Make Jimmy Pay

Jim Prentice’s decision not to serve as MLA for Foothills will cost Albertans about $275,000, the price tag for a by-election. But he knew before election day that he did not intend to serve and failed to withdraw his candidacy. Either he or his party should cough up that dough to taxpayers or they should belatedly withdraw his candidacy and allow NDP runner-up Anne Wilson to become the MLA for Calgary-Foothills.

It appeared to many people on election night that former Premier Prentice was having a snit about his party being rejected by the voters and therefore not only quitting as PC leader (which was quite appropriate) but also as MLA for Foothills, a position that the voters of that constituency had just bestowed on him for a second time.

But Prentice knew well before election day that his party was going to be humiliated on election night. After all, the PC party is wealthy and had personal polling provided to them throughout the election. Is it possible that the professional pollsters whom they employed were providing a different version of the likely election results than all the public polls were providing or that the pollsters for Wildrose were providing (you’ll recall that Brian Jean revealed their findings a day or two before the election). No. Parties do not hire pollsters to massage their egoes but to give them the unvarnished truth about where a campaign is going and what it needs to do to turn things around when they are not going well.

There can be little doubt that Mr. Prentice, in the dying days of the campaign, was receiving the news that his party’s campaign could not be pulled out of the flames and that in his own seat, where he might earlier have expected to win by a landslide, that he would only have a plurality of votes. He could have then decided that he would serve the people of Calgary-Foothills, should they elect him as their MLA, even though he would not stay on as premier. Or he could have announced to Foothills voters that he would only serve as their MLA if his party formed government or perhaps official opposition. In the latter case they likely would have chosen not to vote for him in order to spare themselves the necessity of a by-election and to spare Albertans as a whole the costs of a by-election.

Forcing by-elections for personal reasons–other than death–seems a selfish decision for any elected politician to take, given the costs incurred. It seems ironic that right-wing politicians, who claim that they want to cut waste, are generally the biggest culprits. Strangely, during the election, no one appears to have questioned Brian Jean’s decision to quit his federal seat in mid-term, forcing a by-election, only to re-emerge a year later as a provincial politician. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a small, secretive corporate group with whom Change Alberta rarely agrees about anything, has suggested that Mr. Prentice pay for the costs of a by-election that he knowingly has forced upon the voters of Calgary-Foothills and the taxpayers of Alberta. We agree. The alternative, if it is legal, would be for the former premier and his party to cancel Mr. Prentice’s candidacy after the fact and allow second-place candidate, Anne Wilson, to become the Foothills MLA. But no doubt many voters in Calgary-Foothills would not be happy to have someone named their MLA on a technicality.

Jim Prentice, Albertans do owe you a debt perhaps for wasting about $6 million in calling an election one year early (if elections cost us about $24 million, then that is $6 million per year). As Sidney Green, a member of the first NDP Cabinet in Manitoba, commented when that province’s Conservatives called an election in 1969 a year before necessary, “anytime you have a Conservative government is a good time to have an election because you have an opportunity to elect someone else.” But your decision to add $275,000 to that cost is simply not justifiable.

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