NDP moves to rein in Tory patronage and boondoggles at Alberta’s many boards, agencies and commissions

Posted on May 20, 2016, 12:54 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci on the day he was sworn in. Below: The full list of agencies to be amalgamated or eliminated by the government in the first round of its “ABC” review; NDP Environment Minister Shannon Phillips; and Tory health minister Fred Horne, way back in the day.

In yet another example of the social democratic scourge of evidence-based decision-making, Alberta’s New Democratic Party Government is bringing in legislation that will result in the people who run government-financed agencies, boards and commissions being paid based on what they’re actually supposed to do.

Even worse, Bill 19, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act introduced in the Legislature Wednesday by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, will allow the government and people of Alberta to know how much these people are actually being paid right now!

ABC_REVIEWBy bringing in a pay grid for government-appointed “ABC” executives and making public information public, the government of Premier Rachel Notley will lay waste to a grand Tory tradition of paying off cronies and supporters with generous patronage and boondoggles, and then keeping the cost secret from the people who had to pick up the tab.

Mr. Ceci also indicated that as a general rule his government is opposed to “performance bonuses” as opposed to appropriate compensation for executives that reflects the actual work they were appointed to do. “The former system had so few accountability measurements or mechanisms that there was really no effective way to measure savings,” Mr. Ceci told the CBC.

No wonder Alberta’s conservatives furious at those crazy Dippers!

Enough sarcasm. Except, that is, to say that if this kind of thing keeps up, not only will old Tories be deprived of the lush pastures they came to expect in their declining years during the Progressive Conservative Dynasty that lingered until last year, but the NDP will be re-elected with ease. This possibility has even been raised by tireless propagandists like Postmedia’s house Dipper-basher, Lorne Gunter, who ruminated about it yesterday based on Ms. Notley’s solid performance in the Fort McMurray fire and the seeming inability of Alberta’s right to unite.

Even Wildrose Opposition Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt grudgingly praised Mr. Ceci’s bill, although he grumped in an interview with the CBC that the government really ought to be hammering unionized front-line employees.

ShannonIt would be unfair to say Alberta’s many boards, commissions and agencies existed only to provide a comfortably lavish dotage to PC hacks, although they certainly often served that function.

There are said to be at least 27 executives making more than $200,000 a year to do whatever it is they do who will be immediately impacted by Bill 19. And when one examines the NDP plan for dealing with this Tory legacy, it becomes clear there are quite possibly many more.

These agencies, boards and commissions also served such purposes as insulating past Tory governments from criticism for decisions and problems that were in fact government policies and allowing industries against all common sense to set public rules to regulate their own activities.

The Alberta Health Services Board was a classic example of the first type of dodge – instantly cashiered by Tory health minister Fred Horne in 2013 and replaced by a single administrator the instant it hesitated to do his political bidding. It took the NDP to restore board governance to AHS.

The “independent” industry-run Alberta Energy Regulator, created by the Tories in 2012 to take over the regulatory functions of the government, is an example of the latter.

As for agencies that performed functions really part of the government mandate or that simply seemed to exist as a convenient Valhalla for superannuated Tories gone to their reward, the NDP has also showed it’s prepared to move on that aspect of this problem.

FredLast month, for example, it shut down the expensive and ill-coordinated Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, created in 2013 by the PCs, and moved its key work back into the Environment Ministry where it belongs.

“In the past there have been questions about the credibility and transparency of this work,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips explained in early April. “Environmental monitoring will now take its place alongside public safety and public health as part of the core business of government.”

In addition to AEMERA, the Notley Government eliminated 14 other agencies, boards and commissions outright, including such timeless entities as Alberta Strategic Tourism Council and the Disabled Hunter Review Committee. Another 11 were amalgamated into a mere three, including the incomprehensibly named “Alberta Innovates” quadruplets. (The accurately named Alberta Research Council, for example, was given the preposterous moniker “Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures” in 2010.)

In fairness, the review the NDP is acting on was begun by the PCs under the province’s last Tory premier, Jim Prentice, in November 2015. With their sorry legacy of loyal sinecure-holders in place, however, it seems highly unlikely the Tories would ever have done anything like this with it.

The NDP Government says the first round of reforms will save taxpayers $33 million over three years. A drop in the budget bucket, perhaps, but powerfully symbolic.

Once Bill 19 is passed and a consultant hired by the government gets finished systematizing the top executives’ salaries this summer, Mr. Ceci indicated, the act will allow the government to take a look at lower-level executives employed by these groups.

The second phase of the review, scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, will look at another 146 agencies that are not governed by the act. A third and final phase – which is supposed to be completed some time next year – will focus on the boards of governors of post-secondary institution. Like the half dozen agricultural advisory groups eliminated by the NDP, post-secondary boards make up another rich vein of Tory patronage, and in some cases outright obstruction of the elected government’s policies.

So much for the real “Alberta Advantage,” eh?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments to: NDP moves to rein in Tory patronage and boondoggles at Alberta’s many boards, agencies and commissions

  1. Keith

    May 20th, 2016

    “industry-run Alberta Energy Regulator”

    The Alberta Geological Survey used to be a scientific body that would freely communicate to the public, including information related to geological, environmental and health hazards. After it was put under AER control the scientists were muzzled, and information could only be extracted via the FOIPP process.

    Reply
  2. Expat Albertan

    May 20th, 2016

    This is one of the things I hope the Notley government acts quickly on an with ‘prejudice’, meaning that their default should be getting rid of Tory patronage hacks quickly – don’t worry too much about the finer details (except that it should be done legally, so that those receiving a pink slip can’t further waste taxpayer money by suing for wrongful dismissal).

    Reply
  3. political ranger

    May 20th, 2016

    I wouldn’t be making to much of the “evidence-based decision-making” happening with this gov’t David. The Notley NDP, like pretty much every other gov’t picks and chooses which policies are based on evidence and which are purely ideological.
    For instance, this gov’t is still overwhelmed by its ideological zeal for everything petroleum with the latest gushing of support for the Trans Mountain pipeline. Evidence is firmly pushed out of sight while all the old hoary PC word -smithing comes forth. The province’s Climate Leadership Plan, which only exists on paper is rolled out as an accomplished and meaningful fact of life, again in the good ol’ PC way, touted as a “world-class” accomplishment. The official gov’t message goes on about “sustainable resource development”, an oxymoron that simply doesn’t exist in the real world and more good ol’ Klien messaging designed to confuse and cover up.
    As Keith points out, the AER is running free. Any and all evidence points to the idea of “self-regulation” as another right-wing corporate trick to get around social, legal and financial responsibility.
    All the evidence regarding the tarsands and pipelines indicate that most, if not all, the bitumen needs to stay in the ground and another 4 or 5 decade pipeline project is exactly contrary to stated goals of 30% reduction of GHG by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

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  4. Gail

    May 20th, 2016

    I’m really pleased to see the NDP doing this. It’s a good step forward. Hopefully their next move will be appointing people who actually known what they’re doing and getting rid of the Tory patronage appointments.

    Reply
  5. David

    May 20th, 2016

    It is a good thing for Alberta to have more scrutiny of all the agencies, boards and commissions. Some serve a useful purpose, some were useful at one time, but perhaps no longer and some were set up to deflect political problems and/or provide cushy positions for PC’s and their friends.

    One of the good things about the change of government is the NDP may be more willing to change some the accumulated history the PC’s were reluctant to really deal with, perhaps because they were the ones who set it up to begin with. A bit of house cleaning and tidying up here will benefit Alberta.

    Reply
  6. Sassy

    May 20th, 2016

    This is very welcome news. I only wish the NDP government could speed up cleaning out these organizations. Unlike most of the PC toadies remaining in government at the executive level (deputy ministers, assisted deputy ministers, executive directors), I believe the ABCs have more power to do damage and cheat Albertans. These changes, I believe, are going after the ‘head of the snake’.

    One example I became aware of, though advocacy of a senior parent, is the Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association (ASCHA). Their stated mission is to “support our members in creating and maintaining vibrant seniors housing for Albertans”. Until you have a loved one needing elder care, you don’t know the sorry state of continuing care housing in Alberta. The private corporations gouge the residents and pay staff a pitiful amount. Until very recently, the president of the board of directors of ASCHA was the CEO of a large private, for-profit builder and operator of senior care homes. The board was stacked with these supposed advocates of Alberta seniors. While reading through an ASCHA report, I saw the board and staff had requested and received access to the government Intranet. I suspect part of the reason could have been to give the private operators access to high-level civil servant meeting minutes. Whether true or not, this agency falls into your statement ‘allowing industries against all common sense to set public rules to regulate their own activities’.

    Reply
    • Sassy

      May 20th, 2016

      OOps – ASCHA isn’t a government agency after all: http://www.alberta.ca/ags-agencies.cfm
      I could have sworn it was last year when I looked into the organization, but maybe I was wrong. It has completely changed it’s website and structure, as well. ASCHA receives a government grant, though, and seems to have considerable clout.

      Reply
  7. Farmer B

    May 25th, 2016

    It certainly makes sense to end this wasteful spending on these patronage appointments but to try and say the NDP government is doing this because it is concerned about spending is truly laughable. With projected record deficits for the foreseeable future and no apparent desire to control spending in any meaningful way the Alberta NDP are headed down the same path as the Ontario Liberal government. In their 10 years in power they have doubled Ontario’s debt. I see little difference in policy.

    A good example of the Alberta NDP’s desire to push ideology over sound policy is the make up of the working groups it has put together to enact bill 6. There are six groups consisting of a total of 78 people. 23 of these are farmers, a mere 29 %. Would it not make sense that farmers would have more expertise in farm related issues than urban union reps that outnumber farmers in these groups. The NDP is failing farmers again. Not impressed!!

    Reply

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