If getting rid of SAM wasn’t that easy, imagine what the green eggs and ham are going to be like! Above, Premier Jim Prentice with the licence plate Alberta won’t be dumping after all. (CBC photo) Below: The typical Progressive Conservative, not necessarily exactly as illustrated.
It’s one thing to let a couple of pieces of ill-considered and unpopular legislation die on the order paper.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice did that yesterday with Bills 9 and 10, two bad ideas cooked up by the brainiacs in Alison Redford’s inner circle to make the anti-public-service and financial services lobbies happy by attacking the retirement security of modestly paid working people in the name of sustainability.
Likewise, it’s one thing to toss a bit of mindless but expensive symbolism over the side, which Mr. Prentice also did later yesterday when he mercifully pulled the plug on the Dave Hancock Government’s brain-dead $15-million-plus notion of eliminating the “Wild Rose Country” slogan on Alberta automotive licence plates because of, well … you know who.
Ditto replacing Old Tory hacks in comfortable trade-office sinecures at home and abroad with New Tory hacks in the same places, which Mr. Prentice announced the day before.
Mr. Prentice’s strategy for showing that there’s a real difference between his government and the two or three with the same name that went before it is not unexpected, and it is not inept.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he sent a bad idea from the Redford-Hancock era out with the trash every day until the new session of the Legislature starts on Nov. 17. God knows, there were enough of them!
As strategies go for political parties caught in a tight spot of their own making, this isn’t a bad one. Mr. Prentice seems to like American legislative symbolism, so maybe he’s got something like John F. Kennedy’s First One Hundred Days in office in mind. JFK hit the ground running, even if it was really FDR who coined the phrase.
But for this strategy to work, it’s said here, the premier is going to have to do more than pick off the low-hanging fruit. If he’s going to persuade Albertans he’s delivering meaningful change, he’s going to have to deliver meaningful change.
Here are a couple of ideas, one he can do now, one he can do when the Legislature resumes sitting:
First, call for an investigation into the voting irregularities in the PC leadership race that give him his job.
This is the kind of thing PC parties past just swept under the rug. Who can forget party president Bill Smith vowing to get to the bottom of who gave the party voters list to the Calgary Herald to pass on to a pollster? Once Ms. Redford was in power, commitment to that idea evaporated in seconds.
It’s what party officials did instinctively this time too.
But Mr. Prentice wants us to believe that was then and this is now. He could do so persuasively by taking the allegations of a party volunteer seriously that she was required to give multiple voter PINs to an Edmonton MLA instead of just blowing it off like Alberta Tories of yore.
Heaven knows, his victory was decisive enough it’s not as if he would be putting his job at risk. Au contraire!
Here, I’ll even write a line from his press release for him, free of charge: “‘The days when the end justifies the means in Alberta politics are over,’ Mr. Prentice said. ‘Anyone caught stuffing a ballot box in any circumstances will find themselves out of my caucus.’”
This would be a powerful warning to his caucus – and an equally powerful message to voters – that unethical behaviour will no longer be tolerated. For real.
Second, when the Legislature resumes sitting, it is time to repeal Bills 45 and 46, the blatantly unconstitutional legislation that was at the core of what passed for the Redford Government’s labour relations strategy.
Bill 45 is a disgrace and an insult to all Albertans, openly outlawing public speech by anyone in support of a strike by public employees. It is doomed in the courts, and any effort by the province to defend it will only throw good money after bad.
Bill 46, which was designed to allow the government to circumvent collective bargaining with its own civil servants, has already been excoriated by the courts.
In granting the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees an injunction against the bill, Mr. Justice Denny Thomas suggested the government had never bargained in good faith, as its own laws require, but had merely sat at the bargaining table as “camouflage for a different agenda.”
Bill 46 is now moot, because AUPE has signed an agreement with the government, but it is nevertheless a powerful symbol of Ms. Redford’s disdain for the rights of Albertans and the arrogance of her misrule. Bill 45 was given Royal Assent but never proclaimed, a dodge likely designed to make it a little harder to challenge in court.
Formally repealing these laws in the Legislature – an “act of contrition,” as a friend of mine puts it, that would require the Tory caucus to publicly change course on legislation they never should have supported – would help heal the profound distrust for the party in the public sector. This would not only make it easier for Mr. Prentice to implement his promises of fiscal restraint and structural change to health care and education, but is the only way to attract enough progressive voters back to his party to give it any chance at survival.
These things would be harder to do than just tossing out an ugly licence plate. For starters, they would prompt real resistance in Tory ranks.
But if Mr. Prentice wants to persuade Albertans he’s making real change, he’ll have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So far, he’s just talking.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.