Now hear this! Now hear this! All hands to Damage Control! All hands to Damage Control!
Did Ray Prins jump, or was he pushed?
We’ll probably never know for sure, but it certainly sounds as if the Progressive Conservative MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka and chair of the committee that has become Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s No. 1 political problem, exited stage right with a good hard shove.
At any rate, barely hours before an Alberta provincial election is likely to be called, Mr. Prins up and announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election after all, as his constituents had believed, leaving the governing party short one candidate at a decisive moment.
He made his unexpected announcement late Tuesday, ambiguously telling the CBC: “The media, opposition parties and public questioning my integrity as a person and an MLA. While I firmly believe that I have not contravened my oath of office, commitment to Albertans or the tenets of my faith, the issues surrounding the MLA compensation were an unnecessary distraction for my caucus colleagues in the upcoming election.”
Mr. Prins has been the chair of the Alberta Legislature’s now-notorious “do-nothing committee.” The Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing sparked widespread outrage when it was revealed members from all parties have been accepting an extra $1,000 a month even though the committee hasn’t met in almost four years.
For his troubles as chair, or lack of them, Mr. Prins has been getting an extra $1,500 monthly.
When the pot boiled over a few days ago and the appalling money-for-nothing optics turned the payments into a minor scandal, orders came down from the Premier’s office that at least some of the money must be repaid by government MLAs on the committee. After all, Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman had already handed back the full $40,000 he’d received for doing nothing on the committee.
Legislature insiders suggest the government members of the committee were in a state of apprehended insurrection when their boss demanded they cough up the dough – which many of them, presumably, had already spent. It’s not clear if Mr. Prins was one of the most mutinous committee members, but you can count on it that his belief he did nothing wrong in the eyes of God or Man is completely sincere.
A compromise of sorts was worked out, averting an outright rebellion, and the PC committee members agreed to pay back the portion of the overpayment accumulated since Ms. Redford became premier. Even so, in some cases that’s going to bite.
The trouble is, the compromise essentially required the committee members to concede they were taking money for nothing – and also refusing to pay everything back. Is it just me, or does that make the situation look even worse? Wouldn’t the optics be better to say this illustrates he problems with the intentionally deceptive pay scheme for all Alberta MLAs and make a case for paying them a straight-up salary that reflects their responsibilities?
Of course, another sensible thing for a government to do in this predicament would be to stall for a few weeks until the public had moved on to something else. Alas for Premier Redford, she is hoist on her own petard – having just eliminated her room for maneuver by getting a “fixed election period” law passed.
This might have sounded like a good idea a couple of months ago. Now it looks like the party’s been tied to the mast while the electoral ship takes on water! At any rate, with an election unavoidably looming and the CBC breaking a new embarrassing illegal donations story about the government virtually every day, it’s pretty clear Mr. Prins would have become the excruciating focus of voter outrage if he’d stuck around.
This way, the premier can lamely insist her caucus is united and all is well.
However it came about, someone decided Mr. Prins had to go. Maybe he took one for the team. Maybe someone pushed him down the plank.
Whatever it was, that splash you just heard was the sound of Ray Prins hitting the water.
That is all! That is all!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.