JIm Prentice addresses his Morinville audience. – Kristine Jorgensen Photo
Updated – 12:50 p.m. Aug. 18
by Tristan Turner
Alberta PC leadership candidate and former bank executive Jim Prentice spoke to Progressive Conservative (PC) supporters, local councillors and journalists Aug. 18 during a campaign stop at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. Prentice gave a speech in support of his candidacy, identifying points in his platform and his history as a federal Cabinet minister. He also responded to questions from attendees.
Prentice spoke about the need to make large investments in provincial infrastructure through deficit financing, addressing the deficit over five years, and repaying the borrowing over an accelerated 15-year period. Included in these infrastructure priorities was a planned $250 million investment in ensuring all continuing care facilities within the province meet fire and safety codes, as well as a plan to build more senior facilities than currently planned. “We’re building about 800 units [in senior facilities] every year,” he said. “That’s a great government program. Problem is you need 2,000 units a year just to keep pace [with growing demand].” Other infrastructure plans include significant investments in bridges, highways and new schools.
Prentice contrasted U.S. President Barrack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) with the Canadian government’s stimulus plan, arguing the Conservatives focused on investing in infrastructure while the US program did not. “You can’t find anything today in the United States that was built with fiscal crisis dollars, and it’s been one of the big criticisms of President Obama because they took the money,” Prentice said, adding state and municipal governments used stimulus money to cover their own deficits. “It basically just got washed through the government system and nobody built anything.”
However, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, billions of dollars were spent on infrastructure projects, including $27.5 billion for highway and bridge construction projects, $8 billion for intercity passenger rail projects and many currently completed stimulus supported projects, including the new Robertson Bridge in Danville, Virginia.
If elected as PC leader, Prentice said one of his priorities would be on what he sees as the province’s infrastructure deficit. When asked if he would commit to building an overpass at the intersection of Cardiff Road and Highway 2, the PC candidate said, “catching up on our highway infrastructure will be a priority for sure, but I can’t tell you where the Cardiff overpass fits into the transportation plan.”
While Prentice may not be aware of where the government he hopes to lead stands on transportation priorities, he vocally took a stand against the entitlements that have shadowed the Alberta government under Premier Alison Redford. He promised the Morinville audience an end to “entitlements” and “sweetheart contracts” associated with the Redford government. “When I talk about the end of entitlements, I’m not talking about our MLAs, and I’m not even – for the most part – talking about our ministers,” he said. “I’m talking about the relationship that exists between the person at the top of the Government of Alberta and the citizens. People are saying they’re disgusted and they want change. They’re going to see that [change].”
Speaking about specific changes, Prentice said they need to prohibit sweetheart contracts and severance packages with political staffers. “Y[ou] know, they get hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then they go back to their old job the day after,” Prentice said. “We’re going to put an end to the sole-sourced contract where people cannot bid competitively, but receive work from the government. We’re going to change the rules that allow people to be a Deputy Minister of the Government today, quit the job at four o’clock, and tomorrow morning start lobbying the people who reported to you.”
On the matter of giving away party memberships, Prentice defended his position. “We are following all of the rules. We clarified the rules with the party before we began, and they’re very clear about how the process works,” Prentice said, adding they would report the numbers in a transparent way.
Alberta PC members will be selecting the next Premier in September, with a first round of voting ending on September 6, and a second round of voting on September 20 if no candidate receives majority support in the first round.