Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party is looking for a new leader, but what it may actually need is an exorcism, or at least the services of a good ghostbuster.
Bad ideas from the recent and distant past keep haunting the hapless PCs until it seems unlikely even leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, the ostensible solution to all the party's problems, can make them go away.
Several of these ectoplasmic political manifestations were running around Alberta yesterday, rattling the crockery, scaring pets, making babies cry and seriously irritating voters.
Consider the promise the PC Government was going to build 50 new schools using the so-called P3 model of financing, which as anyone who's been paying attention knows, is really just an expensive subsidy to big construction businesses.
It turns out 19 of them probably won't get built because the government has caught up with the rest of us and discovered "Public Private Partnerships" are just an expensive subsidy to business -- or leastways, Alberta's new infrastructure minister admitted at a news conference on Wednesday, they cost too much.
Wayne Drysdale, one of only two ministers actually appointed by the caretaker Premier Dave Hancock, told his newser the 19 schools' estimated cost of $570.7 million is $14 more than it would cost the government to build them the old fashioned way, by just hiring a contractor. Plus, he said, there's no way the schools can be completed by 2016, as promised back in the day when the catastrophic Alison Redford was premier. So the plan is out the window.
Redford has been excoriated at length for making and breaking promises with astonishing ease, so one ought not to be surprised this one's been found face up in the ditch as well.
The real problem bothering Drysdale had to be something else than the minor cost overrun. If $14 million was all it was going to cost extra, it's said here, the government would have gone ahead with the P3s. The real problem had to be there was no certainty the job would get done on time, even with the higher budget.
Nevertheless, you have to give Drysdale credit for giving a far better answer than that of Education Minister Jeff Johnson, whom the Edmonton Journal reported vowed the plan to build the schools by 2016 was "Rock of Gibraltar solid," or that of the previous infrastructure minister, Ric McIver, who promised in February the schools would be built on time.
McIver is busy now running to be Alberta's official Provincial Fool, a topic we'll have to get back to in a moment.
So it's too bad from the government's perspective that Hancock had to blunder into the midst of this yesterday and contradict almost everything Drysdale had said the day before.
No! Wait! Hancock said. The schools really will be built on time, undermining one of only two ministers he's actually appointed himself and proving Canada's richest province actually is being run by the cast of the Gong Show.
The Opposition Wildrose Party couldn't resist getting into this particular act either, promising to build … 100 new schools. Well, no one can say they weren't warned!
Meanwhile, with floodwaters on the rise in Southern Alberta one year to the day after rivers all over the same region poured over their banks onto the same chunk of real estate, the Globe and Mail revealed that the private company that runs Alberta's disaster compensation system isn’t up to the task.
The Tories can’t blame Redford for this bonehead play -- the privatization of the government's disaster relief services was perpetrated by the beloved Ralph Klein, who has now gone to his eternal reward and been officially granted sainthood by the party. (The Wildrose Party views him as a saint as well.)
It's a potential problem for the government in particular because the many potentially expensive privatization nightmares lingering in this province from Klein's well-lubricated time at the helm will give the Wildrose -- which proposes to more of exactly the same thing -- the opportunity to assail the government of Prentice (or Thomas Lukaszuk, in the unlikely event there's a surprise) for incompetence and mismanagement.
Well, no one said life was fair!
According to the Globe, it turns out LandLink, the company hired by the Klein Government to replace the essential public servants who ran this essential public service, wasn't up to the job in a really bad year like 2013 -- as, you know, a government would have been.
The government announced back in March it was cutting its ties with LandLink -- which the Globe says is going to cost us taxpayers $56.5 million this year, instead of the "maximum" $20 million it was supposed to -- too late to prevent a good haunting by this issue too.
Also still lingering from the Kleintastrophe are thousands of dusty, marginal private liquor stores selling the same five brands of overpriced beer, frequently to under-age buyers, crumbling infrastructure everywhere, a total lack of regional planning, a health system in chaos, and an education system students can't afford -- although, in fairness, Redford and Lukaszuk made a big contribution to that problem too.
Plus there’s also our beloved "flat tax," which is extremely popular with billionaires and people who can't do arithmetic.
Now, speaking of malignant manifestations that won't go away, let's get back to McIver's troubles…
After the Redford Government spent two and a half years painting the Wildrosers as homophobic creeps, based on an ill-considered blog commentary by a candidate in 2012 that gays were doomed to end up in a Biblical Lake of Fire if they didn't repent their ways, McIver kindly took it back from them.
He did this by turning up at a parade sponsored by a virulent Calgary religious group that claims gay folks are actively in league with Satan to… well, it wasn't altogether clear… do something really bad, presumably.
This same group also had an explanation for last year's floods in Alberta, and presumably this year's too: It's God, you see, because after all these centuries He's still POed about gays.
This message was considerably nastier in tone and purpose than Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger's 2012 opinion that gays needed to repent so they could go to heaven, which he expressed in his church's blog and then foolishly left lying around until it sank his party's electoral chances.
For his part, McIver claimed right after Sunday's parade that he was just encouraging religious diversity by visiting with all sorts of groups, and folks had a right to believe what they believe.
Then he hid out from the press for several days. Finally, he copped a plea to … wait for it … distracted politicking, which is sort of like distracted driving, only involves not using the Google function on your smart phone when you're behind the wheel of a campaign. "I didn't do my homework," he confessed, eventually, to reporters.
It turns out, McIver was just as astonished as the rest of us that the group that organized the March for Jesus had "nasty" comments on its website. Well – duh! – McIver has only been going to the Calgary Street Church's parades for about four years!
So the Wildrose Party accidentally gave the Tories a great issue in 2012, McIver has taken it off their hands, and now they won't take it back!
McIver, though, vows to stick around in the leadership race -- better to remind voters of this fiasco when the next election is closer, I guess. As previously observed, the only serious question now is how much damage he's done to the party.
Just one more reason why the big question facing Alberta's Tories today is, as the Ghostbusters theme song puts it: "If there's something weird and it don't look good… Who ya gonna call?"
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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