ILLUSTRATIONS: What many Albertans now see when they consult their magic mirrors about what’s actually causing their province’s current economic troubles. Below: Former Social Credit premier E.C. Manning and current NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

Wicked Queen to Mirror: “Mirror, mirror coin machine, am I still the cutest queen?”

Mirror to Wicked Queen: “You are now, but wise up fast! Snow White will soon go whizzing past!”

Fractured Fairy Tales, 1959

The brouhaha about Jim Prentice’s tone-deaf pronouncement on province-wide radio that Alberta’s economic woes are not his fault or the fault of the long-in-the-tooth dynasty he leads, but the digitized peasantry’s, seems to have caught the premier and his Progressive Conservative government flat-footed.

And no wonder! He and his flunkies have been saying essentially the same thing for weeks with no blowback from Albertans and plenty of good reviews from the people that matter to them – bankers, professional pundits, newspaper owners, PC Party big shots, Rotarians, Chambers of Commerce, Fraser Institute apparatchiks and the like.

It’s all been part of their pre-budget, pre-election expectation-management message box that describes the economic impact of cyclically lower oil prices in the grimmest possible terms to persuade us to knuckle under and take the market fundamentalist shock treatments the premier and the Fraser Institute prescribe.

Well, Albertans have had sudden mood swings before – as former premier Alison Redford learned to her dismay.

But the moment at which Mr. Prentice seems to have run afoul of popular sentiment was when he switched from implying that we Albertans are responsible for the current economic state of the province because we want quality health care and education, to explicitly stating that this was so.

That happened during a lunch-hour CBC radio call-in program broadcast province-wide on Wednesday, and it certainly wasn’t intentional. Rather, the premier was staying pretty much within his expectation-management message box when he clumsily ad-libbed: “In terms of who is responsible, we need only look in the mirror. Basically, all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs.”

Mr. Prentice is a cold fish, and an evasive one. I suspect frustration with that has been building among Albertans of all political stripes who had hoped for a return to something like the personal warmth of Ralph Klein, whether or not they supported the neoliberal Shock Doctrine of the Klein Era. But if they’d been persuaded the former banker and federal cabinet minister was just the man of provide it, they are being disappointed.

Notwithstanding his nicely cut suits and the distinguished frosting of grey in his mane of hair, Mr. Prentice has turned out to be the most charmless premier of Alberta since E.C. Manning!

Whatever caused it, the dam burst with his revealingly insensitive slip about our need to look in the mirror to find the true villain of Alberta’s financial state, not to mention the cause of the public’s suddenly insecure state of mind – both of which, it can be persuasively argued, are in fact the result of mismanagement by the Progressive Conservative government.

And this from a guy who just used his flat-tax savings to buy a $60,000 classic used T-Bird for his grandson! The insensitivity, not to mention the sense of casual entitlement at the top we were supposed to have put behind us with the departure of Alison Redford, left a lot of Albertans gasping for breath.

The rage welled up first on Twitter Wednesday evening with the #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans hashtag and went from there.

Indeed, the fury continues to percolate. Some bright sparks cooked up a plan to call on Albertans to turn up on the steps of the Legislature Saturday at 1 p.m. with mirrors in their hands to let the premier know what they think. And Opposition political parties were soon emailing fund-raising letters to supporters based on the premier’s gaffe.

It made a lot of Albertans all the madder that this glib shot was made at the folks Mr. Prentice expects with a reasonable degree of confidence to re-elect his Progressive Conservative Party, nearly 44 years in command of the Alberta economy, to another massive majority.

The government’s initial reaction seemed to be panicky, and certainly wasn’t particularly clear headed.

Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Finance Minister Robin Campbell were first out the gate with an instant news conference in Calgary, supposedly about the budget, at which they maintained Mr. Prentice’s commentary had been taken out of context. (“Out of context,” it should be noted here for those of you without a glossary of journalistic terms at hand, is generally used in discussions of media coverage to mean, “I wish I hadn’t said that.” Or, in this case, “We sure wish our boss hadn’t said that.”)

Premier Prentice himself made the same excuse yesterday to a friendly audience at the annual market-fundamentalist bunfest organized in Ottawa by E.C’s son Preston Manning, the current godfather of neoliberalism in Canada.

The remnants of the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau were obviously working overtime too. They churned out a three-sentence, 105-word press release announcing the Budget Speech would be on March 26, information the chattering classes had not up to then received, obviously hoping to draw some attention from the premier.

Mr. Prentice’s first instinct seems to have been to dash immediately to a friendly Calgary Herald columnist to explain that, of course he didn’t mean it. “I’ve never said Albertans are the problem. I’ve never, ever said that or anything like that,” Don Braid quoted the premier saying. “What I’ve said is that Albertans have to be part of the solution.”

The Herald also provided a sympathetic editorial suggesting the premier’s faux pas was the result of stress.

As for the rest of the media, the Edmonton Journal huffily complained, they were being dodged by the premier, who apparently didn’t want to answer the kind of questions ordinary reporters throw at politicians in distress.

The Opposition, especially the New Democratic Party led by Rachel Notley, naturally did their best to exploit the rare opportunity presented to them by Mr. Prentice. The NDP’s press release was widely quoted in the media. In it, Ms. Notley said:

“When Albertans look in the mirror … they see someone who is working harder than ever to make ends meet. They see someone who doesn’t want their loved ones suffering as they wait to be seen for unending hours in an emergency room. They see someone who cares that their kids get a quality education and have a bright future ahead of them.

“Perhaps we should be asking what Mr. Prentice would see if he looked in the mirror,” she continued. “He would see the leader of a tired 43-year-old government that has squandered our resource wealth. He would see a leader who is telling Albertans they will pay more to get less, while giving their money away in tax breaks to big banks, large corporations and high-income Albertans. He would see a leader who insists that Albertans have enjoyed the ‘best of everything,’ while turning a blind eye to our bursting emergency rooms, overcrowded schools and seniors waiting for a long-term care bed.”

I’ve quoted Ms. Notley at length because I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The NDP obviously hopes, to stick with the magic mirror metaphor, that Albertans will ponder Mr. Prentice’s illuminating slip and conclude Ms. Notley, rather like Snow White, really is the fairest of them all, and thus allow her to go whizzing past.

That would be right and just, and one is entitled to hope. Still, we should probably do a little expectation management of our own.

Mr. Prentice may not be a warm and fuzzy guy, but he is a highly disciplined politician. This is his first major blunder since last summer’s foolishness about term limits. He is unlikely to make this particular mistake again.

Unfortunately, after the March 26 Budget Speech and the early election expected to come right after, he may once again have more than seven dwarves in his caucus.

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  1. Alberta voters have been blindly voting PC for 44 years, despite their abysmally bad policies. Voter turnouts are positively apathetic, especially outside the two big cities, with Tory voters seemingly the most committed to showing up at the polls. Albertans seem to be in a permanent state of “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die”, in that they want schools and hospitals, highways and bridges, buses and LRT, policing and courthouses… but they also still want the lowest personal and corporate taxes in the country, meaning that they don’t want to pay for any of it. And then, when voters get pissed off, they don’t vote for someone else, they just stay home and bitch about the “guv’mint”.

    So, while I don’t support Mr Prentice’s approach to governing, I find it hard to really disagree with his assessment. In any other jurisdiction, we would have seen half a dozen changes of government in the 44 years the Alberta PC Party has been in power. Only in Alberta would we see new faces in the Titanic Captain’s seat, and believe that the ship itself had changed.

    1. While 34% voted conservative in the last election, I hardly think you can conclude they have ran away with the electorate. In our first past post system, and election boundries that include so many of the party faithful, 66% of the electorate has been shanghaied by the party faithful. 7 leaders in 43 years, all punishing the poor and middle class because we need services, when the money should go to billionaires and business leaders. Resource revenue leaving the country with nary a penny to Albertans with the pitiful excuse that they are at least employing people. When I look in the mirror I see the ruling party behind me shaking my purse to get the last of the change from the bottom in the form of higher utility rates and user fees. We may have a flat tax, but it is the wealthy that benefit not the poor or middle class.

    2. Not only will they be “dwarfs”, however many, they might be joined by mutant trolls as well; the Prentice PCs (and the Harperians – new “twist” on “twisted”?) have intentionally encouraged, to state it politely, the bamboozling of the other 66% of Alberta’s (and Canada’s?) electorate. It is a major back barroom joke to them that the Harperians were given a majority, despite the outright “fantasies” they spun to the world. Recall around 30-odd years ago, the Hon. PM Joe Clark (who was and still is actually “Progressive”), told the truth and was granted only a very temporary “minority”? — Isn’t it interesting that the late Hon. Dr. J. Layton’s father was a portfolio’d Progressive “C”? How do people’s brains become so fossilized that they can’t tell the difference between a humanist parliamentarian and a so-called “socialist”? — Remember, both Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were “socialists”, whose rose to dictatorship, both were “socialists”, Russia’s Putin a direct “offspring” of the Societ section of the regimes. Odd, the similarity in their tactics and even (sado-robotic) facial non-expressions. — The mandate of Ruling parties of this type intend that “we” pay their share, their definition of fair.

      1. “Correction” (sorry for typo- when thinking edit completed) –HMoon: “Remember, both Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were ‘socialists’ “, whose rises to dictatorships were orchestrated using tactics too similar close for comfort to those rammed through before our very eyes during the past 10-15 years, and Russia’s Putin a direct “offspring” of the Soviet section of the regimes. — Enough of us should be sufficiently “alert” to head for the polls with our heads on straight enough to change our PC&C habits of the “blind” vote.

  2. Calg Herald’s Prentice cuts cheerleading worse than Climenhaga reports:

    This: ‘Fortunately, that’s not what he meant”

    So… the Herald officially shares with us just what they know was absolutely in Prentice’s mind. We can all put away the mirror and forgive him for his ‘poor choice of words’.

    longer excerpt: ‘Prentice’s comment about the mirror seemed to be deflecting the blame for his party’s past bad behaviour onto Albertans. That would have been unfair. Fortunately, that’s not what he meant.’


    And with Don Braid offering some of his columns as needed for exclusive #PC press release forums for Prentice’s damage control, Albertans can rest easy now that we have Calgary Herald in addition to the Sun pundits as options for saving $$ on gov’t communication staff.

  3. Sun columnist: Prentice has a point.–sorta

    excerpt: ‘As I read the offending quote, eagerly quivering at the prospect of getting good and fully outraged, I paused, shrugged, and muttered, “Well… yeah.”

    It certainly wasn’t the week’s most politic statement but it is largely accurate. For years now Alberta has run deficits through the crest of a boom. It may be a spending problem or one of revenue but it’s obvious Albertans as a group have utilized services and built infrastructure we weren’t willing to pay for.’

    Sun News:
    Populist brand (facade).
    Platform for Market Fundamentalist econ policy that fosters inequality.

  4. Let’s face facts. We (normal schmucks), the people who don’t vote on legislation directly in government, or buy the votes of those who do, need to establish some common ground. That common ground is the only way we can hope to give these manipulative parasites the swift kick in the nads they deserve!
    When people treat your province like a blood donor clinic for vampires for 40 odd years and then piss on you when it tanks because their supreme leadership needs cheap oil to teach Russia and Iran a lesson then wake the fuck up dip sticks!

    Mirror mirror on the wall, whose the one deserves a fall?

  5. I didn’t vote for those bums so it is not my fault. I didn’t tell them to lower royalties, cut corporate taxes, gut our social programs and screw up our health system.

    When a rich banker tells us we all had the best of everything, he is full of crap. Rich bankers have the best of everything, the rest of us get somewhat less than the best of education, health care, etc.

  6. In a user pay province you are expected to pay your “fair share” of everything. The ruling party has made expedient decisions for 4 decades that reward the business elite while punishing the poor and middle class. While politicians are jet setting around the globe shouting the good news about their low taxe regime and hands off approach to business, it is the everyday people who suffer in the forms of low flat incomes and high prices. While we have a regressive tax system, 10% hurts the poor and middle class a heck of a lot more then a wealthy person, the income the government collects from the oil and gas comes at the pump, not at the plant. Therefore they are reliant on taxes on taxes for their revenue. In a time of more gas, if they were collecting royalties they would actually collect more. When it cost $7.50 to go swimming, or $3.20 to take the bus, $45/month for garbage collection, everything in this province is up for sale. While the poor and middle class are crowding walk in clinics the wealthy have private clinics that cater to them 24 hours a day and make sure they have priority at hospitals, so they don’t have to wait in packed emergency rooms. They do not use public transit, and their kids don’t go to public schools. They are like Darrel Katz enjoying the wealth and opulence of hotel suites in Vancouver while their children go to private academies. So they really don’t care about the quality of the education, or health system, because they can afford to buy either. When I look in the mirror, it is to see the tax collector sizing me up for higher taxes because my family is a drain on resources that could be used to fund a fact finding junket to the far east where they hope to export our jobs to save a little money. Of course, with our low wages, and good jobs awarded to family and friends of politicians and business leaders, who is going to be left to pay. I love how the pundits and think tanks always make this seem like a revenue problem, but the fact of the matter is the government is always awarding the party faithful (34% of them) while punishing the rest of us. Decisions are made in backroom meeting and declarations are made in the legislature. A sales tax would only be used to fund more government waste, while at the same time blaming the average schmuck for the high costs. When Danielle Smith saw her parties popularity slipping she quietly led a handful of her faithful to the governing side. That is the real Alberta advantage. Not the low tax regime, not the higher than average wages ( and the resultant higher cost of living), but the graft and corruption of our government, that makes decisions best for their faithful while pointing the finger at the average joe. Where when times are great they are quick to take the credit for prudent stewardship of our money, but when times are bad they are glaring haughtily across the room at anyone willing to shoulder the blame. I blame the election boundries and the apathy of the electorate. The first past the post election system that has left us with no opposition to a tired party that is always looking for ways to separate us from our hard earned cash by hook or by crook. When the average house price is almost double what it is in other provinces but the average income (once you eliminate the ones in the patch) is no more than the average income in other provinces, but costs are running double. Where women in Alberta earn 63% of what a man makes, do 73% of the household chores, and still have to work a full time job to keep a roof over their heads. Where a lot of families regularly have to decide between paying the utilities and paying for groceries. Where there is usually a heck of lot of month left after the money is gone, but politicians don’t feel your pain. They get an incredibly generous salary, 1/3 of which is tax free. They have lots of write offs for their housing and vehicles, they can sit on non existent committees rather then getting a second or third job. So when I look in the mirror I see a lot of tired people running on the hamster wheel wondering if the government is going to crank the wheel a little higher or whether it is time to get off and start looking for a better way of life.

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