Welcome to the second, less frequently-posted decade of RevMod.

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Friday, March 05, 2004

Travel is okay, screwing over farmers is not.

Last week, the Alberta Liberals tried to get citizens fired up over the issue of government travel expenses. Generally, when an opposition has very little to complain about, there's a few hoary old chestnuts to haul out - travel spending ("and look, some of the trips were to warm places!"), office expenses ("Oh my goodness - look what your MLA spent on a new carpet, while people in this province have to go to food banks!") or accusations of patronage ("Can you believe it? One of the file clerks in the Minister's office is the daughter of a friend and campaign donor!"). They get rolled out because they're all true about every government to some degree or another. They get rolled out because any one of them has some traction with the Dave Rutherford crowd - the average person breaking their back doing some unappreciated blue-collar task day-after-day, who would love to spend some time in a limousine or a warm country.

If these concerns don't normally stick to Klein, perhaps it speaks to his success in cultivating an image of being a "regular guy". Nonetheless, the Liberals like to keep these concerns in standard rotation, hoping that something will stick, and probably just contributing to the cynicism toward government in general.

This week, the New Democrats brought a very specific, very pressing concern to the table. They suggested that the two large meat packers in Alberta, using the government mad cow relief program as a rationale, paid even less for cattle than they would have otherwise. If true, this in essence transferred the benefit of the relief program into the hands of those two US-owned businesses.

Now, there's a concern with some traction! Ranchers (a core of Klein's support) getting ripped off by big American business (another core) on the back of tragedy. Originally, Klein seemed to be genuinely sympathetic. Monday: "Klein said his government would investigate any allegations of price-gouging and punish anyone found guilty." But the tune changed. Tuesday: ''Present that to the competition bureau,'' he said in reply to questions from the NDP. "''There is a federal agency that is responsible and acts very quickly, I'm given to understand, when there are allegations of price fixing.''" And the stonewalling parade continued through the week, with the Tory majority on the Public Accounts Committee rejecting an NDP request to look deeper into the issue.

Despite being a New Democrat myself, you won't often find me rah-rahing (Raj-Rajing? Sorry.) them on this page. But here, they've found the right issue at the right time. It's an issue that deserves a public accounting - it's about a lot of money, and negatively affects a lot of regular folks. From a communications standpoint, it's gold. Compare that to the hapless Liberal caucus, and I can start to believe that the NDP will no longer be relegated to third-party status in this province.

In the meantime, I give credit to the Premier for having excellent political instincts. I don't know who got to him between Monday and Tuesday, but he should have gone with that instinct this time.

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