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Chutzpah Alert! Premier Dave Hancock explains why Sky Palaces and the like are nothing but 'distractions'

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I don't know about you, but I sort of admire the colossal cheek of the Hancock Government -- which is exactly the same in most respects as the Redford Government -- when it claims that all its recent troubles are nothing but One Big Distraction.

Last week, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock visited my town, St. Albert, to talk to what we have been told was a sold-out crowd at the local hostelry to raise money for our inevitably Progressive Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly. I can't claim to have been there, so I'm relying on the local bi-weekly newspaper, the St. Albert Gazette, for my description of what went on.

All this talk about cracks in the Tory caucus so big you could drive a semi-trailer truck through them without scraping the sides? All balderdash, Hancock told the no-doubt vastly relieved local Tories.

Stories in the news about the same sort of thing? Distractions, every one of 'em! Distractions that keep your government from the important business of working on Big Picture Issues, which, Hancock explained, are what Alberta Tories do best.

Alas, this very sort of distraction is likely to continue for a while now, because the CBC has inconveniently made us all aware that when former premier Alison Redford was planning a luxury apartment for herself and her daughter atop a provincial government office building in Edmonton, lots of other people in her government knew about it too and don't seem to have done or said anything.

The official line on the so-called Sky Palace Affair seems to be that it was just something Redford got up to all by herself, and her ministers and officials would have stopped her if only they'd known.

But the CBC's always mischievous investigative reporter, Charles Rusnell, reported yesterday that plans to build the luxury penthouse suite atop the confusingly named Edmonton Federal Building, which is in fact an Edmonton provincial building, continued until late last year and all the while deputy ministers from several provincial departments knew all about them.

In particular, this creates a problem for Grande Prairie Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, who back in 2012 was the minister of infrastructure, and who was reappointed to that same post last week. (Redford shuffled Drysdale into Transportation and replaced him at Infrastructure with Ric McIver last December. Hancock put him back into Infrastructure last week when McIver quit the cabinet to run for the party leadership. This was conveniently just in time for Drysdale not to return the CBC's phone calls.)

The documents, obtained in one of Rusnell's ubiquitous FOIP searches, cast doubt Drysdale's claim he thought the whole scheme had been abandoned as a bad idea back in 2012. Leastways, if he did, they certainly suggest his senior civil servants didn't tell him about them, which might have been a bit of an oversight since it was his ministry that was going to have to pay for the renovations.

The government says only $173,000 was spent on consulting work for the suite, by the way, but it's not certain this isn't just fancy accounting -- putting the cost of the repurposed structure under a different column in the books, for example.

Regardless, getting back to Hancock's St. Albert commentary last week, he told the local PCs not to trouble their pretty little heads about how the caucus thumped former premier Alison Redford like a dusty rug and then fired her sorry self all the way to the LuLu California Bistro in Palm Springs. Nor, he advised them, should they think about how not long before that some Tory MLAs were quitting to sit as Independents and as others were holding secret conclaves to discuss outright revolution.

It's all just standard operating procedure for the fine people who have delivered good government to Alberta for 43 years, explained Hancock, wearing trendy new spectacles that aren't quite as goofy as his old pair. The Tories, he said, call it a diversity of opinion.

All that stuff about the former premier jetting her friends and relations around the globe on the taxpayer's dime? Part of that Big Distraction.

Unconstitutional legislation? Stripping working people of their modest pensions? All that stuff? More distraction.

And that Sky Palace thing Rusnell is now going on and on about? Even more distraction!

So don't fret, Hancock told the remaining loyal local Tories -- and, since the media was invited, by extension the rest of us. "Your caucus knows that we need to be working on Big Picture Issues."

Hancock, in the words of the reporter, "reminded the crowd that the Tories have strong fiscal values." Thus, he explained: "We have very strong character. … We';re trying to do the right things for the right reason."

And that New Leader they’re about to choose -- whoever that turns out to be after the exciting leadership contest, eh? "The New Leader will have the party and the government firing on all cylinders."

It's not hard to guess what that New Leader will be saying, is it? "Don't worry about all that history stuff! It's One Big Distraction!"

Like I said, you've sort of got to admire the Tories for the sheer chutzpah of this approach. They're like the proverbial son who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

But here's the deal. In its 44th year of life there's only one Big Issue for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and that's staying in power.

The party has no other reason for existence, no matter who leads it or how many cylinders it's firing on.

Issues of travel and expense claims -- not to mention secret taxpayer subsidized apartments for their former leader that nobody seems to have said boo about -- are important because they are issues of character.

And it's been a long time since the PC Party got that part right.


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

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