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Alberta's Tories appear to have waded into the shallow end of the political gene pool

Jeff Johnson

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

Never mind the bit about any second coming being at hand. You can go too far, in my estimation, searching modern poets for political metaphor. Anyway, that was what Alison Redford was supposed to be, wasn't it? Or was that Ed Stelmach?

Just the same, I do have a revelation for you: the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, the mighty dynasty created 43 years ago by the sainted Peter Lougheed, is coming apart at the seams and the springs and stuffing are starting to peek out between the splits.

Maybe Jim Prentice, the frontrunner in the race to lead the party -- which the PCs desperately need to be over way sooner than September -- can patch it up. Maybe he can't.

In the mean time, though, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock -- who is stuck with Redford's cabinet until the new leader takes over -- needs to show up in the office and make the children behave themselves before anarchy really is loosed upon our little corner of the world!

Evidence?

How about Education Minister Jeff Johnson's bizarre spat with the Alberta Teacher's Association, the latest episode of which seems to be as much designed to show his childish defiance of Prentice as it is to achieve any goals in the education system.

Johnson -- who was rapped on the knuckles by Prentice last week for his controversial "task force on teaching excellence" that recommended teachers be re-evaluated every five years for professional competence and for overruling ATA discipline as insufficient in the cases of several fired teachers -- on Monday upped the ante and demanded a decade's worth of teacher disciplinary reports be handed over to him by the province's 61 school boards in the next two weeks.

Yup, he's going to have a war with the ATA whether Prentice -- whose as-yet unapproved mandate is to smooth over the gaping fissures with groups like the ATA whose members historically have voted Tory -- likes it or not.

Predictably, the ATA was enraged and demanded the provincial privacy commissioner step in and impose some sanity on the minister -- whose tight deadline combined with summertime short staffing, the ATA claims, will result in a massive document dump that all but guarantees teachers' personal data will be mishandled.

This is going to infuriate teachers and make Prentice's job -- assuming that he gets it, as pretty well everyone does -- all that much harder once he is finally in charge.

Well, perhaps he shouldn’t have dropped those hints last week that he planned to fire Johnson and replace him with someone he could trust!

Or how about Prentice's somewhat less bizarre -- but equally impractical -- quest to reform health care without actually reforming it?

"Prentice vows to decentralize Alberta's health system without major overhaul," said the Edmonton Journal's headline, which is a bit like saying "Prentice vows to fly to moon without using rocket ship!"

We've just spent seven nightmarish years and heaven only knows how many bazillions of dollars centralizing the public health system into Alberta Health Services and now Prentice, responding to the Wildrose Party's easy-for-the-opposition pledge to unravel the whole thing, proposes to reverse the process -- no matter how misconceived? And he'll do this with no major changes made?

About all you can say to that is "Wow!"

Or how about the mischievous commentary by former senior Tory operatives that the party constitution prohibits leadership candidates from making promises that would cost taxpayers money -- like, you know, virtually every word that comes out of the mouth of Prentice.

Stephen Carter, Redford's one-time chief of staff and the man credited with being the architect of her successful 2011 campaign, observed in a recent Calgary Herald blog: "In section 3, subsection G of the PC Leadership rules the party demands leadership candidates make 'no financial commitments' that will 'have the affect of fettering the PC caucus’s ability to govern.'"

Well, Prentice is certainly making financial commitments if he's vowing to disassemble AHS and build scores of new schools.

Carter asked if party officials will "disqualify candidate Prentice? Surely a censure will be in order at least? Or will this mean that the candidates can finally start to tell the people of Alberta how they will govern the province?" Having raised the corrosive question, he slyly added: "I surely hope it is the latter."

Of course, anyone who knows how things work in Alberta -- as Carter most certainly does -- knows nothing will stop the heir apparent from making any promises he wishes.

I've always believed that the Alberta Tory Party had been in power so long, and had so many connections with the people who run almost all of Alberta's institutions, that it had the benefit of a pool of talent so deep it could never be matched by any other party.

As I watch the summer of 2014 unfold, I’m no longer so sure.

Despite its storied history, it's starting to seem as if the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has reached the shallow end of the political gene pool.

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

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