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Klein has another election on his mind - Monday, April 05, 2004 at 12:33

April 2, 2004 
Klein has another election on his mind
By NEIL WAUGH -- For the Edmonton Sun

It looks like we're going to have an election in Alberta. And it has nothing to do with those pathetic campaign ads that the Ottawa Liberals are running where the prime minister tries to explain the unexplainable, claims he didn't know the gun was loaded when it came to Adscam, and then promises he won't do it again.

If those political fools in Ontario fall for it all over again it will surely fan the independence flames here in Alberta.

But the buzz in the air has nothing to do with Alberta Liberal Debby Carlson's note, slid under Legislature press gallery doors yesterday announcing she's opening her federal election campaign office next Tuesday.

Carlson, like former Alberta Liberal leader Ken Nicol, has been running as a federal Liberal candidate while still collecting an MLA paycheque from Alberta taxpayers.

They will fit right in in Ottawa if they defy the odds, which say they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning.

They are also walking away from the Legislature jobs that Albertans thought they gave them for at least one more year. Now they're asking to be rehired and sent to Ottawa.

Of course, Ralph Klein did the same thing when he was mayor of Calgary. So it's not a contradiction associated only with Liberals.

But like I said, it's not that election that was on the premier's mind this week - although it's clearly connected to it. "The Senatorial Election Act comes to an end in September," Klein sighed following what he confessed was a long discussion in this week's cabinet meeting.

The election of Alberta's two senators-in-waiting during the 1998 provincewide municipal elections was supposed to be one of those grand gestures and defiant acts against the federal government. Or at least that's how it was being sold at the time.

In reality it was an attempt to appease members of the federal Canadian Alliance party who at the time were threatening to form a provincial wing.

Ever since the election of Bert Brown and Ted Morton, Jean Chretien and now Martin have steadfastly refused to fill Alberta Senate vacancies with Albertans' democratically elected choices.

Right now, two out of Alberta's six Senate seats are vacant. And Martin has been in and out of Alberta several times, promising he's going to fix this little problem of western alienation unless Klein and the increasingly timid Tories do it for him.

Last spring, the premier had to fight off grassroots elements in his own party who tried to turn the annual convention at Red Deer into a debate over separatism.

What resulted was an MLA committee that is now tromping around the backwoods determining if there is a need for a firewall of legislation to protect Albertans from Ottawa.

And just when Klein thought his problems were little ones, and he had the separatist genie back in the bottle, there's another grassroots movement in the formative stages, pressuring Klein and the Tories to enact a provincial constitution to shield citizens from abusive Ottawa legislation and actions.

But, in the meantime, Klein was daisy petal-picking over what he should do about the senators.

"The decision that has to be made," the premier gloomed, is "do we go for another election?"

Then, of course, more questions arise.

"And if we do it, when would the election be held?

"Would it be a stand-alone election?" he continued. "Or with the civic election?"

"Or do we simply amend the legislation to extend the terms of the two existing senators-in-waiting?"

But things get more complicated because Morton is the odds-on favourite to contest one of the new Calgary seats in the 2005 election, which Klein is now contemplating whether to call before or after Queen Elizabeth's expected royal visit in May.

So when in doubt, call for a study. But it will clearly put the Tories' credibility to the test if they back away from Senate elections.