Never mind the Mudville Nine: Nothing has changed, nothing ever will, that is all!

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“Your health. Our promise.” It’s March 1, 2013, and then-premier Alison Redford announces plans to build a new cancer treatment facility in Calgary to replace the grubby and overcrowded Tom Baker Cancer Centre. (Photo grabbed from Metro Newspapers.) But that was then. This is now. Below: Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel; the Tom Baker facility in northwest Calgary. 

As Danielle Smith might have said, were she still the leader of the Opposition, “nothing has changed!”

On Friday, mass media were uncritically reporting the “reasons” the new cancer hospital promised to Calgary on which construction was supposed to start next year, and then the year after that, will now have to wait until … someday.

Ms. Smith’s new best friend forever, Health Minister Stephen Mandel, with whom we are told she has agreed to bury the hatchet from their nasty disagreements during the 2012 election campaign, had been musing about how the declining price of oil was the cause of the $1.3-billion cancer hospital project being put off, again.

Just last year, the Progressive Conservative Government (Alison Redford Edition) was bragging about how this new hospital would be the biggest public health project in North America and the government was “proceeding with all possible speed” to replace the grubby and overcrowded Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Well, no more. Health care must remain in chaos, the better to justify privatization of public services and the marketization of human life, one supposes.

Oil prices have fallen, dontcha know? And if there’s one thing we do know about Alberta’s PCs – and this includes the shiny new Jim Prentice Edition of the party, obviously – they either lack the budgeting skills to break even running a food truck on the streets of Edmonton, even when petroleum prices stay high, or they’re doing it on purpose.

Indeed, the Prentice PCs’ response to the most recent oil price decline is proof that nothing has changed. It’s also proof of the truth of what Ms. Smith herself said about the PCs not so very long ago: “You can change the leader, but you can’t change the party!”

Both these things are true with or without Ms. Smith and most of the rest of her Opposition MLAs now back in the bosom of Premier Jim Prentice’s PC caucus.

As an aside, with media justifications of Ms. Smith’s nakedly cynical political cross dressing now beginning to appear in the partisan Conservative media, it is important to remember the flaws in the argument advanced in a toadying Globe and Mail story yesterday that the Wildrose opposition had no policy it could logically pursue that was different from Mr. Prentice’s PC narrative.

It is true that the Wildrose and PCs held identical positions on ensuring a fair energy royalty return for Albertans or dropping Alberta’s flat tax, which benefits only the truly wealthy. That is, we won’t do it! But there remained plenty of room for hardline balanced-budget advocates like the Wildrose to make the case the PCs continue to fail to take as firm a line as they would have.

Really, though, what has actually been consistently the same with Alberta’s PC governments since Don Getty was premier is their inability to resist the temptation to use normal cyclical declines in commodity prices as an excuse to take another stab at expensive but ideologically approved creeping privatization and cuts in health care, education and other public services.

I say convenient because two abstract concepts that shouldn’t really be beyond the comprehension of a market fundamentalist government like Mr. Prentice’s strongly suggest low oil prices will not be with us for long: Supply. Demand.

Well, we’ve all seen this movie before and we all know that it ends the same way every time.

Meanwhile, the details keep leaking out about the protracted negotiations between Wildrose Party and PC leaders to merge their Legislative caucuses, with Preston Manning acting as the “honest broker,” to borrow a phrase.

Turns out now they were going on for well over a month, possibly for several months, even as Ms. Smith and her (loyal?) sidekick Rob Anderson were assailing the government and expressing their profound shock and disappointment at the departure of premature floor-crossers Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle. They didn’t even tell their own caucus staffers, wishing them Merry Christmas with a pink slip.

This can only be described as barefaced lying on a truly stupendous scale – not the usual, and sometimes necessary, fibs and broken promises associated with the mechanics of democratic government as circumstances change and alliances shift.

In an entertaining analysis in the Globe on Friday, an astounded Western Canada columnist Gary Mason wondered, “Whatever will Ms. Smith say to Ms. Towle when they bump into each other at the first Tory caucus meeting?”

Actually, I doubt Ms. Towle will be much troubled. Notwithstanding the supposed breach in their friendship caused by Ms. Towle’s early defection, the pair were observed in one another’s company a few days before the Mudville Nine slipped their moorings by a group of Knee-Dippers relaxing at a downtown Edmonton watering hole.

Wherever could they have been going together? To a meeting with Preston Manning, I suppose.

Even Sun Media commentator Ezra Levant managed to seem genuinely appalled at Ms. Smith’s epic deception – and, to give the man his due, he did a better job than anyone else at making the ever-glib Ms. Smith look like a spluttering liar.

Regardless, this is all just more evidence that along the straight line that runs from Mr. Getty’s PCs, though Ralph Klein’s and all the other premiers’ down to Mr. Prentice’s version, nothing at all has changed when it comes to cynicism, dishonesty, entitlement or the placement of ideology above common sense and decency.

Well, maybe that’s a little unfair to Dave Hancock, this year’s premier pro tempore, but he wasn’t really around long enough to do much more than look solemn.

When it comes time for Ms. Smith to take her place in cabinet, one can only hope she is seated near her new BFF, Mr. Mandel, so they can cheerfully discuss the City Centre Airport, the Royal Alberta Museum and the new provincial park once planned for the shores of the Lake of Fire, but now delayed due to lack of funds. (I just made that last one up, although it’s said in the Book of Genesis, every word of which some members of both the Wildrump and PC caucuses apparently believe to be literally true, that the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah sat beside what today we would term tar sands. Perhaps there is a message in that for Alberta.)

So, nothing has changed. You are not allowed to believe anything ever will. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics