doubling the amount of hours in a day, which means we're not going to receive half the question periods we're entitled to …" His proposed solution: "Give us two question periods a day."

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Jean.

In his interviews with the media, Wildrose House Leader Nathan Cooper claimed there was an agreement with the government not to start until 10:00 a.m., and the NDP "is choosing to change the rules mid-play!" If you ask me, this is a slightly different issue from the one described by Jean, but I'm sure they'll get their story straight eventually.

Asking MLAs to come to work a whole hour earlier two days a week (which is the way Cooper described it to the Edmonton Journal's reporter) amounts to "a blatant disrespect for the opposition and so that's why we’re continuing to object," he said.

However, the Journal's reporter noted in her report that Premier Rachel Notley and members of her government have been talking about an earlier start time ever since they got elected six months ago. And it's true, if not very traditional, that since many members of the government caucus are younger than past generations of MLAs, they are bound to have family responsibilities in addition to legislative ones.

Moreover, the NDP and other opposition parties have a long history of attacking the PCs' penchant for using long night sessions to ram through legislation -- which Jean unpersuasively claims the NDP wants to do too.

But as an exasperated Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Brian Mason pointed out after introducing the motion for a 9 a.m. start, back in the day when he drove a city bus for a living he had to be spit shined, bright eyed and ready to roll at 5:30 a.m. Most of us do have to be at work well before 9:00 a.m., let alone 1:30 p.m., and I'm afraid that's the way most Albertans are going to see this, no matter how hard done by Jean and Cooper feel.

This is especially true when every one of the 22 members of the Wildrose Caucus is entitled to the generous Tory-era housing subsidy available to MLAs who live more than 60 kilometres from Alberta's capital city. The $23,160-per-year apartment subsidy, plus $1,500 to install a security system, ensures every one of them can afford a nice apartment a five- or 10-minute walk from the Legislative Building.

In fairness, back in April when Alberta was still thought to be Canada's most conservative province, the Wildrosers put out an angry press release demanding that then-premier Jim Prentice end this "outrageous" housing perk. But they've been pretty quiet about it ever since those darned social democrats have been in charge. Here's betting they're all taking it.

So here's my considered advice to the Wildrose Caucus on this one: If they think a fight to the death over starting work before 10:00 a.m., or 1:30 p.m., is going to look like a suitable hill to die to voters back in their ridings -- 21 out of 22 of which are rural areas where the notion is said to still prevail that early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise -- they need to think again.

In politics, the art of the possible, sometimes you have to go along with a plan you don't think is a very good one to survive at the polls. So even if you have some sound reasons for objecting to reporting to work at 9:00 a.m., this might be one of those times when you need to give your sleepyheads a shake and go along to get along.

This, I have no doubt, is why the NDP raised taxes on profitable corporations and the wealthy less than Prentice planned to back when he was premier, rather than more, which is manifestly what is needed. It's also why we'll probably never have a sales tax in Alberta.

In other words, if the Wildrose Caucus decides having to work in the morning is the issue on which to stop the business of the Legislature, they're going to look dumber than the Republicans in the U.S. Congress!

Indeed, they might just hear something like this: It's a tough world. Get over it. Things change. The needs of your employers -- the people of Alberta, not the NDP -- just changed. Now just quit whining, and get to work.

If you can't drag you ass into the Legislature by 9:00 a.m., two days a week, get another job!

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

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