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Alberta PCs: Term limit fumble and cellular bill good news for candidate Ric McIver

Ric McIver

Looks like it's time to start planning for a couple of years of a McIver Government.

Leastways, the past couple of days have not earned any gold stars for former infrastructure minister Ric McIver's two competitors, supposed frontrunner Jim Prentice, the former banker supported by almost all of the Progressive Conservative caucus, and Thomas Lukaszuk, the former deputy premier who is supported by almost no one in the Tory establishment.

With his announcement last week that Alberta MLAs and premiers should be reined in by unconstitutional term limits, Prentice has revealed himself to be the Mitt Romney of Alberta politics -- with just the right amount of grey in his hair to be a triumph of appearance over substance.

For his part, Lukaszuk must have been feeling pretty pleased with the nearly universally negative reaction to Prentice's Big Term Limits Idea when the Edmonton Sun reported yesterday he let the people of Alberta pay when he got dinged for $20,000 in roaming charges while on a personal trip to Israel, the West Bank and his native Poland in 2012.

Even before the shocker about Lukaszuk's cellular roaming bill surfaced, Prentice had started to back away from his silly term limits suggestion when almost everyone but a few Americanized nuts on Twitter started screaming about how it's totally unconstitutional and a terrible idea to boot. For a minute there, it was almost as if the whole province had been reading Alberta Diary and absorbing their lessons!

Saving his pride a little, Prentice, who is also a lawyer, insisted manfully that the idea could pass constitutional muster, but conceded that there are ways to achieve the same goals without passing a law -- like, you know, just making his own caucus do it.

Well, good luck with that. It might stand a chance of working for a couple of terms if 80 per cent of the seats in the Legislature are Tory seats, but that's an outcome that seems increasingly improbable.

As for Prentice's insistence on the constitutional merits of the idea, the Calgary Herald trotted out a trio of well-known constitutional lawyers who dismissed it as a pipe dream.

Now, that constitutional law stuff only goes so far with the locals hereabouts, but Prentice's proposal really got into trouble when it started to sink in that it would have prematurely ended the stellar political careers of such Tory demigods as Peter Lougheed, Ralph Klein, and … wait for it … Stephen Harper. Not to mention Winston Churchill, rumbled Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid disapprovingly from the high plains of Cowtown.

With the shocker registering that this lame idea could also apply to conservative colossi and not just popular Liberals and New Democrats, as if such a thing existed in this province anyway, the thought that Prentice might be a bit of a lightweight despite his beautiful suits seemed to be starting to sink in among the general populace.

As for Lukaszuk's unexpected phone bill -- well, actually, our phone bill unexpectedly run up by Lukaszuk -- he initially reacted huffily, saying he personally paid for the trip even though it was "pseudo government related." (Say what?)

"Lots of documents were shipped then and that was in official capacity and I continued working," he sniffed, complaining to the Sun's reporter that the person who slipped the tabloid the documents this late in the leadership race was obviously a Jim Prentice supporter.

A little later, Lukaszuk sensibly apologized for the mistake to another newspaper and admitted it was his. "Absolutely I made a mistake, and for that I apologize," he told the Edmonton Journal. "I did not check the data plan myself, and I did not confirm that my office had done so."

That was better than Prentice's response to the reaction to the term limits brouhaha, but it does little to alter the widely accepted narrative about the Alberta PCs' lack of care with money raised from taxes and the idea Tory insiders like Lukaszuk have a powerful sense of entitlement.

Indeed, the inevitable denouement of this narrative is that the Tories have learned nothing, even now, and therefore never will.

This may be unfair. For example, who knows or cares what the prime minister pays for secure communications when he’s abroad? But it's a problem that the Alberta PCs created for themselves, and now it won't go away.

I would suggest the inevitable public reaction to this means Lukaszuk's candidacy is done like dinner.

As for Prentice, he is not in quite as bad shape, since there are plenty of Albertans who think that anything a bunch of professors don't like must be a good idea and may have missed the bit about Stephen Harper.

Still, in the immortal words of Sid Vicious and the rest of the Sex Pistols, it sure makes him look pretty … vacant.

By comparison, the brief flutter over McIver's appearance at Calgary’s March for Jesus back in June is starting to look pretty benign. If he can just keep his nose clean for 12 more days, he might just pull off an upset.

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

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