The Prentice Campaign: How NOT to Frame the Debate

Frank Luntz, famed political consultant to the Republican Party, said when it comes to political hot buttons “those who define the debate will determine the outcome.*

Given the mess Mr Prentice has made of the “Team Prentice” campaign he may want to give Mr Luntz a call.

Mr Prentice defined the debate in Election 2015 as…what, exactly? The “once in a generation” budget that strikes the right balance between the hatchet wielding Wildrose and the tax-and-spend NDP or the “under new management” premier who is remaking his own corrupt party?

Let’s take a closer look.

The Budget

After months of dire warnings about the sorry state of Alberta’s economy Mr Prentice unveiled his “once in a generation” budget. It was a colossal flop.

The NDP said it didn’t go far enough because it shielded the corporate sector while burdening the rest of us with 59 new taxes and levies that would see Albertans pay more for less services. The majority of Albertans agreed.

The Wildrose said it went too far. Instead of increasing taxes they want Mr Prentice to focus on his bloated government. They said they’d save $10 billion in five years simply by eliminating jobs and cutting waste.

Mr Prentice said the NDP plan will kill jobs (the NDP shot back with an $89 million job creation plan) and that the Wildrose plan can’t be done. He wheeled out five, count ‘em, five, cabinet ministers to prove it. They said: the Wildrose plan can’t be done. Yeah, that helped.

Then Mr Prentice blinked.

He pledged to freeze public sector salaries until Alberta balances its budget (in three years if the sun, the moon and the stars align). So much for dealing respectfully with the unions. No raise for you, now beat it.

He promised “efficiency teams”, front line workers and industry reps (also known as consultants), to find ways to save money and cut regulations.

And he promised to reduce Alberta’s 320 agencies, boards and tribunals (ABCs) by 25%. We have 320 ABCs??? Who are they? What do they do? It’s not clear what criteria Mr Prentice will use to make the 25% cut, but I’d suggest looking at the utility or futility of their work.

By tacking to the right Mr Prentice allowed the Wildrose to define a critical element in the debate—who deserves the mandate to pursue an austerity budget.    

Under new management”

Mr Prentice says he’s changing the culture of government by setting a new tone at the top (if this sounds like corporate buzz-speak, that’s because it is).

Here’s how Mr Prentice’s government responds to hot button issues.

Schools: The government is embarking on the biggest school construction program in history. It invited the public to monitor its progress by checking out the list of schools under construction.

One small snag. The term “under construction” does not mean shovels in the ground.

The Opposition visited 38 schools the government identified as “under construction”. They found billboards in empty fields.

When pressed, Infrastructure Minister Bhullar said these fields are indeed schools “under construction” because when the government awards a construction contract it classifies the school as “under construction” for recordkeeping purposes.**

Long term care: Albertans understand that in order to reduce wait times in ER and for surgery it is necessary to move seniors out of acute care hospitals and into long term care facilities.

Health Minister Mandel announced 1500 new LTC beds, but when grilled by the Opposition, he couldn’t explain where these beds were, when they would be built, whether they were new beds or previously closed beds or where the money was coming from to staff them.***

Stalled legislation: The Education Act was passed in December 2012. It supports a new education policy that’s been in the works since 2008. It was drafted, debated and passed by the government and now sits on a shelf along with 55 other laws that have never been proclaimed into force. Why?

Mr Prentice says laws can be delayed because the regulations supporting them require public consultation. Uh huh. The government rolled through two and a half years and three different cabinet ministers…apparently no one can get this law off the ground.

Mr Prentice also said laws can be delayed because they conflict with the Criminal Code.****

Excuse me? Is Mr Prentice saying that his government will draft legislation, take it to the floor of the Legislature, debate it for days on end and after it is proclaimed, notice that, oops, it violates the Criminal Code?

Transparency and accountability: Mr Prentice promised to clean up government by setting the tone at the top. There would be no Mike Duffy expense report hi-jinks on his watch.

Unfortunately some of his ministers are tone deaf. They created a new “corporate events” expense category which, surprise, surprise, is not disclosed as a ministerial expense.****

Mr Prentice’s reaction? “Not me!!” Actually his exact words were “it predates me as the premier”.

Not me!

In the six months since Mr Prentice took office he’s used the “not me” excuse to distance himself from everything from the government’s over reliance on royalty revenues to its decision to sink billions of dollars into the North West Upgrader.

Mr Prentice is defining the election debate as: “old PC government: not me; new PC government: me, me, me”.

Unfortunately for Mr Prentice Albertans know that he can’t hide from his government’s past mistakes. They also recognize that his “under new management” government is not responding to the tone at the top which is either missing or has fallen on deaf ears.

Consequently when Mr Prentice asks Albertans to “Choose Alberta’s Future” he’ll be surprised by the large number of Albertans who choose “not Prentice”.

*Words That Work, p 170

**Hansard, March 12, 2015, p 602

***Hansard, Mar16, 2015, p 626

****Calgary Herald, Apr 15, 2015, A4

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25 Responses to The Prentice Campaign: How NOT to Frame the Debate

  1. ABCanuck says:

    Prentice resigned from Harper’s cabinet (no, not the one Harper hid in) on November 4, 2010 to take a position as vice-chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. On CBC’s The National that evening, Mansbridge noted that while two of his three “At Issue” panelists had described Prentice as the most underrated minister in his early years ….all three were now saying he was the most overrated minister in that cabinet.”

    Soon they will be saying he is no Lougheed. Oops, I think everyone figured that out long ago.

    • Well said ABCanuck. The public’s vain hope that Prentice would reshape Alberta’s economy by bringing to bear his federal experience in the aboriginal affairs, industry and environment portfolios came to nothing. Likely because when he was responsible for these files, he didn’t accomplish much.

      But the bafflegab continues. While on the campaign trail Prentice expressed sympathy for the Lemkes who’d gotten an unfavourable ruling from the Surface Rights Board. He said the Surface Rights Board should review its ruling and promised his government would review the Alberta Land Stewardship Act.

      Sounds promising until you consider what Prentice said about Bill 1 which is supposed to reflect his government’s commitment to property rights.

      Bill 1 is nine words long. It repeals an unproclaimed act. It does nothing to lessen the impact of the draconian property laws already on the books (Bills 50, 36, 24 and 2). When the Opposition pointed out that Bill 1 doesn’t ensure landowners receive fair, just and timely compensation when their land is taken Prentice all but agreed. He said “as one who practised law in this area for over 20 years” it’s really the Expropriation Act and the Surface Rights Act which require examination.*Hansard Nov 18, 2014, p 12.

      Quite so, so why didn’t he promise the Lemkes he’d review those acts as well?

  2. Ted Woynillowicz says:

    I hope that Albertans have picked up on the QUESTIONS FOR YOUR PC CANDIDATE when they come knocking.
    These questions, submitted by Alberta citizens, demonstrate that politicians can run from their constituents but ultimately they can’t hide forever.

    • Great questions Ted. And if Albertans don’t have time to go through every questions when their PC candidate comes knocking, they can ask just one: “If you couldn’t balance the budget and provide reasonable public services at $110 oil, what makes you think you can do it now?”

  3. GoinFawr says:

    “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in awhile a layer of scum floats to the top.”-Edward Abbey

    • GoinFawr, great quote from a very interesting guy who bucked convention all his life and was ultimately buried in the desert in a grave marked by a stone that says “No Comment” (I googled him). Thanks.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    If this is the budget an experienced banker, federal minister, lawyer……etc can put together to deal with a problem as serious as a 7 billion dollar deficit, I want these people out of there regardless of what party they are. It is seriously laughable. These people are so ingrained in a failed ideology that they do not even realize how ridiculous it all sounds. It is like alcoholism denial.

    Well I tried Jim Prentice recipe and as a good citizen I looked in the mirror and I look fine. I have worked as hard as I can for this province and have behaved as well as I could to make this place great for my kids and for the future generations. Unfortunately I have learned that I am an extremist and maybe that I should have felt guilty after my mirror event. I have news for Jimmy. I do not belong to the elites and I am not a corporate lackey like he is. I am way more interested in true democratic process, equality and a province as free as possible from corruption and favoritism. There are already lots of corrupt societies around the world and I am not sure what it is that is so great about them other than misery and inequality. He does not have to deal with any of it because he lives in the encapsulated elite paradise that more and more tries to get the rest of us to work harder for their benefit. I have a name for that – fascism. Hopefully Albertans will wake up this time and try something else, that is why evolving our democracy is important.

    Bring in Proportional Representation as the next step. Rachel Notley’s ban on corporate and unions donations is the first very important step. Take way the PCs brutal advantage over everyone else, not just financially but the control over the airways and media. It is easy to be smart when everyone else is stupid.

    Alberta deserves much better than this idiotic situation. For those who vote PC because their parents and grandparents always did, think twice, it is our future not our past that it is on the line. Let us make this a real election rather than a circus of dominated animals. We can make this province the pride of the world not just Canada. We have the resources and we have the people, we just need to choose our leaders with more care and enrich our democratic values.

    • Carlos, I loved your comment “I look fine”. You’re right and that’s exactly why Albertans are so mad at Prentice and the PCs. We’ve all looked in the mirror and we know we look fine. It’s the PCs who look terrible because they’ve squandered tremendous opportunity and now we’re stuck with a bleak future. Today’s poll shows the Wildrose at 35%, the NDP at 31%, the PCs at 25% and the Liberals and the Alberta Party at 4% each. The headline called it a “political stalemate”. I don’t know whether the headline editor just used the wrong word (did he mean dead heat between the WR and NDP?) or was he being more subtle? “Stalemate” is a term used in chess. It refers to the situation where a player can’t move any of his pieces except the king and he can’t move the king without putting it in check. Checkmate Jim Prentice!

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    I am not surprised with the poll. I think that the PCs will go lower. Today another about face on the charities and there are signs that they will also change their minds on corporate taxes. They will do anything to stay in power even if it means to be the joke of the elections. This is why I think they will go lower. People have lost confidence and it is not easy to recover. Soon they will be finding a picture of Rachel Notley kissing a boy when she was 5 and complaint about sexual harassment. It is coming I know it.
    Jim Prentice is a joke and I thought that it would be impossible anything worse than Alison Redford. Not sure anymore. Stelmack is looking like Einstein after all of this.
    I am very disappointed that the NDP platform add almost nothing on democratic renewal and not even a hint of Proportional Representation. Too bad. Their loss.

    • cyberclark says:

      Polls are great ego builders but if they do not interpret into actual votes they are simply another headache! The vote has to turn out; time to goad your neighbours. I know I do.

  6. Carlos, given Prentice’s lackluster performance in the leaders debate last night I fully expect him to fire up the fear mongering machine. He fired the first volley when he referred to Notley as “you and your union bosses”. She put him in his place and will continue to do so throughout the last two weeks of the election, but it’s a crying shame he’s going to descend to scare tactics. But then again, it’s a common PC tactic so I shouldn’t be surprised.
    I hear you on proportional representation. That would be best for all of Albertans.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Yes Susan how does a guy totally under the wings of the corporate dark world accuses Rachel of being a union servant?

      The worst one was his patronizing ‘ …. I understand how math is difficult..’

      After that debate and what is going on at the Federal Level with comments like the one by Joe Oliver and the gimmicks they use to deceive Canadians, I cocooned into my own thoughts. Usually this happens when my internal rage reaches the limit, which means that if I am in a public place with one of these people I would lose my mind.

      The moral compass is gone, the interest in democratic values is spiraling down, and this great country of ours is already changed for a long time. Harper was right and his malicious ways are working. We are supposed to be proud of our billionaires and whatever name comes when they hit the first trillion dollars. People have to get used to austerity and fear in order to serve these plutocrats, because they are born to be rich and they deserve it according maybe to their cult. Society does not exist, the environment quality is a leftist creation and the markets and money is the origin and the end of life. It is sick. You could see it last night in the robot like attitude of Bryan Jean that does not seem to be able to think. He only knows one phrase – ‘We will not raise taxes’. A total Borg.

      Well I am going to take my St. John’s Wort and relax a bit with my dear dogs who know way more about happiness then we do.

      The phrase of the year – That is Harper’s granddaughter’s problem…..
      Talk about lack of integrity.

      • Carlos, I fully understand your frustration and rage. Often it feels like this is an uphill battle with no end in sight. I was lucky enough to have coffee with Rachel Notley a couple of months ago. I asked her how she kept on going in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds. She smiled and said it was important for Albertans to understand they have a choice. It looks like this time her message is getting through. I’m very hopeful that Albertans won’t be frightened by the fear mongering PCs and WR and will vote for real change.

  7. cyberclark says:

    The debate was very revealing as far as party platforms are concerned:
    Brian Jean stuck to his one line answer “Wild Rose Will not raise your Taxes” he wouldn’t respond to Prentice’s question on how he would handle the $18 billion deficit (A scare monger question by Prentice) but, Jean could hardly go on national TV saying his plans are totally centered on doing away with the transfer payments. He would also have to tell the world he does not have the 5 provinces on side that would allow him to pull this off.

    Jean was raised a Republican. A Conservative MP was a step down for him in his mind. His fix for health care? Send the patients out of province. When the bills get high enough and that won’t take long, tell the electorate its time for private insurance. Some hospitals designated public paid for hospitals, that is people have the insurance or they can mortgage their homes to cover their stay.

    Or as it is in Republican US the Indigenous hospitals that may or may not get their hedges trimmed and a paint job for those people who don’t have a home to mortgage. Yup! That’s sure a fix. Hard for him to go on National TV with that too.

    One person who deserves a big Kudos is David Swan. He got his point out and they were good points He was focused but sidelined as was Jean. Unfortunately the Alberta Liberals only have I think 13 members running. they have had a difficult time but that should not detract from David Swan who was very brave in the face of lots of adversity. The Liberal party problems started with Kevin Taft who has to wear the roses for that.

    Rachel Notley was well prepared for the debate and because Prentice was scared to death of her she got the bulk of his questions while he ignored the other two. His questions were made up of half-truths and outright lies in some cases. Notley had to first rephrase his question to something near the truth and in context then answer it which caused her to run over her time a few times. But that is forgiven because of the way the questions came at her from Prentice. Prentice said it will all fixed up in 2 years times things will be back to normal. That’s just plain BS! We have lost all of our customers we will never regain the position in energy we once had.

    Look at the 1.8 million barrels of new storage going up in Alberta. That is Pessimism! Cushing Oklahoma has 2,000,000,000 barrels of storage that is over 80% full. They are moving about 25% of that oil though there daily and take in oil from around the world. In the good old days they were moving 45% of that storage daily as a comparison.

    I can easily visualize Rachel Notley as the head of an NDP Majority Government in this province and, look forward to it.

  8. Cyberclark: great points. When you consider that Jean and Prentice were in Harper’s caucus and voted the same way over 600 times it’s hard to see why one party would be any better than the other. I believe the WR is sincere about cutting waste, but like you I wonder how they are going to accomplish it given that the WR and the PCs are not prepared to make any substantive changes to the fiscal structure of this province.
    Oh and I think that was a typo in the third line. I believe the deficit Prentice was grilling Jean about was in the range of $18 billion. I can change it if you like.

    • cyberclark says:

      I was drawing on memory when Prentice chided Jean about being unable to bridge the 1.8 billion difference. If I’m wrong then by all means change it for me, thanks.

      • OK, I’ve changed it. I went back to the clip of the debate. Prentice demanded Jean explain where the $18 billion shortfall (over 4 years) will come from. Jean said see page 5 of our budget document.
        Interestingly, Prentice said his government would plug the $18 billion hole by diversifying the economy, changing the revenue base and reducing our dependence on royalty revenues which, he said, now make up 20% of revenue. This last bit is bizarre because his proposed budget requires royalty revenues to make up 16% of the revenue requirement in order for it to balance. I don’t think a 4% drop in royalty revenues is much to crow about. But hey, maybe I’m missing something because “math is hard”.

  9. Sylvia9155 says:

    I agree that PC’s should be gone – but HOLY CRAP!!! you want to bring in the NDP – SOCIALISTS!!!!!! Every province they have every run ended up in despair and some are still trying to recover. Get a grip – if you think PC’s 59 new taxes are scary – wait until you see what happens if the NDP runs government. SCARRRYYYYYYYY.

    • cyberclark says:

      #Scare tactic is the the WRP and Jean. Cut and slash. He got a bad break when one of his disgruntled people said the #WRP board(300 people) voted to keep the original platform which included doing away with transfer payments. Which, they neglected to say had to have the support of 5 other provinces and the Federal Government. That means #Brian Jean has the same platform that #Danielle smith had that chased her out of politics as a confirmed nutter and extremest.
      That means in turn, #Jean doesn’t have a platform other than “vote for me; I will cut everything and save you tax money”

      On the other hand we have Rachel Notley who has demonstrated nothing less than a very alert person with a very sharp and intuitive mind who has won the hearts and minds of financiers and bankers as well as the rank and file Albertan who wants a life. Her business plan is solid and her direction is positive. She is honest! What else is there?

      James agrees with everything that Prentice has done! You can’t vote the same way every time and expect a change. There have been other NDP, Conservative and Liberal misadventures in other provinces that don’t apply at all to our province and our rather desperate situation.

      If you are trying to raise a family in this wreckage you sure as hell don’t want Jean or Prentice at the head of your futures.

      And Sylvia if you are on the inside as it appears could you tell us where the WRP held their board meeting? It wasn’t publicized.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Sylvia, first of all I am very proud of being a socialist rather than a FASCIST that does not respect the rights of others like some of the WR people you probably know well. Judging by your post I do not think you are well informed about Social Democracy and Socialism. Just knowing the mantra that politicians like so much to repeat ad nauseum is not enough
      I would like you to tell me what province in Canada is recovering from an NDP despair? As far as I know Manitoba is the province that has had more years of NDP government and they are there, they are not more or less in despair than any of the others run by Conservatives. In fact if you look at how many years the conservatives have been in power in general the despair you see is a consequence of conservative governments. Alberta is a clear example of the only province that has been governed by Conservatives for 44 years and look at our fiscal situation. Compared to Norway a so called Socialist country we are embarrasing. They have almost 1 trillion dollars in the bank and we conservative Alberta have had 16 billion for the last 20 years.
      I also remind you that of the most prosperous, with the best benefits and happier countries in the world, the top 3 are Socialist. So I would invite you to think a little more about what you have posted here. It is irresponsible to make comments like the one you made. We are all adults and we should discuss our challenges and our differences with facts, not propaganda.

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan have you seen the article on the Hanna Herald (Sun news media owned)?
    I do not want to copy it here but I would gladly sent it to you in email for you to check
    Let me know
    you have my email

  11. Sylvia,as you might expect I agree with Cyberclark and Carlos on this one. Rather than repeat what they’ve said I’ll post a link to a post by former PC MLA David King. He makes a number of important points including (1) neither the the NDP nor the WRP are extreme, (2) fear mongering is the last refuge of a weak campaign and (3) the PCs are corrupt. Here’s the link:

  12. Jackie B says:

    Susan, do you remember back when the discussion was the poll moving stunt pulled in Edmonton when Stelmach was running. Well the PC’s are at it again.
    Apparently the PCs are sending out voting cards with the wrong information on them, with this little “cover their ass” notice.

  13. Jackie, this is very disturbing. Did you send it to Elections Alberta or the media?

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