Jim Prentice Fails the “Truthiness” Test (apologies to Stephen Colbert)

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.       

Stephen Colbert

“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

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.

Jim Prentice

Bearing that in mind let’s review the PC party membership giveaway:   

  1. 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.
  2. The PC party does not condone giving away free memberships.  Apparently even this craven party has limits beyond which it will not go.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.”
  6. 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

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26 Responses to Jim Prentice Fails the “Truthiness” Test (apologies to Stephen Colbert)

  1. John Smith says:

    Is it any wonder Redford has zero ethics when her mentor, Jim Prentice, has such a shaky grasp of the concept?

    • John, today Mr Prentice said “…this has been going on for as long as I’ve been in politics, which is 40 years at this point.” Calgary Herald, Aug 19, 2014 A4.
      I guess that makes it all right then. (That was sarcasm).

  2. Jim Lees says:

    I find it very sad that once again, the debate/dialogue is dragged away from real issues and we are forced to listen to this. Having a two-tier fee doesn’t pass the fairness test. Someone please tell me that there is more to political strategy in the PC party thinking than simply handing out votes.

    • danikloo says:

      This is a real issue – or at least a symptom of a real issue. Lack of moral compass is what brought the former premier down. We’ve seen this “do it/deny it/justify it” pattern before and it is precisely what we sought to expunge. Now we’re on the verge of deja vu all over again. Decisions on the issues are made within a set of principles. Mr. Prentice is showing us his decision-making lens and it is exactly the same as his predecessor’s.

      • Danikoo: I find it even more reprehensible that Mr Prentice has been campaigning on 5 priorities, one of which is “end entitlements and restore public trust” and yet he knew that the PC party didn’t condone the practice, he knew that the other two leadership candidates were not giving away free memberships and he went ahead anyway because “this has been going on for as long as I’ve been in politics, which is 40 years at this point”. When you consider that since he’s become a federal politician he’s seen four elections and 36 by-elections, let alone the leadership races that pop up now and then, it’s shocking. (I know, I know, I’m so naive).

    • Jim, I read a poignant letter to the editor in the paper today. The writer was a loyal PC member who’d finally fun out of steam (it’s amazing in how much cronyism and corruption PCs will endure before they finally call it quits). He was appalled that the Prentice campaign would treat its paying members with so little respect and decided not to as a result. I don’t see how not voting in the leadership race registers disapproval, he’d be better off spoiling his ballot. But hey, what do I know, I’m not a long time PC party member.

  3. Many many years ago, my office manager offered to buy anyone who was interested party memberships so that we could vote for one of the owners of the company. I was offended for many reasons – he had brought politics into the office, he was putting pressure on us to vote for the owner, and it did not seem honest to buy party memberships for anyone, you would think that if someone was interested in voting they would just cough up the money themselves and go! It seemed like vote buying to me (I don’t care if it is $1 or $1000) – all they had left to do was drive you there and help you hold the pen. I was very young, but I still knew it was wrong.

    • To the two Lindas: I too was struggling to understand the “sponsorship” comment. Mr Prentice said it again–“some people buy their own memberships, some people buy memberships for their family members, some people sponsor other people to buy memberships.” It really makes no sense unless you put it into the office manager example that Linda shared with us. If this is the case, the act of “sponsorship” by someone who is your boss or a person of influence would certain undermine and not enhance the democratic process which was where Mr Prentice started when this whole thing blew up.
      It reminds me of my experience in the US when our CEO made it crystal clear that all of us on the management team were expected to contribute to certain Republican party fund raising campaigns. Not good.

  4. Linda says:

    Linda, I have been wondering what Prentice meant when he said free memberships were paid by sponsors. I guess it could be as you describe. I would also be offended if this happened. Very.

  5. Einar Davison says:

    Maybe the question isn’t so much about paying for someone else’s membership but maybe the necessity to have to do so in the first place. One has to figure that the PC’s are scraping the bottom of the barrel for leadership candidates and Mr. Prentice is the front runner of the “three dwarfs”. I think most Albertan’s are so fed up with the PC’s including some of those whom you would have expected to run for the leadership, that maybe they have to give away a PC membership because no one wants to waste $10. At any rate even though it might leave us with a worse party in power (the Wildrose) this PC party and this PC government are about to be thrown on the ash pile of Alberta politics. Remember when the campaign slogan was “not your father’s PC party” How true! Peter Lougheed wouldn’t have done what the last 20 years of PC leaders and governments have done. Maybe we Albertan’s will learn an important lesson and start “booting” out governments a little quicker than every 40 years. We only have one chance every four years to make our government accountable, let’s use that opportunity wisely.

    • Excellent points Einar. Let me pick up on the one about giveaways being symptomatic of desperation. Last weekend Rachel Notley was at the Red Deer farmer’s market selling NDP memberships in aid of her bid for the leadership. Cal Dallas was in the stall next to her. He was selling PC memberships on behalf of Jim Prentice. Apparently Notley outsold Prentice by a margin of three to one. I’m not saying this means the NDP is going to form government in 2016, but rather that it may indicate the PCs will not. And if that’s the case I sincerely hope that Albertans will become more comfortable with the “perform or be turfed” model that the rest of the provinces have adopted. 43 years in power is too long for any government, no matter how wonderful it was at the outset.

      • In Red Deer? NDP? 3 to 1 over the PC’s? That should have a lot of Tories shaking in their shoes. Of course the NDP won’t move beyond Edmonton, but still if the Tory constituencies aren’t even supporting their “guys” then that speaks volumes. So the leadership candidates have to be wondering what they are going to be winning. Do you think it’s just to enjoy the perks of office while it lasts and to get their name in the history book, or do they arrogantly believe they can turn it around? Even the most addled minded Tory has to see the writing on the wall, Albertan’s are pissed (excuse my language) to the point where the Mulroney/Campbell fiasco is looking like it’s going to repeat history but this time in Alberta.

  6. FargoBond says:

    It is just buying votes. If you tip your Waitress you get allegiance and service to your own table. It is simple stuff.

  7. DHT says:

    The thing that bothers me the most is the general acceptance (outside of this forum) that there are long standing behaviours within politics, and Alberta politics in particular, that those with a questioning mind about moral applications, are too naive to recognize as the convention. As in, this is the way things are done around these parts. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. For the longest time a few individuals – the back room power brokers of the PC party even more so than the elected faces of the party – have been telling the people of this province who we get as our leader. The king makers decided Mr. Klein had passed his best before date, Mr. Stelmach wasn’t a good playmate, and that Ms. Redford made her own rules, and so, the rest of us must accept the putsch imposed by the guys with the long knives. I am in no way a conspiracy buff. I am realistic about how China is what it is. I just wonder when Albertans are going to tire of the business as usual climate of:
    1) bureaucrats maintaining their control with “leaks”,
    2) big oil’s control of the purse strings (God knows it’s their risk, not the taxpayers rights to this natural endowment, my goodness, what were we thinking, that 16% ROI is reasonable, tsk tsk)
    3) Media’s management of the story – it takes a handful of fingers to count the number of controlling interests who filter the homogenized spin laid before the public’s eyes.
    Those that voted in at least the last 4 elections must have had much to gain on a personal level from the 40+ years of a one party system, but those of us who ever raised questions about this quest for the perpetuity of insiders’ entitlement, may finally be seeing the day when the above triumvirate is going to have to deal with a lot of wounds to both their egos and their political fortunes. We can only hope!

    • DHT, perhaps I’m overly optimistic but I think Albertans have finally grown tired of “business as usual”. Ralph Klein may have invented the apology that excused his reprehensible behavior, but Albertans aren’t buying it anymore. Case in point, Premier Dave Hancock is in the papers again apolgizing for the “reprehensible” secrecy surrounding the construction of Redford’s sky palace. He says he was “surprised” to learn that the ex-premier’s staff had tried to conceal the fact that construction was continuing after it was supposed to be shut down and this really wasn’t McIver’s fault. Hancock also apologized for the MLAs’ inappropriate use of government aircraft saying, in essence, that everyone was on the honour system and it wasn’t Horner’s job to say no.
      These people are in charge of a $43 billion enterprise and yet when somebody screws up it’s nobody’s fault and it can all be washed away by Mr Hancock apologizing again, and again, and again. Ridiculous!

      • DHT says:

        The obviousness of the deceitful tactics of the elected officials actually pales in comparison to the behind-the-scenes “strategy” agents that ruthlessly manipulate the election process for the PC officials in office. My primary point was; these are/were not free elections for at least the last three leaders peddled to the electorate…assuming Mr. Prentice is anointed. The PC Executive Branch with the tacit or overt influence of the trinity I spoke of, dictates our “choices” by forcing out those who might lose, before they can lose.
        Want more proof of the power working behind the scenes? Since my first submission to this forum, the AHS consultancy report, and the now “idea” of term limits. If these two latest revelations aren’t proof that the old guard (all of the above) doesn’t do everything it can to perpetuate the status quo, I don’t know what it will take for voters to have the epiphany to topple the vested interests – who we must realize are not just certain elected officials – it is the PC machine through all of its agents. Again, I am not naive, in Alberta this IS politics.
        Am I optimistic that enough voters realize that all of these manipulators are incredibly well organized, and ruthless (they would say pragmatic) in maintaining their entitlements? Maybe. Will people organize themselves in sufficient numbers to toss them? That will depend on the silent majority in this province recognizing the problem “as beyond” the elected faces, and then acts to override what has become a very powerful & corrupt “Ruling” Party.

  8. david swann says:

    Great analysis Susan.
    No doubt Mr Prentice will now say with even more conviction: ‘Alberta politics has become nasty!’ Some people do not like their morality questioned – and most Albertans have been too polite (or have vested interests) to call out our political representatives. If every citizen did a little bit to hold their representative accountable we would have a much healthier democratic society.

    • Well said David. I’ve talked with so many people who tell me that they’ve been reluctant to criticize the PC government for fear that it will be a “career limiting move”. These people work in banking, the energy industry, sales, you name it. If people don’t feel comfortable talking about the PCs in their workplace, just imagine how uncomfortable they feel about “calling out” their MLAs directly. The inability to talk about your government without fear of reprisal cripples the democratic process and is the direct result of one entitled party holding the reins of power for 43 years. However that’s changing. People are openly critical of their government. In fact they’re prepared to say that they support the Liberals, the NDs, the Greens or the Alberta Party. Wildrose supporters, interestingly, seem to be completely unabashed about declaring their allegiance. This tells me the tide of public opinion is turning agaist the PCs…only time will tell which party or parties will control the Legislature in 2016, but one thing is certain, it won’t be the PCs.

  9. Bruce Jackson says:

    Disparate humans usually have to abandon the written and moral laws to survive. Why are there more poor and outcasts in penal systems? ? Sacred violence is acceptable – fighting in pro hockey. If I hit a politician – I commit profane violence and charged with a crime.
    Is political activity a sacred sport in Alberta? ? At least I can participate in politics now when it is free. I also choose not to attend hockey because of the violence which I believe is profane. I am not going to bother voting in an election of profane people.

    • Bruce, I’m slogging my way through the book Entitlement 2.0. (It started off well but now I’m getting bogged down). In any event, the author makes an interesting point about society’s need to identify “us” and “them”. This purpose of this distinction is to maintain control over the group, because instead of attacking each other, we (or “us” in this example) focus on attacking “them”. The author says this method of social control works just fine on a small tribal scale, but falls apart on the large societal scale that exists today. As a result, a society’s ability to control its members erodes. This brought to mind the thrust of Harper’s federal government and our the PC government to “crack down” on crime (ie. lock ’em up) instead of dealing with the issues that are pushing these people to the margins of society. I know this isn’t exactly on point with your comment but your references to the outcasts in the penal system vs “sacred violence” brought it to mind.

  10. norm says:

    As always, love your take Susan! As some of the previous commentators have noted (and all have realized, I’m sure) the ‘proof’ of all of our perceived failings of the long-entrenched pc party will be in the ‘eating of the pudding’ of the next general election. I know I will be working hard at my constituency level as well as at the provincial level to achieve a new government; one whose values and priorities match my own, but a part of me remains skeptical that my fellow citizens will shake off their collective lethargy and a) come out and vote and b) vote in something different. It is my goal to offer an antidote for the common refrain ‘but there’s no one else to vote for!”

    • Norm, I’m more concerned about whether people will come out to vote than I am about whether they’re prepared to vote in something different. I’ve talked with many PC party members who are disgruntled, embarrassed and frustrated beyond belief at what they see as betrayal by the Big Blue Machine. It’s small wonder that Jim Prentice is trying to distinguish himself from the rest of the PC party leadership candidates by attacking the very party he hopes to lead. If that doesn’t tell how twisted the PC party has become, nothing will.
      All the best in your quest for a better Alberta!

  11. Chantal says:

    Of course, it has been here for a long time but which politician would say that out loud? Voting is getting so far in last years. You don’t know who is right or wrong because it’s all about whom you trust. But after reading these kinds of interview, can we believe anybody? They promise to be special and unique and after you vote for them, you don’t get even half of promised special treatments.

    • Chantal, you’re right, every politician promises the people that he/she is different, honest, sincere, etc. I’ll admit that I was snookered by Alison Redford when she ran in the last PC leadership race. She said all the right things. She convinced me that she might indeed be a progressive candidate in the true sense. Turned out I was absolutely wrong. It was then that I realized that the PC party could elect Mother Teresa to run the party and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. The damage the PCs have caused to voter engagement in this province is heart-rending.

  12. miet says:

    Character is simply how you behave when no one is looking. Sadly very few PC are passing this smell test.

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