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No change! No change! Jim Prentice's 'new management' is offering the same old Tory stuff

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Sustained, uninterrupted privatization of health care, a senior official dumped for daring to speak out about political interference in her supposedly independent work, thousands of dollars in illegal donations to the good ole Tory Dynasty now led by Premier Jim Prentice…

All this and a Speaker who doesn't understand or care about his impartial role in the Legislature... Plus a national mission to build pipelines to all points of the compass!

This is new management? Sure sounds a lot like the old Alberta Conservative management to me!

Now, it cannot be denied that Prentice dramatically and publicly repudiated some of the more bizarre activities that went on during the strange interregnum when Alison Redford and her advisors briefly grabbed power from the Tory Old Boys' Club, a spell during which the entire place seemed to descend into political la-la land.

So give the man his due: He gave the bum's rush to a few cabinet ministers he saw as too close to Redford, announced plans to sell off the planes Redford misused (even though that's not really a sound economic decision), and the notorious Skypalace will now have a half-million-dollar-plus boardroom table instead of two similarly priced powder rooms reminiscent of the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C.

But really, the cost of abandoning policies and legislation is low when they appear to the public either to be prima facie evidence of corruption or are self-evidently doomed to be overturned by the courts.

So Alberta's "new management," to use the premier’s own phrase, really appears to be substantially unchanged when you look at the policies and behaviour that really matters. That stuff, even amid the supposed disavowal of everything that happened during the Redford Era, continues pretty much unchanged and unabated.

Consider the Sonic Boom -- that is, the privatization of more and more of Alberta's essential medical lab operations into the hands of a multinational company based on another continent: How is this anything but a continuation of the policies of the now-reviled former health minister Fred Horne, whom Prentice tossed over the side for being too closely associated with the Redford regime?

Alert readers will recall that Duncan Campbell, momentarily the CEO of Alberta Health Services during Horne's watch, swiftly departed that role after he mistakenly Tweeted last year that AHS would not seek private-sector bids for a $3-billion medical testing lab in Edmonton when physicians and other staff members protested.

Campbell was swiftly overruled on that one by Horne himself, who at the time was for all intents and purposes acting as the de facto CEO of AHS. Nothing had changed in the government's plan to privatize lab services, Horne snapped, closing the book on that episode as well as Campbell's term as CEO, although we were told at the time there was no connection.

Likewise, what is the significance of Health Minister Stephen Mandel's and Premier Prentice's own cautious bafflegab about continuing care versus long-term care but more of Horne's unstinting effort, as well as that of his portfolio predecessor Ron Liepert, to privatize and marketize seniors' care as if this were about the kind of hotel you could afford to holiday in and not the kind of place in which you would be forced to spin out your "golden years?" 

"No plan! No plan!" those 2006 Albertans for Change "attack ads" whispered. They got that wrong. When it came to health care, and especially seniors' care, there was a plan all right. The same plan is in effect today under Prentice and Mandel. Exactly the same plan!

Turning to personnel matters, we have now learned Prentice's new management team -- the weakest PC cabinet in 43 years, in former NDP leader Brian Mason's piquant phrase -- won’t be renewing the contract of Alberta Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau. The apparent reason? Internal documents obtained by the CBC revealed Sauvageau had dared to express her concerns about political and bureaucratic interference by provincial government representatives in the operations of her office.

In her correspondence, Sauvageau said she feared the interference could affect the public's trust in the integrity of the death-investigation system, specifically in cases like the deaths of children in provincial care, which had been a huge embarrassment to successive Tory governments.

So how is this different from Horne firing the entire AHS board last year when they refused to knuckle under to his scheme to deny contractual bonus payments and dismissal payouts to health executives that had become controversial with the public? It turns out, as we now know, that the board got the law right, even if they misunderstood the political consequences of failing to kowtow to Horne.

And how is it different from the firing of the medical officer of health for the Palliser Health Authority in southeastern Alberta in 2002 when he made the mistake of talking publicly about the harmful health impacts of burning fossil fuels?

Ralph Klein's government wasn't going to let a guy hang around who was prepared to declare his support for the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

That story at least had a happy ending: the health official in question was Dr. David Swann, who was soon elected to the Legislature as a Liberal MLA, where he did yeoman service for the people of Alberta. Swann plans to retire after the next general election.

So again we see, on issues that matter, we just get the same-old-same-old from the Prentice government.

And how about those illegal donations? According to the Opposition Wildrose Party -- granted, doing a little creative news recycling -- the PCs were paid more than $100,000 in illegal donations between 2004 and 2010.

In 2010, the Legislature voted to change Alberta's election financing law, banning political donations from publicly financed institutions. But MLAs prevented Elections Alberta from revealing improper donations made before 2009! Say what?

Now we have a pretty good idea, thanks to this timely reminder from the Wildrose Party, why that particular provision was put in place.

So far, there's been no apparent effort by the government to do anything about this, notwithstanding Prentice's assurance that everything is different now.

It's hard not to think that Liberal Leader Raj Sherman had it right when he described the PC problem with illegal donations as "systemic." The Tories should "return that money," he told the Calgary Herald. Well, good luck with that.

Mason put it well last year. When it comes to dealing with the Tories in Alberta, he said, "If you don't pay, you don’t play."

So what's changed?

Yes, there's been a management facelift. And the expensive Skypalace is an expensive boardroom now.

But where the rubber hits the road? No change! No change!


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

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