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Attack on Tory leadership frontrunner shows how deeply Alison Redford wounded her party

Jim Prentice

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If you're looking for a yardstick with which to measure the truly spectacular failure of the short, unhappy reign of Alison Redford over Alberta, just consider the last few days as experienced by Jim Prentice.

Prentice, of course, is the front-runner in the race to become Redford's permanent replacement at the helm of Alberta's Progressive Conservative dynasty, which has ruled Alberta for 43 years now.

There are two other contenders in the race -- the former Redford Government infrastructure minister from Calgary, Ric McIver, and the former labour minister from Edmonton, Thomas Lukaszuk. But the smart money on both sides of the Legislature has from the start been on the winner being Prentice, until recently a bank executive, pipeline lobbyist and journeyman politician who served in the federal Conservative cabinet.

For her part, Redford became the leader of the party only in October 2011, after a short, exciting campaign in which the justice minister and one-term MLA won -- to the astonishment of everyone, including herself and her campaign manager, one suspects -- the party membership vote to replace Ed Stelmach as premier.

She was emphatically not the choice of the PC Party's movers and shakers -- who were dismissed at the time as a self-interested old boys' club, and perhaps that was true. But it was soon apparent the old boys' instincts ought not to have been so lightly dismissed. It turned out there was a reason nobody in the PC caucus much liked Redford: she was breathtakingly arrogant, paid no attention her MLAs and was apparently politically tone deaf to boot.

A steady stream of broken promises, a war on her own most enthusiastic progressive supporters, scandalous misuse of government airplanes, staggeringly expensive travel bills and an astonishingly dumb plan to build a luxury premier's penthouse atop a downtown government building all soon followed.

Redford's personal popularity with voters plunged to abyssopelagic depths, with party approval ratings sinking in her wake. In March, her panic-stricken caucus effectively fired her and the contest to replace her commenced.

Prentice immediately emerged as the obvious frontrunner -- with everyone apparently in agreement that if the party were to save itself, it must have an "outsider" at the helm. Not that Prentice is really an outsider, but he wasn't part of the Redford Government and he seemed to know what he was doing, two qualities that made him stand out above the other two contenders.

And this time, the party old boys were determined to have their man, and they would not be thwarted!

So, quite naturally, right from the get-go, the opposition parties have taken aim at Prentice, the most obvious threat to the success of their effort to finally overturn the Tory applecart in Alberta.

Their tactics are clearly influenced by the opportunity presented by Redford's appalling record. In other words, they would do their best to define Prentice in the minds of voters as essentially the same thing as Redford, only wearing pants.

This is a bit of a reach because, whatever his flaws may be, the amiable Prentice is quite obviously not the same person as the former premier who brought the party low.

The New Democrats were the first out of the gate, assigning Prentice the nickname "Diamond Jim," claiming his tastes are just as patrician, and as expensive, as Redford's notorious sense of entitlement.

Last week the Wildrose Opposition and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, working as a partisan tag team, tried to leave the impression Prentice had something to hide about his expense accounts as a federal cabinet minister, and raised a great ballyhoo about the fact his office had destroyed expense claims after they were submitted way back in 2006.

They were trying to make Prentice look as entitled with taxpayer dollars as Redford appeared to be -- although it seems like a bit of a reach to assail someone for not keeping their copies of their receipts after submitting them to their employer seven years ago. I don't know about you, but I'm certain I couldn't meet that standard.

Now, if the CTF is unhappy with the fact Prentice's expense claims were destroyed, it seems their complaint is really with the government of Stephen Harper, whose policies it was that Prentice observed. But that will have to be a topic for another day.

Yesterday, the NDP were back on the attack, using the "Diamond Jim" sobriquet again and distributing federal flight logs from Prentice's tenure in the Harper cabinet that they said showed a penchant for government planes not so different from Redford's.

Federal flight logs for government aircraft cited by the New Democrats showed that Prentice used the planes for at least 29 flights between 2006 and 2010, at a cost to taxpayers calculated at more than $421,000, said Deron Bilous, the NDP's critic on MLA affairs.

Prentice’s  use of government planes, Bilous said in the NDP's press release,  "shows a sense of entitlement and disregard for public money that Albertans have come to expect from the Alberta PCs."

The release added: "A highlight reel of Prentice's travel includes calling an empty plane to Regina to pick him up with one staff person and fly both back to Ottawa. On a flight to Oslo with two staff, the choice to use the government plane instead of flying commercial cost Canadians $26,000. The total cost of his use of government aircraft exceeds $400,000."

This is embarrassing, of course, in light of Prentice's stern campaign repudiation of Redford's first-class flying.

It illustrates the depths to which Redford's almost unbelievable incompetence dragged her party -- which richly deserves to lose an election after tolerating her antics as long as it did and then pretending not to have known about them.

However, it is said here, calling Prentice "Diamond Jim" and painting him as Alison Redford in a riverboat gambler's getup is not going to be good enough to turn Alberta voters away from old habits that, notwithstanding the latest polls, are sure to die hard.

A more promising line of attack, it is said here, is discovering Prentice's record in office and in business -- if any.

Really, very little is known about what Prentice actually stands for, other than pipelines and bank profits. He was well liked in office, but whether than ever actually translated into action is not yet clear. His low-bridge campaign is designed to keep it that way.

The other part of the narrative the two opposition parties are going to have to get across to voters is the positive reasons why Albertans should elect the Wildrose Party as government and the NDP as opposition.

Now would be a good time for them to start on both those projects.

 

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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