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The fine points of democracy are all Greek to Albertans

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Greek Premier George Papandreou

If the real rulers of Greece -- who would be German bankers, I guess -- need advice on how to put the democratic genie back in the Greek bottle, they need look no further than the Canadian province of Alberta to see how to properly manage a potentially restive population.

They've had a bad scare these past couple of days, those Europeans, what with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou coming up with the nutty idea of actually giving the citizens of a his country a vote on things that affect their lives and livelihoods, and those of their children.

That's not how the Shock Doctrine of "free enterprise" is supposed to work, as any modern prime minister in the "free world" ought to know. So Papandreou had to be quickly disabused of his democratic notions by the French president and German chancellor, and the whole idea of holding a referendum on the bankers' plan to destroy his country's entire middle class was called off yesterday.

But as anyone can see, nothing good can come from letting ordinary citizens of a country get the notion that they can actually exercise some control over its affairs when the lesson they were supposed to have been taught is that "there is no alternative." No matter what you read in the next few editions of the Wall Street Journal, now that they've got the notion that they ought to have a vote on their own fate, they're not going to give it up easily. The next thing you know, they'll be wresting power from the hands of the 1 per cent and gleefully exiting the Eurozone!

The French and Germans, meanwhile, are reduced to threatening them by holding the pistol to their own heads and warning the Greeks that if they don't behave, they'll have to go back to using the drachma as their currency. "Do as I say, or ze Fwench guy gets it!"

Canada's neo-Con government -- which has so enthusiastically been backing democracy among Islamic fundamentalists with access to vast reserves of oil on the south side of the Mediterranean is unlikely to have nearly as much sympathy with the idea of the exercise of genuine democracy on the north shore of that sea in the oil-free land reputed to be the birthplace of the concept.

Indeed, one can't rule out the possibility that we'll soon be sending jets to bomb the Acropolis and finish off the work begun by the Venetians and the Turks in 1687 and the Germans in 1941.

None of that would have happened here in Alberta, because our Progressive Conservative government knows how to manage the expectations of a populace that thinks it's living in a democracy.

Now and again, of course, it means you have to change the leader of the eternal ruling party, but as was demonstrated just this fall here in Alberta, that's really not much of a challenge. Several candidates with superficial differences run against one another and make various outlandish promises, the populace is invited to take part in a private vote run by the ruling party, and a leader is picked.

A few days later, the new premier is sworn in and the same old characters are all appointed to different cabinet posts, where they continue to do exactly the same thing they did before. This could be compared to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, except, of course, that this ship ain't about to sink.

Nevertheless, it's necessary to provide the populace with some diversions just in case they get the idea they'd be farther ahead by firebombing branches of the Bank of Athens -- or, in the case of central Alberta, the portion of the Heartland Transmission Line that runs through the Hamlet of Sherwood Park. (Population 62,000 -- I'm not making that up!)

So, from time to time, the government of Alberta will survey the population for their ideas on how to manage the economy. A few members of the population fill out the survey, and then go back to sleep, well satisfied that they have helped to steer the ship of state. The rest of us who didn't bother will be told to shut up, seeing as we had our chance.

Alberta's newest Conservative premier, Alison Redford, who was sworn into office just a few days ago, has launched just such a consultation and, one has to admit, it is a work of faux democratic art, skillfully dissected with plenty of analogies appropriate to a time of crisis in Greece by Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer.

The temptation in this space, naturally, is just to send it up rather than to analyze it, because, on the face of it, the survey is so completely ridiculous.

"A provincial budget is a lot like a personal budget -- you need to know what you have for income and expenses," the anonymous narrator of the government of Alberta website soothingly advises those of us who are contemplating filling out the survey.

Therefore, it goes on, "you need to know where your spending priorities are." It continues, "As we work to develop Alberta's 2012 budget, we want to know what matters most to you as a taxpayer and an Albertan. Your input will help us create a budget that reflects the goals and priorities of all Albertans."

So far, so good, but a funny thing happens when we begin to fill out the on-line form. We may need to consider income and expenses, but there is nowhere in this survey to discuss income. For example, we are asked to rank in order of 1 to 4, "balance the budget (no deficit)," "spending on priority areas," "maintaining low taxes" and "saving for the future." Nowhere, however, is there a spot to put, for example, "fair taxes," or "progressive tax system," or "petroleum companies pay their fair share."

In other words, the income side of our Great Big Alberta Budget is not even on the scoreboard. We are simply not allowed to consider it!

The rest of the survey continues in much the same vein, with all the decisions conveniently made for us, only with the satisfaction of having checked off some online boxes to give us the sensation of democracy without any of the messy side effects.

Go ahead and fill it out, even if you live in Ontario -- of Kazakhstan for that matter. It won't make any difference.

If the government of Premier Papandreou had had the sense to consult Premier Redford and her advisers, a Greek referendum would have been a positive and harmless experience for the nation, with no need for Canadian Air Force crews to start brushing off their topographical maps of downtown Athens.

"Rank the following in order of priority: (1) Ensure the Euro remains a strong currency; (2) Create the conditions for economic stability throughout the Eurozone; (3) Provide sustainable guarantees to banks that have kindly invested in the Greek economy; (4) Enjoy the benefits of even more private enterprise." There is no No. 5, and There Is No Alternative!

As in the Canadian survey, there would be no need to explain concepts like "rank" and "rate," no problem comparing using debt to build provincial infrastructure to "taking out a loan to buy a car," or using imprecise and confusing terminology to define the Heritage Savings Fund or the provincial Sustainability Fund. Why? Because the entire exercise is nothing but meaningless propaganda anyway.

When the dust has settled after a survey like this, the government can do whatever it pleases and thank the population for its advice. Indeed, you can tell what it plans to do by the questions it asks. No need to ruffle the leaders of France and Germany, the bankers on Wall Street, or the British Royal Family.

Maybe the Greeks should fly in Stephen Carter, Premier Redford's chief of staff, for advice. That could turn out to be a win-win all round -- for everyone except the Greek people, of course. But who cares about them?

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

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