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Fiscal shocker! Redford Tories promise transparency but deliver opacity!

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Doug Horner

This just in! Alberta's Progressive Conservative government is secretive!

Well… yeah!

What's astonishing is that the Alberta news media appears to be astonished by this revelation, which if you happen to have been paying attention at any time during the past decade or four shouldn't exactly come as news to you.

Yesterday, the Alison Redford generation of the successful PC firm founded by Peter Lougheed in 1971 rolled out its 2012 first-quarter financial "update" and the media were shocked -- truly shocked! -- that the government wasn’t very forthcoming with helpful analysis about the fact its optimistic pre-election predictions have been blown to smithereens by "lower than expected" energy revenues.

Why, Finance Minister Doug Horner's fiscal update yesterday "makes no financial projections, omits capital planning and financial assets, and dramatically reduces the number of raw figures available for public scrutiny," the Edmonton Journal's reporter sputtered.

And that was just the news coverage, where reporters were relying on the usual suspects in the professional commentariat to condemn Horner for his unrevealing dance of the thousand fiscal veils. You should have heard what they were saying to each other! "They promised to be more transparent but they're actually making it harder to understand what's going on," moaned one.

Also, reporters complained, those helpful finance ministry officials that used to hang around before these events to make sure hapless journos understood the government's careful spin on the numbers are completely gonzo, apparently never to appear again.

Your blogger didn't make it down to the Legislature for Horner's news conference performance yesterday, so he can't actually say if the minister was smirking at the media, but it's hard to believe he wasn't. I mean, really, it would be pretty difficult to say, as the Journal's scribe summarized it, "the changes were designed to make the information easier for Albertans to understand" without laughing out loud.

Look, people, this isn't really all that complicated. The Alberta PCs are Canada's most secretive provincial government and have been for generations. What's more, they keep getting worse.

Pretty well every election they promise to be more "transparent," and after every election they turn out to be more opaque.

If you wonder where Prime Minister Stephen Harper's brain trust came up with their plan to stitch Conservative cabinet ministers' and caucus members' lips shut, well, look no farther than the elegantly marbled hallways of the Alberta Legislature.

Harper's federal Conservative Party, by the way, is the one that's so very, very close to Alberta's even-farther-to-the-right Wildrose Party, which is now mantrically repeating the talking-point phrase "fiscal incompetence and mismanagement" to describe their Tory brethren's entirely characteristic behaviour.

Sorry to have to state the obvious, folks, but anyone who is even mildly surprised by this should be immediately cautioned against responding to emails containing confidential business proposals from the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry!

It should shock no one that the Redford Conservatives behave as North American "conservatives" always do. Anyone who imagines even for a moment that the Wildrose stream of the same party under Opposition Leader Danielle Smith would behave any differently in office requires a similar caution.

So it now seems things aren't as rosy as they appeared before the election, no one's fault really, and the price will just have to be paid by public employees -- voters who would be, in many cases, the same ones who made Redford's victories possible in last fall's leadership contest and last spring's election.

Who can forget all the those naïve strategic voters opting last spring for Thing 1 when faced by the possibility Thing 2 might win the election, abandoning the NDP and Alberta Liberals in the process?

Well, you can count on it that Redford's government won't do the one thing that would make sense under the circumstances, to wit, charging a fair royalty rate for the resources owned by the people of Alberta.

That might reduce the PCs' renowned fundraising capacity.

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

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