Klassen: Ethics ruling proves Alberta politics is for the birds

I was going to write about the goose cull — about how they should include the Canadian species that makes Prince’s Island a tip-toe experience, is despised in Manhattan due to the bacterial bulk the birds leave in Central Park, and is loathed for muckifying the banks of London’s River Thames.

Apart from expensive puffy jackets, foie gras and Jamie Oliver’s roast with port gravy recipe, I can’t find the love for these pests, and think they should go to the food bank. Alas, this would have offended the arbiters of political correctness, satire being such an unrepentant anathema to that type of censorship, so instead, I write about a different kind of mess: Alberta provincial politics.

“The province is under new management,” proclaimed a newly minted Premier Jim Prentice five months ago, no more arrogance, entitlement, blah, blah, blah. Well, so much for the breath of fresh air we were sold with this latest PC incarnation.

“I consider the matter closed,” said Prentice last Tuesday, wiping his hands of ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler’s report, which called the modulars-for-votes “perception” of the actions of Education Minister Gordon Dirks “blatant political opportunism.” Move along, nothing to see here, folks. Let’s talk about, ahem, the budget behind door No. 3, where now maybe nobody gets schools. Whew, good thing the deep pockets of Calgary-Elbow slipped in under the wire — not so good for the communities of — in the order determined by a heavily jerked around CBE — Evergreen, Oakridge, Coventry Hills, Radisson Park and Mid-Sun, all of which were in greater need than Calgary-Elbow before Dirks came to be in greater need of winning a seat (which he did narrowly).

That Dirks is unapologetic and says he would do it again flips the bird to anyone who doesn’t toe the party line and is galling enough; that the premier seems fine with it is profoundly disappointing. Does Prentice take no responsibility for the hand-picked guy he plopped into the job before there was voter authority to do so?

“I’m not hearing anyone suggesting that it was the wrong decision in the sense that modular schools are needed in that location,” says Prentice. It’s a comment which is slithery in the sense that it doesn’t address the moral integrity issue, or the jump-the-queue issue, or that the legislation — which says that gaining a $200,000-a-year job is not gaining personally — is clearly ridiculous.

This isn’t just about Dirks. How many people in government would have had to orchestrate that manoeuvre? Dirks’ campaign manager has been quite open about the fact that fighting off the opposition is precisely why the string-pulling was done to get the school swag. It’s hard to imagine the premier didn’t know about it (and he should have, if he didn’t). Certainly, the deputy minister and likely higher-level bureaucrats would have known.

The buck doesn’t stop at “Teflon” Dirks (who also seemed to whistle Dixie during the controversy over the gay student rights legislation, Bill 10, instead hanging Sandra Jansen out to dry). When you endorse people who do this type of politicking, you’re saying this behaviour is what this government is about. If Prentice changes the fixed election date law to capitalize on the Wildrose disarray, he will further demonstrate willingness to manipulate the democratic process.

In other provinces, laws prevent precisely what Dirks did, but not so in Alberta. It’s politics as usual, and it’s genius really. Who’s going to vote Dirks out in protest? The people who got the school? As our ethics commissioner points out, our Conflicts of Interest Act “does not deal with moral integrity.” We supposed that the new premier did, and so did the rest of the country. As one national editorialist writes: “Alberta politics could use a dose of honour about now.”

Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get it anytime soon. Like too many geese, Alberta politics leaves a lot to step around.

Karin Klassen is a Calgary writer whose column appears every second Monday.

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