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Jim Prentice, feeling austere, visits Red Deer -- but everything will likely look better in the morning

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Jack Mintz

Have Alberta's Tories been in power so long they don't understand the idea of the telegraph, let alone a smart phone?

That's one explanation for the way Alberta Premier Jim Prentice talks tough about public service unions when he's out in Wildrose Country, which apparently covers quite a span of territory nowadays, then goes all lovey-dovey about front-line public sector workers when he's in the Orange Zone around Edmonton.

Maybe the Progressive Conservative strategic brain trust figures that city slickers won’t hear about what he says down in the boondocks … and vice-versa.

The other explanation's not as complimentary.

Yesterday Prentice was in Red Deer, where he was back to taking a hard line on public service salaries, vowing there will be no new pay increases for public employees until the provincial budget is balanced and touting a fanciful scheme to have public employees join private-sector types on "efficiency teams" to figure out where to make cuts.

The day before, he was making friendly Facebook pronouncements about the fundamental rights of government workers in hopes of getting civil servants furious about being told they’d have to speak with their supervisor if they wanted to support a candidate in the current election campaign to simmer down.

And so it goes, back and forth, depending, apparently, on where in the province he happens to be.

Not that it'll be quite as hard to "stand firm and … insist on wage freezes in any contract negotiations until we get the Alberta government back in balance, until we get our budget back in balance,” as the premier implied in Red Deer yesterday.

First of all, several of the government's major contracts with big groups of public employees that could make real trouble for him before next month’s election have already been negotiated and signed. Thanks to the recent judgments by the Supreme Court of Canada about collective bargaining rights, there’s not much he can do about that short of using the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Of course, if Prentice were really serious about balancing the budget, he could figure out how to it in five seconds simply by charging a fair royalty for Alberta's resources, instead of the lowest in the world, and maintaining the lowest taxes in Canada on the super-rich and big business that were just a little closer to the second-lowest jurisdiction.

Indeed, as is by now well known everywhere, Alberta could raise $11 billion more from modest increases to those sources and still be the lowest-tax jurisdiction in Canada. That, in fact, would leave the province's budget in surplus with its "Alberta Advantage" bragging rights still in place.

If you wonder why he's not about to do that, you need only take note of whom he listens to. Consider Jack Mintz, University of Calgary business professor and, as the premier's advisor on corporate tax policy, high on the list of the government's quotable quotees.

Mintz has being doing yeoman service for the Tories explaining repeatedly to the lower orders how fair taxes for corporations would be policy disaster.

But as the Alberta NDP pointed out in a news release yesterday, in addition to his public sector salary, Mintz received compensation of $263,971 last year alone for sitting on the board of Imperial Oil. He holds 27,985 total common shares, deferred shares and restricted stock units in the same company. "The market value of Jack Mintz's total holdings in Imperial Oil is a staggering $1,391,974," noted the NDP release.

"Who benefits when corporations get tax breaks on their profits?" asked the NDP.  "Jack Mintz. Whether or not Jack Mintz should be advising Jim Prentice on corporate taxes is clearly questionable."

Meanwhile, guess who's in the budget bulls-eye. "Our schools and hospitals are already stretched to the limit and Prentice is promising it will be three more years with no new teachers or nurses," NDP Leader Rachel Notley said yesterday. "We could have 36,000 new students and no new teachers. … It’s just unacceptable that Prentice now says there will be no new nurses for three years in addition to his billion-dollar cut to health care."

So, what are we Albertans supposed to say to the people who keep moving here in droves? Do not enter? Go away? We're closed? Start your own darned schools?

Ah, well. We've heard it all before. And we'll hear it all again soon enough.

+ + +

Jim Prentice: My Part in His Downfall, by Danielle Smith

No! I will not be ghostwriting Danielle Smith's political memoir.

That was just an "idiotic and obnoxious" suggestion made by someone who should find something better to do.

Nevertheless, I have given some thought to the title of the book that Smith, former leader of the Wildrose Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, Tweeted yesterday to no one in particular she is about to write. I suggest: Jim Prentice: My Part in His Downfall.

Alternatively, if things fail to pan out as the latest demon-dialler poll of Alberta voter intentions suggests, this could be easily amended to Alison Redford: My Part in Her Downfall without the need to change more than one or two chapters.

Alternative suggestions from readers are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.


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