04.14.2015 10:27 PM

In this week’s Hill Times: what the Hell were you thinking?

So, in 1980 or thereabouts, I left my Alberta home and went to Carleton University in Ottawa. Along with several hundred others, I enrolled in a first-year political science class. 

We had a wonderful political science professor, visiting from Israel. He was knowledgeable, respectful and ethical—a great teacher.

“I have something very important to tell you,” he would say in his clipped Tel Aviv accent. “I will tell you on the last day, in the last class.”

And so he did. I’ve thought about him, and his memorable final words, more than once in recent days. Observing the election in my home province of Alberta, it was hard not to. 

The question Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has been asking himself, perhaps, is this: “What was I thinking?” And, more specifically: “Why did I leave the safety and comfort of the executive offices at CIBC, for this?”

This, of course, is Alberta politics, circa 2015, which has gotten wackier than British Columbia politics ever were. And Prentice can indeed be forgiven for wondering why he left his comfy sinecure on Bay Street—or even his hometown of South Porcupine, Ont.,—to re-enter politics. 

The first week of polls in the upcoming May 5 Alberta election—as believable as polls may be, these days, which isn’t very—show why. A handful of opinion surveys suggest that Prentice and his Alberta PCs are in big, big trouble. One poll, by an outfit some of us had never heard of, actually suggested that the once-mighty PCs were in third place, behind Wildrose and the NDP.

Third place. 

Pollsters got the last Alberta campaign dramatically wrong, so caution is in order. They all foretold Wildrose’s Danielle Smith would be Alberta’s premier, and with a sizeable majority, too. That didn’t quite work out that way, as Smith—now contemplating political oblivion—knows too well. 

Full disclosure is in order, here: I was back home in Alberta over the weekend, fundraising for, and organizing with, Alberta Liberals. They were the first political party I ever belonged to, and they alone are the ones who richly deserve to win Alberta’s 2015 election. 

As I told my Alberta Liberal friends on Saturday night: “Wildrose will sell itself for a few trinkets, and thinks government shouldn’t do anything. The NDP hate Alberta’s main job-creator, and think government should do everything,” I offered. “And Jim Prentice’s PCs? They’ve lost their way. They don’t have any values. And they couldn’t communicate their way out of a wet paper bag.”

Evidence of the PC values vacuum—evidence of their total inability to tell a compelling story to Alberta voters—is easily found. Just cast an eye over Prentice’s most-recent budget, the one with which he is seeking to continue his party’s 44-year reign. 

It is a barf bag of incoherence. It raises taxes and user fees, and it slashes government services—all at the same time. It tries to appease fiscal conservatives and fiscal spendthrifts, but has only succeeded in enraging both. It is the legislative equivalent of sucking and blowing simultaneously. And Albertans do not—do not—like it. 

Trying to be all things to all people isn’t a particularly new political strategy, of course. But sometimes, it’s a strategy that doesn’t work. Sometimes, in fact, it suggests to voters that you don’t really believe in anything anymore and that your sole preoccupation is power and maintaining your white-knuckled hold on it.

All of which raises the timeless question Jay Leno once asked of Hugh Grant, some 20 years ago, after the British actor  was nabbed trolling for a Hollywood prostitute. “What,” Leno asked Grant, “what the hell were you thinking?”

It was a good question, and someone should pose it to Jim Prentice, too: what the hell, premier, were you thinking?

Calling an election a year before he had to. Calling an election on the heels of serial Alberta PC spending scandals. Calling an election in the midst of the most calamitous economic times Alberta has endured in decades. 

Would you call an election in those circumstances? Prentice, for reasons known only to him, did. 

It’s possible that Prentice can right the listing PC ship, of course. Alison Redford did so in 2012, and no one should ever underestimate the Alberta PC machine, when its back is to the proverbial wall. 

But, as he grimly stumps an angry Alberta for votes, Prentice can indeed be forgiven for wondering why he ever came back to politics: a big pay cut, a loss of privacy, a daily grind that includes being attacked for everything and anything. What the hell was he thinking?

No one knows. Prentice isn’t saying. But my long-ago Israeli political science professor had some excellent advice to pass along, in that final class on the final day. 

“Don’t ever get involved in politics,” our professor said, as he gathered up his papers. “It never ends well. It always ends in misery.” And, with that, he walked out, as we gave him a standing ovation. 

Some of us didn’t heed his words. Jim Prentice didn’t, either—and, increasingly, it looks like he should have.



18 Comments

  1. Brian Topp says:

    Yep.

  2. Ron W. says:

    “Don’t ever get involved in politics,” our professor said, as he gathered up his papers. “It never ends well. It always ends in misery.”

    Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the practice and theory of influencing other people. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (a usually hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.

    Sounds good and decent, eh?!

    Politics also involves convincing idiots, morons and assorted greedy citizenry to vote for them.

  3. MgS says:

    I have had a couple of thoughts regarding the current election in Alberta:

    On timing: I have begun to suspect that this election was coordinated between Prentice and Harper, and is serving as a litmus test on Harper’s part for the upcoming federal election. Politically, Prentice should have waited until next year before calling an election. Calling one in the midst of a downturn is politically stupid – especially when we are still on the downslide.

    On the party standings: Having investigated the new WRP leader’s voting record in the House of Commons as an MP, the WRP leader looks like a somewhat cannier version of Alan “Lake of Fire” Hunsperger – at least smart enough to keep his opinions to himself publicly, except for his votes on every TheoCon issue before the house.

    With all due respect to the hardy few who have hung on under the ALP banner, but a more incoherent party has seldom held any seats in the legislature. Since the last election in 2012, with the exception of Blakeman and Hehr the caucus has been falling apart. Diligent work individually, but less than no clear message to the people. As much as it pains me to see the brand disappear into the political archives, Blakeman’s proposal to merge with the Alberta Party was the most positive note to come out of the party in years. Party brass blew it when they dug their heels in.

    As for your comments on the NDP, I must accuse you of falling into the “Baby Boomer trap” of continuing the McArthy era fear-mongering about all things left leaning. Today’s NDP is much closer to the general philosophy of government that we see in the Scandinavian countries. You can do better than “they hate the oil patch” rhetoric.

  4. Alberta Sux says:

    So Albertans will get rid of a right wing party for an ultra-right wing party? Why am I not surprised. Rig Pigs and farmers will vote for anyone who promises them a new moonshine still and creationism in public schools.

    • Joe says:

      Obviously you don’t know anything about Alberta politics. Your first mistake is to see everything in a left/right dynamic. In Alberta the dynamic is much more “L’Etate c’est mois” with the ruling party becoming ever more the state until the state becomes so out of touch with the every(wo)man Albertan that we Albertans throw them out of office. The PCs have become the state and at present are acting in defense of the state instead of looking after the electorate as evidenced in the last budget that pleases no one and ticks off everyone.

      • doconnor says:

        That sounds like how most provinces work. Two or three terms and you’re out.

        Except Alberta has had the Conservatives for 44 years and the SoCreds for 36 years before that. Sounds like something else going on.

    • P Brennan says:

      a tad harsh don’t you think –

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      OMG….what is this nasty person still doing here.

  5. jen says:

    I’m in Alberta and I can see the anger but I remain skeptical about the polls.

    All the polls rely on internet or automated calling which do not tend to be reliable and overstate angry voters. Perhaps the poling companies here have not learned anything since last time, or they don’t have the money to do it right.

  6. MississaugaPeter says:

    If anything, Prentice is by comparison making JT look extremely wise and competent.

  7. davie says:

    Sometimes people forego big bucks and comfort because they like a particular kind of action. Prentice might like political action. He might also like his federal prospects if he can win an election in Alberta.

    • MississaugaPeter says:

      No matter what happens, the Prentice gleem is gone.

      And some of us were thinking at one time that Alison (and I am sure she was as well) was heir to King Harper. The way to the 24 Sussex is almost never as premier first. Reminds me of Alison’s fellow Bilderberg premiers Bernard Lord and Gordon Campbell.

  8. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    In my estimation, Prentice needs to stop shoveling.

    My sense of it is that real trouble lies ahead. Wildrose needs to come off as a government-in-waiting. If they can pull it off, they’ll probably decimate the PCs.

  9. Matt Guerin says:

    Very nicely written and so true, Warren!

  10. Emil Vargas says:

    Warren you live in a ridiculous liberal bubble which I’m not surprised at since most liberals think their party and leaders are canadian messiahs if you think the Alberta liberals are the answer for this province. Wildrose actually has five key platforms it is running on. One is getting rid of corporate and unions donations which I’m all for. Another is not raising anyone’s taxes. Of course, we’ll see how they will balance the budget but those two things are probably very popular in Alberta (and with me) since they lead in the polls and as Stephen Harper used the donations one in the 2006 election campaign.
    I hear the Alberta liberals don’t have half their candidates nominated lol. Sounds like a party with eager candidates to go around bragging they are liberals. I’m guessing if things go the way I think they might, you may see a minority Wildrose government with the NDP and PCs in second and third place. The liberals I doubt will go anywhere unless they actually come up with good policies, which I haven’t heard any yet.
    Being associated with Justin Trudeau isn’t a good idea either after those comments on leaders from Alberta and his other constant gaffes.

  11. JamesM. says:

    In Ontario the PC’s were in power for 42 years from 1943 to 1985 when the Liberals under David Peterson got a minority after the electorate finally tired of the PC’s. Then he got a majority after 2 years or so, and lost it when he went to the pools only three years into his mandate. I suspect he was asking himself the same question when Bob Rae went up the middle and won a decisive majority, which I suspect surprised Bob Rae almost as much as id did the other parties.

    I suspect Mr. Peterson’s intentions were fueled by the fact at the time the economy under then PM Brian Mulroney was tanking.

    While I have only watched Alberta with any degree of interest for the last six years or so I would predict that there will be a minority government and probably a number of years of political turmoil.

    Though I guess you should never underestimate the desire of the populous to go with incumbents, it does look interesting to say the least.

  12. Emil Vargas says:

    The difference in Alberta with Ontario James M is that Liberals here are toxic compared to Liberals in Ontario thanks to Trudeau’s father although Kathleen Wynn is hurting her party right now. I highly doubt the Liberal Party of Alberta will go anywhere this election. They are lagging in the polls. My best prediction is a Wildrose minority since I don’t think Albertans are ready to give them a majority or would be afraid they might mess up if given absolute power. We’ll see what happens though in the next two weeks

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