I always laugh when I hear about elected officials, particularly provincial and federal, when they plan a “retreat.” As if they’re under so much pressure, they have to find refuge somewhere. And it’s usually a million dollar resort that offers the refuge.
So Apr. 23 weekend I laughed out loud when reading about NDP Premier Rachel Notley and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meeting in Kananaskis Country “to talk pipelines.” We all know this is a public relations campaign for Notley, as the constant “This is all the previous government’s fault” proclamations are falling on deaf ears now. Trudeau’s made it clear with his shoulder-shrugging approach to the recession that he couldn’t care less about Alberta, the energy industry or the people in it.
Trudeau had his entire cabinet at the posh “Delta Lodge” where rooms routinely cost $300 per person per night (You know that any hotel that has a row of international flags lining the pavement… it’s going to be expensive). With all the expense scandals that have toppled governments and political careers, you’d think these leaders would be a little more careful with our tax dollars.
I’ve always wondered why, if these “retreats” are supposed to be some kind of working vacation, they’re always hosted at some playground where the last thing that will be accomplished is any work.
With 24 years of experience in journalism, I’ve seen a lot of this “retreat” stuff go on. Let’s not forget the “networking” and “training” weekends.
Earlier in my career I was covering a county council meeting in another part of Alberta and the councilors began discussing how much they were going to be paid to go to a curling bonspiel. They seemed to think $300 or $400 per day was fair. It seemed ridiculous that elected officials expected to be paid hundreds of dollars to drink beer and sweep rocks. So, after the meeting, I told the reeve, “That discussion is going to look really bad in the newspaper.” A couple days later the municipal manager called and said the councilors waived their pay for the bonspiel and would I please leave that conversation out of the paper?
Then there was the school division superintendent who went for training in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This came up at a school board meeting I covered many years ago in a different community. The assistant superintendent was handling the meeting, and said the superintendent of schools was in Atlantic City (the Las Vegas of New Jersey) for a training seminar. This is a city that’s full of poker tables, slot machines and showgirls. Hmmm, lots of serious work is going to get done, I’m sure. Is this the appropriate place to go for training on the taxpayer’s dime? Later it was revealed the trip cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10,000 to $12,000.
When I worked in Rocky Mountain House a few years ago I met a former chief of the Sunchild First Nation who had been living a traditional lifestyle; traditional meaning he was living as his ancestors had with minimal modern conveniences and in a teepee. He said it really taught him a lot about humility and simplification.
In my opinion, that’s where Very Important People like Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau should be retreating to. Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars for conceited narcissists to ride the hotel waterslide or sleep in memory foam beds, they might accomplish something for the people of Alberta by focusing on creating jobs and ending the recession.
But maybe for Notley and Trudeau it’s more important to focus on the quality of the prime rib at the Delta buffet.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.