Pubdate: Sun, 05 Oct 2008
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Page: Front Page
Copyright: 2008 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Jason Fekete (Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service)


Premier vows to 'push envelope' on crime; dares courts to stop him

JASPER -- With gun and gang violence causing anxiety across Alberta, 
Premier Ed Stelmach vowed Saturday to "push the envelope" to fight 
crime, including pressuring Ottawa and the Supreme Court to act decisively.

Tired of what he describes as legal impediments to fighting crime, 
Stelmach told the Conservative party's annual convention his 
government is looking at bail reform and will introduce anti-crime 
legislation by the spring.

Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford argued the federal Criminal 
Code must be updated to prevent any real or perceived revolving-door justice.

"We're going to push the envelope as the province of Alberta," 
Stelmach told hundreds of party members gathered in Jasper.

"We're going to push the federal government. We're going to push the 
Supreme Court, and (police are) going to get into the drug houses and 
the prostitution houses a heck of a lot quicker than we are today," 
Stelmach added. "I dare any judge to come ahead and tell us we can't do it."

Stelmach said he's compelled to act by what is sometimes an 
ineffective justice system, particularly when he sees repeat 
offenders back on the streets hours after being charged.

"We're not going to be afraid to challenge what is in the existing 
legislation," the premier later told reporters.

Criminal law experts dismissed Stelmach's warning as "rhetoric" and 
part of a "disturbing" trend by politicians at all levels to deflect 
the blame on the important public issue.

Criminologist Doug King said Stelmach, like other politicians, is 
simply trying to pass the buck on the crime file because nobody wants 
to take responsibility for ensuring safe streets.

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier has been pleading with Stelmach to 
double the 100 new officers the province promised to Calgary over the 
next three years.

The premier, however, maintains reforms are needed to the justice 
system because too many criminals are slipping through legal loopholes.

"You can't just pressure the Supreme Court of Canada. How do you do 
that?" wondered King, an instructor at Calgary's Mount Royal College.

" It sounds to me like it's deflecting (the blame) outside the 
province to find out why things aren't going so well in Alberta in 
terms of gun and gang activity."

Nevertheless, Alberta's justice minister said she's pushing for the 
federal Criminal Code to be amended so there are clearer guidelines 
for judges, because different interpretations of the law result in 
some repeat offenders being let out on bail.

"People are not as prepared to sit back and say, 'I trust these 
institutions to do everything in the public interest,' " Redford 
said. "They're saying, 'We'd better re-examine here what we consider 
acceptable in our society.'"

At Saturday's meeting, Alberta Tories also overwhelmingly shot down 
divisive proposals to adopt fixed election dates and ban the use of 
cellphones and other wireless devices while driving.

Stelmach has been reluctant to proceed with both fixed voting days 
and a cellphone ban.

While the members' decisions allow the premier to avoid a potential 
showdown in the party over whether he should legislate the two 
initiatives, it didn't placate several MLAs, who want the government 
to proceed on both fronts.

"I see it everyday. I see reckless driving because individuals are 
either on their cellphones or they're using their BlackBerrys. To me, 
there should be a law against that," said Len Webber, MLA for 

Webber's riding association had proposed a resolution outlawing the 
use of all cellphones and wireless devices while behind the wheel, 
while a separate one from Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo demanded that 
only hands-free cellphones be permitted in vehicles.

Both were soundly rejected by party members, according to MLAs who 
were in the closed-door sessions.

The vote came just days after a Conservative-dominated legislature 
committee quashed a private member's bill from Calgary Tory MLA Art 
Johnston, which called for a ban on all hand-held cellphone use while driving.

Instead, the committee is urging the Stelmach government to adopt 
legislation that would more easily allow police to ticket distracted 
drivers for myriad reasons -- including cellphone use and pets 
roaming in a vehicle -- if it's inducing poor driving.

Health Minister Ron Liepert, who was originally opposed to a complete 
cellphone ban for motorists, is now on board.

He reconsidered after the Alberta Medical Association, which 
represents about 9,000 doctors, called in August for a ban on all 
hand-held and hands-free devices for drivers.

"As minister of health, I need to ensure that whatever is deemed by 
the medical community to help cut down on accidents, injuries, 
health-care costs, I believe I need to support that," Liepert said.

Stelmach, however, expressed concern about enforcing the legislation, 
while Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette has said driver 
education may be a better option than a ban.

Another contentious resolution, that called for fixed election dates 
every four years in Alberta, was easily defeated.

The St. Albert riding association argued that set voting days are 
necessary because "voter turnout in Alberta elections is continuing 
to decline."

The proposal came after a private member's bill from the 
constituency's MLA Ken Allred was killed in the spring session of the 

"Fixed election dates is really good for planning for everybody, 
particularly the candidates and Elections Alberta," Allred argued Saturday.

Yet, the MLA was resigned to the fact that the measure was unlikely 
to be adopted even if members voted for it as they did two years ago.

"The premier has come down fairly definitively on the fact that there 
won't be a fixed election date," he added.

Stelmach served notice a few weeks ago -- following a report from 
Elections Alberta calling for fixed election dates -- that he wasn't 
in favour of the reform and wouldn't implement it.

In other convention notes:

- - The premier told reporters the government has "pretty well wrapped 
up" negotiations with Syncrude to transition the oilsands giant to 
the province's new royalty regime, although he didn't offer any details.

- - PC members rejected a proposal to discontinue universal Grade 3 
provincial achievement testing.

- - Party faithful voted against increasing coverage for seniors' 
drugs, but passed a resolution calling for the government to adopt a 
health-care bill of rights for all Albertans.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom