If Jim Prentice is going to wade into the murky waters of “truthiness” the least he could do is do it properly, otherwise the whole thing becomes a farce.
“Truthiness” is a term coined by political satirist/comic Stephen Colbert to describe the practice of framing a political message to appeal to the voter’s gut feelings, not reason. A statement is “truthy” when it feels true, even though it may not be true.*
The Jim Prentice giveaway
Things started on such a high note. Is that truthiness or just sarcasm?
A volunteer from the McIver camp secretly taped a volunteer from the Prentice camp offering free PC memberships at a street fair. It was promoted as a “one-time” deal. Given that only card-carrying PC members can vote in the upcoming PC leadership race this would put Mr McIver (and Mr Lukaszuk) at a disadvantage because they, unlike Mr Prentice, were charging Albertans $10 to buy a PC party membership.
Mr McIver lodged a complaint with the PC party executive director, Mr Charlebois who said the party does not condone giving away free memberships. Indeed, Mr Charlebois said that giving away memberships was not the way to get votes.**
Bill Anderson, Mr Prentice’s, spokesman took immediate action. He denied that the Prentice campaign was giving away memberships and called Mr McIver’s allegation a “stunt” to deflect attention from his inability to kill the zombie known as Alison Redford’s sky palace.
Then three days later Mr Prentice confirmed that Mr McIver was correct…oops.
Mr Prentice said: “There will be free memberships…My perspective on all of this is we want as many people taking part in the democratic process as possible. They need to have a membership card to vote, and what I want to see is as many Albertans as possible taking part.”***
There are two things to note in this statement. First, the use of the passive voice. “There will be free memberships” (Apparently they materialize out of thin air because no one, least of all Mr Prentice, is taking responsibility for throwing them around like jelly beans at Easter).
And second, the “truthism”—namely it is fundamental to the democratic process to hand out free memberships.
What’s the big deal?
Susan Elliott, campaign manager for former premier Redford, doesn’t understand why anyone would think that Mr Prentice did anything wrong. She characterizes Mr McIver and Mr Lukaszuk as whiners who are picking on Mr Prentice because they don’t have the funds to buy memberships and give them away themselves.
She says: “So if Prentice is trying to stir things up with free memberships, the tactic is not against the rules and someone needs to explain what ethic is offended”.
Okay, let’s give Ms Elliott and Mr Prentice a lesson in ethics.
Ethics is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”. “Moral” is defined as holding the highest principles for proper conduct.
In a nutshell, ethics is about behaving in accordance with the highest principles of conduct.
Bearing that in mind let’s review the PC party membership giveaway:
- The PC party does not expressly prohibit giving away memberships; but just because a rule is not written down does not mean it doesn’t exist. Just ask the folks who went to jail after Enron.
- The PC party does not condone giving away free memberships. Apparently even this craven party has limits beyond which it will not go.
- Fair play requires all leadership candidates to play by the same rules but McIver and Lukaszuk were unaware they could give away free PC memberships until halfway through the campaign.
- It is unfair to pay for memberships for some Albertans while expecting other Albertans to buy a membership. The memberships are free or they’re not free. They can’t be both.
- The PC party’s most recent email to Albertans whose memberships have lapsed is misleading and untrue. It says: “Buy a membership from us right here (link) and have your say in selecting the new leader for the PC Party”. It should also say: “unless you intend to vote for Jim Prentice in which case your membership is free.”
- A leadership candidate who vowed that “Ethics and integrity will be the hallmarks of any government that I lead.”****should not dredge up slick practices reminiscent of Brian Mulroney and the busload of homeless men who were promised beer and cigarettes if they voted for the “right” candidate at a nomination meeting.
But here’s the acid test. Truthiness only works when it feels true.
Say this out loud. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the PC candidate with the most money to tip the playing field even further in his favour by handing out free memberships and not telling his rivals or the PC party that he’s doing so. In fact it’s good for the democratic process.
Ummm…nope, that doesn’t feel right.
Is it too late to run Stephen Colbert for Premier of Alberta?
*Enlightenment 2.0 by Joseph Heath p3
**Calgary Herald, Online Aug 12, 2014
***Calgary Herald, Online Aug 15, 2014
****Calgary Herald, Online Aug 7, 2014