Archive for September, 2008

Welcome to the Boiler Rooms

Welcome to the boiler rooms
Where Tiny Tories shut the door
And promise havoc, darkness, gloom
In emails sent out by the score
To unsuspecting folks who might,
Despite their fears, begin to see
A point of optimistic light
That’s cast there by the NDP,
Which calls for helping folks with babies
Raise healthy families. That’s the truth!
This thought, it seems, gives Tories rabies,
The poor, they claim, will reproduce!
What’s clear about these email gripers?
They’re boys who’ve never changed a diaper.

Saint City News column: How fighting crime in Alberta fits into Jack Layton’s long game plan

Strange things are afoot when the biggest front-page headline of the week in an Edmonton daily newspaper sits atop an unbiased account of what the national leader of the New Democratic Party had to say. But there it was, above the fold, in bold, black, 72-point all-caps: “LAYTON GETS TOUGH.” We live in interesting times!

NDP Leader Jack Layton hadn’t come to town just to get tough, of course. He seems like a pretty tough little guy, as a matter of fact, who spends a lot more time in the gym hoisting heavy objects than does our fuzzy-sweater-clad prime minister. Layton had come to Edmonton to get tough on crime.

This is not traditional territory for New Democrats. As a party of social justice, the NDP contains a higher-than-average percentage of members who believe you can’t fight crime without taking aim at the causes of crime. So there were more than a few sharp little intakes of breath among the party faithful in the crowd at the Winspear for Layton’s appearance Saturday when it became apparent where their leader was heading.

Still, Alberta New Democrats are nothing if not good sports, and the 600 or so die-hard party faithful packed into the Winspear’s lobby did their best to cheer lustily as Layton made his pitch.

To a cynical observer, Layton’s call for more police and tougher laws to deal with gang violence could be interpreted as evidence of just how much the nostrums of the right dominate Canadian political rhetoric nowadays. Like a lapsed believer bowing his head in prayer, Canadian political parties must all publicly confess their loyalty to the era’s prevailing dogma.

Still, in fairness, Layton included some crime-fighting ideas that have more promise than the usual claptrap about harsher prison sentences. The crowd of New Democrats cheered like they meant it when he called for a nation-wide ban on handguns, a policy that might actually save some lives. There were bound to be some anguished screeches from “responsible gun owners,” of course. But, ask yourself, do those people ever vote for the NDP?

Layton also said he wants to make it a separate criminal offence to discharge a firearm at a building. If his definition of a building includes glass-walled bus shelters, this could make life interesting for certain young people here in St. Albert!

A less cynical interpretation of Layton’s pitch to the mainstream is that with a weak leader at the helm of the Liberals, once Canada’s natural governing party, he has a historic chance in this election to become the leader of the Opposition. Naturally, he’s going to move toward the centre at a time when the centre appears to be moving toward him. All the more so if the Liberals are bent on joining the Whigs and Social Credit in the place old political parties go to die.

Recent public opinion polls have placed Layton’s federal New Democrats in the high teens and beyond, even here in the Conservative heartland of Alberta. Standing up in the middle of Harper Country and calling for a ban on handguns obviously isn’t going to hurt Layton back home in Toronto, where he stands a chance of electing more than one member and which this month has experienced a frightening rash of shootings involving handguns.

It’s a thought Layton wouldn’t dare to utter aloud – but it might just work for him if Stephen Harper got his coveted majority. That is, as long as the NDP could somehow eke out a position as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – which, as they say, is the government in waiting.

In other words, Jack Layton really is running for prime minister – just not quite yet.

Jack Layton in Edmonton

Eight hundred folks from Edmonton
Who clearly back the NDP
Had social democratic fun
Today when they came out to see
Their leader, Mr. Layton, talk
At the Winspear concert hall;
Jack got up and walked the walk
And everybody had a ball.
New Democrats at 20 per
Are rising daily in the polls;
Coast to coast it’s caused a stir,
Jack Layton’s clearly on a roll.
The press sees Jack is getting hot:
That’s why they only talk of pot!

Debate snub a blessing in disguise for Green Party

This column was published in today’s edition of the St. City News.

If Peter Johnston wasn’t cheering Monday night, he darn well should’ve been. By Wednesday, he should have been close to ecstatic! A bunch of guys he almost certainly doesn’t know in Ontario had just done him a really huge favour.

Johnston is the Green Party’s candidate here in Edmonton-St. Albert. The guys in Ontario are the political leaders and TV network execs who decided to deny Green Party Leader Elizabeth May a spot in the Oct. 1-2 leaders’ debates, then chickened out and let her back in. The favour was the instant credibility these two bonehead plays bestowed on a political fringe party whose support up to now has been a mile wide and an inch deep.

Johnston may not be the best candidate running in Edmonton-St. Albert – it’s hard to say because it’s darn hard to find out anything about him, even with the miracle of Google.

He may not even be the candidate with the greenest credentials – arguably that’s New Democrat Dave Burkhart, former Chair of the Big Lake Environmental Support Society and now the treasurer of BLESS, a guy you can’t get to shut up about the environment!

But the installer of flooring – environmentally sustainable wood flooring, presumably – who polled only 3,520 votes in 2004, will almost certainly do better this time because of sympathy for the Greens generated by the first dubious debate decision.

This wasn’t the conventional wisdom of Canada’s professional political pundits, of course. Their line was that Ms. May’s best chance was to be part of the televised leadership debate. “Entry into the leaders’ debate must remain her guiding objective,” Paul Martin’s former communications director solemnly told the Globe and Mail hours before the first dumb decision.

Like most pundits’ pronouncements, this was pure horse pucky. Who watches leadership debates? No normal citizen has watched a political debate all the way through since the invention of the TV remote. Most Canadians’ eyes glaze over about halfway through Question 2, and the surfing begins soon after.

Far more Canadians than ever would have watched the debate noticed the essential unfairness of the old boys’ club shutting out the female leader of a party with a nationwide slate of candidates that’s outpolling the NDP in key ridings in Ontario. Many will register their protest by voting Green. That the engaging Ms. May is now back in the debate means that she can eat her cake and have it too.

I’m not suggesting this means Johnston will win here in St. Albert. If the Conservatives dropped an atomic bomb on Alberta, the survivors would crawl out of the rubble and vote Conservative. Brent Rathgeber won the election that counted when he was narrowly nominated as the Conservative candidate back in March 2007.

But Johnston will do better than he might otherwise have done.

This works for Prime Minister Harper, of course, which is probably why he engineered the whole thing. Every sympathy vote that goes to the Greens – who are still a marginal force nationwide – is a vote that won’t be going to the Green Shift Liberals or the Climate Change Accountability NDP, two political parties that actually could deny the prime minister the majority he covets.

The sympathy vote may be particularly strong in Alberta ridings like ours where the result is a foregone conclusion long before Election Day. Lots of St. Albert voters who could never support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be looking for a place to park their vote. In the wake of this week’s television tempest, many will park it with Peter Johnston – whoever he happens to be.