Alberta Premier Jim Prentice seems like a guy looking for a parade to get in front of, so he can say he’s the leader

Posted on February 20, 2015, 1:44 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Dammit! There’s a parade around here somewhere! I keep hearing the bagpipes! Below: Political leader, or something, Jim Prentice and journalists Don Braid and Charles Rusnell.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice keeps floating trial balloons about new ways to cut government spending, and then backing away the instant someone pops ’em.

I don’t know about you, but to me every day Mr. Prentice looks a little more like a guy looking for a parade to get in front of, so he can say he’s the leader. The trouble is, right now the crowd’s just milling around.

No matter what Albertans have been told, that’s not leadership. It’s not even management. It’s just evidence of confusion. Wasn’t Mr. Prentice supposed to be the guy with all the answers?Prentice-R

Our Progressive Conservative saviour-premier’s problem seems to be that no one’s very enthusiastic about the slick ideas he comes up with every morning, which may be why he drops so many of them by the afternoon.

But it’s doubtful he’ll implement the ideas that actually seem to have a little traction with ordinary voters – fair resource royalties and progressive taxation instead of the increasingly discredited “flat tax,” which actually tilts the playing field against the middle classes. I think we all know the reason for that.

Yesterday morning, we started the day with a pain-sharing plan to return us all to paying health care premiums – $528 a year for an individual, $1,056 for a family –  through an income tax check-off.

I thought this was pretty clever, even if it was a terrible idea. As Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid explained it, the way Finance Minister Robin Campbell, the former trade union local president, has been describing the balloon floated by the premier meant that “companies wouldn’t contribute all or part of the premium for employees, as many did before. And the government would not foot the bill for its own employees, a practice that used to skim off a big chunk of the take.”

Mr. Prentice and his finance minister had turned the idea of everyone sharing the pain into justification for another subsidy for big business!

Braid-LAs Mr. Braid observed: “For many people without benefits provided by big companies, the premium was a serious burden until 2009. It will be again in 2015, for more people.” (Emphasis added.)

By afternoon, though, the premier had characteristically cooled to this plan – apparently because the boys at the Chamber of Commerce where he gives his “State of the Province Speeches” had decided they didn’t particularly like it.

Ken Kobly, president of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, grumbled that it sounded like a tax increase to him, and might cost businesses, and pretty soon Mr. Prentice was pedalling backward, calling Mr. Campbell’s commentary the day before nothing more than “a concept.”

Well, at his news conference Wednesday on the shores of Chestermere Slough east of Calgary, Mr. Campbell did sound like a man who didn’t quite understand the lines his boss had just handed him. “It will be based on per person. I’m just not sure yet how we’ll bring it in,” he mumbled.

Now Mr. Campbell may be off the hook about having to come up with an explanation. Who would have thought, the premier must be musing, that premier Ed Stelmach’s 2009 idea of taking away the highly regressive health care premiums would have turned out to be popular? (Mr. Stelmach, for those of you who have already forgotten, was the last truly progressive Conservative premier of Alberta and a Tory who looks better by the day.)

Meanwhile, there was the clever FOI-suppression tactic announced by the government yesterday, to the immediate grief of the few journalists who still break stories in Alberta.

The PC government of Premiers Getty-through-Prentice has so many secrets that reporters like the CBC’s Charles Rusnell have made a cottage industry of doing targeted freedom-of-information requests that have repeatedly embarrassed the government.Rusnell-R

To prevent Mr. Rusnell from dragging the Tories down one freedom-of-information request at a time, we are told Mr. Prentice personally amended the rules so documents from all general FOI requests will be posted on the Internet every week.

The new FOI policy – drawn up without consulting the province’s information commissioner – gives the impression of more transparency while actually making things more opaque.

That’s because the government knows there will be less incentive for the few media outfits in Alberta that still do honest-to-gosh investigative journalism if the FOI searches they have paid for can be read in the government’s weekly data dump by sluggos from Postmedia papers, who are already notorious in journalistic circles for reprinting the CBC’s stories without credit.

As the CBC explained in a news story: “The new policy would effectively eliminate scoops and undermine long-term investigations.”

The government’s goal, obviously, is to ensure the bean counters at the CBC put a stop to Mr. Rusnell’s activities on the grounds the expense can no longer be justified.

However, it’s said here that this idea’s chances of long-term survival are not that good either. For starters, it’s unlikely to work as well as Mr. Prentice imagines.

It won’t deter opposition parties as much as the media, especially if the NDP no longer feels the need to compete with the Alberta Liberals for Question Period scoops. After all, with former Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman now in charge of the Liberals’ re-election campaign and most of its MLAs abandoning ship, that hardly bodes well for the survival of a Liberal caucus in the Legislature.

I’m betting New Democrats and what’s left of the Wildrose legislative rump can work out some kind of accommodation to keep a stream of revelations flowing.

Plus, the scheme ignores another aspect of the character of the media in Alberta, its powerful herd instinct. The loss of scoops may keep some media companies from filing FOIs, but if public-spirited citizen organizations do their part, file the requests and announce when they’re expected in a well-written news release, the media will pile on in a feeding frenzy.

So the government will soon realize this will make things worse from its perspective, not better.

Well, budget day is approaching and Mr. Prentice is going to have to come up with something. What do you want to bet he plumps for the hardy perennial of destructive Ralph-Klein-style cuts, attacks on public employees and a quick election before Albertans realize they’ve been had again.

With most of the opposition safely tucked away in the government benches, it should work out well enough for the premier despite his apparent inability to locate the front end of the parade.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

17 Comments to: Alberta Premier Jim Prentice seems like a guy looking for a parade to get in front of, so he can say he’s the leader

  1. PJP

    February 20th, 2015

    ” if public-spirited citizen organizations do their part,”

    I now suspect, what with the ‘Interweb’ and all, that we have left behind a sort of golden age of journalism.
    I know privately owed media outlets have and continue to be biased, but, like Wikipedia says, back “In the 19th century, journalists began to recognize the concept of unbiased reporting as an integral part of journalistic ethics.

    ——-> This coincided with the rise of journalism as a powerful social force” <——— http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias#History

    Now David here is doing a great job with his blog, but, really, what public-spirited citizen organizations have the time, money or mandate to file the requests, AND the expertise to fashion the well-written news release?

    Unless….. we can convince David to share his writing/researching expertise and convince him to expand albertapolitics.ca with a Kick-Starter type campaign to fund just such a citizen organization.

    If you do, I will contribute.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 20th, 2015

      While I think the Wikipedia tends to be 95 per cent accurate about 95 per cent of the time, I don’t accept its explanation in this particular case – although I recognize it is the conventional wisdom in the field. However, the REAL reason the concept of “unbiased” reporting – or at least reporting that stuck to a set of biases shared by owners and most journalists – was an economic one. To wit: It made the sharing of copy through news co-operatives like the Canadian Press and Associated Press, as well as their commercial variants, easier. It feels like I’ve been working in or around journalism since the 19th Century, although it’s not been quite that long, and I must have missed the Golden Age. Maybe it was just before I started. Journalism used to be more fun that it is now, but that was just because we were paid more relatively speaking and drinking was socially acceptable.

      Reply
  2. ronmac

    February 20th, 2015

    If you recall the first parade Allison Redford tried to lead when she became premier was to lower the legal impairment level to .05 or something (which btw is about the price of a barrel of oil now), raising the ire of restaurant owners everywhere. Seems like a lifetime ago.

    Reply
  3. bloozguy

    February 20th, 2015

    Your really, REALLY need an editor.
    e.g. “But it’s doubtful he’ll to implement”
    e.g. ” had turned the turned the idea ”
    e.g. “(Emphasis added.)” – it wasn’t added
    e.g. “where gives his “State of the Province…”

    Reply
  4. bloozguy

    February 20th, 2015

    Even I need an editor as in “Your really”

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 21st, 2015

      Hubris. Just the same, thanks. All the fixes you spotted have been made. I am not as perky every night, and on this occasion I probably should have left the post unwritten.

      Reply
  5. February 20th, 2015

    Most of the real news these days is coming from blogs like this. They have become a necessary cup of knowledge and representation for the masses.

    I think (hope) there will be a voter turnout this time around. I’m encouraging the media (lots of it) with the Norway saga that Socialism in its self is not a bad thing and can be extremely good.

    I finish off with the voter turnout 70% on every vote in Norway while this crew got in with 23% and, that is where the problems started. Hope even some of the semi literates can get a little enthusiasm for the results of democracy. I’m pretty sure that Prentice has read this widely repeated comment and agree; hes’ worried.

    My own blog has been waining! Have to do some quick work there. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Alvin Finkel

    February 21st, 2015

    Norway is not socialist, John, and it’s probably not helpful to suggest to Albertans, so many of whom think socialism is a dirty word, that it is. That trillion dollars that Norway has recouped from the energy industry while Alberta simply lets them eat it up in profits is not invested in soviets or public industries. It’s invested in private stocks across the globe. That will give Norwegians a huge chunk of change to keep them afloat when the oil no longer flows and can support investments in new industries at home. Meanwhile, they fund their social programs through high but progressive taxation, not from oil royalties. Some will call that socialism; I think it’s just commonsense. Socialism is about public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. In Norway, the socialism is mainly limited to public ownership of most of the energy industry. Not a bad thing at all, but it is not helpful either to extol or to condmenn Norway for being a socialist country. It isn’t.

    Reply
    • Kat

      April 30th, 2015

      Stop comparing Norway the COUNTRY and alberta a province in a large country. It is so annoying!

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        April 30th, 2015

        Kat: Do you understand how Canada’s constitution works? Each level of government is sovereign in its area of constitutional responsibility. Resources are a provincial responsibility. So how does this make a province like Alberta different from a country like Norway in this matter?

        Reply
      • April 30th, 2015

        Population of Norway is 5 million, The population of Alberta is 4.6 million its a fair comparison no matter which way you cut it!

        Reply
  7. Athabascan

    February 21st, 2015

    Since Thatcher and Reagan, any government that dares to govern on behalf of and for the benefit of society is branded socialistic. I doubt that after 30 years of right-wing propaganda anyone in the Anglo-American sphere (Canada included) could define what socialism is. All the brainwashed masses know is that it is bad – idiots all.

    I’ll take socialism over corporatism any day. Sadly, no one can define corporatism either much less realize they we are now living in and imprisoned in that dystopia.

    Reply
    • February 21st, 2015

      You are so very right! I have been working hard at holding up the Norway example of socialism for Albertans to see. All in the hopes it will turn out votes.

      Reply
  8. Ryan Schlecht

    February 22nd, 2015

    Big business should be getting subsides. They employ workers, who pay taxes. If we reduced corporate tax rates to 0%, you’d see head offices – together with the workers they employ – coming here en masse.

    Reply
    • February 23rd, 2015

      That is exactly where we are now Ryan, tooled down to a point we are pumping kids out of school based on attendance rather than marks. We are giving our oil and resources away for nothing. The 10% flat tax leaves middle and lower income paying the majority of the taxes while industry enjoys the lowest prices in North America if not the world.

      And look at us! The province if broke, we have an army of unemployed ready to stand up and the poorest working class needing assistance in north America.

      You and Prentice share the same dream.

      Reply

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