Editorial: Alberta Tories display the politics of indecision

Editorial: Alberta Tories display the politics of indecision by Edmonton Journal, February 7, 2013
Alberta’s ruling Conservatives have three very tiresome habits, all related to a strange reluctance to exercise the right of leadership for which they fight so hard at election time. The first is “consulting with Albertans” as a strategy to avoid taking action that will be politically controversial. … The second is using such consultations as a way of obtaining political cover for action the government does want to take. … The third we might call the Hail Mary consultation, used when the government can’t figure out how to square a policy circle of its own making, and genuinely hopes the public will come up with something — or failing that, accept that no real solution is possible. Although the first two impulses seem to be in play as well, it is primarily the third that can be seen in news that the deficit-plagued Redford government will flush $1 million down the plumbing with provincewide consultations on water use for the next half-century.

Just as the province is open to any solution to its deficit problem that doesn’t actually involve raising taxes or cutting core services, the Redford government wants input on possible water approaches that don’t touch existing licences, and on water subjects that do not explicitly include rivers. Just imagine how long it would take to be served, and what the food would taste like, if restaurants operated this way. “Well, sir,” the waiter might say, “our chef doesn’t know how to make penne arrabiata. Have you got some suggestions?”

Curiously, the strategy of consultation to a fault is not shared by the Alberta Conservatives’ federal cousins. By coincidence, fracking has also been in the news in Ottawa in recent days, but in a way that reveals a lot more policy confidence. Scott Vaughan, the federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, has taken the Harper government to task for what he describes as weak and confused efforts dealing with the environmental consequences of fossil-fuel exploitation such as fracking and offshore drilling.  The government responded not with a public inquiry or fact-finding exercise, but rather with an admission that Vaughan had made useful suggestions. Harper insisted that “polluter pay” is at the heart of his government’s environmental policy, adding that he’s been clear that “over the decades to come, there will have to be enhanced measures of environmental protection.” [Emphasis added]

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