Be careful what you ask for! Jim Prentice walks away with the Wildrose political play book

Posted on September 22, 2014, 12:13 am
8 mins

Premier Jim Prentice. Below: Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith and former party strategist Tom Flanagan, this time on the button.

As the expression goes: be careful what you ask for! You might just get it.

There is irony – perhaps even bitter irony – in what newly minted Alberta Premier Jim Prentice managed to do to the Wildrose Opposition last week and will likely continue to do to them this week as well.

As he attempts to right the leaky Progressive Conservative ship of state, which nearly sank during the inept captaincy of fired premier Alison Redford, he has not only emphatically abandoned a whole gamut of policies once implemented by the Redford Government, he has done what the federal Liberals have done repeatedly to the New Democratic Party.

To wit: in a spectacular act of political plagiarism, he seems to be adopting the entire Wildrose policy book, not to mention those of the NDP and the Alberta Liberals – returning to consolidated budgeting, selling off the government’s fleet of aircraft, keeping the Michener Centre open, and so on.

Yet there is little Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and her MLAs can do but pray someone is paying attention as they stand helplessly by and protest, “Hey! That was our idea!”

If the federal Liberal model holds, the Wildrose Party’s strategists have to understand that voters who are fooled by this brazen sleight of hand will never get it until after the election, when they will complain bitterly that they’ve been had if the government fails to follow through. The next time it comes along, however, they can be counted upon to take the bait again.

That’s got to be a sobering prospect to Wildrose strategists who once thought they had the perfect foil in premier Ed Stelmach, and then realized they had an even better one in Ms. Redford. Mr. Prentice does not seem to be so co-operative.

Indeed, since the Wildrose Party is helped by some very smart strategists with close ties to the federal Conservative Party, they are sure to understand that, despite their recent promising poll numbers, their grasp on certain victory began to loosen the moment Ms. Redford was forced to resign.

It’s all very well to say, as they undoubtedly tell themselves, that copying the Wildrose policy book at the start of the campaign kills the PCs’ best election talking point: that the Prentice Tories are somehow different from their principal opposition. But it has to frighten them that this technique has never bothered anyone, except the hapless New Democrats who were its most usual victims, when perpetrated by Liberals.

What Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer calls the “de-Redfordization” process begun by Mr. Prentice has indeed resulted in a dramatic and remarkable turnaround in only a week. I frankly didn’t believe Mr. Prentice when he said, back on Sept. 9, that “after two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” Well, he’s proved me wrong, at least as far as the change part goes, and in only one week!

He may by now have pretty much run out of Redford policies to reverse – except for the anti-union bills 45 and 46, one of which has never been enacted and the other of which has been rendered moot by the contract reached in collective bargaining with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

But this week he will start to make promises that that Ms. Redford made and broke – with a considerably greater degree of credibility than the former premier given his performance in his first week. The rumour mill suggests he will start today by announcing plans to build numerous new schools.

Here too Mr. Prentice may steal from the Opposition play book, and the Opposition will have no effective comeback but to state the obvious and be ignored. Because, alas for them as for generations of federal New Democrats, there is no enforceable copyright on political and policy ideas.

Then, before we know it, we will be into a new session and Mr. Prentice will have the opportunity to introduce some new legislation – perhaps again stealing from the opposition parties with a comprehensive travel policy for MLAs and ministers, limits on severance for senior staff and strict per diems instead of unlimited expenses. Maybe he’ll even toss something symbolic to the LGTBQ community.

So where does that leave the government and its opposition? Well, I would say the analysis Saturday by former Wildrose chief strategist Tom Flanagan – who has now been thoroughly rehabilitated by the conservative media that spurned him last year – is close to flawless.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Dr. Flanagan accurately described the Tories wobbly coalition and how it works – and how the loss of most conservative voters in Alberta doesn’t necessarily mean it will collapse if centre-left voters can be persuaded to back them one more time.

Dr. Flanagan is largely right too about the inherent contradiction in the whole rickety structure – that it can only deliver both balanced budgets and new spending if the notoriously fickle energy sector fluctuates in the right direction.

But there’s every reason to believe that’s exactly what’s going to happen. With winter approaching in Europe and the Wildrosers’ federal cousins doing what they can to exacerbate the sense of crisis on that continent, and with ISIS-ISIL-IS waging a vicious and frightening post-nation-state war across great swaths of the Middle East, the auguries suggest energy prices are unlikely to fall in the winter of 2014 or the spring of 2015.

If that is so, the conditions for yet another Tory win may be in place, and Albertans will find themselves living with Peter Lougheed’s political legacy for nigh on half a century!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments to: Be careful what you ask for! Jim Prentice walks away with the Wildrose political play book

  1. Surrealist

    September 22nd, 2014

    Dave..you are really reaching here and just cause Flanagan says so it does not mean its true. Diamond DiamondJim is the new lipstick on a pig, dont be too overly dazzled by a few gimicky low hung fruit policy reversals, it is more of a style statement than substance. Diamond Jim is a darling of the 1% percenters and that alone will guarantee a new train wreck AB Tory Govt that cant fix healthcare, education, cant save money and cant generate revenue for govt. Those 1%ers, they want to keep status quo, reward themselves and pork barrel their buddies, that alone will trainwreck and self scandalize teflon jim’s fake persona to join Redford. 1%ers in these political or corporate leadership positions are sociopaths and dont care about what is right or wrong, and they esp. dont care about people, that alone will guarantee their self imposed failure. Even if Diamond Jim builds pipelines…not an effing red cent will saved and he will keep selling the rich black top soil at bargain basement prices like a 24hour firesale. We know thats likely because after he accepted running for the Tories, he had already indicated that we should be willing to take on more public debt. You heard it here…same ole same ole.

    Reply
  2. David Heyman

    September 22nd, 2014

    You fail to take your argument to its logical conclusion – if Jim Prentice takes all the Wildrose’s ideas, what’s the point of keeping the Wildrose? It started in the primordial ooze of the royalty review, whose changes have long been reversed, but formed into a golem via the incantations of various right-wing high priests who begged for deliverance from Alison the Red. Now, she’s gone, too, along with her policies, and the creature must surely follow, having served its purpose. I suspect informal merger negotiations might begin in the new year.

    Reply
  3. J el

    September 22nd, 2014

    Hey Dave good call, but remember the saying, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Centerist(lefties) who paid for pcaa membershipvoted for Redford and then pinched their noses and voted pcaa will abandon the pc next election The result will be enough pc who just beat out the wildrose will go down. Alberta party looking as a good alternative.

    Reply
  4. Rev

    September 22nd, 2014

    Sorry Surrealist. I read both the article above as well as Flanagan’s. I tend to find more credibility in a solid article and analysis – sure all analysts have a slant as they are voters too – but there is some science to how votes are gathered in Alberta/Canada. I don’t think your argument has one objective statement that provides any credibility to your belief. A few on the internets (and a specific regular on twitter) are trying to get “Diamond Jim” to stick – so far, not so good. Pick a new one.

    Provided Prentice continues to nix poor policy and previous programs – in 2016 Albertans will be tired of hearing the WRP’s cries of “that was ours” banging in the in the wind. The only effective elements of WRP’s opposition was poking holes in Stelmach and Redford and their policies are common sense (for the most part). But let’s face it, any solid political leader can bring those to the table and I doubt that the PC Right can keep up. Should be an interesting week.

    Reply
  5. September 22nd, 2014

    Thanks to everyone for these excellent comments. I want to make it clear to readers that I’m not endorsing the idea of re-electing the Conservatives under any leader. I am arguing that Premier Prentice is stealing from the Wildrose policy book, and those of other parties, in ways that may well work. And credit where credit is do, his first week in office has been highly effective. Analysis doesn’t have to be partisan even if the analyzer is.

    It is to be hoped that J el is right and centre-left voters will return to their traditional parties. Count on it, though, that the PC campaign will be designed to try to scare them away from doing that on the grounds that the supposedly scary WRP will then win. Whether or not that will work, I cannot say, but I sure wouldn’t rule it out.

    Finally, David Heyman makes an excellent point in the case of two conservative parties with different approaches but nearly identical ideology. It could also be argued Mr. Prentice is also taking NDP ideas, though, since everyone seems to be singing from the same hymnsheet on some issues, such as consolidated budgeting. Does that mean we also don’t need the NDP? I don’t think so.

    Reply
    • pogo

      September 22nd, 2014

      What you have are a Flanagan (the “Great Stain on Canada’s politics”) preferred and a Flanagan econo option. The fact remains that we need a lot more than school breakfast programs to excite the electorate! I for one would rather get blown out on a courageous platform than what I’m hearing from the fuzzy wuzzy wing right now.
      Energy royalty increases with a government take over if they balk. Build toll roads with the government collecting. Have a transportation strategy. A tax strategy. Tell the people what it means, what it will provide. Be brave!

      Reply
  6. Athabascan

    September 22nd, 2014

    So, it’s a race to the far right wing? How right can you go? Tea party anyone?

    The petro Tsars must be laughing. They have the government right where they want them.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      September 22nd, 2014

      Well, the ultimate goal for any oligarch is to have only one government, beholden only to the power structure. The frightening thing is that this is the reality for a significant number of petro economies throughout the world; for some reason, oil economies tend to beget authoritarian regimes and theocracies.

      Reply
  7. pogo

    September 22nd, 2014

    I forgot to mention a vision.
    Corporate types love and hate vision statements almost as much as they despise being held to a defined mission.
    So for all you corporate whores let me lay it out for you…. Alberta should envision itself after the oil is gone and position the province as a stable diverse economy (sound like Lougheed? I thought so).
    Our goals should be to have a top tier education system that’s sought after for placement and a healthcare system that is a benchmark for best practise as well as teaching. All of the technologies that go into guaranteeing that need to be supported.
    Additionally we should be the leader in cold weather transportation infrastructure and the design and manufacturing capability that goes along with that.
    Agricultural should be shifted away from GMO and factory farming into high end pure organic artisanal production.
    Our tourism should be given priority and golf courses aren’t our best bet there.
    Anyway, if at any point anyone needs someone to carry a sign in favour of a toll on highway 63 just give me a shout at pogo on this blog.

    PS my shopping cart in the river valley doesn’t accept calls.

    Reply
  8. jerrymacgp

    September 23rd, 2014

    Mr Prentice’s apparent strategy is to shift the so-called “Progressive” Conservatives subtly and gradually to the right, in an attempt to reclaim the ground yielded to the Wildrose by his most recent predecessors. While one might argue that this also risks alienating the more centrist voters that lent their votes to the PCs in the last election, IMHO those votes are now forever lost to them anyway, due to Ms Redford’s having turned against them after the election. The challenge for him will be to see if he can pull enough conservative votes back from the Wildrosers to sustain the 43-years-and-counting PC dynasty, despite the culture of entitlement and intolerance of dissent that has characterized the PC regime for many years.

    Meanwhile, in the centre and left of the political spectrum, we have the moribund Liberals, the irrelevant Alberta Party, and the feisty yet still somewhat hapless NDP (full disclosure: I am a card-carrying Dipper, but I have no illusions about the NDP’s strength outside of Edmonton and Lethbridge). I think many moderate centrist voters, despite their personal political leanings, are likely to hold their noses and vote Wildrose regardless, just to turf the PCs out of office. My prediction for the next election? A Wildrose plurality in a minority legislature, with the NDP and/or Liberals holding the balance of power.

    If the NDP is going to make any real headway, I think it needs a bold stroke. How about an aggressive anti-poverty strategy, characterized as “put food banks out of business” in its first 4-year mandate? The corporatist press would be merciless in their attacks on such a proposal, but it could find some traction with progressive voters.

    Reply

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