PHOTOS: Those were the days! This time last year, Jim Prentice was everyone else’s favourite Albertan, or so it seemed. Now look at him, already the last Conservative premier of Alberta. Below: Woodrow Wilson, the only American president with a PhD and Norman Levi, minister in the Dave Barrett NDP Government in British Columbia (photo grabbed from Mr. Levi’s Vancouver Sun family obituary).

No matter how badly he messes up, there’s always a place on the team for a guy like Jim Prentice.

So it was almost reassuring yesterday morning to be awakened from deep slumber by the measured tones of the CBC announcer on the clock radio explaining that Mr. Prentice, the premier who only last May led Alberta’s mighty Tory dynasty to crushing defeat at the hands of the New Democratic Party, of all people, had landed a nice sinecure with a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C.

It could almost have been February 2015 again!

But that was before the chilling realization of what the presenter was saying Mr. Prentice was going to be doing for the Canada Institute run by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The man who at this time last year had all the answers to all the problems of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, starting with an early election, will be writing a book about all that vexing stuff nobody knows how to fix. You know, like really low oil prices, pipelines none of our neighbours seem to want, that climate change stuff and who to yell at now that Stephen Harper isn’t prime minister any longer.

Well, maybe there’s a silver lining to this cloud. Mr. Prentice is a man with an unerring instinct to make the wrong move. He’s a politician who almost never fumbles an opportunity to fumble an opportunity. So as long as we listen carefully to what he advises, and do the opposite, we should be OK!

Edmonton journalist Mimi Williams explained all this back in April, 2015 – when the re-election of the Tories was thought to be a certainty and nobody was listening to her – in a magisterial deconstruction of the manifold mistakes of the last Tory premier called Prentice’s Rear-View Mirror.

In her 3,500-word chronicle of Mr. Prentice’s seemingly endless list of spectacular political failures – which is still available in abridged form on Vue Weekly’s website – Ms. Williams played Cassandra to remind us of the last Tory premier’s wrong call on the future of the Reform Party, his feud with Ralph Klein, his epic inability to see bad optics even when he looked in the mirror and his penchant for early elections, among many other bungles.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, what was going to happen next should have been obvious – right down to Mr. Prentice’s petulant election-night resignation – but we were so blinded by his distinguished greying hair and beautiful bespoke suits that we didn’t see it coming until he told us to look in the mirror if we wanted to see what was wrong with Alberta.

What is it about bright guys like him who remind us of Louise’s assessment of Chauncey Gardiner in Being There? “Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now!”

Woodrow Wilson, it should be noted, like Mr. Prentice was a very smart man – an Ivy League university president and the only American president with a PhD, as a matter of fact. Most historians would agree that it wasn’t really his fault the United States got sucked into a world war on his watch.

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Norm Levi, minister in Dave Barrett’s NDP cabinet, accomplished plenty

You don’t have to be part of a governing party for a long time to achieve great things, as was proved by Norman Levi, who served as served as Minister of Rehabilitation and Social Improvement and was also responsible for Indian Affairs in the B.C. NDP Government of Dave Barrett, which came to power in 1972.

Mr. Levi, who died on Dec. 25 at the age of 88, brought in Pharmacare, the Mincome supplement for the elderly and people with disabilities, increased welfare rates, expanded community-based juvenile services and day care services, the obituary published by his family in the Vancouver Sun noted.

A social worker by profession, Mr. Levi was born in Birmingham, England, joined the British Army at 16, was with the troops that liberated the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945, and fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. He was the first politician in B.C. to arrange for settlement and restitution for cut-off Indian lands. He represented ridings in the Vancouver area.

British Columbia and Canada still benefit from the legacy of Dave Barrett’s government and Mr. Levi’s work in it.

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  1. I solemnly salute Norman Levi. A good man who committed to making life better for so many. As long as there are dedicated people like him, there is hope. There is hope here too, because we have and had people like him. They awaken early to the alarm clock radio, put in long days, and extend their work late into the evening. They have a vision. They have a leader. We have heroes, we just don’t see them because we do rise early enough or stay up long enough. They will earn their passing mention, like Norm, and we will realize the enormity of their contribution.

    I lost count of how many miles we clocked down the dusty roads of my rural constituency with another unsung hero who planted seeds of hope for Albertans. Thank you Grant Notley. Your footprints have never been erased.

    And then there are guys like Jim -riding off into the sunset on the interstate with the top down on his vintage T Bird. His tire tracks are invisible.

  2. “Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now!”

    Ye gods, Climenhaga, where do you find this stuff?

  3. Could be a good sign. Last year Prentice was chased out of office by the socialist hordes in Alberta. Will history repeat itself? Will the Bernie Sanders and his socialist hordes follow him to Washington in November?

    On the subject of WWI and Woodrow Wilson, it’s said the the big banks drew the US into that war. Turns out they lent enormous sums to Great Britain and the allies. When Russia pulled out in 1917, they worried about the allies loosing the war and getting their loans paid back, To even things up they drew the US into this European affair.

    1. Actually, contrary to received wisdom among leftists around the Western world (myself among them… ), I recently read a history of WWI (I think it was Margaret MacMillan’s ‘The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914’) which argued that by and large, financiers and the banking industry were opposed to war, fearful of the economic disruption and interruption of trade and the flow of capital it would cause. It seems they were quite willing to make a fortune selling arms and other war materiel; they just didn’t want their customers to actually use it…

      It can be unsettling when one’s preconceived notions are upset by facts, but it happens. The First World War came about as a result of diplomatic incompetence and a system of interlocking alliances, along with an appalling lack of insight among military planners about the scale of destruction that was about to be unleashed (the US Civil War gave an accurate picture, but few Europeans paid much attention to it). Gwynn Dyer’s seminal book ‘War’ sets out this case very convincingly.

  4. Ah, yes. There always seems to be a nice cozy berth waiting for politicians who have been booted out by the citizens of a province or country.

    On the other hand, the world needs more people like Norm Levi, who used his life experience to try and make the world better for everybody. Makes you optimistic that the human race has managed to produce outstanding members like him.

    And for everyone getting kind of tired of winter just after its halfway point, where we are at the moment, here’s another great quote from Being There :

    Chance the Gardener: “Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

  5. Good lord! We don’t need him as much as that thinky tank needs him. Get a grip! We all have to pull together, dontcha know? For pity’s sake give the man room to save us!

  6. The fact that people like Prentice with no apparent intellect or skills – beyond the obvious at failure – can get jobs says nothing good about the idea of academics and think tanks. There have got to be hard working young academics who could take these positions and possibility bring a new perspective instead of having old cronies putting out old ideas and rehashing positions that were passe when our grandfathers were young.

  7. Think tanks indeed! The entire concept is a joke.

    Orwellian doublespeak for propaganda factories for vested interests. What else could they call themselves? God forbid they should present themselves as they truly are.

    If there was any real thinking going on in these so-called “tanks” don’t you think they would be staffed intelligent thinking people instead of failed, but famous ideologues who view the world in simple terms?

    Look in the mirror why don’ they? I guess their ideologically driven self-righteousness prevents them from doing so.

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