All posts tagged Alison Redford

So much for ‘leading by example’ – Alberta Tories’ 3-year pay freeze for top civil service executives melts like ice cream on a hot day

Ice cream on a hot day – melts almost as fast as an Alberta Tory management wage freeze! Actual PC promises of “leading by example” may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Finance Minister Doug Horner, nowhere to be seen yesterday; leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, bemoaning the decision last night.

Senior Alberta government managers had to be rejoicing yesterday – and presumably resolving to update their lapsed memberships in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

Leastways, word leaked out yesterday to us in the Hoi Polloi that the government’s three-year freeze on civil service executive salaries, which began amid great fanfare on April Fools Day 2013, had ended after being in effect for only a single year.

No need to trouble our pretty little heads about it, though. Unlike the government of premier Alison Redford, which crowed about the freeze as an example of “leading by example” back on Feb. 19, 2013, the government of Premier Dave Hancock snuck it through a cabinet meeting last week and didn’t say anything at all.

We citizens only found out because someone in the Opposition did and alerted the media.

“Alberta is dealing with rapidly falling resource revenues and it means we’re making some tough decisions,” said Finance Minister Doug Horner back in 2013, proudly adding, “Our government is leading by example.”

Well, so much for symbolism!

Yesterday, Mr. Horner didn’t say anything at all about the policy’s quiet reversal. He was conveniently out of town.

But the reality is that already well-paid civil service execs would be receiving a pay raise of 2 per cent, retroactive to April 1, 2014, then another 2.25 per cent on April 1 next year, and 2.5 per cent more on April 1, 2016.

Wildrose Opposition finance critic Rob Anderson gleefully pointed out in a release that this meant 2011 Tory leadership front-runner Gary Mar, lately the government’s generously compensated Hong Kong-based “envoy” to Asia, would be getting a raise of close to $19,000 over the next three years, raising his $275,000 base salary to $294,000.

NDP Finance Critic Deron Bilous noted that last year Mr. Horner used the supposed three-year freeze on senior managers’ salaries to try “to justify rolling back the wages of Alberta families all over the province. … Now the PCs have decided that Tory insiders like Gary Mar can’t possibly be asked to live with frozen wages.

“Meanwhile, we’re still hearing that there is no money to properly fund legal aid, Alberta’s doctors and teachers still have frozen wages, and we continue to have hospitals that spring a leak every time it rains,” he added.

Both Opposition parties picked the example of Mr. Mar because his appointment in 2011 was controversial and didn’t quite pass the sniff test for most voters. In fact, most deputy ministers will be receiving exactly the same raise, while most of their assistants will pocket about $15,000 more per year over the same period.

Deputy Health Minister Janet Davidson, the highest paid civil servant at close to $650,000 a year, will presumably be taking home an extra $45,000 or so for her efforts.

If the percentages sound familiar, there’s a reason. They echo the pay raises won by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ modestly paid civil service members after the Redford Government’s draconian plans to legislate “zero-per-cent increases” broke up on the rocks of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench – which, by declaring an injunction against enforcement of the “Public Service Salary Restraint Act” in January, effectively forced the government back to the bargaining table.

But even before that, the Tory caucus – badly shaken by the public’s horror at a number of things Ms. Redford was up to, including her plans to have taxpayers build her a luxurious private apartment atop an Edmonton government building adjacent to the Legislature – deposed the premier in a sky-palace coup.

The caucus then put Mr. Hancock in charge, pro tempore, and he began the process of selecting a permanent replacement for the catastrophic Ms. Redford – a race that former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice is widely expected to win.

Mr. Prentice, who is the overwhelming choice of caucus, clearly wanted the party’s problems with its public sector unions gone by the time the imperial laurels were placed around his head – ergo, the deal with AUPE.

The irony of the Hancock Government responding to this by giving its top dogs the same increase their staff members won the hard way is profound. As AUPE President Guy Smith sniffed yesterday, the government’s bargaining team has “now taken the same wage deal they fought to keep from their own front-line staff.”

And if the opposition parties and government employees union were unhappy, I imagine the province’s physicians and teachers – who were hammered into taking a pay freeze by the government – are furious.

Even PC leadership candidates were complaining. Thomas Lukaszuk, the one I managed to catch up with in person yesterday, lamented that “I wish the government of literally today would not make promises that would bind future administrations.”

He called for an end to the practice of tying civil service executive salaries of those of their counterparts in business. Their salaries “need to be in line, not with the private sector, but with other institutions. … Today’s decision will make that difficult.”

Surely the Hancock Government insiders who made this decision knew the optics were appalling – and that if it found out the public would understand we’re not talking about some lowly unionized clerk getting another 2 per cent this year on top of her $32,000 salary.

But with the arrogance of a party that’s been in power for nearly 43 years, they obviously concluded they could slip it through in the dog days of summer – the top-dog days of summer, as it turns out – without anybody noticing. By the sound of it yesterday, they hadn’t even spun any talking points.

Mr. Prentice – without a seat in the Legislature, let alone a place at the caucus table – is scheduled to take over on Sept. 6. But he’s got to be wondering if the mighty Tory ship of state can stay afloat long enough for him to get his hands on the tiller!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tory candidate Ric McIver to voters: No to green light speed enforcement; yes to booze sales at 4 a.m.; maybe to chain gangs

Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue at 4 a.m., as imagined by Ric McIver, would-be Tory leader and premier. Actual Alberta street scenes are unlikely ever to be as described with regard to the availability of taxicabs. Below: Mr. McIver, candidates Jim Prentice and Thomas Lukaszuk.

Well, no one can say that Ric McIver hasn’t set himself apart from the other two candidates for the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership.

While frontrunner Jim Prentice and tail gunner Thomas Lukaszuk have each offered five largely meaningless anodyne platitudes as their priorities, Mr. McIver has been right out there with some fairly definitive ideas.

Not good ideas, mind you. And they’d be bound to be highly controversial if anyone except me thought he had any chance of winning. So if I’m right, and everyone else is wrong, this could end up making a lot of people very unhappy.

I’m not talking, by the way, about Mr. McIver’s March for Jesus faux pas, in which he claimed not to have noticed the extremely homophobic views of a religious group whose annual Calgary parade he’s made a practice of marching in, an association that might actually help him sell memberships.

And I’m not talking about his placement – if we believe in guilt by association, at any rate – at the embarrassingly socially conservative end of the conservative movement.

Rather, this is about his views on speed enforcement, liquor sales and the treatment of inmates in (and out of) Alberta’s provincial jails.

Last Friday, Mr. McIver announced that, as far as he’s concerned, speed-on-green-light radar cameras are nothing but tax-collection devices.

“‘Speed-on-green’ cameras don’t control speed,” the former infrastructure minister said in his “justice policy,” released Friday. “A Ric McIver government will ban the use of speed-on-green cameras in Alberta.”

I’m not sure I understand his logic when he says speeding is bad and needs to be enforced, but it’s OK if you happen to be speeding through an intersection. He cites statistics from Calgary that, as far as I can see, neither support his case nor indicate anything other than the fact more people speed through green lights than drive through red lights – which ought not to be a revelation.

I can tell you this: Speed-on-green lights have made the highway that runs through my Edmonton bedroom suburb significantly safer, and it would be unfortunate if the province banned a safety measure that apparently works. What about local democracy?

Mr. McIver also thinks it would be just dandy if patrons in Alberta’s bars were able to drink for two more hours, until 4 a.m., before they drive home. Not, of course, that he will say that they should be driving, but it’s a certainty that some of them will – with their judgment and their driving abilities that much more impaired.

Mr. McIver’s argument is that if everyone has to go home at 2 a.m., as they technically do now, there aren’t enough cabs and some folks are tempted to drive drunk, whereas if they have to go home at 4 a.m., they’ll have plenty of time to share the available cabs around. There’s a flaw with this plan, since it assumes lots of die-hard drinkers will leave the bar between 2 and 4 a.m. instead of just sticking around and getting boiled as owls, as somebody is bound to learn hard way in the wee hours if Mr. McIver has his way.

It’s an interesting observation that when Alison Redford became premier 2011, the first thing she tried to do was make it harder to drive drunk, and if Mr. McIver becomes premier the first thing he wants to do is make it easier to get a drink at an hour when the temptation to drive will prove irresistible to many.

As an aside, it’s a wonderment to me how social conservatives like Mr. McIver and the Wildrose Party activists who are anxious to control what we smoke and whom we marry take such exception to regulating the nexus of booze and automobiles. I must be missing something.

Getting back to Mr. McIver’s ideas about justice, as stated last Friday, the candidate offered a vague idea about putting prisoners in provincial jails to work – outside jails. At first glance, this sounded suspiciously like former Ralph Klein minister Steve West’s Mississippi-style highway-cleanup chain gangs, a national embarrassment that has thankfully disappeared from Alberta’s highways.

But Mr. McIver says the inmates would be asked to volunteer for this duty – which, presumably, they would do if they wanted more fresh air or planned to escape and needed to be close to a place suitable for helicopter landings. It wasn’t clear where they would work, but it occurs to me that if they could bake donuts and run a cash register, this might be the solution to Ottawa’s currently controversial Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

I wonder how the Chamber of Commerce would react to an Alberta Temporary Incarcerated Workers Program? You don’t have to pay them anything, but heaven only knows what they might do to the burgers when you aren’t looking!

Meanwhile as for Messrs. Prentice and Lukaszuk, there’s not much to separate their five policy points. They say they stand for:

  • Sound conservative principles (Prentice) and fiscally conservative principles (Lukaszuk)
  • Ending entitlements and restoring trust (Prentice) and open, trustworthy government (Lukaszuk)
  • Planning for our economic future (Lukaszuk) and maximizing the value of our natural resources and respecting property rights (Prentice)
  • Increasing access to basic health and education services (Lukaszuk) and ensuring Alberta leads the way on health care and education training (Prentice)
  • Being an environmental leader (Prentice)
  • Encouraging new ideas (Lukaszuk)

In fairness, Mr. Prentice is a little more specific in gatherings with his supporters – I’ve heard him promise no end to the flat tax, no changes to Alberta’s petroleum royalty structure, “choice” in education (i.e., more tax funding for private schools) and “pipelines in every direction” at recent meetings.

But I doubt either Mr. McIver or Mr. Lukaszuk would disagree with him on any of that stuff.

Apparently they’ve all fallen in love with LRT lines too, although you have to wonder how long that’ll last once they start competing seriously with the fiscal conservatives in the Wildrose Party.

On the grounds it’s a good thing to actually know where your leaders stand out there on the fringes, kudos to Mr. McIver. I guess.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tories shut down any possibility leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk will get to shine

Thomas Lukaszuk is an entertaining speaker with a full range of facial expressions. His party is going to make darned sure he doesn’t have a chance to use those talents in the service of his leadership bid. Below: PC leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice and candidate Ric McIver.

While Thomas Lukaszuk’s chances of succeeding in the race to become leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party always seemed like a long shot, one has to feel a certain sympathy with the Edmonton MLA’s protest his party won’t permit a real unscripted debate to take place among the three candidates for the job.

The forums organized by the party are tightly scripted and aimed at party insiders, not potential new members who might sign up to back a candidate that impressed them, he complained to a local newspaper late last week.

The explanation is pretty simple, though. The PC Party establishment is going to make darned sure that this time the heir apparent wins – unlike the 2006 and 2011 leadership races, both of which ended up in the elevation to premier of a person the party’s old warhorses had deemed not quite up to the job.

Actually, the same thing happened in 1992 as well, but Ralph Klein worked out rather well for the party in the role of premier of Alberta, thank you very much, something that can’t really be said of Ed Stelmach or especially Alison Redford.

This time the party is determined to see the frontrunner win, and the frontrunner is Jim Prentice, not Mr. Lukaszuk. In other words, the old fixaroo is more than halfway in!

From the perspective of ordinary Albertans, as from that of Mr. Lukaszuk, this is a pity.

Us because we’ll deprived of what could be a highly entertaining hour or two of television, as Mr. Lukaszuk, with the desperation of a last-place candidate, threw caution and the hopes of a future cabinet post to the wind and tried to trip up Mr. Prentice.

Mr. Lukaszuk because he’s the only one of the three who is a really entertaining public speaker, capable of delivering a little bombast along with the usual anodyne platitudes. Unlike the other two, Mr. Lukaszuk also has a full range of facial expressions, plus just the faintest echo of the accent of his native Poland. It’s an appealing combination to most people who hear him speak.

Calgary MLA Ric McIver, notwithstanding the No. 2 candidate’s apparent far-out social conservative views and the loony right types he hangs with, has a speaking style that’s about as exciting as a block of wood. He seems to have the facial expressions to match.

And Mr. Prentice – a former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal politician – has a way of speaking that would be earnestly persuasive in a boardroom or a one-on-one meeting, but is unlikely to light many voters afire on the stump.

In other words, Mr. Lukaszuk’s best chance to shine was in a real rough and tumble debate, and he’s not going to get it because the PC grandees aren’t going to give him the chance.

Their objective is certainly to ensure that Mr. Prentice can’t be pinned down on what he really plans to do in a number of areas. The frontrunner is running a classic low-bridge campaign designed to reveal as little as possible and alienate no voter who might be persuaded to give the tired old PC dynasty one more chance. This, without doubt, is why Mr. Prentice has been skipping debates organized by third parties whenever he can.

Farther down the road, the party also wants to make sure opposition leaders aren’t tipped off to the best potential lines of attack.

This indicates recognition by at least some of the Tory leadership that the world has turned and Alberta isn’t what it used to be, thanks in particular to the bizarre spectacle of Ms. Redford’s brief and chaotic tenure at the helm.

The fiction peddled to generations of Albertans has been that they really should buy a party membership for a small sum and vote for the premier (for that’s what the Tory party leader always turned out to be) because this was the only true expression of democracy when general elections were a sure thing.

There was always just enough truth to this notion to make it dangerous.

Now, though, there are two parties that could conceivably form the government, even if they are manifestations of the same right-wing political movement. The Tories will be extremely fortunate if 50,000 members new and old turn up to vote for a leader on Sept. 6, compared with 133,000 in 2006 and 78,000 in 2011.

In other words, once he’s been selected the leader, Mr. Prentice faces a real election campaign that he could very well lose, and it behooves the party’s strategists to take no chances with the leadership-selection process that could wound their leader at the ballot box later on.

This is bad news for Mr. Lukaszuk.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Could Ric McIver still win the Alberta Tory leadership race? Actually, yes, he could!

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. All the money’s on Jim Prentice – but is it the smart money? Below: Ric McIver, Jim Prentice, Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

CALGARY

Could Ric McIver actually win the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race?

Or, to put that another way, could Jim Prentice lose?

Maybe that seems like a theme for a political science fiction story to you. After all, Mr. Prentice – the former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal cabinet minister – is the choice of the PC establishment.

What’s more, he’s now backed by 49 of 59 PC Members of the Legislative Assembly. All the political oddsmakers say he’s a sure bet to win. He acts like a guy who’s on a holiday cruise to victory.

But if he astonished everyone by losing, he wouldn’t be the first front-runner preferred by the mighty PC establishment to drop the ball on voting night, would he?

As a matter of fact, he’d be the third in less than a decade! The fourth in a row if you want to count Ralph Klein’s victory over Nancy Betkowski in 1992, although that one seemed like more of a real contest at the time.

Alert readers will recall that in 2006 Jim Dinning’s ascension to the throne of Peter Lougheed appeared to be all but a certainty. The smart money was all on his candidacy. The PC establishment wanted the former Alberta provincial treasurer in the job – 38 caucus members supported him, compared with 13 for the next most popular candidate. The polls showed him leading by a mile. And all the hot Alberta political strategists were supposedly in his corner.

For his part, Mr. Dinning acted like a man on his way to an easy victory, and an easy general election after that.

Turned out Mr. Dinning was running a terrific general election campaign, visiting every riding in the province, reaching out to all kinds of Albertans. Alas for him, though, a leadership campaign is not a general election. The number of memberships you sell counts more than the number of ridings you visit.

Perhaps Mr. Dinning paid insufficient attention to the riding associations with the votes. Perhaps he didn’t concentrate on what die-hard Tories wanted, or where their loyalties actually lay. Whatever it was, when the dust had settled, a guy named Ed Stelmach was the premier. As we all asked at the time: Ed Who?

Then in 2011, after Mr. Stelmach said to heck with the abuse that automatically goes with the job of being premier, and after a short interregnum during which the party took a look at candidates like Ted Morton and Doug Horner, the smart money settled on Gary Mar.

Mr. Mar was a former minister under Mr. Klein, and tout le monde political Alberta reached the conclusion all at once that he was the front-runner, favoured by the Tory establishment and backed by some of the same hot political strategists who had worked for Mr. Dinning.

I don’t think that Mr. Mar’s ascension to the throne was ever seen as quite the sure thing Mr. Dinning’s appeared to be. Just the same, he had the most backing in caucus – 27 members compared with 14 for Mr. Horner and 11 for Dr. Morton. The smart money settled on him early and stayed there until the night in October on which the party selected … Alison Redford.

If you like, you can blame teachers and other public employees who bought party memberships to support Ms. Redford – whom they’d mistakenly decided was some kind of progressive. But, in their defence, buying memberships is what the PC Party asked them to do. What? It wasn’t supposed to make any difference?

As for the party establishment, Ms. Redford was backed by only one caucus member other than herself, and none of the party’s big movers and shakers.

Now, here it is 2014, Ms. Redford has been fired by her own caucus, Dave Hancock is premier pro tem, and Mr. Prentice is assumed by all the same people to be the front-runner with such a massive lead that no one could possibly catch him.

Mr. McIver, who seemed like he might have had a slight chance at the start, apparently shot himself in both feet by joining something called the March for Jesus last month. Remember that? When it turned out the organizers behind the march had some astonishingly homophobic views, the punditocracy reached the conclusion he was done like dinner. After all, the whole thing smacked of the Lake of Fire debacle, the discovery in 2012 of the undiplomatic blog post by an evangelical Wildrose candidate that appears to have sunk the Wildrose Party in the 2012 general election.

But are you sure? Don’t forget that Mr. McIver, the MLA for Calgary-Hayes, was well known in Calgary before his career in provincial politics as an alderman universally known as Dr. No – for his habit of saying no to spending proposals backed by other city councillors. I’m just saying, but it seldom hurts to have a nickname in politics.

In 2010, Mr. McIver ran for mayor of Calgary – and was favoured to win, so he knows what that’s like – and did well, even if he lost to a more liberal guy named Naheed Nenshi. The next year, he ran for the Legislature and got elected.

People all over Alberta – and especially in Calgary and the south – know who he is and what he stands for. A lot of them like that Dr. No stuff, and a fair number may even not have cared about – or noticed – the story about the March for Jesus.

Name recognition alone might not be enough to float his boat, but in the meantime, Mr. Prentice is campaigning a lot like … Jim Dinning.

He’s running a good general election campaign designed to persuade Alberta voters that he’s not scary and, even after the flip-flops and entitled behaviour of Alison Redford, he can be trusted.

That may work with the masses in Edmonton, where a lot of voters at the moment plan to vote NDP, and in Calgary, which seems to be leaning the Wildrose way nowadays. But how will it play in Ponoka? More importantly, how will it play inside the PC Party – where most activists are still plenty to the right of the general populace?

I don’t know about you, but at this point in the contest, it feels to me like Mr. Prentice’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep – and that he may have forgotten that in a party leadership race, memberships sold count for more than where they were sold.

Meanwhile, Albertans know who Ric McIver is, and a fair number of them may very well like what they see. Mr. McIver is capable of selling thousands of memberships in his south Calgary powerbase, not to mention to supporters of the March for Jesus.

Jim Prentice, the same people may ask … who’s he?

And you’ve got to admit, the whole PC leadership campaign sure hasn’t caught on fire – just yet, anyway. Blogger Dave Cournoyer called it the world’s most boring political leadership race, and I’d say he just about nailed it.

So could Ric McIver actually win?

It’s unlikely, I suppose. The Tory establishment isn’t going to make it easy for him. For one thing, there’s no way it wants to lose for a third time in a row … or a fourth if you count Mr. Klein, although that one worked out better for them.

And maybe I’m just a political blogger pipe dreaming about a race that’s actually interesting.

But the answer is yes, Mr. McIver could still win – notwithstanding the self-inflicted holes in both of his feet.

Could he go on to beat the Wildrose Party? That’s a story for another day.

And could Thomas Lukaszuk, the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and once Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and the owner of the best hair in Alberta politics, also pull off another “miracle on the prairies” and eke out a victory?

The answer to that one is easier: No.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Once a Tory leadership front-runner, Gary Mar reaches out from Asia to haunt Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives

Brian Mulroney, right, famously responds to the claim made by John Turner, left, that he had “no option” but approve Pierre Trudeau’s patronage appointments. Below: Gary Mar in 2011.

Advice to Jim Prentice: If, in some future pre-election leaders’ debate someone asks you about Gary Mar’s 2013 compensation package, don’t say: “I had no option.”

In fact, that would be true if Mr. Prentice were to say it. Ditto Ric McIver, the second- or third-runner, depending how you calculate it, in the 2014 version of the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race.

As for Thomas Lukaszuk, he was in cabinet when the details of Mr. Mar’s compensation deal were worked out, so maybe he’d better really beware that one in the event of yet another “miracle on the Prairies.”

Just the same, best for all three of them to try to spin their way away from it. After all, someone might just say, as Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Brian Mulroney famously said during that fateful 1984 debate, addressing Liberal prime minister John Turner about his acquiescence to patronage appointments made by Pierre Trudeau: You had an option, sir. You could have done better.

Mr. Mar, the front-runner unexpectedly and narrowly defeated by the catastrophic Alison Redford just in time for Halloween 2011, has been haunting the PC Party ever since.

Mr. Mar had been the candidate favoured by the PC caucus – disdainfully, though not without justice, dismissed as the Tory Old Boys’ Club by many of us here in the Blogosphere.

No doubt their preference in candidates was influenced by a certain degree of old-fashioned Alberta misogyny, as we suspected at the time. It turns out, though, that they must’ve known a thing or two more about Ms. Redford than was disclosed to us among the great unwashed, who had been persuaded by her campaign she was some kind of brainiac who came from the progressive side of the conservative movement.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that Mr. Mar – a skillful old pol of considerable experience – would have been a far better choice to act as helmsman and steward of the PC Party in its dotage. Leastways, he wouldn’t have charted a course, as Ms. Redford did, straight for the reef.

Mr. Mar, being no dummy, recovered quite nicely from the disaster that became evident in the wee hours of Oct. 3, 2011.

Having won with no support from her own caucus, Ms. Redford was anxious to get the caucus favourite out of town as quickly as possible. Having no Alberta trade office in Buffalo, she shuffled Mr. Mar off to la dolce vita in Hong Kong.

At any rate, it is fair to describe what awaited him there, as Alberta’s non-state plenipotentiary, as a pretty sweet deal.

It was revealed last week in financial disclosure documents from the annual report of the province’s International and Intergovernmental Relations Department that Mr. Mar was paid $275,159 in base salary, another $50,868 in “cash benefits,” whatever that means, plus $234,252 in non-cash benefits last year.

Not only is that an increase of $100,000 from his pay the year before, the local press reported, but you’ve got to know he didn’t have to buy a thing while he was looking after the province’s trade interests – whatever that involves – in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.

As I wrote back on Oct. 17, 2011: “Albertans will probably be even more annoyed when the penny drops that, unlike you or me, the disappointed Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner won’t have to pay his own rent in hyper-expensive Hong Kong, and will probably have a decent enough living allowance to cover all the pork, barbecued or otherwise, that he wants. There’s sure to be a nice car provided, with a driver to boot.”

Well, now they know! And, yes, they will be annoyed – that’s one word for it, anyway.

This is not the first time Mr. Mar – whom we might call, with apologies to author Jane Gardam, Old FILTH, for Failed In Legislature, Try Hongkong – has succeeded at something like this.

The best example was when he left his job as an MLA and Ralph-Klein-era minister back in 2007 to serve in a similar – and similarly well-compensated – role as the Biblical-sounding Minister-Counsellor of the Province of Alberta to the United States, working out of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

When he quit the Legislature for Washington, he said he wouldn’t take his $478,000 MLA severance while he toiled in the vineyards of the public service, then he said he’d take it but not while he was in Washington, and then he took it anyway.

That may have contributed to his loss to Ms. Redford in 2011 – certainly both she and candidate Doug Horner complained about it at the time. They and others also noted Mr. Mar’s questionable decision as Health Minister in 2004 to pay $400,000 to his former executive assistant Kelley Charlebois to do something that was never clearly explained or even written down, but seemed to involve only spoken advice.

No sooner was Mr. Mar in Hong Kong than he became something of a hazard to navigation for Alberta’s mighty Tory ship of state.

Premier Redford ordered him to take an unpaid leave of absence in March 2012 for auctioning off a trip to the Asian entrepot during a fundraiser to pay some of the $260,000 debt left over from his leadership campaign the year before. The Opposition screamed for his head. Later he was cleared by a couple of consultants hired by the deputy minister of the premier’s office.

Now Mr. Mar is back in the news, appearing in the same general kind of news story that has haunted the PC Party from time to time throughout his long association with it.

“They had to make a special deal for him and there’s no good reason for that other than the fact that he is a political insider and a former leadership candidate,” NDP leadership candidate Rachel Notley told a local newspaper in a thumbnail analysis that rings true.

But given the way his Alberta political career ended in in 2011, Mr. Mar may not be all that unhappy with this outcome. As for the RMS Torytanic, this time he may have holed her below the waterline.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta Tory MLA arrested in U.S. prostitution sting? Not a problem, apparently…

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tory MLA Mike Allen: Excited to be back in the Tory caucus. (Dave Cournoyer photo, used with permission.)

Say what you like about the many flaws of former Alberta premier Alison Redford, she never would have let Mike Allen back into the Progressive Conservative caucus, not as long as the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tory MLA lived, breathed and managed to get reelected.

It was on July 16 last year when the once and future professional jazz musician was in St. Paul, Minn., as a representative of the Government of Alberta when he was caught by a police officer he’d mistaken for a prostitute and got himself busted for trying to buy sex.

Mr. Allen was charged with what the Minnesota justice system calls a “gross misdemeanor,” which was later reduced to a plain old garden-variety misdemeanor when he agreed to plead guilty. He was fined $500, sentenced to a year on probation, to be served as far away from Minnesota as possible under the circumstances, and sent home to Alberta in disgrace – or so we all thought at the time.

Ms. Redford judged him guilty of a gross political and social misdemeanor – and rightly so, when you think about the real implications of a well-connected foreign politician trying to hire a vulnerable prostitute, even if she did turn out to have a badge, a gun and a set of real steel handcuffs.

So the premier sent Mr. Allen packing from the PC caucus for, we can presume she assumed, forever.

Ah, but this is Alberta, where in normal times there’s one set of rules of the government and its pals, and another for the rest of us, so it was not to be so. Many things have happened since the July night when Mr. Allen found himself excited to be in Minnesota with time on his hands and a couple of hundred U.S. dollars in his wallet.

One of them was that the boys in Ms. Redford’s caucus, who never liked her anyway, fired the former premier last March. They had their reasons, and some of them were sound ones, but after yesterday’s development we all have to wonder how many of them had to do with her just not being one of the good ole Tory boys.

At any rate, in a decision that would fulfill the fondest dreams of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a well-known believer in letting bygones be bygones, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s PC caucus welcomed Mr. Allen back into its self-satisfied midst yesterday.

When he got back to Alberta in July 2013, Mr. Allen described his decision to buy sex from a stranger in St. Paul as “a profound lapse of judgment.” Apparently that was good enough for the fellows in the Tory caucus.

“Mike has paid his penalty and he has paid a personal price,” PC caucus Whip George VanderBurg said yesterday according to the Edmonton Journal, not explaining what that personal price might have been, other than a year on the west side of the Legislature.

“He handled himself well through this,” Mr. VanderBurg added, explaining that when he asked the caucus what to do about Mr. Allen, the boys said OK … “and he’s back in.”

And now, Mr. Allen’s old-new caucus mates are no doubt thinking, can we just put this behind us and move on?

We’ll probably never know for sure just what it was that Mr. Allen thought was the profound lapse in his judgment – trying to buy the services of a hooker, doing it while he was out of town on government business or merely mistaking a police officer for a prostitute.

What we do know for sure is what the members of the Alberta Tory caucus – notwithstanding their sanctimonious support for their federal counterparts’ legislative efforts to make prostitution even more dangerous for sex workers and supposedly to emphasize prosecuting their customers – seem to think Mr. Allen’s behaviour was really not all that serious a breach.

Perhaps those of them who hold publicly to religious principles will quietly assume he’ll be punished in the next world, seeing as he’s not going to get his knuckles rapped any more in this one.

The political principles of Alberta’s Tory caucus are clear – they no doubt concluded that Mr. Allen, popular with many voters in Fort Mac despite his antics, threatened their ability to win in the northern oil sands town where the Wildrose organization is weak.

Well, at least there hasn’t been another Alberta case come to light involving a prostitute and a politician since 1983, when Graham Harle, Premier Peter Lougheed’s solicitor-general, was found in a government car in Edmonton in the company of a prostitute.

Mr. Harle explained to the police officer who rapped on his car window that he was conducting a one-man investigation into Alberta’s prostitution problem, as the Canadian Press disbelievingly put it. And he had discovered, he noted, that prostitution “doesn’t appear to be a problem right at the moment.”

Mr. Harle resigned his cabinet post immediately after the discovery but was allowed to remain in caucus. He did not seek reelection in the 1986 Alberta election.

It is not yet known, of course, if Mr. Allen, who told the media yesterday he was also “excited to be back in the caucus,” will run again when next an election is called.

His probation – presumably served without the requirement of regular visits to a Minnesota Probation Officer – will expire just before Christmas.

A provincial election is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2016, although there has been speculation one could be called sooner. One thing is virtually certain: when it is, Ms. Redford will not run again.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s War on Teachers signals division within Tory Party, not conspiracy

The Hancock Conservatives do good-cop-bad-cop? At left, Jeff Johnson as Jim Prentice, at right, tries to get him to straighten up and fly a little less far right. Actual Alberta Progressive Conservatives may not appear exactly as illustrated, especially in this unlikely scenario. Below: My only picture of the real Mr. Johnson; one of many of the real Mr. Prentice.

Anti-teacher sentiment runs deep nowadays in Alberta conservative circles.

Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s war with the Alberta Teachers Association over how its members ought to be disciplined on those rare occasions when they misbehave is only the latest manifestation of this phenomenon, which can be traced back to the leadership of Ralph Klein.

But while it is tempting to ascribe this to Mr. Klein’s failure to complete high school, it surely has more to do with the neoliberal market fundamentalist fantasies that went mainstream in Alberta during his premiership.

As the current front-runner to lead the governing Progressive Conservative wing of Alberta’s political right correctly pointed out in late June as he begged Mr. Johnson to shut up and let the party focus on surviving the next election, there’s no evidence whatsoever parents of students give this supposedly hot topic any thought at all.

“I have met, at this point, thousands of parents in my travels across Alberta and I have yet to have a single parent approach me who is preoccupied with changing how the profession operates or the disciplining of teachers in the classroom,” said Jim Prentice, adding plaintively: “Not one parent.”

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has indicated he has no interest either in pursuing Mr. Johnson’s crusade.

Yet Mr. Johnson is having none of it – an so the War on Teachers continues.

This has given rise to the theory among readers of this blog, which has now surfaced in the mainstream media, that there’s a Tory conspiracy to have Mr. Prentice play the good cop to persuade Alberta’s restive public service union members to vote PC one more time while Mr. Johnson plays the bad cop and convinces Wildrose supporters who instinctively bash teachers to return to the PC Mother Ship.

Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomason wondered, like several Alberta Diary commenters, if the education minister has no support from the current premier and the likely next one, “why is he still being allowed to irritate teachers?”

Mr. Thomson’s explanation: “One theory is that he actually has the tacit approval of a government that wants to undermine the powerful ATA. In this scenario, Johnston is playing the role of rogue cabinet minister, whose tactics will be disavowed by the government, but who nevertheless will find an excuse for the government to limit the powers of the association.”

I don’t buy it. Like most conspiracy theories, it’s too complicated. And the Alberta PCs nowadays have neither the intellectual horsepower nor the discipline to maintain a deception of this complexity.

Nowadays we can divide Alberta PCs into two rough groups, which I’m going to call realists and ideologues:

The realists are people like Messrs. Prentice and Hancock who have realized that their mighty ship will sink without the votes of public employees, including union members, and especially including teachers. They want to bridge the rift with the ATA and its members – at least until they’re in a politically more secure position.

The ideologues are people like Mr. Johnson, who either have drunk the neoliberal Kool-Aid and actually believe the anti-union and market fundamentalist nonsense inherent in that quasi-religious belief system, or who are cynically bent on busting teachers’ unions for the simple reason there are billions of dollars to be made by privatizing public education.

Like neoliberal nostrums on education in other places – for what’s happening in Alberta is just part of a Global War on Teachers – there is no evidence to suggest Alberta’s or Canada’s unionized and publicly paid teachers are doing a lousy job. On the contrary, there’s plenty to say they’re among the best in the world.

Don’t take my word about this, consider what the spokesperson for the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education was saying back in December 2013.

Quoting a major international study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, he boasted that, thanks in large part to their teachers, Canadian 15-year-olds generally were among the world’s best in mathematics, reading and science.

“I am very pleased that Canadian youth continue to be globally competitive in terms of their performance,” said the spokesperson.

That spokesperson was, of course … Jeff Johnson.

Well, that was then and this is now.

No, it is said here Mr. Johnson’s knee-jerk attack on teachers and their union today is driven by the ideology of privatization, union-busting and profit from education that infests the Canadian right, and which went mainstream under Mr. Klein’s leadership within the PC Party and, since then, in its Wildrose offshoot.

You can count on it that Mr. Johnson has support for his war on teachers in the rattled and divided PC caucus, so don’t expect too much from their big meeting in Calgary Monday.

The simplest and most likely explanation of what is going on within the Conservative Party caucus after the coup that toppled Alison Redford is that chaos reigns and, with no strong leadership, disagreements between caucus pragmatists and ideologues are surfacing and growing bitter.

Mr. Hancock increasingly looks like a leader who can’t or won’t control rebels like Mr. Johnson who are sabotaging the party’s only chance of survival. So things are likely to continue to slide downhill from here.

If a week is a long time in politics, the more than four weeks until the PCs actually chose a leader and give him the keys to Peter Lougheed’s battered old sedan are practically an eternity.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

A question for Premier Dave Hancock: Who will rid Alberta’s Tories of their turbulent Education Minister?

Education Minister Jeff Johnson flips burgers at Alison Redford’s K-Days Breakfast, last year. A sign of things to come for Mr. Johnson? Below: Premier Dave Hancock, who knows what he needs to do, former premier Redford, who knew exactly what she wanted, and Alberta Information Commissioner Jill Clayton, who knows the law.

Now that we know Education Minister Jeff Johnson or someone in his office broke Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to send an email to more than 34,000 teachers back in 2013, is it time for Dave Hancock to start acting like he really is Alberta’s Premier and kick Mr. Johnson out of cabinet?

Mr. Johnson has been behaving like the proverbial bull in the china shop for months in his ongoing feud with Alberta’s teachers and the Alberta Teachers Association, their combined union and regulatory body.

But back in the days when Alison Redford was premier and the Progressive Conservative government was in a state of open warfare with all manner of public employees, Mr. Johnson was arguably just following orders.

Ms. Redford is no longer the premier, though, and lately the government has been trying hard to patch up its relationship with the public employees who saved its bacon in the closely fought 2012 election, including the province’s public and Catholic schoolteachers. Jim Prentice, the front-runner in the party leadership race to permanently replace Ms. Redford, has promised to try even harder. Premier Hancock has made gentle cooing noises too.

But Mr. Johnson – who apparently didn’t get the memo from either the premier pro tem or the premier apparent – just goes on, day after day, fighting the war with the teachers, digging the foundering PC party into an ever-deepening hole with a large group of potential allies.

Mr. Johnson isn’t the first Tory education minister to have a pointless scrap with the ATA – the names Lyle Oberg, who served in the job for premier Ralph Klein, and Ron Liepert, who did it for premier Ed Stelmach, spring immediately to mind. But he is the first to actually threaten the government’s survival with his antics.

After outraging the ATA by overruling some of its disciplinary actions, which Mr. Johnson deemed insufficiently harsh, just this week the minister demanded a decade’s worth of disciplinary reports be handed over to him by the province’s 61 school boards in the next two weeks.

That he had been asked, in effect, to please not do that kind of stuff any more by Mr. Prentice, presumably because it so obviously undermines the heir apparent’s charm offensive to public employees, apparently made not a whit of difference to Mr. Johnson.

No sooner had the ATA reacted angrily to that, than Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton issued a report yesterday that confirmed – just as the ATA had alleged when it asked for an investigation of the emails, which were sent in February 2013 – that the mass mailing was illegal under the FOIP Act.

Mr. Johnson’s purpose in sending the February 2013 email was to wade into the teachers’ negotiations for new contracts with the province’s 61 school boards that were then ongoing. From a labour-relations perspective, that too was a pretty iffy strategy – an effort to go around their bargaining teams and negotiate directly with teachers.

In the email, he told teachers that their negotiations were over and the province would never budge on what it had offered them: a three-year wage freeze and a wage increase of only 2 per cent in the fourth year. Some of the emails the government had on file were personal, though, and it was those the ATA complained about and Ms. Clayton confirmed the minister had no right to use under the FOIP Act.

From the government’s perspective, Ms. Clayton’s timing for releasing her report could hardly have been more inauspicious!

Or … maybe not. In every crisis, as the business gurus are always telling us, lie the seeds of opportunity.

Ms. Clayton’s report could be Premier Hancock’s opportunity to rid himself of this turbulent education minister who refuses to play by the new rules.

Maybe Mr. Johnson didn’t care and instructed his department to ignore the FOIP law. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe it was a mistake by a minor official.

Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, though, it really doesn’t matter.

“According to the doctrine,” says my favourite Canadian politics textbook, “the minister who heads each department must be accountable to the House of Commons (or the provincial Legislature) for the conduct of each and every civil servant working in that department.”

“On the most basic level, this means that ministers may be asked in the House to investigate allegations of incompetence or impropriety in their departments and take appropriate measures,” explain authors Patrick Malcolmson and Richard Meyers in The Canadian Regime.

“If the incompetence or impropriety is substantial and may be attributed to poor management, however, the stakes become much higher,” they write. “Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility the minister must take personal responsibility for major problems of mismanagement.

“In more serious cases of mismanagement, this means the minister must resign.”

Under the circumstances, this is a pretty serious case of mismanagement.

And if the minister won’t resign, his boss – no matter what deals were made in caucus when Ms. Redford was overthrown in March – is within his rights to fire him.

If Mr. Hancock won’t do that, now that the troublesome Mr. Johnson has been found to be in a serious violation of privacy law, one of two conclusions is inescapable:

  1. The rules in Alberta still only apply to the rest of us, never to the PC Government or its friends – all that talk about an end to entitlement was just talk; or…
  2. The Tory war with Alberta’s public employees is still on, at least as far as teachers are concerned

Neither of those conclusions is particularly auspicious for the future of the Progressive Conservative Government in its present straits.

Premier Hancock knows what he needs to do…

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Did Alberta Health Services really send that Tweet? 

On the very day it announced to a skeptical pubic that 2013 would be an, er, costly year for Alberta Health Services because of huge buyouts paid to a passel of executives pushed out the door, did someone at AHS really send out a Tweet saying: “Know when to quit. If you are truly miserable because of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs. #stress”

D’ya think? Especially if there’s $1.7 million on the table for you, as there was for one senior executive who walked or was pushed in 2013. A total of $2.4 million was also paid to five VPs who got the bum’s rush but had contracts that stipulated they had to be paid 12 months or more of their base salary at the time of their dismissal.

Angry taxpayers are sure to notice, and not just the Tweet.

It would appear, though, that the inspirational message was the real McCoy. A screenshot of the Tweet appears below – surely it will disappear some time today. Credit where credit is due, this was spotted by my sharp-eyed fellow blogger, Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent Daveberta.ca blog.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca. Happy Independence Day to our American friends and readers.

Alberta’s Tories appear to have waded into the shallow end of the political gene pool

Jim Prentice surrounded by supporters in Edmonton. Below: Defiant Education Minister Jeff Johnson, Premier Dave Hancock, political strategist Stephen Carter.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

Never mind the bit about any second coming being at hand. You can go too far, in my estimation, searching modern poets for political metaphor. Anyway, that was what Alison Redford was supposed to be, wasn’t it? Or was that Ed Stelmach?

Just the same, I do have a revelation for you: the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, the mighty dynasty created 43 years ago by the sainted Peter Lougheed, is coming apart at the seams and the springs and stuffing are starting to peek out between the splits.

Maybe Jim Prentice, the frontrunner in the race to lead the party – which the PCs desperately need to be over way sooner than September – can patch it up. Maybe he can’t.

In the mean time, though, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock – who is stuck with Ms. Redford’s cabinet until the new leader takes over – needs to show up in the office and make the children behave themselves before anarchy really is loosed upon our little corner of the world!

Evidence?

How about Education Minister Jeff Johnson’s bizarre spat with the Alberta Teacher’s Association, the latest episode of which seems to be as much designed to show his childish defiance of Mr. Prentice as it is to achieve any goals in the education system.

Mr. Johnson – who was rapped on the knuckles by Mr. Prentice last week for his controversial “task force on teaching excellence” that recommended teachers be re-evaluated every five years for professional competence and for overruling ATA discipline as insufficient in the cases of several fired teachers – on Monday upped the ante and demanded a decade’s worth of teacher disciplinary reports be handed over to him by the province’s 61 school boards in the next two weeks.

Yup, he’s going to have a war with the ATA whether Mr. Prentice – whose as-yet unapproved mandate is to smooth over the gaping fissures with groups like the ATA whose members historically have voted Tory – likes it or not.

Predictably, the ATA was enraged and demanded the provincial privacy commissioner step in and impose some sanity on the minister – whose tight deadline combined with summertime short staffing, the ATA claims, will result in a massive document dump that all but guarantees teachers’ personal data will be mishandled.

This is going to infuriate teachers and make Mr. Prentice’s job – assuming that he gets it, as pretty well everyone does – all that much harder once he is finally in charge.

Well, perhaps he shouldn’t have dropped those hints last week that he planned to fire Mr. Johnson and replace him with someone he could trust!

Or how about Mr. Prentice’s somewhat less bizarre – but equally impractical – quest to reform health care without actually reforming it?

“Prentice vows to decentralize Alberta’s health system without major overhaul,” said the Edmonton Journal’s headline, which is a bit like saying “Prentice vows to fly to moon without using rocket ship!”

We’ve just spent seven nightmarish years and heaven only knows how many bazillions of dollars centralizing the public health system into Alberta Health Services and now Mr. Prentice, responding to the Wildrose Party’s easy-for-the-opposition pledge to unravel the whole thing, proposes to reverse the process – no matter how misconceived? And he’ll do this with no major changes made?

About all you can say to that is “Wow!”

Or how about the mischievous commentary by former senior Tory operatives that the party constitution prohibits leadership candidates from making promises that would cost taxpayers money – like, you know, virtually every word that comes out of the mouth of Mr. Prentice.

Stephen Carter, Ms. Redford’s one-time chief of staff and the man credited with being the architect of her successful 2011 campaign, observed in a recent Calgary Herald blog: “In section 3, subsection G of the PC Leadership rules the party demands leadership candidates make ‘no financial commitments’ that will ‘have the affect of fettering the PC caucus’s ability to govern.’”

Well, Mr. Prentice is certainly making financial commitments if he’s vowing to disassemble AHS and build scores of new schools.

Mr. Carter asked if party officials will “disqualify candidate Prentice? Surely a censure will be in order at least? Or will this mean that the candidates can finally start to tell the people of Alberta how they will govern the province?” Having raised the corrosive question, he slyly added: “I surely hope it is the latter.”

Of course, anyone who knows how things work in Alberta – as Mr. Carter most certainly does – knows nothing will stop the heir apparent from making any promises he wishes.

I’ve always believed that the Alberta Tory Party had been in power so long, and had so many connections with the people who run almost all of Alberta’s institutions, that it had the benefit of a pool of talent so deep it could never be matched by any other party.

As I watch the summer of 2014 unfold, I’m no longer so sure.

Despite its storied history, it’s starting to seem as if the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has reached the shallow end of the political gene pool.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Maybe it’s time to state the obvious: promises aren’t enough for Alberta Tories to win back any progressive votes

Tory leadership front-runner Jim Prentice on the campaign trail. Below: Former premier Alison Redford; Education Minister, though presumably not for long, Jeff Johnson; leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk.

Perhaps it’s time to just come right out and state the obvious: If Tory leadership front-runner Jim Prentice wants even a few of Alberta’s badly burned progressive voters to give his so-called Progressive Conservative Party their consideration one more time, he’s going to have to do more than make promises.

There’s one big reason for this: Alison Redford.

Back in 2011, when she was running for the leadership of the Alberta PC Party, Ms. Redford made all sorts of promises about protecting public health care, building new schools, supporting other public services, and respecting the front-line workers who teach, nurse and do other public service jobs so essential it’s illegal for most of them to go on strike.

Not long before the 2012 general election, it looked very much as if the PCs might lose to the Wildrose Party, which was distrusted by progressive voters because it had positioned itself to the right of the traditionally right-wing Tories.

Ms. Redford’s promises – plus an embarrassing and badly timed stumble by an undiplomatic Wildrose candidate – were enough to turn the tide and save the PCs from embarrassment at the polls.

Thousands of voters who would have preferred to vote for the NDP, the Alberta Liberals, the Alberta Party or the Greens held their noses and voted for Alison Redford’s local representative.

But when she got into office, it all turned out to be … what? A trick? A lie? Another day? A Bitumen Bubble?

Whatever, almost from Day 1, everything changed. On virtually every file, Ms. Redford did the opposite of what she had promised. She slashed post-secondary education spending, declared war on public employees and their unions, banned free speech on labour relations issues, and broke promises with such abandon that it startled even a public grown deeply cynical about the behaviour of politicians.

When the political price of this dishonesty became apparent, her frightened caucus fired her.

Now here we are with a new PC leadership contest and the overwhelming front-runner, Mr. Prentice, making all sorts of promises about protecting public health care, building new schools, supporting other public services and respecting the front-line workers who teach, nurse and do other public service jobs so essential it’s illegal for most of them to go on strike.

I have no reason to believe the former banker, lobbyist and federal cabinet minister isn’t being completely sincere when he makes these commitments.

Yesterday morning, he met with about 800 PC supporters at a fund-raising breakfast in Edmonton and ripped into the controversial report of the “so-called Task Force for Teaching Excellence” – his phrase, not mine – commissioned under Ms. Redford and recently released with great fanfare by Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

Teachers were outraged by the report because it proposed a vindictive and ineffective system of periodical re-certification for teachers – you know, the very same teachers who just happen to run one of the most successful educational systems in Canada and the world, which hard-right conservatives never stop complaining about because, basically, they’re looking for any old excuse to privatize it.

In his speech, Mr. Prentice suggested no one except the crowd around Ms. Redford and the Wildrose Party cares about how teachers are evaluated or disciplined – the latter a reference to Mr. Johnson’s ham-handed decision to overturn the Alberta Teachers Association’s discipline of several teachers, which the minister had loudly proclaimed to be insufficiently harsh to a chorus of Ya-Hoos from the Sun News Network

If nothing else, Mr. Johnson can safely conclude he probably won’t have a position in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet!

Mr. Prentice promised to treat the teachers and their union with respect. He promised to come up with stable funding for post-secondary education. He promised to build 50 new schools and upgrade another 70.

All of this, obviously, is calculated to woo back the group that saved the Tories in their last hour of need, which Ms. Redford inexplicably betrayed, and to patch things up with teachers in particular – whose joint union and regulatory body, the ATA, has been mocked in the past for acting as if it were the “Alberta Tory Association.”

But the problem with this, to be blunter than Canadians usually like to be, is that Ms. Redford lied so spectacularly and so frequently, and betrayed her supporters so thoroughly, that it is going to take a hell of a lot more than promises – even really promising promises like the ones Mr. Prentice promised yesterday – to persuade anyone remotely progressive to cast a vote for him or his party.

And since the hard right is likely to vote Wildrose this time, there’s not much chance the PCs can survive as a party, let alone a government, without substantial numbers of those progressive voters.

Mr. Prentice is likely to make similar promises to other groups that rallied to Ms. Redford’s side in 2012 – civil servants, nurses other health care workers, for example.

But an awful lot of Albertans feel, as George W. Bush once tried and failed to say: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

So, unfortunately for Mr. Prentice, thanks to the catastrophe wrought on the PC party by Ms. Redford, he is going to have to do more than just make upbeat promises to get anywhere with what’s become a pretty tough crowd for Tories in the past two years.

A good place to start would be for him not to rush into a cynical early election while he enjoys a post-victory bounce, which in this atmosphere may not last the length of the campaign, but to bring forward and implement a legislative program that shows he means what he says.

Then he must repeal Bill 45, Ms. Redford’s disgraceful and unconstitutional attack on the free-speech rights of all Albertans, and the right of Alberta working people to bargain collectively.

He needs to drop this year’s Bills 9 and 10, the needless attacks on the retirement savings of many Albertans in both the public and private sectors, seemingly cooked up as a sop to far-right Astro-Turf organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which it has to be said again works against the interests of independent businesses by attacking the financial security of their middle-class customers.

And he needs to pass a budget that restores lost funding to post-secondary institutions, actually earmarks funds for the schools he promised to build yesterday and adequately funds public health care.

If Mr. Prentice won’t do those things, it’s reasonable to conclude the same old crowd is still in power in the PC Party and the same arrogance and old bad ideas will reassert themselves the instant the party wins another election.

The choice facing Mr. Prentice is pretty stark: he can walk the walk before the election, or he can be handed his walking papers.

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Et tu, Brute? Thomas Lukaszuk suggests he’d kick Alison Redford out of PC party

Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, who once served as Alison Redford’s deputy premier, was musing yesterday about kicking Ms. Redford right out of the Progressive Conservative Party if she won’t do the right thing and quit in light of the latest revelations she spent even more on travel than we knew about hitherto.

Who would have thought she was also supposed to report travel expenses by her ministerial flunkies, one of whom the CBC reported racked up close to $330,000 in travel bills between the middle of 2012 and January 2014?

Not her or her advisors, apparently.

Well, just so you know, Mr. Lukaszuk is not being disloyal. For one thing, I don’t think he ever forgave Ms. Redford for canning him as deputy dawg back in December 2013 – although, if you think about it, she may have done him an unintentional favour by pushing him away from her office after then Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel assailed the government’s disgraceful cuts to post-secondary education.

For another, Mr. Lukaszuk’s call for her to quit sooner than later may be little more than a mischievous opportunity to throw a sly little spanner into the works of front-runner Jim Prentice’s campaign. After all, it’s likely that when Ms. Redford actually does resign – some time after Mr. Prentice’s coronation in September – her riding will be made available to the newly anointed premier.

Well, let Mr. Lukaszuk have his fun. Now that candidate Ric McIver has experienced his own Lake of Fire moment, “Last-Place” Lukaszuk actually has an opportunity to be second in the three-member class of 2014.

Whatever he says won’t affect the reality that Ms. Redford will be gone soon enough, never to darken the door of the Alberta Legislature again.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.