Democracy should start at home

Democracy should start at home by Les Brost, July 9, 2007, The Calgary Herald
Albertans are big believers in democracy. Thousands of Alberta’s young men and women answered the call to defend democracy in two world wars, the Korean conflict and today in Afghanistan. Polling tells us that we are among the strongest advocates for an elected Canadian Senate and for elected judges. Provincial Conservative MLAs are among the leading advocates for an end to the “democratic deficit”. Yet there is a strange contradiction for provincial Conservatives when it comes to local democracy. It seems their flaming desire for democracy is quickly doused when it comes to control of health care and land use. These are areas of provincial jurisdiction that affect Albertans in their everyday lives.

Energy-related issues are the purview of the Energy Utilities Board, with eight members and a chairman appointed by the provincial government. Its mission is to “ensure that the discovery, development and delivery of Alberta’s energy resources and utility services take place in a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest”.

The EUB has been getting a lot of media attention lately. … The EUB decided to ban members of the public, including the affected property owners and opposition MLAs, from attending the “public hearings” in person. These
“interested parties” had to watch proceedings from a separate building on closed circuit TV. Then the EUB went one huge step further. It hired four private undercover detectives to infiltrate those meetings. The EUB says its agents were directed to blend into the crowd watching the televised hearings and watch for signs of violence. Next, the private eyes posed as landowners concerned about the proposed lines and infiltrated the community group. One of the private snoops even insinuated himself into landowner conference calls.

This is scary stuff.

The EUB- appointed by the Conservative government- bars opposition MLA’s from attending public hearings. It hires private detectives who infiltrate meetings of Albertans seeking to protect their environmental, social and economic interests. The actions of the EUB exhibit a basic disrespect for grassroots democracy. Is this type of conduct consistent with the EUB mandate to act in “a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest”? Is this “the Alberta way”?

Is anyone going to get fired over this caper? Don’t hold your breath, because Premier Stelmach is backing the EUB. He has said that the EUB actions were appropriate to the situation.

That’s why Albertans who are so concerned about democracy in Ottawa should lower their gunsights. It’s time we had real, grass-roots democracy in Alberta, and we can start with publicly elected members of Health Authorities, the Natural Resources Conservation Board and the Energy Utilities Board. It’s also time we Albertans asked ourselves why we fight for democracy everyplace but at home. [Emphasis added]

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