Jim Prentice new driver of same ol’ clunker

The old oligarchs still calling the shots from the back seat

Jim Prentice new driver of same ol’ clunker FREE to subscribers

Barry Cooper
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CALGARY, AB, Mar 21, 2015/ Troy Media/ – As Alberta Premier Jim Prentice gets ready to call an election, let’s take a look at the Progressive Conservative long-term strategy.

The most important component of that strategy concerns voter support. After the 2008 election and until last fall, about half the PC voter-base supported the Wildrose Party. In 2012, the PCs – under former Premier Alison Redford – won by writing Wildrose off and making overtures to the left with promises for schools and hospitals and jobs for unionized public-sector workers. Their subsequent repudiation of their leftist supporters, however, did nothing to reduce Wildrose support. Now the PCs seemed vulnerable from both left and right.

First part of the strategy: Get rid of Redford

PC strategists, and self-described experts in reputation recovery, well remember 1993 when the Liberals, under former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore, almost outflanked the Klein-led PCs from the right. In fact, it was a challenge from the right, always their worst nightmare, that led to the purging of Redford. Her abrasive personality and personal tastes were convenient excuses.

Now what?

jim prentice
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice
Same old, same old

Remember that the chief purpose of the PC machine is to retain power, something it is very good at. But getting rid of Redford herself was the easy part: the next step was to appear to repudiate her along with the horse she rode in on, namely the PCs, but without really doing so.

The strategy was to recruit an outsider who was also an insider to provide the machine with a trusted new face. While there may have, at one time, been alternatives to Prentice, once he agreed to drive the machine his election to the leadership (by 0.5 per cent of Albertans) was assured. But he still had to appear to be leading something new.

The party’s previous attempt to repudiate itself was symbolized by the 2012 campaign slogan: “not your father’s PC Party.” This time the message is “trust us one more time.”

Prentice began the process by chopping his cabinet and shedding the holdover Redford miscreants. He also introduced a couple of high-profile semi-outsiders, hired a Liberal chief-of-staff (just as Peter Lougheed had) and abandoned some of the excesses of his predecessors.

Those moves allowed the PCs – through organization, money, misdirection of their hapless opponents, and smarts – to win the byelections called soon after Prentice’s inauguration.

The drop in the price of oil provided the party with another opportunity to repudiate the Redford years. Early last November, it started to warn Albertans that there would be no more business as usual and that tough decisions were coming. The word “crisis” began appearing constantly.

In fact, there is no crisis. Former chair of the Canada West Foundation Jim Gray, who helped recruit Prentice, carries a chart showing price fluctuations over the past 35 years. Guess what? Prices go down; then they go up.

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and several of her colleagues embraced the fear being generated by the PCs, drank the Kool-Aid and crossed the floor, thus eliminating the PC’s major strategic challenge.

By mid-January, the rhetoric was cranked up another notch: everything was on the table, Albertans were being told; we had to look in the mirror and recognize we can’t go on like this.

Prentice then warned us he needed a mandate. Why?

Same old, same old from the Jim Prentice-led machine

Prentice did not run for the leadership on an austerity program because he knew that austerity measures would not bear fruit before the legally-fixed election date next year. But having now secured his right flank, the PC machine modified the rule of law into the rule of convenient laws.

Finally, the Premier ordered that an all-party legislative committee decision to increase the Auditor General’s budget be reversed, thus gutting one of the few sources of reliable information in the province. When pressed by journalists as to why he ordered the reversal, Prentice walked away.

This is hardly the face of a new party. In fact, the old oligarchs still rule the Prentice-led machine.

Barry Cooper is a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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