“Look in the Mirror”

“In terms of who is responsible we all need only to look in the mirror.  Basically all of us have had the best of everything and haven’t had to pay the cost.”—Premier Jim Prentice musing about Alberta’s $7 billion budget deficit  

Those four little words—look in the mirror—swept Jim Prentice into a storm of criticism.

He says it’s a Twitter tempest. All he meant by “look in the mirror” was that Alberta’s fiscal crisis is “a shared responsibility”.

Is “shared responsibility” different from “look in the mirror”? No, because that’s precisely the message Mr Prentice intends to send.

Stay on message

Any politician who has taken media training knows that it’s the politician, not the interviewer, who controls the message.

Mr Harper “Thumbs Up!”

Prime Minister Harper, the master of the controlled message, hired a government-relations consultant from Navigator to create a magic form called a Message Event Proposal (MEP) template. The MEP template forced Harper’s team to think about key messages, strategic objectives, desired headlines and desired sound-bites prior to a media appearance. It ensured they stayed on message.*

Mr Prentice, a former Harper cabinet minister, should be very familiar with both Navigator and the MEP template.

If he used the MEP template for his “look in the mirror” radio interview* his key messages would look like this:

Key message #1: It’s your fault

A caller asked Mr Prentice to consider a range of revenue tools, including progressive income tax. Mr Prentice used the question to launch his first message: “We all want to blame somebody for the circumstances we’re in. But the bottom line is we’ve had the highest cost and the best services in the country and we haven’t built, basically, a revenue model that sustains them.”

Blame? Who said anything about blame? The caller was asking about revenue tools.

The interviewer tried again: were there specific revenue sources Mr Prentice favoured?

Mr Prentice ignored the question and repeated the message: “In terms of who is responsible we all need only to look in the mirror.  Basically all of us have had the best of everything and haven’t had to pay the cost.”

He hit the “collective responsibility” and “personal responsibility” button again and again.

Key message: Don’t blame the government, blame yourself for demanding the best public services in the country.  

Key message #2: Corporations are not in the mirror

A caller asked why Mr Prentice refused to raise corporate taxes if “we’re all in this together”.

Mr Prentice “Thumbs Up!”

Mr Prentice replied: “If we increase [corporate] taxes it will certainly result in Albertans losing their jobs.

He hammered “lost jobs” seven times in the space of three minutes, ignoring the fact that the caller was asking for higher taxes, not the highest taxes in Canada.

Key message: corporations are not in the mirror because higher taxes means—say it with me now—we’ll all lose our jobs.

Key message #3: Everyone else is in the mirror

When asked how he was going to implement a 5% (actually 9%) cut in public services and still protect front line workers, Mr Prentice deflected the question, stating “virtually” every public servant was 10% overpaid and Alberta’s public service was the most expensive in the country.

Key message: the public service is fat and as a result of their greed all Albertans will suffer.    

Blamegate backlash

The public was outraged. Opposition parties demanded an apology.

Mr Prentice offered three excuses.

He and his MLA spokesmen, Mr Mandel and Mr Campbell, said Mr Prentice’s comments were taken out of context.

Messrs Mandel and Campbell had not heard the interview or seen the online comments. Presumably they were equipped with well scripted MEPs of their own.

Mr Prentice said: “What I said was that as Albertans, we’re in the circumstance that we’re in together, we got into it together and the only solutions are going to be for us to get out of it together”.

I beg your pardon???

We did not get into this together. In fact a great many of us voted Wildrose, Liberal, NDP,  Green and Alberta Party to prevent exactly this kind of fiscal meltdown.

Learning from the Master

They said Mr Prentice’s comments were “blown out of proportion”.

Blown out of proportion by whom? The thousands of furious Albertans who wrote letters, called the media and posted 20,000 tweets in 24 hours to express their shock at being blamed for the government’s fiscal ineptitude?

Lastly, Mr Prentice said he may have expressed himself inarticulately but he’d take responsibility for his comments. Oh good, let’s take heart in the fact a ventriloquist isn’t putting words in Charlie McCarthy’s mouth.  

The joke is on us

Mr Prentice will not apologise. He thinks our outrage is a joke.

At the Manning Networking conference in Ottawa (aka the Conservative hive mind) he couldn’t resist cracking a joke about the makeup artist who’d readied him for an interview. She asked if he wanted to remove his make up in a mirror. He replied “No, no, I don’t. Stop talking about mirrors.”

The Conservative audience thought he was hilarious.

****

This is the third time in three months that Mr Prentice gravely misjudged Albertans.

He thought they’d accept his gay-straight alliance bill as supporting parental rights. They said it was discriminatory. He thought they’d see the defection of the Wildrose 11 as the unification of the right. They said it was undemocratic. And he thought his “look in the mirror” message would deflect Albertans’ attention from Tory fiscal mismanagement. It insulted their intelligence.

Democracy and accountability are not a joke.

But until Mr Prentice figures this out, would someone clean up his Message Event Proposal template before he says something even more arrogant and patronizing?

*The Longer I’m Prime Minister, by Paul Well, p 35

**http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audioplayer.html?clipid=2657088106

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39 Responses to “Look in the Mirror”

  1. Politicians always think they can do and say as they please and if it goes bad, blame someone else. They are so misunderstood! They spend more time thinking how can I turn this around then they do thinking how can we solve the problem?

  2. Linda, that is so true. What makes Jim Prentice’s comments really galling is that his government sent out a survey listing all the things that could be changed to generate more revenue. The list included increasing corporate taxes. But when the caller asked about it, he said nope, job loss, job loss, job loss. What’s the point in asking for public input if you’re going to ignore it?

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  4. Tom says:

    I think probably the premier was suggesting folks should look in the mirror and say to them selves “Why o why didn’t we say anything when Ed initiated the 35 % pay raise or when Ralph booted the fellow down and out in the drunk tank or threw a file holder at legislative staff or when Mar pulled some of his sleezy stuff or after voting for the umpteenth time for a no good party or fell for Alison’s line of b.s.. He was probably just reiterating the fact that if he did something agin the folks of Alberta-he wanted to pay the price.

    • Brent McFadyen says:

      What we should be looking in the mirror and saying is “WHY ON EARTH did we vote this berk into power, and how soon can we kick him out?” Suspend your assumptions about other parties, listen to what representatives of those parties have to say for themselves, (not what others tell you – what that party actually puts out there about itself), find a comfort level, and VOTE THE BUM OUT! (You might want to look at the overall record of those parties, over time, with special emphasis on the record of fiscal achievement)

      Oops — Just realised I’m on my partner’s computer, this is Caroline Yull posting, not Brent McFadyen. You can find me on Facebook easily if you want to respond. 😉

      • Hello Caroline! I saw your letter in the Herald this morning on Prentice’s GSA legislation. Well done. You said stop dithering and get on with it. It will be very interesting to see how Prentice resolves this. He “paused” Bill 10 after second reading, but it’s still on the books and still requires kids to petition the Education Minister if they want a GSA in their schools. He can amend it or repeal it but he can’t “pause” it forever. If he screws it up again, brace yourself for another Twitter tempest (as he so arrogantly puts it).

    • Tom, I love your list of things Albertans should think about when they look in the mirror. Another one to add to the list is Prentice refusal to live up to his promise for greater transparency. He’s refused to give us more information on the 200 agencies, boards and tribunals that receive roughly half of the $40 billion budget.

      Who are these guys? What are they paid? We won’t know because Prentice reversed Redford’s decision to disclose salaries over $100,000 and severance payments because, get this, it might impede their ability to recruit staff.

      Corporations disclose the compensation paid to their top five employees, and it doesn’t interfere with recruitment, so what’s the problem? Could it be that the public will flip out when it learns what the government is paying its friends who’ve landed cushy jobs on these agencies, boards and tribunals?

      Wouldn’t it be nice to know where $20 billion of our tax dollars is going?

  5. Andrea Bosse says:

    Another great post, Susan. The best part of Prentice’s comments were that we’ve had the best of everything. Really????? Apparently Mr. Prentice hasn’t visited a hospital ER or nursing home in Alberta in the past 5 years. And he clearly hasn’t had to pay the outrageous tuition fees that universities in Alberta are now charging. Notwithstanding all of the money we were (apparently collectively) swimming in, the government apparently had to borrow money and wasn’t able to improve our health care or education systems. I know the money didn’t go to me, so pray tell, where did all that money go???

    • Exactly! If we’re the best province in Canada then we should have the best public services, but we don’t. We’re middle of the pack for healthcare and have the highest high school drop out rate in the country. Lord knows where we stand on eldercare. The premier either doesn’t know this (which is disturbing) or papered over it because it doesn’t fit his message which is: you demanded the best and created a $7 billion hole in the budget, now you must pay by getting even less that mediocre healthcare, eldercare, and education. Sucks to be you.

  6. Ted Woynillowicz says:

    It comes as no surprise that Prentice is emulating Harper’s game plan as Charlie Smith describes in the Georgia Straight when referring to Donald Gutstein’s most recent book, Harperism:

    “A central tenet of his new book is that Harper is undermining democracy by marshalling the power of government to create and enforce markets where they’ve never existed before.
    He’s gradually moving the country from one that’s based on democracy to one that’s based on the market, which means that the decisions are not made by our duly elected representatives through the laws that they pass and the regulations that they enact,” Gutstein says. ”

    The full review can be found here: http://www.straight.com/life/741201/author-donald-gutstein-reveals-extent-stephen-harper-revolution-new-book-harperism

    Looking at the big picture, this is equally applicable to the Alberta government where serving the corporate interests is paramount while playing the ‘we’re all in this together card’ to sway a gullible public to his manner of thinking. For that matter a similar narrative can be found in B.C.

    Past history informs us that the AB government will continue to proceed forward without altering its trajectory. History also informs us that the public response to these shennigans is tepid at best and forgotten shortly after. In that regard, the government has not had to concern itself about its unpopular decisions and the coup d’etat in slow motion will be largely won.

    • Thanks for the link Ted. Picking up on your point about the public forgetting these shennigans, Paul Wells adds a slight twist to this in his book about Harper. He said “Harper wins elections because millions of people want someone like him to be prime minister. They have a broad sense of who he is and what he wants to do and prefer it to the alternatives.” The same could be said for the 54% of Albertans who voted PC in 2012 (although that number was 14 points higher than in 2008 because of the Wildrose hysteria). They either want the PCs or are afraid to vote anything but PC.

  7. David says:

    Helpful analysis for QP this week! Thx D

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  8. Wendy says:

    I enjoy your writing Susan, very much. I am absolutely appalled that this as yet unelected Premier can be so dismissive of Albertans. His arrogance is stomach churning ! I fear the Harperites will replace him by manipulating their other puppet, Brian Jean into a position of power within the rest of the conservatives in Alberta and that may well spell disaster for Alberta.

    • Wendy, I’m reaching the point where I’d welcome anyone into the Legislature who could beef up the opposition and expose the PCs for what they really are–the most undemocratic party this country has ever seen. If nothing else, it might put the brakes on Prentice’s future plans to step in behind Harper as Prime Minister.

  9. Jonathan says:

    While the Premier’s comment, and the obvious attitude behind it, are galling on many levels, at least one further follow-up question springs to mind (which may have been asked – I didn’t hear the initial interview): why is even a small raise in corporate taxes that might lead to some possible job losses such a huge concern (if, in fact, the corporate structure in Alberta is as fragile as the Premier is suggesting?), but another round of rampant slashing of public service spending which will almost certainly result in job losses in front-line health care, teachers, post-secondary institutions, and numerous other much-needed government departments of no worry whatsoever? It would seem, in Premier Orwell’s world, that some jobs are indeed much more important than others. But, perhaps I have a crack in my mirror…?

    • Well put Jonathan, well put!
      The other thing that troubles me about Prentice’s argument is that the industry says this slump is a “correction” in the market place. $100 oil is not sustainable. $60 to $70/barrel is more realistic. Oil companies staffed up to take advantage of $100 oil. Now they’re downsizing to stay competitive at $50 oil. The only reason this is relevant to the government is that the PCs created a flawed fiscal structure that is tied to ups and downs of the free market. This created a $7 billion hole in the budget.
      Look in the mirror, Mr Prentice, the only person you can blame is yourself and your party.

  10. Jackie B says:

    @!@@##%$%$%^^&&**(*(()_)+_, forgive my language if you can translate it. These were a few of the words I said when I heard what he had said in that phone show How dare he even suggest it was our fault. Those supposed such good services, were crap and (progressively got worse), I have my doubts that any of the decision making pencil pushers ever used any public system: health, education, seniors, etc. They just went for what looked good on paper, not if it was feasible or worked and we were stuck with it.

    Here it is live folks. Notice that Prentice does not answer the question either.

    Then came the snide text that Prentice sent (this has been removed from any media venue), saying to basically never back down, walk away , and let us howl. When I read that I knew he meant every word he said at that phone thing. Then he told the folks in Ottawa that it was misunderstood and changed what he said, then laughed about it.

  11. Jackie, I’m really glad you provided that clip. It demonstrates so clearly that Prentice was pushing a message (“it’s everyone’s responsibility, not the government’s”). I’m not sure why he thinks we’ll be impressed by the fact he took a 5% pay cut. No doubt the man made millions in the private sector; I’m sure he’s got something stashed away for a rainy day, which is more than I can say for the front line workers who’ll be forced to accept pay cuts or be laid off.

  12. carlosbeca says:

    I thought that his comment was idiotic but not suprising. People can call me paranoid or anything else but these are all strategic steps to get where they want to go. This explains why Danielle Smith crossed the floor. I am sure she talked to him and she knew that in the end what Jim Prentice wants is actually not any different than what she was trying to do. It must be the only time Danielle said something true – she was clear that they were on the same page. She knew that her objectives (same as Harper and fascist colleagues) could be accomplished in the PC party and she did not have to deal with party members that want to burn homosexuals and other even weirder ideas.
    What upset me even more was the fact that during the Conservative (I call it Fascist) conference he made fun of the reaction from many Albertans. It is disrespectful and to me the highest level of arrogance.
    Like you said, he already has his millions, maybe in offshore banks, and he laughs at what regular people think.

    • I agree Carlos. Prentice making a joke out of the whole thing was the icing on the cake. Yesterday in the Legislature, Heather Forsyth, the interim WR leader said: “Mr. Premier, a little humility goes a long way. The former Premier had to learn that lesson the hard way. I’ll ask you again. Will you apologize for the mess that you have incurred?” And of course he didn’t.

      The comparison with Redford is a good one. If there’s one thing everyone in the Legislature (this includes the PC caucus) is beginning to understand it’s this: Mr Prentice has an outsized ego and with him, it’s my way or the highway. Consequences be damned. Take a look at the machinations the PCs are going through to support Prentice’s statement that the Springbank flood solution is the most cost effect. Turns out they failed to include the true cost of the land they’ll need to acquire! But heaven forbid that we let economic facts contradict our dear premier.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan we are definitely going through very interesting and, in a way, dangerous times. Jim Prentice is definitely an arena size ego but so was Alison Redford and many more attracted to politics for obvious reasons. Unfortunately Albertans are not the type of people that take arms to defend their rights as citizens but that can change quickly. I think we are reaching the tipping point and if that happens, we will surprise the rest of Canada. I have never in 34 years of living in Edmonton, have seen so many people willing to at least talk about politics even if just for a few minutes. I am one of the most frustrated Albertans alive because I came from a different background and seeing the destruction of this province is to say the least a horrible experience. I compare it to having surgery without anesthetic when the doctors think that you are asleep. Honestly I am ready to get myself out of the picture because it is too much stress. To think that we have a very well educated work force, all the resources we need to be self-sufficient and we cannot pay our bills as a province is to me mind boggling. Only incompetence can justify this situation. Having premiers or parties that get elected time after time despite the mismanagement and the lack of respect for all of us is to me criminal. I was born and raised for a third of my life under a strict dictatorship, I dreamed for the day when I could experience true democratic values and true government and after 30 years I am starting to wonder if democracy really exists anywhere in the world and if it does, is it successful? I am starting to wonder if democracy was created in the West to justify a fully controlled system that looks and feels free. Have we been cheated and only realize it now when the emperors became so obvious due to their own greed?

  13. Jackie B says:

    Here is the text Prentice sent out on Mar4 later in the day after the radio show. This got even more people riled. This was taken off of every media path they could stop. In my books he meant every word he said and in the context he meant.

    Kim Fisher Alberta PremierComms retweeted
    BOWEN @bowenworkforce · 23h 23 hours ago

    Never retract, never explain, never apologize…get the thing done and let them howl! Wise words shared by @JimPrentice @wxn #WXNTop100

    March 5 at 6:22pm · Edited · Like · 1
    ..

    Kim Fisher I guess we’re all howling now?

    March 5 at 6:16pm · Like · 1

  14. Jackie B says:

    The piece I posted from you tube at 2:39 on March 9th was the actual phone interview, not a video. This is when Prentice told us to look in the mirror and basically blame ourselves for this mess and we have to pay for it. He avoided the questions and suggestions and kept going back to his blaming us. Then he texted from his own phone on Mar4th, ( the blurb I posted Mar10) “Never retract, Never explain, never apologize….get the thing done and let them howl” This quote has been removed from basically all media sites.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      well if that had not been taken out of the media sites, he would have lost the election. So that sounds like big brother strong hand intervention. Too bad I would have liked to have seen it and redistribute. Did you get the real one?

  15. Jackie B says:

    no I didn’t Carlos. That was the only thing she posted. She has links and threads from all over. She copied that to her phone and tried to post it to the Calgary Herald and it would be deleted as soon as she posted it. I belong to a blog ( Get the Progressive Conservatives out of office). She posted it in there(I copied it and put it on this page as I thought it applied).

    • Jackie, thank you for posting the tweet by Kim Fisher. Alberta PremierComms is the official twitter site for the communications staff for the premier’s office, I wonder if Kim Fisher is still an employee. The tweet certainly fits with Prentice’s stance in the Legislature yesterday. The opposition parties asked him three times to apologize and he refused three times, saying “I take responsibility for what I said”, as in I take responsibility for speaking (“I’m not Charlie McCarthy”) but I take no responsibility for the content of what I said. Sounds an awful lot like “never retract, never explain, never apologize” to me.

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  17. Jackie B says:

    GRRRRRR, dictatorship at its finest. Susan, do you remember when I posted the original phone interview where Prentice says the Look in the mirror phrase. Carlos said he got no visual. Then you posted the video that BWA had. Prentice has had all paths and links for that video from BWA EVEN yours removed. Would that not be a violation of freedom of speech.

  18. Jackie, it sounds like Catch-22 to me. As I understand it, Elections Alberta says the AFL’s Better Way Alberta website is a paid political ad, the only entities that are allowed to run paid political ads are political parties and third party advertisers, and the AFL is not allowed to register as a third party advertiser. Gotcha!
    Doesn’t sound fair to me but I think the AFL is wise to take the website down rather than risk substantial fines. The fact this even became an issue tells me that the website was getting traction, which means Albertans are starting to wake up.
    This is going to be a very interesting election!

  19. Jackie B says:

    That sucks, I agree this video was gaining traction and interest, just look at the view count. It also pin pointed where and how it all started and by who and some of the consequences. It offered a solution that would not effect the working class too much. This solution went against everything Prentice is trying to promote. I never considered it as an ad, but more like an opinion with the facts to prove it. I thought it best as well they take it down or suffer the consequences, but I guess freedom of speech or opinions are just as dead as democracy. I think it will be an interesting election too.

    • Jackie, looks like the polls are still not going in favour of Prentice and the PCs. Granted we’re only on Day 2 of a 28 Day campaign but this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting elections we’ve had in Alberta in a long long Time.

  20. Jackie B says:

    Susan guess what, here is the link to the banned from airing video that was put out from BWA.

    ( you have to copy and paste the link) Everyone Please share and repost as much as you can.

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