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Who leaked Alberta's budget details? And who plugged the leak?

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Don Braid

It's a whodunit, a little like the one about the dog that didn't bark.

Why didn't the Calgary Herald create a huge front-page brouhaha when its columnist Don Braid ferreted out some pretty startling facts about Alberta's March 7 budget?

Certainly, that's what most newspapers would have done if their trusted political columnist had sufficient confidence to publish a story stating the government of Premier Alison Redford was about to bring down a budget with an "operating deficit" of about $300 million. Alert readers will recall that just months ago the very same government had vowed no such thing would ever happen on its watch.

In fact, I could go farther. That's what the Calgary Herald would have done back in the day when the premier's office didn't necessarily have its publisher on speed dial.

In the event, Braid's oddly subdued column ran on Saturday morning as the so-called Alberta Economic Summit was about to kick off, but with no accompanying news story on the Herald's front page and no follows or commentary in any other media on the significant discoveries the story outlined.

The information, Braid's column indicated, came from within the Treasury Board, the powerful government committee headed by Finance Minister Doug Horner that oversees the civil service and most of the operations of the government.

But at least the column ran, which indicates that the Herald couldn't question Braid's reporting -- even if the phone lines running from the premier's communications staff to the editor's and publisher's offices were burning up Friday afternoon and evening.

It certainly would have been fun to have been a fly on the wall when the Herald's august editors and managers met to decide what to do about Braid's column and the no doubt clearly expressed wishes of the premier's communicators that it not see the light of the next morning.

There may not have been sufficient details in Braid's column to let the Opposition credibly call for the resignation of Horner as finance minister and president of Treasury Board, but there were certainly enough there to have the government launch a full-scale effort to relentlessly track down the leaker. Count on it that Horner was furious.

You may be sure the other 12 members of Treasury Board are none too happy to find themselves on their boss's list of suspects, and officials in the board's offices should brace themselves for a full-blown witch-hunt commencing this morning.

This must be an especially unhappy turn of events if your name, like that of Treasury Board Vice-Chair Kyle "Leaky" Fawcett, so obviously lends itself to a mean nickname!

The premier ended the summit with a news conference in which she tried to blow off Braid's revelations, calling out the columnist by name and telling the passive gathering of reporters that the numbers were not from the budget and that was all she had to say about that.

Your blogger was not there, alas, not being paid to attend these things, but can report that no one else in the gathered press corps seems to have followed up with a pointed question.

I have known Braid for years, he is an excellent reporter and I have confidence in his facts. If his numbers are not from the budget, it's only because the government has four weeks to recalibrate sufficiently.

As to the motive of the leaker, that remains a mystery. As has been previously reported here, Redford is sufficiently unpopular with elements of her own caucus to offer a possible explanation.

Meanwhile, a partial list of suspects -- at least those who are members of Treasury Board -- is reproduced below.

And the dog that didn't bark? Readers will recall that Sherlock Holmes solved that mystery with the following observation: "Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well."

Never mind the meaning of the curried mutton.

List of Alberta Treasury Board Members

Doug Horner, Spruce Grove-St. Albert – President

Kyle Fawcett, Calgary-Klein – Vice-Chair

Mike Allen, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo

Wayne Drysdale, Grande Prairie-Wapiti

Doug Griffiths, Battle River-Wainwright

David Dorward, Edmonton-Gold Bar

Ric McIver, Calgary-Hays

Robin Campbell, West Yellowhead

Len Webber, Calgary-Foothills

Jeff Johnson, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater

Cal Dallas, Red Deer-South

Donna Kennedy-Glans, Calgary-Varsity

Jonathan Denis, Calgary-Acadia

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

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