Prentice talks election, health care, finance
Leadership hopeful meets with Gazette's editorial board
Friday, Jul 18, 2014 04:45 pm
The presumed front-runner in the race to be the leader of the Progressive Conservative party says he believes in collaboration and a meritocracy.
Jim Prentice met with the editorial board of the St. Albert Gazette Thursday and discussed a range of issues from style of leadership to the environment to fiscal reporting.
“I don’t believe in professional politicians,” Prentice said, noting he’d become an MP after committing to his family that it’d be only for 10 years. He kept that promise, resigning shortly before the 2011 federal election.
But now he’s seeking to return, this time in provincial politics, and hopes to win the leadership when the PC party votes in September.
The return was prompted by the critical issues facing Alberta in the near future that will help determine the future of the province, questions covering topics such as financial issues, market access, international reputation and essential public services.
“Fundamentally, the reason I’ve come back into public life is my concern about the leadership we have and the absence of leadership while those critical questions are on the table, because – more than anything else – I’m passionate about the kind of province my grandchildren are going to inherit,” Prentice said.
While he enjoyed his relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his time in federal politics, Prentice said his leadership style would likely differ from Harper’s.
“I think by my own nature I’m somewhat more collaborative.”
When it comes to cabinet, Prentice wants to see a smaller team with a range of life experience.
“I think it needs to be leaner,” he said.
“I believe in a meritocracy,” Prentice said, adding that if he wins he will try to recruit strong candidates to join the already talented people in caucus.
“One thing I’ve been heartened by is there are good people stepping forward who are saying ‘Hey, Prentice, if you’re in this, I’m prepared to run.’”
Prentice acknowledged that he has broad caucus support, but when asked about being the presumed front-runner in the leadership race, said he’d keep going until the race is finished.
“My approach in life is to run like I’m four votes behind. I never take anything in life for granted,” Prentice said.
He hasn’t made any plans of where he’ll run in a byelection to gain a seat in the legislature if he does win the race, but noted some Calgary MLAs had announced intentions to seek federal seats.
Asked about former premier Alison Redford’s seat in south Calgary, Prentice noted he’s always been based in north Calgary.
“I haven’t made those decisions but that’s my community,” he said.
Prentice doesn’t plan on moving a general election up if he wins the leadership, however.
“I think Albertans have an expectation that was set out in law that it would be in 2016,” he said.
Prentice said some of his experiences as federal environment minister have shown him the need for good science and regulations.
He went abroad in that role to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and saw how not having good science to back up Canadian positions is damaging.
“I probably went abroad in the worst circumstances any Canadian minister ever has because we were public enemy No. 1,” he said.
“You can’t defend yourself internationally unless you have good science and unless you have quality regulations.”
Prentice said Alberta has to get back on its game, but needs to do so in a way that works with the federal government and doesn’t damage our competitiveness. He plans to bring in a very future-oriented climate change policy if he’s successful at becoming the party leader and premier.
“To be frank, that’s going to be a 20 year effort. It’s going to take us 20 years to do what we need to do to completely turn this around. We need to start immediately, but you can’t change world opinion overnight,” Prentice said.
But, as he points out, he is a conservative and believes this need to be driven by free markets and technology.
“We can’t subsidize our way into being an environmental leader again.”
On the energy industry front, Prentice said Alberta needs to get its product onto international products.
“We need west coast access. To get that we’re going to need to strike a partnership with British Columbia and in particular with First Nations on the coast of B.C.,” he said, citing his experience with the First Nations as a reason why he believes the premier of Alberta will have to get involved.
Financial reporting, planning
Under a Prentice premiership, the much-criticized format of Alberta’s financial reporting would return to the way it was before.
“In my view, we have to report on a consolidated basis that allows for comparability to previous budgets, because if you don’t have that clarity surrounding the fiscal performance of the government, all of the subsequent discussions become partisan and antagonistic because people disagree on the numbers,” he said.
Prentice said he’s heard “loud and clear” from Albertans that change must be made, he said – but there have been changes to public accounting standards and opinions from the auditor-general, so those would be taken into account as well.
“My belief is that over the next three years we should be able to run the government in a surplus,” he said.
That surplus should be divided between debt retirement/infrastructure building and savings.
“I think the finance minister should report semi-annually – a report card on infrastructure and a report card on savings,” Prentice said.
He said he thinks there is a serious infrastructure deficit in the province, but the three-year capital plan likely won’t be enough time to address it.
Prentice said he’d take a look at the plan and tweak it, probably moving it to a five-year build and paying out any debt incurred over 15 years.
Prentice said he hears about a shortage of doctors everywhere he goes in Alberta, but spoke more about how he wants to move Alberta Health Services to be less centralized.
“I think we went too far in centralizing it, personally,” Prentice said.
He said the system needs to evolve from a single administrator handling the entire province to a representative board.
Regional health councils should report to the health minister, not Alberta Health Services, he said.
While he has been told the system wouldn’t withstand being completely turned upside down, he wants to get to the heart of why the system is becoming more bureaucratic and why decisions seem to have slowed down.
“I think it’s the biggest management challenge that whoever is the new premier faces,” he said.
Asked about the role private health care could play in the province, he said he believes in the public system.
“I think we’ve got to focus on outcomes in the public system,” he said.