Rising from deep unpopularity

There are few topics more entertaining to watch politicians squirm over than the distribution of seats in a legislature. Inequities that work against their perceived interests are a "shocking" departure from the concept of one person one vote, while ones that suit them are perfectly reasonable arrangements to guarantee that groups and regions with smaller populations are properly looked after.

A marvellous example of this can be found in a bill to redress the current under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta by changing the formula for deciding how many MPs there are. The new scheme would effectively share 30 new seats among those three growing provinces.

Make no mistake, for constitutional and historical reasons too complicated to explain, the current arrangement is very unfair, and tends to bias the system in favour of Quebec and the Maritime provinces. The new plan would make things better.

But the new bill does nothing to change how seats are distributed within provinces, which means the current bias in favour of rural areas, and against urban suburbs - a bias even more vivid in Alberta's legislature, as it happens - remains a matter of no apparent concern.

Albertans, Ontarians and British Columbians are entitled to the extra representation. But what really needs to happen is a decision to embrace the notion that everyone needs to be equal when choosing a government.

Still under water, but not quite so deep

The good news for Premier Ed Stelmach is that his approval rating has climbed to 21 per cent. The bad news, of course, is that this is good news.

Alberta's premier is at the opposite end of the spectrum from outgoing Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams, the colourful and scrappy politician who stepped down Friday.

Williams was the most popular provincial leader in the country with a 67-per-cent approval rating. By comparison, an Angus Reid poll found that 56 per cent of Albertans disapprove of Alberta's premier.

The positive for Stelmach is that he's up 50 per cent from November 2009, when he polled only 14 per cent. Imagine! An Alberta Conservative premier down in Jean Charest, Gordon Campbell and Dalton McGuinty territory!

Williams was guest speaker at the March 2006 Alberta Tory Convention when members gave Ralph Klein the push he couldn't ignore. After a vote that saw Klein garner a measly 55 per cent support from Conservative party members, Williams went up to his hotel room and rewrote his speech. He used his keynote address to chastise his audience for their despicable treatment of Klein, whom he called "the rock star of Canadian politics."

Williams saw what lies ahead for even the most popular premiers when they overstay their offices. Alas, Stelmach can only dream about going out on a Williams-style high.

Pension planning not very conservative

According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, 67 per cent of Albertans will not have enough money for retirement 20 years from now. It claims that 31 per cent of Alberta seniors currently live on less than $16,000 per year. That's not what most working Albertans picture for their own retirement.

The AFL says pension reforms are badly needed because Albertans have the lowest retirement savings in Canada and most do not have an employer pension plan. Most don't have Registered Retirement Savings Plans either; the AFL says only 38 per cent of Albertans contributed to an RRSP in 2008.

Nevertheless, Alberta's Finance Minister Ted Morton says the current pension system is good and reforms would do more harm than good. Morton is concerned that increasing Canada Pension Plan contributions would be harmful to employers and would slow down job creation.

He says some Albertans are saving enough to retire comfortably. We hope he is one of them, and assume he'll be willing to take in some former supporters who aren't. When do you serve breakfast, Ted? And can we have our eggs over easy?

Delegation to minister wisely parked

Kudos to the Alberta Conservatives for shelving controversial parks legislation that would have shifted arbitrary authority over development in parks from cabinet to the parks minister. Alberta conservation groups raised a ruckus and Parks Minister Cindy Ady listened. She withdrew Bill 29 and announced a public consultation on the proposed new legislation for the parks network.

The Sierra Club may have been overstating the point a bit when it proclaimed that the minister had pulled "our parks back from the brink of disaster," but its clear Albertans of all political stripes are passionate about their parks. It's now Ady's job to follow up with the promised dialogue, and then come up with something more satisfactory.

Attending sitting not Premier priority

The fall sitting of the Alberta legislature is ended, and to mark the occasion the provincial Liberals have helpfully come up with some interesting statistics - from Hansard, the official record of the Alberta Legislative Assembly - about such things as the attendance of Alberta's apparently shy premier, Ed Stelmach.

Following are excerpts:

Number of days the Alberta Legislature could be bothered to meet on the public's business: 18

Total number of hours the house sat: 174

Approximate number of hours the premier was in the Legislature personally: 7

Number of minutes spent in emergency debate on health care: 75

Number of seconds the premier squeezed into his schedule to attend this emergency debate: 0

Edmonton Journal, Sun Dec 5 2010

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