Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A "person of interest" .....

By Keith Gerein
Edmonton Journal Provincial Affairs Writer, sports enthusiast and very amateur gardener

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Premier Alison Redford’s question period behavior has apparently become a point of fun at the Alberta legislature this week. A wild west-style WANTED poster was distributed to press gallery offices Tuesday, clearly taking a shot at the premier’s absence from the house this week, as well as her recent preference to deflect many of the questions she gets to her ministers.

The poster, created by a staffer of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, suggests tips on Redford’s whereabouts should be sent to “Sheriff” Smith. Wildrose MLAs and staffers were also happily re-Tweeting images posted on Twitter on Tuesday. The poster is perhaps a preview of the upcoming press gallery Christmas party, an occasion when the various parties engage in a little light-hearted ribbing of each other, and themselves.

However, when asked about it Tuesday, Smith wasn’t smiling. She said the poster, while presented in a humourous way, speaks to a serious issue about the premier’s behavior.

“A lot of people are asking what she meant when she talked about raising the bar, because that’s not raising the bar in my opinion,” Smith said. “We believe if you truly want to have transparency and openness, the premier should be prepared to stand and answer questions on policy and accountability of her government. She’s clearly not prepared to do that and we are hoping to press her to make a committment to this legislature that she will be here.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said he found the message of the poster relevant.

“I think the premier is missing in action.”

Redford was absent from question period again on Tuesday as she was wrapping up a trip to Eastern Canada with a stop in Toronto. The highlight of the trip came late last week when premiers from around Canada met in Halifax to discuss the economy. Redford made some headlines by coming to an agreement with new Quebec Premier Pauline Marois to form a working group of officials to share ideas on energy development and environmental protection — with an eye toward possibly creating a new west-east pipeline to carry Alberta crude.

In a brief phone interview with the Journal on Friday, Redford offered a bit more detail on her thinking behind the agreement. She said any future pipeline will be a private sector initiative, but provinces need all the information they can get to structure their policies and regulations in a way for the project to be viable. In effect, the working group could be a vehicle to head off any snap decisions from Quebec to reject a new pipeline.

“I think that before any one in any jurisdiction makes decision with respect to energy projects, the more information the better,” Redford said. “We are not doing this with an idea that we are there as proponent for a project or that we are trying to sort out issues so that any particular project can succeed. We are just saying, ‘Let’s make sure that if we have information we have through experience in Alberta that might be helpful, that we share that with you.’”

She said other premiers also showed interest in this kind of information sharing.

As for the rest of the meeting, Redford said there was recognition that a strong Alberta economy was important to the nation as a whole, but that every jurisdiction was being impacted the struggles of global markets. In that vein, there was considerable discussion about the need to improve Canada’s international trade position.

 “We are all facing the fact that we need to re-examine our commitments with respect to how quickly we’re going to be able to move out of deficit situations,” she said.

“International trade was fundamental. We have got to grow our markets, not just a little bit but substantially, and energy is a way to do that. I think premiers around the table see that.”

She said she and her counterparts talked about sharing best practices on skill development and retraining.

“In Alberta we have challenges with respect to shortages of people to fill jobs, but we also know there are a lot of people we could be providing support for to learn skills in different ways,” Redford said. “Whether that’s a lot of single Moms, new Canadians, or people in aboriginal communities, we see those sorts of experiences across the country.”

Redford said she spoke to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, though not about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry Alberta oil to the West Coast. The two leaders have been at loggerheads after Clark said earlier this year she would not support the project unless B.C. was granted a bigger share of the economic benefits. Some believe that means getting a portion of Alberta’s royalties, an idea Redford has said she won’t consider.

“I chatted with her about a lot of things, but I think she hasn’t changed her view with respect to where she thinks the discussion needs to go,” Redford said. “So I’m not sure I’d say that we’re even looking to make any progress on that.

“I’ve been pretty public about the fact that as it gets closer to an election in B.C. it seems to me there is lot more conversation in B.C. about this and that’s where the conversation needs to be. People in B.C. through this election have an opportunity to make some decisions with respect to economic priorities and what opening markets look like to them. My sense is that where (Clark) is thinking now as well, that it’s time for people in B.C. to have this conversation.”


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