Raft of Tory reviews: Seeking transparency or delaying action?

By Kelly Cryderman, Postmedia News; Calgary Herald August 13, 2012 8:46 AM

In her first 10 months as premier, Alison Redford’s government has initiated more than a dozen reviews, public consultations or inquiries to look at everything from how a new environmental monitoring system for the oilsands should work to medical service queue-jumping.

The latest announcement came in the wake of a spending controversy in the health-care system, in which a senior financial executive ran up an expense tab of almost $350,000 in four years.

Last week, associate minister Don Scott – responsible for accountability, transparency and transformation – was handed the task of identifying a better system of expense reporting for cabinet ministers and other senior government officials. That’s on top of Scott’s work reviewing freedom of information laws and legislation to protect whistleblowers.

“The premier has been very clear she wants to do business in a new way,” said Kim Misik, Redford’s press secretary.

“It’s not a public-relations exercise.

“She really wants to make sure that we have an accountable system.”

While task force meetings and town halls can contribute to the public dialogue and unearth hidden truths, critics argue they’re also a means of placating voter anger by delaying tough decisions on costly new programs or contentious issues.

Wildrose party deputy house leader Shayne Saskiw said the raft of studies ordered by Redford are no substitute for action.

Saskiw noted a month after Redford won the PC party leadership last fall, she created a property rights task force where MLAs travelled the province to consult with rural Albertans on a number of contentious land laws.

The result is a new property rights advocate and a promise to review more land legislation. The government insists it’s a solid first step, while the Wildrose says it’s just windowdressing and doesn’t address real concerns.

“You don’t need high-paid, fancy consultants travelling the province to know that property rights are important; you should just know from your constituents and talking to Albertans,” Saskiw said.

However, Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said such reviews aren’t always simple political ploys – they can also lead to substantial policies. Redford, he said, can point to the MLA compensation review by retired Supreme Court justice John Major as an example of a scrupulous examination by a respected public figure. Taras noted the government accepted most of Major’s recommendations this year, although a legislature committee is still debating what kind of pension MLAs should receive.

Still, Taras acknowledged initiating such reviews “gives the government a breather” when the public is angry about issues such as MLA severance packages topping $1 million and MLAs paid extra for sitting on no-meet committees.

“It’s a way of taking the pressure off,” he said.

Other ongoing Redford government reviews and public consultations include: A judge-led inquiry with ? consultations this fall into “improper preferential access” to publicly funded medical services. The inquiry came after a scathing Health Quality Council of Alberta report in February.

– A public consultation on Alberta’s social policy framework, focused on how social policies can help achieve better outcomes for children, families and communities.- A strategic review of the performance of Alberta’s 10 foreign offices – ordered by the premier in November.

– The retail market review committee – created last winter after electricity rates spiked to historic highs – continues to look at power prices for consumers, and has been granted a deadline extension to Sept. 5 due to the “complexity of this issue.”

– Elections Alberta is reviewing its own legislation after a furor arose this spring around the chief electoral officer’s contention he can’t, by law, release details of investigations into illegal political contributions.

The public is also awaiting a number of completed reports. They include recommendations from former University of Lethbridge president Howard Tennant about how a new environmental monitoring system for the province, including the oilsands, should be funded and governed, as well as the red-tape reduction task force, which is looking at how to improve the regulatory environment for small businesses.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


Original source article: Raft of Tory reviews: Seeking transparency or delaying action?