What’s the hurry? Jim Prentice push for early vote feels manipulative, bad for Alberta

Posted on January 22, 2015, 1:27 am
8 mins

Albertans don’t want to wait 100 years for an election, but a lot of them seem to think one more year would be in order. Below: Jim Prentice, who wants an election as soon as possible; Dave Hancock, who according the Mr. Prentice’s logic should have faced one; and Alison Redford, whose government scheduled the next general election for the spring of 2016.

Does anybody seriously think Alberta needs another election right now?

Yeah, I know, Premier Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservative legislative caucus want one.

But do we need one, right at this particular moment?

PrenticeWith a buzz in the air that since an election suits Mr. Prentice we’re going to get one whether we wish it or not, a surprising number of Albertans are expressing the view an early election this spring is not at all what our province needs.

The generally accepted best practice for Westminster-style parliamentary democracies like we have in Canada is for a general election to be held every four years.

By setting a five-year outside term limit for elected legislatures, practically speaking four years is what our 1982 Canadian Constitution was designed to encourage. This is probably why, when Conservative parties in both Ottawa and many provinces including Alberta enacted formal term-limits legislation to imitate the American way of doing politics, they nevertheless opted for a four-year fixed term.

But long before 1982, voters in most parts of Canada tended to express their displeasure at the polls when governments stepped too far out of line on either side of that four-year parliamentary rule of thumb.

So the next time a general election is due in Alberta, by custom, practice and even according to the fixed-election-period legislation enacted by premier Alison Redford’s government in 2011, which remains on the books, is between March 1 and May 31, 2016.

That is, to state the painfully obvious, more than a year from now.

But why not have one now and get the question of Mr. Prentice’s mandate out of the way?

Several arguments can be made why this is not in the province’s best interest.Hancock

For one thing, while elections are certainly necessary, they’re also disruptive. Not much governing gets done during what Rod Love, the late premier Ralph Klein’s late chief political cook and bottle washer, called the “red zone” before a vote.

That’s when politicians are busy trying to get elected – or re-elected. MLAs spend a year getting to know where the washrooms are, then they run things for a few months, and before long we’re right back into the red zone.

So, to be blunt about it, do we need an election red zone in the midst of what we are being told is a deep financial crisis requiring calm and rational leadership?

Moreover, general elections are expensive – the last one we had in Alberta, in April 2012, cost $20 million, give or take.

Officially, the price tag was $13.6 million, a record on its own. But throw in $6.5 million for the enumeration of voters and another $2.1 million for an unconstitutional Senate election stunt and the price tag grew to $22.2 million.

So even without inflation and the needless Senate vote, which the federal government is free to ignore and likely will if the candidates don’t suit its political coloration, that’s a lot of money to be spending a year before we need to. And it’s not as if the election date is going to be the new Year Zero for future general elections.

And surely even an opportunistic government like this one looks unseemly tossing its own fixed-election legislation over the side before even a single election cycle has passed?

Well, at least that lets us forget about the optics of buying vanity automotive luxury antiques when you’re asking everyone else to sacrifice, as the premier’s partisans insist we must do in the case of the $59,000 ’56 T-Bird, to wonder instead about the impression created by spending $20 million on an unneeded election when you’re pretending you need a mandate because the province is broke.

We know froAlisonm the hints that have been dropped, of course, that the need for a mandate to deal with the oil-price trough will be Mr. Prentice’s principal argument for an election now, less than three years into the mandate convincingly won by essentially the same group of people 2012.

So, according to the premier’s apparent logic, shouldn’t we have had the general election when Dave Hancock was premier and Mr. Prentice was just a twinkle in the party’s electoral eye?

Of course, we know why we didn’t have a province-wide vote then – the results would have been considerably less certain than they are now with the bulk of the official Opposition co-opted into the government’s ranks.

Just last summer Mr. Prentice convincingly won the leadership of a Natural Governing Party that has ruled this province without interruption and virtually without electoral challenge for 43 years.

Then Mr. Prentice’s PCs swept four by-elections – billed a mini-election at the time.

Then he managed to all but eliminate the official Opposition.

There’s no evidence since the collapse of the Wildrose Party that anything will be different this time.

And now, here we are, in the middle of a financial crisis that supposedly requires a steady hand on the tiller, proposing to throw everything into chaos so that the premier can have a mandate he already has.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Albertans already know Progressive Conservatives don’t govern according to their campaign trail promises. An early election is bound to encourage more cynicism, more apathy and a record-low voter turnout.

What we need right now is not a strong mandate for Premier Prentice, but a record of how he governs so we know what we’re voting for when the time is right in a year.

And, as it happens, his own government’s fixed-election legislation gives him the perfect democratic time frame to establish that record.

Surely the next Alberta general election should be in the spring … of 2016.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

7 Comments to: What’s the hurry? Jim Prentice push for early vote feels manipulative, bad for Alberta

  1. Jerrymacgp

    January 22nd, 2015

    I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I do object to using the cost of an election as an argument against holding one. Democracy can be expensive, but dictatorship while cheaper is not better.

    I think there is some merit in the argument that the Legislature we elected less than three full years ago is not the one we have now. Not only is Her Majesty’s Government led by someone other than the one summoned by the L-G in 2012, but the political composition of the Legislature has changed radically from the one elected in ’12. Yes, they’re the same faces, but not on the same sides of the House.

    OTOH, there is also merit in the argument that we should allow Mr Prentice & his gang to govern for a while, and develop a track record that the voters can pass judgement on in ’16. However, that argument is somewhat countered by the notion that the PCs have no mandate to extensively remake the tax system, which is what is needed to get us out of the low-oil-price jam we’re in.

    • Bloozguy

      January 22nd, 2015

      It’s not the cost of the election, per se, but the implication that it would be money needlessly wasted.

    • Pattison

      January 22nd, 2015

      Mr. Prentice is just a figurehead, a band-aid solution long standing problem ineptitude that the Wildrose Party, Liberals, NDP, Independents brought to light repeatedly and killed a few PC governments in doing so.

      But if you read Mr. Prentice on the record in Hansard, he doesn’t do well with opposition. Whenever he stuck his foot into his mouth – which in true Ron Burgandy style he did often – he ran to Mike Duffy to help himself become “perfectly clear.”

      Now that Prentice’s tactical minions have effectively eviscerated the opposition, and have the mainstream media bending over pumping out so obvious “Jim Prentice Propaganda” that would make Putin wince twice, and that goofy looking little (dead) guy with the gas-mask friendly mustache roll in hell, it’s time for an election?

      If Prentice had any integrity, which it doesn’t appear to be the case, then it’s time to let the opposition parties recover, regroup, and do their democratic jobs.

      Bottom line is that Prentice was elected by a primarily new Chinese Canadians who believed his lies — just like most of those former Wildrose politicians who cross the floor believed his lies. Soon those new Chinese Canadians will be losing their jobs, houses, equity. Give them a year, they’ll be like old George Bush: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool us twice, shame on you.

      Prentice (and his handlers and minions) what power. That’s all. He’s not remotely concerned about Albertans.

  2. Athabascan

    January 22nd, 2015

    No one is saying we shouldn’t have an election. The debate is about the timing. I favour holding off until 2016. To hold one any sooner is political trickery upon the electorate.

    Govern already and right now, then we can assess whether they did a good job.

    If Prentice and his PCs want an early election, it is because they want to enact draconian economic measures against the Public Service, and all the other 99% of Albertans as soon as possible. They don’t want to wait until after March 2016.

    They know full well they can’s enact those punitive economic measures one year prior to an election. But, after an election all the gloves come off.

    From my perspective holding the election later (2016) will buy the most vulnerable Albertans a one year stay of execution, and who knows by then maybe the oil prices with rebound.

  3. Sam Gunsch

    January 22nd, 2015

    Maybe…rather than call an election and have the usual thin gruel of media sound-bites as the policy debate about progressive or flat or sales taxes

    Maybe Prentice and PC’s could actually decide to act democratically and first deign to engage in substantive policy debates in the legislature and gosh… maybe all-party committee deliberations and some all-party consultations with Albertans.

    You know… like some actual democratic engagement that still happens now and then in other provinces, rather continue the corporatist top-down governance PC mode: Consult buddies in industry and the top financial pontificators and then hand down the RW expert wisdom on tablets to the rabble.

    So, it’d be like a miracle in Alberta’s one-party state but perhaps Prentice might agree to some democratic engagement prior to election in 2016 with all interested citizens from across the political spectrum, and subject the PC’s favored options to scrutiny in the legislature QP and in committee meetings with members of the actual opposition representing citizens of different political perspectives.

    And which would mean asking our civil service to to prepare and distribute adequate analysis of the tax options and possible impacts to help the ordinary citizen understand the different options.

    Tax system debate is otherwise going to be largely reliant on MSM RW bloviating mostly centred on the Fraser Institute’s all-taxes-are-bad propaganda to obtain an understanding. And the TINA propaganda from the hard right market fundamentalism of the Mintz/Morton Calgary School gang

    So if Albertans were to be favored with some democratic engagement by Prentice and PC’s over tax policy throughout 2015, then they have the power with their majority to make a choice that everyone will have had a chance to understand and argue about, and the PC’s go to the citizens to obtain a mandate on that policy.

    Yeah… I know this sounds utopian. And I’m not on meds or off them. Just an earnest citizen.

    But then as Frank Dabbs and others have noted, democratic engagement by the PCs since Klein is quite rare:

    Klein’s AB is Post-Democracy by Frank Dabbs



    On the other hand, Prentice obviously has the political power-base and chops to do this.
    Unlike Stelmach going up against the petro-elite over royalties.

    And especially, as everyone points out, he’s probably mostly neutralized WRP.

    But then, that’s his motive of course: he wants a snap election to finish off WRP.
    Waiting a year might allow the rural reboot.

    Sam Gunsch

  4. January 22nd, 2015

    One forward idea is that the Oil Companies can’t keep carrying that amount of staff indefinitely. They have given him the word they will carry him until February? March? at which time they are going to start their layoff whether he is ready or not. That’s just me!

    We are looking at 6 years plus of crash time and Albertans involved in oil have over mortgaged; run credit cards (multiple) over the top and have a yard full of unsecured debt as in boats, quads and expensive boy’s toys.

    There will be many thousands turned out!

  5. Alvin Finkel

    January 22nd, 2015

    It’s unconscionable for a single-party majority government to call an election while their majority is not in question. And they do not need to go back to the electorate each time the economy goes boom or bust. The economy takes no note of the political cycle. The problem with this never-ending conservative regime is that they recognize no responsibility to tax sufficiently to insure that there are surpluses waiting when times are hard and likely revenues appear weak. Instead, they argue implicitly that we should choose to get sick, have kids needing schooling, or end up in a position where we need homecare or extended care only when the economy is on the upswing. There is a majority in this province that no longer wants the Tories in power and most of it wants some real economic planning. But it is divided among weak, poorly funded parties who can only afford to focus on a minority of seats, risking otherwise such a diffusion of their resources that they will win almost nothing. In many of those seats, they’ll clobber each other and give Lucky Jim a free ride. In Jim Prentice’s position, I would also call an election while such self-inflicted weakness on the part of the opposition parties persists rather than wait two years and see if they manage to unite against me. In short, Jim Prentice is amoral (no one could choose to be leader of this PC party in Alberta if they had a shred of integrity) and will take advantage of the buffoonery of the opposition to win a big victory and then try to wait out this recession, while bashing civil servants and pleasing the former Wild Rosies with greater privatization of health and education, as he promised to deliver on their wish list.


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