Calgary Herald

NDP’s spring purge of PCs could do with fewer mealy-mouthed denials

- DON BRAID Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

The great purge of Progressiv­e Conservati­ves is in full cry, but the NDP isn’t being straight about its motives for this blowout of the old government’s lingering influence.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, for instance, says partisan politics has nothing to do with the decision to make all board members of post-secondary schools reapply and go through a recruitmen­t screening, if they want new terms.

Well, nonsense. Of course, it’s political.

Think back to last year’s news that PC-appointed board members approved University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon’s lucrative membership on the board of Enbridge’s income fund. Enbridge became a big donor to the university. Cannon later intervened via email when trouble arose over the launching of the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainabi­lity, scolding a dean who evidently made the company unhappy.

On top of her $480,000 base salary at the university, Cannon was paid another $130,500 by Enbridge in 2014.

Her actions were entirely within the rules set by the board. She was hotly defended by PC appointees, some of whom operate at the top levels of business and finance.

Premier Rachel Notley, for one, was not impressed.

It seemed like a classic example of how distant the PC establishm­ent had become from regular Albertans, and how thoroughly its business ethic had permeated colleges and universiti­es.

These people imposed business-style command structures that embittered whole faculties, systematic­ally driving the humanities undergroun­d while raising up areas that might attract cash from wealthy donors.

Generous Calgarians have brought immense benefit to medicine, especially. But schools like U of C chased such projects while neglecting, and even demeaning, faculties outside the charmed circles of health and science.

Once I was unlucky enough to attend a U of C award ceremony where every single cash prize went to a science, engineerin­g or medical student. Four music students were invited to provide the elevator music, while others rose to the penthouse.

After watching thousands dished out to the university elite, one young man pointed to his cello and said, “That cost me $4,000 and I still don’t know how I can possibly pay for it.”

The PC appointees worked hard for no pay, but they did enjoy the privilege of enormous influence. And their way of thinking became far too dominant.

Now the NDP is simply setting out to right the balance. But they’re sounding as mealymouth­ed as the PCs often did when they claim this has nothing to do with politics.

Schmidt did say one useful thing when he was asked about this Friday — from now on, everybody who applies for a board will be checked for conflicts of interest. He pointed out in the legislatur­e that “approximat­ely 80 per cent of our board members on post-secondary education boards are men over the age of 65.

“It seems to me that if we’re going to have people who reflect the communitie­s they serve, we would have more women and we would have people from ethnic communitie­s.”

He didn’t actually call for gender parity, but if the legislatur­e is any example, it will be routine. There will be many more members from fields outside business.

The NDP has already moved to amalgamate or dissolve 26 agencies, boards and commission­s, some so obscure that they rarely meet and do no business.

Out goes the disabled hunter review committee, which examined claims from people denied a cross-bow licence. Gone is a panel whose main job appears to be setting standards for manure management. Despite this modest reform, there will still be about 275 provincial agencies, boards and commission­s, all populated to some degree by PC appointees and loyalists.

The New Democrats have finally made a start at restoring balance to this strange underworld, without being entirely honest about why they’re doing it.

You have to wonder why that is, if they aren’t planning to simply plug New Democrats into the slots vacated by PCs.

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