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?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

  1. Calgary Rants says:

    Joey Oberhoffner has been involved in the PC party for many years, both as a volunteer and board member. I know your a busy man, but take a look at his blog. You will find some excellent positions and thoughts.

    I know the man and he is one of the brightest young political minds I have met.

    I'm sure once we hit our senior years, we will be just as miserable as the old school writers. ;)

    Shane (another hack blogger)

  2. CuJoYYC says:

    Perhaps by the time you hit your senior years as a blogger, you'll have learned the difference between 'your' and 'you're' (and perhaps even 'yore'). One may surmise that the difference between a writer (old school or otherwise) and a blogger is the ability to spell and the knowledge to care about such details.

    Ah well. Time will tell.

  3. Filostrato says:

    "It’s all about the ground game and obviously (Shariff) had a better ground game,”…

    Reminds me of Big Bobby Clobber in the Air Farce. "We wanna win because we wanna win!"

    As far as the Enlightened Savage is concerned, okay, I'll bite. Which half is right?

    He's certainly no "wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,", anyway.

    To continue the Burns theme, I wonder how many of today's pillagers and plunderers would be enlightened enough to say this.

    I'm truly sorry man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union,
    An' justifies that ill opinion
    Which makes thee startle
    At me, thy poor, earth born companion
    An' fellow mortal!"

    Or even this:

    Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But och! I backward cast my e'e,
    On prospects drear!
    An' forward, tho' I canna see,
    I guess an' fear!

  4. David J. Climenhaga says:

    I profess to being somewhat mystified by CuJoYYC's comment since, as far as I can tell, neither the word "your" nor the contraction "you're" put in an appearance in this post. I have searched both the Web page and the original Word document.

    Naturally, like any writer of a certain age, I am always deeply embarrassed when such errors occur, as they inevitably do when one types with two fingers at the speed I do and, moreover, does so without the assistance of an editor other than those of you who kindly draw my mistakes to my attention. Nevertheless, I think I can say with confidence that most readers will agree the incidence of serious typos is somewhat lower in this blog than in such amateurish efforts as, say, the Toronto Globe and Mail or the Edmonton Journal.

    I am nevertheless aware that I have, on occasion, written "your" when I intended "you're," (though never "yore," even in days of same, to my knowledge). Likewise, to my profound embarrassment I once wrote "it's" when "its" was called for and deserved the stern rebuke I earned from a reader, perhaps the same one. I have written minuscule as if its root were mini, and a myriad other shocking errors. I always correct them the instant I spot them.

    So, if Mr. YYC will only point out to me the location of this error, which I have no doubt is a possibility, I will make haste to correct it.

    By the way, if I should continue to write this blog for a span of 65 years, the normal definition of seniority, I will be 120 years old. Whether my spelling will have improved or slipped a little, I suppose, remains to be seen.

  5. David J. Climenhaga says:

    Ah, I get it, Mr. YYC is assailing Mr. Rants (another hack blogger), not me. Well, fair enough. If "your" going to dish it out, I suppose, you need to be able to take it. I'm going to let my previous comment stand so that readers know the seriousness with which I take this grammatical and syntactical sort of thing.

    The lesson for Mr. YYC, I suppose, is the need for the standard journalistic "set up," which makes it clear about whom you are speaking. I think the assumption of most readers – certainly old-fashioned ones such as me – is that the comment refers to the text, not the previous comment. That said, I welcome long conversations among my readers: Carlos Beca and the gun nuts, c'mon down!

    One of the faults of the Blogger.com platform – which I may soon abandon – is that the editor (that would be me) cannot make minor edits to save commenters from embarrassment for easy-to-make errors of this sort, or to delete defamatory passages in otherwise sound and interesting comments.

  6. Shane says:

    AndHi Dave. Guilty as charged. :) I let the ipod touch autospell get the best of me. My mistake and I own it.

  7. Nordic says:

    Okay I will bite and "c'mon down."

    The Conservatives are largely made up of people who think the virtual world of real estate values and selling insurance trumps the real world of global climate change and collapsing oil and gas royalties while their leaders aid and abet the swindle going on in the financial, resource, and grain sectors courtesy of the Harper cons. While in Alberta we are told “no Enron here” as electricity prices hit unprecedented levels.

    The NDP is worse. They did not even have the strategic good sense to let Harper kill his biggest fund raising tool by ending the long gun registry during the minority Parliament. With that gone Harper would have had real trouble in several western seats and rural Ontario as voters focused on the other Conservative policies that are very harmful to rural Canada. Now it is too late to undo Harper’s successful attacks on rural Canada and a pox on the NDP for their stupidity!

    The Liberals are a magnificent wreck. Enough said about them.

    Harper is now disregarding the rule of law and he may well succeed in bullying the courts into acquiescing.

    What a mess. Looks like we get more industrial feudalism – how are your forelock tugging skills?


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