Yesterday was the day we were all supposed to be in agog at how Alberta is awash in cash again – a long-predicted lottery win for which the governing Progressive Conservative Party understandably if unjustifiably intended to take full credit.
Instead, the capital city’s principal newspaper apparently didn’t even write a separate news story about the government’s upbeat first-quarter financial report, but rolled it into a political column about all the scandals plaguing the PCs less than two weeks before they’re scheduled to choose a new leader to help them find a way out of the political wilderness.
For the details of how Alberta has “turned a corner financially” – in Finance Minister Doug Horner’s limp phrase – you needed to look at the tabloid Edmonton Sun. Bitumen Bubble? What Bitumen Bubble? That Bitumen Bubble was just so 2013!
Meanwhile, by this morning, tout le monde political Alberta will be abuzz with chatter about the bizarre spectacle of Mr. Lukaszuk’s updated explanation for his $20,000 holiday cellular phone bill, a story originally leaked to the Sun on Monday and highly controversial because we taxpayers got to pay the bill.
Readers will recall that when the matter first surfaced, Mr. Lukaszuk told the Sun: “When you travel as a minister, you pre-plan as much as you can. When something goes sideways in Alberta, all of a sudden you’re inundated with documents. We’re talking document packages are being sent to you by data transfers.
It was the roaming charges that killed him, he explained, something anyone who owns a Canadian cell phone can sympathize with. Another source called the material “numerous and extensive telephone and data communications with the deputy premier relating to legal matters which affected the government.” Given that, Mr. Lukaszuk probably should have just left it there and hoped we’d all forget about it amid yesterday’s wave of good news, which might very well have happened.
Instead, yesterday Mr. Lukaszuk was responding to yet another CBC scoop, this one revealing the reasons for the flurry of expensive calls to Poland back in 2012. In an interview with the CBC, though, he continued to insist the topic of the calls was “an urgent government matter.”
This is what he said by way of justification to the Calgary Herald’s friendlier political columnist:
“I received a frantic call directly from a cabinet minister, direct to my cellphone, saying: ‘I’m in danger, I may be attacked, and police are coming here, what should I do?’ Already the bill is racking up. … All I knew is that I had a cabinet minister in potential physical danger.”
Don Braid’s story, which he wrote with Edmonton Journal reporter Karen Kleiss, began like this: “A panicked cabinet minister in the middle of a family crisis phoned then deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk when he was overseas in 2012, and the ordeal ballooned into a $20,000 cellphone bill.
“The name of the cabinet minister and the details of the family drama are protected by a publication ban, but Lukaszuk’s involvement as deputy premier has become a public issue because thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on the phone calls, document exchanges and video conferences that followed. …”
OK, we need to understand that the CBC has confirmed all the details of this story. But surely it wasn’t wise of Mr. Lukaszuk to go on at such length about the arresting details of the case when the roaming-charge story otherwise could well have died down, perhaps even in time for the leadership vote on Sept. 6.
And talk about spectacularly bad timing on the first day in weeks the government had anything good to report!
Inevitably, the details revealed last night are strange enough they will remind many Albertans of a certain vintage of comedian John Lovitz’s hilarious routines about a guy who just couldn’t help not telling the truth – a fellow who, unfortunately, happened to be named Tommy.
Surely most Tories who plan to vote in the leadership race will be disinclined to support a candidate whose commentary completely swamped the first good news the party and government have enjoyed in weeks.
I think it’s a safe bet that, with this, Mr. Lukaszuk’s campaign officially jumped the shark last night. Did Alberta’s PC government just do the same thing?
NOTE: This post has been revised to reflect the CBC’s role in this story. It also appears on Rabble.ca.