Archive for April, 2011

PM and his media auxiliary ready their final hysterical pitch to voters

Media clutter: Who expected this to be a problem when the 2011 election campaign was planned? Below: Yogi Berra.

JASPER, Alberta

The 2011 federal election campaign is now down to its cleverly contrived end game – eclipsed by palace-wall-to-palace-wall royal wedding coverage expected to deny opposition parties a final kick at the electoral cat.

Who would have thought when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cunning strategists cooked up this plan and set the time clock running that it would be his own Conservatives who needed to use the moment to make a final hysterical pitch to Canadian voters?

Not the prime minister, pretty obviously. Not his undeniably capable and completely unprincipled strategists. Not any of us, come to that.

Well, the electoral gods are having their fun with the prime minister. But those of us who oppose him need to take a breath and remember that at this strange moment in Canadian history these gods may wish to have their fun with us as well.

So it is critical at this hour that we keep in mind, as Yogi Berra famously reminded us, that it ain’t over till it’s over.

Properly done, public opinion polls provide a scientific measure of public sentiment at the moment they are taken. But this will not translate into victory if we don’t get our mothers and our fathers and our brothers and sisters (metaphorical and familial) and our children and our neighbours into the polling booth on Monday ready to take action to help build a better Canada.

And that goes for our own selves too. Us especially!

Elements of the mainstream media, naturally enough, are in full cry, loading on the baloney about the economic disaster that awaits if Canadians have the temerity to election an opposition – or, heaven forefend, a government – that actually speaks for the interests of ordinary working citizens.

Typical was the effort of the overwrought Calgary Herald columnist who declared that an NDP government led by Jack Layton would “cause havoc” and “cause our economy to tank” based on an interview with an obviously partisan University of Calgary economics professor whose conclusions about NDP environmental policy turned out to be wildly off base.

And if such dire economic prognostications fail to work, we can count on the media auxiliary of the Prime Minister’s Office to try to cut through the celebrity euphoria abroad with an ugly last-minute smear or two in the Republican/Conservative swift boat tradition, followed by phony telephone “push polls.”

The question now is how, amid the royal media clutter, any message will affect Canadian voters’ behaviour on Monday.

This is more than a moment to be there or be square. It’s the time to be there or be prepared for a post-election disaster of epic proportions.

Because you can depend on it that this prime minister – if he manages to escape the trap he has laid for himself – will be in a furious and vindictive rush to put in place measures to ensure democracy never again rears its head in Canada.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

All roads in Alberta lead to Edmonton-Strathcona

NDP Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan, Wednesday evening, at NDP leader Jack Layton’s rally in Edmonton. Below: Anne Marie Decore calls out Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman for using her late husband’s name in an effort to advance the prime minister’s neo-con agenda, an action she termed “repugnant.”

This profile of the Edmonton-Strathcona riding held by MP Linda Duncan ran on rabble.ca earlier this week. Edmonton-Strathcona is one of 10 key ridings across Canada rabble.ca advises progressive Canadians to watch in Monday’s federal general election.

In Alberta this week, all roads lead to Edmonton-Strathcona.

Down those roads, metaphorically speaking, flow the three Ms of Canadian politics: Mail, Money and Manpower.

This is because the folks who live along the still-snowy streets of the riding — which may soon be leafy and green as what Lucy Maud Montgomery called “the beautiful, capricious, reluctant Canadian spring” finally comes to Alberta — are represented by a New Democrat!

Will they still be represented by MP Linda Duncan, a capable and low-key environmental lawyer, when green leaves and warm sunshine dapple the streets of Edmonton-Strathcona? Well, the prime minister of Canada and his minions here in habitually Conservative Alberta — where this inner-city Edmonton is the only spot on the provincial electoral map not coloured Tory blue — have decreed it must not be so after the May 2 federal election.

To that end, they have been pouring the Three Ms into the riding in support of Ryan Hastman, a 31-year-old evangelical Christian and sometime minor PMO minion, chosen as the Conservative standard bearer. He seems to have been picked in part on the theory his age and looks will appeal to university students.

Specifically, this has meant taxpayer subsidized Parliamentary mail sent by Conservative offices and vast sums of money not needed by Conservative candidates in Alberta ridings where winning the Tory nomination means winning the Parliamentary seat. Only on the manpower front, have Duncan’s enthusiastic New Democratic supporters been able to equal or exceed the Tory troops.

Duncan’s election in 2008 came as a surprise to Alberta’s Conservative establishment — though it shouldn’t have, given the appalling quality of representation the riding received from Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, who over five easy elections justly earned the sobriquet of “Canada’s laziest MP.”

Still, the riding hadn’t elected an MP who wasn’t a member of some kind of Conservative-Reform-Alliance Party since 1958, when voters sent a Social Crediter to Ottawa.

Duncan made a credible run in 2006, in the process persuading many traditionally Liberal voters to move to the NDP column as long as Duncan was the candidate.

At any rate, voters in the riding — which surrounds the mildly progressive environs of the University of Alberta campus in the west and modestly suburban and traditionally Conservative neighbourhoods in the east — decided to give the hard-working New Democrat a try. Even so, old Alberta political habits die hard, and Duncan only squeaked in by 463 votes.

Indeed, on election night 2008, the CBC announced Jaffer’s victory and recorded his “victory speech.” By the time this writer got to Duncan’s headquarters to commiserate, however, New Democrats were celebrating victory.

This means is Duncan’s re-election is certain to be a hard fight. On her side is her credible performance since 2008 as an effective MP. Also helping have been a number of blunders by her Conservative opponent — Hastman was discovered to be getting help from a friend and former ministerial aide under investigation by the RCMP and was called out by the widow of the province’s most successful Liberal leader for comparing himself to her husband on a radio program.

For months, the government has trotted Hastman out around the riding to announce federal spending — as if he were the MP. It’s not clear if it has percolated to the riding’s Conservative voters that thanks to having an NDP MP they are doing better than most Alberta ridings, whose MPs, at best, take loyal voters for granted.

In the end, Duncan’s success may come down to how determined progressive and environmentally concerned voters are not to be distracted by a plethora of “alternative” candidates — including a Green, a Marxist-Leninist, two Independents, and a member of something called the Canadian Action Party.

The Liberals have nominated a candidate, but the message from their party to Liberal voters seems to be clear that it’s OK to vote strategically for the NDP.

For the reality — certainly in Edmonton-Strathcona with possible implications across the country — is that a vote for the Greens, the Liberals or any of the others is a vote for the Conservatives.

Click here for information on Edmonton-Strathcona.

Click here for information on Linda Duncan.

Quintessentially Canadian Layton casts orange glow on Edmonton

Jack Layton in Edmonton last night. Below: Linda Duncan, Lewis Cardinal, Ray Martin, Layton again.

Let’s go with the mainstream media’s cautious numbers: more than 1,000 optimistic New Democrats packed the historic Blatchford Hangar at Fort Edmonton Park tonight to welcome NDP Leader Jack Layton back to Alberta’s capital city where he started his campaign a scant 32 days ago.

It looked like twice as many to me, but, what the hey, crowds are notoriously hard to judge from the centre.

Is there an Orange Wave, even here in Conservative Alberta? It sure as heck looked like it, sounded like it last night. I had a moment when I thought a balcony laden with precious orange-wrapped NDP voters might come crashing to the floor, but it held, praise be, as the building literally shook with stomps and chants of N-D-P! N-D-P! N-D-P!

The guy beside me looked familiar: Oh yeah, he used to be a Red Tory who contested the Conservative nomination in the federal riding I live in. Maybe he was just spectating, but he looked as happy to be there as I was, and none of Mr. Layton’s RCMP guards offered to give him the bum’s rush.

But then, that sort of thing isn’t done at NDP rallies – which may just have something to do with why the NDP is doing so well right now.

Anyway, while there were a lot of familiar faces in the very big crowd, there were an awful lot of new faces too, many of them atop bodies clutching signs that said, “We can do this.” This was one NDP meeting that didn’t feel a bit like going to church.

Mr. Layton looked quintessentially Canadian in his grey Charlie Farquharson sweater while the crowd treated him like a rock star.

In his speech, Mr. Layton quite properly ignored to the more idiotic charges being bandied about by hysterical Alberta Conservatives these days – you know, like how the success of the NDP means the end of the world, or at least civilization as we know it, and certainly every last job in the oilpatch.

So far, no one from the Alberta chapter of the Conservative Party has demanded that Mr. Layton produce his birth certificate, but one can’t shake the feeling that this kind of thing is right around the corner.

Instead, as a candidate should at this point in the campaign, Mr. Layton just got on with pumping up the troops for the final push, especially in Edmonton-Strathcona, held by MP Linda Duncan, and in Edmonton-Centre and Edmonton-East where New Democrat candidates Lewis Cardinal and Ray Martin respectively have a fighting chance of riding the Orange Wave to Ottawa.

This prompted a reflexive snarl from the drafty Conservative tent over in Strathcona, where a spokesperson for the Tory candidate, whose name escapes me at the moment, denied there’s any evidence of an Orange Tide and repeated the standard Tory talking point about the need to keep on attacking the NDP for its energy policies.

Of course, it’s not really NDP energy policies the Conservatives and their hyperventilating stenographers in the tamer corners of the Alberta media are attacking, but a fictitious caricature of the New Democrats’ environmentally responsible approach to developing the oil sands.

The NDP approach makes for an interesting contrast to that taken by all three Alberta branches of the Maple Tea Party – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s, Premier Ed Stelmach’s and Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith’s – which is essentially to kill the goose as quickly as possible to get at all those eggs. In this scheme, Canadians make some money loading up the boxcars to ship the gold to the United States.

What the NDP is proposing, by contrast, is to develop the oil sands in a way that ensures long-term prosperity and continued employment for Canadian working people – not just oil company executives in office towers in Texas.

So instead of hosing away taxpayers’ money on public relations sales pitches and unconvincing billboard denials around the world, the NDP proposes to develop the Athabasca oil sands resource in a sustainable way that provides clear evidence to buyers in Europe and the United States Canadians are not environmental lunatics.

This will create more jobs, not fewer, as the Conservatives … well, let’s just say, as they “claim.”

Moreover, instead of shipping bitumen – and Alberta jobs – down the pipeline to the United States, the NDP would encourage more bitumen to be processed in Alberta by Albertans. This would create well-paying stable jobs in Alberta and enhance our economy.

The Conservatives know all this. But Mr. Harper’s party is all about short-term favours for their corporate pals in the United States, and long-term pain for the rest of us.

That’s why, from Alberta’s perspective, it’s never been more important than next Monday to elect New Democrats like Linda Duncan, Lewis Cardinal and Ray Martin … and Jack Layton.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Stark choice may face compiler of PM’s Dossier of Dodgy Disclosures: Orange Wave or orange jumpsuit!

Somewhere in Alberta, the Prophet Jeremiah contemplates Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 500 pages of dodgy disclosures, said to have been recorded by the hand of Tom Flanagan. Below: Dr. Flanagan and Julian Assange.

Here’s a question for you: Is Tom Flanagan thinking about joining the Orange Wave and voting NDP? D’ya think?

It would make sense. After all, Jack Layton as prime minister is probably the best hope the poor guy has of not having to dress in orange and share a cell at Guantánamo Bay with Julian Assange.

I’m joking of course. … At least, given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reputation for vindictiveness, I think I’m joking.

It was Dr. Flanagan, neo-con University of Calgary professor and American-born avatar of the Canadian loony right, who in his former role as prime ministerial advisor and best buddy compiled a secret Dossier of Dodgy Disclosures. Five hundred pages of dodgy prime ministerial disclosures, or so the press tells us!

The reason for this effort, we are told by the Canadian Press, was because the Conservatives sensibly worried that the prime minister’s penchant for undiplomatically flapping his gums about what he really thought could end up causing a catastrophic melt-down on some future campaign trail, and they’d better have their talking points in order.

Later, as is well known, Dr. Flanagan and the prime minister had a falling out when the former had the temerity to write a cheerleading biography of the latter, who nevertheless, being a notorious control freak, flipped out when his permission wasn’t sought. Legend has it Mr. Harper tried hard to get the book deep-sixed, and banished the errant professor from his inner circle forever when it was published anyway.

But Dr. Flanagan did just fine on his own, thanks very much, apparently supplementing his presumably inadequate salary as a civil servant by appearing as a TV commentator, and while doing so famously calling for U.S. President Barack Obama to have Mr. Assange, the well-known Wikileaker, assassinated for publishing information embarrassing to the U.S. government.

But that was then. That is, before someone – although not Dr. Flanagan, presumably – leaked the compendium of embarrassing Stephen Harper one-liners to the Liberals.

And this is now. The Liberals passed them on the media, and the rest is history – or, actually, as we used to say back in the days before there were J-Schools, “history on the fly.”

Why should we care about this, as the Conservatives now insist that we shouldn’t?

Well, as the Good Book asks and answers: “Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.”

What the Prophet Jeremiah had in mind, folks, was this: “No, the leopard can’t change his spots. And Mr. Harper hasn’t really changed either. Either will bite you, given the opportunity.”

Modern history, in fact, is rife with leaders who had plenty to say early in their careers that no one could quite believe because it seemed so outrageous. Arguably, in a number of such cases, the world would have been a better place if voters had paid attention while they still had the option.

Which is why we should pay attention now to what Mr. Harper had to say.

Here are a few gems the Conservatives thought that they should worry about, as reported by the Canadian Press, the CBC and me. Readers, presumably, are capable of reaching their own conclusions about what Mr. Harper had in mind.

On public health care: “The best (health care) system means having a system where you have as many tiers as possible…”

More on public health care: “The solution is to have a health care system where people pay some of the costs themselves.”

On Stephen Harper’s ambitions: “It has never been my intention to seek a second term or to become a career politician.”

On public post-secondary education: “I think we’re vastly over-invested in universities. … The vast majority of young people should be going through non-university, post-secondary training.”

On minorities: “You’ve got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.”

On abortion: “I’m not ashamed to say that, in caucus, I have more pro-life MPs supporting me than supporting Stockwell Day.”

On the future of Western Canada: “If the partners are not willing to live up to the requirements of a partnership, fairness requires that they pursue an equitable dissolution of the partnership.”

On the poor: “Providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility.”

Well, it was promised here that readers could draw their own conclusions about what Mr. Harper has in mind. But let me help with one, OK? What Mr. Harper meant was this: “Providing for the rich is federal responsibility.”

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Surge of NDP tells a tale of commonsense, practical Canadians

The Orange Wave. Below: Jack Layton.

Now that professional pollsters are talking about Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party like giddy partisans spinning dreamy victory scenarios, we need to face up to the possibility that something of historic proportions really may be happening here.

Commentary on federal voting intentions in the EKOS-iPolitics.ca survey published by the Edmonton Journal yesterday evening raises for the first time in the mainstream media the hopeful prospect of a person called “Prime Minister Jack Layton.”

EKOS pollster Frank Graves is quoted by iPolitics as saying his firm’s latest polls results suggest the NDP could reach 100 seats on election day, a result he characterized as “breathtaking” and “astonishing.”

The survey of more than 3,000 Canadians shows 28 per cent of decided voters support the NDP, compared with 23.7 per cent who plan to vote Liberal. “The Conservatives hold less than a six-point lead, sitting with 33.7 per cent support with just one week to go before election day,” iPolitics says.

For those of us who have supported the New Democrats through many disappointments and lean times, and who know how formidable and unprincipled this party’s opponents can be, even saying such a thing aloud feels dangerous, especially when our angry, negative, neo-con prime minister is sounding confident.

But perhaps we will have to admit that our commonsensical Canadian neighbours are running well ahead of us this time and doing exactly what we’ve always said they ought – taking a serious look at the party with the hopeful and practical policies most likely to benefit ordinary Canadians, families and individuals, young and old alike.

It’s been observed elsewhere that Canadians have long made it clear to pollsters what they want from their government – fair public health care, respect for human rights, accessible unemployment insurance, access for their children to affordable post-secondary education, respect for the environment – and that these are the very policies the NDP has advocated more consistently and with more passion than any other party.

Instead, of course, we got Brian Mulroney’s “free trade” agreements and Stephen Harper’s cynical vote suppression strategies and Parliamentary prorogations. Instead we got Liberals who promised us the moon, and delivered policies identical to those of the Conservatives.

Still, given this history, it’s easy to understand why you can’t read a commentary on this phenomenon written from an NDP perspective without hearing qualifiers like, “if the NDP surge is real.”

Well, whatever happens on election day (and there’s another such qualifier), we can take it as given now that this surge in support is real enough, and that it is based in the good sense of very large numbers of Canadians in every corner of the country. As a consequence, the best thing we can do is to ensure our family, friends and neighbours get to the polls on May 2.

If nothing else, surely we can set aside the notion that by voting for the NDP instead of the Liberals we are somehow dangerously splitting the progressive vote in Canada.

Au contraire, it appears very clear now that in most places it’s a vote for the Liberals that constitutes a dangerous experiment in strategic voting that is more likely to help Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and their friends in high places than the ordinary Canadians whom the NDP represents.

If you want to defeat Prime Minister Harper, or hold him to a minority, the professional pollsters are telling us that the smart thing to do is to vote for Jack Layton and the NDP.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Imagine what can happen if the Orange Tide keeps rolling in

Jack Layton in Edmonton on Day 1 of the federal election campaign.

All of a sudden the federal election campaign is a horserace, just not the horserace we anticipated when it began.

Can you imagine an election result that shows the Conservatives still in a minority, but NDP Leader Jack Layton as the leader of the Opposition with his party holding 83 seats in Parliament? A fresh projection by poll-analyst and frequent Globe and Mail contributor Eric Grenier shows that this is possible.

But for this to be more than just a democratic pipedream, one thing above all must happen: the NDP must ensure that its supporters – every single one of them – gets out and votes, and votes NDP, on election day.

I don’t have to tell you what such an electoral outcome could mean – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minions will do that for me, in the most negative, vote-suppressing, dishonest way imaginable. Conservative candidates, moreover, like their Republican counterparts south of the Medicine Line, can be expected to resort to tactics designed to deny the right to vote to people likely to support the NDP.

I think it is fair to say that enraged Tory orcs in Metro Toronto who are slashing tires and vandalizing cars parked by houses with Liberal signs on their lawns will switch their attention soon to NDP households. If you’re an NDP supporter in Toronto, leave your sign up, but think about locking your car in the garage!

Above all, do not be disheartened by the Conservative and media pitch that your vote means nothing and you might as well stay home on May 2. In most parts of Canada, your vote has never meant more!

And don’t believe the claim, which you will hear repeatedly in the next few days, that by voting NDP you’ll split the vote and ensure a Conservative majority. Mr. Grenier’s projection shows that this is not the case. Indeed, an analysis of voters’ second choices by political scientists at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University suggests plenty of support among Conservative and Liberal supporters for the NDP. Some of them may break toward the NDP if the Orange Tide continues to rise!

Mr. Grenier’s projection – found on his useful blog threehundredeight.com – is based on an analysis of “vote ceilings,” that is, the best regional results for a party based on seat projections derived from the polls released during the previous week.

For such projections to translate into anything approaching reality, however, requires public opinion trends to continue (something all parties that would lose seats to the NDP can be expected to try by any means available to change) and for the NDP to get its vote out in its entirety.

And if that happened? Mr. Grenier writes: “With 29 per cent of the vote (32 per cent in British Columbia, 22 per cent in Alberta, 35 per cent in the Prairies, 24 per cent in Ontario, 36 per cent in Quebec, and 38 per cent in Atlantic Canada), the New Democrats would win 83 seats. Yes, that’s right. They would win 11 in British Columbia, two in Alberta, eight in the Prairies, 19 in Ontario, 31 in Quebec, and 11 in Atlantic Canada. It would be about twice their historic best.”

Mr. Grenier also asks if NDP support has peaked too soon. Hard to say, but somehow it doesn’t feel like it. Seeing their former parties about to be humiliated, voters might revert to traditional patterns. But it’s as likely they could go with the future and join the Orange Wave.

As Mr. Grenier wrote in the Globe and Mail back in February, “an analysis of the last 30 years of federal elections indicates that in almost every case the pre-election voting intentions of Canadians shift significantly by the time the vote is held.”

Presumably, no one expected them to shift this way, even those always-optimistic Alberta New Democrats who are so used to seeing their hopes dashed in provincial election after provincial election. (Twenty-two per cent!)

But when you think about it, it makes sense. No party advocates better policies for Canadian families, young people and seniors. No party, in reality, has a better history of balancing budgets and living within taxpayers’ means when in power in Canadian provinces. And no party is more committed to traditional Canadian values of freedom, diversity and optimism.

The thing is, it’s up to us now. Your vote has never mattered more. Use it!

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

A glimpse behind the curtain that hides the Harper Conservatives: are plans afoot to kill the CBC?

From left to right, NDP candidate Brian Labelle thinks about how clever he is, St. Albert election forum moderator John Farlinger reveals what he really thinks of the next question, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber checks his briefing notes, Green Party candidate Peter Johntson thinks about something good that happened a long time ago and Liberal Party candidate Kevin Taron thinks about something good that might happen in the future. Warning, the thoughts in Alberta politicians’ heads may not be exactly as suggested. Below: CBC logo, entertainment coverage in Pravda, Dagestan edition.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Are plans afoot to destroy the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation if the Harper Conservatives get their longed-for majority?

A tantalizing hint by Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber at an all-candidates’ meeting Thursday evening in this Edmonton dormitory city of 60,000 suggests this may be so.

“I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011,” Mr. Rathgeber told about 100 people at a Chamber of Commerce all-candidates’ forum in a local hotel. “…We have to wean them off … of the taxpayer’s dollar…”

It is well known, of course, how since Stephen Harper became prime minister of Canada, the Conservative Party has become a tightly disciplined organization, especially during election campaigns.

No Conservative candidate strays far from the official talking points, and if that means repeating the phrase “constant bickering” seven times in an introductory speech to a local all-candidates’ meeting in a Prairie town, as Mr. Rathgeber did at another forum last week, you can be confident the same phrase is being repeated a similar number of times at dozens of other meetings across English Canada.

Moreover, since any Conservative in Western Canada has a chance of being elected, and because practically all of the party’s candidates in Alberta are a virtual shoo-in, the party tends to attract potential MPs disciplined and smart enough to stay on message through thick and thin. Mr. Rathgeber is no exception, normally sticking manfully and at times artfully to his talking points, no matter where his interlocutors want him to go.

Still, now and then – notwithstanding the best efforts of the Chamber of Commerce types who organize these events to serve up only softball questions from a Conservative perspective – one slips through that really resists a retreat to the official party line. This is especially true, of course, when there are no talking points available about the topic.

So when a seemingly innocent written question about the future of the CBC was handed to the a moderator of the St. Albert Chamber’s forum, Mr. Rathgeber’s commentary was interesting – revealing, as one suspects it surely must, the Harper government’s actual direction on the future of our national broadcaster if it gets the chance to act as it wishes. Remember, after all, that Mr. Rathgeber is a careful backbencher who never strays even one iota from the party line.

I pulled the key points out of Mr. Rathgeber’s remarks above. Here they are in context, as recorded by my handy-dandy iPhone:

“…There was a time when the CBC was necessary because nobody would broadcast in rural parts of Northern Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan or in the Arctic. But with the advent of satellites, I mean, now anybody anywhere can get a thousand channels! “So, I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011. Um… Sun TV launched this week and they have an annual budget of $17 million. Well, the CBC in addition to its revenues that it gets from advertising, gets a billion dollars from the taxpayer every year. “I think that has to change. They have to become more competitive. We have to wean them off, uh, of the taxpayer’s dollar…”

Sun TV. Really? Think about this for a moment, people, as the Conservative model to replace the CBC. We’re talking about an organization that premieres its vaunted political commentary program with cartoons considered sacrilegious by adherents of the world’s second-largest religion – an item that is offensive to a million or so Canadians and was old news at the same time.

What’s next for the geniuses behind Fox News North? Piss Christ as the backdrop to the national news?

Never mind that the CBC budget Mr. Rathgeber attacks includes the costs of coast-to-coast radio and television news, public affairs and cultural programming in two languages. This in fact costs more than merely running cable news for bigots.

Never mind that the $17-million Sun TV figure he quotes is obviously bogus, as it does not include the cost to Quebecor Media of pressing reporters and newspaper operations from coast to coast into service as low-rent videography studios.

And never mind the cozy relationship between Sun TV and the Prime Minister’s Office, which intends to use FNN as the PMO’s own electronic version of Pravda.

There are probably enough people in a typical Alberta audience who agree with Mr. Rathgeber’s sentiments about the CBC that for all I know they’re outlined in the Conservative Party’s talking points.

The Edmonton-St. Albert MP is certainly not shy or repeating over and over and over again with clear PMO sanction that no serious economist supports the idea of tax increases – although many, including at least one still-living Nobel Prize winner, manifestly do. But maybe he doesn’t read the same newspapers that I do.

But somehow I doubt these particular remarks about the CBC were in the official Harper government MPs’ briefing book. Since the CBC has its supporters, why would the Conservatives encourage a controversy that no one’s talking about just now?

I think Mr. Rathgeber unintentionally let the veil slip aside for just a moment and gave us a glimpse of one of the many things that’s behind it: the destruction of the CBC.

If you care about Canadian culture, and if you prefer news not to see what’s left of the media completely dominated by the northern equivalent of Fox News, I think you should pay attention to what Mr. Rathgeber had to say on Thursday night, and I think you should take it seriously.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Sorry to be so late with this … was busy with the federal election … Alberta Party candidates announced!

These bloodhounds had no luck searching for signs of Alberta Party leadership candidates. There were just too many false federal trails. Below: Glenn Taylor, Tammy Maloney, Lee Easton and Randy Royer.

Uh, the Alberta Party leadership race… there are no big names … not even Dave Taylor’s.

Whatever you thought was going to happen, whoever you thought might be about to run, the fledgling Alberta Party has now announced its official list of leadership candidates and there are no big names. Nada.

If there is any news other than the obvious associated with this development, it is only that one of the previously declared candidates has dropped out – energy sector consultant Chris Tesarski announced in a blog post that he was gonzo because of a policy disagreement with the party’s establishment, such as it is. However, he noted, his struggle to lose 50 pounds will continue.

In addition, there’s no sign on the list of official candidates, for which nominations closed at noon on Monday, of the party’s sole MLA in the Legislature, former Liberal and Independent Dave Taylor. Presumably that’s news of a negative sort too.

There’s also no sign of Chima Nkemdirim, the Calgary lawyer who once enjoyed a relatively high profile as Alberta Party president and spokesman. He is now working in the office of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. One wonders if this suggests the party’s previous prime movers are losing interest.

Acting Leader Sue Huff is prevented by the party’s constitution from running.

The four candidates who remain in the race are:

  • Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, an ambitious former New Democrat who is the closest thing the party has to a high-profile candidate.
  • Tammy Maloney, who has worked for a number of charitable organizations in various parts of the world.
  • Lee Easton, a Mount Royal College English instructor and faculty association activist who identifies himself as a “passionate comic book geek.”
  • Randy Royer, a service industry executive with an interest in ending religious strife.

All of these are fine, sincere people. Only Mr. Taylor, however, seems at first glance like the kind of politician who actually might have the chops to make a go of it in the rough and tumble world of the Legislature. None of them, including Mr. Taylor, have much profile with Albertans.

Now, if the middle of a hotly contested and news intensive federal election campaign seems to you like an odd moment to make this announcement, well, it does to most observers.

The party’s leadership convention will take place in Edmonton on May 28 – less than a month after the federal election when the media will either still be full of scuttlebutt on new cabinet ministers or, even more exciting, a historic Parliamentary bun-fight over who will form the next government of Canada.

Such timing certainly does the Alberta Party no good in terms of generating publicity – which would seem to be a necessity for a political entity that is flying below the radar as far as most rank-and-file Alberta voters are concerned, although it has a relatively high profile in the blogosphere and among the Twittering classes.

Then again, in its most recent incarnation, the Alberta Party has rarely done things by the political book – as more than a year of trying to define its likely policy direction through a series of kitchen kaffeeklatches termed “the Big Listen” clearly illustrates.

Moreover, in defence of the new party, its timetable is driven to some extent by the timing of the Alberta provincial Progressive Conservative leadership race, which is already well under way with plenty of very high-profile candidates.

At least this is true if they really intend to run a full slate of candidates in the next provincial general election – which is likely to happen swiftly once the governing Conservatives have chosen a leader.

All this said, Albertans are still awaiting some sign that the Alberta Party intends to do something that will show it is prepared to do the nitty-gritty political work that no party can succeed without doing. There’s precious little evidence of it in this announcement.

The party’s ill-timed announcement of its official candidates suggests that the next really important date in its development will be the leadership vote – that is, the one planned by the Alberta Liberals after the Legislative session ends.

If the Liberal Party picks an effective leader, it is said here, that will be the end of the Alberta Party. If it does not, the Alberta Party and its new leader may get an unexpected lease on life as disillusioned Alberta Liberals look for a place to park their votes until they decide what to do next.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Don’t count Ted Morton out – he could still emerge as Alberta’s premier

Market-fundamentalist Alberta Tory candidate Ted Morton chats with some guy who refuses to surrender the right to wear bow-ties to the political right. Below: Gary Mar.

Don’t count Ted Morton out.

It looks as if Dr. Morton, the former University of Calgary professor who once described himself as “every liberal’s nightmare, a right-winger with a PhD,” will be the only survivor from the 2006 race to replace Premier Ed Stelmach as leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

The current Alberta Tory leadership race is shaping up as a battle for the heart and soul of the party between the neo-conservative far right, represented by Dr. Morton, and more moderate Red Tories, represented by virtually everyone else in the race except maybe Doug Griffiths.

Overall, moreover, Red Tories probably enjoy a numerical edge among the party’s membership, thanks in no small part to the defection of many social conservatives and ideological hard liners to the Wildrose Alliance under former journalist and Fraser Institute ideologue Danielle Smith.

What’s more, the party’s more moderate faction enjoys the patronage of Mr. Stelmach and his inner circle – who pretty clearly view Dr. Morton as a traitor, a two-legged rat, for resisting the premier’s budget plans last February. At 61, Dr. Morton is also the oldest competitor in the current field, a fact that is not viewed as an advantage by anyone.

For all these reasons, it is easy to write off Dr. Morton’s chances. This, however, would be a big mistake.

For the California-born, Wyoming-raised scion of a conservative American political family, who came to Alberta to teach “political economy” at the neo-liberal “Calgary School” of the University of Calgary and ended up as the minister of finance in Mr. Stelmach’s government, is a political survivor and shrewd campaigner with a strong base among the party’s most committed hard-right supporters.

Too much can – and has – been made of the fact that many ultra-conservative Conservatives decamped for the Wildrose ranks during the Stelmach years. This is true enough, but as has been said here before, these market-fundamentalist Conservatives will be unable to control the urge to slip back into the big Tory tent and play a role in the choice of the province’s next premier – at least as long as Dr. Morton is in the running.

Naturally, the far-right Alliance would prefer they didn’t, as its leadership recognizes that there are risks if its supporters return to their once happy home. After all, they may find it a more congenial place again with Premier Stelmach on his way out.

If they must go back, it’s a certainty that the Alliance leadership will try to persuade them to vote strategically for the weakest leadership candidate from the Wildrose perspective. That means the most liberal, most Edmonton-focused, candidate. But it’s said here that in that private moment when they vote, these fair-weather Wildrosers will not be able to resist the temptation to vote for the man who thinks just like they do.

Of course Dr. Morton will make it his business to woo these sometime Wildrose supporters back, and to make them feel at home when they come, because on them rests his hope of recreating the Conservative Party he never left in the far-right image of the Wildrose Alliance whose instincts he represents.

This would be a long shot if Dr. Morton were not a skilled campaigner who knows – and for obvious reasons this is important – who his supporters were last time. He knows because he literally has their numbers.

Yes, Dr. Morton may have entered the race with fewer party members intending to support him than, say, Ralph-Klein-era senior cabinet minister Gary Mar, who still appears to enjoy the support of the current party establishment even if his well-financed campaign is surprisingly flaccid.

What’s more, those supporters on Dr. Morton’s contact list aren’t the kind of Tories likely to be seduced away by any other candidate in the race.

Now, there are those who argue that even if all of Dr. Morton’s past supporters return to the fold, that will not be enough to push him over the top in the leadership contest. Maybe so. Maybe not.

But as a smart politician, Dr. Morton clearly recognizes this and has made an effort to moderate his image with the public, if only just enough to bring in a few pinkish Tories willing to compromise moderation for the idea of strong leadership.

As a result, a Calgary Herald columnist was soon found and persuaded to conveniently opine that Dr. Morton had miraculously become “a mellower politician who finds himself in the middle of his party.”

“I think the success of the PC party for 40 years has been as a big-tent party,” Dr. Morton was quoted as musing. “Now it’s fracturing left and right. Ironically, I find myself somewhat in the middle now. I’m criticized by some red Tories as being too conservative, and criticized by Wildrose as being too liberal. That’s not a bad place to be in. It’s very different from the 2006 (leadership campaign) where I was pretty thoroughly the challenger on the right.”

That’s what you call a good one, but it just might be good enough to bring in sufficient numbers of Conservative moderates to push Dr. Morton over the top, and after that to bring large numbers of Alberta voters who have been eyeing Danielle Smith and the Alliance back to the Tory Mother Ship.

So don’t rule out Dr. Morton as a potential winner of the Conservative race, even if he isn’t the front runner today.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

Is that dirty Conservative advertising campaign working to the NDP’s advantage?

The Conservative advertising campaign: Designed to obscure, not to illuminate. Below: Recent poll results, Jack Layton, the young Stephen Harper, borrowed from the brilliant Vintage Voter blog.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if one of the reasons the New Democratic Party and its leader Jack Layton have been doing so well the past few days of this election campaign is the months of ugly negative advertising Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s so-called Conservative party has devoted to destroying Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff?

This observation is not meant to detract from Mr. Layton’s terrific, at times inspiring, performance in two debates and on the campaign trail. Nor is it a denial of the fact that the NDP platform is genuinely closer to what Canadians describe repeatedly in non-partisan polling between elections as the policy mix they truly desire.

Obviously, the NDP’s campaign could not have caught fire without such positive factors in its favour.

Still, it is also true that the Conservatives under Mr. Harper have spent well over a year trying to damage the public perception of Mr. Ignatieff’s character through a series of vicious pre-writ TV advertisements, a technique they also used to effect with his predecessor as Liberal leader, Stephane Dion.

They pretty much left Mr. Layton alone, however. Presumably this was mainly because they viewed him as less of a threat, but also possibly as a tactic to split the centrist vote in Canada.

The Conservatives adopted such tactics, of course, because conservative political parties – small c and Big C, in Canada and in neighbouring countries – are prepared to do almost anything to win. Presumably, they need to spend big and enlist their Rage Machine to make rude late-night calls (from North Dakota, no less) to Ontario voters while pretending to represent Liberal candidates. After all, on their own their policies don’t really do much for most Canadian voters.

So as a general rule, Conservative advertising is designed to obscure, not to illuminate.

The Conservatives adopted such tactics against Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals – and, sad to say, other political parties are bound to follow them down this twisty path – because negative political advertising works.

It works against honourable statesmen and scurvy self-interested politicians alike. Have no doubt that the Harper Conservatives would have made an effort to create similar doubts about Mr. Layton if they had perceived him and his party, early on before the campaign started, to present a threat as serious to them as Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals.

But they didn’t go negative on the NDP. They chose instead to direct their bile and distortions at Mr. Ignatieff and his party, whom they viewed as the Main Enemy.

This has allowed Mr. Layton’s many strong qualities to shine through, and this, it is written here, has contributed to his success to date in this campaign.

Whatever happens in what’s left of this campaign, it’s doubtful that the Conservatives can use underhanded advertising to undermine Mr. Layton’s very positive image with Canadian voters. The reason for this is simple: there just isn’t enough time left before May 2.

The thing is, negative advertising works. But it doesn’t just work (*snap!*) like that.

You have to prepare the ground. It takes time and market penetration to create serious doubts in the minds of voters, especially when you are assassinating the character of an honourable politician. Sometimes months of carpet-bombing are required for the damage to be done. In the case of the professorial Mr. Ignatieff, the Conservatives have been going after him for more than a year.

There is another factor in play here that has benefited Mr. Layton and the NDP, and that is that when a party makes a decision to go negative, they must do so in the knowledge that their candidate will be hurt a little too. This is because voters don’t like negative advertising, even though they unquestionably respond to it.

Political parties go ahead and go negative because they know it will hurt their opponents more that it hurts their candidate, and because they judge it to be necessary in the context of achieving their goals.

But by going after Mr. Ignatieff and inevitably having a little of the smudge rub off on the prime minister, Mr. Layton has emerged looking positively saintly. At 13 per cent, that’s no big deal to the Conservatives. At 25 per cent, it could be a problem for them!

Now, we need to keep these results in perspective and not get carried away by our enthusiasm.

The popularity of the NDP in polls taken over the past few days by Nanos, Leger, Environics, Angus Reid, Ekos and Forum ranges from 17.3 per cent to 25 per cent, with three polls placing the party at 22 per cent.

These are extremely good numbers, but they are not that far from 18 per cent, which is where the NDP was on the day of the last federal election, Oct. 14, 2008. That position left the New Democrats as the fourth party in Parliament and their results this time could well be about the same.

Still, the NDP has momentum on its side. As the pollsters at Ekos Research Associates observed, “The New Democrats are the only ones to improve position during the campaign. The party continues to lead as second choice and is now in a better position than it was at this stage of the 2008 campaign.”

This post also appears on rabble.ca.