Sometimes, it’s worth looking at behaviour in other jurisdictions to get an idea of whether someone here is just going too far. And sometimes, when you do, you discover that we’re accepting political behaviour that is considered downright offensive in other spheres.
Take politics and government news releases. In Alberta, there’s a growing storm about Premier Alison Redford’s Tories issuing political news releases on government letterhead. The problem? There should be clear separation between a political party and its work as a government — the two are not the same. What sparked the issue is that recently, the Tories have started issuing government news releases that directly attack their political rivals.
Here’s what AlbertaDiary.ca had to say about that behaviour: “But the issue here is that by sending its media release out on government stationery, Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party blurs the line between the party and the government and oversteps the traditional limits on what’s properly a partisan party activity and what’s an official government act.”
Another news release was the subject of a CBC News story because of this sentence: “While the opposition focused on an agenda of unprecedented personal attacks, Premier Redford and the government caucus remained focused on the issues that matter to Albertans,” the news release states.
The CBC story quoted Wilfrid Laurier University political scientist Simon Kiss, an expert in political communications, as saying, “I think it’s pretty inappropriate for government resources and government staff to be including partisan attacks in public communications.”
The CBC story also says, “Kiss said he has never seen another ruling party — provincial or federal — use a government news release to criticize the opposition.”
Well, clearly Kiss has never dealt with the provincial government in this province, where government news releases attacking the opposition — essentially using government staff and resources to support political attacks — are a regular occurrence.
Here’s a quote from Education Minister Clyde Jackman from a government news release issued last Wednesday: “While I appreciate the role of the Official Opposition, the constant barrage of pointless negativity and ill-informed commentary is difficult to tolerate when you know some people could conceivably accept it as fact.”
On the same day, cabinet member Darin King issued this political attack, also as an official government news release: “The NDP is against development of our resources, they are against diversification and they are against the jobs that come with it.”
A news release from last Tuesday started like this: “In response to inaccurate and misleading statements made in the House of Assembly today by the third party about government’s commitment to rural regions, the Honourable Keith Hutchings, Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, pointed to the fact that the provincial government continues to advance and invest in initiatives that strengthen rural regions through its business and economic development programs.”
It certainly muddies the water between politics and governance — and that’s just over two days.
The head of Alberta’s NDP, Brian Mason, told the CBC the misuse of government resources shows how much the Albertan political climate has gotten worse: “And quite frankly it has deteriorated considerably since Alison Redford won the leadership. She doesn’t seem to respect the normal bounds between government and politics. … And now the government itself is using taxpayers’ money for political purposes to attack the opposition.”
Well, if that’s a clear sign of deterioration, what are we living with here?