To: Alberta Premier-designate Jim Prentice
From: the peanut gallery
Congratulations on your landslide, Mr. Prentice. Now comes the mudslide – but you had to know that.
As you're aware, many of your friends thought a screw had come out of your brain. Vice-chairman of the CIBC board. First-class flying. Speechifying. Big salary. Interesting issues. Surrounded (mostly) by smart people. Life was good.
You'd done politics, and risen to be deputy prime minister of Canada, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper would never actually give anyone that title, being who he is. Now, you've settled for Pincher Creek instead of Beijing or New York, rubber chicken for chicken fricassee. You've traded media reverence (remember fondly how the business press, on bended knee, treats bankers' pronouncements) for daily skepticism. You asked for the job. Now here comes some free advice, price being directly related to utility.
You said next to nothing of interest to Alberta Progressive Conservatives in the leadership campaign, such as it was. You had it in the bag from the get-go, so one presumes you thought the path of least resistance was to offer nothing in the form of visionary or concrete, let alone exciting, ideas. That proposal about the fixed terms for MLAs – drop it. It's contemporary Republican Party boilerplate, and makes no sense. Let the people, not some law, decide who's worthy of being elected or re-elected. Rookie MPs or MLAs are often (not always) the worst, knowing less than they think.
And forget the Wildrose Party core. They are an important but dwindling reflection of contemporary Alberta. If you win, it will be by attracting moderate conservatives and centrists. They reflect who you are. Be true to yourself. Give these voters something to get interested in. Here are some ideas.
1. Your biggest challenge, and peril, is to tell the truth about Alberta's energy industry. Things can't go on as before, unless the province wants to keep kidding itself, which means blaming the news media, the environmentalists and other villains.
Alberta is up a creek unless it can get its bitumen to more markets. At the moment, every pipeline project is dead (Northern Gateway), likely dead (Keystone XL), in trouble (Trans-Mountain) or yet to be determined (East-West). Either Alberta introduces tougher greenhouse-gas emissions laws, or it can take out advertisements from Boston to Berlin to no avail. Salesmanship has flopped. Try statesmanship, which means listening to others.
Even then, Alberta's bitumen is going to be frustrated by the Supreme Court of Canada's Tsilhqot'in ruling, which grants much wider aboriginal title. In the private words last week of one of British Columbia's most prominent people – someone with vast credibility in the private and public sectors: "We're screwed." All of your undoubted charm and sincerity, and experience with aboriginals, will be of marginal use. The game has changed. Get used to it, as we all have to. The sound of the foreseeable future will be of brakes, not engines.
The next time some big shot from the fossil-fuel world scoffs at the pipeline obstacles and declares rail to be the answer, ask yourself: How would people in, say, Drayton Valley feel about a tripling or quadrupling of cars filled with oil rumbling through their towns? You know the answer. By the way, as for that idea of yours about acting together with the Americans, take a look at the U.S. Congress and read the play Waiting For Godot.
2. Everybody in politics loves the word "infrastructure." All those roads and sewers and bridges. All those announcements and ceremonies and Economic Action Plan logos. Physical infrastructure is important, but brain-power infrastructure is more important still. Put marginal dollars into Alberta's universities and colleges. You have the money, whereas Ontario and Quebec don't, despite pretenses to the contrary.
3. The votes you need are in and around Calgary and Edmonton. Pay attention to what they need, and what their mayors are saying. Of course they are going to be pains – never satisfied, always demanding. But they are popular. They recently got elected. What they say resonates. Pay attention.
4. Don't be afraid to take on Mr. Harper. Many (most?) of his Alberta MPs are Wildrose supporters, not PCs. Get a few of his more sensible Alberta MPs outside cabinet to join your team, starting with James Rajotte from Edmonton.
5. Don't ever admit to reading this.