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NDP moves to rein in Tory patronage and boondoggles in Alberta's ABC Sector

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Joe Ceci

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In yet another example of the social democratic scourge of evidence-based decision-making, Alberta's New Democratic Party Government is bringing in legislation that will result in the people who run government-financed agencies, boards and commissions being paid based on what they're actually supposed to do.

Even worse, Bill 19, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act introduced in the Legislature Wednesday by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, will allow the government and people of Alberta to know how much these people are actually being paid right now!

By bringing in a pay grid for government-appointed "ABC" executives and making public information public, the government of Premier Rachel Notley will lay waste to a grand Tory tradition of paying off cronies and supporters with generous patronage and boondoggles, and then keeping the cost secret from the people who had to pick up the tab.

Ceci also indicated that as a general rule his government is opposed to "performance bonuses" as opposed to appropriate compensation for executives that reflects the actual work they were appointed to do. "The former system had so few accountability measurements or mechanisms that there was really no effective way to measure savings," Ceci told the CBC.

No wonder Alberta's conservatives furious at those crazy Dippers!

Enough sarcasm. Except, that is, to say that if this kind of thing keeps up, not only will old Tories be deprived of the lush pastures they came to expect in their declining years during the Progressive Conservative Dynasty that lingered until last year, but the NDP will be re-elected with ease. This possibility has even been raised by tireless propagandists like Postmedia's house Dipper-basher, Lorne Gunter, who ruminated about it yesterday based on Notley's solid performance in the Fort McMurray fire and the seeming inability of Alberta's right to unite.

Even Wildrose Opposition Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt grudgingly praised Ceci's bill, although he grumped in an interview with the CBC that the government really ought to be hammering unionized front-line employees.

It would be unfair to say Alberta’s many boards, commissions and agencies existed only to provide a comfortably lavish dotage to PC hacks, although they certainly often served that function.

There are said to be at least 27 executives making more than $200,000 a year to do whatever it is they do who will be immediately impacted by Bill 19. And when one examines the NDP plan for dealing with this Tory legacy, it becomes clear there are quite possibly many more.

These agencies, boards and commissions also served such purposes as insulating past Tory governments from criticism for decisions and problems that were in fact government policies and allowing industries against all common sense to set public rules to regulate their own activities.

The Alberta Health Services Board was a classic example of the first type of dodge -- instantly cashiered by Tory health minister Fred Horne in 2013 and replaced by a single administrator the instant it hesitated to do his political bidding. It took the NDP to restore board governance to AHS.

The "independent" industry-run Alberta Energy Regulator, created by the Tories in 2012 to take over the regulatory functions of the government, is an example of the latter.

As for agencies that performed functions really part of the government mandate or that simply seemed to exist as a convenient Valhalla for superannuated Tories gone to their reward, the NDP has also showed it’s prepared to move on that aspect of this problem.

Last month, for example, it shut down the expensive and ill-coordinated Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, created in 2013 by the PCs, and moved its key work back into the Environment Ministry where it belongs.

"In the past there have been questions about the credibility and transparency of this work," Environment Minister Shannon Phillips explained in early April. "Environmental monitoring will now take its place alongside public safety and public health as part of the core business of government."

In addition to AEMERA, the Notley Government eliminated 14 other agencies, boards and commissions outright, including such timeless entities as Alberta Strategic Tourism Council and the Disabled Hunter Review Committee. Another 11 were amalgamated into a mere three, including the incomprehensibly named "Alberta Innovates" quadruplets. (The accurately named Alberta Research Council, for example, was given the preposterous moniker "Alberta Innovates -- Technology Futures" in 2010.)

In fairness, the review the NDP is acting on was begun by the PCs under the province's last Tory premier, Jim Prentice, in November 2015. With their sorry legacy of loyal sinecure-holders in place, however, it seems highly unlikely the Tories would ever have done anything like this with it.

The NDP Government says the first round of reforms will save taxpayers $33 million over three years. A drop in the budget bucket, perhaps, but powerfully symbolic.

Once Bill 19 is passed and a consultant hired by the government gets finished systematizing the top executives' salaries this summer, Ceci indicated, the act will allow the government to take a look at lower-level executives employed by these groups.

The second phase of the review, scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, will look at another 146 agencies that are not governed by the act. A third and final phase -- which is supposed to be completed some time next year -- will focus on the boards of governors of post-secondary institution. Like the half dozen agricultural advisory groups eliminated by the NDP, post-secondary boards make up another rich vein of Tory patronage, and in some cases outright obstruction of the elected government’s policies.

So much for the real "Alberta Advantage," eh?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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