The Niagara Falls Review

Stricter election rules would be welcomed


always easy to take a poke at government­s, isn’t it? After all, they always find new and exciting ways to screw up.

But let it not be said we aren’t willing to pat our elected representa­tives on the back when they get things right.

Case in point: New legislatio­n from the Conservati­ve government to crack down on voter fraud. It’s a big deal, and heartening to see a government actually take a positive step to fix a serious problem.

Another good reason to see it is that the Conservati­ves’ relationsh­ip with Elections Canada is more than a little rocky. More than once, a Chief Electoral Officer has investigat­ed the behaviour of the Tories. And the Tories did not appreciate the attention, often claiming no rules were ever broken.

The party coninutes to be under the microscope because of the robocall scandal from the 2011 federal election. Hundreds of citizens were deliberate­ly misled by automated phone calls falsely claiming to be from Elections Canada that sent to them to the wrong polling stations.

This is seen more frequently in the United States, and is done by one party to limit voting in communitie­s where its support is low. It was a national disgrace that it happened at all in Canada, and the government’s immediate response appeared rather tepid.

The trial of former Conservati­ve staffer Michael Sona in connection to the robocall scandal is set to begin in June.

Under the proposed rule changes, there will be a mandatory public registry for automated election phone calls and increases in penalties for impersonat­ing elected officials.

Among the other changes, which include increasing the amount of money citizens can donate to a campaign, the Tories want to tighten rules on voter identifica­tion. This too is a good thing, given how easy it is today to claim to be someone you are not.

Of course, it is impossible to be entirely positive about the proposed legislatio­n.

The rule changes would take the power to launch investigat­ions into election violations from the Chief Electoral Officer and give to an independen­t body. This is not a bad thing necessaril­y, but given the history of conflict the Tories have had with Elections Canada, the appearance of a political move is hard to miss — particular­ly since the Chief Electoral Officer says neither he nor his expert panel on elections reform were consulted by the Tories.

Nonetheles­s, the rules appear to be a move in the right direction to improve Canadian elections. With luck, government decisions on other fronts will be as good.

But there was little or no value for Alberta taxpayers in Redford going to Johannesbu­rg. So how come the premier’s trip cost Albertans $44,000?

Stephen McNeil, the newly elected Liberal premier of Nova Scotia, managed to get to Joburg and back at a cost to Nova Scotians of $946.44, about the price of a return airfare from Halifax to Ottawa where he jumped onboard the PM’s plane.

Not so, Princess Alison. The royal lady of Alberta flew on a provincial government plane to Ottawa at a cost of nearly $15,000. From there she hitched a free ride on Harper’s jet. But when she went to leave South Africa, she couldn’t wait an extra four hours to catch a free ride back. So she bought tickets on commercial flights at a fare of $10,000.

During her brief stay in South Africa (less than five days), Redford managed to rack up another $19,000 in expenses.

The sense of entitlemen­t is breathtaki­ng. To even imagine that Albertans would want to pay for her to travel in such regal style to what was clearly a personal event is gobsmackin­g. As a politician, where do you even begin to develop such a sense of personal entitlemen­t?

The numbers beg many questions, such as: If it cost $15,000 just to fly on a government plane to Ottawa to catch a “free” flight to South Africa, but only $10,000 to fly commercial­ly all the way back from JNB to YEG, why not save taxpayers $5,000 and fly commercial­ly both ways? But that’s hardly the worst of it. Neala Barton, press secretary to Her Royal Highness Princess Alison, Duchess of CalgaryElb­ow and Empress of Legislatur­e Dome, explained her boss had to take the provincial plane to Ottawa because she didn’t make the decision to go to the memorial until Saturday, Dec. 6 and PM Harper was flying out the next day.

“By the time we were able to confirm details with the federal government, there were no Saturday options that would accommodat­e the premier,” said Barton, who until last year worked for then-Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty. Barton admitted Redford could have flown a Saturday night red-eye to Ottawa, but “that would have meant she was doing two redeye flights in a row because the prime minister’s plane was flying overnight too.”

Oh, the poor dear. That justifies it then. Albertans should feel honoured to fork over their hard earned money so our Divine Lady didn’t show up in South Africa with bags under her eyes (even though she had two days to rest up before the service).

And why the $10,000 commercial flight home rather than waiting four hours for the PM’s flight? That was so Her Majesty could be home in time for the swearing-in of a reshuffled cabinet she had planned.

Last week I defended Redford’s trade missions to Washington, D.C., India and China. But this is travel so grandiose for such a personal purpose it is beyond outrageous.

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