Jim Prentice Reaps the Whirlwind - New Canadian Media

Jim Prentice Reaps the Whirlwind

Turning around a losing campaign is tough enough for a governing party in an election where the ballot frame is ‘time for a change’. It becomes impossible when the voters move beyond change to ‘throw…

Turning around a losing campaign is tough enough for a governing party in an election where the ballot frame is ‘time for a change’. It becomes impossible when the voters move beyond change to ‘throw the bums out’ — which is what happened in Alberta the other night.

After nearly 44 years, they threw the bums out. The longest reigning party dynasty in Canadian political history was kicked out of office. ‘Time for a change’ was a sidebar.

Had [Jim] won the Alberta election, he would have been an obvious candidate for the federal Conservative leadership after Stephen Harper.

Four short weeks ago, no one predicted an NDP majority government in Alberta — or even that Rachel Notley might end up leader of the opposition.

No one foresaw the end of Conservative party rule, supposedly renewed under Jim Prentice, much less the Tories being relegated to third place in the Alberta legislature. And no one saw the Wildrose Party — dumped by their own leader when Danielle Smith and eight colleagues crossed the floor to join the Tories — enjoying the delicious revenge of regaining their role as official opposition under Brian Jean.

What happened? Well, campaigns matter. And Notley clearly won the campaign, as the vivacious agent of hope and change. There was nothing not to like about her, especially after the leaders’ debate, which she clearly won.

And Prentice not only lost the campaign, he lost a lot going into it — by dropping the writ a year ahead of Alberta’s fixed-election date of May 2016, for starters.

Whoever assumes the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives will be looking at a long re-build.

Fatal Mistakes

Prentice was the consensus choice to lead the Conservatives after Alison Redford was forced out by her own caucus in the wake of her tone-deaf entitlement crises. Prentice did well at first, selling off the Alberta government’s plane fleet and making other useful gestures, such as pay cuts for cabinet ministers.

But Prentice made what proved to be a fatal mistake when, a week before Christmas, he accepted Smith and eight other Wildrose floor-crossers into the Conservative fold. In a dynasty already 43 years old, the government had overthrown the opposition; it’s supposed to work the other way around. As they talked about it around the dinner table over the holidays, Albertans decided it was undemocratic.

Then, with the collapse of oil prices, Prentice was looking at a very tough spring budget — one with a cyclical $5 billion deficit, to say nothing of structural issues such as the highest-paid public service in Canada and the lowest tax rates. “Look in the mirror,” he told Albertans in March. It wasn’t the message they wanted to hear.But Prentice made what proved to be a fatal mistake when, a week before Christmas, he accepted Smith and eight other Wildrose floor-crossers into the Conservative fold. In a dynasty already 43 years old, the government had overthrown the opposition; it’s supposed to work the other way around. As they talked about it around the dinner table over the holidays, Albertans decided it was undemocratic.

Then Prentice’s budget offered 59 personal tax and user fee hikes — but no corporate tax increases. The voters didn’t like that, even in free-enterprise Alberta.

And a week later, with budget blowback already building, he dropped a pre-emptive election writ when he could have taken the summer to see how it had all played out, and when he could he have spent 10 days in July at the Calgary Stampede.

Then came the leaders’ debate, in which he deliberately pivoted to Notley and, while discussing the cost of her platform, spoke those fatal words: “I know, the math is hard.”

The longest reigning party dynasty in Canadian political history was kicked out of office. ‘Time for a change’ was a sidebar.

So now Prentice is out; he wisely chose to resign the seat he won again Tuesday night and move on with the rest of his life. It won’t be in public life, which is Canada’s loss. Had he won the Alberta election, he would have been an obvious candidate for the federal Conservative leadership after Stephen Harper. Whenever that happens, Prentice won’t be part of the federal leadership conversation.

Whoever assumes the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives will be looking at a long re-build. Though the PCs won 28 per cent of the popular vote (four points more than Wildrose) the WRP won 11 more seats, 21 to 10. The Conservatives lost 59 seats on Tuesday.

NDP Government: ready or not?

And what does Rachel Notley do on the morning after her historic victory? Well, she is forming a majority social-democratic government in the oilpatch. The first person she should meet is Richard Dicerni, the head of the Alberta public service, who will give her the transition books his staff has prepared.

She should know that Dicerni is one of the great Canadian public servants of the modern era, a senior deputy minister at Queen’s Park and Ottawa, where he was Prentice’s DM at the Industry ministry. The first thing she should do is ask him to stay on.

And for grace notes, it’s impossible to beat Notley’s speech thanking Prentice for his service to Alberta and Canada, congratulating Jean for his courageous campaign in the wake of losing his son, and thanking the people of Alberta “for putting their trust in our party.” A brilliant acceptance speech.

Now for the hard part: Government, ready or not.


Re-published in partnership with iPolitics

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *