Standing behind a podium and in front of signs which stated “Rachel Notley. Fighting For You,” the premier spoke at Lethbridge’s Chinook Regional Hospital on Saturday, flanked by nurses as well as Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
Part of the rationale for adopting a fixed election period in Alberta was the obvious incumbent advantage inherent in being able to select the timing on an election.Of course, the government still has some control on that point, and that law was violated by the very government that introduced it. But the point about incumbent advantage still stands.However, one of the lessons of the Progressive Conservative defeat of 2015 was that playing too fast and loose with the rules in order to maximize that advantage can backfire significantly. Despite being the beneficiaries of that hubris, the NDP appears not to have taken the lesson to heart.It’s been apparent for several weeks now that the Notley government has largely stopped functioning as the government and has shifted into full-blown campaign mode. Of course, by holding off as long as possible on calling the election, the NDP can campaign under the increasingly thin guise of official government business.NDP members clearly realize they face a titanic struggle in holding off the opposition UCP and securing a second term. They’re certainly not the first incumbent government to seize any and all opportunities to strengthen their position before finally dropping the writ. Voters may be jaded enough to tolerate a certain amount of this, but governments that abuse this advantage do so at their own peril.This past weekend, the NDP may have finally crossed that threshold. Now, the advantage of delaying an election call could well become a liability with each passing day only serving to remind us of the NDP’s own hypocrisy and political self-interest.On Saturday, Premier Rachel Notley held an event at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge. This, however, was an explicitly partisan event aimed at advancing NDP talking points about UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s allegedly nefarious plans for the health-care system.The podium the premier stood in front of was adorned with a sign that read “Rachel Notley. Fighting For You” — the same slogan was emblazoned on two large signs behind her. A number of nurses were on hand for the event, as well.While the absurdly hyper-partisan nature of this event might be too much for some, the bigger problem now for the NDP is the apparent violation of Alberta Health Services rules.Using hospitals or other AHS facilities for partisan events is a big no-no. The rules quite clearly state that such facilities “shall not be used for any political activity, including, but not limited to use for the purposes of canvassing, campaigning, making political announcements, touring and other activities.”The ability to arrange an appearance by the premier at a hospital is an obvious advantage that the government has over the opposition. In this case, however, it’s an indictment of the government for succumbing to such an unethical temptation.The initial defence from the premier’s communications director was that “the event was done in a public area” of the hospital, which is a meaningless distinction since they were inside the hospital. She then claimed that “we weren’t aware” of this AHS policy. How could they not know such a thing? This is not as helpful a defence as they may think it is.The UCP has now called for an investigation by the province’s ethics commissioner. If such rules are to have meaning, then surely there must be some sort of consequence for breaking them. Mind you, voters don’t need the ethics commissioner to tell then when something is obviously shady.NDP partisans may feel as though desperate times call for desperate measures, but it’s a dangerous gamble to assume the public is that cynical.Whatever narrative the NDP was trying to create has now been lost in a much more harmful narrative of the exploitation of public resources and the violation of AHS policy for partisan gain. This episode may now finally shame the government into dropping the writ, but the damage has already been done.“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays 12:30-3:30pm on 770 CHQR firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RobBreakenridge