All posts tagged Alison Redford

Strap on your seat belts? Jim Prentice’s cabinet is more like a drive down memory lane

Jim Prentice prepares to be sworn in yesterday. Below: Health Minister Stephen Mandel and social media gadfly Olav Rokne. 

Things were going to change in Alberta so much once his capable hands were on the steering wheel, Jim Prentice warned us, that we’d better make sure we’d strapped on our seatbelts!

Well, he might have given us a mild scare as he motored through the political equivalent of a yellow light yesterday afternoon by appointing a couple of unelected, well-off, older, gentlemen to his cabinet.

These two fellows may or may not turn out to be a matched set of wingnuts but, either way, they have no mandate to serve for long in important portfolios.

So when the dust had settled after Mr. Prentice’s and their swearings in yesterday, in many ways the cabinet looked pretty much as it did before the Big Buildup.

Yes, some big names have been dropped – indeed, the entire 4H Club of Dave Hancock, Fred Horne, Doug Horner and Ken Hughes, who in many ways epitomized the last generation of Alberta’s Tory elite, is now gone.

But lots of MLAs tainted with the ruined Redford brand were visible in the ranks of Mr. Prentice’s cabinet too – it’s just, as NDP leader Brian Mason pithily explained, instead of using experienced MLAs too closely associated in the public’s mind with Ms. Redford’s misrule, “Prentice has appointed inexperienced, weak ministers, who were just as closely tied to Redford, though not as publicly involved in PC scandals.”

“Diana McQueen, a rural MLA has been named as minister of Municipal Affairs?” Mr. Mason asked. “It’s hard to see how big city concerns will be addressed by her.”

It’s also a worry, he added, that Mr. Prentice would appoint former rival Ric McIver as labour minister, “a man whose history suggests he does not respect the public sector and hardworking Albertans.” Well, at least Mr. McIver promised during his campaign to keep the government’s paws off public service pensions.

From the premier’s perspective, notwithstanding the barbs they traded during the recent leadership campaign, he clearly hopes Mr. McIver will shore up the party’s ties to its social conservative base.

The appointment of lightweight Calgary MLA Kyle “Leaky” Fawcett, meanwhile, as environment minister hardly suggests that the environment is going to be a high priority for Mr. Prentice’s pipeline-obsessed government.

A couple of smiley new faces were also added to Mr. Prentice’s cabinet: Maureen Kubinec, from the rural area north of Edmonton, as minister of culture, and Edmonton MLA David Dorward, an Edmonton MLA, as junior minister of aboriginal relations.

But of the 20 members of the new premier’s new cabinet, 15 are veterans of the cabinets of premiers Alison Redford and Dave Hancock. Likewise, 15 are male.

I don’t know about you, but 75 per cent of the same-old-same-old hardly sounds like epochal change to me. It’s hard to say what Martha and Henry, the late Ralph Klein’s prototypical Albertans, are going to make of this. Probably not much. Here’s a bet they won’t even notice, let alone be all shook up.

Under new management? Not so much, maybe.

That three members of the new cabinet if you count Mr. Prentice himself have not been elected, is highly unusual – and pretty much stretches as far as it will go the Parliamentary convention that a few such people may serve in cabinet for a brief spell, as long as they are elected to the Legislature within an undefined but reasonably short period.

All three will have to be elected soon to have any legitimacy – and that’s bound to be attempted in a by-election because the PC Party, with or without Mr. Prentice at the helm, could neither survive nor afford a general election just now. When the inevitable by-elections come, don’t expect Alberta’s Opposition parties to pay much attention to the quaint custom of giving a free ride to the leader of the government.

As for the unelected pair picked by the new premier, all I can say is I’m not sure I would have chosen the same two if it had been me wearing the premier’s handmade cordovan loafers.

Stephen Mandel – who served six terms on Edmonton City Council, including three as a popular mayor – certainly enjoys a high profile and a degree of support among voters in the Edmonton region. But he is no follower, probably is incapable of taking orders from anyone, including Mr. Prentice, and has burnt just about every Conservative bridge between the North Saskatchewan and the Ottawa River.

As for making Mr. Mandel minister of health, while this huge responsibility obviously reflects Mr. Prentice’s high confidence in the man, seemingly the entire health care community was shaking its head in bewilderment yesterday. Seriously, what does Mr. Mandel know about health care? You could argue, if you were so inclined, that his lack of a health care background a good thing. At the very least, hiring a guy who spent years trying to centralize Greater Edmonton to decentralize health care is an interesting strategy.

Mr. Mandel may look to some like an inspired choice today, but the danger is real he will turn into a loose cannon on deck when the guns start to fire at the privateers aboard the frigate Wildrose.

In the mean time, it is Gordon Edwin Dirks – former school principal, school trustee, Evangelical pastor, Bible college administrator and cabinet minister in the scandal-plagued Saskatchewan government of Conservative Grant Devine – whose appointment as education minister provided the biggest WTF moment in yesterday’s cabinet announcement.

Gordon Edwin Who? Gordon Edwin What?

Olav Rokne, a social media gadfly in Edmonton, pointed yesterday to the troubling views on homosexuality held by Mr. Dirks’ church: “He had more than three million unelected Albertans to choose from. Why did Jim Prentice pick Gordon Dirks? He couldn’t find someone as qualified who hasn’t espoused anti-gay views in the past?”

What can we conclude from all this?

Above all that if Premier Prentice wants to persuade Albertans that things have really changed, he will have to do more than shuffle the lounge chairs on cabinet deck of the Titanic. Policy changes will be required, and suggestions are bound to be forthcoming soon, in this space as well as elsewhere.

Sorry, though. If you want real change, you’re going to have to vote to change the government.

 

List of Prentice Cabinet Ministers 

Jim Prentice – Premier, Aboriginal Relations, Intergovernmental Affairs; No seat in Legislature

Robin Campbell – Finance; Yellowhead West

Frank Oberle – Energy; Peace River

Stephen Mandel – Health; No seat in Legislature

Gordon Dirks – Education, No Seat in Legislature

Diana McQueen – Municipal Affairs; Drayton Valley-Devon

Jonathan Denis – Justice; Calgary-Acadia

Heather Klimchuk – Human Services; Edmonton-Glenora

Verlyn Olson – Agriculture; Wetaskiwin-Camrose

Wayne Drysdale – Transport; Grande Prairie-Wapiti

Maureen Kubinec –Culture and Tourism; Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock

Stephen Khan – Service Alberta; St. Albert

Ric McIver – Jobs, Skills, Labour and Training; Calgary-Hays

Manmeet Bhullar – Infrastructure; Calgary-Greenway

Kyle Fawcett – Environment and Sustainable Resource Development; Calgary-Klein

Jeff Johnson – Seniors; Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater

Don Scott –Innovation and Advanced Education; Fort McMurray-Conklin

Teresa Woo-Paw – Asia-Pacific Relations (Associate); Calgary-Northern Hills

Naresh Bhardwaj – Persons with Developmental Disabilities (Associate); Edmonton-Ellerslie

David Dorward – Aboriginal Relations (Associate); Edmonton-Gold Bar

 This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Outgoing Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock: 17 years of going along to get along

Another fine mess? No, no, it was a Bitumen Bubble that caused it! Really! Dave Hancock, left, shown explaining cuts to post-secondary education, imposed by Alison Redford, right, back when the bitumen was bubbling. Actual Redford Government officials may not have appeared exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Hancock, who leaves Alberta politics after 17 years later today.

As I flew back into Alberta airspace the day before yesterday, it seemed as if tout le monde political Alberta was bidding the fondest of farewells to departing Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who announced on Friday he would not only be quitting as first minister today, but stepping down as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud as well.

This clears the decks for Jim Prentice, who by the time many of you read this will have been sworn in as premier of Alberta, albeit one not yet a member of the Legislature.

It makes way for Mr. Prentice to step into the top job, of course, plus it opens up a riding in which one of the new premier’s promised star candidates can highlight the government’s potential for the real change as he tries to revivify the moribund Progressive Conservative dynasty.

After all, the unelected Mr. Prentice can only appoint unelected cabinet ministers for so long before Parliamentary pundits start to pontificate and the public grows restive and suspicious they’re being had.

Well, Mr. Hancock was always accommodating to a fault when it came to the wishes of his party’s leaders, although in this case it’s likely what he wanted too. Everyone expects a swift judicial appointment to reward the outgoing premier pro tem before any other government has the opportunity to meddle with it.

I actually used up my cell phone data allocation for the latest billing period sitting in Victoria airport reading the tsunami of anodyne platitudes about how much we’re going to miss Mr. Hancock from such unlikely sources as opposition politicians and union leaders, not to mention journalists who really ought to know better.

Indeed, the whole thing had the tone of a funeral oration – but it is not that, luckily for Mr. Hancock, and there’s no superstition or convention against speaking ill of the recently resigned. So forgive me, then, for stating what ought to be obvious:

Mr. Hancock – who really struck one as a person who understood what was the honourable, smart and decent thing to do in most circumstances – typically stood by uncritically while the PC government to which he was so loyal behaved unconscionably.

He handled every portfolio he was given competently enough, although it’s safe to say he’ll not be remembered for a single outstanding policy.

Here was a man who never stepped up and exercised his undoubted authority as the party’s respected elder statesman to urge either premier Ed Stelmach or premier Alison Redford to slow down when they were driving their governments, in their respective ways, into the proverbial guardrail.

He was one of the few people who could have said, “Enough is enough. This needs to stop now.” Instead, he fulfilled the role of enabler in chief, especially to Ms. Redford.

Here was was an Edmonton MLA the government could roll out to explain and defend any bill or policy that hurt Edmonton. An unconstitutional attack on the government’s own employees? There was nary a word of anything but justification from Mr. Hancock.

So while his job may have been to put out fires, and he was pretty good at it, we also need to remember – ungracious as it may seem to do so at the moment he steps off the stage – he was a key part of the team that lit them.

Tom Lukaszuk got to wear the Redford Government’s massive “Bitumen Bubble” cuts to post-secondary education, which hurt Edmonton’s University of Alberta more than any other institution. Mr. Hancock, who knew better, stood by and said nothing.

At the end of his political career, the whole thing looks like not much more than a long exercise in damage control, publicly justifying the worst excesses of his party’s leaders and cabinet. There was never a plan so bad, a policy so excessive, that Mr. Hancock wouldn’t stand up and defend it.

Well, there’s something to be said for being a good soldier, I guess, but when it comes to writing hagiographies, it doesn’t really provide very promising material.

It should be no surprise Mr. Hancock is on the way out. Regardless of his wishes or his judicial ambitions, if Mr. Prentice’s government really is going to offer a fresh start, a man like Mr. Hancock has no place in it.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Cabinet making in a shallow talent pool: what’s Alberta’s Jim Prentice going to do?

The Alberta Tory talent pool in 2014. Shallow, and not much fun for the guy in charge. Actual Alberta PC leaders may not appear as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Jim Prentice. Main photo grabbed from the Internet.

Never mind the transition team. What about the cabinet?

It’s not just a question of who will be in Alberta Premier Select Jim Prentice’s minimalist new pre-general-election Progressive Conservative cabinet – Ken Hughes, c’mon down! – but who won’t be.

It’s also a question of who gets stiffed, regionally speaking: Calgary, Edmonton, or the countryside – which has already gone over to the Wildrose insurgency?

Cabinet making before the high-profile candidates Mr. Prentice has promised can step up to the plate is a serious political problem for the new Tory leader, made no easier by his promise to keep the size of his cabinet small.

All small-c conservative leaders make this promise at the start of their terms, by the way, because it seems fiscally responsible to people who aren’t paying much attention, a large cohort of citizens otherwise known as “voters.”

All of them eventually break it, because it’s hard to run a cabinet government with a ministry that’s too small, and because the exigencies of the Westminster single-member system demand regions and voter groups get their voice in cabinet. In the end, it’s easier to try to deke out voters than offend special and regional interests.

Disgraced former premier Alison Redford was atypical in that she actually attempted to game the electorate, by having a big cabinet but pretending it was small by not counting so-called associate ministers who (allegedly) reported to a senior minister. It was all pre-captured carbon smoke from a diminishing supply of dry ice, and mirrors that were later requisitioned for the use in two bathrooms of the Sky Palace.

For Mr. Prentice, it’s going to be the second big challenge after getting a seat as an MLA for himself, which won’t be easy since voters are itching to teach his Tories a thing or two and the Opposition parties are likely to waive the traditional free ride given to a new government leader.

So, getting back to the cabinet – the one he has to put together from the current extremely shallow pool of talent…. Mr. Hughes will likely be in it because he’s competent and because he did Mr. Prentice a favour by dropping out of the leadership race when asked to do so by the Prentice campaign.

But the other three members of the Legislative 4H Club – Dave Hancock, Doug Horner, and Fred Horne – together pose a bigger problem for the new premier.

They’re all reasonably competent, and this is not something you can say about a majority of the members of the current PC caucus. Indeed, with two or three exceptions, they may be about the only competent people Mr. Prentice has got left. So, in that regard, he can hardly afford to do without them.

On the other hand, they’re all politically tainted, having played big roles in the Redford Government, so he risks big trouble if he has anything to do with them.

When he took over as premier pro tempore after Ms. Redford was fired by her own caucus, Mr. Hancock became the chief excuse maker for the sins of the Redford Regime. Everybody wishes him well on the bench or wherever he ends up post election, but at this point he’s hardly an asset to the party he served for so long.

Mr. Horne’s the man who canned the entire Alberta Health Services board, an error of judgment so grave Mr. Prentice made complaining about it and promising to fix it major plank in his platform. He can hardly invite Mr. Horne back, especially to the health portfolio, without looking like a genuine pratt.

Mr. Horner’s the fellow who came up with Alberta’s novel method of making confusing separate Finance Department reports for operating expenses, capital expenses and savings, which almost everybody else seems to hate … even Mr. Prentice. On the other hand, he’s been loyally supporting Mr. Prentice’s campaign – loyal support being something Mr. Horner seems to specialize in.

What to do? Mr. Prentice can hardly throw the old crowd under the bus at the same time as he’s putting some of them back in the driver’s seat. Maybe he’ll pick one and symbolically toss out the other two

If he keeps many of the 4H crowd around, it’ll certainly be hard to distinguish Mr. Prentice’s cabinet from Mr. Hancock’s – which was all but identical to Ms. Redford’s until the leadership race began and infrastructure minister Ric McIver and labour minister (and former deputy premier) Thomas Lukaszuk dropped out to run against Mr. Prentice.

So what about those two? They did poorly in the leadership race because they were tarnished with the sins of the Redford Government – Mr. Lukaszuk for his “Bitumen Bubble” cuts to post-secondary education even before the details of his cellular phone bill hit the fan mid-campaign; Mr. McIver for his murky role in the Sky Palace affair (did he approve it, or stop it?) and the hinky feeling his social conservative connections obviously gave a lot of party members.

With Messrs. McIver and Lukaszuk, Mr. Prentice is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If they all kiss and make up, cabinet will look like the same old sinners. If they don’t, the new premier will look like a graceless winner. I’d say the second option’s the better one from an optical perspective.

Other than that, well, there’s West Yellowhead MLA Robin Campbell, who has already been appointed to Mr. Prentice’s transition team. It never hurts to have a little union common sense in your cabinet, something Mr. Campbell can provide as a former local president of the United Mine Workers of America union.

Also look for Calgary-Greenway’s Manmeet Bhullar to remain in cabinet, and maybe rise up a notch or two – after all, he’s seemed like a bit of a comer for a while now, and he jumped onto the Prentice bandwagon even before Mr. Prentice was on it!

But after them, who’s left? Peter Sandhu? Mike Allen? David Xiao? Neil Brown? No, scratch the last two – the former plans to run for the federal Conservatives next year and the latter has agreed to step aside so Mr. Prentice can run in a by-election in his Calgary-MacKay-Nose Hill riding.

And Mr. Prentice’s high-profile celebrity candidates? They won’t be around until after the election, and the worse it looks for the Tories, the harder they’re going to be to recruit.

Well, as George W. Bush’s secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, famously observed: “You go to war with the army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.
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Who’s likely to be in, and to be out…

Here are some educated guesses – mine and those of some friends with similar interests – on whom Jim Prentice might remove from cabinet, plus those he’ll leave in or add to his first (and possibly last) pre-general-election ministry. No bets on what portfolios they might get, though. That’s just asking too much, even of a “pundit.” DJC

Out:

Jonathan Denis, Calgary-Acadia – Minister Jono? Shurely not!

Dave Hancock, Edmonton-Whitemud – he’s already been the premier (pro tempore), he wouldn’t want the job anyway, but others say he’ll stay in his old Education portfolio, a la Joe Clark

Fred Horne, Edmonton-Rutherfordgone from Health for sure, probably from cabinet as well

Doug Horner, Spruce Grove-St. Albert – certainly as finance minister, probably from cabinet

Thomas Lukaszuk, Edmonton-Castle Downs – he is from Edmonton, but nobody who matters in Edmonton likes him, and with fewer than 3,000 votes in the leadership race, he has no leverage

In:

Manmeet Bhullar, Calgary-Greenway – he’s performed well and, as noted, jumped on the Prentice bandwagon before Mr. Prentice did, so he can expect a big promotion to one of the top posts

Robin Campbell, West Yellowhead – he’s on the transition team, he’ll also get an important portfolio

Ron Casey, Banff-Cochrane – the former mayor of Canmore is the only rural PC MLA south of Drayton Valley

Ken Hughes, Calgary-West – the man for whom Alison Redford cleared the decks, and who cleared the decks for Jim Prentice

Matt Jeneroux, Edmonton-South West – young, different, looks good on TV and is pretty smart

Donna Kennedy-Glans, Calgary Varsity – quit the Tories, assailed Ms. Redford and now wants back in, plus she has high-level connections with the oil industry

Jason Luan, Calgary-Hawkwood – new face, well liked, former public employee

Ric McIver, Calgary-Hays – they like him in south Calgary, so he may squeak in

Dianna McQueen, Drayton Valley-Devon – at risk, but probably to be kept around with a demotion

Steve Young, Edmonton-Riverview – a congenial former cop, bashed Alison Redford publicly, welcome to cabinet

How many PC memberships were given away? It’s time to get to know the known unknowns of the leadership campaign

Alberta’s PCs are smiling today as Jim Prentice, at right, takes over the helm of the RMS Titanic Tory. Actual just-elected leaders of the Progressive Conservative Party may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Jim Prentice as he appeared surrounded by media last night. (Photo by Dave Cournoyer, used with permission.)

VICTORIA, B.C.

So, c’mon guys, how many of those 23,386 Progressive Conservative Party memberships were actually purchased by someone, and how many were given away?

Will the PC Party under Mr. Prentice, committed to transparency and integrity as its new leader says it is, want to make this information public as soon as possible as a gesture of good citizenship and a mature approach to governing?

Since neither candidate Ric McIver nor Tomas Lukaszuk had a policy of giving away memberships to their supporters, the number of freebie memberships should be an easy figure to come up with. Mr. Prentice’s campaign knows how many they gave away. All they have to do is tell us and we’ll have a number pretty close to the bottom line.

How about it? “My election of the leader of this party marks the beginning of a commitment to integrity and acceptance of responsibility in this province,” Mr. Prentice told the small crowd of supporters at Edmonton’s EXPO Centre after his victory was announced last night. “This must apply, ladies and gentlemen, to the government of Alberta, but first and foremost it must apply to our party.” (Emphasis added.)

If they won’t, I guess we can figure that, notwithstanding the latest claims to the contrary, it’s Tory business as usual.

It’s possible, of course, that more memberships were given away than ballots were actually cast. Not everyone who got a free membership will have bothered to vote, just as not every Albertan who actually paid for one will have bothered to cast a ballot either. If that happened, it would be embarrassing for the party.

Many also tried and couldn’t vote in balloting fraught with problems, said to be technical in nature.

So there’s no way to figure out to the exact decimal point how much impact the Prentice campaign’s free memberships had on the outcome of the race, given the shockingly low number of people who voted – 23,386, compared to more than 144,000 in 2006. Still, this information would provide some very useful insights.

You wouldn’t think it would bother them to tell us, seeing as they insisted during the campaign that giving away party memberships was standard operating procedure in most campaigns. We’ll see.

It would also be interesting to know if there’s anything to that persistent rumour that a very large number of memberships came during the campaign from a single IP address in Calgary. We’ll see about how far anyone gets with that one, too.

After Mr. Prentice’s victory yesterday, the Opposition parties could barely suppress their glee at the disastrous state of the PC Party as it tries to find its way away from the trail of devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Alison, the worst political storm to hit Alberta in a generation.

Everyone congratulated Mr. Prentice on his appointment as captain of the foundering vessel once known as the unsinkable RMS Titanic Tory. But they all moved pretty quickly to describing the circumstances in which Mr. Prentice takes the helm.

“The Progressive Conservatives have voted in a new leader but the party itself cannot change its political stripes,” said NDP Leader Brian Mason, as his own retirement as leader of the province’s Knee-Dippers looms. “The PC party is broken and after 43 years in power, the PC dynasty is crumbling. It is my hope that now that this leadership race is over we can return our focus to the issues that matter to Albertans, and away from the petty mud-slinging and infighting that we’ve seen from the PCs over the last few months.”

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said much the same: “This has been one of the most bitter and divisive leadership races in recent years, which made all but the most die-hard PC supporters realize that this old, tired party is quite simply out of ideas, out of touch with the needs and sensibilities of modern Albertans, and outright obsessed with clinging to power at all costs. … What Alberta really needs is a change in government.” Dr. Sherman should know. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago he was a member of the PC cabinet himself.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, the politician most like to lead any change in government, also weighed in after a quick congratulation: “Mr. Prentice has a tremendous road ahead of him in order to rebuild trust with Albertans and get a grip on a government that has spiralled out of control. Albertans will now look to him to start repairing the government’s damaged reputation and making progress on the many challenges we face as a province.” Her implication was clear: fat chance!

These are assessments, I suspect, that are widely shared by many voters. Indeed, a revealing comment left on last night’s blog echoes the thoughts of all the opposition party leaders and illustrates, I believe, a common perception of many seniors and rural residents, once core centres of Tory support.

“This so-called election was nothing more than a scam by the PC Party of Alberta’s top brass,” wrote Harry E. Stuart. “My reasons for feeling that way: when I tried to get a PC Membership so that I could vote, nothing was made available in my hometown of Rimbey … The PC Party of Alberta have said to hell with small town Alberta and seniors in general.”

Well, inquiring minds want to know about the process that brought Mr. Prentice to the premiership. Surely all Albertans have a stake in knowing this information.

The known unknowns of the PC leadership campaign, like the number of free memberships handed out, and to whom, are bound to become key issues in the by-election Mr. Prentice must win if he is to be able to lead his party from inside the Legislature, and not from the distant confines of the Members’ Gallery above, not to mention in the general election that must follow.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Prentice in a walk – but the low voter turnout tells the real story about the fate of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives

Jim Prentice, the winner in the Tory leadership race, makes the traditional Nixonian gesture of victory. Photo grabbed, with permission, from Dave Cournoyer’s Daveberta.ca blog.

VICTORIA, B.C.

Well! That’s it then. Jim Prentice in a walk, the first time the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has actually chosen the frontrunner in the past three leadership races, maybe four if you count Ralph Klein.

My phone chirped the results to me from the floor of the EXPO Centre in Edmonton at 6:54 p.m. Alas, I’m in exile in a disturbingly sunny and warm Victoria, B.C., so if you want coverage from the floor, you’re going to have to visit Daveberta.ca.

The numbers were a wipeout for Mr. Prentice in one key regard – 17,963 votes compared with 2,742 for Ric McIver and 2,681 for Thomas Lukaszuk, and I’ll bet you Mr. Lukaszuk wished he’d managed to rustle up a 65 or so more!

It must have been those fund-raising numbers that swayed the remaining die-hard PC supporters to plump for the former banker, lobbyist and federal cabinet minister from Calgary. Plus, of course, his ability to claim he had nothing to do with the government of Alison Redford.

Mr. Lukaszuk and Mr. McIver were stuck with the fact they’d been members of fired former premier Alison Redford’s cabinet, their reputations tarnished like everything else she touched.

But that was good enough to call it a landslide, which was what the local media proceeded to do.

The numbers were a wipeout of Mr. Prentice, though, in another important regard – he fell just a little short of his benchmark of a total of 100,000 memberships to be sold by his campaign alone, dontcha think?

This lack of interest is a big problem for Mr. Prentice and the Tories and shows just how much damage Alison Redford did during her short reign to the once esteemed PC brand.

In 2006, 144,000 Albertans voted on the second ballot in the party leadership race that vaulted Ed Stelmach past frontrunner Jim Dinning to the province’s top political job. About 133,000 of them hung in for the final ballot, which put Mr. Stelmach over the top.

By 2011, 78,000 voted on the second ballot, helping to push the catastrophic Ms. Redford past frontrunner Gary Mar.

Now the numbers of people who think the PC leadership race is worth participating in are down to 23,000 and change? And many of those voters didn’t even pay for their memberships? C’mon! This hardly augurs well for the future of the PC Dynasty, 43 years old and everyone’s counting.

Indeed, what it says clearly is that Albertans no longer think of the PCs as their Natural Governing Party. The lack of interest also suggests voters who in the past might have thought the PC race was their only chance to influence the province’s leadership think they’ll have a real choice next time, or can hardly wait to see the PCs gone.

Mr. Prentice’s main job is to turn that around. He has two years to do it, less really. Recent events in Ontario and here in British Columbia have proven this is possible, but it’s got to be a long shot in trouble as deep as the Alberta Tories.

His first big job, though, is going to be just getting elected in a by-election so that he can run the party from inside the Legislature. There is no guarantee that Mr. Prentice will succeed even at this – although, at least thanks to his proven fund-raising capabilities, the PCs will have money to throw at the problem.

But count on it, the opposition parties will throw everything they’ve got at him in the by-election, wherever it takes place. And with the results Mr. Prentice got from his $1.8 million raised, he might have been smarter to hold union-style pizza meetings!

Well, what more can I say? I’m going for a swim. By the time I get back to Alberta, it’ll probably be snowing.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

That Portrait of a Certain Lady: a bargain for Albertans at $12,000? Or not?

Is this what Alison Redford’s official portrait is going to look like? Below: Ms. Redford as she might have been seen by Pablo Picasso or Gustav Klimt. We can do better, people!

VICTORIA, B.C.

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray 

While we all wait for tomorrow night to see if fund-raising prowess or something else motivates Alberta Progressive Conservative Party members, let’s engage in a little creative thought about public support for the arts where the oil hits the canvas, at the nexus of politics and paint.

Specifically, let’s talk about those portraits of the premiers that are lately arousing the passion of Albertans, which naturally have turned out to focus on the price of everything and the value of nothing.

If it’s the ability to raise funds, by the way, that impresses PC Party members, then Jim Prentice will win the leadership and the premiership of Alberta in a walk tomorrow – he raised more than twice as much as candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk combined, apparently without breaking into a sweat.

But if it was just fundraising ability that won the hearts of Alberta Tories, they wouldn’t have picked Ed Stelmach over Jim Dinning or Alison Redford over Gary Mar, would they? And if they’d picked Mr. Dinning or Mr. Mar, whatever else might have happened, it has to be said that not only would the party have raised more money and had less turnover at the top, but when the premier finally got around to quitting we might have had better portraits hanging in the Legislature.

Here’s the thing. We have this custom in Alberta – which befits a place where governments rule for a long, long time – that when premiers leave office, they get a painted portrait on the wall of the Legislative Building’s third floor. By tradition – and any tradition in a place that’s only been a province since 1905 is by definition a recent one – the premier gets to pick the artist.

For one reason or another, we’ve had a lot of premiers lately and so the paintings and their cost have become an issue with voters.

But for whatever reason – possibly because Albertans are instinctively too polite or doubt their own ability to make judgments about art – the quality of the paintings, for which the public pays their freight, and the ability of most premiers to pick artists appropriate for a substantial public investment, have not appeared on the public’s radar.

This is a pity because, to be blunt, recent choices haven’t been very good.

It’s said here we’re both paying too much and not paying enough for these paintings. We’re paying too much for art that’s not very good, and we’re not paying enough for art that’s worth supporting. This is proof of the axiom that in Alberta politics you really can have it all, just not in a good way.

Back in the day, when Social Credit leader Harry Strom was premier, we got something akin to Socialist Realism – perhaps we’d be better to describe it as Social Credit Realism. Whatever, it was OK. Things have been going downhill since.

The last two? Terrible. Calgary-based Xin Yu Zheng’s painting of Ralph Klein, done from photographs, is in my view cartoonish, but at least it has a little life. Edmonton-based Tunde Vari’s portrait of Ed Stelmach seemed to me to be both cartoonish and lifeless – as if it had been illustrated for a 1950s kids’ comic book about a worthy cause, the sort of thing young people couldn’t reasonable expected to read a normal book about. You know, like Alberta History or Great Art.

We can’t yet see what Ms. Redford’s choice of artist will do with the former premier’s portrait, exactly, because it hasn’t been painted yet, but we can see what else Liela Chan has done by looking at her web page and I’m afraid the auguries are not promising. Her paintings make me think of greeting cards of the cute variety.

What gives me the right to be an art critic? In this regard, I’m at least as qualified as Mr. Klein, Mr. Stelmach and Ms. Redford, I guess.

Face it, people, if we chose other examples of important public art the same way – say large sculptures in front of a major public building – it would legitimately be a scandal. But because the premier’s own image is involved, we seem to think it’s OK for the premier to pick his or her own imageer.

Well, that dog won’t hunt!

Worse, we’ve set a baseline price of $12,000 on the project based on what Mr. Klein has us pay for his portrait, a sum too low for the work of an artist worth supporting with public funds to complete what is bound to be a historically important commission.

We can, and should, do better, and the first step is to stop letting the premiers pick their own artists if they’re going to use public money.

Yes, there needs to be a certain degree of sympathy between the artist and her subject. But you can go too far with that sort of thing. As Oscar Wilde wisely pointed out in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

So let the premier pick his portraitist from a selection of qualified artists chosen by a jury of people at least vaguely qualified to make such picks.

It’s true that such juries tend to be too cautious – which is why a selection of artists with the final call made by the subject of the portrait inserts an interestingly unpredictable element into the mix.

But public support for the arts is too important, and public paintings of premiers are too important too, to merely be left to the whim their subjects.

If we’re going to do that, we should adopt the practice of the good people here in British Columbia, where I am in temporary exile, and just pay a couple of hundred bucks for a nice photograph.

Let’s end the lesson with Oscar again: “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” Let’s invest in useless things are intensely admirable!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Opponents beyond PC ranks start to take aim at Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice

Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice, invisible, as everybody and their non-partisan friends pile on. Actual scenes from Alberta politics may not take place exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice, in his lucky campaign shirt; Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta Director Derek Fildebrandt.

VICTORIA, B.C.

Jim Prentice, you’re in the crosshairs now (metaphorically speaking).

And if you manage to win the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party next Saturday – which everyone except this blogger thinks is exactly what’s going to happen – in the crosshairs is where you’re going to stay.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation fired a shot at Mr. Prentice on Friday evening, releasing more than 3,000 pages of his expense records from back when the front-running Tory leadership candidate held the federal Conservative Government’s Indian Affairs and Northern Development portfolio.

Derek Fildebrandt, whose official title is Alberta director of the CTF, informed the National Post he received the extensive records some months after he was told they had been accidentally destroyed. Later, he said, he was informed by the federal government they had merely been mislabeled and later recovered.

The CTF said in its own news release that it filed Freedom of Information requests for the past expense claims of all three PC leadership candidates as part of an effort to ensure “Albertans would have as much information as possible in determining if the next premier’s record of expense claims were above board or not.”

To those who might wonder if this is a fairly partisan approach to be taken by a self-described non-partisan “tax watchdog,” presumably Mr. Fildebrandt and the CTF will review the records of influential Opposition members – at least those who were once members of a governing party and have therefore left a paper trail behind them – with similar vigour.

Regardless, there didn’t seem to be all that much in the thousands of pages of documents for Mr. Fildebrandt to work himself into his trademark high dudgeon about.

He did discover that as minister Mr. Prentice once took a chartered plane to cover a distance he could have driven over in a couple of hours and on another occasion rode a helicopter to a U.K. air show where he was representing the Canadian government instead of hitchhiking from London or something.

Since Mr. Prentice was legitimately working as a federal cabinet minister on both occasions, this is hardly seems to me like a scoop of earth-shattering proportions. However, the Post implied there is bound to be more, noting that Mr. Fildebrandt had only done a “cursory analysis” when he made these discoveries.

Well, we’re sure to hear about it if he does discover more. The Post story, meanwhile, also quoted Mr. Fildebrandt saying he had “very serious concerns about the completeness of the records released and the potential for political interference in the process.”

Thanks to the catastrophic premiership of the high-flying Alison Redford, which ended only in March, such is the distrust of the Alberta PCs in late 2014 that a press release mentioning airplane travel and expense filings carries considerable potential to persuade voters yet another high Tory official can’t be trusted.

Anyone who reaches this conclusion, however, is forgetting that the events Mr. Fildebrandt is complaining about in the pages of the Post took place while Mr. Prentice was a minister in the supposedly squeaky clean and intensively supervised federal cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The CTF claimed in its release that Mr. Prentice’s trip aboard the charter aircraft was “in clear contravention” of Parliament’s travel rules for MPs. My “cursory analysis” of Parliament’s guidelines, however, suggests it is not at all clear Mr. Prentice broke any rules – leastways, if he can argue that the charter was the “most practical” means of transportation.

Mr. Prentice’s current spokesperson argued the expenses in question were fully disclosed years ago and ruffled no feathers, the CTF’s or otherwise, at the time. Given this, it’s said here Bill Anderson would have been entitled to wonder aloud about if the CTF is now pursuing an apparently partisan agenda in Alberta politics.

Instead, he worked up a fairly high degree of dudgeon of his own, huffing to the Post, “this is clearly a witch hunt! We’re disappointed that people would stoop to this level of politics.”

Well, Mr. Prentice and his aides need to get used to it, if he is indeed going to emerge as the winner next Saturday, or on Sept. 20 if the leadership contest fails to produce a clear majority on Saturday and goes to a second vote.

Since the local press has already declared candidate Ric McIver a politically dead man walking, and with Thomas Lukaszuk’s leadership efforts breaking up on the rocks of his cellular telephone bills, this must be what is going to happen on Saturday.

If Mr. Prentice becomes PC leader and premier, the attacks and implications from political operators of all sorts with all sorts of agendas won’t stop until he has either won or lost the next general election.

Instead of whining, then, Mr. Prentice’s camp might be smarter to do some witch hunting of their own!

This actually is politics, after all, a game played with the elbows up. Other parties and interests are bound to play hard to win the next election, just as Mr. Prentice, presumably, is going to try to do.

Note to readers: I have been called away to the West Coast on a matter of urgent family business. Alas, this means I will miss the opportunity to be at the PC vote on Sept. 6 in Edmonton. I take comfort from my belief – which is apparently mine alone – that the probability of a second vote on Sept. 20 is high. If I am right, I will be there. In the mean time, for those of you who want a first-hand account of the goings on at the EXPO Centre on Saturday night, I recommend Dave Cournoyer’s excellent Daveberta.ca blog. I intend, of course, to commentate on the developments in Edmonton from one province away. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Unsolved mysteries: Never mind those roaming charges, who leaked that Tory party membership list in 2011?

Capt. Queeg of the USS Caine channels Alberta Tory Party leaders as he describes the search for the missing strawberries. Imagine what he would have done with a purloined cell phone bill or a leaked list of Tory Party members! Below: Dave Hancock, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock is said to be pondering an official hunt for the perpetrator of the leak to the Edmonton Sun of Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk’s $20,000 Telus bill.

According to the Edmonton Journal’s account of the impending search for the missing strawberries, Mr. Lukaszuk complained to the premier about the leak, although it was not entirely clear form the story whether the former deputy premier actually asked for an investigation.

Meanwhile, on social media, some of Mr. Lukaszuk’s supporters blamed his political opponents for the purloined Telus bill ending up in the hands of the media.

That’s certainly a possibility. The timing was clearly designed to inflict the maximum damage on Mr. Lukaszuk’s campaign while leaving him the minimum opportunity to engage in damage control over something that is far from the worst offence ever committed by a politician. That’s certainly the sort of thing an opposing campaign’s war room might just do.

According to the Sun’s report early Monday, the documents were sent to the paper’s legislative reporter by someone inside the government and the identity of a Calgary resident was used fraudulently to have the package delivered by courier. The fraud potentially makes the leak a criminal offence.

Would anyone in a political campaign be dumb enough to commit a criminal office to advance the chances of their candidate? Oh, probably. (Michael Sona, c’mon down!) For the record, spokesthingies for both Jim Prentice’s and Ric McIver’s campaigns denied any involvement in the plot, the Journal said, and Mr. Lukaszuk’s campaign wasn’t exactly thriving on its own. So why bother?

On the other hand, there are plenty of people in the employ of the government, high and low, sufficiently displeased by Mr. Lukaszuk’s confrontational approach to any number of files to have been willing to fire a rocket in his direction, so it’s said here it’s not a slam dunk case that the leak originated with an opposing campaign.

What’s more, since at least in the short term the narrative reinforced the perception that the Redford-Hancock-Whoever Government is entitled and careless with public funds, I suppose we can’t completely rule out other political parties with no particular dog in the leadership fight from joining the growing list of suspects.

At this rate, it will soon be as big as a telephone book – those of you old enough to remember telephone books will appreciate the metaphor.

It’s said here the Tories, including Mr. Lukaszuk’s supporters, would be smarter just to drop the matter resentfully, because any search for the anonymous if unethical whistleblower will soon look like a witch hunt designed to suppress reports of irresponsible spending by government ministers – a perception that only reinforces the entitlement narrative.

On the other hand, if they’re going to do it, Premier Hancock should get on with it promptly.

Who can forget then PC Party president Bill Smith’s fierce vow in 2011 to root out the perpetrator of the purloined Tory Party membership list that was mysteriously leaked to a well-known pollster?

Readers will recall how, days before the second Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote in early October 2011, Alison Redford’s campaign effectively used an unexpected Calgary Herald-Environics poll of Tory Party members that showed her in second place behind frontrunner Gary Mar. This, arguably, created a new reality that motivated her supporters and gave her sufficient momentum to push her narrowly over the top.

The mid-September poll, which was controversial because it was based on a list of 22,000 card-carrying PC Party members passed on to Environics by a Calgary Herald columnist, whose mysterious possession of the list has to this day never been explained.

Using it for an opinion poll may have violated Alberta’s privacy legislation, and a furious PC Party President Bill Smith immediately issued a stinging rebuke on the party’s website of the unidentified villain or villains who allowed the “unauthorized and inappropriate use” of the party membership list.

The use of the list was “absolutely unacceptable,” Mr. Smith wrote. He vowed to get to the bottom of the mystery. “We will be contacting all leadership campaigns regarding this issue.”

For some reason, though, the party lost interest in pulling on that particular thread the instant Ms. Redford became the leader. “It’s the miracle on the prairies,” Mr. Smith later said of Ms. Redford’s victory.  “Nobody would have picked her.” After that, he quietly moved on and the press release vanished from the PC website.

It’s less likely the same thing could happen today – but that’s only because it’s quite possible the party doesn’t have 22,000 members any more!

Still, if Mr. Hancock doesn’t move forcefully on the matter of who leaked Mr. Lukaszuk’s phone bill, who is to say the investigation won’t fizzle out the same way again as soon as a new leader is in place?

That said, what Mr. Hancock really ought to be demanding is an investigation of scandalous roaming fees charged by Canadian cellular phone providers. Now, that would provide a public service!

Meanwhile, ministers of the Crown are advised to do what the rest of us have resorted to while travelling outside the Dominion. To wit: leaving their Telus devices at home in the sock drawer and, if necessary, buying a local “burner” for a modest price from a convenience store.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Just as things were looking up a bit for foundering PCs, Alison Redford showed up again

Alison Redford contemplates which way to turn as she leaves behind a trail of devastation, toward the capital city’s new Sky Palace Hotel, left, or toward Edmonton’s High Level Bridge, right. Actual former premiers and the landmarks they threaten may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Ms. Redford; Tory leadership candidates Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver.

Just when things were starting to look a little better for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government, Alison Redford blundered back onto the provincial scene like the monster from low-budget a 1950s horror flick.

So suggests the latest version of a regular Alberta poll, which was in the field between July 20 and July 26 and shows the Wildrose Party holding onto its commanding 41-per-cent lead among committed voters, the identical level of support the party received in the same survey back in May.

But Progressive Conservative support had crawled back to 26 per cent of decided voters in late July from a low of 19 per cent in March, according to the ThinkHQ Public Affairs “Eye on Alberta” on-line poll of 1,582 voting age Albertans, at which Alberta Diary recently had the opportunity to sneak a tantalizingly brief peek.

Respondents’ impressions of the Tory government’s performance had shown a similar modest improvement, the poll indicated, presumably also thanks to Ms. Redford’s ejection from the Premier’s Office by her caucus in March.

Alas for the unlucky PCs, that was just before CBC Edmonton reported the leaked preliminary report on the investigation of the Premier’s Office by Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher. There have been no shortage of embarrassing stories since then, and it is hard to believe that this will have a very positive effect on the PC Party’s faltering brand and foundering fortunes, no matter what one thinks of this particular poll.

The ThinkHQ survey is conducted for private clients of the Calgary-based pollster. The July edition also showed 14 per cent of decided voters province-wide supporting the Alberta Liberals, possibly a reflection of the warm light cast by Justin Trudeau. (That’s my interpretation, by the way, not theirs.) Provincial New Democrats were at 13 per cent and the Alberta Party, which has no members in the Legislature, at 4 per cent. The group of undecided voters remained high – a quarter of the respondents polled.

Broken out by region, the results indicate a trend that should concern – though not panic – the NDP, which as been polling very well in Edmonton in a number of surveys.

To wit: the Wildrose Party has now edged noticeably past the NDP in voter support inside the capital city – with 32 per cent of decided voters compared with the New Democrats’ 25 per cent and the Tories’ 21 per cent within city limits. This trend is more pronounced in the Capital Region.

Liberal support was at 15 per cent in Edmonton city proper and Alberta Party support was at 7 per cent, a number that likely reflects the makeup of the ThinkHQ panel more than actual voter intentions.

If this reflects reality, the good news in Edmonton for the NDP is that it remains the progressive party best positioned to defeat conservative candidates, whether they call themselves PCs or Wildrosers. The selection of a new leader like Rachel Notley or David Eggen – even if this poll suggests the NDP leadership race is hardly on the public’s radar – should help.

But the NDP is going to have to work hard to get that vote, and not just coast along with the thought several polls predict it will be handed to them. The can do this by persuading progressive voters who favour other parties, including the PCs, to vote strategically for them in Edmonton.

New Democrats need to remember that Wildrose strategy is now likely to shift if winning in Edmonton is within the party’s grasp. They will move from hoping the NDP wins seats to deny them to the PCs to actually trying to win the same seats themselves.

There could be also be some hope for the NDP in Calgary, despite the fact the poll shows Liberal support there spiking. While Alberta Liberal support may be strong now in Cowtown, if the Liberals can’t find good candidates to replace MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, who are departing in hopes of finding redder federal fields, and David Swann, who is retiring, an effective NDP campaign could attract progressive voters.

But the Wildrose lead is bigger in Calgary, according to the poll, at 39 per cent compared with 28 per cent for the PCs, 19 per cent for the Liberals, 8 per cent for the NDP and 5 per cent for the Alberta Party.

That trend accelerates for the Wildrose in small urban areas (43 per cent for the Wildrose; 29 per cent for the Tories; 14 per cent for the Liberals; 11 per cent for the NDP; and 2 per cent for the Alberta Party) and becomes overwhelming in rural areas that were once the PC heartland (60 per cent Wildrose; 25 per cent PC; 3 per cent Liberal; 10 per cent NDP; and 1 per cent Alberta Party).

Province-wide, according to ThinkHQ’s July poll, the Wildrose Party enjoys a commanding lead in every demographic category – men, 47 per cent; women, 35 per cent; under 35s, 32 per cent; 35-54, 44 per cent; and 55 and overs, 48 per cent.

In more bad news for the governing Tories, the poll suggested Albertans are still not much engaged by the PC leadership race.

Whatever the three candidates’ membership sales and support may be – there’s a persistent rumour out there that fewer than 30,000 memberships have been sold or given away that meet the party’s standards for acceptance – a mock ballot exercise in the ThinkHQ survey suggests Jim Prentice remains in the lead with poll respondents.

And this time, tying the candidates’ names to provincial vote intentions in another mock ballot for a future general election indicated little change from ThinkHQ’s results in May.

As noted in Alberta Diary’s commentary on the May ThinkHQ poll, there is a potential for selection bias in any online panel. According to many polling experts online panels should not publish margins of error, implying more statistical validity than such a poll can really claim. ThinkHQ does nevertheless, this time saying the margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.5 per cent.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Term limits on Alberta MLAs? ‘I think Jim Prentice is trying to lose… nothing else makes sense’

“A night to remember”: Jim Prentice explains to reporters how term limits for MLAs can work. Really! Below: The orchestra the Tories should have hired to play the lunchtime event.

There was no orchestra at Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice’s lunchtime speech in Edmonton yesterday. But if there had been, it would have been playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Many of the journalists who turned up for what had been billed as a major event in a sustained Twitter fusillade in the hours before the microphones were turned on were persuaded Mr. Prentice was about to announce the acquisition of a high-profile candidate, possibly former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.

The more cynical in their number joked that the Progressive Conservative establishment’s favourite in the race to replace the catastrophic Alison Redford as the province’s next permanent, full-time premier would be announcing he was going to hand out free steak knives to get people to take the free Tory memberships nobody seems to want.

So there was a palpable sense of disappointment when Mr. Prentice stepped to the microphone unaccompanied by Mr. Mandel or anyone else that looked like the sort of big-name star-power candidate the former federal cabinet minister, corporate lobbyist and bank executive was supposed to be able to attract to the moribund party’s banner.

Then Mr. Prentice began to work his way through his remarks, interminably describing the dismay, the frustration, the anger, the determination to restore public faith in the PC Government, that he personally has been feeling about the recent antics of the Redford Government. Eyes in the supportive crowd of about 80 souls grew glassy as he droned through three pages of this boilerplate.

Then he reached the point where he told us what he was going to do about it, to, as he put it, ensure the highest ethical standards and accountability: “There will be term limits. A limit of two terms for the premier and three terms for MLAs.”

I can’t speak for others, but this was the moment that I heard a faint creaking noise far below the waterline, and felt the slightest tremor through the deck of the unsinkable Tory Titanic that Mr. Prentice insisted he still hopes to captain, despite everything.

Say what? That’s unconstitutional. I mean, it’s really unconstitutional – unconstitutional enough to make the Redford Government’s recent foray into labour law look sober and cautious!

So that was the big news! Never mind the qualifiers (term limits will be grandfathered in, the limit clock only starts now) or the other promises (no holiday flights on government airplanes for anyone, ever, and a stern look at maybe selling them too, one day, yadda-yadda).

This was the plan of pure political genius that’s going to woo us angry Albertans all back to the Tory Mothership? Term limits!

People! How lame is that?

Notwithstanding the fact term limits are a bad idea – we the sovereign voters, thank you very much, will limit the PCs’ term in the traditional way, through the ballot box, to about 44 years – cooked up by disgruntled right-wing Americans to keep popular progressive politicians from using democracy to hang around the way Franklin Roosevelt did …

Never mind the fact this policy was apparently designed to woo back a sector of the electorate that’s long gone, and not to Saskatchewan – the wackiest fringe of the wackiest fringe of the Wildrose Party, whose leaders have never advocated this policy …

It’s simply not on.

The reason? It’s right there in black and white in the Constitution Act, 1982, Part 1, Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Every citizen. Even those Jim Prentice thinks ought not to be allowed to ask voters nicely for a fourth term in office.

Note also that the Constitution Act, 1867 assures us we will have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” And, by the way, that Section 33, the famed “Notwithstanding Clause” of our Charter, cannot be applied to Section 3, Democratic Rights, whether Jim Prentice or the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party feel like it or not.

This is a done deal. Term limits are simply not being placed on members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta or any other Canadian province.

Good lord, how dumb do they think we are? That’s probably more complimentary than the other question we might consider asking under these circumstances, How dumb are they?

I was shaken out of thoughts like these when Mr. Prentice thundered: “We can take back our party, and we can set it right, my friends!” All around me, the room was full of many of the same Tory hacks we’ve seen at dozens of government functions over the past decade.

Moments later, Mr. Prentice backpedalled a little from the stern promise of his speech, telling reporters: “It can be done in terms of party policy. It could be a combination of the two.” True enough, I guess, and we all know how well that’s likely to work.

“It works in the States,” he also observed, a titch defensively. But this isn’t the States: we don’t have a constitutional right to bear arms and we do have a constitutional right to run for MLA as many times as the voters will elect us. Get used to it.

Even the other PC leadership candidates were gobsmacked by this brainstorm. As Thomas Lukaszuk told the Calgary Herald: “It defies tradition. It defies the law. It defies fundamental values of democracy. It’s just bizarre.”

It’s hard to disagree with that, but I’m going to give the last word tonight to Lou Arab, union organizer, New Democrat and inveterate Tweeter: I think @JimPrentice is trying to lose. Nothing else makes sense.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.