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Alberta Tory trifecta: Sales tax si! Yankee no! Plus a car chase

The Edmonton Sun on Thomas Lukaszuk's Adventure

What's the deal with Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's new minister of education and well-known Lord Greystoke look-alike, pursuing alleged young miscreants through the slippery streets of St. Albert in the darkling hours?

Lukaszuk was in the pages of a local tabloid pifflesheet yesterday morning playing a public-spirited hero who cornered two young motorists described by the paper as "fake-cop punks" after chasing them in his government car through the Edmonton suburb's chaotic streets during the area's first winter snowstorm.

According to the education minister's confusing account of Monday evening's events, versions of which appeared in all local media and some national papers too, the unidentified 18- and 15-year-old were pretending to be police officers and tried pull the minister over by flashing a light at him on a street in St. Albert, a pleasant city of 60,000 just northwest of the MLA's Edmonton-Castle Downs riding.

"I gave them a good chase, and they were not the smartest and they weren't the best drivers either -- because a few blocks later I had them pinned in a parking lot between an apartment building, so they couldn't go anywhere," Lukaszuk said in a hyperventilating interview with a Globe and Mail reporter.

"I called 911 and cops showed up immediately," Lukaszuk went on breathlessly. This observation -- which doesn't make it entirely clear who the Mounties were rushing to protect -- was followed in the Globe by a lengthy and rambling account of the new education minister's seemingly uninformed views on school discipline.

Needless to say, these shenanigans delighted the local media -- especially Edmonton's moribund Quebecor tabloid. But as a St. Albert resident, I have to tell you it leaves me less than thrilled that a minister of the Crown in a government car is out there starring in his own version of Police Academy VIII on the same greasy streets through which I was trying to navigate safely home.

Indeed, the local Mounties had a word of advice for Lukaszuk and others who might give in to the urge to chase their fellow citizens: Don't!

"We have the training and the equipment to actually do the stops and deal with people," a St. Albert Mountie diplomatically advised the twice-weekly St. Albert Gazette.

"We would never encourage that," agreed a cautious-sounding Sgt. Tim Taniguchi, the RCMP's Alberta spokesperson. He told the Globe and Mail's reporter: "We would never encourage people to block people in, because you never know what type of response you'd get from the individual."

Sgt. Taniguchi did, however, respond to the reporter's questions by wondering: "What did Thomas do?"

It's interesting to note that the Mounties from the St. Albert Detachment, whom one would think might take impersonating a police officer quite seriously, advised media they didn't have enough evidence to lay charges against the boys chased down by the minister. Could it be they had their doubts about the Hon. Member's, uh, observational skills, what with the excitement and all?

One also wonders if this can be the same Thomas Lukaszuk who during last summer's speeding season complained vociferously to the same local weekly about the use of photo radar in St. Albert, where according to the Gazette he lives.

"I have never bought into the argument that it is for safety," Lukaszuk pontificated back in August. "I think that it is a cash cow and I think we should be frank about it."

Perhaps as a safety measure the education minister's government car should have a light bar installed and the words Truant Officer painted on the side.

+ + +

Meanwhile, how about that Ron Liepert?

Liepert, now Alberta's minister of finance, is the perennial bull in Alberta's cabinet china shop.

Not long after "Mr. T" gave chase to the fake-cop punks or whatever they were, Liepert was seized with the inspiration to muse publicly about a sales tax.

This happens from time to time to politicians out here in the New West. No one is certain why. It's always a mild surprise because a sales tax is the one issue Albertans of all political stripes are united in opposing.

The immediate reaction of the chattering classes was that the famously crusty minister's remarks to the 2012 economic outlook luncheon of the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. Tuesday must have been brilliantly strategic -- cleverly framing pre-election finance debate along the lines of, "Do you want a sales tax, or do you want cuts in services?"

You can get away with this sort of thing in Alberta because it's simply assumed a phrase like "fair petroleum royalties" would no more be uttered in polite society than one would discuss one's undersilks in a proper Victorian parlour.

But the morning wasn't halfway over before that explanation flew out the window. A "clarification" from Liepert's office explained that, "in the interest of absolute clarity, Premier Redford, Deputy Premier Horner and all of my cabinet colleagues are committed to preserving Alberta's "NO PST" status.

"Roundtable participants are asking government to spend wisely and be more efficient including the delivery of health care and education," Liepert went on to make perfectly clear. "It will be these ideas that will be considered by the Alberta government caucus over the coming months, not a sales tax."

Got that, people? We are left to search for another explanation, as well as a solution to the mystery of how Liepert remains in senior cabinet posts despite the trail of devastation he leaves everywhere he goes.

+ + +

Finally, Premier Alison Redford, who on Oct. 12 appointed both Liepert and Lukaszuk to their important cabinet portfolios, was in Toronto yesterday to inform the Economic Club that Canada simply must reduce its economic dependence on the United States.

Redford was just back from her hurricane tour of Washington, D.C., and New York, where she met several people with absolutely no influence over U.S. President Barack Obama to plead for the restoration of the $7-billion Keystone XL Pipeline.

The project was designed by TransCanada Corp. of Calgary to export Canadian jobs to the United States and increase our economic dependence on our neighbour.

Presumably, Redford also took a few moments out to set Liepert straight about the sales tax issue and to train Lukaszuk not to chase cars.

Soon after that, she was off to Ottawa to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the slogan she and her aides presumably cooked up during their pleasant trip from Washington to New York -- "the North American Energy Strategy" -- as well as the still-nameless effort to wean Canada from dependence on the United States after decades of Conservative efforts to do the opposite.

One supposes they could always call the latter plan "the Third Option."

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

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