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A game of blames

Is it their fault that governments go off the rails?/ Taras Matkovsky
Is it their fault that governments go off the rails?/ Taras Matkovsky

It’s amazing how Albertans keep voting in people who blame them

Author: Liam Fitz-Gerald

To find good political theatre these days, one need not only look to Game of Thrones nor House of Cards, but the Province of Alberta, where former federal Conservative cabinet minister and current premier Jim Prentice has found himself in hot water for comments he made earlier this month.

The leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives (PC), a political party that’s been in power since 1971, was on CBC Radio One’s ‘Alberta at Noon’ programme on Mar. 4, 2015, where he said that even though citizens want somebody or something to blame for Alberta’s financial situation, they need look no further then themselves, saying, “In terms of who is responsible we all need only look in the mirror. Basically, all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs.”

Within hours of that comment, the hashtag #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans began circulating the internet and the premier found himself being condemned by everybody from average citizens on Twitter, to the leader of the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Opposition parties. Heather Forsyth, interim leader of the Wildrose Party, claimed that these comments proved how “out-of-touch” the government was in trying to blame Albertans for the financial mess.

David Swann, the provincial Liberal leader, said the blame really belonged to former premier Ralph Klein and his tax cuts, which led to a loss of “billions of dollars of tax revenue on the table.” Brian Mason of the Alberta NDP stated that he was “appalled” that the premier would say such a thing when “his government…made all of these key decisions all along.”

The premier clarified his remarks the following day and did not back down, saying that the province had a “collective responsibility” to get out of the mess. He certainly is right about that.

While pundits sometimes describe the PC Party of Alberta with the same level of contempt as some kind of banana republic-esque strongman party, there’s a key difference between the PCs and other political parties in less-than-ideal systems. The PC’s get democratically elected, and even though they don’t get 99.9% of the vote, they’ve been the party of choice for much of Alberta’s voting public—which means they get to form the government, draw up budgets and execute a mandate they’ve assumed from voters, one that has not included economic diversification and less reliance on revenue coming from oil. Back in the 1980s, when Alberta faced similar challenges, there was a famous bumper sticker that said, “Please God, give us another oil boom. We promise not to piss it away next time.”

And so, there was another boom and many people proceeded, once again, to piss it all away. Talks of energy diversification were ignored, laughed at, or marginalized, and hey, when the price of oil was $100 a barrel, why was there a need to think about that? Well, when the price of oil plummeted, jobs started being shed, and Prentice was tasked to take on a budget that would make any government cringe, maybe alarm bells should have gone off when a 2013 pie-chart showed that after oil accounted for 26 per cent of Alberta’s GDP, with agriculture being the second highest at 0.02 per cent.

And so, Alberta is in an ugly mess and the premier has said that the budget could be so radical that it triggers an election. Albertans, it seems, have a chance to punt the PC’s if they hate the budget, or call for the party to embrace economic diversification. Or, Hell might freeze over. Both are equally plausible.

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