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In case you were wondering: A primer on how things still work in Alberta

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Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne

Former Alberta energy minister Ron Liepert, who is now Premier Alison Redford's minister of finance, yesterday denied Opposition allegations that his previous department put together a backroom deal to benefit a couple of energy companies.

Yeah, yeah, an energy company lobbyist sat down with the minister's staff to draft the changes to the province's Incremental Ethane Extraction Program, just like in George W. Bush's Washington. ...And, yeah, the two companies that benefited -- Nova Chemicals and Williams Energy -- did donate tens of thousands of dollars to Liepert's Progressive Conservative Party. ...And, OK, just five days after the cabinet approved the regulatory changes they helped to draft, the two corporations jointly announced a $311-million plan to take advantage of the brand-new program...

But that doesn't mean a darn thing, folks. "There is nothing untoward here," the minister told reporters, according to media reports. "There were no deals anywhere."

What's more, the premier has now ordered "full disclosure of the facts," observing that "we do not have a scandal here. What we have is a tempest in a teapot."

Fair enough. That, presumably, will be the end of it. Bored journalists are already flipping the pages in their notebooks. This is Alberta, after all. You can almost hear Liepert wailing, What? Whaaaaat?!

So we'll just have to take him at his word. For sure the Opposition Liberals, who found out about this story through a freedom of information search, or the other opposition parties, won't have a chance to ask Liepert much about it in the Legislature any time soon, because under Premier Redford's new super-efficient approach to running the government our hard-working MLAs will only meet yesterday and today before taking a break until late November, whereupon they won't sit for long.

That means only two Question Periods until just before Christmas, and one of 'em's over already.

Meanwhile, over at the Ministry of Health and Wellness (another of the stops along Liepert's career trail of devastation), the media apparently didn't even ask the government to defend a document leaked to the NDP that, according to party Leader Brian Mason, shows health-care privatization remains on the government's agenda notwithstanding its claims to the contrary.

A lot of the reporters at the NDP's news conference yesterday probably figured this was an old story, and it was in the sense that the newly leaked document merely backed up another damning document the media had already given short shrift back in November 2010.

The confidential briefing document to Gene Zwozdesky, the last Alberta health minister before Redford appointed Horne, illustrates a fairly damning sequence of events from back in the day when Horne was heading then-premier Stelmach's public consultation on health care.

The NDP says it shows "Horne's public consultations were a PR fraud that ignored public input, replacing it with points from the same backroom privatization playbook we've previously uncovered in a presentation to the government caucus."

Many members of the public might have concluded there was something to this if the media had covered it. In their wisdom, however, most of them decided there was no story.

Moving right along, the Legislature was open for a little while this afternoon, and that in itself is a newsworthy item in Alberta these days, especially when a new premier delivers her first speech in that role.

Redford, who campaigned throughout the Conservative leadership race as a champion of public health care, got up in the Legislature to say this: "Seniors are among those who most need the government's support. This government will remove the cap on seniors' housing costs and work with the home building industry to provide seniors with the spaces they need in assisted living and continuing care facilities, ending the bed shortage. Seniors will be able to choose from a wide variety of safe, comfortable accommodations that suit their incomes, lifestyles and family structures. Couples that have loved and depended on each other for decades will no longer be split up. To get things started, this government will add 1,000 new continuing care beds to the system through public-private partnerships." (Emphasis added.)

This is an interesting approach to solving what truly is a public health issue -- the safe and comfortable care of seniors. It will use your tax dollars to subsidize the private-sector assisted-living industry by building facilities at which they can charge whatever they please, and it will subsidize the construction industry through the more-expensive P3 model, and it will leave seniors out in the cold -- in some cases, literally.

But didn't the premier promise "quota systems for low and middle-income seniors will guarantee them access to the continuing care system," you ask? True enough, but ask yourself what hoops you'll have to jump through before you qualify. And what you'll do before a space is available.

Actually, there's a pretty good example right now of how this government operates in circumstances similar to these: not so long ago it was revealed that children in the care of the province for whom foster homes cannot be found are told to run along to the homeless shelter.

We're not talking about runaways, people. We're talking about children who are wards of the province. That is, the province is acting as their parent. Does it need to be said that if a real parent tried a stunt this, the province would certainly take their children into care … such as it is.

Here's what Dave Hancock, Redford's new minister of government services, had to say about this: "Sometimes it's the best option that a young person has," he told the CBC. "If a youth is coming out of a chaotic situation, they may not be ready for the rules in a group home." (Shrug.)

I'm sure this will be very reassuring to those of you who are worrying about how you will spend your retirement in Alberta, where it can get pretty cold in the winter.

As a friend of mine explained it today, now that you have choice, you can be like the homeless youth who very much enjoys the choice of not being able to afford to stay at the Hotel MacDonald or not being able to afford to stay at the Delta down the block.

Just in case you were wondering, this is how things still work in Alberta.

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

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