Telling the truth is dangerous in Alberta
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Catastrophic defeats like the one that toppled the Progressive Conservative Kingdom of Alberta Tuesday happen for a reason and that reason is often a careless statement made in the heat of the campaign.
Just ask former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.
Prentice, who resigned both his leadership of the PC Party and his seat before the votes were fully counted, was careless with his words when he told Albertans during a CBC phone-in show March 5 to “look in the mirror” if they wanted to know who was to blame for the province’s fiscal plight. And it didn’t help he was telling the truth.
Albertans, after all, have been on the prosperity wagon for quite a run – at least 20 years – thanks to all those petro-dollars gushing out of the ground and 20 years should have been ample time to put something away for the proverbial rainy day when oil prices crashed and the gusher turned into a financial trickle. It wasn’t always this way. Under the astute leadership of former Premier Peter Lougheed, the Alberta Heritage Fund was set up as a kind of an insurance policy to protect Albertans when oil prices dipped as they inevitably do. But somehow or the other the Heritage Fund got frittered away and when the storm struck Albertans were left without an umbrella. So when Prentice, who spent most of his political career in hated Ottawa, told Albertans what they didn’t want to hear they got hot under the collar and let him know at the ballot box.
Prentices’ comments, sincere and as truthful as they may have been, were quickly dubbed “Blame-gate” and the Twitter universe went wild with thousands calling for him to apologize, including Wild Rose house leader Shayne Saskiw, who called Prentice “elitist, arrogant and out-of-touch with the rest of Albertans.” Ouch! NDP leader, now Premier-elect, Rachel Notley also called on Prentice to resign after he tried to make a joke out of the incident, saying he’d suddenly developed an aversion to mirrors. But Prentice, perhaps displaying the arrogance his critics accused him of, refused to resign and only dug himself in deeper by calling the incident a “Twitter tempest.” Then when he released his budget, taxes and fees went up for everyone, but not for corporations. Obviously, Albertans got the message and on Tuesday they threw Prentice and his Progressive Conservatives out after 44 years of uninterrupted power in one of the greatest political upsets in Canadian history.
Oh, but it has happened before and I remember it well during the 1972 BC election when the Social Credit dynasty of W.A.C. (Wacky) Bennett was rudely thrown into the dumpster after 20 years of uninterrupted power in Victoria. And what was the careless statement that time that lead to political perdition? It was uttered by one of the most colorful and controversial politicians in BC political history – “Flying Phil Gaglardi” – who said, as only Phil could, "If I'm lying, it's only because I'm telling the truth." Actually Phil dropped a few more gems like that when he referred to the stench caused by pulp mills as “the smell of money” in the air and long before junk bond king Ivan Boesky was on the scene Gaglardi spoke of the virtue of “greed” to succeed in business.
It’s a rare politician that can make inflammatory statements and get away with it. Ralph Klein could when he berated men in a homeless shelter for being homeless. Pierre Trudeau in his immortal “just watch me” before he imposed the War Measures Act and Bill Vander Zalm telling unemployed young men to “pick up a shovel.”
It worked for them, but it didn’t for Jim Prentice, who found out the hard way that the truth really hurts.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a former politician, who has made a few inflammatory statements of his own over time.