Premier Jim Prentice is facing a social media backlash after telling Albertans to "look in the mirror" to find who is responsible for the province's current financial woes.
Speaking on CBC's Alberta@Noon Wednesday, Premier Jim Prentice told host Donna McElligott that "in terms of who is responsible, we need only look in the mirror. Basically, all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs."
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Within hours, the comment found a second life on Twitter, trending under #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans.
“I’ve never said Albertans are the problem," Prentice told the Calgary Herald Thursday. "I’ve never, ever said that or anything like that. What I’ve said is that Albertans have to be part of the solution.”
Prentice admits he “touched a nerve,” but is not backing away from his tough line.
“Basically all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs. Collectively we got into this as Albertans and collectively we’re going to get out of it and everybody is going to have to shoulder some share of the responsibility.”
Opposition slams premier's choice of words
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it was galling for the premier to put the blame on Albertans.
She said the responsibility for the financial crisis was squarely on the Tories, who have been Alberta’s governing party for the past four decades,
"It took me a minute, a few minutes actually, to really process it," she said. "I was really quite surprised that he would come out with something that was so insulting and so disconnected from the reality in Alberta."
She called on Prentice to apologize for the comment, a demand that Alberta’s Official Opposition echoed.
"At a time many Albertans are worried about the value of their home plummeting, keeping their job or being able to make ends meet, Mr. Prentice’s comments blaming Albertans for being directly at fault for the PC government’s gross fiscal mismanagement shows how deeply out-of-touch this 44-year-old government has become," Heather Forsyth, the interim leader of the Wildrose, wrote in a statement.
The premier was in a cabinet meeting Thursday morning. He has not responded to CBC requests for comment, but his office issued a statement.
"Yesterday the premier echoed something he has been communicating to Albertans for a couple of months now: Alberta is going through tough financial times and there will be challenges ahead for all Albertans. We’ve all been fortunate to live in this great province and enjoy the benefits of it. At the same time, we’ve been overspending as a province, and have not had the revenue to put aside for future Albertans — for our children, grandchildren and Albertans not yet born. In our current financial situation, the premier believes the only way we'll move forward is if we come together."
The statement said the premier is laying out a long-term financial plan to fix this problem for good in the budget expected on March 26.
Independent pollster Janet Brown said Prentice's remarks reinforce a stereotype that Prentice's allegiances lie with corporate Calgary.
"It really hit a button of concern with the people who are on social media," she said. "That button of concern is that Prentice isn't like you and I. He really doesn't understand what it's like to be the average Albertan."
Brown said the comments could be damaging for the PC Party heading into a possible spring election. Political analyst Paul McLoughlin said that's why the opposition parties are jumping on the comment.
"I don’t think [Prentice] intended it to come out the way it’s been spun by the opposition, but he’s given them incredible fodder to work with," he said Thursday morning.
"I can see where Prentice’s thinking got there, but it is not in any way helpful to the kinds of messages he’s trying to move forwards in terms of how to deal with the deficit. I don’t think he’s been helpful to himself."
The blame game
McLoughlin said the comment seems to follow on a pattern seen during the Alison Redford campaign, where the political culture often sought to put blame elsewhere.
What appears to differentiate Prentice’s campaign, he added, was the sense that it was time for Albertans to forgo living large and "to get back to the [Canadian] average."
"I don't think I've ever heard any Albertan premier ever talk about Albertans and what Albertans do being 'average' and I think it goes a little against the political culture in Alberta," McLoughlin said.
"There’s some bumps in the road to the election," he added.
Tweets had Prentice sarcastically blaming Albertans for everything from the demise of the dinosaurs to the play call that cost the Seattle Seahawks the Super Bowl. One tweet commented: "On campaign trail, Prentice opts not to kiss baby. Instead, whispers in toddler's ear: 'It's your damn fault."'
Others said Prentice was correct, given that Albertans have voted to keep the Progressive Conservative Party in power since 1971.
- Read some of the Twitter responses to Prentice's comments