EDMONTON — Jim Prentice officially launched his Alberta Tory leadership bid Wednesday by promising to take a sandblaster to the cronyism and luxury perks of the Alison Redford era.
“The bond of trust between the people of Alberta and their elected representatives must be repaired,” Prentice told 100 cheering supporters at the downtown CKUA building.
“I will introduce clear rules. I will change the way that things are done and I promise you that those rules will be enforced with discipline.
“If you are a part of my government you will be held to the standard of being a servant of the people of Alberta.”
It was the first time Prentice spoke about his plans for running the province should he defeat former infrastructure minister Ric McIver in the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on Sept. 6.
The race was called after Redford resigned on March 23 ahead of a caucus revolt over accusations of imperious leadership and revelations of exorbitant spending on herself and her inner circle.
Prentice, a former MP and cabinet minister under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the new rules will include no sole-source contracts, and “an end to sweetheart contracts for political staffers.”
He said those who lobby the province will not get simultaneous government consulting contracts.
“And when it comes to public appointments,” he added. “I promise you that qualifications will matter and connections will not.”
Prentice promised a renewed commitment to “fiscal prudence,” including no sales tax and a budget that balances day-to-day spending, builds infrastructure like schools, and has a savings plan.
Those priorities are already being met in Redford’s current budget. Critics, however, have said Redford’s budget needlessly racks up debt for infrastructure, with the red ink pegged to hit $21 billion by 2017.
Finance Minister Doug Horner has defended it, saying with interest rates low and the population rising, borrowing makes sense.
Prentice said the capital plan will be “renewed and refocused” but didn’t elaborate except to say: “In the Alberta that I lead, our children will not be housed in makeshift schools.”
He also promised to maximize the return on renewable and non-renewable resources while protecting the environment.
He said his approach will be collaborative and not punitive.
“We will not damage the competitiveness of our oil and gas industry by unilaterally imposing costs, including carbon costs, and regulation,” he said. “Instead, we’re going to work together with the federal government and with the United States to build a greater advantage for all of us by harmonizing our environmental standards.”
He promised top flight health care, public education, and care for seniors, along with a renewed relationship with Edmonton and Calgary to recognize the unique needs of big cities.
Prentice made the speech backed by 15 area PC members of the legislature. He enjoys the endorsement of almost the entire caucus.
His speech indicated the dominant theme of the campaign will be atonement for Redford.
McIver, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago, has also taken aim at the excesses of the Redford era, repeating on the campaign trail that from this day forward Albertans are “the bosses.”
Dave Hancock, serving as premier until the new leader has chosen, has also apologized publicly for the mistakes of the Redford era.
None of the leaders has referred to Redford by name, however.
Redford, continuing to work as a backbench MLA for Calgary-Elbow, has declined to comment on what went wrong with her premiership. She has said she’s focusing on the future.
As premier, Redford flew herself and family to weekend getaways and vacations on government planes. She flew family friends around, billed hundreds of thousands of dollars for extra security, and used taxpayer money to plan the building of a penthouse retreat on top of a government building.
The suite was cancelled by McIver in January just as preliminary construction began.