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Alberta Diary

djclimenhaga's picture
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Juxtapose: Tories had loads of cash for junketing flunkies, none at all for dying addicts

| January 12, 2016
Sarah Hoffman

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Juxtapose: In the first half of last year, Alberta's former Progressive Conservative Government had plenty of money for official air travel, but none at all to save the lives of their fellow citizens struggling with drug addictions.

Two news stories published yesterday invite comparisons, sending a troubling message about the Alberta PCs, and conservatives in general, revealing them as both entitled and heartless, and not terribly competent to boot.

The first story, reported exclusively by the CBC, was the revelation the PCs under then-premier Jim Prentice refused a federal offer of $1.4 million in drug treatment funding at a time when Fentanyl was killing an Alberta citizen every day, the highest rate in Canada.

Their reason? According to a letter to the feds by a senior Alberta Health official it was "resource restrictions which will inhibit acquiring funding and staff." That's bureaucratese meaning they might also have had to spend some of their own budget to save lives at a time when their re-election plan was based on a show of austerity and tight-fistedness.

That didn't turn out to be much of an election strategy, as readers will recall, but back in the spring of 2015 when Tory health minister Stephen Mandel was saying "no thanks" to Ottawa's paltry offering, a lot of people thought it was their key to re-election.

And, let's face it, at the time there was a strong element of "who cares, they're just a bunch of junkies" to this story.

As the author of a recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail rightly observed, if the problem had been gang violence in the streets instead of drug users quietly dying from overdoses from drugs sold by the same gangs, governments would have come up with the money to solve the crisis immediately.

A big part of the problem, wrote Simon Fraser University criminology professor Peter McKnight, was the "medieval attitude toward drugs" by the Conservative federal government led by Stephen Harper, which his Liberal replacement as prime minister, Justin Trudeau, needs to get cracking at dismantling. It's safe to say the attitudes of the Wildrose Party and the PCs, then and now, are not very different from those of Harper and his cronies.

The Prentice PCs' policy has left Premier Rachel Notley's NDP Government -- which is both more sensible and more humane on this question -- with the problem of trying to recover the federal funds the Tories rejected, as well as finding money the Tories refused to budget while dealing with furious claims by the conservative Opposition parties that Alberta is spending too much because times are tough.

Never mind that tough times are precisely when governments need to spend for the sake of the economy. That's Economics 101. But from the perspective of the drug-caused health crisis Alberta faces, the PC response was both ineffective and irresponsible.

"Every dollar that can be used toward saving a life is a valuable investment in Albertans and the future of our province," NDP Health Minister Sarah Hoffman told the CBC's reporter, a simple truth that is apparently difficult for far too many conservatives of any stripe to understand.

Hoffman said negotiations with Health Canada have resumed in hopes of getting Alberta back into the federal program. Meantime, the province is now funding drug treatment programs and research on its own.

The second news story was the Edmonton Journal's astonished discovery that the election of an NDP government has resulted in savings of more than $5 million in travel costs now that the days of jet-setting by Tory ministers and their hangers on are over.

The Journal, not an institution that ever willingly gives credit to a social democratic government, explained the big travel savings away as the result of the election campaign, the subsequent transition and the NDP cabinet's need to stay close to home and learn how to prepare a budget.

This, of course, is baloney.

Notwithstanding constant propaganda to the contrary, the NDP is simply more responsible with taxpayers' money than the entitled Tories, who the Wildrosers are now so anxious to swiftly merge into their party.

My local community newspaper revealed yesterday that in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert riding my New Democrat MLA, Trevor Horne, claimed expenses of $33.59 for the six months between the start of April and the end of September! That's not a typo -- the St. Albert Gazette's story said thirty-three dollars and fifty-nine cents. That would work out to about $5.60 a month.

But then, according to the story, Premier Rachel Notley has been very clear to her MLAs that they're to be careful with the funds the public has entrusted them with. Many of them are paying for their own meals on the road because they figure they'd eat anyway.

The number of past trips totted up by the Journal's reporter speak for themselves: The Tories sent MLAs and scores of flunkies on 34 "international travel missions" -- read junkets -- during 2014. And that was well after Air Redford's notorious travel binges, which included a single trip that cost $450,000, had largely been grounded.

In 2015, there were only 10 such trips -- but six of those took place when the Tories were still in power, before the voters spoke on May 5!

So, at a time there was no money at all to help Albertans and their families facing an epidemic of drug deaths -- more than 200 people died from fentanyl overdoses in this province in 2015 -- Tory ministers and their flunkies had millions available for jet-setting around the world on unproductive "trade missions." And I'm sure they didn't have to stay at the YMCA.

A PC-Wildrose government would put all of this back just the way it was before 2015.

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

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