Alberta is in the grip of an enormous vanity project.
One of the symbols is the $30-million laughingstock known as the provincial government’s energy “war room,” officially titled the Canadian Energy Centre.
That’s the outfit that has twice run into complaints about logo designs that infringe on other groups’ designs. (Why get by with a name and initials when you can pay a graphic design consultant to come up with a blob?)
The CEC also the outfit that: has had some of its staff falsely identifying themselves to people as “reporters”; has taken to badgering Alberta journalists; has badgered a school that suggested there are different sides to the climate-change debate; has set a $195,000 annual salary for the failed United Conservative election candidate who serves as its managing director; has seen that managing director write an inaugural column incorrectly identifying the CEC as a “Crown corporation” when it is actually a different entity known as a provincial government corporation; has used its legal status to win exemption from freedom of information requests that might uncover anything from its internal operations to its possible funding from non-government sources.
A pretty impressive record for only half a year of operation.
How the joke came about is simple. The government and all its closest supporters assume they are the smartest people in the room, or in fact in the entire province and maybe even the whole country.
They mistake loyalty for invariably being a sign of competence.
The result is that the current Alberta government is busily gathering power into its own hands from every source possible.
A superficial impression has developed that this government is all about spending cuts. It is more about accumulating power.
And so it has upended the fairly recent Edmonton and Calgary city charters, as well as telling municipal governments how to spend their money and set taxes. It has raised the idea of writing a law that would require cities to seek provincial approval before entering into any agreement with the federal government.
It has been telling school boards and universities how to run their affairs.
It has broached the idea of telling new physicians where they can practise.
It has put $2.5-million into an effort to uncover (actually to discredit) sources of funding for environmental organizations. At the same time it has ignored the secret foreign funding that helps sustain its favourite politically active organizations.
The group known as Alberta Proud put on a “Value of Alberta” conference last month to press the case for shifting federal powers to the province. Try looking up who Alberta Proud consists of and where they get their money (good luck with that).
The Fraser Institute reliably propagandizes views helpful to the UCP government; it just as reliably refuses to reveal its sources of funding (although old reports include ExxonMobil and the U.S. oil billionaire Koch brothers as sometime donors), while still unaccountably being able to claim charitable status and issue charitable donation tax receipts.
And of course, the government takes every opportunity to try to squeeze more jurisdiction out of federal hands. One of the main levers in that project is the “fair deal panel.” The panel is looking into ideas like carving a provincial pension plan out of the Canada Pension Plan, taking over more income-tax collection power, and replacing federal cash transfers with a bigger share of income-tax revenues.
Some of those ideas have a practical attraction. Carving out a provincial pension plan would give more power and prestige to Calgary financial executives. It would also let the government direct plan investments to some extent. Short of money to build schools? Why not invest pension money in P3 school construction?
But those ideas are all based on the central premise of putting more power into the hands of people who think they are the only ones who know how to run things. And none is based on the fundamental purpose of making life better for most ordinary Albertans.
One of the funniest moments of the last month was seeing provincial Energy Minister Sonya Savage welcome the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling against a B.C. pipeline challenge by saying the ruling was a clear message “to all governments that they need to stay in their own lane.”
The Alberta government would be happy to live by those words — on the assumption that it can expand its own lane to superhighway proportions.