Archive for March, 2012

On Milton Acorn, on his birthday, Canada’s People’s Poet

The Silver Dollar Room at the Waverly Hotel, where Milton Acorn lived on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Below: Milton Acorn (drawing found on the Internet).

Today was the birthday of Milton Acorn, the People’s Poet, who lived rough, and died before he was eligible for the Old Age Security, even under the old rules.

For those of you who have missed him until now, Milton Acorn is not only Canada’s greatest poet, he may be our only great poet!

The first time I heard of Milton Acorn was back in the distant Sixties, or maybe it was the early Seventies, when some Chamber of Commerce type in Abbotsford, B.C., or thereabouts almost tumbled off his rocker because a poet who was a Communist (a self-described Communist, as the media used to say in those days) and who now and then put a profanity in his verse had been given some money by the federal government.

The Canada Council? Possible. But Unemployment Insurance, as it was known in those pre-Orwellian times, was more likely. Whatever. As for the occasional swear, there were precious few in Acorn’s poems – as befit a rather prim old Red who’d had a little trouble with the Hard Life.

Milton Acorn even ended up an uncomfortable alcohol-fuelled pro-lifer, believing as he did in the nobility of Mankind, un-besmirched by Original Sin. Yet I likely imagine the Abbotsford ranter unfairly too, as a stout man sweating through a cheap polyester suit with a necktie knot as big as his head, which would have been filled with the Social Credit nostrums of that era and location. No doubt he too, just like Milton, was only trying to build a better world, according to his own lights.

Later, I lived on the same street in Toronto as did Milton Acorn, in the same stinky, exciting, historical, atmospheric, evocative working class neighbourhood. Like Milton, I have had a beer or two in the Waverly Hotel, where he lived, heard the clarinetist play Lili Marlene in the beer parlour there, hung around its sleazy Silver Dollar lounge, listened to the jazz at Grossman’s, marveled at the strength and dignity of the working men and women of Chinatown next door, devoured a falafel at Moshe’s next to El Mocambo, where poor Margaret Trudeau sat on the curb and gave us all way too much information.

I’m sure that I’ve heard some gunshots down there too. And I’m pretty sure I’ve also bought the bulldog edition of the Globe and Mail from what must have been that same newsie with his dirty pink chapped face, Acorn’s description of whom never fails to move me.

Here is Milton Acorn on that person, and much more:

Knowing I Live in a Dark Age

Knowing I live in a dark age before history,
I watch my wallet and
am less struck by gunfights in the avenues
than by the newsie with his dirty pink chapped face
calling a shabby poet back for his change.

The crows mobbing the blinking, sun-stupid owl;
wolves eating a hamstrung calf hindend first,
keeping their meat alive and fresh … these
are marks of foresight, beginnings of wit:
but Jesus wearing thorns and sunstroke
beating his life and death into words
to break the rods and blunt the axes of Rome:
this and like things followed.

Knowing that in this advertising rainbow
I live like a trapeze artist with a headache,
my poems are no aspirins … they show
pale bayonets of grass waving thin on dunes;
the paralytic and his lyric secrets;
my friend Al, union builder and cynic,
hesitating to believe his own delicate poems
lest he believe in something better than himself:
and history, which is yet to begin,
will exceed this, exalt this
as a poem erases and rewrites its poet.

— Milton Acorn, c. 1960

Later I journeyed to Prince Edward Island, hoping to meet this most admired poet.

This and like things followed: I bought my ticket in July of 1986. Milton was dead – on Aug. 20 – a week before I got to Charlottetown. I saw the red earth, and the green gables, ate the white lobster. I left a red rose on his still unmarked grave.

On a later visit there was a simple gravestone, a carving of an acorn – the tiny nut whence grew this great Canadian oak, sturdy and inevitable; so fondly remembered – and another red rose.

Ignored by the Governor General’s Award committee in 1970, Milton Acorn was declared The People’s Poet, a more noble title, one title to aspire to. The GG’s Award came belatedly, in 1976.

Milton James Rhode Acorn. Born on this day in 1923. Died on August 20, 1986. Named The People’s Poet by his peers. Playwright. Worker. Writer. Carpenter. Socialist. Canadian. Canada’s Greatest Poet. Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Buried in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Red earth to red earth.

Poetry is important. A culture that does not value the arts barely deserves the title of culture. For, after all, just as a poem erases and rewrites its poet, poetry erases and rewrites its society.

From time to time we need that.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Thomas Mulcair? We can’t spare that man. He fights!

Ulysses S. Grant, exactly as he appeared. Below: Thomas Mulcair (from a Toronto Star photo), for comparative purposes; President Lincoln.

I like Thomas Mulcair for the same reason Abraham Lincoln liked Ulysses S. Grant.

As President Lincoln famously said of Gen. Grant, the Commanding General of the Union Army in America’s great Civil War: “I can’t spare that man. He fights!”

Legend has it that the president was responding to a silly delegation of people who wanted Gen. Grant cashiered because he was reported to be too fond of whisky. The President, who was personally an abstemious man, but one with a sense of humour, inquired of them what it was Gen. Grant drank … so that he could send a case of the stuff to the rest of his generals!

Last weekend, Canadian New Democrats came to a similar conclusion about Mr. Mulcair – who, oddly, physically rather resembles Gen. Grant, despite the century and a quarter that has passed since the American soldier and politician’s death. They voted for Mr. Mulcair because they believe they can count on him to fight.

Maybe he really does have a temper, they thought. So what?

Maybe he can be sharp with supporters who don’t agree with him – indeed, I personally have seen Mr. Mulcair do this. Maybe the flame of ideological purity burns a little less brightly in his breast than in some. But, by God, he fights! And what we New Democrats need now is a fighter!

So it should hardly surprise us that, despite the great strengths of the other candidates, in the end a majority of New Democrats rolled the dice for the candidate who is obviously prepared to stand up and fight this terrible neo-Con government of Stephen Harper and his failed Conservative retreads from Ontario and Alberta.

You could hear it in Mr. Mulcair’s voice yesterday as he stiffened his sinews, summoned up the blood, and assailed Mr. Harper’s contemptible budget – which attacks seniors, public servants and the CBC while waving a shiny penny at the media to distract their wandering attention.

What a pleasure it was to hear him state the obvious: “The Conservatives ran an entire election campaign without saying a word to Canadians about their plans to cut OAS or health transfers. Clearly Mr. Harper is not a man of his word.”

The mainstream media, not surprisingly, along with its allies and boon companions in the prime minister’s so-called Conservative Party, were quick to start calling Mr. Mulcair an angry man. The implication was his is the kind of irrational anger that requires a time out, or even a trip to an anger-management course. One bloviator for a national newspaper held forth on how this was not what the NDP, previously successfully led by the seemingly mild-mannered Jack Layton, needed to succeed.

Well, we’ll see about that. But it seems to me that Mr. Mulcair is not so much angry as he is determined. But if it takes a little righteous anger – and I use that term advisedly – to battle the vote-suppressing, robo-calling, Parliament proroguing, anti-democratic urges of Mr. Harper and his neo-Con goons, then I say bring it on, and about time too!

Jack Layton was a fine man and a extraordinary leader. But he was really untested when it came to dealing with the legendary viciousness of these unprincipled Conservative market-fundamentalists who believe any deception is fair ball if it advances their ideological agenda.

Earlier on in the last Parliament, the Harper Tories identified Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff as the Main Enemy, and through a long intellectually dishonest but highly effective campaign demolished that essentially decent man brick by brick. They ignored Mr. Layton, at least until it was too late – when we got a glimpse of the tactics they were prepared to stoop to with the ugly massage parlour allegations leaked in the dying days of the election campaign to the Conservative Party’s house newspaper, the Toronto Sun.

It may be a heresy in some circles to say this aloud, but I have wondered privately how Mr. Layton – a profoundly decent and kindly man – would have stood the full onslaught of the Eye of Sauron that occupies 24 Sussex when it was finished with the professorial Dr. Ignatieff.

Mr. Mulcair, it seems to me and obviously to many other New Democrats, is tough enough to stand up to these people, and to honourably and articulately dish it back to them in a way that will make sense to Canadians.

The hypocritical cavils of national press notwithstanding, how can this be a bad thing with an opponent like Mr. Harper and with a cause as important as saving our country from the depredations of neo-Con ideology?

The chief knock against Mr. Mulcair in the media is that he’s cranky?

Please! I’m cranky too. What reasonable Canadian wouldn’t be at the thought of the way these so-called Conservatives, who are in fact dangerous Straussian radicals, conduct themselves, and the un-Canadian program they intend to implement?

It was a legitimate issue for New Democrats – deciding how to order their own house after the remarkable Mr. Layton’s death – to consider Mr. Mulcair’s past role in a Liberal provincial government (though it was, as he pointed out, a government led by the only federalist party in the province in question) and whether that mattered in our leader’s resume.

Obviously, a majority decided it didn’t, indeed, that Mr. Mulcair took a considerable political risk becoming a New Democrat in a place and time where the conventional political wisdom had it that there was no future for supporters of the NDP.

But it takes some cheek for the Conservatives, of all people, to send out an email calling Mr. Mulcair a blindly ambitious and divisive opportunist, apparently all on the strength of the facts he saw the light and joined the New Democrats and has been guilty of the occasional sharp retort!

Now here we have a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, a standard Conservative rhetorical technique to be sure, but in the matter of the party of Stephen Harper, Rob Anders, Dean Del Mastro and 1,001 anonymous robo-callers more a matter of hilarity than outrage.

Conservative media commentators (which is pretty well all of them) who see horror in this need to remember that an unwillingness to suffer fools and Conservatives gladly is no barrier to success in Canadian politics – consider the sterling example of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

But these people appeal oleaginously to the better angels of our nature, as Mr. Lincoln might have said, and preach at us that we ought to have chosen a leader with a more patient and less acerbic personality, the better to be ground to dust by Mr. Harper.

Well, no thank you. I can only speak for myself, but I am sick of linking hands and singing Kumbayah. I’m sick of “moral victories” when in effect they are political defeats.

The Canada we have built is a great nation and the values of tolerance and social co-operation that characterize it are worth fighting to preserve – and to enhance.

I’m proud of my New Democrats for electing a leader who will be tough, and who will fight, for Canada.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

On the trail of the party crasher … and where’s Kevin Taft now that the Liberals really need him?

Third (or fourth) party leader Raj Sherman crashes Premier Alison Redford’s party this afternoon. Sheesh! Ms. Redford must be thinking: “Oh butt out, Raj!” Below: Kevin Taft; Dr. Sherman – “Uh oh! Here he comes!” – accompanied by an uncomfortable looking local candidate Bruce Miller. (This photo by David Cournoyer.)

When Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman crashed the premier’s “photo opportunity” early this afternoon, it got me thinking how the Conservatives aren’t the only Alberta political party that needs their old leader back. I mean, really, where’s Kevin Taft now that the Liberals need him?

Planning his retirement, presumably, without having to worry about Ms. Redford’s panicky decision this morning to suspend “from this day forward” the retirement payments to departing MLAs.

Leastways, notwithstanding the wording of Ms. Redford’s announcement, which was designed to get the government off the hook of the no-pay committee brouhaha, it’s hard to imagine she can strip the generous retirement payments from MLAs like Dr. Taft and Speaker Ken Kowalski who have already announced they’re on the way out the Legislature’s door. Good luck making that idea stick, Ms. Redford!

Getting back to the point of this story, alert readers will recall how with Dr. Taft at the helm, the Alberta Liberals enjoyed province-wide support about 25 per cent at this point in the 2008 election campaign. Today, with the unsteady hand of former Conservative Raj Sherman on the tiller, they’re at … what? Eleven per cent? Thirteen if they’re lucky?

At the risk of mixing transportation metaphors and prompting a response from The Angry Grit Commenter, it’s hard to imagine that with numbers like those the Liberals aren’t heading for a trainwreck on April 23.

That may have been why Dr. Sherman changed his schedule and showed up today at Ms. Redford’s uninformative but entertaining lunchtime photo opportunity in Edmonton’s Westmount district. What the heck, there were bound to be TV cameras around!

The grinning Liberal leader barrelled through the door of the Duchess Bakery on 124th Street seconds after the Premier had arrived and tottered across the room as if to say he’d just strolled by and noticed her.

For her part, Ms. Redford was trying to sip a latte and chat up some customers, many whom just happened to have strolled in themselves from Culture and Community Services Minister and local Edmonton-Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk’s office right across the street. (Said one nonpartisan customer to me, “Who is that lady in the orange coat?” I was a good boy and resisted the temptation to respond: “Just someone from the NDP, Dear.”)

When Dr. Sherman, who had been spotted a few minutes before lurking in a doorway up the street apparently keeping a weather eye out for the premier’s NDP-orange bus, dashed up to Ms. Redford’s table, the premier did not look amused. Indeed, she bore an expression like the one she wore minutes before as she broke a fake board with her hand at the Tae Kwon Do studio up the block. Ms. Klimchuk managed a diplomatic half-smile. Dr. Sherman did not look embarrassed. But local Liberal candidate Bruce Miller, accompanying him, looked uncomfortable.

Tacky? Nowadays, who knows? I don’t suppose most of the actual voters in attendance knew who Dr. Sherman was either.

But you’ve got to know it’s not something the professorial Dr. Taft, who will go down in history as the best premier Alberta never had, would have done.

Given the qualities he offered, this would have been the perfect election for Dr. Taft.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Be careful what you wish for: Wildrose may be on cusp of victory in Alberta campaign

Alberta PC campaign tactician Stephen Carter, left, illustrates for Premier Alison Redford and Deputy Premier Doug Horner how he plans to counter recent Wildrose Party gains. Alberta political operatives and their bosses may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: the real Premier Redford, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan.

With the two latest polls published yesterday morning, it is very hard not to conclude the far-right Wildrose Party is in fact making a major breakout in Alberta public support.

On top of two polls published Tuesday and four others since the start of February, yesterday’s polls bring to eight the number of similar public opinion surveys suggesting a surge in Wildrose support. They may not all be the best polls possible, but surely they have spotlighted a real phenomenon.

If nothing changes, the selection as leader and premier of Alison Redford by the long-ruling Progressive Conservative government seems to have provided nothing but a minor and transitory bump in support for the Conservatives.

Of course, some things are bound to change in this campaign, as Premier Redford’s Tories, unexpectedly finding themselves in a corner, pull out all the advertising stops and attempt to scare the bejesus out of the legions of “soccer moms” on whom they’ve been counting for votes.

And I don’t know about the soccer moms, but, by God, the idea of a Wildrose government frightens me!

Just the same, perhaps after all one of those great tectonic shifts in Alberta’s political mood is under way and Alberta’s second female premier will be the one that actually has a chance to implement her program – a prospect that should deeply trouble supporters of public health care and other public services in every Canadian province.

While a poll published earlier in the week shows health care as the front-of-mind issue for a majority of Alberta voters – especially the undecided ones – this doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of very large numbers of the same Albertans for change, or for the market-fundamentalist, pro-privatization Wildrose Party as its most likely agent.

At any rate, according to the poll conducted by Forum Research Inc. and published by Sun Media yesterday morning, the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith is on the cusp of being able to form a majority government in Alberta.

The one-day push-button poll conducted Monday suggests Ms. Smith’s party would take 58 seats in the Alberta Legislature if the election were held today, with Ms. Redford’s Conservatives coming a distant second with 22 seats, the Suns claim.

The survey, which judging from past Forum polls overestimates Wildrose support, nevertheless shows the party with the backing of 41 per cent of committed voters, compared to 31 per cent for the PCs, 12 per cent for the Liberals, 11 per cent for the NDP, and 2 per cent for the Alberta Party.

Notwithstanding its use of methodology questioned by credible pollsters, coverage of this particular poll by the Sun was uncritical and highly favourable to the Wildrose Party. But then, parent company Sun Media has assigned itself the role of active Wildrose partisan, quite prepared to campaign openly in its news columns for the far-right party as it did for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s so-called Conservatives in the last federal election.

But while we might be tempted to add the Suns’ ideological excesses to the poll’s methodological flaws and come up with the proverbial grain of salt, a more sound Leger Marketing telephone survey commissioned by the PostMedia News Alberta papers also released yesterday shows Wildrose support rising to 34 per cent, with the Tories still barely in the lead at 37 per cent.

While this is not as good a result from the Wildrose perspective as the day’s other poll, it certainly also suggests the Conservatives’ strong lead of a few weeks ago has evaporated. Wildrose support is coming mainly from disaffected Conservatives and the momentum now clearly supports the Wildrose Party, Leger Marketing concludes.

The Leger survey of 1,215 Albertans was conducted in the four days before the election was announced on Monday, the Herald said, and it shows 37 per cent support for the Tories and 34 per cent for the Wildrose Party among decided voters. The Liberals under Raj Sherman trail with 12 per cent and the NDP under Brian Mason at 11 per cent.

Of course, such results may or may not translate into big Wildrose gains after the April 23 provincial election. To a significant degree, that depends on what the Conservatives do now.

So if you thought the 2008 election was messy – what with all the whining about those labour-financed “Albertans for Change” ads whispering “no plan, no plan” whenever former premier Ed Stelmach appeared – just wait until you see what the Conservatives do when they really find themselves in a jam.

It won’t be pretty. Both Conservatives and Wildrosers are past masters of campaigns based on fear. They’re basically the same people, after all. As Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan once put it, “this is the reality of politics. The fear factor is everything.”

In a dire situation like this, the deep-pocketed Conservatives can be counted upon to fight as hard and dirty as Dr. Flanagan to try to make sure the Wildrose surge is stamped out.

If the hammer doesn’t work, count on them to use the advertising equivalent of an atomic bomb.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Where’s Ed Stelmach now that Alberta’s Tories really need him?

Ed Stelmach, back when he was still the premier of Alberta, looks ahead to a day when he wouldn’t have to put up with all the nonsense. Now that day has come, and it’s likely many of his Progressive Conservative caucus mates today view his time in office fondly! Below: Alison Redford.

With at least one poll showing the Progressive Conservatives under Alberta Premier Alison Redford and the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith in a dead heat for support among decided voters, one has to ask where Ed Stelmach is now that the Tories really need him.

I mean, really, could it be any worse for the Alberta Tories with the hapless former premier at the helm? Very unlikely. Indeed, it sounds as if Mr. Stelmach gave up far too easily.

Another question the shambling Tories must suddenly be asking themselves is if they would have been better off if they’d chosen Gary Mar, the smooth old political operator they sidelined at the final moment in last fall’s leadership race in favour of Ms. Redford’s flavour-of-the-moment candidacy.

The answer to the question about Mr. Mar is probably unknowable, based as it is on hypothetical assumptions and speculative fantasy. Not so speculation about Mr. Stelmach, however. We know that for all his seeming uncertainty, and his frequent fumbles, he enjoyed strong support among some sectors of Alberta’s population. Many non-Conservative Albertans saw him as an honourable if plodding man who operated from the best of intentions, and therefore extended to him a cautious level of goodwill.

This can’t be proved, of course, but it’s said here that Mr. Stelmach probably could have handily won another majority term in office, even if the size of the opposition grew a little.

Moreover, notwithstanding his difficulties with MLAs like the self-serving and ambitious neo-Con Ted Morton – the worst premier Alberta never had, and thank goodness for that – Mr. Stelmach enjoyed more support within his own caucus than does Premier Redford, who only had the support of one MLA in the leadership race and who couldn’t even get her own way on fixed election dates or the form a health inquiry ought to take.

But if the Ipsos poll released late Monday by Global TV is any guide, the suddenly fragile looking Tories under Ms. Redford could be in bigger trouble than even their most optimistic enemies had thought.

The poll, conducted between March 20 and 25 with the obvious plan it could be used as a news hit by Global to kick off its coverage of the campaign, surveyed 890 Albertans using a self-selecting on-line panel. It estimated support for both right-wing parties at 38 per cent each.

The Ipsos survey put the other parties much farther back, with committed support at 12 per cent for the NDP, 11 per cent for the Alberta Liberals and 2 per cent for all other parties.

Another poll released Monday for another broadcaster, this one done by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. for CTV, also contains bad news for Ms. Redford’s Conservatives – although it is closer what might be called “the new normal” for recent Alberta polls of voter intentions.

The ThinkHQ poll of 1,320 respondents some time in March indicated Ms. Redford’s PCs are still in the lead with 36 per cent of committed voters, but barely, only a shade more than the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 per cent. In other words, it too shows results perilously close to a statistical tie between the Tories and the Wildrose Party, which the survey said had 33 per cent support.

The other parties trailed the pack in this poll with levels of support similar to those recorded by Ipsos: NDP, 13 per cent support; Alberta Liberals, also 13 per cent; Alberta Party, 2 per cent; other parties, 3 per cent.

CTV’s reporting of this poll was truly pathetic, with no data at all on the methodology – which, based on ThinkHQ’s past efforts, was most likely also a self-selecting online panel – and little information on the dates when the pollster was in the field.

So neither of these polls appears to use the best available methodology. However, in combination with other polling done in the past few weeks they are highly suggestive that some kind of Wildrose breakout is in reality under way.

And don’t forget that yet another poll from a major pollster showing similar dead-heat results is rumoured to be ready for publication later this week.

There was some faint reassurance for the PCs in the ThinkHQ effort, which found Ms. Redford to be personally more popular with voters than the other leaders, including Ms. Smith. The results show her personally running well ahead of her party in support. Perhaps there is something there for her strategic brain trust to work with.

Premier Redford’s campaign will also certainly be going after worried Liberal voters in the Edmonton region who may be persuaded to vote PC in hopes of blocking the frightening prospect of a market-fundamentalist Wildrose government.

Unfortunately, however, for pretty obvious reasons no pollster is asking Alberta voters what they now think of Mr. Mar … or of Mr. Stelmach.

Nevertheless, at this juncture, that would be a very interesting thing to know.

Wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic if the person brought in to save the party from Ed Stelmach’s fumbling leadership ended up producing a worse result than Mr. Stelmach would have on his own!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta Campaign 2012, Day 1: Fear & Loathing on the Shaganappi Trail

The “chicken ranch” proposed for Calgary back in 2003 by Danielle Smith, now leader of the Wildrose Party, may not have been exactly as illustrated. (You didn’t seriously think I was going to post a picture of a house of ill repute, did you?) Also not exactly as illustrated, below: Redford strategist Stephen Carter contemplates being sent back to the minors; Premier Alison Redford.

Well, it’s been a wild week already out here in Alberta and it only started yesterday morning – unless you count Sunday, of course, which was pretty quiet.

First thing Monday morning, Alison Redford got up and flew up to Edmonton, where she was apparently delayed by fog, which is a bad omen for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment. Then she called an election for April 23. She could do this because she’s the premier of Alberta and all.

Then the election campaign got an entirely new issue – to wit, the practice of prostitution in red light districts, specifically red light districts in Calgary, which is normally not the sort of town that would go in for that sort of thing.

But apparently Danielle Smith, the leader of the far-right Wildrose Party, which apparently takes its orders directly from Old Harpoon the Free-Marketer down at 24 Sussex, is in favour of red light districts. Leastways, she was in Calgary according to a newspaper article she wrote back in 2003. (Let that be a lesson to all you journalists and bloggers who are contemplating your own political careers: everything you have ever said has been taken down and will be used against you!)

This became an issue because a court in Ontario said it ought to be legal to work in a Common Bawdy House, which nobody’s called one of those places since a B.C. Cabinet minister got caught in one back when I was a cub reporter. This just goes to show, I guess, that those places are never anything but a peck of trouble for politicians.

Anyway, the Ontario court ruled, Ontario prostitutes cheered, and someone on Premier Redford’s staff noticed that back when Ms. Smith was toiling in the vineyards of the Calgary Herald she wrote “city council should establish a red-light district and begin to clean up the neighbourhoods — and the profession.” (The profession she was referring to, by the way, was not politics.)

And so far I haven’t even made anything up! Well, really, you can’t make up stories as good as these.

Anyway, the stuff likely won’t really hit the fan until a little later this week, when a canary of my acquaintance says a well-known and legitimate polling company – like, say, Leger Marketing – will release a poll that puts Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservatives and Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party neck and neck.

At that point, presumably, the press won’t care any more what Ms. Smith said way back in Aught-3, seeing as they’ll all be busy declaring her premier again, as they’ve been doing off and on for the past couple of years. Even more Harper aides will fly out from Ottawa to join the Wildrose bus, which – thankfully, under the circumstances – has had its wheels relocated to a more demure location.

What’s more, the journalists will then all officially conclude that Ms. Redford’s Tories are up to their asses in alligators, which, notwithstanding Conservative strategist Stephen Carter’s well known penchant for winning races by coming from behind, is probably not where you want to start a campaign you could have won with a massive majority by calling the election three weeks earlier.

Some people will do anything for a challenge, I guess. But the problem is that, after former front-runner Gary Mar’s defeat and Ms. Redford’s seeming flight so close to the sun, anything but a majority even more massive that unlucky Ed Stelmach’s 72 seats in 2008 is going to look pretty shabby, no matter how entertainingly nasty and off-putting the intramural right-wing rhetoric gets.

So even if Ms. Redford manages to hang onto her job as premier, even if she manages to hang on to a majority government, rebellious Tories are going to be grumbling under their breath about how they probably could have done better with Mr. Stelmach, let alone with Mr. Mar.

If that’s the result, you can expect Mr. Carter to be shipped back to the minors to manage municipal campaigns for the rest of his career. Who knows what Mr. Mar may do, seeing as he may be looking for a job now that his cushy posting as Alberta’s “envoy” to Asia has hit a bumpy patch?

Oh, and speaking of Mr. Mar, I almost forgot that fog. Does anyone else recall whose plane was delayed by fog on the day of a crucial campaign launch?

The headline on this blog read: “Delayed by fog, dogged by health system allegations, Gary Mar’s campaign has less than stellar start.” A less than stellar finish, too, as it turned out.

Sound familiar?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

‘Everybody’s ready’ for an election call today … but is Alison Redford?

…Get set… GO! How the media sees the Alberta election race, starting today. On the right, Premier Alison Redford. To Ms. Redford’s right, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. In the background, NDP Leader Brian Mason. Alberta political leaders may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Alison Redford, Danielle Smith, Peter Lougheed.

Yesterday’s media wisdom: “Everybody’s ready for Monday.”

But is Alison Redford?

You can take that question any way you like.

First, if the Alberta provincial election call does indeed come later today – as apparently every political observer in Alberta except this blogger is certain it will – there’s an opinion out there that Premier Redford is far from ready to contest this election.

Leastways, there’s a case to be made that Ms. Redford’s commitment to keeping, or at least appearing to keep, the promises she made during her come-from-behind bid to lead the Progressive Conservative government into this election will make it a more difficult campaign than might have been expected in October when she won that contest.

She and her strategists have, in effect, legislated themselves into a corner with the way she kept her promise to mandate a fixed election date, which manifested itself in the form of Alberta’s weird hybrid “fixed election period” law.

No sooner did Premier Redford’s PC government pass this law than they experienced a singularly inauspicious couple of weeks, rife with accusations public institutions have been making illegal donations to her party, embarrassing revelations about MLAs being paid $1,000 a month to sit on a committee that never meets, controversy over the form of her promised “judicial inquiry” into health care, treatment of her Asia trade envoy, former leadership contender Gary Mar, and the unexpected failure to pass the government’s Education Act in the face of an assault by religious extremists in cahoots with the Wildrose Party. Anything I’ve missed? Oh, probably.

There’s a school of thought that the smart thing for Ms. Redford to have done would be to have called an election the instant she tabled her budget, going to the voters while she was still cruising on the high of her leadership victory.

Having failed to do that, in a normal Westminster-style Parliamentary democracy – which all senior Canadian governments must be, by Constitutional dictum – most governments would simply delay the election call a few weeks while they got their public relations house in order. Which is the great thing, from any government’s perspective, about the Parliamentary system.

But having made the change to slake the apparently bottomless Canadian thirst to graft American political ideas onto our British system of government, Ms. Redford finds herself facing an election fight on much more difficult terrain than she must have anticipated.

However, it would be going too far to suggest she finds herself between a rock and a hard place of her own making. The Alberta PCs still enjoy many advantages – not least among them the habitual tendency of Alberta electors to vote Conservative without thinking too deeply about it, but also the fact they have much deeper pockets by far than anyone else in the field.

So I would recommend against leaping to the conclusion, as many in the media would like us to, that the government is doomed to fall in some kind of massive tectonic shift to the far-right Wildrose Party. This is not 1971, the Alberta of 2012 is not the Alberta of 1992 let alone 1971, and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is no Peter Lougheed. For all her personal charm, Ms. Smith’s vision is a deeply negative and reactive one, unlike the visionary Mr. Lougheed’s.

The conventional medial wisdom and the rhetoric of the best-financed opposition party seem to be that Alberta is a far-right sort of place and Ms. Redford is moving away from that, taking a big risk by doing so. But with the decade-long influx of Canadians from other provinces Alberta attitudes are moving toward the middle. So how likely is it to be a mistake if Ms. Redford is in fact moving her government, albeit with some members kicking and screaming, along with them?

Still, it would not be impossible in this era of right-wing robo-calls and voter-suppression techniques if increasingly centrist Albertans chose to express their dissatisfaction with a centrist Conservative party by electing a market fundamentalist party led by ideological extremists who march in lock-step with the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa.

The second reason Ms. Redford may not be ready to pull the electoral plug is that in many ways she breaks the mold on how politics must be practiced in Alberta to succeed.

As a result, there is no guarantee this premier will do exactly as tradition, habit, the opinions of the chattering classes or even the Edmonton Sun’s anonymous sources say she must.

If you ask me, Ms. Redford is as likely to call this election on a Friday as a Monday if it suits her.

Chances are, the election call will be made, just as everyone predicts, today. But don’t be too deeply shocked if Ms. Redford – as she has done before, more than once during her leadership campaign – tosses a curve ball and does something we don’t expect.

And don’t be too surprised if Ms. Redford and her Conservatives – notwithstanding the predictions to the contrary by a lot of people grinding a lot of axes, Wildrose, Liberal, Alberta Party and NDP – comes out of this pitfall-filled campaign at the head of another comfortable majority government.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Thomas Mulcair: an NDP leader who passes the Ralph Klein beer test and Tory fear test

One hopes profoundly readers of this blog will indulge its author in running this photograph one more time, given the occasion. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, chosen by the party as its leader this evening, is like Ralph Klein a politician who seems to be someone an ordinary person could have a beer with. Below: Mr. Klein.

Apparently it took the Conservative Party slime machine less than five minutes this evening to start going after just-elected New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair in an ugly email blast.

The first Conservative email attacking Mr. Mulcair started going out while he was still on the stage in Toronto celebrating his victorious ascent to the leadership of Canada’s Official Opposition.

Even the Conservative Globe and Mail characterized the attack as “vicious,” quoting Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey telling credulous Tory supporters that the new NDP leader is “an opportunist whose high tax agenda, blind ambition, and divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk.”

Given the former Reform Party’s propensity for fear-mongering and reactive negativity, it’s mildly surprising that it took them that long – assuming, of course, that it was just happenstance or mischievous children and not one of the Conservatives’ army of robo-callers and monkey-wrenchers who mucked up the NDP’s voting system earlier in the day.

Whatever. Get used to it. The misnamed Conservatives are the Tea Party of Canada whose shady and vicious scorched earth campaign techniques are inspired and taught by their Republican cronies south of the Medicine Line.

The speed and nasty tone of tonight’s Conservative email is proof that, whatever his pluses and minuses seemed as a potential leader, the NDP chose a replacement for Jack Layton who has already earned our unlikable prime minister’s fear. Well, Stephen Harper should be afraid. By the time this is over, I predict, we’ll all be calling the Conservatives the Robo-call Party of Canada!

We can also expect the Conservative media (which nowadays is pretty well all of it) to be quick off the mark in assailing Mr. Mulcair, although its tone is likely to be marginally more polite (except at Sun Media, of course). It will try to sow discord within NDP ranks now that the party’s members have made a choice after a long and exhausting campaign.

Indeed, the same Globe story tried to dismiss Mr. Mulcair as ill-humoured, hard to warm to and having (horrors!) a difficult relationship with the media.

Really? The Toronto Star came a little closer to the reality of the new NDP leader’s personality when its reporter observed in a feature on how the Mulcair team won the leadership that Mr. Mulcair “is, organizers knew, a guy people could have a beer with, despite all those headlines of a difficult personality to the contrary.”

I can vouch for the truth of this statement, as a matter of fact, having had a beer with him.

Indeed, and this is meant as a compliment, Mr. Mulcair’s relationship with voters in many ways reminds me of that of former Alberta premier Ralph Klein – who as readers of this blog will know, could be ill-humoured and whose relationship with the press at times was fraught. Nevertheless, large numbers of voters seemed to think he would be a great guy with whom to have a beer – a conclusion that did him no harm, as observers of the Alberta political scene will recall.

As an Alberta politician himself, a bloodless ideologue like the unappealing Mr. Harper presumably understands very well the kind of danger a living, breathing, human politician like Mr. Mulcair presents to him.

With a provincial election expected to be called as early as the day after tomorrow, Albertans may have an opportunity to see a little more of Mr. Mulcair and experience the positive things he shares in common with the most popular Alberta politician of a generation.

Certainly we hope Mr. Mulcair will include some stopovers in Alberta in his busy schedule of the weeks ahead to lend his undeniable star power to the campaigns of some of our provincial New Democrats.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Does ‘Daveberta’ blog author have a secret evangelical agenda?

Is that Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer in this advert for Christian radio station Shine FM? Say it ain’t so! Below: A prototypical Christian rocker.

While we wait nervously for the election call, ask yourself this: Does Dave Cournoyer, author of the Daveberta.ca blog, have a secret evangelical agenda?

I know readers of Alberta Diary will be as shocked as I was to see the advertising flyer illustrated above, which was produced by Shine FM, a local radio station that specializes in a sub-genre of music known as Christian rock.

Now, I have to tell you as someone raised in just the sort of circles that nowadays encourage their children to listen to this type of music (that is, if they aren’t too worried it’s a case of the Devil being really tricky), I’ve always felt the concept of a Christian rock concert is, right on its bearded face, oxymoronic.

What’s more, Christian rock ought not to be confused with rock music that happens to be produced by a Christian or Christians. It is, as John Jeremiah Sullivan pointed out in an entertaining essay called Upon This Rock, the only musical genre “that has excellence-proofed itself.”

His explanation: “Christian rock is a genre that exists to edify and make money off evangelical Christians. It’s message music for listeners who know the message cold and, what’s more, operates under a perceived responsibility – one the artists embrace – to ‘reach people.’”

As a result: “Every successful crappy secular group has its Christian off brand, and that’s proper, because culturally speaking, it’s supposed to serve as a stand-in for, not an alternative to or an improvement on, those very groups.” Ergo: Christian rock can never be truly creative or edgy.

But never mind that, surely that can’t be Daveberta.ca author Dave Cournoyer pictured on the Shine FM advertising handout?

What’s more, Shine advises Alberta politicians – presumably mostly pretty conservative ones – that it offers a way to reach voters, like the guy illustrated there, “who will vote for you.”

So does that mean Daveberta has secret conservative leanings?

Because you can take it from me on very good authority, and this may be Alberta Diary’s biggest scoop of the year, that this is in fact Mr. Cournoyer.

An even more startling thought, as noted above, springs to mind: does this mean Daveberta has a secret evangelical agenda?

And if so, how the heck can an agenda be a secret and evangelical at the same time?

All I can say is, I hope profoundly that I have this wrong!

Goodbye sweet Prins – did he jump or was he pushed?

Ray Prins prepares to walk the plank, possibly with a little prodding by his premier. Unexpectedly departing Alberta Conservative politicians may be pretty much as illustrated. Below: Mr. Prins as he appears to his friends and family.


Now hear this! Now hear this! All hands to Damage Control! All hands to Damage Control!

Did Ray Prins jump, or was he pushed?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but it certainly sounds as if the Progressive Conservative MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka and chair of the committee that has become Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s No. 1 political problem, exited stage right with a good hard shove.

At any rate, barely hours before an Alberta provincial election is likely to be called, Mr. Prins up and announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election after all, as his constituents had believed, leaving the governing party short one candidate at a decisive moment.

He made his unexpected announcement late Tuesday, ambiguously telling the CBC: “The media, opposition parties and public questioning my integrity as a person and an MLA. While I firmly believe that I have not contravened my oath of office, commitment to Albertans or the tenets of my faith, the issues surrounding the MLA compensation were an unnecessary distraction for my caucus colleagues in the upcoming election.”

Mr. Prins has been the chair of the Alberta Legislature’s now-notorious “do-nothing committee.” The Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing sparked widespread outrage when it was revealed members from all parties have been accepting an extra $1,000 a month even though the committee hasn’t met in almost four years.

For his troubles as chair, or lack of them, Mr. Prins has been getting an extra $1,500 monthly.

When the pot boiled over a few days ago and the appalling money-for-nothing optics turned the payments into a minor scandal, orders came down from the Premier’s office that at least some of the money must be repaid by government MLAs on the committee. After all, Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman had already handed back the full $40,000 he’d received for doing nothing on the committee.

Legislature insiders suggest the government members of the committee were in a state of apprehended insurrection when their boss demanded they cough up the dough – which many of them, presumably, had already spent. It’s not clear if Mr. Prins was one of the most mutinous committee members, but you can count on it that his belief he did nothing wrong in the eyes of God or Man is completely sincere.

A compromise of sorts was worked out, averting an outright rebellion, and the PC committee members agreed to pay back the portion of the overpayment accumulated since Ms. Redford became premier. Even so, in some cases that’s going to bite.

The trouble is, the compromise essentially required the committee members to concede they were taking money for nothing – and also refusing to pay everything back. Is it just me, or does that make the situation look even worse? Wouldn’t the optics be better to say this illustrates he problems with the intentionally deceptive pay scheme for all Alberta MLAs and make a case for paying them a straight-up salary that reflects their responsibilities?

Of course, another sensible thing for a government to do in this predicament would be to stall for a few weeks until the public had moved on to something else. Alas for Premier Redford, she is hoist on her own petard – having just eliminated her room for maneuver by getting a “fixed election period” law passed.

This might have sounded like a good idea a couple of months ago. Now it looks like the party’s been tied to the mast while the electoral ship takes on water! At any rate, with an election unavoidably looming and the CBC breaking a new embarrassing illegal donations story about the government virtually every day, it’s pretty clear Mr. Prins would have become the excruciating focus of voter outrage if he’d stuck around.

This way, the premier can lamely insist her caucus is united and all is well.

However it came about, someone decided Mr. Prins had to go. Maybe he took one for the team. Maybe someone pushed him down the plank.

Whatever it was, that splash you just heard was the sound of Ray Prins hitting the water.

That is all! That is all!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.