Archive for April, 2012

Assessing Alison Redford and Danielle Smith: one minute you’re a hero and the next you’re a bum!

Wellington rallies his troops during the Battle of Waterloo. “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Below: I think you’ve all seen enough photos of Alison Redford and Danielle Smith, so here are Wellington and Harold Wilson.

All things being equal, if Alison Redford’s party had merely emerged from the April 23 Alberta election with 61 seats and Danielle Smith’s with 17, plenty of Progressive Conservatives would be calling for the premier’s head and the Wildrose leader would have been hailed as the toast of the town.

In other words, before the campaign had run its course, for many Tories anything less than 72 seats the party won in 2008 would have been seen as failure, and for many Wildrosers, since the campaign went the way it did, anything less than the majority they expected is bound to be.

But all things are not equal. So it will be Premier Redford who goes down in history as chicken salad, and the new Leader of the Opposition who is likely to be remembered as something else that comes from chickens!

The reason: by happenstance or design, Ms. Redford turns out to have managed expectations far better than Ms. Smith.

I hate to admit it, but there is some truth to what Wildrose partisans are now defensively mumbling in the light of their mornings after their nights before: Taking a fringe party populated by enough nuts to cook a fruitcake, and not many more, and turning it in a couple of years into a powerful electoral machine that could not only become the Official Opposition but actually challenge the province’s Natural Governing Party was a truly remarkable achievement.

Which is why, had the Wildrose Party merely gone directly from Point A to Point B we would all be singing the praises of Ms. Smith and her political skills.

Alas for Ms. Smith, the Wildrose Party made some other stops along the way, and that was where the inappropriately located wheels began to come off her bus.

For three years, the media has been unable to resist telling the story of the little upstart party that was certain to knock off the long-governing PCs. They had us all going for a while there, even some of us who should have known better because of our initial skepticism about this narrative.

Mainstream media told the story this way because they are storytellers who naturally love the inherent drama of a horserace. They also told it because they wanted it to be true. After all, the people who pay them wanted more of the market fundamentalism that is the Wildrose Party’s real raison d’etre and they were willing to put up with a little Lake of Fire sermonizing to get it.

Then there were those polls – some of which were mistaken and some of which, it is said here, were intended to mislead. Someone with resources and determination needs to look seriously at this story, and until we have some answers the rest of us are justified in our low opinion of all pollsters.

But all of this left Ms. Smith and her party with an expectations-management problem. Instead of congratulating them for their achievement, we’re either laughing at them or, if we happen to be supporters, crying in our soup.

Worse, from Ms. Smith’s point of view, her caucus is not only much smaller than expected, it’s made up of people who just hours ago were congratulating themselves for their own brilliance and mentally redecorating their new ministerial offices. Most of them are not going to be very good in opposition, and they will be about as easy to keep in line as the proverbial herd of cats.

In light of their triumphalism a week earlier, the Wildrose tributes to their own accomplishment – which was real enough – just sound pathetic. The chances of that accomplishment amounting to something after a period in opposition are considerably reduced.

Meanwhile, if Ms. Redford had merely gone from her Point A (which was former Premier Ed Stelmach’s 66 seats upon dissolution, not to mention the memory of the 72 he won in the March 3, 2008, election) to 61 seats four years later, many PC loyalists would have demanded her head on a platter.

This too would have been an injustice since Ms. Redford faced something Mr. Selmach did not – a well-financed opposition genetically engineered to cannibalize her own party’s support base. But human nature being what it is and long-successful political parties being what they are, such a reaction would have been inevitable.

But after an election campaign that was – as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo – “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” well, she looks pretty darned heroic!

Both leaders committed blunders during this campaign. But Ms. Redford’s early indecisiveness and the strangely disengaged drift of the first three quarters of her campaign cannot hold a candle to Ms. Smith’s failure to deal with and denounce the racist and homophobic comments of two of her candidates.

Still, under the circumstances, a case could be made it’s Ms. Redford that deserves the talking to and Ms. Smith that ought to have the gold star. But who said political life was fair?

Right before our eyes we have seen a big victory became an epic fail, and the opposite, at precisely the same time.

If nothing else, it goes to prove once again that Harold Wilson, twice prime minister of the United Kingdom, got it right when he so famously observed, “a week is a long time in politics.”

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NOTE: I always tell young writers that if readers misconstrue a point, the problem is likely with the writer. Enough people felt that I must have gotten the lead of this story backwards that I have added an explanatory paragraph to make my point … it is hoped … more clear. DJC

Never mind the CCF! Perfesser Dave shows how the shadow of Stalin looms over the Harper Conservatives!

Gerda Munsinger: More proof if it were needed it that the Harper government secretly loves the Soviets. Below: Perfesser Dave; Pierre “Woody” Sévigny; the Avro Arrow, which we could have used against the Taliban if the same Conservatives now running Canada hadn’t scrapped it!

JASPER, Alberta

As readers of Alberta Diary by now know well, some stories are just too complicated for ordinary bloggers to explain. That’s when we turn to the expert know-how of Perfesser Dave, the Answer Guy. Perfesser Dave knows practically everything there is to know about politics, economics and Canadian history. As much, even, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who knows stuff about Canadian history that even Pierre Berton didn’t! Perfesser Dave knows so much you’d think he’d be Dr. Dave – except, who would examine him? So if you have questions, don’t ask me! Direct them to Perfesser Dave! He has all the answers.

Questioner: Perfesser Dave, I’m totally confused. How can the prime minister of Canada blame Thomas Mulcair, the NDP Opposition Leader, for a vote by one CCF MP in 1939? This makes no sense! Why would anyone say a crazy thing like that? Can you please illuminate my fuzzification?

Perfesser Dave: Not a problem, Questioner. Mr. Harper was probably just tired and emotional because Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party lost the election in Alberta after he’d sent out his best men to run her campaign and also get elected Senator. It would have worked, too, if her candidates hadn’t started babbling about the Lake of Fire, which they weren’t supposed to do until after the election!

Questioner: But I thought Senator was an appointed position, and anyway, that’s not what’s confusing me. Is the PM trying to say the NDP likes Hitler?

Perfesser Dave: Well, Mr. Harper wanted to appoint his pals to the Senate after they’d been elected as “nominees.” Sort of makes it legit, like. Now that those crazy Albertans have gone and elected Joe Clark Conservatives, he’s going to have to do the whole deal over again, or just appoint Vic Marciano without consulting anyone, which will look really crappy. So you can see why he was upset. But you’re right, he did seem to be saying that about Mr. Mulcair, didn’t he? I’ve met Tom Mulcair, though, and I can assure you that if this was 1939, he would have joined the Navy just as fast as the rest of us to fight Hitler, Hirohito and all those other “H” guys. I think there was a study once that said wars are always started by guys whose names begin with H. And if it were 1958, for sure Tom Mulcair would send our Avro Arrows over to bomb Berlin.

Questioner: Why would Canada be bombing Berlin in 1958? That’s just … dumb!

Perfesser Dave: No it isn’t, Questioner. In 1958, Berlin was in the hands of the Communists, who were just as bad as Hitler, and we would have bombed it if Mr. Harper and that Conservative Party of his hadn’t sold out to the Soviet Union, which was why they destroyed the Avro Arrow, a plane so good that if we had it now we wouldn’t need to buy those expensive F-35 stealth bombers to fight the Taliban!

Questioner: You’re saying Prime Minister Harper sold out to the Soviets? Come on, Perfesser Dave, that doesn’t make any sense! He was just a baby in 1958! Anyway, Mr. Harper is a neoconservative. Neoconservatives hate Communists! So he wouldn’t have sold out to the Soviets even if he could have, which he couldn’t, because they’re long gone.

Perfesser Dave: Doesn’t matter, Questioner. The Conservatives sold out to the Commies when Diefenbaker was leader in ’58, so Mr. Harper’s sold out to ’em now. Same deal, as I’m sure the PM would agree… Plus, all those neocons used to be Trotskyites!

Questioner: Awwwwwwwww! Perfesser Dave! The Soviets weren’t Trotskyites! Stalin had Trotsky bumped off! And John Diefenbaker, who I admit was a Conservative, didn’t sell out to the Commies. He sold out to the Americans. Remember those Bomarc missiles?

Perfesser Dave: How could I forget them? I drive past one every day on my way to work in Edmonton. But it doesn’t matter. Dief sold out to Stalin. Why else would he scrap the Arrow? Like I said, if we had Arrows now, Canada wouldn’t be under threat from the Taliban… And if he sold out to Stalin, Harper sold out to Stalin! Diefenbaker, Harper, same difference!

Questioner: Well, obviously there’s a difference. Anyway, we aren’t under threat from the Taliban…

Perfesser Dave: OK, true enough. I’ll give you that one. But what about that Munsinger person?

Questioner: What Munsinger person? What are you talking about?

Perfesser Dave: Gerda Munsinger. The East German hooker who slept with half of Dief’s cabinet, a couple of ’em anyway, both of them good Conservatives, so she could spy for the Soviets and give our secrets, like the plans to the Avro Arrow, to the KGB! Obviously that’s OK with Mr. Harper!

Questioner: What do you mean that’s OK with Mr. Harper? I doubt he even knows who this Gerda Munsinger was?

Perfesser Dave: Sure he does. A student of history like Mr. Harper? That’s why he hates the Liberals. He hates the NDP because they’re more popular than he is. Plus, he wants to buy F-35s, which like I said we wouldn’t have to do if we’d kept the Arrow. Connect the dots, man! There’s a straight line from Harper to the KGB!

Questioner: What are you talking about? Are you feeling OK, Perfesser Dave? This is completely crazy?

Perfesser Dave: It’s like this, Questioner. Gerda Munsinger came to Canada in 1955. She hung around with Dief’s cabinet, and not in a nice way. It’s obvious she was spying for Stalin. First she got Pierre Sévigny – the minister of defence, for crying out loud – to drop his trousers. Thank God he dropped his wooden leg, too, which is how the Mounties got onto him. At least they were still loyal, even if they did wear Red. Then she started fooling around with George Hees of all people, if you can believe it – and I know I still can’t! George was a fine man and a great Conservative! Christ on a crutch, and the minister of defence on a crutch too! Can you imagine?

Questioner: Watch your language, Perfesser! And don’t make fun of people with crutches. But what’s any of that got to do with the Liberals, or Stephen Harper?

Perfesser Dave: Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The Toronto Star was lousy with Liberals, still is, which is why they went and found Gerda in Germany, in ’66, after she’d been kicked out of Canada because the Conservatives wanted to cover up what she’d been doing under the covers with the Conservative cabinet… “Star Man Finds Gerda Munsinger.” The Tories have never forgiven the Star for that, Harper included.

Questioner: Well, OK… But so what?

Perfesser Dave: Like I said, it’s obvious. If Mr. Harper’s still mad about the Star finding Ms. Munsinger in Munich, and Dief tried to cover it up, it’s obvious the coverup is OK with the Harper Conservatives, right? And if Harper has no problem with Canadian cabinet ministers sleeping around with KGB agents, well, unlike Mr. Sevingy, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, does he? It’s perfectly obvious his whole government is made up of secret Soviet sympathizers!

Questioner: Well, Perfesser Dave, that’s just … lame! There isn’t even a Soviet Union any more!

Perfesser Dave: So? There isn’t a CCF either!

Questioner: What’s that got to do with anything?

Perfesser Dave: It could just be the key piece of evidence in this puzzle!

Questioner: You know what, Perfesser Dave? … You could just be right about that!

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Calculating the odds in the race for Alberta’s Legislative Speaker

Your blogger with Robin Campbell, Ken Kowalski’s possible replacement as Speaker of the Alberta Legislature. Below: Laurie Blakeman, Gene Zwozdesky, and Wayne Cao with you-know-who.

JASPER, Alberta

Just when you thought it was safe to go out of the house again, there’s another election!

But you don’t get to vote in this one, even though it’s pretty important to Alberta just the same.

Next on the agenda for the Alberta Legislature: the 87 newly elected MLAs need to elect a Speaker to preside over their … er … deliberations.

Sounds routine, but in a funny inside-baseball way, the Speaker’s job is almost as important as the premier’s. The Speaker, after all, is the person who gets to set the tone of debate in the Legislature and can go a long way to make it civilized, or hyper-partisan.

The last Speaker, Ken Kowalski, one of the Tory old guard not-so-subtly given a shove in the general direction of the door in Premier Alison Redford’s pre-election House cleaning, was a Speaker of the partisan school – although I am sure he would dispute that assessment.

As befit a guy who was first elected to the Legislature in 1979, he was a consummate insider, someone who still knows where all the bodies are buried. He’ll also take home a “transition allowance” of $1.2 million, which will give the Wildrose Party something to talk about in its first week on the job in its unanticipated role as Opposition.

Yesterday, Mr. Kowalski could be heard musing on the radio about how the Legislature was certain to go to hell in a handbasket without him and some of the other Tory old-timers there to guide things in the right direction. All I can say about that, Ken, is it’s exactly the way I feel about Canadian journalism. You’ll just have to get used to the notion nobody is listening.

There seem to be three – or maybe four – candidates for the job. They are, in alphabetical order:

  • Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA for Edmonton-Centre, who has been openly campaigning for the job for weeks if not months.
  • Robin Campbell, PC MLA for West Yellowhead, who like Ms. Blakeman has been openly asserting his interest for a spell now.
  • Wayne Cao, Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Fort and one of the two best singers in the Legislature, who must be included in this list because he is now Deputy Speaker. He may or may not be interested in the job.
  • Gene Zwozdesky, PC MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek and the Mel Torme of provincial politics, the Velvet Fog itself, who is tied with Mr. Cao as the Legislature’s best crooner.

Nothing is known here about Ms. Blakeman’s singing voice, but yesterday she sent around an email stating she wants to replace Mr. Kowalski. “An unusual choice but not unheard of to have a non-government member serve as Speaker,” she wrote. “In part I am doing this to see a return to the role of a non-partisan Speaker. A Speaker attending daily caucus meetings sends a mixed message. As well, it would help to have a Speaker who has served in Opposition and understands the challenges, especially with a combined opposition of 25.

“My eight years of experience as Official Opposition House Leader should serve me well, but mostly I just love parliamentary process,” she added.

Ms. Blakeman would be a great Speaker, I suspect, but her chances are probably not as good as they might have been if the seat count in the House had been closer after Tuesday. The odds are against her succeeding.

Still, the vote’s theoretically an open one and a candidate without the premier’s enthusiastic approval has won before. That victor was Mr. Kowalski himself, in 1997, who apparently did not have a fan in then-premier Ralph Klein but nonetheless defeated Mr. Klein’s choice for the job, Glen Clegg.

I heard Mr. Zwozdesky’s name come up for the first time in this connection yesterday morning on CBC radio, which in its wisdom hasn’t bothered to post an online link. He’s apparently campaigning for the job too. As a natural conciliator, someone who knows all the Parliamentary ropes – the former choir conductor was first elected as a Liberal in 1993 – Mr. Zwozdesky would also make a terrific Speaker.

By the way, Mr. Zwozdesky was also a professional Ukrainian dancer for a while, and you have to think that would help in a job like keeping order in the Legislature!

As for Mr. Cao (who has a much nicer voice than you’d think from this clip), he’s a bit of a dark horse in this race, but he is Deputy Speaker, so he has to be considered. His Wikipedia biography says he was born in North Vietnam but escaped on an American helicopter from the southern city of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. He came to Calgary in 1976 by way of California.

Like Mr. Zwozdesky, Mr. Cao is a conciliator and has a track record as the deputy in the Speaker’s chair. Like Ms. Blakeman, however, he’s probably a long shot if he’s even interested in the job.

Then there’s Mr. Campbell. The fact I’m writing this in his riding is purely coincidental. He’s a former official of the United Mine Workers Union and he was the PC caucus whip under former premier Ed Stelmach. His Wikipedia biography is startlingly uninformative.

Mr. Campbell is no dummy. But he’s not a warm and fuzzy kind of guy like Mr. Zwozdesky or Mr. Cao, and if you don’t count his once being a “union boss,” he doesn’t have oppositional experience like Ms. Blakeman. He strikes me as the kind of MLA who would continue Mr. Kowalski’s partisan approach to being Speaker.

So, this being Alberta, that likely means he has the inside track for the job.

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Why the Wildrose Party is not long for this world

The Wildrose Party Whip gets ready to get the Opposition caucus under control. Alberta politicians may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Danielle Smith, Tom Flanagan, Joe Anglin, Dr. Gilles Tourette.

The Wildrose phenomenon will disappear from the Alberta political scene almost as quickly as the party’s leader took a powder after her concession speech at the golf club in Okotoks on Tuesday night.

Sure, we’ve all heard the promises about what a great opposition the Wildrose Party is going to make, how well leader Danielle Smith did to build it out of nothing in jig time, and how they’ll be back in 2016 to really kick Tory ass. All talk, of course.

There are several reasons why the Wildrose is likely to quickly wither on the vine – an appropriate enough metaphor for such a delicate little flower in Alberta’s harsh climate. The principal one is simply this: Uniting the right has worked too long and too well for the people who bankroll right-wing governments to allow this to continue.
Oh, sure, they might think about letting Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan have one more kick at the cat before he retires to Palm Springs – but he’ll be what in 2016, a hundred and two?

Seriously, people, if the Wildrose Party can’t make any inroads as the opposition, and that seems unlikely in the unforgiving new world of Alison Redford’s huge and smart Progressive Conservative majority, it’ll blow away on the Prairie wind for the simple reason its funds will dry up.

Corporate donors who benefit from a united right just aren’t going to pay to keep it divided. So if Wildrose donations were way up when it looked like they just might form a government, you can expect them to be way down hereafter.

The Wildrose Party was a clever gambit thought up by some of the uber-rightists surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper to repeat the trick of the neo-Con Reform Party’s hostile reverse takeover of the federal Progressive Conservatives. They got seed money from some junior oil companies, lined up the mostly compliant media and pollsters and were off to the races.

The only problems turned out to be that the population of Alberta was paying more attention than anyone gave it credit for, and the 41-year Tory dynasty – by which the right has done very nicely in this province over the years – had deep roots in the community and didn’t just roll over and surrender.

In other words, the plan didn’t work and the people who paid to work it will soon return to more effective strategies.

It’s said here that if the Wildrose flops in Opposition – which seems pretty likely given the shallow talent pool of its caucus and the fact it doesn’t really disagree with the government on most issues anyway – their bagmen will quickly fold up their empty bags and trudge home.

Big Business will go back to trying to get its favourite candidate elected to leader of the PCs, and the Wildrose is likely to become increasingly attractive only to the kinds of kooks whose “bozo eruptions” sealed its fate the week before the general election.

The fly in the ointment with the traditional approach is that Ms. Redford is likely to be around for quite a while now. So to make it work its corporate sponsors will need sufficient patience to play a long game.

What’s more, their most likely replacement candidate, Ted Morton, is almost as old as his pal Dr. Flanagan. Worse, Doctors Flanagan and Morton, along with that Harper guy, were the trio of neo-Con boobs from the University of Calgary who dreamed up many of the Wildrose policies Ms. Smith now says she must reconsider because they sent voters screaming for the exits. You know, like sending the Mounties packing and dropping the Canada Pension Plan. They also advocated completely opting out of the Canada Health Act.

Meanwhile, if you thought bozo eruptions were a problem for Ms. Smith when everyone figured she was about to form a government and have cabinet portfolios to hand out, just wait till she starts trying to control this gang on the wrong side of the Legislature!

Seriously, do you think the likes of Joe Anglin, the American-born ex-Green ex-Marine from Rimbey, is going to pay any attention to Ms. Smith when she tells him to button up? Good one! And heaven only knows what other surprises lurk in her caucus. Bitter people with extremist views who a week ago were imagining measuring the drapes for their cabinet offices.

Mark my words, before long we’ll be calling the Wildrose opposition the Tourette Party. Caucus members with an ounce of sense will be quietly petitioning to rejoin the Tories every one of them used to be a member of. And all the ambitious little Harper neo-Cons who helped out with the campaign will drift back to Ottawa.

No, it will soon be apparent that the real opposition in the Alberta is coming from the same place it always came from – the NDP and Liberal benches.

Just to make it perfectly clear how things work, Ms. Redford’s Natural Governing Party will likely subtly and deniably ensure that a few rural municipalities are firmly reminded of the foolish decision they made on election day.

What’s more, a certain governing federal party will be made to deeply regret its aid and comfort to Ms. Smith and the coup plotters. Indeed, the Redford Tories may very well conclude there’s nothing wrong at all with a strategy that’s worked well for Ontario and Quebec over the years – doing what it can to ensure a different party entirely thrives in Ottawa than sits on the government side of the provincial Legislature.

Well, maybe that’s too much to hope. But for all these reasons, the plucky little “upstart” Wildrose Party is not long for this world.

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Shift happens, but not this fast – trying to understand Alberta’s wonky polls

Shift happens: An Alberta pollster runs down the road looking for a crowd of Albertans to survey. Nothing in sight, however. Below: Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

Whatever went wrong with those notorious pre-election Alberta public opinion polls, it’s not, as many pollsters now appear to be trying to persuade us, the fault of voters for changing their minds too quickly for our serious and scientific opinion trackers to keep up.

For weeks they told us with unshakeable confidence the far-right Wildrose Party was a deadbolt cinch to win a huge majority in Tuesday’s Alberta election and bring the 41-year-old Conservative government to a humiliating end. In the event, the Tories under Premier Alison Redford did quite nicely, thank you very much.

We’ll probably never know the full extent of what happened because, with one or two honourable exceptions like Janet Brown and Brian Singh, both quoted in a useful Globe and Mail story on what went so spectacularly wrong, most pollsters seem to be determined to make excuses or blame respondents for lying to them.

Said poll commentator Eric Grenier of “Wildrose’s support simply cratered, and to an extent that no model or method could have anticipated.”

Well, it’s true, shift happens. But not this fast. And it’s poppycock to suggest these shifts couldn’t have been predicted if pollsters had been paying attention.

A number of factors contributed to this debacle, but the key one is that Albertans were never as dumb as the pollsters, media commentators and Wildrose strategists gave them credit for being.

For more than two years, the mainstream media in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada have been spinning a yarn about the “upstart right-wing party” led by Danielle Smith, a plucky little scribbler from Calgary, and how it was “soaring the polls.” This cliché started back when there was only one poll in which it soared.

This story always came to the marketplace of ideas complete with an agenda – pushed by right-wing journalists from right-wing media and encouraged by right-wing think tanks and right-wing Astroturf groups to boost the right-wing agenda of the Harperites in Ottawa and their fellow travellers in the Alberta business community.

It was a compelling tale, cleverly marketed: the (justified) sense change was needed and desired by a lot of voters, added to Thatcherite fear-mongering There Is No Alternative, but leavened by the appealing personality of Ms. Smith. She gave the impression that no matter how necessary the harsh medicine the right was about to administer to the rest of us, it wouldn’t taste that horrible.

Lots of us – not just pollsters – were persuaded to swallow this ideologically distilled codswollop, even if we didn’t accept the premises on which it was based. It is said here many honourable pollsters were among those who bought into this manufactured wisdom, and that it began to affect the assumptions that underlay their research.

In addition, however, there were a few pollsters whose intentions were not so honourable, and who purposely devised push polls designed to move public opinion in the direction they wanted it to go – toward the Wildrose Party.

These polls were not just treated with undeserved credibility by the media, they were used along with more legitimate polls by analysts like Mr. Grenier who aggregate the results of numerous surveys done by others to produce seat estimates. This added to the sense a Wildrose victory was unstoppable.

Then there was poll fatigue – especially with pollsters using methodologically questionable push-button telephone polls, which had handsets jumping off their stands all across Alberta. After you’d received three or more of these things in a day, as happened in many households, serious resistance to answering calls from strangers began to set in.

Who bothers to stick around to answer questions delivered in such a format? Only the politically committed, ideologically driven and deeply unsatisfied, which included significant numbers of far-right Wildrose supporters, had the patience to answer all the questions.

Ordinary voters – who in Alberta tend to vote Conservative – didn’t even bother to pick up.

There may also have been a spousal factor – and this may be a bigger contributor in Alberta than many of us would like to admit. Face it, when your spouse has a bee in his bonnet (or hers, I suppose) about property rights, gun registration or kooky religious doctrines, who needs the argument that’s inevitable if you’re overheard telling a pollster you’re not planning to vote Wildrose?

That’s why we have secret ballots in this country, and it’s said here that on April 23 plenty of Albertans wisely took advantage of that fact.

Then there’s this key fact: It was obvious early – despite the best efforts of the media to ignore it – that the Wildrose Party advocated policies and held attitudes that defied the broad consensus of Canadian society, and that includes Alberta society.

This was true even before it was apparent the Wildrose Party offered a safe and uncritical haven to racists and homophobes or that its leader didn’t believe in climate change, attitudes that are not shared by the majority of Canadians no matter how many times you angrily repeat the opposite on right-wing talk radio.

Public opinion polls showed Albertans wanted to preserve public health care. The Wildrose Party was triumphally open about its plans to privatize and commercialize the health care system, notwithstanding its mendacious insistence it believed in publicly funded health care.

Public opinion polls also showed Albertans support public education. The Wildrose Party’s plans for education were also well known.

The desire of Canadian women for reproductive choice may often be softly spoken, but it is clear enough. Notwithstanding Ms. Smith’s attempt to have it both ways and claim she personally was pro-choice, it was pretty clear where the party was going with this.

Never mind “conscience rights” and “Dani Dollars,” there were plenty of areas where Wildrose policies past and present were well known, despite the party’s efforts to soft-pedal them in the election run-up. Among them, opting out of the Canada Pension Plan, dumping the RCMP, shutting down the Human Rights Commission, setting up “firewalls” around Alberta.

So it turns out that Albertans were paying attention.

If nothing else, it should have been a warning to pollsters that Albertans’ attitudes on topics like these were at odds with their supposed support for the Wildrose Party. But pollsters too appear to have been carried away by the suspenseful tale being spun by the media to have noticed the obvious.

This is not to detract from the clever and subtle campaign of Ms. Redford’s strategists. Nor is it to accept the absurd myth repeated tirelessly by Wildrose propagandists that Ms. Redford and her PCs are liberals. Nor is it to say the PCs are the best possible choice for Alberta.

But it is to say Albertans tried to make the best possible choices under the circumstances for themselves and their province, and if our pollsters had been paying attention they would have seen they were likely to do so.

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Top Ten Losers and Winners of the Alberta Election

Danielle Smith, leader of the upstart Wildrose Party celebrates her… Wait! That’s not Danielle! That’s Alison Redford! (Reuters Photo, snatched from the Internet.) Remember: Alberta political winners may not always be exactly as illustrated by the media and the pollsters. Below: The real Danielle Smith.

’Tis late and the CBC’s pancake makeup weighs heavy on your blogger’s face. As all the world must surely know by now, Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s hole card turned out to be an ace yesterday and Alberta’s 41-year Progressive Conservative dynasty will live a little longer, perhaps a lot longer.

So today there is no joy in Mudville – whether that place is located in the town of Okotoks, site of the world’s largest glacial erratic, or at 24 Sussex Drive – for the Mighty Flanagan has struck out. You can almost hear the disgruntled Wildrosers chanting 45 years is enough!

At least the good Dr. Tom Flanagan, hyperventilating neo-Con ideologue and author of the best-selling Harper’s Team, How I Created It All By Myself Without Any Help At All and Made That Little Twerp From Calgary West Into a Prime Minister, will have plenty of people to drown his sorrows with. They include the pollsters who intentionally or accidentally got it all so spectacularly wrong, the media pundits who spun their upstart Wildrose narrative for three years without reference to facts, to the blogosphere, which drank the media’s bathwater without so much as a gin chaser.

In these wee hours, though, we can merely hastily catalogue yesterday’s election losers and winners and leave the explanations and the more nuanced analysis to the morrow:

Loser No. 10: The Alberta Liberals
Winner No. 10: The Alberta New Democrats

Loser No. 9: Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman
Winner No. 9: Alberta New Democrat Leader Brian Mason

Loser No. 8:
Private health care company executives
Winner No. 8: Alberta Health Services executives

Loser No. 7: Preston Manning
Winner No. 7: Peter Lougheed

Loser No. 6: Wildrose Campaign Manager Tom Flanagan
Winner No. 6: Progressive Conservative Campaign Manager Stephen Carter

Loser No. 5:
Harper Conservatives
Winner No. 5: Red Tories

Loser No. 4: Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had
Winner No. 4: Doug Horner, the best opposition leader Alberta never had

Loser No. 3: The Wildrose Party
Winner No. 3: The Progressive Conservative Party

Loser No. 2: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith
Winner No. 2: Alberta Premier Alison Redford

And the No. 1 loser and the No. 1 winner are…

Loser No. 1: Alberta’s professional pollsters
Winner No. 1: There is no winner in this category

NOTE TO READERS: I just shamelessly revised this this morning when I thought of a better line!

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It’s election day and Alison Redford’s hole card is all she has left: Is it an ace or is it junk?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, not exactly as illustrated notwithstanding the Stetsons, has only one good card left to play. Is it an ace, or is it junk? We’ll find out tonight. Below: The real Ms. Redford and Danielle Smith.

As Albertans head to the polls today with large numbers of voters obviously in a mood for change and the media telling us a Wildrose majority is unstoppable, Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford may have only one good card left.

If her hole card turns out to be an ace, it’ll be because of the caution of the significant number of
Albertans and their families who work for and with this government, its agencies and the many groups and businesses that depend on it to survive.

A political party can score points by gratuitously attacking such people – as the Wildrose attack on “big government” without question has through this campaign, notwithstanding the party’s too-cute claim to recognize the value of “front-line” government employees.

And maybe that will be enough to deliver the 50 to 60 seats that pundits and pollsters have been pretty consistently calling for – although the final poll of the campaign, by Forum Research Inc., shows the race growing very close again.

And while this pitch may play well in Provost and Pincher Creek, it’s less likely to do so in Edmonton – or even places like Ponoka, home of the former Alberta Hospital Ponoka, a major regional employer.

In other words, you can’t expect people and their families who depend on the government for their livelihoods not to understand their situation, and you can’t blame them for voting with their families’ interests at heart.

Remember, an Alberta government is much more than just the 87 people who sit in the Legislature. It encompasses a very large pool of citizens who toil anonymously in its ranks, in such public services as health care, in other levels of government that interact with the province and with such public safety workers as police, court workers and correctional officers.

So if, despite all the blatantly pro-Wildrose propaganda in the mainstream media these past few weeks, Ms. Redford somehow manages to pull the fat from the fire, it will be with the help of people like these.

Most of them, it can be said, will be motivated by a very human combination of self-interest and genuine concern for the fate of their province if they vote in significant numbers to save the Progressive Government’s sorry hide.

A good example are the 100,000 or so people who work for Alberta Health Services, the giant province-wide “super board” the Conservatives under Ed Stelmach created, certainly for the wrong reasons, but which can hardly be dismantled now without grave consequences.

This group includes not just unionized health care workers, but large numbers of heath sector managers, physicians and other health care professionals, health facility contractors, their staff and all of those people’s families – who surely recognize that, despite leader Danielle Smith’s glib promises, their lives are in for a major shakeup and a long period of economic uncertainty if the Wildrose Party forms a majority government tonight as expected.

These are the citizens – highly motivated to actually make sure they get out and vote – who have been circulating a letter from health care researcher and University of Alberta nursing professor Donna Wilson, who is both a Registered Nurse and a PhD, warning that disbanding AHS would result in “immediate chaos” within the system. If every hospital in the province has its own independent board, she asks, “Would anybody plan where expensive new equipment or services are really needed in the province?”

Dr. Wilson also debunks the Wildrose claim that AHS has a top-heavy and expansive bureaucracy, an argument that is likely to carry weight with voters who happen to be part of it.

Consider Alberta’s teachers, professionals who have been excoriated for their pension deal with Ms. Redford’s Conservatives – again, people who will make sure to vote, and who are legitimately fearful of the attack a Wildrose government with its loony education theories would do to their pensions, their jobs and the working conditions of those who managed to salvage their careers and remain in the field.

Or even Alberta’s Mounties, who don’t necessarily see their force eliminated by some future Alberta firewall, like the one advocated by Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan and his fellow Western independentistes in their famous 2001 Firewall Manifesto.

Or employees of Alberta municipalities and arm’s-length Alberta public agencies spun off from the government by premier Ralph Klein through the mid-1990s.

The list is quite a long one. The people who make it up, thoughtful and well educated. Are there enough of them to make a difference tomorrow night? It’s hard to say. There are a lot of factors in play.

One thing is certain: they are unlikely to sit it out this time and not bother to vote.

If Ms. Redford’s PCs manage to pull off another Miracle on the Prairies, like the one Ralph Klein worked in 1993 when it appeared Liberal Laurence Decore cast as more conservative than the Conservatives was about to knock him off, Wildrose supporters will go wild with rage and self-pity.

And if Ms. Redford does manage to survive thanks to such a miracle, she needs to remember very clearly who made it possible!

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Why and how the Wildrose ‘wait time guarantee’ adds up to two-tier health care

Don’t expect the quality of health care in Alberta to improve because of a “wait-time guarantee” – unless you can pay.

If you, dear reader, are one of the thousands of Albertans who has come to the conclusion the Wildrose Party’s health care wait-time guarantee sounds like a pretty good idea, there may be some value as voting day draws nigh to revisiting how this scheme is actually supposed to work.

Because it’s pretty plain on the face of it why and how this is an example of two-tier health care in which those who can pay get the treatment and those who can’t get to be sick, and possibly die.

Yet I can’t recall ever reading a journalistic account of this idea that really clearly spelled out how it’s supposed to work, or that does the arithmetic – although, in fairness, the Wildrose Party itself has been clear enough, even if they haven’t dwelled on it amid all their rhetoric about their (doubtful) commitment to preserving publicly funded health care.

What you usually hear from the Wildrose Party is this, as their Policy “Green Book” states: They will … “further reduce surgical and specialist wait times by funding needed services for Alberta patients outside the province should timely access to a medically necessary procedures (sic) be unavailable in Alberta.”

What you don’t hear repeated so often are the sentences that follow: “In such cases, the cost to the government to have that same procedure performed in Alberta would instead be sent to the out-of-Alberta health provider. The patient would be responsible for costs over and above that amount.” (Emphasis added.)

Got that? The patient would be responsible for costs over and above that amount.

Never mind for a moment the propensity of business people, and especially health care business people, to jack their prices up to what the market will bear, something that is bound to happen as word gets around that patients from Alberta are coming to the market with the cost of a safe, efficient, publicly provided procedure in their pocket.

So let’s imagine you require something drastic, like a lung transplant, in order to survive.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, recent estimates of the cost of a lung transplant in Canada including hospitalization range from about $100,000 to $150,000.

So let’s also imagine that a public facility is not available in Alberta that can do the job, assuming the availability of a transplantable lung, within the period set out in the Wildrose “wait time guarantee.”

So the Government of Alberta, vows the Wildrose Party, will forward that $150,000 to the out-of-province health care provider. (Or, for that matter, to the fully private operator within the province, the establishment and nurturing of which is surely part of the Wildrose plan.)

Not being a medical statistician, there is some risk I’m not comparing oranges and oranges here – I may even be comparing oranges and tangerines. But a 2010 story that I found on the Internet with Google’s assistance in 0.35 seconds indicates that the average U.S. cost of the same procedure for a severely ill patient is approximately $277,000, with total full-year costs around $292,000.

If these figures are an accurate reflection of the differences in cost between a for-profit U.S. procedure and a publicly financed procedure in Canada, you and your family could expect to be on the hook for the difference, which would be $127,000 or more.

If the only clinic that could provide the procedure were in, say, Florida, presumably you and your family would be on the hook for the cost of flights to and from, possibly medical flights, accommodation and sustenance for a month or so.

You won’t be going on this trip alone, presumably, so let’s be crazy generous and say $1,000 for the flights (in the unlikely event you’re capable of flying tourist class), $1,000 for car rental in Florida, $1,000 for incidentals, $5,000 for accommodation and a couple of thousand for food. So add at least another $10,000 and come up with $137,000.

The cost of following up any complications, of course, will be covered by Alberta’s beleaguered health care system, which no doubt will be beset by a shortage of surgeons as health care professionals here in Alberta abandon public practice to set up their own highly profitable private clinics.

So if you’re one of those who can’t pay, wait times will grow even longer.

Of course, your Wildrose government will then tell you that you have even more “choices” – you can buy private insurance to cover your out of province costs. If you don’t have a pre-existing condition, that is. You know, like needing a lung transplant.

But never mind all that detail stuff and the many costs for you and your family associated with it. Just ask your self if you can afford an extra $140,000 or so to take the Wildrose Party up on its “wait time guarantee.”

If it’s knee surgery you need, maybe you’ll only be out only $10,000 or $15,000.

But please don’t tell me the Wildrose Party isn’t proposing a two-tier health care system!

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Alberta campaign ends with all-party disobedience of Fourth Commandment

Just stepped off an interstellar Greyhound from Alpha Centauri, AB? Alberta Diary is here to help. Toronto media here to cover the campaign may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Tom Flanagan.

As the 2012 Alberta election campaign moves through its final 24 hours this Sabbath day, all party leaders are hard at work, a stoning offence in Old Testament times but apparently not even a political molehill to be climbed here in Bible Belt Alberta, notwithstanding the fundamentalist frothing on certain other Biblical commands that have rattled this short and nasty campaign.

Unsurprisingly, media reports last night tended to focus less on today’s violations of the Fourth Commandment and more on the final moments of each major party’s campaign. This is an inevitable if not very informative journalistic tradition, since, like hockey players before a big game, politicians all tend to say the same things before a big election.

Here were the Postmedia News campaign-closer offerings yesterday: “Smith visits crucial ridings to drum up support,” “Chow revs up Mason’s campaign,” “Sherman capitalizes on Tory Broken Promises,” and, I’m not making this up, “Redford having fun in final stretch.”

As to that last point, I don’t think so!

In case you’ve just stepped off an interstellar Greyhound from Alpha Centauri, AB, and are wondering which Smith is visiting those crucial ridings (Joseph?) and what kind of chow was revving up the NDP’s campaign, the traditional journalistic parenthetical explanations would be as follows: (Wildrose Party Leader Danielle), (Trinity-Spadina NDP MP Olivia) and (NDP Leader Brian), (Liberal Leader Raj), and (faltering Progressive Conservative Premier Alison).

Sorry about that, but if you were trained as I was, back in the days when newspapers still offered a viable career, you just have to do that!

The “upstart Wildrose party,” as the new journalistic cliché goes, continued its persecution narrative to the campaign’s very end, issuing a press release yesterday whining that “Wildrose Voters Subjected to Dirty Tricks By Opponents” and complaining about “unethical behaviour on the part of our opponents” including push polls by Ms. Redford’s PC Party and the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The former, complained the Wildrose release, gave “false and misleading statements about the Wildrose,” while the latter was “designed to mischaracterize Wildrose positions.”

Well, far be it from me to defend push polling or for that matter the preposterous suggestion the lavishly funded and Harper-Conservative-advised Wildrose Party is some mere upstart, but the sheer brass of this organization surely deserves our admiration.

After all, it was the Wildrose Party that started off this campaign back in early February with a push poll containing false and misleading statements about the government designed to mischaracterize its positions and attack its key players.

But then, as Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan well knows, 80 days may be long enough to imagine racing around the world in 1872 but it’s too darn long to expect Alberta’s voters, particularly those ones who are paid to report on the campaign for the media, to remember that the accusers were just up to the same tricks as the folks they are now accusing.

On the other hand, there was very little speculation about what ought to be the elephant in the room of this particular Alberta election: What happens if there’s a minority tomorrow and the No. 2 party tries to form a coalition with one of more of the other parties in the Legislature?

This is fair play within our Parliamentary system, although that fact is not well understood by an electorate raised on American TV and more than four decades of elections that were nothing more than pro forma coronations of serial PC governments.

Presumably, given this, the outrage would be palpable, if not hysterical. Should something as exciting as this possibility unfold, we will all need to leave our unregistered firearms locked in our Quonset huts and remember that what happens tomorrow is not a great big American-style presidential election in which we all participate, but 87 individual, separate and distinct constituency elections.

After the dust has settled tomorrow night, it’s up to those 87 victors to get together and figure out what to do next. Are you ready for that?

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: Danielle Smith and Big Tobacco

What is it with right-wing politicians and tobacco, anyway? Below: Don’t worry, she won’t have to pay higher taxes for her tobacco.

The leaders of all Alberta parties but one seem committed to ending smoking by young Albertans. The sole holdout? It’s the Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith, of course.

This much was reported by the Calgary Herald last Tuesday, although readers are forgiven if they missed it since the story ended up on page 18.

“Only Smith said she wouldn’t support the majority of the measures,” wrote the Herald’s reporter in her coverage of a survey of party leaders by the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, adding in explanation: “The Wildrose Party has vowed not to raise taxes, including taxes on tobacco products.”

Most readers presumably simply assumed that this was just another pre-election pledge not to raise taxes by the right-wing party committed to reviving the low-tax “Alberta Advantage” of Ralph Klein, one of the gods in the Wildrosers’ Tea Party pantheon.

So it’s unlikely many readers were troubled by the lack of any reference to the cozy relationships among Ms. Smith, various far-right Astroturf and propaganda organizations and the tobacco industry.

Nor would many have noticed that the Wildrose Party indicated in its response to the survey that it would not agree to consider taking action on such measures as banning candy-flavoured tobacco, reducing sales to minors or suing tobacco companies to recover health care costs resulting from disease tied to negligence by the industry. If Wildrose MLAs wanted to do something about those things, they could introduce a private-member bill, the party’s response said.

Ms. Smith has worked for three well-known far-right organizations that have all shilled for the tobacco industry, helping their fight against legislation to control tobacco and smoking: the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and the Canadian Property Rights Research Institute. At least two of them, the Fraser Institute and the CPRRI, received direct funding from the tobacco industry.

Not so surprisingly, then, Ms. Smith and the Fraser Institute have both bloviated time and again on the topic of how Canada should eliminate all taxes on tobacco as a way to reduce the illegal trade in contraband cigarettes.

Back in 2003, for example, Ms. Smith informed her Calgary Herald column readers that “tobacco companies are not to blame for the trade in contraband cigarettes. Unless governments realize high taxes are the real cause, the smuggling business will thrive.” (Emphasis added.) This would be a theme that resonated through the right-wing echo chamber.

Last year, for example, the Fraser Institute argued that Canada should eliminate all taxes on tobacco as a way to reduce the illegal trade in contraband cigarettes. “The imposition of excessively high taxes on tobacco is likely the main factor encouraging the contraband trade. Eliminating taxes on all tobacco products would be expected to significantly reduce the contraband tobacco trade.”

Also in 2011, Ms. Smith told the Wetaskiwin and District Chamber of Commerce that the seizure by authorities of 75,000 cartons of cigarettes on the Montana First Nation in the nearby Hobbema was the result of “overtaxing by the provincial government,” in the words of a March 23, 2011, Wetaskiwin Times story that is not longer available on line.

And so it goes. Back on Dec. 2, 2002, Ms. Smith used her Herald column to argue against regulation of second-hand smoke. On May 25, 2003, she marked the death of anti-tobacco activist Barb Tarbox by quoting a tobacco-industry-funded researcher to argue that second-hand smoke poses no risk. She went on, and I’m not making this up, “the evidence shows moderate cigarette consumption can reduce traditional risks of disease by 75 per cent or more.” (Yes, you need to read that twice. No idea what a traditional risk is. Obviously it’s not just climate change!)

On June 1, 2007, as Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an Astroturf group that purports to represent the interests of independent businesses while working against them, Ms. Smith wrote then Health and Wellness Minister Dave Hancock to argue against the then-proposed restrictions on the retail display of tobacco products.

“We are unaware of any research that shows that eliminating these retail displays will have any impact on the decision whether to smoke or not,” she told Mr. Hancock, complaining that while placing screens over tobacco products would have no impact on sales, they would be “a significant financial hardship” for business anyway because of the cost of the screens.

Instead of allowing tobacco companies to advertise to impressionable young people through colourful displays, she suggested that “the government should be more aggressive in prosecuting the underage possession of cigarettes.” So here we had this great foe of tax increases suggesting that the taxpayer fund expensive prosecutions to save retailers the cost of the equivalent of a window blind. Did I get that right?

Can we conclude from this that a Wildrose government would eliminate those restrictions, now in place? Would it roll back tobacco taxes?

And would Ms. Smith argue that her beloved “property rights” do not allow non-smokers to be protected from second-hand smoke? After all, the CPRRI, for which she once worked, has argued at another time in the past that municipal politicians need to be informed about “the grave consequences for private property rights entailed in banning smoking in all indoor, publicly accessible places.”

Whatever happens, it’s a safe bet we won’t be seeing anything more that the tobacco industry doesn’t want during the life of any government presided over by Ms. Smith.

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