A dispatch from the road: Enron and the power boys played Ralph Klein’s government for suckers

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PHOTOS: With the revelations about how Enron and like companies got what they wanted from Ralph Klein’s government, are we seeing the sunset of Alberta’s disastrous experiment with electricity “deregulation”? Below: The old Kleinster himself and Enron’s logo as pricey corporate art.

The release over the weekend by Alberta’s NDP government of an exchange of mails 16 years ago between Enron’s head office in Houston and the now disgraced and defunct company’s chief Canadian lobbyist contain bad news for both the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Opposition.

The emails reveal the PC government led by Ralph Klein in 2000, when Enron successfully manipulated the Tories into the deal the NDP is now asking the courts to overturn, was both crookedly inclined and easily suckered.

800px-Ralph-Klein-SzmurloBut then, as any grafter will tell you, it helps draw the suckers in if the deal on offer appeals to their worst instincts.

The emails reveal it wasn’t much work at all for Enron – long since renowned for “massive corporate accounting fraud,” as the Globe and Mail put it in its story – to get the government of the day to do whatever it wanted.

Enron basically told the Kleinsters what to write, and they wrote it. Then they buried it to ensure no one in Alberta knew any better while their pals in the electricity reselling “industry” cashed in to the tune of 10 or so billion dollars in profit.

As the NDP government put it in a long and technical explanation published better late than never this morning, “Enron prevailed upon the (Alberta Energy and Utilities Board) to engage in a legally tenuous exercise of purporting to make a ‘regulation’ out of a collection of documents, a ‘regulation’ that the provincial cabinet of the day later exempted from publication.” (Emphasis added.)

enron_logoThe problem for the Progressive Conservatives is pretty obvious. There may be a certain amount of difference in tone and ideology between the Tories led by Mr. Klein and those led by some of the PC premiers since, but they are still the same party. The whiff of corruption, and naïve incompetence, are bound to linger, no matter what Ric McIver, the current leader, says.

The problem for the Wildrosers is a little subtler because at least they can claim not to be the same party that got up to mischief in 2000, and got diddled in the realization of its sneaky schemes. (Even though, in 2000, all the Wildrosers were all Tories.)

Their problems include the fact they’ve made a cult of venerating the late Mr. Klein. He was the guy who slew the debt dragon (at the expense of the province’s infrastructure, but never mind that just now). They’re the ones who keep asking us: Do we miss him yet? (Answer: Not if we’ve been paying attention.)

So are they endorsing the Klein government’s sneaky business with Enron, now revealed as one of the most corrupt corporations in North American history – and getting taken to the cleaners in the process? So it would seem.

Moreover, it is fair to conclude on the basis of what they have said up to now that they would have done exactly the same thing in the same circumstances, which should be the principal perceptual problem they now face.

As for Jason Kenney, the federal Tory and provincial Wildroser who has cast himself as the would-be uniter of Alberta’s right, his stream of cranky Tweets suggests he too would have done the same thing and, indeed, that he is trying to cast himself as the New Ralph Klein.

As those of us who knew Mr. Klein understand, he may have had his myriad faults, and his economic schemes may have done considerable damage to the province of Alberta, but he was never a prig and a stuffed shirt like Mr. Kenney.

Meanwhile, we know thanks to lawyer Susan Wright, in her excellent Susan on the Soapbox blog post on this topic, that most of the claims the two opposition parties and their media echo chamber have brewed up attacking the NDP and trying to lay the need for the legal action on the NDP’s carbon tax are baloney – or, as Ms. Wright gently put it, “myths.”

Certainly, as she rightly points out, the NDP government is not breaking contracts or suing itself or the people of Alberta, nor was it ever in a position to know about the secret deal before they formed government.

The NDP’s sin in this, if you ask me, was being slow to respond to the opposition’s efforts to frame them, not having its responses ready before the announcement was made and, worst of all, trusting the thoroughly partisan Alberta media, some of whose members nowadays are acting almost like Mr. Kenney’s personal publicists and valets, to treat them fairly.

With the revelations about how Enron and companies of its ilk played Ralph Klein’s government like a violin, we have to ask if we are seeing the sunset of Alberta’s disastrous experiment with electricity “deregulation”?

This post was drafted in airport lounges on two continents. Any errors are the airports’ and their lousy WiFi providers, of course.

Categories Alberta Politics