Are the PC by-election wins hope over experience?

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said the PC by-election sweep was “A clear victory of optimism over negativity,”

Barry Cooper

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said the PC by-election sweep was “A clear victory of optimism over negativity,” and that, “Alberta is under new management.” One wonders. Perhaps the results were more akin to what Oscar Wilde said of second marriages – they are victories of hope over experience.

The great problem with hope in politics, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, is that is can never disappoint, which is as true for the PCs as their opponents. Prentice also said he needs to restore trust in his party. To achieve that requires not hope but common sense.

Is Alberta under new management or does the old machine just have a new head mechanic? The evidence remains mixed.

The Prentice era started with decisions regarding licence plates and airplanes. Both were welcomed by just about everyone. However, around the same time, he proposed term limits, which was constitutionally dubious. The constitutional questionability, he said, could be rectified by a party decision, which was true enough, but gave more power to the machine.

Generally speaking, the left wants to spend money on services and infrastructure and usually are willing to borrow and tax to do it. Declining resource revenues means it’s harder for the three more-or-less solvent Western provinces to finance infrastructure themselves. Last week they said little about taxes or debt and asked Ottawa for more infrastructure money. Does such a proposal appeal to the right or the left? Hard to say. It looks leftist, but somebody else was asked to pay.

Ramping up the Disaster Recovery Program to process flood damage applications made sense. On the other hand, the massive flood mitigation program for Springbank does not. According to an engineering professor at Western University, Slobodan Simonovic, it was ‘unbelievable’ to suggest support for such a project without thorough cost-benefit analysis. The premier said it was cost-effective but offered no evidence.

Perhaps the announcement was made to help Education Minister Gordon Dirks election in Calgary Elbow, which was badly flooded in 2013. Or perhaps we need to keep an eye on who gets the $200 million contract to build it. Either way it looks like machine politics.

And speaking of Calgary Elbow, the minister announced that the French immersion program at William Reed School would be receiving new portable classrooms. The public and the Calgary Board of Education, which had other priorities, learned of the decision on his campaign web site. That, too, was traditional machine politics.

Looking ahead, what the government will do about healthcare delivery, residential electricity pricing, or former Premier Alison Redford’s decision about blowing 0.05 at check stops is anybody’s guess.

Prentice said he would like to mobilize entrepreneurial Alberta First Nations to assist their brethren in B.C. to understand the benefits of energy production, which makes sense. But will he continue to send taxpayers’ money to the Pembina Institute, which opposes so much of the province’s energy agenda?

He got rid of the carbon capture and storage silliness and declared, “To get back on our game we’re going to have to have the science we require.” So convene a conference on anthropogenic climate change and include some real scientists. No one will question Prentice’s credentials as an environmentalist seeking fact-based policy rather than a sustained moral panic.

On finances, will he clean up the books so they make sense and citizens know how much debt the province has taken on and for what? Or will he call an early election to get ahead of the declining oil revenue curve and hope for more time?

Prentice hopes to win our trust. All it takes is common sense, Jim.

Barry Cooper teaches political science at the University of Calgary. His column is distributed through Troy Media.