Monday, February 05, 2007

Hancock Meets Clement; Renner Meets Baird and Boutilier Briefs Stelmach

Interesting developments in the offing on the fed-prov front with a raft of new meetings. The Alberta and Federal Ministers of Environment (Renner and Baird) and Health (Hancock and Clement) Ministers are about to meet. These meetings include provincial Ministers who are not the rookies in Cabinet but the issues are serious and they represent the top two priority issues facing the country. No indication yet as to the agendas will be but given the times and the pressures, they will likely be significant…especially with all the elections coming in the near future.

Interesting that Prime Minister Harper is giving a major speech tomorrow to the Canadian Club in Ottawa. This is just before the Council of the Federation First Minister's conference call on Wednesday. Harper's presentation is being billed as "equivalent to a Throne Speech." You can't tell me that is coincidence. Curious as to what he has to say, especially to the Premiers in this speech. My guess is they are his primary intended audience.

The Council of the Federation meeting scheduled for Feb 7 has been reduced to a conference call due to scheduling problems. Too bad because it would have been interesting to see how new Premier Stelmach would make out on his debut First Ministers meetings. I would be anxious, at many levels, to see how Premier Stelmach would be served by his newly minted Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Guy (Alberta as the Bad Boy of Confederation) Boutilier. Stelmach has done this Intergovernmental job, and by all accounts was pretty good at it so his expectations of his new Minister will be very high.

Speaking of Minister Boutilier, we see he is about to be seized with a challenge on the aboriginal aspect of his portfolio. The foster child care for aboriginal children have seen Grand Chief Phil Fontaine make demands for better responses to the needs of aboriginal children at risk. Given that the issue is receiving front page coverage, it would not be a surprise if this was a “walk on” agenda item at the First Ministers meeting on Wednesday.

The usual fed-prov posturing can be expected but it will sure be disappointing if all we see is finger pointing. The turmoil caused by a tragic death of a 3 year old boy in Alberta’s foster care guarantee serious media scrutiny on the foster care concerns for aboriginal children. How will Alberta, namely Minister Boutilier, respond? Will Alberta actually engage and work with their Conservative brethren on this issue? The good news is Jim Prentice, the most competent of all the federal Ministers, is on the Canada side of the issue.

Let’s hope we don’t see a classic case of over promising and under delivering that seems dog the Boutilier political approach. For example, looking at his past musing on the twinning of highway 63 to Fort McMurray one has to wonder if his motivation is always just purely political and power plays.

Media reports recently say he was assuring the Fort McMurray folks the road twinning could be done in 3 years. But that was when he was a Cabinet Minister supporting Lyle Oberg, the then Infrastructure Minister, and PC Party leadership bid. Oberg is the same Minister who was turfed from caucus by his colleagues for accusing them of having political skeletons (which he failed to prove) and for using (abusing?) his portfolio to advance his leadership aspirations last spring. Well the reality sets in now that the need for hype has passed and the twinning looks like it is now stretching out to seven years and counting.

Harsh reality and patience are the defining characteristics of the good folks of Wood Buffalo and the city of Fort McMurray in particular. How much long do the citizens of Fort McMurray have to suffer? And at so may levels and in so many ways and in the face of so much growth pressure?