Archive for July, 2012

Glen Taylor quits as leader – Alberta Party ponders the Big Goodbye

Your blogger in happier times with departing Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor. Below: Party luminaries Michael Walters and Sue Huff.

Get ready for the Big Re-Think. Or the Long Goodbye. Or something…

Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor has resigned, the world learned yesterday. He’ll step from the provincial political stage on Sept. 22, when the party holds its annual general meeting.

Not that the former mayor of Hinton had much choice, having failed to gain the toehold of even a single seat in the Legislature for the bold experiment in doing politics differently in Alberta.

Always a party inclined to break the mould – even if breaking it didn’t work particularly well – the Alberta Party started with a series of kitchen meetings across the province it called the Big Listen. Party adherents saw their party as a bold experiment in centrist policy making, conceived in hope and steeped in coffee, and careful to take its time to listen to everyone.

Unfortunately – and I mean that, because the party had good ideas and good people supporting it – it turned out that Albertans weren’t really paying attention. On election day, facing the prospect of choosing between a victory by the far-right Wildrose Party or the seemingly moderate Progressive Conservatives of Premier Alison Redford, voters gave the Alberta Party the Big Cold Shoulder. Its tally in the Legislature was a Big Zero.

Now party officials say it’s not even a sure thing they’ll have a leadership race to replace Mr. Taylor at the AGM. First thing, anyway, they’ll appoint an interim leader to decide what to do next – Sue Huff again, maybe?

But even before party members decide whether or not to choose another leader to permanently replace Mr. Taylor, who was elected back in May 2011, they say they’re going to think about such options as just shutting down, becoming a think tank or merging with the Alberta Liberals.

Joining the Liberals is the option favoured by Michael Walters, who was the party’s unsuccessful candidate in Edmonton Rutherford. “I personally think the Alberta Party and the Liberal Party should merge and elect a new leader that has the ability to run a truly authentic centrist party that can provide some competition to the Progressive Conservatives,” he told the Edmonton Journal yesterday.

I’d be prepared to bet you, though, that having hung onto his own seat and a presence in the Legislature by the skin of his political teeth, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman wouldn’t share that sentiment. You know, the party’s name is good – but it’s not that good!

Mr. Walters is said to be considering a city council run in Edmonton.

The party did have an MLA in the last session of the Legislature for a spell in the person of former Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Dave Taylor (no relation to Glenn Taylor), who quit the Liberals in a scrap with their leader and sat as an Independent for a while first. But that Mr. Taylor, who always possessed the ability to do the math despite his occasional impetuosity, chose not to run in the last election. Presumably, he read the handwriting on the wall.

From Day 1 of his leadership, Glenn Taylor seemed strangely disengaged. The former New Democratic Party candidate and union official 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.

Ms. Huff, who was the party’s previous interim leader before the choice of Mr. Taylor, told the Journal yesterday she’s kind of OK with the think tank idea.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thought. The Alberta Party always staked its claim on the notion it could do politics differently. Turned out voters expected to do them the same old way. The think-tank option might enable the party to turn the Big Goodbye into the Long Goodbye, and do some good for Alberta yet.

Mr. Taylor has a job in Hinton. What do you want to bet he runs for mayor again?

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NOTE: Since yesterday’s post about the lead-up to the Calgary Centre by-election went online, Conservative nomination candidate Jon Lord has responded to a query sent earlier about the role of Craig Chandler in his campaign. “Craig is one of many people working on the campaign, all of whom have many diverse opinions on all sides of the issues,” Mr. Lord said in part. “I take great pride in my ability to work with people of all backgrounds and opinions towards a common good – indeed, that is the hallmark of my political career.” Read the entire response here. Mr. Lord’s slyly entertaining suggestion that I am helping out with Ms. Crockatt’s campaign is, of course, incorrect.

One additional candidate remains in the Conservative nomination race, Richard Billington, a Calgary lawyer and member of the Conservative Party’s National Policy Commission. My apologies to Mr. Billington for missing him yesterday, although his interest was noted in my original post on the by-election. He is a serious candidate, but his campaign seems low key and directed at party insiders.

Tomorrow, unless news breaks out again, I’ll return to the Calgary Centre by-election.

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Calgary Centre Conservative nomination fight takes a turn, but Joan Crockatt’s still the frontrunner

Your blogger with Joan Crockatt: Remember, when the author of this blog appears in a picture with a politician, it does not imply endorsement – he just can’t help himself! Below: Nomination candidate Jon Lord and contest dropout John Mar.

The battle for the Conservative nomination in the Calgary Centre by-election, which was widely expected to be a race between an economic conservative and a Red Tory, seems to have turned into one between the economic conservative and a candidate backed by social conservatives.

This is seen to be an important contest because it’s generally assumed here in Alberta, and especially in Calgary, that thanks to a docile electorate whomever wins the Conservative nomination automatically becomes the Member of Parliament.

So, right from the start, the race to replace MP Lee Richardson was certain to be vigorously contested. Mr. Richardson, one of the last Red Tories in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s neoconservative-dominated caucus, announced on May 30 he was quitting to become Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary.

But early on, after a large crowd of potential candidates was quickly winnowed down to a serious few, the contest looked like it was going to be between Joan Crockatt, a former newspaper journalist and high-profile on-air commentator known for her market-fundamentalist economic views, and John Mar, a Calgary alderman and former RCMP beat cop who called Mr. Richardson his mentor.

That was then. Last week, just a week before nominations were scheduled to close, Mr. Mar suddenly pulled out of the race, saying his young family, which once supported the idea, didn’t support it any more.

Strange explanation, and who knows what was really behind it. Maybe it was his wife and kids – although, if you ask me, it was less than graceful to let them wear the last-minute decision. Maybe it was some sharp advice about time management from Stephen Carter, the political strategist behind Premier Redford’s April 23 victory, who is was reported to have signed on to help Mr. Mar’s campaign. Maybe his cousin Gary Mar, the recently unsuccessful provincial Tory leadership candidate, had something to say. Or maybe word came down from Ottawa that Mr. Harper was less than enthusiastic about having any more Red Tories in his hard-edged caucus.

Whatever it was, Mr. Mar’s decision clearly left Ms. Crockatt as the obvious frontrunner. And while she states unequivocally that she’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, she’s as conservative as they come on economic issues and in that regard would fit right in with Mr. Harper’s harsh neoconservative crowd in Ottawa.

Ms. Crockatt’s only potential problem, according to the Calgary newspaper she once worked for, is that she hasn’t held a Conservative Party card for more than six months as technically required by party rules. But as Ms. Crockatt told me, waivers are routine, and there’s “no reason to expect it wouldn’t be granted, based on my record.”

With Mr. Mar out of the race, though, Ms. Crockatt faces a surprisingly vigorous and well-organized challenge from Jon Lord, a former two-term Calgary alderman and Progressive Conservative MLA who clearly has strong support in social conservative circles. That said, it is very hard to know what Mr. Lord’s personal views are in areas such as women’s right to reproductive choice and same-sex marriage because he has said very little about them.

Despite an aggressive style and a varied political career, Mr. Lord cannot be called a strong candidate when it comes to appealing to the general public in the riding. In addition to his single term in the Alberta Legislature, humiliatingly ended by a Liberal, he ran for mayor of Calgary in 2010 and received just 0.4 per cent of the vote. He tried and failed to get a provincial PC nomination last year and was essentially told to get lost by the party, and none too politely either.

Worse, Mr. Lord’s campaign is being helped out by Craig Chandler, who is described on his Wikipedia pages as a “businessman, pundit, and political and religious activist.” (Emphasis added.) Mr. Chandler has a long and well-established history of activities with fringe political parties, frequent and unsuccessful bids for political office, and controversy surrounding his vociferously expressed anti-gay-rights views. He used to answer his telephone by barking “Happy Capitalism!” – really, I’m not making that up. In 2007, he was denied a PC nomination in a Calgary riding by the governing provincial party’s clearly horrified executive.

Mr. Chandler, in other words, can be fairly described as electoral poison. Guilt by association though this may be, on the grounds of his role in the Lord campaign alone, Mr. Lord seems unlikely to be able to successfully challenge Ms. Crockatt.

But it also makes Mr. Lord a dangerous challenger. After all, a nomination election isn’t the same thing as a regular election with real voters instead of party insiders and recruits just signed up by a candidate. Thoughts of busloads of fundamentalist church members being taken to nomination polls next Thursday to vote for Mr. Lord must surely keep Ms. Crockatt awake at night!

There are now three other known candidates in the race: riding executive and sometime car salesman Stefan Spargo, whose sole claim to fame seems to be that he flies an Alberta flag on his house, and former chef Jordan Katz, whom the media keep describing as a “political strategist” for some reason, and who once ran as a Tory candidate in southern Ontario, have been there for a while. It’s said here neither stands the chance of the proverbial snowball in Hades. In addition, on Thursday, political commentator Kady O’Malley reported on her CBC blog that she had been told by an anonymous tipster a former PMO Quebec advisor named Joe Soares had indicated he would also join the race. Ms. O’Malley says Mr. Soares lists only an Ottawa address. In fact, as of right now, though, only Ms. Crockatt has officially filed papers.

By any sensible measure, Ms. Crockatt remains the only credible candidate still standing in this nomination race, which should make her nomination in Calgary Centre likely, even easy.

(A disclaimer: I have known Ms. Crockatt for many years and, in fact, once worked under her direct supervision at the Calgary Herald. I was not enamoured of her managerial style, although I like her personally. I disagree profoundly with her economic views. However, I recognize her undoubted energy and talents as a campaigner.)

None of this means, however, that the actual election will be an automatic victory for the Conservatives – notwithstanding the fact that’s the way things often turn out in Alberta. Very soon, we’ll discuss how a candidate for another party could beat Ms. Crockatt in the by-election, and why that might just happen.

A date for the by-election has not yet been set.

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Some Alberta seniors will soon be eating better meals – they can thank the union for them

AUPE’s powerful viral video on the unappetizing 21-day menu. Below: Former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne.

One of the least successful experiments of the short, unhappy reign of Stephen Duckett as CEO of Alberta Health Services was the so-called 21-day menu, the unpalatable tinfoil- and plastic-wrapped meals that were trucked in, reheated and fed to helpless residents.

Cooks who once prepared nutritious and more appetizing meals at more than 70 public long-term care facilities around the province were let go or assigned to other duties.

The TV dinner-style meals were hauled in by reefer truck from factories in faraway places like Ontario and Pennsylvania, just in case you were wondering if they came from a nearby, centralized kitchen.

Dr. Duckett’s idea when he championed this scheme was apparently that it would save money. Whichever senior manager did the cost estimates for the Australian PhD economist, who was fired by the government in November 2010 after the Notorious Cookie Incident, must’ve used a wonky calculator. If the scuttlebutt is to be believed, it ended up costing about 6 per cent more.

The packaged menu was recycled every 21 days – hence the name – although, a lot of it was recycled in the conventional sense a lot more frequently than that, because residents couldn’t bear to choke down their sickening meals and the leftovers went straight into the recycling bin out back.

Now the Alberta Government has announced that – rather like Dr. Duckett himself – the 21-day menu has passed its best-before date, at least in Alberta’s long-term care facilities.

In a terse news release that never mentioned the term “21-day menu,” Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said yesterday he has directed AHS “to discontinue the practice of preparing meals offsite and reheating, and bring back on-site food preparation services in the long-term care facilities it operates.”

There will be rejoicing in nursing homes throughout Alberta, and rightly so.

And good for Mr. Horne for making this decision – it likely took some courage on his part to overcome bureaucratic inertia within his department and the monolithic province-wide health authority. Mr. Horne said in the release that a plan must be given to him by October, and it must be put into in operation at 73 facilities by December. That should mean decent meals are again being served to approximately 2,700 residents by Christmastime.

But while you’re cheering, don’t forget that this never would have happened without the efforts of a labour union – the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represented the small group of cooks directly affected by this foolish policy.

AUPE put a lot of effort into fighting the 21-day menu, even though it didn’t really have a lot to gain from it – after all, the number of AUPE members affected was a drop in the bucket out of the union’s close to 90,000 members. What’s more, only a few actually lost their jobs. If AUPE gets any additional members because of today’s decision, it’ll probably be fewer than a dozen.

While it’s all very well to say that residents and their families raised a ruckus about these inedible meals – they screamed bloody murder, as a matter of fact – it’s said here they would have been ignored if it hadn’t been for the ability of AUPE to take collective action on behalf of its members, and on behalf of the rest of us.

Working with a Calgary-based advertising agency called Scout Communications, which does a lot of work for unions, AUPE created a documentary video that explained in terms anyone could understand why the meals were so bad, and what needed to be done about them. That video had enormous impact when it went viral on the Internet.

It was obvious AUPE and Scout had created something really remarkable when the video started showing up on right-wing websites, being distributed virally by Canadians (and some Americans too) all across the political spectrum and even became the topic of a Wildrose Party press release calling on the government to re-hire local cooks at these facilities.

Wherever that video appeared, it was accompanied by statements like these, picked off a social media site at random:

  • “The food at the Bashaw long care is gross. Trucked in ,reheated and fed to the residents if they can choke it down. If not they go hungry and the slop is thrown in the garbage.”
  • “Who came up with this idea they should have to eat it, All these people have to look forward to is a good meal with good smells how dare you take that away from them and then not listen to the people who are dealing withit every day. Shame on you as a government.”
  • “This vidio should be aired on all the TV networks several times to make sure everybody sees it. Maybe a HUGE public outcry would change some poiicy. Then again I believe the PC party could care less.”

I’m sure readers will pardon the errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar. This stuff comes straight from the heart.

Pretty soon a local broadcaster got into the act, asking its food reviewers to rate the 21-day meals (two thumbs down!) and making fun of the government.

It was that kind of response to the AUPE video, let it be said, that lit the fire under the government – the heat from which led directly to Mr. Horne’s announcement yesterday.

Remember this when right-wing think-tanks, on-air bloviators and market-fundamentalist political parties like the Ontario Conservatives, led by former Wal-Mart manager Tim Hudak, talk about restricting the ability of unions to do anything but negotiate contracts, and to tie their hands so they can’t do that very well. This is precisely the kind of thing they’re trying to stop.

These well-funded corporate-backed groups will tell you they’re just supporting “worker choice,” “the right to work” and an end to “forced union dues.” This is all hot air. They want to make it impossible for working people to act collectively, in their workplaces and outside of them, because they see that as being to their political and financial advantage. When people like the Fraser Institute say they are only worrying about your rights – watch out!

Perhaps this is why Lorne Gunter, the far-right Sun Media columnist and longtime friend of the Fraser Institute, launched an attack on AUPE last night, posted to the Suns’ websites about eight hours after Mr. Horne’s announcement. Or perhaps it was merely a coincidence and yesterday was chosen for some other reason for the old climate change denier to start reciting old-fashioned market fundamentalist bromides about unions in general and AUPE in particular.

Regardless, everyone is going to say they’re delighted by Mr. Horne’s decision yesterday – but, behind the scenes, a lot of far-right ideologues are going to find this decision very tough to swallow and will be vowing revenge on AUPE.

One way they’ll try to get it – as in Mr. Gunter’s screed – will be to encourage more private sector, for-profit nursing homes, and fewer facilities like the 73 under AHS control. That’s a topic for another day.

In the mean time, let’s celebrate this small victory. Here’s to decent food for seniors. As Mr. Horne said, “They deserve to live in comfort and dignity and enjoy food that is not only nutritious, but looks and tastes home-cooked and satisfies cultural food preferences.”

And here’s to AUPE for making it happen.

This post also appears on Just so you read it here first, David Climenhaga once worked for AUPE. He no longer does.

B.C.’s pipeline bargaining position stirs Alberta outrage, but makes political sense

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, negotiates with B.C. Premier Christy Clark, holding carrot, as seen by the Alberta media. Actual neo-conservative Western Canadian politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below Ms. Clark, Ms. Redford and former Tory insider Norman Spector.

Christy Clark’s bargaining position in the squabble between British Columbia and Alberta over provincial pipeline danger pay may be unconstitutional, and it may not be “legal” in the sense of commercial or common law. But it doesn’t need to be. That’s because it sure as heck makes political sense!

It makes good sense politically both from the point of view of the fundamental political challenge the British Columbia premier faces in her home province, and from that of managing a successful negotiation over time with Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

What’s more, at least for playing cards with Alberta, Ms. Clark holds a better hand right now than Ms. Redford does. For, practically speaking, while she may not be able to, or even wish to, block the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline forever, she can certainly hold it up for a time.

That’s a big advantage when to survive politically Ms. Clark needs to delay the project as much as possible while Ms. Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are in a hurry to push the line through – presumably because they understand opposition to the project will only grow over time, not just in B.C. but right across Canada.

With the New Democrats under Adrian Dix high in the polls and thought by most British Columbians likely to be the most effective opposition to a project that is almost universally despised in B.C., Ms. Clark had better have a pretty darned compelling argument if she wants to sell the idea to voters before the province’s next fixed election date on May 14, 2013. More likely, the conservative “Liberal” would prefer just to kill all discussion of the scheme until after the election. At that point – in the seemingly unlikely event her government survives – B.C. and Alberta can talk turkey.

This gives rise to the conspiracy theory that last Thursday’s closed-door meeting between the two westernmost premiers was just a pillow fight staged for a gullible public’s benefit, with the goal of creating a palatable “compromise” for public consumption.

It’s easy to see why some people might jump to this conclusion. After all, if there’s one thing British Columbia New Democrats have embedded in their political DNA it’s the instinctive knowledge it’s easy for their party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!

Still, upon examination this notion stretches credulity. Anything’s possible, of course, but it seems unlikely the B.C. public is inclined just now to accept any deal with few benefits and involvement by Enbridge, and the longer this scrap goes on, no matter how contrived it is, the less likely an agreement becomes.

Moreover, as former federal and B.C. Conservative eminence grise Norman Spector accurately observed on CBC Radio 1 Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Redford’s initial position makes no sense unless she’s already concluded one of two things: Either the prime minister will intervene for her and ram the project through, or thanks to the Michigan misadventures of the Keystone Kops running Enbridge, the project is already deader than the proverbial mackerel.

The first of these two possibilities seems less likely than the second, since the political cost for Mr. Harper and his Conservatives could well be as severe as the fate that surely awaits Ms. Clark if she takes even a single wrong step.

On the other hand, if the Enbridge project really is dead, what does it benefit Ms. Redford to start giving away her Progressive Conservative government’s negotiating positions now? After all, whatever positions she offers up now will by default become her new starting position if real negotiations over a new proposal start later. Like most Alberta politicians, Premier Redford is unprepared to consider the one thing that would make the whole idea easy to finance – that is, charge something more than the giveaway royalty rates now collected for this resource.

Still, while Mr. Harper grimly plots, it’s always possible Ms. Redford is merely having a temper tantrum, so unused are Alberta Conservatives to being challenged by anyone with sufficient political clout to thwart their wishes even for an instant.

Meanwhile, the brouhaha is distracting Canada’s premiers from the one file they should be working on at their meeting in Halifax: holding the prime minister’s feet to the fire to provide sufficient funding to keep Canada’s public health care system viable.

Speaking of tantrums, all the usual suspects in the far-right media are certainly having a full-blown hissy fit about this, with Ms. Clark being accused of setting up an economic blockade of Alberta, or practically declaring war. In the words of one particularly hysterical Sun News bloviator, her actions are un-Canadian, unconstitutional, unfair and un-neighbourly!

While nobody in the Alberta media has called just yet for Alberta to separate from Canada – which, if you think about it, might actually make the problem of not having a salt-water port a little worse – it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise in this atmosphere. The On-line Tory Rage Machine here in Alberta, after all, is just tuning up.

The grown-up media, meanwhile, is also putting on the full-court press for the project, although in complete sentences and without swear words. Don’t worry, there’s no need to Alberta to pay anything to B.C., because “compensation will likely flow through fiscal back channels,” the Edmonton Journal soothes, quoting a business professor’s vague bromides.

Ms. Clark’s position may or may not be constitutional – that’s far from clear since we’re taking about an agreement between two provinces. It’s not as if she’s proposing that Ottawa just take the money and give it to her.

But you can hardly call her un-Canadian or unfair for looking out for her own voters’ interests, however reluctantly, and it’s not entirely clear which province is being more un-neighbourly in this particular neo-Con dust-up.

Meanwhile, her proposal sounds like common sense to many Canadians. Why shouldn’t a province be compensated for bearing most of the risk in a dangerous long-term project run for someone else’s benefit by a company with a proven track record of perpetrating environmental disasters? Is this so different, say, from seeking compensation for a dam that restricts the flow of water from the province next door?

And isn’t it interesting how the same far-right commentators and politicians who screeched for a year about “property rights” at the thought of high-tension power lines running through some Alberta farmers’ fields, now argue British Columbians in the same position essentially have no property rights at all when the concept might impede the flow of the greasy bitumen they champion to the refineries of China.

Come to think of it, the fact that China has a Communist government doesn’t seem to much bother these, er, red-blooded anti-Communists any more either, now that there’s some filthy short-term petro-lucre to be made out of the deal.

Hypocrisy? Oh well, that just goes with the ethically oily territory!

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As goes California, so goes the nation!

The Beach Boys, now, and, below, then. Below them, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, then and now. As goes California, so goes Canada?

As goes California, so goes the nation – the nation in the normal scheme of things being what the world knows as the Good Ole U.S.A.

For many practical reasons that all of us instinctively understand up here north of the 49th Parallel, and even in those parts of Canada south of the 49th, as goes California, so goes Canada too.

I refer, of course, to the steep downward spiral in which the Republican Party finds itself in that large and populous West Coast state – a place big enough to be a leading nation all on its own and home, arguably to the American image, if not the American soul.

In the Republicans’ troubles in California, it is said here, we see a reflection of the coming decline of Canada’s Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Since the days when we started reading about Philip Marlowe, the chivalrous shamus, patrolling the mean streets of the City of Angels for 35 dollars a day and expenses, we’ve understood that social trends good and evil often originate on the West Coast of the United States. From there, they make their way insidiously and frequently invidiously throughout the world.

The worst trends and the best are likely to stop off here in Canada – we are close, after all – well before they show up in the souk in Marrakech or even the Ginza in Tokyo.

And so it was soon after Ronald R. Reagan, former B movie actor and California governor with a shaky grip on reality, became president of the United States that the Republicanization of everything Canadian seemingly began. This unfortunate trend led in time to the reverse takeover by the Reform Party of the old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, which traced its roots all the way back to our first prime minister, the great patriot John A. Macdonald.

The Reform Party, which should have been called the American Party of Canada, was then led by the Chief Americanizer himself, the scratchy voiced Preston Manning. Its adherents loved everything American except America’s good ideas. If Sir John could see what’s become of his patriotic old party since the Invasion of the Party Snatchers in 2003, he’d be spinning in his grave so rapidly he’d be throwing up wisps of unholy smoke!

But in the seeds of the Republican Party’s great success, the self-interested enthusiasms of its ideological elite and its willingness to adopt any tactic, no matter how unethical, to win, were also the beginnings of its current troubles.

That is, it had the natural inclination of all ideological political parties toward seeking perfection and the resulting tendency to put quasi-theological notions ahead of ideas that actually work.

Even now we see these same diminishing ideological returns at work in the Post-Reform-Party Canadian Conservatives under Mr. Harper – a party now based more than loosely on the American Republican model.

With this in mind, understanding where California’s Republicans are now headed is useful to plotting the near-future trajectory of our own Conservatives – and where the California Repugs are going is straight south, metaphorically speaking, not to Mexico.

In an interesting feature last Sunday, the New York Times chronicled the startling decline of the Golden State’s Republicans, and delves into the causes of it.

The Times quotes U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the lower house of the U.S. Congress, who says of his state’s party: “We are at a lower point than we’ve ever been.” This notwithstanding the fact the state is in deep economic trouble (in part because California is only one Greece-like state in the American currency union) and Democrats are in power, and hence in a position to take the blame.

How low is that? “It’s no longer a statewide party,” says a veteran Republican consultant. “They are down to 30 percent, which makes it impossible to win a statewide election. You just can’t get enough crossover voters.” (Remember, this is a “two-party system,” so 30 per cent is not the magic number it can be in Canada with multiple parties.)

“They have alienated large swaths of voters,” he said. “They have become too doctrinaire on the social issues. It’s become a cult.”

If this doesn’t sound familiar to Canadians, it should. Because this is exactly the path to ideological reductio ad absurdum the Harper Conservatives and their provincial branches like Alberta’s Wildrose Party are heading down. Witness the recent attacks on Conservative moderates by party extremists over federal dollars being spent on a tourist trap for Chinese visitors honoring a Communist surgeon.

“The institution of the California Republican Party, I would argue, has effectively collapsed,” says another Republican consultant quoted by the Times. “The Republican Party in the state institutionally has become a small ideological club that is basically in the business of hunting out heretics. When you look at the population growth, the actual party is shrinking. It’s becoming more white. It’s becoming older.”

Hunting out heretics? Well, Canadian Conservatives are still good at collecting money from corporate donors – something that according to the Times’s sources, the California Republicans are getting worse at. But give them time…

The California conservatives, the Times’s sources say, are identified with the wrong side of a series of issues that put them well outside the evolving American mainstream – immigration, the environment, abortion and gay rights – not to mention the wrong side of the continent’s demographic trends.

Add to that list a sane level of gun control, and you have a portrait of the Harper Conservatives – back up microscopically in one recent poll, but still describing a long downward trajectory.

If democracy continues to function in Canada – and with Stephen Harper at the helm, that premise cannot be taken as assumed – the Conservative movement will continue to be left behind by Canadians, just as Californians are leaving the Republican Party in their wake.

The Beach Boys are back together. Jerry Brown is Governor again. And Stephen Harper is finished – just you watch!

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B.C. Bitumen Busters! Who ya gonna call? Greg Selinger?

Alberta and British Columbia Sheriffs see who can stomp the highest at the increasingly tense inter-provincial border near the disputed town of Field. B.C. and Alberta peace officers, of course, may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Just for someone completely different, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

Who ya gonna blame? Thomas Mulcair? Pierre Trudeau?

Sorry, but that great regional block of market-fundamentalist premiers that was supposed to speed environmentally iffy projects like the Northern Gateway Bitumen Pipeline toward completion with a minimum of democratic fuss appears not to be performing up to specifications.

Here we are, less than a week after B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s secret visit to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, and Canada’s two westernmost provinces are snarling at each other like a pair of cranky Latin American republics. What’s next? Barbed wire in Banff? Small arms fire at the Great Divide?

Luckily, neither jurisdiction has troops of its own to move up to the border, unless you count Alberta’s Sheriffs, who are busy making up for the province’s pathetic resource royalties with speeding tickets on the road to Fort McMurray. For its part, B.C. hasn’t had it’s own armed forces since McBride’s Navy got taken over by the RCN in 1914, and it only ever had two boats and wasn’t even Constitutional.

Ms. Clark’s politically inescapable ultimatum to Alberta: no money, no pipeline. Make it worth our while or forget it. (Which means, in reality, “please give me something to wave at B.C.’s unhappy voters or I’m finished here, if I’m not anyway.”)

Ms. Redford’s response: Forget it! Canada’s all about free trade and Alberta won’t be cutting any cheques to sniveling British Columbians. (This is a good one in a country that was founded on tariffs, but never mind that just now.)

Plus, she didn’t bother saying, Alberta can hardly afford to offer danger pay to British Columbia for the greasy bitumen we ship to China via Kitimat since the royalties we charge are so staggeringly low here in the Richest Place on Earth that we can’t even balance our budget!

You want money, chimed in far-right Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith, who would like nothing better than to see an Alberta budget unbalanced by the amount paid to British Columbia, go talk to the feds! You know, like our noted pan-Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Indeed, with this outbreak of Western ill feeling, our poor old neo-Con PM finds himself on the horns of the proverbial dilemma. If he steps in to benefit his beloved pipeline project and his pals at Enbridge Inc. he’ll pay big time, and he’ll pay twice.

The first time will be in 2013 when B.C. voters put the NDP in power on the theory that’s the best way to slow the potentially leaky pipeline down and prevent their province from being turned into Michigan North. A B.C. NDP government won’t be shy about pointing out to everyone else in Canada at that delicate moment that Mr. Harper only works for Alberta’s advantage, either.

The second time will come in 2016 or whenever B.C. voters have the opportunity to deliver a direct rebuke to the federal Tories for the same sins – and that could turn out to be really serious if NDP Leader Mulcair continues to see things break his way elsewhere in the country.

Imagine! Even the neo-conservative “Liberal” premier of British Columbia insists that her voters get something in return other than the promise of a few dozen security jobs along the line for the huge risk the pipeline presents to the province – at least when she faces the prospect of a stinging defeat at the polls on May 14, 2013, which, to paraphrase Dr. Samuel Johnson, “depend on it, it concentrates a woman’s mind wonderfully!”

Worse, as Ms. Redford, Mr. Harper and the environmental Keystone Kops in the executive suite at Enbridge’s Calgary headquarters must surely know, short of forcing the line through by federal legislative fiat with God only knows what consequences, whatever British Columbia’s government demands now is probably the best offer they’re ever going to get!

Talk about an excess of democracy!

Well, maybe Enbridge will have to run the pipeline out to Sarnia, Ont., and keep the refining jobs in Canada. Prime Minister Tom Mulcair will probably go along with that, although there would still the small matter of Manitoba. And who’re ya gonna call about that?

Anybody got Premier Greg Selinger’s private number?

+ + +

Speaking of cheap oil for China, it’ll be interesting to see how the “Ethical Oil” set reconciles their instinctive tendency to favour foreign control of Canada’s petroleum industry or whatever else the local oil barons want with the fact one of the controlling governments could turn out to be, erm, run by Communists.

As you’d know if you’d been reading the Report on Business all day like I have, China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd. wants to buy Calgary-based oil-producer Nexen Inc. for 15.1 billion of Uncle Sam’s Greenbacks – more than 60 per cent above what the Almighty Market says the company is worth, the ROB notes.

No reason the Ethical Oilers should object, I guess, except that they are essentially the same tiny group of full-time Twitterers and far-right Sun News Network bloviators who have been excoriating the few remaining moderates in Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet for putting money into an Ontario cottage country museum dedicated to Norman Bethune, the Communist Canadian physician who died in China in 1939 fighting alongside Mao Zedong.

Bad enough having to boycott bananas and suffer a potassium deficiency to support the oil sands, I suppose, but does this mean they’ll also have to stop driving their SUVs to battle Communism? The sacrifice!

There must be something easier and less painful they could do, say, just going along with the rest of us and voting NDP so we can add value to our resources right here in Canada!

Somehow I think they’d rather bend their already twisted logic into the shape of a pretzel to avoid that fate. Oh well, maybe we can harness all the hot air they produce to generate electricity.

Family (values) feud: Wildrose so-cons start sniping at Wildrose neo-cons

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith: in trouble with her party’s social conservatives. Below: House Leader Rob Anderson.

And so it begins: Rob Anderson, an ambitious social-conservative in the Wildrose Opposition’s shadow cabinet has publicly fired a rocket at his leader after she changed her tune on whether a Wildrose government would allow public funding of gender-reassignment surgery.

Mr. Anderson, the party’s House Leader, says there’s no way Danielle Smith can just up and change the party’s fundamental policies, even if she is the leader. He promised a “robust discussion” at the next party annual general meeting.

In a long and very interesting audio clip posted on – a website aimed primarily at an LGTBQ audience – Ms. Smith indicated a government she led would provide public funding for gender reassignment surgery, which had been cut when Ed Stelmach was premier.

What’s more, Ms. Smith told IDYGF’s two interviewers, the Wildrose Party is no longer interested in allowing marriage commissioners and medical professionals to opt out of portions of their jobs they feel go against their conscience.

These positions make eminent sense from Ms. Smith’s perspective. She was, is and always will be an economic neo-conservative, not particularly interested in social conservative shibboleths unless they happen to offer a useful wedge to get supporters of other parties to vote for her or stay at home on election day.

Moreover, as alert readers of this blog will recall, it was issues like so-called “conscience rights” and opposition to Premier Alison Redford’s plan to restore funding to gender-reassignment surgery that hit her party like a torpedo amidships in the final days of the campaign before the April 23 provincial election.

The most destructive blast of all, of course, came from the perfectly timed revelation of a blog post by Pastor Alan Hunsperger, the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-South West, predicting that gay Albertans were certain to spend eternity in a lake of fire if they didn’t repent and forsake their ways.

But if Ms. Smith merely had a technocrat’s assessment of the Wildrose Party’s election chances in the Alberta of 2016 in mind when she spoke to IDYGF, the party’s social conservatives are bound to be outraged by what they will see as a flip-flop by the leader of a party that makes a major issue of the minutest changes in course by politicians they oppose.

Worse, from the so-cons’ perspective, Ms. Smith’s new positions are bound to be seen as a grave betrayal by a core group of voters who forsook Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party and the undoubted influence they enjoyed there for the promise the Wildrose Party would take a harder line on their raw-meat enthusiasms.

Indeed, it didn’t take long for the nattering nabobs of neo-conservatism to bare their teeth at Ms. Smith, juxtaposing their adolescent sarcasm with some of the more titillating bits from the IDYGF website.

And then there was Mr. Anderson – who is both widely seen as ambitious and a leader in the social-conservative wing of the party – in the pages of the highly partisan Edmonton Sun, telling Ms. Smith just to hold it right there a gol-darned minute.

Ms. Smith “respects the idea of free votes enough for her caucus to have a robust discussion,” Mr. Anderson said defiantly.

For her part, Ms. Smith tried in the IDYGF interview to have it both ways, and on conscience rights to blame the courts when that wouldn’t work. Really, she told her interviewers in a rambling answer, her objection to Ms. Redford’s announcement the day before the Premier spoke at Edmonton’s Pride Festival on June 10, was merely procedural.

“When the trans-gender surgery was funded once again, the concern that we had – and I had the same concern when it was defunded politically, they made a political decision to defund it, left a lot of people in the middle of their surgery, I thought that was inappropriate for them to make a unilateral political decision and the same way when they decided to find it again. …” Yadda-yadda.

A medical panel should make such decisions, she argued. At any rate, “that being said, now that it is funded, I think it would be inappropriate to make a political decision to defund it again. … My view is that the decision has been made and it should be left that way. … I will not defund.”

“That might be her view on it,” Mr. Anderson told the Sun, “but I’ve been clear, as long as we don’t have enough schools and we can’t balance that budget, it’s not something I’m going to support.”

Ms. Smith’s true bottom line on this issue, naturally, also slipped through in the IDYGF interview, although the social conservatives will pay it no heed: “I’ve always supported the right of people to seek this surgery. The question is, who pays for it?”

That is always the question that Ms. Smith asks when it comes to medical care, and her real answer is always: You, out of your own pocket.

Regardless, it’s said here, what’s really going to infuriate social conservatives like Mr. Anderson is not so much Ms. Smith’s change of course on these controversial issues, which after all at least makes sense from a strategic point of view, but the way she threw Pastor Hunsperger under the bus.

“His comments were so strident, his comments were so offensive, that there was no way he was going to be able to convince members of your community or the broader community at large that he would be that kind of representative,” that is an MLA who could represent his constituency’s entire population.

This amounts to another flip-flop, of course, because during the election campaign Ms. Smith refused to condemn Pastor Hunsperger and merely tried to sidestep the issue.

As has been said in this space many times, this conflict between social conservatives and economics-focused neo-conservatives is the biggest problem facing the Wildrose Party, and if Ms. Smith can’t deal with it, history will show her party reached its high tide of public support on or about April 20, 2012.

Arguably, she is the author of her own difficulties. Had she not been in such a hurry to get a full slate of candidates in place back in 2010, she would certainly have had better candidates as the party rose in the polls.

The bad news from her perspective was that by signing on candidates too quickly, she was stuck with goofballs like Pastor Hunsperger. From her perspective, the silver lining to that cloud could be that most of her worst candidates failed to get elected on April 23.

If she can’t keep this latest social conservative outbreak under control, however, it has the potential to tear the party asunder, with social conservatives founding a new and more extreme political party and economic conservatives returning to the big PC tent.

If she can keep a lid on it, and the economic conditions force the Conservatives to run big deficits as the next election approaches, she might survive to fight another day.

Most likely, though, this scrap between Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson is the beginning of the end of the Wildrose Party.

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Premiers’ private parley – a summit so secret if you knew what they’d talked about, they’d have to kill you!

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, left, meets Alberta Premier Alison Redford, in snap-brim hat at right, to discuss things too secret for the Western Canadian public to know about. Actual Western Canadian politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated, nor may the vehicle at the front of the Legislature, or the one at the back, pictured below. Below them: the real Christy Clark and the real Alison Redford.

Surely the weirdest political news story so far in the dull dog days of Summer 2012 was British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s secret meeting last Thursday with Alison Redford, her Alberta counterpart.

Secret diplomacy is generally held nowadays in polite circles to be a poor idea, but seeing as Western Canadian provinces are not sovereign states – no matter the dreams of those fellows in their broken-down and bumper-stickered camo pickup trucks – it’s probably just a venial sin, diplomatically speaking.

Just the same, you really ought to agree to an agenda in advance with whomever you’re getting together for a private business meeting, an elementary bit of commonsense that seems to have been overlooked in this case.

Well, whatever. Precious little is known about the July 19 summit between the two neighbouring premiers, what they talked about or hoped to accomplish. Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson managed to assemble enough facts to cobble together a column, which is a major accomplishment on any political topic nowadays.

And it was he who provided the details of the clever ruse by the Legislature’s security men and women – good trade unionists every one, members of AUPE Local 003 – who arranged for a big black Suburban to sit idling at the Legislature’s front door while Ms. Clark slipped into a big black suburban idling at the back door, thereby evading the whip sharp observers of the Legislative Press Gallery and allowing the B.C. premier to escape back to the airport.

At any rate, other than establishing that the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery is pretty easy to fool, that’s about the sum total of our knowledge of the brief meeting. Except, of course, that Ms. Redford claimed to be disappointed Ms. Clark failed to endorse the increasingly unpopular idea of a bitumen pipeline being built through the mountain ranges of British Columbia. The plan calls for the pipeline to empty into the sea (literally or figuratively, depending on whom you’re talking to) near Ms. Redford’s home port of Kitimat.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to me,” Ms. Redford later told reporters about her counterpart’s refusal to take a firm position one way or the other on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal. (The Alberta premier’s idea being, I guess, that if someone says Hell No, you can always try to talk them out of it.)

Observers less committed to the pipeline than Ms. Redford may perhaps feel a teensy bit of sympathy with Ms. Clark.

After all, her polls say she is likely to be run out of town by voters who despise the pipeline plan. They can do this because there is a political party in B.C. apparently committed to doing the will of the population.

This is quite different from the situation faced by Ms. Redford before her April 23 election, in which the polls suggested she was about to be defeated by a group of voters upset she wasn’t doing enough for the same pipeline, abetted by a party determined to build pipelines to all points of the compass!

Ms. Redford has proved to be a shrewd politician, so she must understand how sharp are the horns of the dilemma on which Ms. Clark finds herself uncomfortably perched. Ms. Clark can do what her voters want and possibly save enough votes to survive, but only by incurring the wrath of the folks who pay the freight!

So we can guess that during their private parley Ms. Clark begged Ms. Redford to shut the heck up about the pipeline because, if the Alberta premier wouldn’t, it would likely sink her leaky B.C. Liberal ship! By the sound of it, she had a similar meeting with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a member of the so-called Saskatchewan Party.

Ms. Clark seems not to have made the same request of Manitoba’s premier, Greg Selinger, who unlike the other three western premiers is not a member of some form of conservative political entity. This decision was likely made on the perfectly reasonable assumption Mr. Selinger is a New Democrat, just like Adrian Dix, the B.C. Opposition leader who is (at this moment, anyway) expected to beat Ms. Clark on May 14, 2013. That Tuesday is, of course, B.C.’s apparently unavoidable fixed election date.

Nevertheless, I imagine (which is something as a blogger that I can permit myself to do) that Ms. Clark did have some other questions for Ms. Redford:

CHRISTY CLARK: So, why do you think the polls got it all wrong about you and Danielle, I mean Ms. Smith? Tell me that story again, would you?

ALISON REDFORD: I’ll tell you, but only if you tell me first that you’ll endorse the Northern Gateway Pipeline!

CHRISTY CLARK: Jeeze, Alison, you know I can’t do that. If that got out, I’d be toast on a stick!

ALISON REDFORD: C’mon Christy, just endorse it a little bit!


ALISON REDFORD: What’s that, Christy, I couldn’t hear you?

CHRISTY CLARK: I’m not going to do that, Alison, and don’t do your tough-premier act on me! I’m a premier too! Just tell me this: Have you got a number for that Stephen Carter fellow, the guy who ran your campaign?

ALISON REDFORD: I’ll give it to you if you’ll endorse the pipeline. I won’t tell anyone. Just endorse it to me!

CHRISTY CLARK: Awww, Alison, that’s no fair! You know I can’t do that! Can you just give me his email address?

ALISON REDFORD: Endorse the pipeline first! …

Now there’s an important disclaimer about that conversation, and that is this: I just made it up! There is nothing whatsoever, no facts on the ground in either British Columbia or Alberta, to suggest a conversation remotely like that actually took place.

That’s because, whatever it was that was said, it’s a secret!

Just the same, you’ve got to wonder, eh?

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It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy – especially if you’re Alison Redford

It’s just one long summer vacation for Alberta’s Tory family. Premier Alison Redford, possibly not exactly as illustrated, can be seen in the front seat of the Edsel at left. Below: The Wildrose Party on their way to summer school at Chestermere Slough; Kelley Charlebois; Thomas Lukaszuk.

It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy – especially if you’re Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more congenial political climate than the one Ms. Redford and her Progressive Conservative government now find themselves enjoying this summer.

Not quite three months have passed since Ms. Redford’s unexpected but decisive victory on April 23, and we are not yet embroiled in the minutiae of a fall session. So this is the perfect moment to assess the true strength of her Progressive Conservative government, now and possibly forevermore.

First of all, of course, the Redford Government is at the very start of what looks now like a long four-year run. Later, when less time is left, things will look a little different, of course. But right now, arriving at the Legislature in the morning must seem to the premier like the first day at a particularly pleasant holiday resort.

Moreover, none of the inevitable mistakes that plague any democratic government have taken place yet – unless, perhaps, you count the appointment of Kelley Charlebois last Friday the 13th as executive director of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta or random social media messages left by Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Mr. Charlebois, rather famously, was in 2004 paid more than $400,000 in “untendered consulting contracts, with scant records of what taxpayers got in exchange,” as the Calgary Herald put it, while serving as executive assistant to then health minister Gary Mar. But while plenty was wrong with the process, Mr. Mar deservedly took the pounding for it when he ran for the Tory leadership. It’s harder to fault Mr. Charlebois for taking the money – he was in business, after all, and they were dumb enough to pay him!

As for Mr. Lukaszuk, here’s the memo: Remember what happened to Stephen Carter. You’re forgiven … but get someone more diplomatic to run your Facebook and Twitter accounts! The only landslide you should say anything about is the one that sweeps Adrian Dix into power in B.C. next spring. And if you can’t say anything nice about Mr. Dix that evening, don’t say anything at all.

Other than that, the Tory backbenchers are still figuring out where the washrooms are located – loose tongues, MLAs dressing monochromatically in protest against this or that and similar nonsense is all at some indeterminate point in the future.

Even so, with a comfortable majority of 61 seats in an 87-seat Legislature, there will be plenty of wiggle room for Ms. Redford and her government as the clock runs down toward the next election. No need to listen too closely to bored and rebellious Tory MLAs, no need to fly into a panic over a death, a resignation, a floor crossing or the consignment of some naughty boy or girl to the rest of a term on the Independent benches.

Plenty of time, even, for Ms. Redford to play the Statesperson of Confederation and – who knows? – possibly even succeed at it!

Meanwhile, the premier enjoys almost the perfect Opposition in the Wildrose Party – doomed, paradoxically, to continue to present the caricature of a market-fundamentalist menace to Albertans and yet daily likely to grow weaker and more marginalized.

The Wildrose Opposition under Danielle Smith is big enough after its fluky bump in the polls in 2012, after all, to credibly claim to be a government in waiting – and thereby scare the bejeepers out of almost any sensible Albertan voter. At the same time, it is now the established home of the most annoying sub-group of the Redford Conservatives’ traditional power base – the social-conservative denomination of the loony right.

How convenient for Ms. Redford and her advisors that they no longer have to listen in caucus to this extremist faction and their tiresome calls for hard-right policies that are sure to alienate (and frighten, as we saw in April) the majority of middle-of-the-road Alberta voters.

The far-right’s standard bearer in the old PC cabinet, Ted Morton, is also conveniently gone – defeated, ironically enough, by a Wildroser in the Chestermere-Rocky View riding, where this week the Opposition  party was holding an appropriately named “summer school” for its rookie MLAs. With Dr. Morton and his ilk gone, the chances of the kind of rebellion that brought down former premier Ed Stelmach are considerably reduced.

What luxury, from the PC perspective, to be able to pursue a moderately conservative course without having to compromise with these extremists, while still being gently pushed by them to the moderate right – precisely where Ms. Redford’s instincts tell her to go.

After the April election, we heard lots of cries of “we’ll be back,” from disappointed Wildrosers. With the caveat that anything can happen in politics, it’s said here they won’t be, except as a convenient boogie-person to keep nervous Albertans strategically voting Progressive Conservative instead of NDP or Liberal at election time.

For one thing, as the influence of disaffected social conservatives within the Wildrose ranks continues to grow, as is inevitable with the PCs again holding the reins of power, the Wildrose Party will look and sound crazier as time goes on.

In addition, people who want power – and those who donate money to influence power – will drift back toward the PCs, as they always have in Alberta, for the obvious reason that that’s where the power is actually located.

At the same time, the talented political operators attracted to the Wildrose in 2011 and 2012 will disappear into the woodwork, uninterested in lending their talents to a lost cause that is increasingly the home of zany and self-righteous social conservatives.

More than likely, as a result of these fissures, a power struggle will emerge within the party with social conservative challenges to Ms. Smith’s pragmatic and reasonably sensible economy-centred approach growing steadily over the next four years. That is if Ms. Smith can sustain her own interest in what will surely increasingly will look even to her like a lost cause.

Meanwhile, from the perspective of the PCs, the parties of the left don’t look like much more than a nuisance to be swatted at half-heartedly. Here’s hoping the NDP can fulfill its traditional role of real opposition, or that a couple of Liberals can rediscover their forcefulness of yore. As for the Alberta Party, it will blow away in the next puff of wind like so many dandelion seeds – only, unlike those pretty yellow flowers, without their notorious regenerative power.

So where does this leave Premier Redford and her Tories? Exactly where any politician would wish to be! Firmly in control now, likely to remain that way well into the future, her power base purged of its most irritating component, with no opposition party anywhere in the political spectrum that can mount a meaningful challenge.

As the fall of 2012 drifts closer and we can begin to see the shape it will take, the biggest threat facing Ms. Redford is that a few of her backbenchers, their cabinet ambitions thwarted unlike Mr. Lukaszuk’s, will get bored and do or say something embarrassing.

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It’s semi-official… the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is kaput!

Enbridge Inc., as seen and described by the U.S. National Transportation Board. Below: Federal Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith and B.C. Opposition Leader Christie Clark. No! Wait! Ms. Clark’s still the premier!

If you thought NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair was mistaken – or, worse, just being “divisive” – when he said about a week ago that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was finished, think again.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may still officially love the project and dream of fast-tracking it, but you can take it as given that its demise is pretty well official now that Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith has all but admitted the unpopular proposal by Enbridge Inc. is never going to fly with voters over the border in British Columbia.

This verdict by Ms. Smith, who is leader of the Wildrose Party and effectively the MLA for Calgary-Oilpatch-Executive-Suite, is a strong signal the energy industry has written off the Calgary-based corporation’s plan as a sure loser and will soon move on to new versions of exactly the same thing. This is what is known in the business world as “rebranding.”

It was only on July 12 that the federal NDP Leader speculated publicly that the Northern Gateway plan is doomed, partly because of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s scathing report on Enbridge’s pathetically irresponsible behaviour before and during its massive 2010 pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

“Northern Gateway should be stopped and the plug should be pulled on it,” Mr. Mulcair said at the time with characteristic bluntness, if a somewhat mixed metaphor.

This prompted some of the usual tut-tutting from officials of Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, which on this file has pretty much the same agenda as the Wildrose Party.

Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes grumbled about how Mr. Mulcair needed to understand the economic importance of the oil sands – which Mr. Mulcair most certainly does. But his mild tone – significantly downgraded from the screeches of virtual treason and national division from some of his fellow Tories not so long ago – indicated that the Redford Government too has concluded the Enbridge project is a write-off in light of the Michigan revelations.

Anyway, both Ms. Redford and Ms. Smith have a much more challenging British Columbia megaproject on their agendas right now, and that is keeping fellow-travelling B.C. Premier Christy Clark in office in the face of what looks to be an NDP steamroller on British Columbia’s fixed election date-with-destiny next year.

No doubt after consulting her own pollsters, the “Liberal” Ms. Clark, who is really just another neoconservative, has lately sounded deeply unenthusiastic about the pipeline proposal.

B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix, the New Democrat the polls say is poised to defeat Ms. Clark, has promised to fight the Enbridge proposal with every breath in his body if he does in fact become premier of British Columbia next year.

This has been taken by Alberta’s solid oilpatch political front – represented with equal enthusiasm by Ms. Smith, Ms. Redford and Mr. Harper – as proof positive Mr. Dix would oppose any shipments of bitumen by pipeline to the West Coast. As has been said here before, this not necessarily the case if the timing is right and the proper sweeteners for British Columbia are thrown into the deal, no matter which party happens to be running that province.

Regardless, it is almost a certainty that this project will not now be revived until after the B.C. election, which is scheduled to take place on May 14, 2013.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s oil industry spokesperson Smith: “I’ve heard that there are options that would go to the West Coast on a different route that might make more sense,” she informed reporters while taking a breather from Wildrose caucus retreat at a “yacht club” on the shallow and weed-infested former Chestermere Slough, just east of Calgary.

“There may have been in the past an easier time going through virgin territory,” Ms. Smith rambled on, according to a report in the Edmonton Journal. “But something’s changed in the last five years. Landowners are far more active and concerned, environmental groups are more active and concerned. First Nations are more active and vocal about it.”

In other words, the Northern Gateway scheme is off, just as Mr. Mulcair predicted, until after the B.C. provincial election. Then it will be back, with a new name, possibly a new company leading the project and some slight differences in route.

As of now, that’s about as officially dead as a project of this nature can get.

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