No, this is not the Fringe Festival! Premier’s line on airplanes and Sky Palace descends into the theatre of the absurd

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A not-so-grim Finance Minister Doug Horner (he’s not quitting!) and an unhappy Premier Dave Hancock, right, put the best face on their new rules for use of government aircraft at their news conference yesterday. Below: A relaxed NDP Leader Brian Mason, just back from holiday himself, and the Premier Hancock we’re more used to seeing, free of the distressing confines of the Legislative media bunker.

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, not looking particularly rested despite just having returned from five weeks in sunny Italy, accompanied by a much more chipper Finance Minister Doug Horner, tried to slam the hangar door on the Air Redford Scandal yesterday.

No such luck. Alas for both of them and their foundering Progressive Conservative Government, that flight’s already left the tarmac. It’s approaching cruising altitude now and won’t be disappearing from the radar any time soon. Both of them know it.

In the gloomy recesses of the bunker-like Legislature media centre, a flunky handed out a press release containing a few insignificant policy changes for the use of government aircraft, none of which is likely to do much to moderate the mood of an angry electorate impatient with the misuse of government aircraft.

Conduct periodic air transportation services program evaluations? Clarify aircraft use policies? Report the cost of using government aircraft? I don’t think so!

The public’s going to react to those ideas, as a relaxed NDP Leader Brian Mason, himself just back from vacation, observed immediately after the early afternoon government news conference, as being “a day late and a dollar short.”

About the only thing that might help the government on this disastrous file at this point would be for Mr. Horner to do what Parliamentary tradition requires and resign his portfolio. But as Mr. Horner made clear, he has no intention of doing that and “I have not reconsidered the decision.”

He looked pretty feisty when he said that too, as if there had indeed been some discussion of that very idea behind the closed doors of the Tory caucus, perhaps with the premier taking a different position. And who wouldn’t have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting?

The premier does have the power to fire a minister, of course, but the distressed looking Mr. Hancock, barely looking up from his speaking notes, stuck to his now familiar strategy of humbly apologizing to the people of Alberta for the government’s manifest failings, and then insisting no one has done anything wrong except former premier Alison Redford.

Hold Mr. Horner responsible for misuse of the government air fleet – seeing as everyone agrees he was the minister responsible for the use of the government aircraft? No, no, said Mr. Hancock, oversight was provided by all ministers. “So the responsibility is ours when a question arises about the use of the planes.”

Everyone’s. In other words, no one’s.

Journos at the presser didn’t actually start to snicker out loud at the premier’s absurdist answers, though, until an impertinent reporter raised the matter of the Sky Palace residence once planned for Ms. Redford, and the competing and exclusive claims of two former infrastructure ministers, one of whom is now running for the party’s leadership, that they each deserve the sole credit for stopping the plan.

Well, which is it? Asked the reporter. Candidate Ric McIver, or his predecessor and successor, Wayne Drysdale? Uh, Mr. Hancock responded, never mind the contradiction … they’re both right!

This is an especially interesting answer in light of the subsequent revelation that work on the Sky Palace never really stopped at all – the bedrooms were merely repurposed as boardrooms.

That was when, as Mr. Mason later observed, the premier began to lead us into “an inter-dimensional relativistic way of looking at the truth.” Saying that two contradictory accounts of what happened are both true, he explained, “indicates the existence of some sort of parallel universe!”

It’s for stuff like this we’ll all miss Mr. Mason when he’s retired!

This government is bleeding in the water and even the normally docile Press Gallery sharks are starting to circle a little closer. One day soon, one of them is actually going to ask a tough question, like why the heck Mr. Hancock wouldn’t fire Mr. Horner from cabinet if the Finance Minister won’t resign.

Even Mr. Hancock, apparently the last defender of the Tory faith, seems to recognize the dire level to which his party has sunk – at least if his fidgety and gloomy demeanour yesterday is any guide.

What a change had come over him when 20 minutes later, the government’s troubles momentarily forgotten, as he dumped icy water over Mr. Mason’s head to raise money for charity.

In the halls of power, I’m afraid, that upbeat and smiling Mr. Hancock we all remember will be gone forever.

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