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historic merger “unites the centre-right” in alberta.

Historic Conservative-Liberal merger “unites the centre-right” in Alberta
Edmonton Morning Star

Page: A1
January 16, 2012

In a move designed to stop a Wildrose Alliance victory in the imminent provincial general election, two long-time political foes have agreed to put aside their differences and form a “coalition of the centre-right.” At a press conference this morning, Progressive Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal leader David Swann announced the formation of the electoral coalition.

“As difficult as it might be, we, uh, have decided to, um, work together for Alberta’s future,” said Stelmach. “Uh, the reality is that Alberta’s future will be brighter and stronger when, uh, we work together.”

Recent polling has shown Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance with 35% support across Alberta. The PCs and Liberals have 36% combined support, which they argue will be enough to form government. The Liberals had initially hoped to negotiate electoral cooperation with the NDP and the resurgent Alberta Party, but they began talks with the Tories following the Wildrose Alliance victory in the hotly contested Calgary-Buffalo by-election to replace Liberal MLA Kent Hehr, who was elected Mayor in 2010.

Under the agreement the PC and Liberals will not challenge each others incumbent MLAs. Until the election and if re-elected, Stelmach has appointed Swann as Deputy Premier, former leader Kevin Taft as Minister of Health & Wellness, and Calgary MLA Harry Chase as Minister of Education.

Premier Stelmach told the media that the two parties will run on a five point platform that emphasizes good governance, the economy, the environment, safe communities, and an strong role for Alberta in Canada. Details will be released when the election is called.

“Just as the Liberal Conservative coalition has succeeded in the United Kingdom, Premier Stelmach and I intend to prove that it can work in Alberta,” said Swann. “We intend to protect Albertans from the new and scary Wildrose Alliance.”

Some Liberals were quick to rise up in arms in opposition to the merger, saying it will only drive voters to the NDP and Alberta Party.

Party organizers defended the decision. “Liberals overwhelmingly approved the idea of cooperation with other progressive parties at our last policy convention,” said a Liberal spokesperson. “Cooperation with the Progressive Conservatives will stop the vote splitting the new and scary Wildrose Alliance is depending on.”

Danielle Smith was unavailable for comment, but Wildrose Alliance strategists were quick to attack the announcement as a “merger of convenience.”

“It’s official, Stelmach is the new Trudeau,” boasted the Wildrose Communications Director.

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tory backbenchers sat silently, then voted to gag the public accounts committee.

Don Braid has published an excellent column in today’s Calgary Herald on the decision by Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson and six other PC MLAs to vote in favor of weakening the power of the Public Accounts Committee to be a financial watchdog.

As I wrote last week, the powers of the committee were curtailed when PC MLAs voted to create a new rule forcing Committee Chairman MLA Hugh MacDonald to have all future committee correspondence approved by Deputy Chair PC MLA Dave Rodney. When the issue was raised by opposition MLAs in Question Period, Premier Ed Stelmach, Education Minister Dave Hancock, and Deputy Premier Doug Horner have scoffed at the complaints, citing how powerless they are when it comes to influencing their backbench MLAs.

As shown in Hansard transcripts of the April 14 Public Accounts Committee meeting, Only Mr. Olson and Mr. Rodney  spoke in favor of the motion. Both Liberal Harry Chase and New Democrat Brian Mason spoke and voted against the motion. Not one of the five other PC MLAs at the meeting spoke to the motion. Edmonton PC MLAs David Xiao, Tony Vandermeer, Peter Sandhu, Doug Elniski, and Red Deer MLA Cal Dallas all sat silently until it was time to vote on Mr. Olson’s motion and they all voted in favor of it.

UPDATE: After significant public pressure, it appears that Mr. Olson might introduce a new motion to withdraw his original motion at tomorrow’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.

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public un-accounts committee.

According to its mandate, Alberta’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts is an all-party committee consisting of 17 Members of the Legislative Assembly that reviews the annual report of the Auditor General of Alberta and the public accounts of the province. It is tradition across Canada that an opposition MLA occupy the Chairmanship of this committee.

Via to Capital Notebook, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is crying foul after his powers as Chairman were severely limited by a recent motion by Wetaskiwin-Camrose PC MLA Verlyn Olsen to require that “all future correspondence on behalf of the public accounts committee (must) be signed by both the chair and deputy chair.” The Deputy Chair is currently Calgary-Lougheed PC MLA Dave Rodney.

More from Capital Notebook:

…before MacDonald can send out e-mails, make plans for future meetings, and demand government bodies make an appearance before the all-party committee, Calgary-Lougheed Tory Dave Rodney (the deputy chair) must give him the nod.

It’s an unusual practice, since it doesn’t happen in any other legislative committee, all of which are dominated by government Conservatives. Olson’s motion this morning was backed by all present government members and opposed by NDP Leader Brian Mason and Calgary-Varsity Liberal Harry Chase. (MacDonald, as the chairman, can’t actually vote.)

This is not the first time that the already limited power Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee has been harshly criticized. Here is an exert from MLA Kevin Taft‘s 2007 book Democracy Derailed which describes how much that committee’s oversight power had been limited:

Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee can meet once a week only when the legislature is sitting, which is all of three months per year. During approximately a dozen 90-minute meetings, the committee must review the spending of 24 provincial government departments with a combined budget of $24 billion.

That’s not all. Unlike the federal Public Accounts Committee, Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee cannot submit a report to the legislature. Legislators outside of Alberta find this restriction hard to fathom. Conservative Member of Parliament John Williams said “It’s shocking. I cannot believe a government majority would use their capacity to set the rules like that.”

It is unclear what prompted Mr. Olson to introduce this motion or why the PC MLAs on the committee supported it. I have contacted Mr. Olson’s office for an explanation and if I receive a response, I will post it here. I try to stay away from conspiracy theories, but with MLAs expected to start their summer break tomorrow (yes, in April) and the introduction of the distracted driver legislation taking the headlines, it feels like this motion was designed to be lost in the shuffle.

UPDATE: Alex Muir from the Roundhouse blog has offered some thoughts on Mr. Olson’s motion.