May 132013
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Premier has not been instilling much trust in Albertans lately.

by Ricardo Acuña

Who's running this show? That question has been uttered countless times by countless Albertans in the two months since the release of Alberta's provincial budget. The show in question, of course, is the provincial government. Most folks in Alberta probably have very little sense of what the Premier's job entails on a day-to-day basis, and for the most part, they probably don't care to know. What they want to know is that their Premier is actually exercising leadership, making the big-picture decisions and remaining accountable to them for those decisions.

In the last two months, Premier Alison Redford has failed miserably on all those counts. She has been largely absent at times of public pressure and contentious situations, and has more often than not chosen to delegate all public accountability on issues to her deputy premier — a decision that calls her judgment and leadership into question.

Advanced Education Minister Lukaszuk has repeatedly gotten facts about post-secondary education in Alberta wrong, has refused to meet with faculty and academic staff at the province’s universities and has even taken to mocking and bullying academics on Twitter.

Take for example the case of the public backlash against the announced seven-percent cuts to post-secondary education. In this case it makes some sense that Thomas Lukaszuk, in his capacity as Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, would be the public face of these cuts. In the two months since the budget, however, Lukaszuk has repeatedly gotten facts about post-secondary education in Alberta wrong, has refused to meet with faculty and academic staff at the province's universities and has even taken to mocking and bullying academics on Twitter. The result of all this has been frustrated students, alienated faculty members and a public at large questioning Lukaszuk's competence in the portfolio.

If there was ever a time for Redford to stand up, set the record straight on where they are getting their erroneous data and attempt to smooth out relationships between her government and these important constituencies, this was it. Yet she hasn't. She has opted instead to let Lukaszuk keep digging this hole and keep damaging relationships to the point where they will quickly become irreparable. How is that effective and visionary leadership?

The same can be said of her government's handling of the recent wildcat strike by correctional workers at the Edmonton Remand Centre. From the very start of the situation she gave full control of the file to Lukaszuk. He proceeded to call the workers liars, refused to speak to them under any circumstances and sought heavy-handed labour board and judicial rulings against the workers. He inflamed the situation so badly that by the end of the second day of the strike, Alberta appeared on the brink of an all-out walk-out by all of the province's public service employees. And yet, Redford did not say a single word publicly about the strike, she kept Lukaszuk on the file and she gave Albertans no indication that she was even aware of, much less in control of, what her government was doing regarding the striking workers.

Lukaszuk is notoriously combative, aggressive, impulsive and a bit of a bully. All that was needed for this job action to be resolved quickly without escalation was an early conversation with the workers and union leaders where both parties came to the table respectfully and sincerely. Redford's background as a human-rights lawyer would certainly have served her well in that type of meeting.

Likewise, Dave Hancock, ostensibly the minister responsible for labour issues, is a lawyer who is seen as thoughtful, articulate and well-respected by folks in the public service. Yet somehow, Redford decided it would be best to hide from the issue entirely and let Lukaszuk continue to pour gasoline on the fire. One more issue that was handled poorly; one more set of relationships that has likely been damaged beyond repair.

So what has the Premier been doing while all of this was going on? She's been travelling to Washington and central Canada to pitch pipelines on behalf of oil companies, and touring the province announcing new schools.

The Premier needs to understand that Albertans expect a leader who will actually lead, not just make good news announcements. Yes, part of that is promoting Alberta business abroad and making good news announcements. But real leadership also means being the face and voice of the government in times of trouble and controversy. It also means that when delegation is necessary, it should be to people with the capacity to respectfully and thoughtfully solve problems, not to someone who has proven himself time and time again to be combative and thoughtless and who just makes problems worse. Albertans were promised visionary and thoughtful leadership by this government. Where did it go?

About Ricardo Acuña

Ricardo Acuña is Executive Director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta.

© Copyright 2013 Ricardo Acuña, All rights Reserved. Written For:

  One Response to “All quiet on the Redford front”

  1. She is busy working for her real bosses.

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