EDMONTON — Premier Jim Prentice has stirred up a whirlwind of anger by saying Albertans need to “look in the mirror” if they want to know who is responsible for the province’s fiscal mess.
The Twitter hashtag #PrenticeBlamesAlbertans went viral Thursday with a torrent of sarcasm, memes and outrage, and was a top trender in Canada for a time.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley demanded Prentice and his four-decade-old Progressive Conservative government publicly apologize for “profoundly insulting” Albertans.
“These guys have been at the controls. These guys are the ones that have made the decisions. It’s their decisions that have put us here,” said Notley.
“How dare they blame the families who are struggling to make ends meet under the circumstances that these folks have created. When you’ve been in government for 43 years, the least you can do is take responsibility for what you’ve done.”
Wildrose Opposition Leader Heather Forsyth also demanded Prentice apologize.
“It is his government who overspent by over $40 billion for the past decade” said Forsyth.
“It is his government that has failed to ensure we could withstand $50 oil. It is his government that has made Alberta’s politicians and government the most expensive in Canada.”
Prentice’s office, in a statement, said: “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.”
The controversy ignited after Prentice spoke about the fiscal crisis the province faces on a CBC radio call-in show Wednesday.
“In terms of who is responsible we all need only look in the mirror,” he said. “Collectively, we got into this as Albertans and collectively we’re going to get out of it.”
Two of his senior ministers, Finance Minister Robin Campbell and Health Minister Stephen Mandel, told reporters in Calgary they didn’t hear the premier’s comments. But they also said they believe they were taken out of context because the remarks don’t reflect what Prentice believes.
Campbell said the outrage was “blown out of proportion.”
“Nobody’s told me they’re offended,” he said.
The Twitter world, however, responded with a viral vengeance.
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.
Prentice is navigating rocky political rapids brought on by a collapse in oil prices that has sucked billions of dollars from the treasury.
Campbell announced Thursday that the provincial budget is to be tabled March 26.
Prentice has already said the budget will include a 10-year financial plan to retool how Alberta raises and spends money so as to insulate government books from huge price swings in oil.
He has launched numerous trial balloons in recent weeks that have hinted at higher income taxes, more tuition fees and a reintroduction of health premiums.
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