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Premier's televised fan dance fails to inspire but may deliver four more years of the same old anyway

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Jim Prentice

You want to hear a speech for a crisis? I'll show you a speech for a crisis! "I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'"

That was Winston Churchill in the House of Commons at Westminster on May 13, 1940. In his first speech as prime minister, Churchill was dealing with a real crisis, of the sort that doesn't give a leader the vapours at the thought of running a deficit!

Hitler was on the loose in Europe and, Mr. Churchill told MPs, "we have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

Sorry about letting Churchill run on, but he had such a fine way with our great language he is surely worth quoting. Anyway, everyone knows Alberta Premier Jim Prentice can't make those kinds of claims about our future here in Alberta, the convenient and dreary dogma of his neoliberal faith notwithstanding, let alone stow the anchor of his customary banker's bureaucratese.

It would have been very hard for Prentice to rise to such heights of oratory in his tepid televised sermon to the people of Alberta last night, taped in the boardroom of Government House in Edmonton, which appears to have been redecorated to resemble the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

And where's the logical Mr. Spock now that we need him? After all, the cause of our current troubles here in Alberta is not one of history's great villains, as Churchill faced, but the fiscal incompetence and lack of vision of the premier’s own Progressive Conservative government, which has yet to plan successfully for a predictable and periodic downturn in the price of commodities in its 43-year history.

So the premier had the tough task of finding a way to suggest, sticking with the Star Trek theme, that he and his government will boldly go where no Tory has gone before -- in the direction of managerial competence. Alas, Mr. Spock is dead, and logic seems to have perished too!

Or, to put this another way, Prentice has the (apparently not so) tough job of persuading Albertans that the answer to more than four decades of PC mismanagement is four more interminable years of the same. Only, you know, this time they'll do better. Promise!

To achieve this neat trick -- and I give Prentice credit for a businesslike tone that almost succeeded at making his argument sound plausible -- he is forced to continue doing the rhetorical fan dance, promising us tough times ahead with sunshine in the future if we all just pull together and vote PC, without ever quite revealing more than hints of what this is supposed to entail.

Mind you, Prentice wasn't quite willing to give up the notion that if we want to see the real troublemaker, we need to look in the mirror -- although he wisely steered clear of those words. "So why did this happen in Alberta? Fundamentally, we've not always had realistic expectations, and our leaders must bear a considerable part of the responsibility for that." (Emphasis added, of course -- and whom do you think he thinks should bear the rest?)

Some commentators, by the way, suggested this comment reflects a break with past premiers by Prentice. If they actually believe this, my late Aunt Sadie has a substantial bequest for them, if they'll only email her representative their banking information.

Well, there were some hints there of what's to come, I guess. We're apparently going back to health-care fees -- a central tenet of Prentice's neoliberal faith, in which none of us will ever appreciate a thing if we don’t have to pay for it up front, preferably to an unaccountable private entity.

But this time, as he omitted to mention last night, they'll be structured in a way that we can’t get our corporate employers to pay them, even those few of us with unions, but will have to shell out our own freely floating Canadian Loonies. But this is not, note, a "tax increase …" of which there will be none, or none where it counts in Prentice's books anyway.

Likewise, though we are all created equal and will have to suffer equally to make it through this crisis of mismanagement to the pot o' gold at the end of the Tory rainbow, some of us will have to suffer more equally than others -- especially those of you with public sector jobs, by the sound of it, unless you’re prepared to demonstrate some "openness to new solutions."

Still, while the speech was long on warnings about the gravity of the crisis and the joy to be found at the end if we all of us -- loggers and bloggers alike (and thank you, Mr. Premier, for that acknowledgement) -- just stick together and return the PCs to power one more time, it was very short on details.

It even contained a hint we won’t know the full details of the program when we head Thursday's Budget Speech, but will have to wait until after the election to find out what's really going to happen. How else are we to interpret the premier's promise that revenue from our new health care direct payments "will start small but it will grow over three years"?

I’ll give Prentice this much: It was a stroke of genius to give the only time to respond to the leader of a moribund party so dull, ill prepared and fixated on the late Martha and Henry that many voters are bound do conclude, "what alternative is there?"

There is an alternative of course, but it lies with the only political party with seats in the Legislature that wasn't invited to the TV studio.

Well, as Churchill said, let us take up our task with buoyancy and hope. "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength" -- and not vote for the same old thing one more wearisome time!

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

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