Archive for June, 2012

A little nugget from the past: Wildrose candidate’s abortion position

A scene from the Lethbridge-West riding, as seen by the Wildrose Party. Below: Lethbridge-West candidate Kevin Kinahan.

During the campaign leading up to the recent Alberta provincial election, the website of Lethbridge-West Wildrose Party candidate Kevin Kinahan had two sections outlining his perspective on the party’s health care policy – one was linked to his home page with no comment on abortion, a second unlinked page included a statement suggesting abortion services should no longer be funded.

Both pages remained online last night.

Mr. Kinahan’s official health policy page, which is linked to his home page, contains the following statement: “…I would like to see a system where funding follows the patient and where we can make better use of specialized clinics. Having publically (sic) funded, universal access to specialized clinics can only help in easing the burden on our overloaded system. We would always stay in control of the system.”

Elsewhere on the same site, however, a nearly identical page reads as follows: “…I would like to see a system where funding follows the patient and where we can make better use of specialized clinics. Having publically (sic) funded, universal access to specialized clinics can only help in easing the burden on our overloaded system. We would always stay in control of the system. We can reduce some of the expenses in the system by de-funding unnecessary medical procedures, including abortions.”

The second page, while not linked to the site’s homepage, can easily be found with a Google search.

With the thought that either or both pages may not remain online forever, I have provided a link to a screen shot of Mr. Kinahan’s “official” page here, and of the unlinked page containing the abortion reference here.

Throughout the campaign, the highly divisive issue of abortion was a potential time bomb waiting to go off for the Wildrose Party. It reared its head often enough that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith issued a statement insisting her party “has absolutely no intentions of legislating on abortion, and that includes delisting.”

The short press release also tried to sidestep the party’s position on so-called citizen initiatives, which could be used to try to impose anti-abortion laws by referendum. “Citizen initiative is and has always been an important part of the Wildrose platform,” Ms. Smith said then. “However, any initiative must first be vetted by a federally appointed judge to determine whether or not it is constitutional.”

Media coverage at the time described Ms. Smith as dodging questions about her views on delisting, and Mr. Kinahan was criticized for failing to show up at a forum sponsored by a group representing gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens. At the time, Mr. Kinahan dismissed the criticism as ridiculous and explained his absence as “simply a scheduling conflict on that date.”

It would be pointless to speculate on why Mr. Kinahan, a Coaldale resident who is principal of a Catholic high school in nearby Taber and a former negotiating sub-committee representative for the Alberta Teachers Association, has two different pages on health policy on his website.

The page with the “de-funding” reference may simply have been a draft that was not deleted. Whatever the reason, however, it indicates this particular candidate’s position on the controversial issue.

The Wildrose Party’s position on abortion and several similar issues was carefully phrased to send a reassuring message to the general public but to acknowledge the party’s awareness of the issue to hard-core social conservatives who were among the party’s strongest supporters. Repeatedly, the party’s precisely worded policy statements left the door ajar to policy directions that would have been strongly opposed by most voters.

This is a strategy that has been used effectively for years by far-right politicians in the United States, and it should not surprise us that parties like the Wildrose in Alberta and the so-called Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have adopted many of the same techniques.

Notwithstanding Ms. Smith’s carefully phrased denial and her statements that she personally supported choice on abortion, it is said here that Mr. Kinahan’s unlinked statement on the policy of cutting public funds for abortion services reflected the true policy intentions of the Wildrose Party.

Certainly it is entirely consistent with Mr. Kinahan’s sincere views expressed on his unlinked web page and Ms. Smith’s market-fundamentalist desire, notwithstanding her stated support for choice on abortion, to take many medical services out of the public system and hand them to for-profit private operators.

On election night, Mr. Kinahan was defeated by Progressive Conservative candidate Greg Weadick and also outpolled by New Democrat Shannon Phillips.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

With Alberta’s budget all but balanced, where’s Ted Morton now that we don’t need him?

Cock of the walk: Everybody wanted to talk to Ted Morton on June 26, 2011. His message to then-premier Ed Stelmach: Balance the budget or else. (Calgary Herald photo.) Below: Alison Redford, Rob Anderson.

Can it be less than two years since Ted Morton, then Alberta’s steely-eyed finance minister and hard-right fiscal hawk, was poised to become premier himself?

Readers with long memories will recall how Dr. Morton had in January 2011 just stuck the knife into then-premier Ed Stelmach. Dr. Morton wanted a painfully instant balanced budget that Mr. Stelmach was too smart or too humane to accept. When he didn’t get his way, he quit – precipitating the crisis that led to Mr. Stelmach’s resignation.

Oh how the winds of change were blowing then! Dr. Morton was The Man, the cock of the walk, the tight-fisted front-runner in the then-nascent Progressive Conservative leadership race. He was the self-described leftists’ nightmare, an American-born “right-winger with a PhD” – his thesis dissertation in “political economy” assailing the U.S. Supreme Court for its “confused understanding of the relationship between sexual equality and the family.” He was the guy who as soon as he was in the top job would reunite the PCs and the Wildrose Party into a neo-Con monolith that would turn the screws on Alberta till the pips squeaked!

With Dr. Morton ensconced in Edmonton, and his fellow Firewall Manifesto signer Stephen Harper entrenched at 24 Sussex, well, things were gonna move so far to the right you wouldn’t recognize them all over again!

Now it’s June 2012. Alberta has a new premier, its budget is balanced (or, “essentially balanced” as the finance minister explained yesterday), and happy days are here again, just as Dr. Morton promised they would be.

The only thing is, the premier is Alison Redford – avatar of the Red Tory wing of the PC Party who back in January 2011 wasn’t even considered an also-ran by the provincial commentariat. Doug Horner, another leadership candidate whom those supportin’ Morton disparaged as even redder than Redford, is now the finance minister. And balancing the budget barely required a single howl of pain!

The annual financial statements published by the Redford Government yesterday show the province had only a $23-million (that’s million, with an M) deficit last year, way down from the $3.4 billion deficit predicted in the spring of 2011.

This just isn’t the way the narrative – carefully crafted by the skilful mythmakers of the right – was supposed to unfold. Who could have predicted this? (I mean, other than me.)

Once Dr. Morton was out of the leadership race, the storyline of the majority of pundits, pollsters, think-tankers, neo-Con federal politicians and even a few gullible bloggers quickly changed direction.

This time Danielle Smith’s right-fringe Wildrose Party – Dr. Morton has been accurately described as its “intellectual godfather” – was said with one voice to be poised to sweep Ms. Redford and her PCs from power. Once again, Albertans were about to hear the satisfactory sound of pips squeaking, and possibly some civil servants too.

But that didn’t happen either. And, oh, how the mighty have fallen! There was a little miracle on the Prairies, but not one the Fraser Institute can celebrate with any enthusiasm. On election night 2012, April 23, the Wildrose Party didn’t have as much to celebrate as it had hoped. But it did knock off Dr. Morton.

How could this have happened – other than Ms. Redford having turned out to be the sharpest knife in Mr. Stelmach’s kitchen cabinet, running a brilliant leadership campaign followed by an election campaign that was either brilliant too or the closest run thing since the Battle of Waterloo?

The way Mr. Horner explained it yesterday, the government managed to bring in $3.6 billion more revenue than it expected, mostly from the province’s booming natural resources sector.

This makes the Wildrose Party’s complaints last week that the province is in big, big trouble and really ought to be squeezing the juice out of the public service sound plain silly. Wildrosers have been reduced to complaining that the government’s predictions are too optimistic, which, face it, wouldn’t make voters lose much sleep even if there were an election any time soon. And there isn’t.

Seeing as accounting is more art than science, the only mystery about yesterday’s announcement is why the government reported a statistically meaningless $23-million deficit at all, instead of just declaring the budget balanced. This gave Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson the opportunity to grump: “It shows that you can win the Lotto 6/49 and still not balance your budget.”

The answer, of course, is that Ms. Redford will hold off the glorious balanced budget announcement for a couple of years, when she does have the prospect of an election breathing down her neck again. Until then, as NDP leader Brian Mason expressed it yesterday, “the government’s got horseshoes in their pants.”

But if Ms. Redford and her colleagues have horseshoes in their pants, someone else doesn’t. That’d be Ted Morton.

There may be no place he’d rather call home than Alberta, but expect this far-right fiscal hawk to fly away greener pastures in the land of his birth, perhaps at some think tank where he can explain to his heart’s content why his new audience just can’t afford good public services until the budget has been balanced.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Budget crisis? Civil service raises? Go pop a Valium, Smith!

Hey Marge! Danielle Smith says there’s a budget crisis and this is no time to be giving raises to civil servants! Marge? Typical Albertans may not be exactly as illustrated this summer. Below: Danielle Smith.

It’s hard to imagine all that many Albertans getting their knickers in a twist at the thought of the province’s 25 most senior civil service managers getting a 4-per-cent pay raise.

This will come as a profound disappointment to the provincial Legislature’s Opposition Wildrose Party. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was squawking just last week about how the timing couldn’t be worse for the managers to get a raise. “… In the middle of a budget crisis … running a deficit … falling oil prices …” Yadda-yadda.

Budget crisis? What budget crisis?

Folks out here in Alberta seem to be thinking maybe there’s a budget crisis somewhere – Greece possibly, or Portugal, maybe even Stephen Harper’s Ottawa – but there sure as heck isn’t one in Edmonton, Calgary or Grande Prairie!

Who knows? Maybe there is a budget crisis here in Alberta, like Ms. Smith would sure like us to be panicking about. But you wouldn’t know it from the mood of the place on these post-summer-solstice evenings, with the air over Alberta redolent with barbecue smoke and plenty of giant RVs trundling down the highways notwithstanding gas prices edging ever closer to $1.14 a litre in a few locations ($1.08.9 in my neighbourhood).

So, maybe times aren’t good like the Wildrose Party would have us believe, but they sure as heck seem good!

Presumably Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford’s Cabinet knew what they were doing when they chose such a moment to end what’s left of the wage freeze former PC premier Ed Stelmach imposed on civil service managers in a moment of panic back in 2009. You hardly had to be Machiavelli to figure out that no one except the Opposition Leader was going to get all that exercised about the state of the province’s finances this summer.

Plus, it was clever of the government to tie the top officials’ raises to the most recent scheduled percentage pay increase in the government’s contract with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents the province’s 20,000 rank-and-file civil servants.

That’s because most Albertans understand that in a place and time where it’s not news to hear of kids fresh out of high school earning six-figure salaries in the oil patch, most ordinary civil servants do useful work and aren’t paid all that much.

What’s more it was the right wing, if not necessarily the public-service-hating Wildrose Party, that perpetuated the myth we have to pay high salaries to public sector managers to get the very best people to do the work.

The government’s mid-level managers, by the way, already got their raises, and apparently no one noticed – except, presumably, their spouses. Like the Top 25, their raises are retroactive to April, when the AUPE pay increase kicked in.

This will just make the Wildrose Party all the madder, of course, because on principle they don’t think there’s anything governments should do except sign trade agreements that tie the hands of future governments, hire a few cops and get on with the important business of privatizing everything. OK, I’m exaggerating a little … maybe

Pretty clearly, though, this issue isn’t working for them. At any rate, alert readers will recall that not so very long ago at all the media was telling us how the Wildrose Party was going to be the government of Alberta and, oh boy, was the blood ever going to flow then!

Well, guess what? Ordinary public employees – the ones who aren’t paid all that well – apparently do pay attention. What’s more, it turns out they get out and vote, and so do their partners and children, neighbours and quite a few of the people they buy stuff from too. So in the April 23 Alberta election, however they voted, they sure as heck didn’t vote for Ms. Smith and the Wildrose Party in any significant numbers.

Just the same, just in case Ms. Smith managed to get any traction with the issue thanks to a still-sympathetic media, Ms. Redford’s Tories released the news just before last weekend started, and made sure no one elected was around to comment on it. By the time the weekend was over, so was the issue. By yesterday it had completely dropped off the edge of the earth – which is reputed to be about 16 kilometres east of the Saskatchewan border.

Even the normally relentless Canadian Taxpayers Federation seemed to get this. Awwww, said their Alberta spokesperson Scott Hennig, the Energizer Bunny of right wing nostrums, it “won’t break the bank.”

All this is a pity of sorts, because while Ms. Smith misjudged the public’s engagement with her tiresome budget scare tactics, she was right about one thing. A case can be made that the very highest levels of Alberta’s public service are overpaid. It’s far from clear that you couldn’t get fine work from top civil service managers paid less than the $275,159 they will now be paid.

But we’re talking about deputy ministers and their equivalents here – literally only 25 people in the entire provincial public service.

So the prevailing mood in Alberta this summer seems to be: What’s the big deal? Go pop a Valium, Smith!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Can one old man with a typewriter really have Fox News North on the ropes?

The Source, With David Climenhaga: Here I am on the set of my new Fox News North TV show with two polite young people from the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties to whom I’m about to be rude. Below: Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant; Senator Patrick Brazeau.

Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant is spending so much time complaining about me on national television these days they ought to call his show The Source, with David Climenhaga.

If this keeps up it’ll go to my head!

Apparently all on my own I pose an existential threat to the mighty Sun News Network, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s semi-official and ideologically perfect state broadcaster, because … what? … I think they ought to live up to certain minimal standards of decorum that they agreed upon to get their license seeing as we collectively own the airwaves from which they’re profiting.

At any rate, according to Mr. Levant, I’m a bad person because I want to restrict his fundamental Charter-protected right to say “f**k your mother” to anyone he pleases over the public airwaves and otherwise abuse people he disagrees with in the coarsest terms.

Well, excuse me!

On Monday night Mr. Levant devoted interminable minutes on his national TV program to assailing me for complaining to the toothless Canadian Broadcast Standards Council about his potty mouth, which he has elevated to a question of Great Constitutional Principle.

In the process, Mr. Levant posted about a dozen photos of me (all but one of them nice ones, thanks very much) that he apparently found on the Internet. Most of them came from my Facebook page by the look of it, posted there in moments of vanity that I have succumbed to over the years. This is an important point, which I will return to in a moment.

But Mr. Levant, who calls himself a journalist and repeatedly knocks me for not living up to journalistic standards, whatever they are, doesn’t seem to do so well in that department himself.

In his first broadside against me, on June 13, he accused me of being a propagandist for the Alberta Federation of Labour. To borrow a phrase that would have been familiar to the late U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, beloved icon of the Canadian right, “I am not now nor have I ever been an employee of the Alberta Federation of Labour.”

On Monday, Sun News Network – which boasts that it offers “straight talk” and “hard news” – said I was the Director of the Alberta Union of Public Employees. Never mind that there is no Alberta Union of Public Employees, that the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has no employee with the title of director, and that I haven’t worked at AUPE for more than a year. In addition, Mr. Levant promoted me to the rank of “union boss” – I only wish!

Well, I do work somewhere. I’ll leave it to Sun News Network’s team of crack researchers to figure out where. Third time’s the charm!

As for my need to adhere to journalistic principles, seeing as I’m a former journalist, a point Mr. Levant keeps harping on for some reason, arguably I do observe them. Leastways, it would be completely reasonable to say I do a better job at being fair to the people I criticize than Mr. Levant does. Unlike him, I do not constantly claim to be a journalist. (By the way, I am a former Baptist too. Am I obligated to promote Baptist doctrine on my blog as well, I wonder?)

On the contrary, I am one opinionated 60-year-old guy with a one of those electronic typewriter-computational-gizmos and a personal blog that’s read by a few thousand people. I left journalism when I left the Calgary Herald – from which I was not fired, by the way, notwithstanding Mr. Levant’s on-air claim that I was. The point of this blog is to express my own views, and it’s a great joy to me that so many people seem to agree with them and enjoy reading my posts.

Another of Mr. Levant’s knocks against me is that I wouldn’t appear on his program to argue with him, and that – imagine this! – I complained to the Broadcast Standards Council about his appalling language instead of taking it up personally with him. From this he concludes that I don’t believe in debate.

Oh, give me a break! I think it is quite fair to say that Mr. Levant’s on-air style is that of a bully and a boor. This is apparent to anyone with time to waste watching his program. His disgraceful on-air treatment of CBSC panel member Troy Reeb on Monday night is an excellent example.

Good for Mr. Reeb for trying to make his points in the face of Mr. Levant’s constant interruptions and vituperation, but why would I subject myself to this when I am guaranteed to lose the argument because Mr. Levant controls the levers and gets to edit the tapes?

Mr. Levant’s on-line supporters, of whom there are several, may accuse me of cowardice, but I can assure you I am not going to lend my time or credibility to this on-air bully’s histrionics.

Speaking of those supporters, here is the sort of thing they have to say. This anonymous comment appeared on my blog yesterday: “You have a problem with Ezra, deal with him directly. Quit acting like a little pansy and running off to Daddy to deal with your issues. Some journalist you are. Maybe if you had been in a fist fight or two growing up you wouldn’t be such a eunuch now.”

Actually, I am a third-degree black belt in Uechi-ryu karate and I have been in a fistfight or two – although it fair to say that, possibly like the apparently typically foul-mouthed Tory, Senator Patrick Brazeau, I have lost more than I have won.

While they add a few flourishes, this writer’s points reflect Mr. Levant’s arguments.

Which brings us back to the matter of those photos. What was Sun News Network’s purpose in running so many pictures of the sole private citizen identified as standing up and criticizing Mr. Levant’s appalling commentary?

Moreover, why did Mr. Levant quote on the air from my submission to the CBSC – taking my arguments, it is said here, out of context with the effect they appeared weaker than they are? Shouldn’t a citizen who writes a letter to an organization that offers to consider and rule on complaints about broadcasters have a reasonable expectation his or her statement will not be dissected and ridiculed before a national audience by the person he or she was complaining about?

None of us can know for certain what led to these actions by Mr. Levant and Sun News Network. But it cannot be denied they have the effect of bullying citizens who dare to criticize them through the paltry mechanisms available for that purpose, and of discouraging other citizens from doing the same thing. This is another reason why regulation of this type must be handled by a public agency with enforcement powers.

Indeed, reasonable people considering making a complaint to the CBSC are now quite right to be concerned about this, given the abusive and intimidating tone typical of some of Mr. Levant’s supporters.

When Sun News Network first appeared on the scene, smiled upon by Mr. Harper and promoted by a former senior member of his political staff, Canadians were warned that it would become “Fox News North,” paid for by Canadian TV viewers. These warnings were not heeded. Arguably, though, this is exactly what has happened – except, if anything, the reference does a considerable injustice to Fox News, which is a model journalistic citizen by comparison.

All this said, the closing moments of Mr. Levant’s program had me laughing out loud, as he pleaded with his supporters to write the prime minister to demand an end to all regulation of on-air content in the name of “freedom.” I suppose a few of them may, although I suspect that writing more than 140 characters is beyond the capabilities of many.

Can it really be that one old man with a typewriter has Fox News North on the ropes?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tory Brent Rathgeber knocks cabinet perks: Maverick move or just maverick shtick?

Your favourite blogger, with Brent Rathgeber, the original blogging Tory.

What’s up with Brent Rathgeber? Specifically, is he a maverick, or is he just doing the maverick shtick?

Mr. Rathgeber, as is well known to readers of this blog, is the Member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert, and he is surely Parliament’s best-read blogger. As such, this makes him the country’s senior “Blogging Tory,” or, at least the only one with seat in the House of Commons. Of course, it also makes him my representative in the government of Canada, whether I like it or not.

Earlier today, Mr. Rathgeber posted an item on his blog that does something, well, something Conservative MPs just don’t do.

He criticized one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet members. But that’s not such a big deal, because the minister in question was the unfortunate Bev Oda, she of the $16 glass of orange juice and the notorious hotel upgrade. As everyone in Canada seems to be quite confident, Ms. Oda is going to get the old skideroo as soon as the prime minister next reshuffles his cabinet, an event widely believed to be soon.

More interestingly, Mr. Rathgeber (very mildly) criticized the rest of Mr. Harper’s cabinet, of which Mr. Rathgeber is likely never to be a member owing to the surfeit of Conservative MPs from this corner of Canada, for their collective $600,000 limo drivers’ overtime bill. (Well, they’ve got to wait for you, for heaven’s sake!)

The mainstream media made a bigger thing out of this than the mild criticism in the blog would seem to warrant. “A Western Canadian Conservative MP went public Tuesday to blast the ‘egregious’ waste of tax dollars by Harper government cabinet ministers, saying ministers were showing an attraction to ‘opulence’ and ‘extravagance’ that is alien to the values of ordinary Canadians,” panted a drivellist for the Vancouver Sun.

Still, Prime Minister Harper is notoriously thin-skinned about this kind of thing, and that presumably would be especially so if, as in this case, his MP appeared to have found inspiration in an old NDP press release.

Which leave the fundamental question about this story unanswered: Is Mr. Rathgeber, hitherto best known for his opinion the CBC should be run as a charity, really out there in maverick territory, is he safely within the corral helping one of the prime minister’s public relations schemes to unfold?

He did write, it cannot be denied: “Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline such extravagance must be eliminated.”

The auguries are mixed. The fact the post there at all suggests it has the OK from on high. Plus, after all, someone has to make the case for sending Ms. Oda back to the back of the backbenches.

On the other hand, the fact Mr. Rathgeber unexpectedly failed to put in an appearance at an Edmonton studio for a segment on his blog post on journalist Don Martin’s CTV show Power Play suggests someone told him to zip his lips, and quickly.

Personally, I lean toward the idea Mr. Rathgeber’s slip was no slip at all, and had the approval from the highest levels. Maybe we’ll know tomorrow – if the post is still there and Mr. Rathgeber is still in the Conservative caucus.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

How far will Prime Minister Stephen Harper go with separatists to hang onto power?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, with Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois … or something very much like that. The politicians pictured above may not be exactly as illustrated in real life. Below: Thomas Mulcair, Jack Layton.

Now that our sullen neo-conservative prime minister is on speaking terms once again with former PM Brian Mulroney – in desperate hopes of staving off an eventual electoral disaster in Quebec at the hands of the federalist NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair – one wonders how long it will be before the Harper Government sits down to sup with separatists.

Sure enough, it was only a few hours after Mr. Harper’s meeting with Mr. Mulroney that Industry Minister Christian Paradis, the PM’s “Quebec lieutenant,” had proclaimed a rapprochement between the Harper Conservatives and the separatist Parti Quebecois. Details, it is reported, will follow.

What a catastrophe from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s perspective that he must eventually face an opponent who is both immensely popular in Quebec and a demonstrably a committed federalist!

Indeed, it can be persuasively argued that Mr. Mulcair is a much better federalist than Mr. Harper. Mr. Mulcair, after all, took a chance on the federal NDP at time when being anything but a sovereignist in Quebec looked like a recipe for electoral suicide. Mr. Harper is well known as a signatory to a sovereignist screed in Alberta that refuses to go peaceably down the Memory Hole, despite the best efforts of the Conservative media establishment here and elsewhere.

So now Mr. Harper, after long rejecting Mr. Mulroney as a political embarrassment over the Airbus Affair, has come hat in hand to his elder for some tips on how to make Quebec behave itself.

And one of the key secrets to Mr. Mulroney’s electoral success, as is well known, was his willingness to welcome Quebec nationalists into the federal Conservative fold.

This is not to suggest that Mr. Mulroney was making common cause with the separatist movement in Quebec for cynical reasons. On the contrary, the Conservative apologist Robert Fulford likely had it right when he stated that Mr. Mulroney “set out to bring permanent internal peace to Canada by dissolving the arguments for separatism.”

This is what drove the genuinely patriotic Mr. Mulroney’s efforts to recognize the reality that Quebec constitutes a “distinct society” within Canada, which culminated in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords that had failed so irrevocably by 1992.

It was English Canada’s deep discomfort with recognizing that reality – with Mr. Mulroney’s vision of Canada as two nations in one country – that provided the wedge for the Reform Party under Preston Manning not only to defeat Mr. Mulroney’s constitutional proposals in a national referendum, but to set up the takeover by the Reform Party of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

There is no little irony in the reality these were the circumstances that allowed the rise of the American-influenced and ideologically fundamentalist wing of Canada’s conservative movement – eventually led by the steely eyed Mr. Harper after Mr. Manning and Stockwell Day proved insufficiently hard edged – to form the government.

And now the grip on the country by Mr. Harper and his fellow ideologues is weakening, in no small part because their neoconservative nostrums are so unconvincing to the people of Quebec.

But if Mr. Mulroney only welcomed Quebec nationalists to get them to become Canadian nationalists, can we trust Mr. Harper to be motivated by the same thing?

This seems unlikely. Mr. Harper’s (neo) Conservative Party, after all, is the one that has been willing to slap Quebec at every turn and on every issue – whether it’s support for the arts, the long-gun registry or military adventures abroad – the better to drive effective electoral wedges within English Canada.

This was the party that was prepared, for example, to scream that former Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the late NDP leader Jack Layton were “selling out to separatists” when they dared in 2008 to talk of a democratic coalition that would depend on votes from the sovereignist Bloc Quebecois, a story that has now been mostly purged from the Internet.

And this was the party whose MPs shouted down Quebec MP Gilles Duceppe, then the leader of the BQ, by singing O Canada when he tried to speak about the coalition in Parliament – a crude riposte that, quite literally, must have been music to the ears of Quebec’s die-hard separatists.

“This deal that the leader of the Liberal Party has made with the separatists is a betrayal of the voters of this country, a betrayal of the best interests of our economy, a betrayal of the best interests of our country, and we will fight it with every means that we have,” said Mr. Harper at the time. …But that was then.

Do you seriously think that facing a popular national NDP leader from Quebec with impeccable federalist credentials, Mr. Harper won’t take greater risks, drive deeper wedges, make more dangerous promises, make deals with anyone, in his efforts to keep his increasingly unpopular government afloat?

Yesterday’s grainy attack ad on Mr. Mulcair – almost a parody of itself – was one part of Mr. Harper’s strategy. Seeking out strange bedfellows is obviously another.

So will Mr. Harper sup with the separatists? It is said here he is bound to. And don’t count on him using a long spoon!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Time to wax philosophical about Ralph Klein and the Order of Canada

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, back in the day. Below: Former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, also back in the day.

Now that the campaign to give the Order of Canada to Ralph Klein has all but met its goal, one wonders when the effort to hang the same gong on Jacques Parizeau will begin? Seriously! The former premier of Quebec meets the essential qualification.

For months now, a relentless campaign has been under way by a group of journalists, sometime Klein caucus mates and political allies, and other loyalists of the former Alberta premier to ensure that Mr. Klein is awarded the country’s highest civilian honour.

Mr. Klein – who is now 70 and was premier from 1992 to 2006 – is seriously ailing and that has added to the pressure not to deny him this award during his lifetime. So Mr. Klein’s supporters have now broken the rules (not that the rules matter very much for the well-connected in the Canada of Prime Minister Stephen Harper) and proclaimed that they have been privately informed the deal is done. It will be announced on or close to Canada Day, they say.

Mr. Klein deserves it, his supporters principally argue, because … because he used to be a premier.

At any rate, that Mr. Klein collected sufficient votes to become premier of Alberta is the foundation of the argument offered at various times by such journalists as Don Martin, Don Braid and the anonymous editorialist of the Edmonton Journal whose opinions have now evaporated from the Internet.

They also note that Mr. Klein, who was an undeniably popular political figure in this province, also balanced the budget, and sometimes they will remember too that he gave all us Alberta citizens enough cash to purchase a Sony Walkman or an iPod!

Understandably, Mr. Klein’s supporters often gloss over some of the more divisive qualities of his time in politics, such as his famous remarks about eastern bums and creeps, made when he was mayor of Calgary in 1988, and his intoxicated late-night visit to a men’s homeless shelter in 2001. Just as understandably, they defend Mr. Klein’s more controversial policies – for example, leaving the provincial health care system in a calamitous shambles that persists to this day – as necessary and laudable.

Now, there was a day when merely having held office as a premier was clearly not sufficient to get someone an Order of Canada. But it would seem by the arguments we have heard over the past year or two and, more importantly that seem to have been heard in Ottawa, that those days are behind us.

Well, so be it! And perhaps Mr. Klein’s supporters have a point when they say arguments he was a knocker-down of institutions rather than a builder-up of them are just sour grapes by people who disagreed with his policies while in office.

Which is why it seems not so outlandish that someone will soon argue that Mr. Parizeau, who managed after all to get elected premier of a majority government in a Canadian province just like Mr. Klein, should be awarded the Order of Canada too!

Thankfully for those here in English Canada likely to fly into a swivet at the thought of such a thing, one has the sense Mr. Parizeau would not be much interested in that particular honour. He has, after all, been declared a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec. (And before you start to sputter and kick, dear readers, remember that our sullen neo-Con prime minister’s newest Quebec advisor, none other that former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, holds the same rank in the same order.)

What’s more – unlike Mr. Parizeau, I guess – when Mr. Klein received a manifesto urging sovereignty-association for Alberta from a gang of dangerous Western separatists, he had the good sense to file it where it belonged, in the trash bucket.

But all this history brings us to a serious point. Perhaps it’s time to recognize what has been obvious all along about this Order of Canada to anyone who has been paying attention – to wit, that it is now and ever shall be essentially political.

To the winners go the spoils and, in an era where conservatives dominate the government, a disproportionate number of conservatives are going to be awarded Orders of Canada. If Mr. Klein gets one too, well, there are certainly worse people who nowadays remain qualified to wear the pin of the Order in their lapel!

So let’s not lose any sleep about this particular award, although we should make darned certain that at least one more former Conservative Alberta premier gets one too. To wit: surely the hapless Ed Stelmach deserves the honour! To him, after all, fell the political risk and the political cost of trying – not always with much success – to straighten out the catastrophic mess Mr. Klein left in Alberta’s health care system, its crumbling infrastructure and its give-away petroleum royalty regime.

While we’re at it, perhaps we should change the rules so that no one who has been awarded an Order of Canada can be stripped of the award – no matter what his or her subsequent sins may be.

Remember Stephen Fonyo, who made a valuable contribution to Canadian life by raising money to fight cancer, which had taken his leg, yet who was stripped of his membership in the Order for flaws not so different from those that bedevilled Mr. Klein.

Mr. Fonyo’s greatest failure, it can be seen now, was not having been the premier of a Canadian province.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Broadcast Standards Council tosses latest Sun News Network vulgarity back to CRTC

Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant assails your blogger for his many ideological imperfections. Great picture! …of me.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has asked the federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to investigate complaints about a June 13 broadcast by Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant.

The CBSC said in a letter to this blogger that it will not itself investigate complaints about Sun News Network’s June 13 episode of Mr. Levant’s program The Source because “the comments in question are about the CBSC and identified individuals who volunteer as our Panel members.”

As a result, the CBSC said, it finds itself in a conflict of interest and is therefore not in a position to deal with complaints arising from the June 13 broadcast. Complaints about the broadcast will be forwarded to the CRTC, the federal agency that oversees the broadcasting and telecommunications industries, the CBSC letter said.

In normal cases, the CRTC refers complaints it receives about the content of television or radio broadcasts to the CSBC, which describes itself on its website as “an independent, non-governmental organization created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to administer standards established by its members, Canada’s private broadcasters.”

On June 13, Sun News Network and Mr. Levant complied with a ruling of the CBSC censuring them for using on the air in 2011 a Spanish profanity universally understood to mean “f**k your mother,” and for clearly identifying the individual at whom Mr. Levant directed this and other insults, by reading a required statement.

The ruling noted that Mr. Levant had made the following remark on the air as part of his Dec. 22, 2011, commentary about a report the Chiquita Brands food company had announced it would avoid using oil from Alberta’s bitumen sands: “Hey you. Yeah you, [name of Chiquita executive]. Chinga tu madre.” Referring to the commentary as “a tirade,” the ruling noted Mr. Levant also said “in a distinctly aggressive tone” that the Chiquita executive was a liar.

Under the terms of Sun News Network’s voluntary membership in the CBSC, the June 13 ruling required the right-wing U.S.-style broadcaster to read on the air a statement that it had breached the CAB’s Code of Ethics in the 2011 broadcast of Mr. Levant’s program. “The program contained a coarse insult directed at a specific named person,” said the statement Sun News Network was required to read. “This violated Clause 6 of the Code.”

But during the June 13 broadcast, in addition to reading the words of the statement required by the CBSC, Mr. Levant repeated the same offensive phrase several times, and harshly criticized the four members of the panel that issued the ruling. (He also criticized this blogger, who had filed one of 22 complaints about Sun News Network’s use of the phrase.)

At various times during the broadcast, Mr. Levant referred to the CBSC as “idiots,” “stupid,” “a group of nobodies,” “the secretive group of censors,” “a kangaroo court,” “busybodies, know-it-alls and snoops,” and “arrogant little bureaucrats.” During the broadcast, he also implied that federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair belonged on a list of enemies of Canada.

Mr. Levant argued, moreover, that “even if I told Chiquita to ‘chinga tu madre’ every day, it’s not against the rules that the censors claim to be following.” Based on this argument, he called the statement Sun News Network was asked to read “a false confession” and “the lie they wanted me to tell.”

Mr. Levant closed his broadcast with the following words, which included a reference to the first names of each of the four panel members: “Hey censors! Yeah, you, Troy, Pip, Lea, Andree, the whole Broadcast Standards Council, Chiquita, ForestEthics. I’ve got a message for ya! ‘Chinga tu madre!’” (Andree Noel, the chair of the panel, is the national chair of the CBSC and a former Quebec regional commissioner of the CRTC.)

On June 20, a lawyer for Quebecor Media informed the CSBC and the 22 complainants in an email that “…the statement was broadcast during The Source on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 and again on Thursday, June 14, 2012. … The two broadcasts of the statement therefore met the requirements for airing the statement set out in the CBSC’s decision.” (Emphasis added.)

As leaders of an organization arguably created for the benefit of its member corporations, the officers of the CBSC must have been gobsmacked by Sun News Network’s response, which was not restricted to Mr. Levant’s remarks. The Sun News website referred to the CSBC as “a kangaroo court manned by Sun News competitors.”

It is easy to infer that the destruction of the CBSC must be Sun News Network’s goal, and it may well succeed with that part of its program.

However, as has been said in this space before, a government agency charged with enforcing broadcast standards is a more appropriate venue for examining questions of this nature than a toothless voluntary organization that, it can be persuasively argued, exists principally to inoculate its members against the possibility of actual regulation being enforced in the interests of Canadians, who own the airwaves from which its member companies generate handsome profits.

But it is not clear if the CRTC today has the will, the regulatory tools or the internal mechanisms to deal with complaints of this nature, a situation that would effectively leave the public’s airwaves in the hands of completely unregulated and clearly irresponsible corporations with an extremist political agenda.

So it needs to be repeated that the line that connects Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his market-fundamentalist Conservative Party of Canada to the foul-mouthed hyper-partisanship of the Sun News Network and its offensive commentators is short and direct, and that they act in the service of common goals.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Be very afraid … Prime Minister Harper wants to woo Quebec!

Yikes! Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper: It’s always dangerous when Conservatives decide to counter threats to national unity. Below. W.L. Mackenzie King.

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

Why should you be afraid, you wonder? It’ll be right there on the front pages of tomorrow’s Alberta newspapers: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is heading to Quebec to, in the words of Postmedia News, “counter a potential threat to national unity.”

Now, it’s never a good thing in this country when Conservatives start messing with the national unity file. Those of us who were around at the time saw what happened when Brian Mulroney succumbed to this temptation – and Mr. Mulroney was reasonably well intentioned, at least as far as Quebec’s role in Confederation went.

But Mr. Harper, it is said here, is not all that well intentioned, and he sure as heck has a tin ear when it comes to what will play in la belle province.

But naturally our dour neo-Con prime minister wants to save his own political skin – what with Thomas Mulcair and the New Democratic Party continuing to hold onto their lead in Quebec public opinion – so this dangerous foray into French-speaking Canada was probably inevitable.

To hear Mr. Harper’s friends tell it, the PM merely has an image problem, and it’s not his fault. He’s practically the next William Lyon Mackenzie King, some of them say, an unloved but effective strategist.

“Party supporters say Quebecers generally agree with the Conservative government’s economic policies, but the problem comes from personal attacks and criticism directed at Harper that rarely draw a response from the government,” intoned the friendly Postmedia stenographer in what’s bound to typical of the coverage of the PM’s upcoming charm offensive – an oxymoron, come to think of it, that’s astonishingly appropriate for what is likely to happen.

But one of those friends had a more revelatory quote about the mood in Quebec: “People hate the guy,” Postmedia quoted a veteran Conservative organizer from Quebec explaining. “They really hate him. They think he’s got horns and a tail and eats babies, and I’m sure Harper has no idea that this is the case.” (Emphasis added.)

Sorry, but his doesn’t sound like Mackenzie King to me. The trouble, from the perspective of the prime minister’s professional spinners, is that it’s what the prime minister actually stands for that really seems to bug Quebeckers.

Remember, Mr. Harper and his coterie are the 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. The arts? Ditto. Afghanistan? Ditto. F-35s? Ditto. The environment? Ditto. Neo-conservative economic calls for the privatization of everything? Well, maybe ditto there too, or at least enough agreement to get some good pot bashing going in certain parts of town on a Saturday night. And, yeah, I think you can add “Dutch Disease” to that list too.

Hell, maybe they don’t even like it in Quebec that this government seems determined to kick the crap out of refugees who wash up on our shores to win a few votes in some of the more backward corners of the West.

Let’s face it, Mr. Harper’s problem with Quebec may not be that the criticisms directed at him are unjustly effective – it may be that Quebec’s voters are actually paying attention to what he says and does!

Well, nobody’s going to accuse us of paying attention out here in Alberta! (Jason Kenney, c’mon down!)

What’s dangerous about this charm offensive is that it’s being mounted by the most divisive prime minister in Canadian history – quite willing to pit one region of the country against another for transitory electoral advantage. (And never mind his projecting his own strategies onto Mr. Mulcair, who had the temerity to speak the obvious truth about the impact of Canada’s petro-loonie on its manufacturing regions.)

Facing a tough and focused opponent for the first time in a spell, he’s likely to do or say anything to hang onto his majority.

Add this to his tone deafness on Quebec and his now-closeted history as a firewall-touting Western independentiste, something that’s bound to be useful to genuine Quebec separatists, and you can see how this adventure has the potential to end badly for everyone.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The trouble with A-Bombs: if the blast doesn’t get you, the fallout just might

A typical Canadian reads the news from the Ottawa Press Gallery while Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sends another email in the background. Below: Wildrose Party House Leader Rob Anderson; former federal PC leaders Joe Clark and Peter MacKay discuss the interesting pod marked “Return to Preston Manning” they found outside a party meeting in 2002.

Dodging political fallout from his much publicized “A-Bomb” attack on Alberta’s deputy premier, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was trying to persuade his credulous compatriots yesterday the relationship between Alberta’s many Conservative MPs and its similarly numerous Progressive Conservative MLAs is “phenomenally positive.”

Good one!

This just ain’t so, as everyone understands who is in the loop – a group that is quite large, although apparently not so big it includes the crème de la crème of the national media in Ottawa.

For this reason, we shouldn’t be astonished by scuttlebutt that several of the grandees of the Parliamentary Press Gallery for several days sat on Mr. Kenney’s A-Bomb email expressing his frank opinion of Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk while they debated whether or not he had actually intended to click “reply-all.”

Our national media doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the various parts of this country to one another, and from the perspective of some members of the Ottawa press gallery, this may not have seemed like such a big deal. Others, of course, are in on the conspiracy.

But – trust me, people – the deep and growing gulf between Premier Alison Redford’s PCs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party is a big deal – big enough, at any rate, to have some implications for the rest of the country.

Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson, House leader of the rightward-tilting Wildrose Party, summed up reality most succinctly yesterday: “It’s clear that there aren’t great relations between Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s team and Premier Redford’s team,” he told the Edmonton Journal.

From Mr. Anderson’s perspective, this is knock on the Redford PCs. After all, from the Wildrose point of view, Mr. Harper’s grim ideological puritans have it right, and Ms. Redford’s idea that you can put a human face on capitalism is a shocking heresy.

But whether or not we accept the Wildrose viewpoint, Mr. Anderson called it bang on when he advised the Journal: “There are very, very few federal MPs that are supportive of the provincial Tories. … The vast majority are supportive of the Wildrose.”

Indeed, he accurately stated, “the provincial wing of the federal Conservative Party is the Wildrose, there is no doubt.”

Maybe it wasn’t wise of him to admit that the Wildrose Party is nothing more than a branch office of the federal Conservatives – increasingly dominated, as the federal branch is, by Mike Harris loyalists and other dead-enders from Ontario. After all, aren’t Albertans supposed to have a maverick streak of Western independent-mindedness?

But it is reality. Indeed, as was said in this space during the recent Alberta provincial election campaign, the Harper Government’s open support for the Wildrose Party was the elephant in the room. “A case can be made that at the strategic and technical levels, the federal and provincial neo-Con parties are virtually interchangeable,” I wrote on March 21. “This is a big change from the not-so-distant past when it was Alberta Conservatives at the provincial and federal levels who were essentially the same people.”

Mr. Harper’s party lent seasoned campaign staff and expertise to Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and contributed candidates and workers from the ranks of federal Tory MPs’ staffs. Tory MPs endorsed individual Wildrose candidates and, in the closing days of the campaign when a Wildrose victory really seemed possible, Mr. Harper let loose his Alberta caucus to campaign openly on behalf of Ms. Smith’s party.

It is said here that this means we will increasingly see divergent approaches on many issues taken by the Redford Tories and the Harper Neo-Cons.

For example, beholden as they are to the Lake of Fire set, I doubt you ever would have seen the A typical Canadian reads the news from the Ottawa Press Gallery while Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sends another email in the background. Below: Wildrose Party Deputy Leader Rob Anderson; former federal PC leaders Joe Clark and Peter MacKay discuss the interesting pod marked “Return to Preston Manning” they found outside a party meeting in 2002.Wildrose Party or their Harper Tory head office admitting, as Ms. Redford’s health minister did this week, that it was “derogatory and insulting” for Alberta Health to classify homosexuality as a mental illness in the province’s health care billing code. The code was changed at the end of last month, Fred Horne told the Whitecourt Star.

You can expect increasingly divergent positions on a variety of other funding and policy questions where in the past the Alberta Tories would have played ball – to the prime minister’s great distress. Indeed, they may even no longer be singing from the same hymnbook on pipeline development!

The upcoming nomination fight in the federal riding of Calgary Centre may also become the scene of a rumble between Redford and Harper Conservatives.

During the Alberta election campaign, Mr. Harper’s strategists clearly hoped to engineer a reverse takeover of the big-tent Alberta Tories, just as the far-right Reform Party under Preston Manning used the mechanism of the Canadian Alliance to colonize and destroy the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada during the Invasion of the Party Snatchers in 2003.

That they failed means Ms. Redford is likely to be premier until well after the next federal election, and with Mr. Kenney’s help the elephant in the room has undeniably materialized – large, betusked, red eyes glaring with hostility and quite possibly of a mind to stand by while a few more federal non-Conservatives are elected in Alberta.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.