PHOTOS: Doug Goss chairs the notorious news conference at which five prominent Edmonton businessmen assailed the New Democrats as amateurs and patronized Albertans about their need to start “thinking straight” mere hours before the May 5 election saw the NDP crush the Tories he supported. Below: Construction company CEO John Cameron and Alberta Premier Designate Rachel Notley.
Edmonton lawyer and businessman Doug Goss’s determination to hang onto his job as chair of the University of Alberta Board of Governors is a small illustration of just how out of touch this province’s Tory establishment had become before their dynastic government was swept away May 5 on an Orange Wave.
Mr. Goss certainly had a right to engage in a partisan effort on behalf of the Progressive Conservatives with a group of prominent businessmen five days before the election. But by calling a news conference to command the orange tide to turn back, and insulting the New Democratic Party and its supporters in the process, he seriously compromised his ability to act in the interests of the U of A.
That he doesn’t get this, and is apparently supported in this thinking by the other members of the board, suggests it hasn’t yet quite sunk in with the province’s former Tory leaders that the world has turned.
Truth be told, movers and shakers in the Notley Government would probably like to give Mr. Goss a medal for his effort on April 30.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to happen. The epic favour done for Premier Rachel Notley and her just-elected NDP majority government by Mr. Goss and four other well-off Edmonton businessmen will likely never be fully acknowledged, except perhaps here at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Anyway, Mr. Goss already has a gong from the Alberta Order of Excellence, given to him when Alison Redford was the premier, for his efforts in business, the law and volunteer activities like the U of A board.
We don’t actually know which of the five prominent men with political connections and business ties to former premier Jim Prentice’s PC government had the bright idea of calling a news conference to lecture Albertans about how they weren’t “thinking straight” if they planned to vote for the NDP.
But it was Mr. Goss – who had also served as a past PC campaign co-chair and party vice-president as well as donating significant sums to the PC cause – who chaired the April 30 meeting and whose face will thus be forever associated with the accusation the about-to-be-elected New Democrats were just a bunch of “amateurs.”
Well, they certainly didn’t run an amateur campaign, did they?
Regardless, this patronizing little boardroom homily by five well-off and well-heeled men, some of whom had received millions in government contracts in the previous three years, came at exactly the right moment to reinforce Ms. Notley’s narrative that the Prentice PCs were entitled, tone deaf and out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary Albertans.
A windy complaint about taxes by one of them, construction company CEO John Cameron, may have done almost as much to persuade voters the NDP had it nailed on business taxes as what the party had to say itself. “Why is it always the corporations? Why is it always? I risk everything I have because I am a small business, and then I have somebody telling me that I should be paying more tax,” Mr. Cameron complained. “Why? Why is it me?”
Talk about a tin ear! If there had been any danger that the Orange Wave then roaring through Alberta was about to start declining, the news conference ended it and ensured the massive NDP victory five days later.
The news conference provided a demonstration on a par with Mr. Prentice’s own spectacular blunders – the early election no one wanted, the cynical Wildrose floor crossing, the advice to Albertans to look in the mirror, and the notoriously patronizing “math is hard” moment during the TV leaders’ debate – of just how far the Tories had wandered from the more democratic days when Peter Lougheed ran their party.
Now Mr. Goss insists there is no connection between his partisan political activities and his non-partisan role on the board. “In no way, shape or form did I represent the University of Alberta,” he told the CBC.
I’m sure that was Mr. Goss’s intention. But from a practical standpoint, it’s very hard to separate his role slamming the party that was about to become the government from his position as the supposedly non-partisan chair of the board of a publicly funded institution.
The university’s Association of Academic Staff certainly agrees. Association President Kevin Kane wrote Premier Designate Notley asking her to rescind Mr. Goss’s appointment.
“His actions have resulted in our complete loss of confidence in him as the board chair and as a member of the board,” Mr. Kane wrote, arguing that the university’s board “should reflect the interests, knowledge and perspectives of a wide spectrum of civil society and appointments should not be heavily weighted in favour of one political party.”
It’s pretty clear that for the sake of the University of Alberta, Mr. Goss needs to go. The best way for him to serve the interests of the university now is to voluntarily step aside without a fuss.
Mr. Prentice, who should have stayed, quit in a huff the instant he didn’t get his way on election night. Mr. Goss, who needs to go, seems determined to hang on. What do these things tell us about the state of the PC Party in the spring of 2015?
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.