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The Alberta Situation: ERs still critical; no shortage of flakes; premier's pay tops for the Dominion

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach

The front page of yesterday's Edmonton Journal -- the obsolete physical newspaper version, that is, not the convenient free website -- encapsulates perfectly the state of Alberta at this moment.

The principal headline -- the one we used to refer to back in the day as "above the fold" -- states, "Emergency ward situation still critical." A subhead adds: "Admitted patients waiting up to 70 hours for beds, despite new plans to relieve pressure on over-stressed hospitals."

In other words, out here on the western edge of the Great Plains it's Situation Normal on the health care front. Of course, in Alberta under Premier Ed Stelmach this is an improvement from the condition back at the end of November, when not only were the emergency wards in crisis, but the government was firing health care executives and Parliamentary Assistants for Health right and left for eating cookies on the job and worse.

Since then, as they used to say in Emergency back when the ward was still functioning well enough you only had to wait 19 or 20 hours get a bed, "the patient has stabilized."

OK, headline No. 2 says, "One flake at a time." Now, it turns out that this is a reference to all the snow we've been getting here in Edmonton, and some guy who takes pictures of it, not a commentary on the steadiness of Stelmach's cabinet brain trust. But, hey, no difference from a metaphorical point of view, eh?

Headline No. 3 informs us that "Stelmach's crew on top of financial heap." The subhead reads, "Premier, cabinet ministers best compensated politicians in Canada, review shows." Readers can look up the numbers for themselves. rabble.ca has no desire to put anyone off their feed.

Just in case you were one of those silly people who have been persuaded that we have to pay politicians top salaries in order to get the very best people -- you know, like the ones running Canada's business corporations into the ground -- this should disabuse you of that notion.

Not surprisingly, the premier's media spokesthingy trotted out this very line to justify the big bucks paid to his boss when the media, in a moment of rare attentiveness, happened to take a look at politicians' salaries all across this great land. It's really not all that much to pay political and financial heavyweights like Alberta's, explained Cam Hantiuk, seeing as "it's a pretty significant responsibility with an awful lot of hours that go along with it."

In a mild slip of the tongue, Mr. Hantiuk added that the salaries paid to Mr. Stelmach and his best and brightest "aren't too far out of line with respect to the responsibilities…" (emphasis added). You could almost hear the shuffling of snowboots as the usual suspects lined up to try to comment.

If Hantiuk is fired for this tomorrow, he can go over to Martinis Bar & Grill or some other media hangout and join Neil Mackie, the Alberta Liberal communications director who was sacked last week by Opposition Leader David Swann just before the good doctor headed off to Mexico. And what the heck? The premier hasn't skidded a communications director for a year! As for Brian Mason, leader of the NDP contingent in the Legislature, his last communications guy just quit, so it would probably be unseemly to fire the new one yet.  The press secretary to the leader of the Wildrose Alliance, the only party other than the Conservatives that the Journal managed to quote in this story, is considered redundant.

Whatever, Hantiuk's yarn is just that, a good story told to justify big salaries in an age when big money for some and no money for others is rapidly corroding our society. Never mind what Conservative politicians with a 40-year sense of entitlement tell you. If you pay people a fair salary for important elected jobs, fine people will come forward to do them out of a sense of public service.

Indeed, we can say with confidence that in Alberta such people would certainly do a better job. Under the circumstances, how could they not?

But that's not the attitude of Alberta's richly entitled Conservative leaders, who can't even see the irony in the fact they’re busy plotting the most direct line from the provincial treasury to their personal bank accounts while they tell the rest of us we’re going to have to tighten our belts so they can eliminate that deficit in time for their planned 2012 election campaign.

Worried about all the money we're spending on Conservative politicians? Well, worry no more! They'll be going after their unions!

OK, that's it for the front page of the Journal. No more stories.

You can sort of see a sort of logic of this. When newspapers were newspapers, they used to print 25 or 30 stories on a broadsheet front page. Can you imagine how depressing that would be in Alberta nowadays?

So there you have it. We're paying the best money in Canada for the worst results. And it's still snowing. What's wrong with this picture?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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