Alberta’s demoautocracy is best exemplified by the recent events surrounding a landowners group’s radio commercial that is challenging AltaLink’s request to be paid $35 million dollars for a transmission line that was not built. The landowners are opposed to AltaLink getting paid $35 million dollars for essentially not doing what they were tasked to do!
The radio ad that raises this issue played last week on CFCW 790 AM in Camrose, and CHQR 770 AM in Calgary. This week it will play on CKGY 95.5 FM and Z99 in Red Deer, but other radio stations in Alberta (1060 AM and Sunny 94.1 FM) have refused to accept the group’s money and play the ad for what can only be described as fear of retaliation. Further inquiries about this fear produced no results.
Are these radio stations fearful of losing AltaLink’s advertising business? AltaLink does spend prolifically on advertisements, and decisions based purely on commercial advertising revenues are legitimate. But here is the rub — AltaLink does not technically spend its own money to pay for advertising, and the issue regarding transmission lines is not commercial. It is not as if citizens can choose to use another transmission line company. This is purely a political issue. AltaLink is a regulated utility that gets reimbursed by the ratepayers and in effect, is spending the public’s money. So the question arises: Is AltaLink in effect using public money, directly or indirectly, pressuring radio stations into a position where they are now unwillingly engaging in the suppression of public debate? The question is not intended to be an allegation. It is a reasonable conclusion based on the observation of the events unfolding, and only if the fear is based on the threat of the loss of AltaLink’s patronage. Of course, if the threat of losing AltaLink’s patronage is not influencing the decisions to keep the ad from running, who is, what is, and why the fear?
The citizens responsible for running the ad were denied their right to question the “need” for the transmission line back in 2007. Now AltaLink wants the public to pay $35 million for its contribution in the 2007 process that was eventually deemed an “abomination of procedural fairness.” In late 2009 the public’s right to challenge or question the need for the transmission line was eliminated altogether by Alberta’s government. Coincidently, AltaLink was a registered lobbyist in support of the bill that eliminated the public’s right to question the need. So, in effect, AltaLink spent the public’s money in support of eliminating of some of the public’s rights? Is this how the democratic process works in Alberta? Private companies get reimbursed by the public, for the costs they incur working against the public’s interest?
To complicate matters, AltaLink’s senior vice-president is also one of the vice-presidents of Alberta’s ruling Progressive Conservative party. Now that AltaLink is the recipient of a multi-billion dollar no-bid award to build transmission lines and given that AltaLink successfully lobbied to eliminate the public’s right to question such an award; Alberta’s demoautocracy has more in common with Zimbabwe’s politics and not that of a free democratic society.