Archive for May, 2012

Casseroles Night in Canada: Working its way into our consciousness with no media help

A scene from the casseroles video by Montreal videographer Jeremie Battaglia that has gone viral worldwide, telling the story of Quebec’s dignified and powerful protest as the Western Canadian media refuses to do. It is still largely unmentioned and unseen here in the West.

If tonight is “Casseroles Night in Canada,” will any Albertans show their support for affordable education for all – and opposition to the all-too-typical neo-Con restrictions of our fundamental freedoms – by clanking their pots and pans in sympathy with our fellow citizens in the streets of Quebec?

Maybe a few will, for, notwithstanding the best efforts of our Western Canadian media to make it appear otherwise, it is increasingly apparent even here in darkest Alberta that a democratic social movement of startling potency and potential has arisen in Quebec.

After more than three months, the burgeoning social protest by a broad swath of Quebec society has typically been reported here, when it is reported at all, as if it were an effort to skip classes and make trouble by a minority of lazy students, who are greedy, self-interested and violent to boot.

The meaning of nightly eight o’clock demonstrations by dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers who are outraged at the neo-Conservative policies of the government of Premier Jean Charest – and, it is safe to say, at the same polices at the federal level by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – failed to arouse much interest among our media.

Even the totalitarian suppression of Quebeckers’ fundamental rights of assembly, association and free expression, so reminiscent of the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970, was met with silence or outright support by the Alberta media and those right-wing political parties and their offshoots so influential in this province that tirelessly portray themselves as defenders of our rights.

Where the nightly demonstrations by masses of ordinary Quebeckers were discussed at all, they were typically portrayed in the context of Alberta’s continual whining about its financial contribution to Confederation, as in the ignorant and offensive screed by a Calgary Herald columnist who argued, in effect, that the neo-Con ideologues who run this wealthy province ought to have a veto over Quebec’s social policies

Well, that would make our continual efforts to cry poverty in the midst of plenty less embarrassing, one supposes, but that’s about it.

The reality is it’s all baloney, as even a senior economist for the Canada West Foundation, hardly a liberal think tank, was moved to point out recently. The money for the federal transfer payments the Calgary Herald complains about so vociferously doesn’t come from Alberta revenues, Michael Holden explained more patiently than I would have, it comes from federal taxes collected all across this great big land. They’re even collected in Quebec, a fact that may have escaped the Herald editorial staff’s attention, preoccupied as they must be with their own fading prospects.

“Equalization does not affect the Alberta government’s bottom line,” Mr. Holden explained more gently than the Herald really deserved.

So if we Albertans want to stop feeling so ripped off, the solution is pretty simple – start collecting a reasonable level of taxes and royalties (or even just make the effort to actually collect the ones that are on the books) and build some decent social services of our own.

No matter what the Herald may tell you, it’s not as if Quebeckers are taking something from Albertans. Au contraire! It’s pretty obvious that most of the people in the streets of Montreal and throughout Quebec for the past 107 nights are not just fighting for themselves and their children, they are fighting for all of us, whether or not we have enough sense to recognize it.

The credit for our sense of dismay at our own shabby government and health services amidst all the wealth of this province resides squarely with the Conservative governments at both senior levels of government, the very people we keep trooping back to the polls to re-elect with metronomic regularity.

As Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said of these Conservatives in the House of Commons yesterday: “Under their policies we are becoming the first generation that will leave less to our children than what we inherited from our parents. … We are one of the richest countries in the world and yet we are one of the countries with the greatest disparity between the richest and the poor.”

The legacy of these Conservatives, said Mr. Mulcair, who is scheduled to visit Fort McMurray and the Suncor plant in the Alberta bitumen sands tomorrow, is “unprecedented attacks on the middle class.”

If Mr. Harper used one of his F-35s to drop an atomic bomb on Alberta, how many of the survivors would crawl out of the rubble to vote Conservative?

Well, a few might not. Tonight some people will gather in Edmonton to bang their pots and pans in solidarity with Quebec. There are signs this respectful but forceful form of protest – which requires no one to venture too far out of their own neighbourhood comfort zone – is creeping across the border into Ontario too.

Who knows, perhaps it will keep growing in places other than Quebec as citizens face down the neo-Cons. Perhaps even Mr. Charest’s conversion to the idea he must seek a deal with the students will not put the genie of this social movement back in the bottle, as the Harper Conservatives must devoutly hope.

As progressive commentator Murray Dobbin wrote recently, “We owe the Quebec students (and their hundreds of thousands of supporters in civil society groups) a huge debt of gratitude for shaking us out of our ideology-induced political torpor.”

Slowly, one clank at a time, the sound of those hundreds of thousands of pots and pans and casseroles in Quebec may be working its liberating way into our stubborn English Canadian consciousness!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

ToastMedia News announces cuts, dropped editions: welcome to the world of zombie newspapers

PostMedia CEO Paul Godfrey holds a translation of his memorandum to the chain’s newspaper staff yesterday. Warning, senior Canadian newspaper executives may not appear exactly as illustrated, or as below.

Welcome to the world of zombie newspapers, the era of the living journalistic dead.

Last week it was the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the venerable Louisiana newspaper with the best name in English-language journalism, which announced it would only publish three days a week and send most of its staff packing.

Yesterday it was PostMedia News, the tattered remnant of Canada’s once proud Southam family newspaper chain, also known for a spell as CanWest Media. At newsroom meetings and in a flurry of internal communications, PostMedia bosses told frightened sluggos at the former quality dailies they’ll be slashing staff, centralizing most editing and many writing jobs and dumping whole days’ editions at the 10 moribund “properties” owned by the flagging chain.

Alberta’s two PostMedia daily newspapers, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, along with the Ottawa Citizen, will drop their Sunday editions as well as shedding even more staff.

So, call them what you will, these papers are post media all right. PostMedia is becoming so post media it ought to be rechristened ToastMedia News!

“The only way we can be competitive is to create a new company that leverages its history and moves aggressively into the future,” PostMedia CEO Paul Godfrey told employees in a widely circulated memorandum in the incomprehensible Orwellian language of modern biz-speak. (Translation: “We’ll be throwing as many of you as we can over the side to keep this sucker afloat for another year or two.”)

The reason? PostMedia’s advertising revenues – the once-unstoppable flow of cash that sustained the Canadian newspaper business through whole generations of bad management – are going down, down, down like the flaming punch line of a Johnny Cash song.

As the Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye cleverly explained it – after feeding media watchers through the day with an excellent string of Tweets – “for every $7 publishers are losing in their print editions, a recent study suggests they are only earning $1 of digital revenue.” He added, “even that previously stable digital revenue has been in freefall through the first half of the year.”

Now the same brainiacs who responded to the rise of broadcast news a generation ago with a universal switch to morning publication, leaving the entire news cycle a full 24 hours behind the newspaper industry’s then-rising competitors, are going to confront the 24-hour-a-day Internet by such stratagems as:

  • Slashing already stretched journalistic staff – firing another 20 journalists from each of the papers’ already shrunken newsrooms
  • Transferring all local copy-editing and many writing jobs to a single non-union plant in the bustling metropolis of Hamilton, Oct.
  • Putting the papers’ uninspired and easily duplicated stories behind “metered paywalls” – childishly easy-to-defeat technology that allows readers to view a few stories before demanding money from them for the privilege
  • Dropping Sunday and holiday editions

With the exception of the decision to cut editions most readers are ignoring anyway, each of these gambits will drive away more profit than they create.

Cutting staff eliminates metropolitan dailies’ chief competitive advantage, the ability to cover their communities like no other news organization. Moreover, it will further degrade the quality of their already weak and derivative stories. Local coverage, and the local angle on national stories that was once the Southam chain’s great strength, will be lost forever.

Paywalls, meanwhile, drive away online readers – who are demonstrably unwilling to part with money for picayune tripe that can be found elsewhere with ease. Moreover, paywalls will chase away their few remaining advertisers, who won’t pay to place ads where readers can’t see them.

What’s more, if PostMedia uses the same paywall technology as the New York Times, soon to be adopted by the Globe and Mail as well, determined readers can defeat it with ease by simply deleting their Web browsers’ cookies. Ironically, if PostMedia makes its paywalls more effective, they will drive away even more advertisers. This spiral goes nowhere.

Transferring copy-editing jobs to Hamilton will increase the number of bonehead mistakes that irritate local readers. Sending writing jobs there will make local papers more generic and less useful. Gone are the days of local features, local arts and restaurant reviews, local sports stories – and gone too will be the readers who were prepared to pay to read them.

When all that doesn’t work – or makes things worse – one supposes PostMedia’s post-management will emulate the Times-Picayune again and move to publishing on paper only three days a week, or two, or none … and, bingo, you’re the Seattle Post Intelligencer!

Alas, PostMedia will never do one thing that could reinvigorate its flaccid bottom line – scuttle the National Post, the ideological vanity publication that has long played a leading role in the chain’s financial and spiritual woes.

The Post was Conrad Black’s prideful flagship, created in 1998 as a personal hobbyhorse for the millionaire publisher and international neo-Con blowhard. To its founder’s credit, one supposes, it more or less succeeded in its goal of remaking Canadian journalism through the relentless application of right-wing snake oil and outright propaganda. The other Southam-CanWest-PostMedia papers soon followed suit.

But the cost was high. From Day One the Post has been more of a plague ship, hoovering financial resources and local scoops from other chain papers. When we were all served cake in the pressroom of the Calgary Herald the night the first edition appeared, only a few of us suspected there was hemlock in the sweet vanilla icing!

By sucking the life out of the chain’s other papers at a time when the Internet was about to give readers more options than ever before, the Post sowed many of the seeds of PostMedia’s current troubles. It is ironic, of course, that the Post’s raison d’etre was to spread the false gospel of the omnipotent free market when it turned out there was only a limited market for such drivel.

Now things are too far gone for there to be much hope for increasingly irrelevant businesses like PostMedia News. Today’s news was just another painful image from the slow-motion demise of the zombified newspaper industry that is unfolding before our eyes.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

After the Big Zero, the Alberta Party awaits the Big Goodbye

Your blogger with Dave Taylor, back in 2010. Below: Glenn Taylor, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Chima Nkemdirim.

While it’s true former Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor never crossed a bridge he couldn’t burn, the political experiment he was part of is likely finished all on its own without his incendiary assistance.

Alberta Party adherents saw their party as a bold experiment in centrist policy making, conceived in hope and steeped in coffee, that was careful to take its time to listen to everyone.

It’s not nearly so clear Mr. Taylor, a former talk radio host with an overpowering voice, ever listened very hard to anyone. He was always an awkward fit for the idealistic Alberta Party – ending up in its ranks more because he was accidentally available while conveniently the owner of a seat in the Alberta Legislature than because he shared the party’s commitment to paying attention.

Either way, Mr. Taylor will likely go down in history as the party’s only MLA.

As for the party – which began its coruscating trajectory across the Alberta political firmament with an exercise in home coffee and policy-building meetings in 2010 that it called “The Big Listen” and pretty much ended it on Saturday with a party for supporters in Edmonton it dubbed “The Big Thank You” – it is surely only weeks away from “The Big Goodbye.”

The reason is simple: whether or not it could have if it had done things very differently, the Alberta Party failed to capture the imagination of Alberta voters and, on April 23 this year, its total seat tally in the provincial general election added up to a Big Zero. While it’s message captivated Alberta’s chattering classes, its presence never polled above the single digits with Alberta voters.

For those Alberta Party supporters who say, “We’re not dead yet,” we can only borrow a line from Monty Python and respond, “You’ll be stone dead in a moment! … You’re not fooling anyone, you know…”

Mr. Taylor’s latest bridge burning took the form of a harshly worded website commentary last week that said the party might as well just give up. He wrote: “We need a good, honest, adult conversation about whether there is a place or a purpose for the Alberta Party in Alison Redford’s Alberta.” His proposition, disputed by some, was that “the Alberta Party’s values are now the Redford PC Government’s values. They stand for everything we stand for – and they’re in power. Who needs us?”

Ms. Redford, he added, “would have made an ideal Alberta Party member.”

After complaining that the party’s adherents wanted Saturday’s “shindig to be sunshine and lollipops, rainbows and puppies,” Mr. Taylor rambled a little before announcing he wouldn’t be there anyway, having more pressing business in Seattle.

Well, he spoke the truth, sure enough, though it might have been more diplomatic to leave it to the blogosphere to write finis on the Alberta Party’s efforts. But then, notwithstanding the genteel sensibilities of his party, that was never Mr. Taylor’s style.

Mr. Taylor was elected as MLA for Calgary-Currie in 2004 as an Alberta Liberal. After the Liberals’ loss of seven seats in the 2008 Alberta election, which for a tantalizing moment before the vote the Liberals had seemed like possible winners, leader Kevin Taft resigned. Mr. Taylor then ran for the Liberal leadership and lost to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s safe to say Mr. Taylor would have been a more effective Liberal leader than Dr. Swann – who was a fine and thoughtful person but almost totally lacking in charisma or any clue about how to lead the party, which was then the official Opposition.

But Mr. Taylor didn’t have the patience to wait for Dr. Swann to give up the political ghost, and in April 2010 exploded in frustration with Dr. Swann’s leadership and stormed off to sit as an Independent, the bridge to the Liberals aflame behind him. (As a result, Mr. Taylor wasn’t available when Dr. Swann quit in 2011, one of the factors resulting in the election of former Tory Raj Sherman as Liberal leader a year ago.)

In January 2011, Mr. Taylor joined the Alberta Party, becoming its only MLA, rather halfheartedly proclaiming, “I can be very comfortable with these people.” But he could also read the handwriting on the wall, and chose not to seek re-election in 2012.

Mr. Taylor was not the only mistake made by the Alberta Party, or even the only one named Taylor.

At a party convention in May 2011, delegates elected Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor as leader. As a successful municipal politician, the former New Democrat and elected union official looked like just what the doctor ordered for the Alberta Party, a real campaigner who understood the nitty-gritty of electoral politics.

But from Day 1, the leadership of Glenn Taylor (no relation to Dave Taylor) was strangely disengaged. He didn’t even give up his day job as Hinton Mayor until January 2012. When the election finally came in April, he couldn’t carry the huge but sparsely populated riding in which Hinton is the principal town.

Before that, in October 2010, the party also lost its most promising and engaging potential leaders when Naheed Nenshi was elected mayor of Calgary. In addition to Mr. Nenshi himself, identified as an early supporter of the party, it cost the party Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, who instead of running for leader as many had hoped left to become Mr. Nenshi’s chief of staff.

But as Dave Taylor observed, the coup de grace was the election a year later of Ms. Redford as leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Ms. Redford’s success, as was observed in this space in December 2011, “moved the governing Progressive Conservative Party into precisely the political space the Alberta Party was created to occupy.”

Nor did it help that the far-right Wildrose Party – now the Opposition in the Legislature – polled so well in the weeks leading up to the April 23 election that potential Alberta Party supporters were driven to vote strategically for Ms. Redford’s apparently still faintly Progressive Conservatives.

Now Mr. Taylor has recognized that fact as well, and even if it takes other supporters of the Alberta Party a little longer, it is hard to imagine that the party is not finished.

That said, the party’s excellent name – once owned by fringe parties of the far right and later the environmental movement – remains a viable commodity, so it is likely to enjoy a lingering half life, still capable for a time of fogging film if not actually appearing in sharp focus.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The 100th Calgary Stampede: real men don’t kill horses for fun

A chuckwagon race in 1924 – then and now, unquestionably exciting and unquestionably cruel. Time for it to stop. Below: Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both looking fashionably butch in their cowboy duds.

There’s no doubt about it: chuckwagon races are as exciting as hell. There’s also no getting around the fact they’re cruel to horses.

With the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede almost upon us – the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” marks its centennial on July 6 – it’s time once again to turn our attention a popular event that uses pointless cruelty for entertainment.

For, sure as shootin’, a horse will die in a Stampede chuckwagon race this year, as horses die pointlessly every year for the entertainment of the humans who pack the Stampede grounds to witness the thundering excitement of the races.

Unlike other rodeo sports, which may be cruel in the sense they’re uncomfortable for the dumb beasts involved, chuckwagon races are particularly dangerous for horses because of the nature of the creatures themselves and the tactics used by wagon drivers to cut off competing rigs. The resulting spills are exciting – and deadly for the animals.

Last year, only two horses died in the Stampede’s chuckwagon racing competition. The year before, six were killed at the Stampede, four directly attributable to chuckwagon racing. There are always some – since 1986, well over 50 have been killed.

When it happens, the people who protest this cruelty will be dismissed as sissies and do-gooders. Professional chuckwagon racers will say how very, very sad they are. The deaths will be ignored by the Stampede’s organizers, and by pretty well everyone else in political Calgary. Politicians of all stripes who should know better will show up at the Stampede looking fashionably butch in their Western Stetsons, chaps, spurs and Cuban heels.

Not one of them will say anything negative about the fate that awaits the wagon horses, because that would be tempting fate and, in the case of Conservatives like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Alberta Premier Alison Redford, the rage of the people to whom they owe their success, if not their souls.

Learned treatises will appear in the comments section of blogs like this explaining that horses love to run, and if they could talk would surely tell us they’re good with the risk of being whipped around the track for the entertainment of the good people of Calgary. What’s more, there will also be some sharply angry comments about how the Stampede is all about the cowboy’s trade, it’s a vital part of our western culture, and people who don’t like it can go to blazes, yadda-yadda.

Readers will forgive me the appropriately western metaphor, I’m sure, if I say that at least as far as the chuckwagon event is concerned, this is all bullshit.

You can make a case for calf roping as a worthwhile cowboyin’ skill. You can make a case for riding belligerent broncs, bulls and steers as not being all that dangerous for the beasts – although a horse died in 2010 doing that too – and fair to boot in the sense the riders are taking bigger risks. You can argue persuasively that both emphasize riding and roping skills still relevant to the Western agricultural industry.

But no such case for the relevance of chuckwagon races can be made. Racing sandwich trucks and taxicabs around the track through an active pedestrian crossing would have more relevance to the state of the cattle industry in Calgary today – which hasn’t even been entitled to call itself Cowtown since the last cattle auction decamped for Strathmore in 1989.

Tell me: what is the relationship between the agricultural industry of 2012 and racing lightweight wagons (too small to carry even sandwiches and coffee) hauled by four horses accompanied by mounted outriders around a track, using demolition derby tactics to keep competing rigs from passing?

None of this will get much coverage in the chickenhearted Calgary media, of course. In 2009, both the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun refused to run paid advertisements that the Vancouver Humane Society wanted to place claiming calf roping is needlessly cruel.

Commercial newspapers like the Herald and the Sun and their broadcasting equivalents are always going on about the vital role they play in local democracy as they come hat in hand to taxpayers for disguised subsidies such as favourable postage rates, tariffs on cable distribution of broadcasts and lower funding for the CBC. But when an actual topic of debate arises in their community that is opposed by a wealthy and powerful group, they won’t even allow the proponents of an opposing view to buy an advertisement expressing a reasonable opinion!

As I have said in this space before, everybody in Alberta knows rodeo activities are cruel to animals, everybody in Alberta knows chuckwagon races are dangerous for horses and nobody in a position to do anything about it cares enough to do it.

Most Albertans let this go on because they also don’t care, because they enjoy the races, because there’s money to be made doing it – about $1 million in prizes for the racers at the Stampede alone, according to the Wikipedia – or some combination of all three.

The Calgary Stampede ethic emphasizes the courage and masculinity of its participants. But real men aren’t cruel to dumb beasts for no reason but entertainment and money.

This is a barbaric and pointless activity that should be an embarrassment to every Albertan who thinks of himself as a real man.

This is why bullfighting is dying out in the macho Hispanic world.

According to the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, polls last year in Spain showed that more than 60 per cent of Spaniards now express disapproval of bullfighting, with an accompanying “drastic drop” in the number of bullfights. “Even in the bullfighting heartland of Andalusia, the number of fights fell by 50 per cent between 2007 and 2010.”

In Catalonia, the regional parliament banned the bloody spectacle in 2010 and the ban took effect on New Year’s Day this year. The last bullfight was held in Barcelona on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011.

The Stampede Board should man up like the Catalonians and declare its centennial rodeo the venue for the last chuckwagon race in Calgary. It’s time.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Zwozdesky’s in, Kowalski’s out and all’s right with the Tory universe

Gene Zwozdesky, Alberta’s new Speaker, with your blogger and a Speech from the Throne … though not today’s.

This compliment may come out sounding a little more backhanded than intended, but the Alberta Legislature could have done a lot worse than choose someone like Gene Zwozdesky to wear the Speaker’s three-cornered hat, as its MLAs did yesterday.

This concludes the principal business of this otherwise silly six-day legislative session: naming a replacement for former speaker Ken Kowalski, who is no longer a member of the House and whose influence, rest assured Premier Alison Redford long ago concluded, needed to end forthwith.

That goal has now been achieved, Mr. Kowalski has passed into history taking his embarrassing $1.2-million transition allowance and remaining influence with him. The Legislature’s 87 MLAs can now get on with the Speech from the Throne later today, passing Bill 1 and whatever other insubstantial matters require their immediate attention before political Alberta lapses into a restful summer slumber with the Conservatives back in driver’s seat as God and the Tory Patriarch Peter Lougheed clearly intended.

Like any Speaker in a modern Canadian legislature where the governing party enjoys a substantial majority, Mr. Zwozdesky is certain to exhibit a degree of partisanship. But he will likely be fairer than most Tory MLAs from the Caucus of 2012 would have been in his shoes, and he has a smoothly diplomatic way about him.

As a former Liberal in the House, moreover, he knows what it’s like to sit across from the government, and one can hope this will inform his rulings as the arbiter of what may and may not be said and done in that chamber.

Indeed, the chief knock at Mr. Zwozdesky as a minister was that he would never make up his mind, opting forever for more study. But the Speaker of the Legislature is like the referee in a hockey game – indecisiveness is not an option! One suspects Mr. Zwozdesky will quickly learn how to be decisive – at least, decisive enough.

Finally, as a former professional crooner, Mr. Zwozdesky can continue Mr. Kowalski’s harmless tradition of encouraging rip-roaring performances of the national anthem in the public galleries at the opening of each Legislative session. By these small notes do we measure the progress of democracy in Alberta!

In the end yesterday, none of the rumoured Progressive Conservative candidates for the job other than Mr. Zwozdesky came forward in the actual contest. As suggested by Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson, this no doubt reflected the will of Premier Redford that there not be a non-Conservative in this crucial position.

The whips then presumably cracked, and those Tories who might have dreamed of occupying the Speaker’s chair quietly faded into the woodwork to await another favour, or perhaps another day.

As for Liberal Laurie Blakeman, her candidacy – though she pursued it with the vigour of the truly desperate – had no hope once the ballots had been counted back on election night, April 23.

The Legislature would only have chosen someone like Ms. Blakeman, who not so long ago was a credible candidate for the Liberal leadership, if the Wildrose Opposition and the Progressive Conservative caucuses had been in a dead heat in seats, or very close to it, after the election night dust had cleared. That is likely why she was already running hard for the job before the election.

Alas or her, and for all who enjoy politics as pure entertainment without much thought to its consequences, that was not to be.

As a veteran MLA like Ms. Blakeman surely realized, her valiant effort was doomed the moment Ms. Redford’s PCs posted a clear majority.

Having hung in and won re-election, then lost her bid to be Speaker, there’s not much for Ms. Blakeman to do but soldier on painfully under the leadership of the mercurial former Tory, Raj Sherman, and be ready to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership should Dr. Sherman spontaneously burst into flames.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta MLAs get down to work – sort of

Bill 1? It’s a secret! Alberta MLAs may not be exactly as illustrated.


It’s great work if you can find it!

The first session of the 28th Legislature of Alberta opened today and will sit for … hold onto your hats, people … all of six days.

In their defence, sort of, that’s about all Premier Alison Redford and the rest of the Legislature’s 87 MLAs are going to need anyway, because they only plan to deal with one piece of legislation, something called, appropriately enough, Bill 1.

Bill 1 is … well, actually, Bill 1 is a secret. You’ll find out what it’s about tomorrow at the same time as the rest of us.

Presumably some people know what Bill 1 is about already, because the government has had to print up a Throne Speech and copies of the bill. The general assumption among the Alberta punditocracy is that it won’t be anything all that earthshaking – because the Redford Government intends to save the earthshaking stuff for the fall sitting, which will be a little longer.

You never know with Alberta Tory majority governments, though, and a lot of us will worry that they’re going to ban the right to assemble in groups larger than three, especially if the purpose is collective bargaining, or outlaw the clanging of pots and pans or other forms of free expression in the streets, historically a sign a government has completely lost control of the population, or whatever, until we actually see what’s in Bill 1 later today.

Most likely, the professional pundits have informed us, Bill 1 will be a law to require the Workers’ Compensation Board to cover firefighters and police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a laudable enough goal, of course, but why just first responders? Why not, indeed, a serious shakeup of the whole appalling WCB, with its private-insurance mentality and meat-grinder approach to compensating injured and traumatized workers? Well, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Meantime, speaking of compensation, if not for workers, Progressive Conservative House Leader Dave Hancock announced yesterday that the government will accept almost all of retired Supreme Court Justice Jack Major’s largely sensible MLA pay recommendations – except his suggestion of a $335,000 annual salary for the premier, which almost caused a province-wide meltdown when it was first proposed during the campaign leading up to the April 23 general election.

Politically speaking, Ms. Redford had no option but to turn it down under those trying circumstances and to leave it turned down now. How big her salary will be – like the topic of Bill 1 – remains a mystery for the moment. Probably bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a house.

Acceptance of the rest of Judge Major’s report means MLAs will be paid a base salary of $134,000 with the possibility of getting up to $67,000 more depending on the additional responsibilities they are assigned. Like the rest of us, the MLAs will now pay taxes on the full amount – which means that the rest of us will be paying more, too, because we’ll have to pay their federal taxes. But as Mr. Hancock observed, almost certainly accurately, that seemed to be what Albertans wanted, so that’s what we’ll get.

Work remains to be done on their pensions, which by the sound of it will be proper defined benefit plans, which will set a good example for the private sector and cause the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to issue hundreds of news releases. The job also includes, as they say, other competitive benefits – including the ability to expense almost everything, including car washes.

Unlike the rest of us, the MLAs will only have to actually show up for work six days between now and roughly when the snow starts to fly – or so Alberta’s oral tradition of record-keeping says. Good luck finding any official reference to the length of this sitting on the Legislature’s website, or in the public prints. Still, those naturally inclined to work hard will find worthwhile things to do. Indeed, we can count on an enthusiastic and bombastic performance for a while from the new Wildrose Opposition.

That’s why it’s great work if you can get it – which only 87 Albertans can.

Meanwhile, the odds makers were having fun yesterday calculating who is most likely to be named Speaker of the House now that Ken Kowalski has retired.

Since we last discussed the topic in this space, Yellowhead MLA Robin Campbell dropped out to be named to cabinet as aboriginal relations minister and Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, deprived of her Ed Stelmach-era cabinet post, joined the race.

Previously mentioned candidates still in the race are the creamy-voiced Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, a former health minister and professional crooner with the demonstrated ability to sooth the savage breasts of angry politicians, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who would dearly love the excuse to no longer have to sit as a member of Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s dysfunctional caucus, and Wayne Cao, PC MLA for Calgary-Fort who served as Deputy Speaker under Mr. Kowalski.

Although Ms. Blakeman was the favourite of this blog’s readership, as readers can see from the poll at right, the smart money favours Mr. Zwozdesky to win the secret ballot vote today. It’s said here, however, that no one should count out the sunny and likeable Mr. Cao.

The Speaker election is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. The Speech from the Throne with its associated pomp and circumstance is scheduled for 3 p.m.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tories train their intellectual big guns on Tom Mulcair: if Rex Murphy fails, there’s always Don Cherry!

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (clutching the balloon, centre) sets off his attack on Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, who is illustrated standing in the background. Beep-beep! Actual federal politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Tory big guns Rex Murphy and Don Cherry, plus former Tory big gun Norman Spector, all of whom have appeared exactly as illustrated.


“BRIEFING NOTE: Respond to criticism about economic impact of high-Loonie, everything-for-petrochemical-industry policy by making voters see Thomas Mulcair as recklessly un-Canadian…”

This isn’t an actual quote from the Tories’ current list of talking points, but it seems to be what the Strategic Heavy Lifters in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative brain trust have in mind for their main attack on the leader of the NDP Opposition. Expect them to trot out that French passport momentarily.

They promised us the Mother of All Battles, and the best they can come up with before Mr. Harper’s Republican Guards bug off to the dusty hills of Alberta is to call the NDP leader un-Canadian?

Pathetic!

Oh, I know, I’m being hyperbolic. I admit it. It’ll be a long road before Mr. Mulcair and the NDP form the government of Canada, and the possibility’s quite high the old slime-hurlers of Mr. Harper’s Tea Party of Canada will come up with something more effective than this kind of fake patriotism, the last refuge of the modern neo-Con petro-scoundrel. So I guess we shouldn’t start measuring the orange shag carpet for the prime ministerial residence on Sussex Drive just yet.

But, really people, does Mr. Harper seriously think getting his party’s Media Auxiliary over at the National Pest to assign Rex Murphy the job of calling Mr. Mulcair “recklessly un-Canadian” is a strategy? Rex Murphy?

And for what does the thankfully inimitable Mr. Murphy level this charge of un-Canadianism? Because Mr. Mulcair called three of the four western premiers “Harper’s Messengers”!

For lack of a more suitable phrase usable in the public prints: Take off!

Surely this is unworthy of a mighty “public intellectual” like Mr. Murphy. They must be holding back the really big guns for when things get truly desperate … you know, like Don Cherry!

Mr. Murphy’s screed is a laugh a minute, like the bit about how “it’s taken more than a couple of decades to exorcise the demon of the NEP from Western memories — particularly Albertan ones…” Excuse me, but we’ve heard about nothing but the alleged depredations of the National Energy Program here in Alberta pretty much every day for the past 32 years. (“The NEP destroyed Alberta! Would you like fries with that, sir?”) Some exorcism!

Mr. Murphy also descends into the fuzzy arithmetic typical of his so-called conservative ilk since really only three of the four Western premiers have had anything to say on this topic, and the one from British Columbia is being pretty mild and cautious for obvious reasons. You know, like the well-known Mulcair-style predilections of a majority of B.C. voters, who may well have concluded they have nothing whatsoever to gain from Alberta bitumen being pumped through their forests to the ocean but oil dumps, oil spills, dead fish, dead animals, pissed off environmentalists, angry First Nations, litigation, cancer, high security costs, terrorism risks, lawsuits and the ruination of a few more local small export businesses. Did I miss anything?

Perhaps Mr. Harper and Alberta Premier Alison Redford could explain the advantage of this to British Columbians again. A couple of dozen maintenance jobs and a boost for the private security industry? Or what?

But, hey, half a loaf is better than none – especially when you’re apparently just trying to stick as close as possible to the PMO’s talking points. And Mr. Murphy’s effort truly outshone the line of Zs thrown up by the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson, who worked himself into what passes for a swivet at 444 Front Street, calling Mr. Mulcair’s commentary … “political nonsense.” Whew!

With stirring headlines like “Mulcair should drop the ‘Dutch Disease’ rhetoric,” the Globe had better be careful it doesn’t provoke rioting in the streets of Calgary!

Meanwhile, out here in the west, the Conservative echo chamber is really testing our arithmetical skills: Friday’s edition of the Edmonton Journal includes a story under a headline that reads: “Alberta exporters don’t buy Mulcair’s loonie concerns.” (“Loonie concerns” … Geddit?) The story quotes five business people, all of whom are … uh … concerned about the strong petro-Loonie.

Representative quote: Edmonton frozen-Indian-dinner exporter Noorudin Jiwani “acknowledged that a strong Canadian dollar makes exporting more difficult, but he said he realizes that oilsands companies dwarf his firm, which employs about 70 people. ‘The Canadian dollar is too strong for us,’ he said. ‘I would like that not to happen, but then I’m a small potato.’” (Emphasis added.) Got that?

I’m sure they’re slapping themselves on the back at the PMO. “Great media coverage, chief!” … if you don’t bother to read the story.

And it’s all just so divisive, our Pecksniffian Conservative MPs keep sniveling – this from a group of people who repeatedly told tout le monde Quebec to bug right off on the topic of the long-gun registry, and who indeed continue to do so, the better to play wedge politics in the last federal election and the next one.

Oh well, like the big lie about how it was Pierre Trudeau’s energy policy and not world petroleum prices that caused Alberta’s one-dimensional economy to fall on its keester in 1980, a certain number of people will eventually start to believe anything if you repeat it often enough.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper’s semi-official Conservative Party newspaper and the state broadcaster over at Sun Media keep telling us Mr. Mulcair is not only a suitable candidate to be hauled before the House Un-Canadian Activities Committee (HUCAC) but he’s a firebrand, a hothead and a perpetually angry guy.

But constant repetition of this meme doesn’t actually change the fact that Mr. Mulcair is probably just as coldly calculating as our divisive and un-Canadian prime minister.

For this reason, western Canada’s current crop of parochial Conservative leaders – and that includes the sanctimonious Mr. Harper – really ought to think carefully about how their hysterical McCarthyism is going to go over in what they privately think of as the cheap seats of Confederation.

As Norman Spector – the “steely political insider” who was once chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney and holder of several other illustrious positions, and who is now one of Canada’s Top Tweetersshrewdly observed last month in the Vancouver Sun: “To prevent Harper from forming another majority government, Mulcair must break the coalition between Ontario and the West that the Conservatives fashioned in May 2011. To become prime minister, Mulcair must create a coalition of his own. …

“He will invite Quebecers to join with ‘progressives’ across Canada to help replace the Conservative government they have come to revile. And he will focus on re-creating the coalition with Ontario that has governed Canada for most of our history, while not giving up on the prospect of winning more seats in B.C. and Manitoba.”

Note which western provinces are not on the old civil-service slasher’s list – the ones that benefit most from the conditions that are causing our national outbreak of Dutch Disease and which are currently led by petrocrats hostile both to increased Canadian control of the oil patch and to policies that would help restore the country’s manufacturing sector to health.

We can expect to hear a lot more of this divisiveness codswollop about Mr. Mulcair over the next couple of years unless Mr. Harper’s advisors manage to come up with something more effective.

But if that’s all the Harperites can think of, they’d best phone their Republican mentors south of the Medicine Line right quickly! Maybe those guys can send out a Tweet demanding to see Mr. Mulcair’s birth certificate or dress up like Paul Revere and light lanterns to warn us Albertans, “One if by land, two if by … uh, land.”

Either that or just hand over the keys to 24 Sussex while they’re still in possession of some tattered remnants of their dignity.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Add ‘Dutch Disease’ to climate change as real phenomena denied by Stephen Harper’s neo-Conmen

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, above right, presents his petroleum-development policy package to members of his oil patch caucus. Industry-financed Western politicians may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: the real Mr. Harper and Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

If the Alberta and federal governments’ mismanagement of oil sands development were not so clear and their defence of their policies not so divisive and intellectually dishonest, one could feel a little more sympathy with their foot-stomping and tears of outrage at Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair’s diagnosis Canada suffers from “Dutch Disease.”

You could argue that the dose of Dutch Disease Canada has caught isn’t very serious, for example, or claim different economic factors are involved in other regions’ problems. But it’s pretty hard for anyone to make a serious case Canada’s currency has not been driven upward to some degree by the West’s bitumen boom or that our muscular petro-Loonie isn’t having some economic side-effects in other parts of the country.

Indeed, the Globe and Mail revealed yesterday that researchers contracted by Industry Canada concluded “a third or more of job losses in Canada’s manufacturing sector can be attributed to resource-driven currency appreciation.”

And this isn’t just major unionized manufacturing companies we’re talking about here – which the Harper Conservatives may have ideological reasons for wanting to weaken. Another report cited by the Globe, an attempt to debunk the Dutch Disease thesis by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, suggests the damage is mostly being done to “small, labour-intensive industries such as textiles and apparel.”

Economist Jim Stanford characterizes these hysterical attacks on the patriotism of anyone who dares suggest there may be two sides to the bitumen development coin as “Energy McCarthyism” by Conservative oil patch politicians like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

This is true enough, although the tactic is hardly performing up to its users’ expectations. From the perspective of most Canadian voters, it may not amount to much more than confirmation the Conservatives of the West are the crybabies of Confederation.

It is certainly not true – as the Globe and Mail stated as if it were unquestioned fact – that there’s a battle brewing between Mr. Mulcair and the Western provinces.

Excuse me! A lot of us out here in the West agree with Mr. Mulcair’s analysis – both of the economic effects of an overvalued petro-Loonie and the need to ensure any benefit analysis of bitumen extraction includes the costs of putting carbon inputs into the atmosphere, polluting and using up Alberta’s water, and cleaning up the mess after the foreign oil companies have taken their profits and gone home.

Furthermore, we share the suspicion that many of the economic symptoms of western bitumen development could be ameliorated by more Canadian control of the oil industry and domestic development of the downstream industry – not the 71-per-cent sellout of oil sands production supported by the fake-patriot Mr. Harper.

Like Mr. Mulcair, we’re not opposed to bitumen development and we’re not from the greenest fringe of the environmental movement. But we are, also like Mr. Mulcair, in favour of environmental sanity and putting the interests of Canadians first.

So this is not a fight between all of us here in the West and the leader of the Opposition. Au contraire!

And you can count on it that Mr. Mulcair’s arguments resonate powerfully in other parts of the country, or the federal Conservative reaction in particular would have been swifter and more vicious than the muted and hesitant efforts to date.

You have to know these guys are looking to unleash a million oil-drums of slime onto Mr. Mulcair – that’s their style. If they haven’t yet done so on this issue, it’s because their polling tells them the Opposition leader’s message resonates with many voters in many places.

This presumably is also why they’re not screeching about NDP being tax and spend socialists for advocating a sane taxation policy – because lots of recent polling has shown that a majority of Canadians are “tax-and-spend socialists” by that definition too.

The IRPP report, for example, sensibly argues that since resources constitutionally belong to the provinces, the federal government should treat Canada’s Dutch Disease symptoms by using “additional federal tax revenues stemming from natural resource booms to invest in infrastructural and other activities that bolster the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector as a whole.”

This, presumably, is precisely where Mr. Mulcair is heading with this debate. It is an argument that is bound to be persuasive to a large number of Canadians, including many of us here in the West. It is equally certain to be anathema to neo-Conservatives like our prime minister, his party, his “ethical oil” Astroturf shills and the significantly under-taxed foreign petroleum corporations that bankroll them all.

It is typical of the tactics of the Harper Conservatives to use wedge issues to intentionally divide Canadians along regional lines for electoral advantage, as they did cynically and openly in the long-gun gun registry debate, and then to disingenuously attribute the same strategy to their opponents.

It is ironic in the extreme that these professional climate-change deniers attack Mr. Mulcair as “ill-informed” and “foolish” when their own researchers and common-sense observation confirm his basic thesis.

That said, one feels that Mr. Mulcair and the Opposition are up to this debate and that these tactics will not go well for Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Opportunistic Conservative attack on green charities highlights tax abuses by Tory cronies

Charity: Right-wing think tanks and Ducks Unlimited are most certainly not exactly as illustrated. Below: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea.

Supporters of the Harper Government’s campaign to use tax laws to de-fund its opponents need to be careful what they wish for. They might just get it!

Consider Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent reflexive attacks on the environmental charities that dared to oppose the petrochemical pipeline projects desired by the Conservative Party’s energy industry financiers.

Mr. Harper spotted a momentary advantage in squawking about the fact some of these charities had received donations from abroad – never mind that this activity is both perfectly legal and quite common – but forgot in his enthusiasm for the first available cheap shot where a lot of his own favourite political charities’ money comes from.

What’s more, when Tory insiders hatched a plan to use the Canada Revenue Agency to put environmental charities out of business for engaging in too much political activity, they momentarily forgot that some of the malignant market fundamentalist think tanks they rely on for intellectual succour have been getting away with much worse.

Moreover, they were so noisy about it that even the normally compliant corporate media is starting to shine a spotlight on the activities of charities the Harperites never intended to pay any attention to whatsoever.

And these guys are supposed to be the Big Schemers of Canadian politics! Has it occurred to anyone that, until now, they looked good only because they were facing an opposition that wasn’t all that good at its job or particularly committed to it? No wonder the NDP under Thomas Mulcair has been edging past them in the polls despite their hysterical response to his factual observation that our pumped-up petro-Loonie is hurting the economy in other parts of the country.

Well, whatever. When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea limply asserted not so long ago that tax laws apply to everybody – apparently meaning this as some kind of a shot at environmental groups with charitable status – a lot of Canadians were thinking, “by God, they’d better!”

The question of U.S. funding for charities will likely go away quickly enough, since it’s legal anyway and an analysis by the Canadian Press has now revealed only one of the Top Ten charities significantly funded by foreigners can be defined as a conservation group. That group was Ducks Unlimited, moreover, which is not the kind of environmental charity the Conservatives had in mind when they started spewing their aggressive anti-green propaganda.

Nos. 1 and 2 for foreign donations were CARE Canada and World Vision Canada, groups whose supporters will speak up if the Harper Conservatives’ loose lips start discouraging Canadians to donate to them.

Moreover, screeching about this kind of stuff tends to draw attention to the fact that more than two-thirds of Alberta’s oil sands production is owned by foreign operators, who send their profits directly out of the country and leave Canadians to pay for cleaning up the mess.

Meanwhile, the question of organizations with charitable status operating in violation of the Canada Revenue Agency’s limits on political activities is becoming more interesting.

For example, it was recently reported on the Internet – though not in the mainstream media, interestingly – that a registered charity called Physicians for Nuclear Sanity, which opposes nuclear proliferation, had been informed by the CRA that it is losing its charitable status for engaging in too much political activity. CRA told PNS that “promotion of nuclear disarmament” was considered to be an unstated political activity.

Now, in fairness to the Harperites, this investigation began when the Liberals were still in power – no doubt because certain foreign friends of most Canadian political parties are hostile to the idea of giving up their country’s nuclear weapons, especially when they haven’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, however, the Fraser Institute, which purports to be a research “think tank” but is nothing more than a well-heeled boiler room for far-right political propaganda funded by corporations to the tune of $11 million a year, continues to break CRA’s reporting rules with impunity.

In addition to taking foreign cash directly from the hands of the New York-based oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, the men behind the Astroturf Tea Party, and much more laundered through the Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. corporations, the Fraser Institute also operates openly in violation of the CRA’s rules.

This is because, despite being limited to spending only 12 per cent of the funds it raises through charity on political activities, essentially 100 per cent of the Fraser Institute’s activities meet the CRA’s definition of political.

Moreover, regardless of the percentage of Fraser Institute activities that breach the rules, which is admittedly debatable, some of them self-evidently meet the CRA’s definition of political. Yet in each year between 2000 and 2010 the Fraser Institute reported in its annual income statement to the CRA that it had engaged in no activities that met the CRA’s broad definition of political activities.

This is plainly outrageous and it will require Mr. Flaherty, Ms. Shea and the anonymous and supposedly non-political enforcers at the CRA to twist themselves into pretzels to stick to their assertion that Canada’s tax laws apply equally to everyone.

The point is that all this and much more is likely to come out into the light of day now, thanks to Mr. Harper’s ill-considered and opportunistic attack on the charities that courageously spoke up about his government’s disgraceful environmental record.

It will be quite reasonable of Canadians to demand that their government prove that we are still a society of laws and enforce these rules equally, and to turn to a party that’s prepared to do so if the Conservatives won’t.

It’s going to be very hard for the Harperites to put this particular gooey blob of toothpaste back into the tube.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Rx for high Alberta health care costs: Not what the doctors ordered!

Alberta ponders how to increase physician productivity – house calls? Below: Health Minister Fred Horne, Alberta Medical Association President Linda Slocombe.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne’s musings he just might join Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in declaring war on physicians’ fees is proof the chickens continue to come home to roost for those foolish enough to assume the polls were right and the Wildrose Party would win the April 23 Alberta election.

It was journalists, bloggers, pollsters and certain far-right politicians who had to eat crow instead of chicken after last month’s epic polling fail, but it may turn out as the henhouse dust settles it was another class of customer entirely who really has to pay for this historic miscalculation.

At any rate, in the lead-up to the 2012 provincial election, the province’s most powerful labour union – the Alberta Medical Association, whose 7,200 members are budgeted to collect nearly $3.5 billion in “compensation and development” in Alberta’s 2012-13 budget – did no favours for the then-still-shaky Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Alison Redford.

Who can forget the docs’ repeated calls for a judge-led inquiry into physician intimidation in Alberta’s health care system even as it became excruciatingly uncomfortable for the Redford Government when the far-right Wildrose Party seemed to be rolling into power?

The physicians’ union – once virtually an official branch of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, as Ms. Redford’s party is officially known – jumped onto that bandwagon with enthusiasm.

There was that expensive – and possibly illegal – AMA newspaper advertising campaign, designed to embarrass Ms. Redford’s Tories in the weeks leading up to voting day, no doubt prompted by dreams of a profitable new world of privatized medical services.

Then came AMA President Dr. Linda Slocombe’s drop-dead letter to Elections Alberta, telling the agency the union’s Board of Directors would be proceeding with the campaign to hold the government to account for such things as intimidation in the heath care system, availability of family physicians and access to health care information.

There are times when this kind of thing looks courageous, but one of them is not when everyone assumes the party you’re attacking is going to lose office anyway and its leader may not even hang onto her own Legislative seat.

Like lots of well-paced groups in Alberta who thought it wouldn’t hurt to be on the right side of a new Wildrose government, this must have seemed to the AMA like a good idea at the time. “We view it as a legitimate expression of free speech,” Dr. Slocombe told a Calgary Herald reporter at the time. “The AMA is a non-partisan organization and we’re trying to put health care first.”

Well, you know what, that’s not likely the way they’re going to remember those ads nowadays in the office of the premier – who happens to still be Alison Redford, Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

So along comes Mr. McGuinty, Ms. Redford’s counterpart in the cash-strapped province of Ontario who has also recently come through a stressful election campaign, with a call to other provinces to form a united front on how much Canadians’ provincial public health care systems are prepared to pay their docs. (Which right now is about 20 per cent of the total health budget, in Alberta’s case.) He’s thinking, presumably, that they can’t all pack up and move to the United States.

And, guess what, Mr. Horne was right in there – if not quite “ready, aye, ready,” at least prepared to talk about it.

Now, as the Herald reported yesterday, Alberta’s signed a two-year deal with the docs, retroactive to last year, to raise their fees by 2.5 per cent a year. After that, though, it sounds like all bets are off. Or, as Mr. Horne put it: “That said, it’s a short-term agreement. We have to be discussing these things.” (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Horne’s comments were nuanced, naturally, as befits the man’s style. But between the lines it’s pretty clear Alberta will be coming after the docs both for a slowdown in fee increases and increases in their productivity – or what more conventional, and weaker, trade unions might call a “speed-up.”

The health critic for the Wildrose Party – which normally calls for less spending cuts on everything except tax breaks for billionaires and oil companies – was quick to defend physicians’ high salaries. But the degree of sympathy from Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth (margin of victory: 38 votes) is probably a lot less valuable to the AMA than it might have seemed before it turned out the main Opposition party would only have 17 MLAs.

Physicians’ organizations were quick to squawk too, with the Canadian Medical Association protesting that thoughts of adopting “a broken model that excludes true collaboration are wrong-headed.” True enough, but where are these guys when a regular trade union is getting its chops busted?

Don’t expect Mr. Horne to go after Alberta’s doctors quite as aggressively as Mr. McGuinty might like. The AMA is still the most effective union in the province – right up there with the Alberta Bar Association and the NHL Players Association – and physicians and Progressive Conservatives continue to have class interest and economic worldview in common.

Still, given what happened not so long ago, Mr. Horne and Ms. Redford may well conclude that a nice sharp crack across the doctors’ knuckles early in the government’s mandate might have a salutary effect the next time there’s a tightly contested provincial election on the horizon.

The AMA might also want to consider just quietly settling their dispute with Elections Alberta when it comes up, rather than fighting it all the way to the Supreme Court or whatever it was they had in mind back in those heady days of April.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.