OTTAWA — Premier Jim Prentice is not budging from his tough-love message to the province, shrugging off accusations that he insulted Albertans by suggesting they were to blame for their latest economic challenges.
Prentice kicked up a social media storm after he told a talk radio host Thursday that Albertans should “look in the mirror” to understand why the province is in a fiscal mess.
The steep drop in oil prices has opened up what is expected to be a $7-billion gap in next year’s provincial budget.
Provincial opposition leaders have called on him to apologize, given that it was his own Progressive Conservative party that managed the province’s books for more than 40 years.
The premier received a much warmer welcome Friday at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, a policy confab that brings together Conservatives from different spheres across Canada.
Prentice cracked a joke about stopping in to do a TV interview right before his conference speech.
“After it was over, (the makeup artist) said to me, ’If you want that off, there’s a mirror right over here.’ I said, ’No, no, I don’t. Stop talking about mirrors.”’
Later, Prentice said his talk-show comment had been taken out of context.
“What I said was that as Albertans, we’re in the circumstance that we’re in together, we got into it together, and the only solutions are going to be for us to get out of it together,” he said.
“That’s quite consistent with what I’ve been saying for quite some time. We have some pretty significant fiscal challenges as a province, we intend to maintain core services for our citizens, but it’s going to be up to all of us as Albertans to work together for a solution.”
Prentice told the conference that Alberta will remain an energy powerhouse, even as oil prices sag. But he said the next budget, to be released later this month, will be a 10-year fiscal plan for lessening the province’s dependence on oil.
“As I’ve said, it is unreasonable for citizens in Alberta to have to turn on the television set to watch an OPEC meeting to determine whether we can build schools, finish hospital construction or hire teachers,” he said.
“We have to forge our own way, taking advantage of the natural gifts that we have as a province and as a country.”