Archive for January, 2012

Kevin Taft follows Alberta’s money and finds out where it all went

Your blogger, with another doomed politician, this time the author of Follow the Money, Where is Alberta’s Wealth Going? Just in case you’re thinking of being sarcastic, the sign says “Red Deer Public Library.” Below, the cover of the book.

Sooner or later, all conversations about the Alberta economy in the modern era come down to one key question: Where the hell did all the money go?

I guess you could rephrase this: Where the hell is all the money going? Regardless, it’s been going somewhere and, over the past couple of decades, that destination has been a matter of lively discussion among Albertans and other Canadians.

This question is so often asked because, while Alberta is known to be rich – Alberta’s GDP per person in 2008 was $81,121, compared with $44,121 for the rest of Canada – to those of us who live here it feels poor.

Whether it’s the shabby condition of downtown Edmonton, our rundown capital city, our pothole strewn streets, the constant sight of desperate street people, the Third World conditions in our Emergency Rooms, the periodic mass layoffs of teachers, university professors and health care workers, or the unending whine by Conservative politicians that we simply can’t afford quality health care, good education or other public services, it always feels as if the whole lot of us are just one paycheque away from the bread lines.

Here we are, plunk in the middle of the snowbelt, and most years even how we’re going to afford to clear the streets is a constant source of worry and debate.

As a weird counterpoint to this constant refrain, we are also constantly reminded how lucky we are to live here in the Richest Place on Earth, the Very Best Province in the Whole Wide World, etc. etc.

So if we’re so rich, how come we’re so poor?

Well, now we know the answer, thanks to an important book by former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft, who has been described in this space as the best premier Alberta never had. Follow the Money, Where is Alberta’s Wealth Going? was published with the assistance of the Alberta Federation of Labour by Detselig Enterprises Ltd. of Calgary. It costs $12.95, and it’s also available as an e-book.

The AFL also financed the production of a short video documentary about Dr. Taft’s research by filmmaker Tom Radford.

Before he became an MLA in 2001, Dr. Taft was an education professor at the University of Alberta. After the 2008 election, in which the Alberta Liberals under his leadership were badly trounced by then-premier Ed Stelmach’s Progressive Conservatives, he threw up his hands and resigned the leadership of the party.

This was probably a mistake, as the Alberta Liberal leadership was then held for a spell by David Swann, a well-meaning but ineffectual Calgary physician, and more recently was captured by Raj Sherman, the former Conservative who is now leading the party away from its long-held principles and away from its remaining core supporters.

But if Dr. Taft’s departure from politics was a bad thing for Alberta’s Liberals, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for the rest of us, as he’s recast himself as an author on political and economic topics who has the skills and credibility to definitively answer such questions as the ones posed above. What’s more, he manages to do it in a readable way without sounding too much like a Liberal Party partisan – even going so far as to confess that he was wrong as Liberal leader to join the chorus that bays constantly for less spending on public services.

Working with researchers Mel McMillan and Junaid Jahangir and relying heavily on Statistics Canada’s CANSIM (Canadian Socioeconomic) and Financial Management System databases, Dr. Taft makes a case that I doubt can be effectively challenged by the government’s spokespeople, its apologists among the legions of far-right “think tanks” that serve as the Greek chorus for Alberta’s perpetual state of scarcity and crisis amid fantastic wealth, or far-right entities like the Wildrose Party that demand ever more vigorous attacks on public services.

Before we give away the ending – it won’t surprise you – let’s talk about the places Dr. Taft was able to establish pretty convincingly are not getting our money:

  1. It’s not going to government spending. While government spending in Alberta is incompetently managed by the Tories, gyrating between throwing money at problems to massive and disruptive cutbacks, over the long term our government spending is close to the Canadian average.
  2. It’s not going to public services. “As a society, Alberta spends a steadily shrinking portion of its increasing prosperity on public services.”
  3. It’s not going to education. Comparing five-year averages to smooth out individual years’ ups and downs, K-12 education went up 2 per cent, total, over 20 years.
  4. It’s not going to health care. When you adjust for the size of the provincial economy, spending on health care puts Alberta last in the country. No matter how you measure it, “health care spending in Alberta and Canada is on a gradual long-term upward trend that is well within reason.” Over the long-term, smoothed out with five-year averages, health care spending in Alberta has been rising at about 1.2 per cent a year.
  5. It’s certainly not going to housing and social services.
  6. It’s not going into savings. You can tell from a glance at one of Dr. Taft’s many useful charts that, as he puts it, “Alberta’s natural resource treasure wasn’t going into the Heritage Fund,” or any other savings pool.
  7. And most of it’s not going to personal incomes. Over the last 21 years, average personal incomes in Alberta rose about 35 per cent, accounting for inflation.

So where is it going? It’s going to corporate profits, of course. And the greatest corporate profits are in the oilpatch, naturally. In fact, so much of our money is going into corporate profit that we’re actually selling our collective property at a loss to pad the corporate bottom line!

“Profits in Alberta have grown at rates simply unknown in other jurisdictions, often well beyond double the rates in other provinces and the United States,” Dr. Taft writes. “There is no such largesse for public services, and the government is drawing down public savings rather than building them, doing nothing to prepare for the future.

“The transfer of public wealth to private shareholders is blistering, and our own government, rather than fighting like an owner, or even thinking like an owner, is just happy to find investors who want to cash in.” (Those investors, Dr. Taft notes as an aside, are often state-owned companies from such places as China, Abu Dhabi and Korea. Which makes our “ethical oil” what? Semi-ethical?)

We’re giving away our resources, people, and we’re getting very little in return. “It was going to profits,” Dr. Taft summed up in his conclusion, “and it was doing so at an astonishing rate.”

How astonishing? Corporate profits were up 317 per cent in the same period health care spending rose 28 per cent, incomes were up 35 per cent and education spending increased 2 per cent!

One question Dr. Taft says he couldn’t answer from the data he worked with is where all the money goes once it flows into these bloated corporate profits. But you and I don’t need a book to tell us the answer to that one: It leaves the country for places where it does nothing for Canadians.

No wonder, when you think about it, why corporate special interests and their paid representatives in Canada are so aggressive in defending their right to rapidly export even more of our resources via pipeline to wherever – the environment, the rights of Canadians, and due process itself be damned! This does not, however, explain why so many of our Conservative Western Canadian politicians behave the same way.

Dr. Taft’s highly readable work is important to Canadians who don’t live in Alberta, because the philosophy of government in Alberta is now in the process of being exported to the rest of Canada, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and because the way we are developing our resources has profound implications for the economies of other Canadian provinces. Our mighty oil-pumped Loony, for example, is contributing to the decline of the manufacturing economy of Central Canada.

Moreover, Dr. Taft’s conclusions are also not going to be something that you’ll hear reported very enthusiastically in the media, either here in Alberta or anywhere else in this country. Was it just a coincidence that at the same time Dr. Taft’s book was being released, a “research paper” worthy of a Grade 9 class project that argued Alberta was paying its public employees too much was being released to massive media fanfare by a claque of neo-Con ideologues associated with the University of Calgary? Whatever the motivation, that was the research that got all the publicity.

No, if you want to read what Dr. Taft and his research partners have to say, you’re going to have to make an effort find it yourself. If you come across a review, it’s most likely to be on a blog like this or in an alternative publication.

Talk to your bookstore, ask the reference desk at your public library to order it or purchase the book online. It’s worth the effort.

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Are there really 287,000 law-abiding farmers, trappers, hunters and fishers in Toronto?

A strong market in central Canada for raccoon coats like the one worn by this man accounts for the large number of urban trappers who live in Metropolitan Toronto, law-abiding gun owners who account for some of the 287,000 long guns in that city. Or something like that, anyway. Below: Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, some of his fashionable Conservative fellow MPs.

The Conservative Member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert, the riding in which I reside, has made a name for himself by being a noisy defender of the Harper Government’s effort to shut down the national rifle and shotgun registry and destroy all its records.

Brent Rathgeber likes to describe his party’s nearly completed plan to eliminate the registry and permanently trash all its information, despite the pleas of the police whom he also purports to support, as a way to preserve “the liberty of law-abiding farmers, hunters, fishermen, trappers and others.”

Liberty is good, as I think we can all agree, especially for someone who like Mr. Rathgeber also describes himself as a “libertarian.”

I was thinking about this yesterday as I read the Toronto Star’s scoop, based on a geographical breakdown of the federal long-gun registry’s collected data that had fallen into the newspaper’s hands, that there are approximately 287,000 “long guns” registered in Toronto!

Most of these, about 263,000 firearms according to the Star, are held by individuals, presumably in their homes.

I immediately wondered how many of these highly urbanized Ontarians, to use Mr. Rathgeber’s descriptive phrase, require these weapons because they are “farmers, hunters, fishermen and trappers”?

Probably a portion of them are hunters and fishers, although how many farmers and trappers live in Metropolitan Toronto is open to question. That said, heaven knows, if there were still a market for raccoon coats, Toronto might just be the place to set up a trap-line!

Moreover, what an Ontario fisherperson would need a rifle or shotgun for, I’m not sure either, since he or she would be unlikely to encounter a bear, one not driving a BMW to the TSE anyway, on the way down to the Humber River. But I guess a really big bass could be frightening if it started flopping around and snapping its jaws at you. You might want to think twice about shooting it in the bottom of your boat, however.

In Mr. Rathgeber’s defence, it’s true that there is probably a slightly higher per-capita number of farmers, fishers and hunters living in his urban central Alberta riding. Edmonton-St. Albert is, after all, adjacent to a large faming area that is rich in wildlife – quite a large percentage of which will bellow “moo” if you approach it with a shotgun.

In this regard, northern Edmonton and St. Albert may be quite different from Metro Toronto where, we are informed by the Star, police make more use of the long-gun database than in any other Canadian centre.

It’s also quite possible that there’s both stronger police support and more voter support in the ridings of Metro Toronto than on the northern edge of Edmonton, making opposition to the registry more of a consideration for politicians like Mr. Rathgeber. Then again, since Edmonton-St. Albert is an urban riding, perhaps not – but, in that case, citizens are going to need to give Mr. Rathgeber a dingle and let him know how they feel about his position on the registry.

Getting back to Mr. Rathgeber’s “Others” category, I have no idea what my MP had in mind. Perhaps he was thinking of those law-abiding gun owners who, for one reason or another, are about to slip over into the non-law-abiding column whence they are deemed suitable grist for the vast gulag of multi-billion-dollar prisons that the libertarian Mr. Rathgeber also enthusiastically supports.

You know, like the law-abiding Saskatoon gun owner who somehow slipped up and let his 11-year-old boy take a loaded Colt .45 to school, where it went off in the lad’s knapsack. (When I Tweeted this, other law abiding gun owners were swift to inform me that the fellow in question obviously wasn’t law abiding – which, since he was until the gun left the premises, is part of the problem with the whole concept.)

The legions of Mr. Rathgeber’s fans and allies in the law-abiding gun owner community who now so enthusiastically follow this blog will be quick to point out that a Colt .45 is a handgun, not covered by the long-gun registry, and therefore I am a “fascist libtard” or worse who wants to seize their guns – and, by gosh, I should just come over and give it a try!

All I can say to them is that it would have been awfully hard for the young fellow to hide a rifle or a shot gun in his knapsack, and anyway, judging by their correspondence, a goodly number of them are looking for Mr. Rathgeber to champion their efforts to eliminate the handgun registry too. This is a topic I’m sure he’ll be happy to get back to us about with his position in the fullness of time and public opinion polling.

Like most “conservative libertarians,” Mr. Rathgeber is quite selective about what he chooses to be libertarian about. In this regard, I suppose, libertarians are rather like their frequent political allies the Biblical literalists, who inevitably pick and choose what parts of the Bible to be literal about. Well, one can’t be too libertarian, what with all those taxpayer-built prisons to fill!

Anyway, just in case the gun-registry controversy dies with the registry, Mr. Rathgeber also has another big cause – forcing the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to rely on charitable donations to survive, sort of like the “charitable” Fraser Institute, only without billionaires lining up to bankroll its efforts to lobby on their behalf. But that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile, it’s pretty clear the Conservative rush to wreck the gun registry had nothing to do with the rights of law-abiding gun owners and everything to do with wedge politics and fund-raising, at which it presumably it has been a fantastic success for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives.

In Mr. Rathgeber’s defence, his lush rhetoric about our liberty is typical of Canadians are hearing Conservative MPs in ridings throughout the country, good foot soldiers who have received their marching orders.

No doubt we’ll be hearing from him soon on how our freedom of investment choice must be defended by whittling down our retirement benefits.

Indeed, it’s never a bad time to start worrying when a Conservative politician commences talking about defending your liberty!

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Did Forlorn Friday’s leak of Snelgrove resignation sink ‘Super Saturday’ spoiler?

Somebody blabbed! Below: Stephen Carter, Tweeting; Mr. Carter’s Tweet.

All across Alberta it was “Super Saturday” yesterday and throughout the province members of the eternally ruling Progressive Conservative Party were being nominated to run in the looming general election!

Oh wow! Oh, Holy Cow… Guess what’s going to be all over the news today!

What won’t be all over the news is former cabinet heavy Lloyd Snelgrove’s huffy departure from the Tory caucus or his private tête-à-tête in Calgary with Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, which might have made a nice little Super Saturday spoiler if Mr. Snelgrove’s resignation hadn’t already been conveniently leaked Friday afternoon during the traditional happy hour for governments that want to dispose of inconvenient news stories.

So a well-timed story that might have overshadowed happy talk about all the confident new PC candidates being elected across the province went pfffffft instead.

Now that we’ve all recovered from the shock of Friday afternoon’s revelation that former premier Ed Stelmach’s right-hand man has up and quit to sit as an Independent, not to mention that he was having a private palaver with Danielle Smith, leader of the party challenging the government from the far right, we have also had a little time to think about how this information made it into the public domain.

And, lo, it appears to have surfaced in the form of a Tweet from … wait for it … Conservative Premier Alison Redford’s chief of Staff, Stephen Carter!

Well, think about it. What better way to torpedo whatever it was that Mr. Snelgrove was cooking up, or at least get out there well ahead of it, than by Tweeting his big announcement yourself, resulting in coverage like this, before he could spin it into something really embarrassing? All the better to do so on the Friday afternoon before a much bigger news story was about to break.

By the time the Super Saturday coverage is wrapped up in the wee hours of this morning, no media manager is going to be interested in paying a reporter overtime to follow up on Mr. Snelgrove’s motivations, let alone his powwow with Ms. Smith. And anything Mr. Snelgrove says after today from his lonely perch as an Independent in the Legislature will be significantly diminished, thanks to clever Mr. Carter’s pinprick attack.

As for Super Saturday itself, at the end of which all but half a dozen or so of Alberta’s 87 ridings will have PC candidates, the government was upbeat about the large number of candidates fighting for nominations and Mr. Carter Tweeted determinedly. Still, even before it was over it was pretty hard for anyone who’s not a diehard Tory to get all that excited about it.

After all, lot of us find ourselves thinking the same thing we think every time the Alberta PC Party under its leader of the day starts getting ready for the automatic renewal of its mandate by calling up its ground troops: Who the heck are these people, anyway?

Kelly Hegg? Maureen Kubinec? John Barlow? Darren Hirsch? Everett McDonald? Mike Allen?

Who they are – at least the lucky ones above who won PC nominations yesterday that entitle them in most cases to automatically become their provincial electoral districts’ representative in the Legislature, along with the generous salary, pension and tax-free benefits that accompany it – is the next generation of loyal PC Party functionaries in their communities.

Their names may not mean much to you, but they’ve been town councillors, school trustees, reeves and dutiful volunteers in places like Airdrie and Westlock, Okotoks and Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and Fort Mac. Some of them are pretty sharp cookies, some of them aren’t. But collectively they’re why the Tory party in Alberta has such bench strength.

For all our American-style political rhetoric (“Super Saturday,” a derivative of Super Tuesday, being an excellent example), politically speaking Alberta at the start of the 21st Century still operates a lot like the Soviet Union at the end of the last one. It’s a one-party state in which every institution is tightly knotted to the ruling party.

Basically, it’s hard to get a job as dogcatcher in a lot of places around here without Conservative connections. So, outside the big cities, there’s usually only one place that the genuinely politically ambitious end up.

Every now and then, the winds of change seem to blow, but hitherto they’ve always disappointingly petered out before they amounted to much. There aren’t many signs of perestroika here just yet, I’m sorry to report.

Political change in Alberta is like Lucy Maud Montgomery’s wonderful description of springtime in these northern climes: “The beautiful, capricious, reluctant Canadian spring.”

Like the Canadian spring, it’ll come one of these days. Just don’t get your hopes up that it will be in 2012.

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Lloyd Snelgrove’s Dinner with Danielle: far-right desperation or another Wildrose exodus?

Phone camera photo? Former Stelmach right-hand man Lloyd Snelgrove spotted with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith in Calgary brewpub! Alberta politicians may not be exactly as illustrated. Below, the real Mr. Snelgrove (caught without his trademark goatee) and the real Ms. Smith.

With election fever gripping the province and the far-right Wildrose Party facing the bleak prospect of a do-or-die election campaign from a weaker position than it has faced since soon after its generously financed and publicized creation, a real rift on Alberta’s historically unified conservative right is opening up.

Whether the divide grows bitter and deep enough to become a meaningful advantage to more progressive Alberta political parties remains to be seen. Ironically, for that to happen, centrist parties like the New Democrats and the Alberta Liberals need to wish the Wildrose Party a modest degree of success in 2012.

At any rate, such an outcome must at least be considered a possibility as the reaction to today’s decision by Ed Stelmach’s former Man Friday to sit out his last months in the Legislature as an Independent illustrates.

Tout le monde political Alberta was abuzz this afternoon with reports Lloyd Snelgrove, Treasury Board President and right-hand man to his friend Mr. Stelmach, had not merely brusquely resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus but had earlier dined with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith at a Calgary Brewster’s restaurant.

Some of the further right corners of the blogosphere were soon Twitterifically a-chirp with suggestions Mr. Snelgrove’s atypically ungracious resignation was the start of another great exodus of Tory MLAs disgruntled with Premier Alison Redford for the Wildrose benches.

Needless to say, with Premier Redford and her version of the PCs apparently riding high in public opinion, this seems extremely unlikely. Even Ms. Smith, who needs to manage a pretty serious problem with her own supporters’ expectations, was quick to scotch the suggestion.

In the event, Mr. Snelgrove – who anyway seemed like an unlikely fit for the Wildrose caucus – apparently declined the invitation and a doubtless disappointed Ms. Smith informed the Herald “he told me that he was going to sit as an Independent and that he is looking forward to finally being able to stand up and speak for his constituents, and I respect that.”

Mr. Snelgrove always seemed one of the more sensible and better-grounded members of Mr. Stelmach’s cabinet, so in fairness to those excitedly Twittering, it was very hard not to speculate about what his resignation from caucus might mean. Inevitably, this made one wonder what was most significant about his Dinner With Danielle – the fact it took more than two hours, had a brew-pub for a venue or happened in Calgary, hours from the Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA’s redoubt in east-central Alberta?

It seems most likely that Mr. Snelgrove was simply disillusioned by Ms. Redford’s come-from-behind victory in the Tory leadership race last fall over candidate Gary Mar, the front-runner he had bet on. He announced his decision not to run again on Nov. 28 and has been sharply critical of Ms. Redford on more than one occasion since.

Though he is only 55, Mr. Snelgrove also quite likely strongly disapproved of the 46-year-old premier’s decision to enforce generational change in her caucus and move some of its more geriatric members along while they were still ambulatory without the assistance of a walker.

Regardless, the leak to the media about Mr. Snelgrove’s Dinner With Danielle was convenient for the struggling Wildrose Party, which faces an existential crisis if it can’t regain its former momentum in the face of the onslaught by Ms. Redford, a candidate who appears to have been genetically engineered to defeat Ms. Smith.

As blogger Dave Cournoyer recently pointed out, Ms. Smith has not tackled the tough job of managing her core supporters’ soaring aspirations, encouraged in the heady days of 2010 when right-wing journalists journeyed from afar to worship at the feet of Ms. Smith.

“Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake,” Mr. Cournoyer observed, pointing to the experience of the late Alberta Liberal leader Laurence Decore who in 1993 “pumped expectations of forming government so high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories.”

Moreover, despite its clear No. 2 position in public support, it is not guaranteed the Wildrose Party can emerge from a general election as the Official Opposition party because its support is concentrated in regions of Southern Alberta where the Redford Tories are even stronger.

Facing such a desperate prospect, it seems probably Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan, who can be fairly described as a radical far-right ideologue, will spare no effort to blacken the reputation of the Redford Tories.

If Dr. Flanagan’s efforts manage to snatch the Wildrose irons out of the fire, his success is likely to leave the Alberta right bitterly and deeply divided.

However, if the Redford Tories roll to an overwhelming victory, which at this moment in the campaign seems more likely, the conservative far right personified by Dr. Flanagan will likely quickly return to the Redford fold and resume their perpetual insider schemes to push the Natural Governing Party even further to the right.

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Sorry, an Order of Canada for Ralph Klein is not appropriate

Ralph Klein, as premier of Alberta. Below: Kevin Taft, an Order of Canada gong.

Does the kind of man who would call immigrants to Alberta from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada “bums” and “creeps” deserve the Order of Canada?

Surely one would think not! But anything can happen in the weird and wacky world of Canada’s “honours system,” so one supposes that, with a noisy campaign under way by the corporate media and various far-right bloviators, an Order of Canada for Ralph “Katastrophe” Klein is a virtual inevitability.

Still, just because one has been the premier of a Canadian province shouldn’t be an automatic ticket to a membership in the Order, nor has it been since the honour was established in 1967. But the Edmonton Journal seemed to think it ought to be, arguing in a recent editorial that since Mr. Klein got a lot of votes, he should therefore be welcomed to the Order. Klein biographer Don Martin made much the same argument.

One would also think that it would be more appropriate to use the Order to honour people who built things up, rather than those who tore them down, although in fairness the Order’s criteria seem to be a little vague. The website of the Governor-General, the vice-regal personage who administers the Order, says it “recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.”

It’s still a free country, so presumably what constitutes those qualities is open to a fairly broad range of public interpretation. Still, once he had left his job as the mayor of Calgary, where he contributed to the creation of the city’s light-rail transit system, Mr. Klein didn’t really do much but knock things down, although there are those who might try to make a case that some of the things he attacked needed attacking.

His famously offensive remarks about Canadians from more eastern regions of the country were also made while he was Calgary’s Chief Magistrate, of course, not after he had ascended to the more august role of premier of an entire province.

Mr. Klein’s principal modus operandi in provincial office seemed essentially to be to take a complex area of activity in which government was involved, throw all the cards in the air and see where they landed. Usually someone else had to pick them up and put them away.

Thus he left our health system in chaos – unlike Tommy Douglas (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1981) who contributed mightily to creating the system of medicare from which all Canadians now benefit.

His government sold off publicly owned health facilities to private interests – unlike Peter Lougheed (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1989) who can be credited with building a network of modern public hospitals throughout Alberta.

However, as the Journal rightly points out, Mr. Klein did give us each a payment big enough to purchase an iPod or a Walkman, and “finally erased the provincial debt.”

Actually, if memory serves, Mr. Klein and his government announced several times that they had finally erased the debt. In reality, of course, they did no such thing. Mr. Klein merely pushed it off on another generation – of politicians, and of all Albertans – to deal with.

To lift a useful household analogy from Kevin Taft, the former Alberta Liberal Leader during the Klein era and the best premier Alberta never had, this is like refusing to repair your house for 30 years, then leaving it to your children with holes in the roof, vermin living under the front porch and rusted cars with no wheels and no engines sitting in the driveway, partly obscured by weeds. All Mr. Klein did was hand off the cost of maintaining Alberta to future generations – for whom the repairs will be more expensive, more complicated and more stressful.

Someone should have a quiet word with former Premier Ed Stelmach, for example, and suss out what he really thinks about Mr. Klein being admitted to the Order. Of course, Mr. Stelmach is too courtly a politician to say aloud what’s actually on his mind, but here’s betting it wouldn’t be all that complimentary if he were inclined to speak up.

After all, it was Mr. Stelmach who had to deal with the social debt and wear the infrastructure deficit that Mr. Klein’s irresponsible government created and left behind. Arguably, along with declining petroleum prices and a recession caused in the back rooms of the banking industry, it was part of what crippled his premiership. It will fall to the rest of us to sort out the chaos in health care created by Mr. Klein, presumably in hopes of justifying widespread privatization, an achievement we will struggle for a long time to accomplish here in Alberta.

Mr. Klein’s greatest claim to fame during his years as premier was that large numbers of Albertans said they thought he’d be a great guy with whom to have a beer. Ask the (sober) residents of an Edmonton homeless men’s shelter how much fun Mr. Klein really was after he’d had a few.

Some of us would rather have a couple of brews with Steve Fonyo (Companion of the Order of Canada, 1985-2009). Mr. Fonyo had his failings, as do we all, but he personally raised $14 million to fight cancer, and he deserved and continues to deserve the honour for that effort.

Mr. Klein’s current physical and mental infirmities are a tragedy with which any of us can feel sympathy and empathy. But he was a catastrophe as a premier, and hardly a unifying force in his treatment of Canadians from elsewhere. Awarding him this great honour – as debased as it may now be owing to the continued presence in its ranks of certain unsavoury characters – is not appropriate.

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Latest Alberta poll shows Redford Conservatives with commanding lead

Say it ain’t so! Giant Redford Tory electoral machine crushes everything in its path! Even the ship of state! (Stephen Carter’s electoral schemes may not be exactly as illustrated.) Below: Alison Redford, Tom “Firewall” Flanagan.

As predicted more than once in this space, a methodologically trustworthy public opinion poll has now been published that shows the Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford with the support of more than 50 per cent of the province’s committed voters.

As argued here, even before the poll by Leger Marketing was reported in the Alberta media this morning, numbers like this indicate the Redford Tories are on their way to another significant majority, as long as present trends continue.

A strong case can be made that the results of the Leger poll are much more likely to be a true reflection of current voter intentions in Alberta than a group of polls touted by Wildrose Party strategists and supporters that show the Conservatives near historic lows for support and Wildrose support brushing 30 per cent.

The Leger poll of 900 Albertans selected by random digit dialing, conducted by telephone between Jan. 13 and Jan. 18, yielded the following results for decided voters:

Progressive Conservatives – 53 per cent
Wildrose Party – 16 per cent
New Democratic Party – 13 per cent
Alberta Liberal Party – 11 per cent
Alberta Party – 2 per cent

Leger says the poll has a margin of error of 3.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The poll also indicates that 11 per cent of all voters were undecided.

Leger’s question – “if a provincial election were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?” – associated the party leader’s name with each party in the list the questioner read. For example, “Glenn Taylor’s Alberta Party” or “Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party.”

These results reinforce a number of conclusions that have been argued before in Alberta Diary:

  • That the Alberta PCs have returned to historic levels of popularity since they selected Ms. Redford as their leader and premier
  • That Wildrose support has not improved significantly since long-time Tory supporters began returning to the Conservatives after former premier Ed Stelmach announced his intention to resign a year ago
  • That Alberta Liberal Party support continues to sag under the leadership of former Conservative Raj Sherman
  • That the Alberta Party has never managed to get on Albertans’ political radar screens, and that what little support they had is evaporating as an election grows closer

The big question, as Leger Alberta Vice-President Ian Large was quoted asking by the Calgary Herald, “is who is going to be No. 2? Who is going to be the Opposition?”

It has been argued here that despite the Wildrose Party’s No. 2 position in popular support, the NDP is more likely to form the official Opposition because splits in voter support in the Edmonton area where it is strong are more likely to favour it than the splits in the Calgary area where Wildrose support is strong by Tory support is overwhelming.

I would not be so bold as to suggest these Leger results support that argument – at least not yet, until Leger provides a complete breakdown of its regional results. However, nor do they rule it out – so that’s my position, and I’m stickin’ to it until persuasive evidence shows otherwise.

We now see the very interesting phenomenon of recent polls of Alberta voters’ intentions sorting themselves into two groups, one that says the Tories have the support of about half of all voters and one that puts Tory support at 40 per cent or lower and indicates a corresponding boost in Wildrose support.

Which to believe?

Well, the three most recent polls that show strong Tory support – Citizen Society Research Lab, Environics and Leger – all used methodology considered to be sound by professional pollsters, telephoned questions over several days.

The three most recent polls that showed the Conservatives weaker and the Wildrose stronger – two by Forum Research and one by ThinkHQ Public Affairs – used methodology not considered to be as reliable, automated demon-dialers over a single evening in the case of Forum and a self-selecting on-line panel in the case of ThinkHQ.

This is not a guarantee that the polls in the first group got it right, or the polls in the second group didn’t, but it leads a fair observer to such a conclusion. Certainly, back in 2008, online polls did not have a particularly good record for reliably predicting Alberta provincial election results.

Other conclusions from the Leger poll:

  • Satisfaction with the performance of Ms. Redford’s government is very strong, at about 70 per cent
  • Ms. Redford leads dramatically among the number of Albertan who thought she “would make the best premier for Alberta” – 32 per cent, versus 14 per cent for Ms. Smith, 7 per cent for NDP Leader Brian Mason and 6 per cent for Liberal Leader Raj Sherman.
  • Two thirds of Alberta voters indicated their voting choice will not be affected by recent allegations of illegal donations made to the PC Party.

The mainstream media, of course, may soon forget the results of this poll because it does not favour the “horserace on the right scenario.”

Some journalists, like Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid are sticking manfully to the journalistic dream of a right-wing slugfest. Things “will change the minute a campaign starts,” Mr. Braid promised today. “With Tom Flanagan running the show, the Wildrose campaign will likely be focused, smart and extremely tough.”

True enough, with “Firewall” Flanagan at the helm, the Wildrose campaign is indeed likely to be tough – spelled D-I-R-T-Y, as we have already seen – but I don’t doubt the Redford Conservatives have a few dirty tricks of their own up their sleeves.

Anything can happen in politics, of course, so don’t bet the house and the Hawaiian holiday on any outcome until election day is a little closer!

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What – and who – is behind last week’s University of Calgary public sector pay fairy tale?

Ken Boessenkool and Ben Eisen consider their latest fairy tale. Alberta public policy commentators may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Tom Flanagan directs the Wildrose Party’s campaign while the Alberta media looks on. A similar caveat applies to this image. Below that: Mr. Eisen and Mr. Boessenkool as they appear to the folks who know them.

Once upon a time, “in the last decade of the 20th century Alberta became a paragon of fiscal virtue.”

So begins a fairy tale spun by Ken Boessenkool and Ben Eisen, Alberta’s equivalents of the Brothers Grimm.

Their fantasy story was treated by journalists with respectful kid gloves and a deceptive lack of background when it was released to the mainstream media last week by the so-called “School of Public Policy” at the University of Calgary.

Indeed, the National Post liked it so much, it practically copied the study’s opening line for the opener of its editorial last Friday.

Alas, unlike the work of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, the yarn spun by Messrs. Boessenkool and Eisen is designed to obfuscate, not to illuminate.

As time goes on and the number-crunchers have a chance to pull at the threads of this colourful but poorly knitted sweater, many more flaws are certain to be revealed that cast doubt on its sensational conclusion that (as summarized by the Calgary Herald) “Alberta’s public sector wage bill has increased nearly twice as fast as the national average over the past decade.”

But the trouble with the reasoned responses that are sure to be made by the reality-based community, however, is that in the time-honoured fashion of the drivel produced by the right-wing “think tanks” for which both Mr. Boessenkool and Mr. Eisen have toiled, they have captured the headlines. The denials or explanations will all be second-day stories to which no one much will pay much attention.

As is clearly intended by the authors of sensational “studies” like this one, this leads lazy or innumerate journalists to conclusions that cannot be supported by the authors’ arguments, but which nonetheless pass directly into the imagination of the public.

For example, consider this point from the National Post editorial noted above, which was written almost as if it were part of a co-ordinated campaign that began with the launch of this so-called study: “While wages for civil servants, nurses, teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees have increased 63 per cent across the country, they have risen by nearly twice that amount in Alberta.”

This may seem like a nice distinction to some readers, but what even the authors’ report says is that Alberta’s total public sector wage bill has increased over the decade “nearly double” 63 per cent – not necessarily a surprise in a fast-growing, high-cost province like Alberta. It does not say, as the Post fatuously implies and many members of the public will remember, that Alberta public employees’ average wages have grown by that much.

I personally crunched the numbers for first-year nurses employed by public health care facilities in Alberta in the same period and was forced to the conclusion that their wages had increased … wait for it … 63 per cent! (See the national average, above.)

According to a fact-heavy news release put out Monday by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents direct employees of the provincial government, negotiated wages for its members who work for the government rose only 49 per cent in the same period, which happens to be identical to the increase in the Alberta Average Weekly Earnings calculated by Statistics Canada. What’s more, the number of AUPE members doing these jobs barely changed over the 10 years while Alberta’s population skyrocketed.

The Post also made much of the fact – quelle horreur! – that some Registered Nurses earn as much as $80,000 a year when their overtime is calculated in. So what’s wrong with that, one wonders? RNs are highly trained medical professionals on whom your life may depend – and it’s the almighty international market that normally sets the hard little hearts of guys like Mr. Boessenkool a-pitter-patter that regulates what nurses’ time is worth. (The Post also implied the nurses’ union had just negotiated these overtime provisions. Not true. The same provisions were in place back when Alberta was a paragon of fiscal virtue.)

So if all this is the case, assuming that Mr. Boessenkool’s and Mr. Eisen’s basic numbers are correct, how could the public sector wage bill have “shot up” 119 per cent between 2000 and 2010 when it obviously wasn’t the wages of ordinary public sector workers doing the shooting up?

Perhaps it was because Mr. Boessenkool and Mr. Eisen don’t seem to have accounted for inflation in the figures they used, a reasonable calculation that would have shrunk their sensational estimates by about 20 per cent across the board.

Perhaps it was because they rolled in the huge salaries and bonuses that were paid to senior government of Alberta managers. Managerial bonuses alone added up to $44 million a year in the period, according to Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald. But Mr. Boessenkool and Mr. Eisen made no effort to break out such management perks, using a definition of salary that included, among other things, such non-working-class benefits as taxable allowances, bonuses, commissions and income in kind.

Perhaps it was the result of the big pay cuts that all Alberta public employees took the decade before. Except judges, of course, who are presumably also included in Mr. Boessenkool’s and Mr. Eisen’s numbers.

Perhaps it was in part the impact of the fact women and new Canadians are paid the same wage as everyone else when they do the same work in the public sector, but are systemically taken advantage of if they work for private companies.

All this remains to be seen when more sophisticated number-crunchers have a go at Mr. Boessenkool’s and Mr. Eisen’s conclusions. But will anyone notice if the media doesn’t bother to cover their analysis with the same enthusiasm it reported their claims of “astonishing growth” in public sector pay?

At this point, much of the Alberta media is too busy running biased polls designed to elicit a predictable response as part of their open campaign for the Wildrose Party, which naturally has jumped on the report’s dubious conclusions as a way to attack Premier Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservative government stewardship over the past decade.

You just have to know, people, that the publicity generated by this report isn’t going to be used to attack the obscene salaries of Alberta’s vast corps of deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and public health sector vice-presidents and directors!

No, it’s intended to be used as part of a co-ordinated campaign to push back the modest salaries, benefits and bargaining rights of ordinary working people in the public sector – and, by extension, to attack those in the private sector as well.

This may explain the media’s strange reluctance to inform its readers and listeners just who Mr. Boessenkool and Mr. Eisen are.

Not only has Mr. Boessenkool worked for various far-right “think tanks,” including the thoroughly discredited Fraser Institute (where he obviously learned his lessons well), he has been a strategist for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Office, a corporate lobbyist, the chair of a committee designed to engineer a reverse takeover of the Alberta Tories by the Wildrose Party, and is now Chief of Staff to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, head of a neo-Con coalition that only calls itself Liberal. Of himself, he says: “I came out of the womb right wing.”

With Mr. Harper and Academician Tom Flanagan, who this week was revealed to be the mastermind behind the green curtain working the bells and whistles of the Wildrose Party’s election campaign, Mr. Boessenkool was also a signatory to the famously Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto.

Mr. Eisen is cut from the same piece of cloth, most recently as a propagandist for the Winnipeg-based faux-Fraser-Institute Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

But there’s nary a word of all this in the Post’s editorial, which fails to even mention the names of the report’s authors. It was passed over suspiciously lightly in other coverage by the media.

Look, it’s still a free country. If the University of Calgary and its “School of Public Policy” want to pass off this kind of ideological tripe as academic research and generally act like another right-wing think tank, there’s not much that can be done about it.

But they should have the decency to refuse the taxpayer dollars that pay for their operations and fund many of their propagandists’ public pensions. If they’re so hot to make cuts to the public sector, they couldn’t pick a better place to start than their own front doorstep!

And is it too much to ask that the mainstream media stop acting like their junior auxiliary, check their facts and try to answer the most obvious questions?

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Second Forum poll shows Wildrose still soaring: Press 1 if you believe it, Press 2, if you have your doubts…

A Forum Research Inc. spokesperson counts up support for Alberta’s far-right Wildrose Party. Below: Forum President Lorne Bozinoff.

Well, that’s one strategy for establishing your polling credibility: If you come up with a poll that other pollsters, bloggers and the usual complainers dismiss as an outlier, do another one that says the same thing.

That’s what Forum Research Inc. of Toronto did today, publishing a poll of Alberta voters’ intentions that shows the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford unchanged from its survey last month at 38 per cent committed support.

Today’s Forum poll also showed the far-right Wildrose Party up a startling six points to 29 per cent, leading the National Post newspaper, to which the poll results were provided first, to trumpet: “Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance poised to take official opposition status in spring vote: poll.” (It’s nice to know it’s not just me that still instinctively calls them the Wildrose Alliance; but then, I still call the Harper Cons the Reform Party.)

Regardless of that, Forum’s latest survey of 1,077 Albertans who indicated they were over 18, which was done over the telephone on Jan. 17 using automated Press-Pound-if-You’re-Undecided type technology, showed Alberta’s other parties spread out behind in positions not dissimilar to those where they were in the company’s Dec. 14, 2011, poll that aroused a certain amount of scoffing among the usual suspects, this one included.

To wit: Alberta Liberals 14 per cent (up from 12 per cent), Alberta NDP 13 per cent (unchanged) and Alberta Party 3 per cent (down from 6).

This latest Forum poll result suggests to this blogger two likely possibilities:

  1. Forum got it right and was simply the first to pick up on a dramatic developing trend of growing support for the Wildrose Party that appeared in December.
  2. There’s something wrong with Forum’s sample that is producing wildly different results from those of most other polling companies, which have put support for Redford and the Conservatives at around 50 per cent or better.

If these latest Forum poll results are accurate, they signify a very serious turn for the worse for the Redford Conservatives. If they are accurate, as noted here the last time Forum came up with numbers like these, they would mean that Conservatives are close to their historic low for support, and moreover that they are no better off under Ms. Redford than they were under Premier Ed Stelmach.

In addition, Forum’s results would indicate that Ms. Redford is not experiencing any sort of honeymoon with voters. Indeed, Forum states in material accompanying its results that more Albertans approve of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith than approve of Premier Redford.

Moreover, it would mean that Alberta voters have completely broken with their historic behaviour patterns and are not just acting in new ways, but in wildly new ways.

Well, anything’s possible, one supposes, but the Conservatives sure aren’t acting like a party that is in the dumper in the polls – and you’ve got to think that they’re polling like crazy right now. Nor does the population, if you listen to Albertans talking, sound like a group of people who are lo longer experiencing that honeymoon glow from their new premier.

“These findings show that the Progressive Conservative party is maintaining a strong base of support among Albertans,” said Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff in the company’s report. “Despite the strong support base, Premier Redford’s approval rating remains low, while Smith and the Wildrose Party appear to be gaining some traction.”

“It will be interesting,” Dr. Bozinoff went on, “to see if this trend continues in the months to come.” Yes indeed, it will be, and we should have an opportunity to get some insight into this very soon. There are reports that another poll of Alberta voter intentions has recently been conducted by a major national pollster, and that its results will be published shortly – perhaps even later this week.

If that poll’s results return to the pattern of most voter intention surveys before Forum entered the field late last year, it will be strong evidence that the Conservatives are on their way to another huge majority, the NDP is the most likely party to form the opposition and that something is indeed wrong with Forum’s sample.

If its results show the same trend as do Forum’s, well then, it’s a whole new world in Alberta.

In the mean time, Forum’s poll should help Ms. Smith deal with the expectations-management problem she must surely now have with her supporters, the result of persuading them for more than two years that the Wildrose Party was bound to form government whenever a vote was called.

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Ex-MLA Shiraz Shariff gives Redford favourite Ken Hughes the bum’s rush in Tory nomination battle

Ken Hughes, back in the day as chair of the Alberta Health Services Board. He’s now Alberta’s newest unemployed person. Below: Shiraz Shariff, Joey Oberhoffner.

As the beloved Scottish poet Rabbie Burns so famously observed, “the best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

The best-laid plans o’ mice, of course, are usually wrecked by people with traps. But those of men often go awry because of what might be termed an over-exuberance of democracy.

Consider the sad case of Alberta’s newest unemployed person, Ken Hughes, who on Dec. 28 last year announced he was stepping down as the first and only chair of Alberta’s giant public health care board, known nowadays as Alberta Health Services.

He didn’t make the other announcement official until a few days later – but it was so obvious at the time that even the tame stenographers of Alberta’s mainstream media included it in their reports of his resignation: Mr. Hughes was quitting so that he could seek the Progressive Conservative nomination in the riding of Calgary-West.

From there, it was assumed, he would be elected MLA with ease, since the riding has a reputation as one of the most easily winnable in the province for Progressive Conservative candidates. After all, since 2004, it’s been held by Finance Minister Ron Liepert, the perennial bull in Alberta’s political china shop until he announced his plan to resign. The federal riding of the same name, which occupies much of the same real estate, is home to the execrable Rob Anders, best known for calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

After that, it seemed likely, Mr. Hughes would take his appointed seat in the Legislature in Edmonton, whence he would be welcomed into Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet, quite possibly as health minister.

Alas, just as Robert Burns warned us might happen, this afternoon Mr. Hughes’s plans went spectacularly awry and his sure-thing ascent to cabinet became dust in his mouth. After a close fought race, to the utter astonishment of the Alberta political cognoscenti, Mr. Hughes was edged out on the third ballot by former Calgary-McCall MLA Shiraz Shariff, who doesn’t even live in the riding.

Whoopsie-doopsie all ’round! Back in the 2008 election, Mr. Shariff was narrowly defeated in Calgary-McCall by Liberal Darshan Kang, and later unsuccessfully claimed in court there had been election irregularities.

Apparently the PC electors of Calgary West were not nearly as impressed as the premier with Mr. Hughes’s accomplishments as an insurance salesman, as the undistinguished Member of Parliament for Macleod and as chair of the shambolic behemoth that is Alberta Health Services.

Indeed, while the Tory story as told by Health Minister Fred Horne in the official government news release announcing Mr. Hughes’s resignation is that “Ken’s leadership helped AHS to deliver solid results, including over $660 million in administrative savings that has since been reinvested in patient care,” there’s precious little evidence any money has actually been saved.

Moreover, it is simply impossible to claim health care operates more efficiently in Alberta under AHS than it did before the huge agency was created in 2008 to replace nine health regions – a move almost universally believed to have been a politically motivated strategy by the government of former premier Ed Stelmach to curb the burgeoning power of the Calgary Health Region.

Indeed, health care in Alberta seems to the public to have been in an enduring state of crisis almost from the day AHS was created.

No one knows what former AHS CEO Stephen Duckett, the plain-spoken Australian PhD economist hired to run AHS by Mr. Hughes and Mr. Liepert and then publicly sacked by premier Stelmach in November 2010, thinks of today’s development. Presumably, he has returned to the Antipodes, his $736,000 payout in hand. A for-sale sign rocked in the bone-chilling breeze today in front of Dr. Duckett’s residence in a posh Edmonton neighbourhood near the University of Alberta.

After yesterday’s nomination of Mr. Shariff, Mount Royal University communications professor David Taras, a political scientist who is a quotable favourite of the media, told the Calgary Herald the outcome was “shocking” and scrambled for an explanation. “It’s all about the ground game and obviously (Shariff) had a better ground game,” he told the no-doubt equally nonplussed Herald reporter. … Well, yeah!

Actually, the Calgary West nomination was but one of four Tory nomination races in southern Alberta yesterday. However, the only item of interest to come out of the rest of them is that one losing candidate in Calgary-Fish Creek, Joey Oberhoffner, was described by the media as a “political blogger” as if this were a reasonable job description for an aspiring office holder.

I would conclude from this, people, that there is hope for the world. Mr. Oberhoffner is known online as “the Enlightened Savage,” which judging from his political pedigree is at least half right. Calgary-Fish Creek is represented by Heather Forsyth, a Tory MLA since 1993 who crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Party on Jan. 4, 2010.

Getting back to Mr. Hughes and Calgary-West, the surprise nomination outcome served him right, according to the only commentator about the Edmonton Journal’s story by late afternoon. “It takes a lot of arrogance to think you can just resign from a cushy high-profile patronage job and step into a Tory nomination,” said someone identified as Old Grey Badger. “Gee I wonder if Hughes can get his old job back now. … Most likely Redford will appoint him as Alberta’s Trade Ambassador to Moldova or some other ‘really important’ position.”

Actually, much the same thing occurred to many Albertans. Who would bet against Mr. Hughes turning up in an important post-election position advising Premier Redford?

In other political surprises yesterday, south of the Medicine Line, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich served up a can of whoop-ass to former Mormon bishop Mitt Romney, the front-runner, in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Why can’t Canadian politicians have names like Newt and Mitt?

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Time to loosen up and let federal NDP Quebec caucus learn in public – out here in Alberta

The Liberal Party rises from the dead? Not going to happen. Even Justin Trudeau doesn’t look like the guy with his hand in the air. If you want to skid the Harper Conservatives, it’s NDP you’re going to have to ask to do the job. Below: Lise St. Denis.

The time has come for the federal New Democratic Party to loosen up and let its rookie-rich Quebec caucus learn how to be good Members of Parliament right out there in public.

Yeah, there are risks in such a course of action. But there are risks in trying to control the caucus with an iron grip worthy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well, as the last few weeks of chatter about an NDP in “disarray,” culminating in the Jan. 9 defection of Lise St. Denis to the faltering Liberals, have revealed.

I’ve got bad news and good news for you. Worse is almost certain to come. Hell, a Quebec New Democrat may even defect to the Harper Tories for all we know. It’s a pretty big caucus with enough people who didn’t expect to get elected that one supposes anything could happen. And that would be like … what? An Alberta Conservative crossing the floor to join the Trudeau Liberals? (Hey, Jack Horner, c’mon down!)

Ms. St. Denis’ decision to cross to Liberals, or even a few more like it, doesn’t add up to the L-shaped Party putting the L back in Lazarus and rising from the dead. Canadians have cottoned onto their arrogance and entitlement, and the exaggerated notion of their corruption has been firmly implanted in our collective mind, so it’s said here that stain isn’t going to wash out.

That may be why Liberal Party Interim Leader Bob Rae admitted at his news conference announcing the defection of the MP for St-Maurice-Champlain that he didn’t really think it meant very much. “It’s certainly not a day where we’re going to make some exaggerated claim as to what trend does this represent,” he told the media. “I have no idea.”

And that may even be why the virulently pro-Harper mainstream media seems to have let the matter drop.

Still, under the Liberal Party’s present circumstances, you can hardly blame Mr. Rae for taking an MP wherever he could find one – even if it was a pleasant and rather elderly person who seemed thoroughly confused about why she ran in the first place.

So what’s the good news? Loud arguments, tears shed, or even several defections over the next few months are not going to keep the NDP Quebec caucus from turning into an effective political force, and they’re not going to keep the NDP from turning into the government of Canada, especially if it manages to pick the right leader.

As NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp shrewdly observed on his recent visit to Edmonton, “all politics ends in tears.” The Liberal Party has already had its lachrymose moment, no matter what lies they told themselves last weekend at their convention in Ottawa. The Conservative government led by Mr. Harper, whom Canadians instinctively dislike and distrust, will have its moment too.

But if you want to see the Harper Conservatives skidded from power, it’s going to have to be the NDP that does the job.

This is why, even before a national leader is chosen, now would be a good time for the NDP to loosen the reins a little on its Quebec caucus a little and let those members learn to be good MPs in public, early in the game.

As even the National Post admitted, while there may be a few duds among the MPs last year’s Orange Wave washed up in Ottawa (one less as of last week, as a matter of fact), there are also some remarkably talented people who are already shining pretty brightly.

Which is why I think, even as the leadership race continues, that NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel should offer those MPs the opportunity to shine in front of the entire country, not just in their own constituencies.

And you know what? Some of them might mess up, and mess up publicly. If that happens, the Tory Rage Machine will certainly jump on it and try to use it to sow seeds of doubt about the NDP.

But so what? I think Canadians would get it. They already get it that the Conservatives are a sleazy American-style party that will stoop to anything to hang onto power. They don’t particularly like it. But like voters here in Alberta, they’re unlikely to vote for another party until they are shown that it can govern too.

They also get it that the Quebec caucus is full of rookies, and it is said here they will mostly react with sympathy and understanding as those committed new MPs learn how to be an effective governing party in public.

Finally, there is the matter of our depressed and progressive young people – who here in Alberta are a significant factor in the fact almost 60 per cent of eligible voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot in the last provincial election.

I think the sight of articulate, young, successful New Democrats from Quebec on their Alberta doorsteps would energize and motivate young Albertans not just to vote, not just to vote NDP, but to run for office themselves!

A recent comment under a post on this blog about 29-year-old leadership candidate Niki Ashton’s visit to Edmonton said, “I’m tired of the ageism, tired of the inside bullshit that’s going on, tired of the Boomers and their old-school ways. It’s time to move forward, to engage youth and to be the progressives we say we are.”

What better way to inspire progressive young people in Alberta than the example of progressive young people who have succeeded in politics in another province?

What better way to show Albertans of all ages that, notwithstanding the Tory and media propaganda, the NDP Quebec caucus is full of talented people who could contribute to a humane and progressive national government?

And what better way to let our new Quebec New Democrats learn and grow in an atmosphere where the impact of any mistakes are likely to be minimized?

In case any New Democrats in Ottawa have missed it – easy to do since the Ottawa media ignores Western Canada – there’s a provincial electing coming up in Alberta in which the NDP has hopes of forming the official Opposition.

I say the best way for the NDP to put Lise St. Denis behind them where she belongs – and to make a significant positive contribution as well – is to fill a couple of planes with those new Quebec MPs and bring them to Alberta to help with our campaign.

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While we’re on the topic of the NDP, I’m afraid I just can’t get my knickers in a twist about the fact NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair has dual Canadian-French citizenship.

For one thing, Mr. Mulcair has been totally open about this, declaring it to be so without being prompted at NDP leadership forums long before the press got onto it. I guess this is what passes for a big scoop at Postmedia News nowadays.

Maybe it matters to most Canadians, like it might have mattered when it turned out that Stephane Dion held Canadian and French passports. Maybe it doesn’t, as it doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Ted Morton, who is widely assumed here in Alberta to be a dual Canadian and U.S. citizen.

It’s a disadvantage, without a doubt, for those of us who don’t enjoy the advantages of dual citizenship. My guess is raising this issue, as both Prime Minister Harper and the late NDP leader Jack Layton have done, will prove to be a double-edged sword. Back in 2006, according to the CBC, 41 MPs qualified. So did at least two signatories to the famous Alberta separatist Firewall Manifesto, although one of them was apparently not Mr. Harper. So do a dozen or more Alberta MLAs.

Is this to become a question for anyone running for public office in Canada? I guess so. I’ll certainly be asking all my local candidates.

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