Stelmach’s debt dinners aren’t easy to swallow

Stelmach’s debt dinners aren’t easy to swallow by Tom Olsen, January 11, 2007, Calgary Herald
The honeymoon ends — now! Poor Premier Ed, he barely got a chance to enjoy it. Oh well, it can’t be helped. In the words of Chuck D on Public Enemy’s Apocalypse 91, “looks like somebody slipped up here.” They sure did.

Seems Premier Ed Stelmach, Mark Norris, Lyle Oberg and Dave Hancock cooked up a way to retire the debts left over from the leadership run. The boys have put together a series of fundraising dinners at $500 a pop. In Calgary, anyone interested in sharing the same room as the new premier can dash off a cheque and show up next Thursday at Ranahan’s at Stampede Park. It’s a two-hour cocktail gathering where party faithful — or whoever wants to peel five C notes off their roll — can co-mingle with the new political elite. Good call to start off in Calgary. Stelmach’s still out to prove he won’t ignore the city, and this gives him a chance to hob-knob with some of the local players. Events will follow in Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie and Lloydminster. So the mixers with the preem aren’t a bad thing. Parties regularly raise money through leaders dinners, and constituency associations boost their coffers by bringing in guest speakers (often cabinet ministers) and charging supporters a few bucks to attend.

Near the end of his term, Ralph Klein dinged supporters up to $450 a plate for his annual premier’s dinner fundraisers. He held at least four each year — one each in Calgary, Edmonton, then further north and further south. Folks turned out en masse, even if Ralph’s speeches got increasingly more boring. Didn’t matter, he was the leader and he drew a crowd. Many used it as an opportunity to be seen. There was never any controversy, because it’s not like those in attendance could claim any special face-time with the premier. They were just one of 1,000 or so others, a few of whom might get a quick greeting as Ralph entered or left the room.

So the $500-a-plate pay-our-debts affair isn’t as smelly as say, blue cheese.

It’s what’s offered to the high rollers that’s stinking up the place. If you or the company you represent coughs up $5,000 (at minimum) then you and a guest have access to a cozy little affair featuring Premier Ed and unspecified members of his government. The names aren’t listed in the e-mailed invite obtained by the Herald’s Jason Fekete, but you know Oberg and Hancock will be there. That’s the finance minister and the health minister respectively, who, along with the premier, are among the very top of the province’s political power structure. If treasury board president Lloyd Snelgrove shows up, that will mean the province’s key fiscal decision makers, the minister of the most expensive department (health) and the leader himself will be available. According to the e-mailed invite, those who buy-in will be able to “discuss the issues the new Government will face in the run-up to the next election and to make them aware of some of your key issues.”

How is that not political access going to the highest bidder? That doesn’t smell. That reeks.

The premier wasn’t available Wednesday, by the way. Nor was his chief-of-staff. Maybe too busy working on a new policy of openness and accountability. [Emphasis added]

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