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Small changes may signal glimmer of PC awareness of trouble ahead

Opposition political operatives in Alberta spent an entertaining weekend poking through the entrails of the Progressive Conservative government's Sunshine List, noticing cool things to mention like the fact Premier Alison Redford's chief of staff earns $144,000 a year more than the guy who does the same thing for U.S. President Barack Obama.

Actually, as the free-floating Canadian Loonie spirals ever downward toward the surface of the lake, Farouk Adatia earns only about $130,000 US more than White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, but that didn't stop some bright spark from circulating an info-graphic on Facebook that advised the premier "your office isn’t the West Wing," and suggested supporters to send her a note to that effect.

Presumably the folks in the premier's office were wondering, "huh? what's their point?" since one senses they hardly undervalue their contribution to the political life of North America, setting Al Gore straight and all.

Nevertheless, the Opposition Wildrose Party squeezed a grumpy news release out of how well Redford's political staff is paid, and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees had much the same thing to say -- adding that, as predicted in this space, only 88 members of the union made enough to make the provincial fat-cat list.

Of course, this sunshine particular international effect doesn't just extend to political aides of the government, but others among their friends and retainers as well.

Deputy Health Minister Janet Davidson, for example, is paid a sum not unadjacent to that paid the Surgeon General of the United States -- a little more, apparently, possibly to make up for the fact Davidson doesn't get the snazzy admiral's uniform the Surgeon General is allowed to wear.

However, amid all the excitement generated by the application of sunlight to senior civil service salaries, two other small health care stories with significant political implications were mentioned only in passing, with no analysis of what they might mean.

I speak, first, of the province’s unexpected decision to drop Alberta Health Service's plan to centralize the entire province's ambulance dispatch services in one location.

To say local politicians and voters in mid-sized Alberta cities like Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray were unimpressed with this scheme would be to understate things considerably. They were frightened and furious, already having seen how AHS botched the amalgamation of ambulance services under its auspices, dramatically increasing response times in many locations.

Locals could only imagine what would happen if the dispatching was being done by someone in Edmonton relying on Google Maps to find the route to a call.

Second was the decision by AHS to reopen two dozen of long-term seniors' care beds in Grande Prairie less than two years after they’d announced they were closing them.

The government presumably closed public supportive living beds to force patients into privatized facilities for which the province had subsidized new buildings. But those places were soon full, just as supporters of public health services warned two years ago, and 24 beds in the Mackenzie Place site will reopen in the spring to house exactly the same kind of patients who were forced out.

AHS didn't exactly trumpet this embarrassing news, which workers at the site learned from a memo they received from management.

Flip-flops though they may be, neither are bad ideas -- indeed, they're what critics of the Redford Government's health care polices have been saying all along the government should do with those particular files.

What's significant about them is why and how they came about, which was most certainly pressure from voters in locations that are in danger of replacing their PC MLAs with opposition members if the government doesn't smarten up.

Remember, notwithstanding Davidson's salary and the undoubted skills she brings to the table, nothing even remotely political gets decided at AHS these days without the approval of Health Minister Fred Horne.

So while the Redford Government is trying hard to look, as someone once said in a political context, as constant as the northern star, these policy reversals strongly suggest it is starting to get the message that it had better straighten up and fly right -- at least on some issues -- if it wants to have any chance of surviving in 2016.

Having less invested in these small policy decisions, they were easier to back away from than the government's real bonehead plays, but it's a start. It indicates that there's a glimmering of awareness in PC ranks that this government has a problem.

The trouble, from the perspective of the government’s survival, is that the understanding is buried deep in the government's backbenches, among the men and women who actually have to get re-elected, not among the high-paid brain trust in the premier's office, folks have law firms in Calgary and political consultancies in Queen’s Park to return to when the balloon finally goes pop.

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Alberta Liberals return to a Trudeau shade of red

The Alberta Liberal Party's unexplained and unexpected switch from red to green as its primary colour in the fall of 2012, and its much mocked decision to refer to itself as the Liberalberta Party or something along those lines, thankfully appears to be a thing of the past.

The party's website has returned to federal red of the sort associated with the Trudeau family -- indeed, Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman is said to be pondering a run one of these days for scion Justin Trudeau. The Liberalberta logo has gone over the side with the previous site's greenish tint. Maybe party stalwarts realized green isn't a primary colour anyway?

Whatever happened, now all they need to do is restart their Twitter account and they'll be just like a real political party again.

All this seems first to have been noticed by blogger Dave Cournoyer, author of the Daveberta blog -- who keeps track of all things -berta in this province.

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

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