Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Public Accounts Committee and the casual abuse of power

Politics here in Alberta is certainly lively, both in ways that the rest of Canada will envy, like the recent profusion in parties and movements, and in ways less good, like today's stupidity in the Public Accounts Committee of the Alberta Legislature. To be brief I will quote the Edmonton Journal article linked below:

"Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald was effectively neutered as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee this morning.

On the recommendation of Wetaskiwin-Camrose Tory Verlyn Olson, "all future correspondence on behalf of the public accounts committee (must) be signed by both the chair and deputy chair."
So, 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.)"

As a basic matter of good governance this move by government caucus is appalling. What is the point of such a committee if its every move, even to convene a meeting, essentially requires the permission of the government? The abuse of power, and it is hard to see what else to call it, is especially flagrant given that this is the only significant committee I am aware of that the government doesn't already chair. Was one potentially awkward voice too many? According to the Edmonton Journal's article this is in fact the only committee of the legislature that the government doesn't already chair. As a matter of principle in governance it is best to have oversight committees like this representative of as many views outside the government as possible, to encourage them to ask the kind of questions they need to in order to be effective. Especially with a strong majority situation like we have here in Alberta this kind of oversight is important; the government should welcome an effective opposition voice, especially when it comes without any serious threat in the legislature itself.

Edmonton Journal - Capital Notebook:



It appears that there may be a retraction of the offensive motion coming tomorrow, April 21. In addition worth reading this post by Dave Cournoyer to learn who the silent votes on the motion were from the PC caucus. Shame on all 5 of you!