On Friday, Jim Prentice announced the Michener Centre would stay open, reversing a decision made by ousted Alberta premier Alison Redford to close the long-term care facility for people with disabilities.
The day before that, the newly sworn-in premier wryly unveiled Alberta’s new license plate design — unchanged from the old design — and proudly bearing the province’s traditional motto: “Wild rose Country,” despite that provincial flower’s connection to the upstart opposition, the Wildrose Party.
On Wednesday came word of a revamp to Alberta’s faux diplomatic corps: its 13 offices would be put under review. The six-figure contract of Gary Mar — who was appointed to Alberta’s Hong Kong office after he lost to Ms. Redford in the 2011 leadership race — would not be renewed.
On Tuesday, Mr. Prentice announced he would cut the government air fleet that got Ms. Redford, with her expansive travel habits, into so much trouble.
It has been, in other words, a busy week.
Every day since he was sworn in as premier on Monday, Mr. Prentice has dominated the news agenda. His appointment of unelected members to cabinet, the decision to place a social conservative at the head of education, and his selection of two close friends to plum positions in trade offices, have stung, but failed to steer his agenda off track.
Instead, Mr. Prentice has engaged in a daily unwinding of Ms. Redford’s pettiest hits. And in his first week, the premier has demonstrated a deft understanding of the power of symbolism.
Decisions to close the Michener Centre, introduce terrible new license plate designs and rapidly expand the province’s foreign offices did not dominate national headlines, but they did enrage Albertans and demonstrate that Ms. Redford’s government was out of touch and unwilling to listen.
“It goes back to the approach of Ralph Klein, looking after the local needs of your voting populace,” said Chaldeans Mensah, a professor of political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton. “Ms. Redford was more intent on focusing on the international and national stage — I don’t think Prentice is completely oblivious to that… but in his brief period in office, I think he’s demonstrated a remarkable ability to address some of the internal provincial issues that I think the old regime simply glossed over.”
There was nothing wrong with Ms. Redford’s internationalist approach, but combined with the benign neglect of internal affairs, the travel bill, and allegations of expense abuse, her outward-looking nature quickly alienated constituents.
By comparison, Mr. Prentice has spent his first week with his feet on the ground and his hands on the weeds.
“The drip-by-drip announcements capture the attention of the media and the population. It’s easy to underestimate the power of that to sway public opinion,” Mr. Mensah said.
This approach will prove to be a challenge for opposition parties, which are going to have to alter their strategies, he added.
“Prentice has systematically worked through his first week getting rid of everything Alison Redford did to infuriate voters,” said NDP leader Brian Mason. “And while I can’t fault him for doing that, I would point out that what he is doing is basically going about and removing the irritants that were affecting the Conservatives’ popularity in a very serious way. That’s not the same thing as bringing forward new initiatives that will build public support.”
The moves do demonstrate Mr. Prentice has a good instinct for where the problems lie, although Mr. Mason said he expects the premier’s cabinet appointments will continue to haunt him in the long run.
As for the Michener Centre, it has a long and sad history that stretches back more than a century, when it was an institution that housed and even sterilized the developmentally disabled. With much of that dark era in the past, the centre has also been home to more than 100 vulnerable adults who have spent much of their life there.
In March 2013, the government announced it would shut the Red Deer facility, much to the dismay of advocates who did not want to disrupt those living there. More than 40 people were relocated. Five of them have since died.
Mr. Prentice announced on Friday that he visited the Michener Centre privately over the summer and was convinced by an affected family member to keep it open.
The decision was met with applause and praise, even among opposition.
At the end of the announcement, a member of the media asked when he was going to call a promised byelection to find a seat for himself and his two unelected cabinet ministers.
Mr. Prentice responded: “I’m doing one thing at a time.”