Archive for September, 2012

If it’s Alberta, it ain’t goin’ across the border: time to connect the dots on XL Foods

“If it ain’t Alberta, it ain’t beef!” Alberta Beef Producers’ advertising models may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: I [HEART] [ALBERTA MAP] [BEETS]; Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson and Premier Alison Redford.

Do you remember that brilliant advertising campaign, “If it ain’t Alberta, it ain’t beef”?

Well, nowadays – as the continental recall of beef products from the sprawling XL Foods meatpacking plant in Brooks, Alberta, the largest slaughterhouse in Canada, keeps growing and growing and growing – a lot of people are starting to substitute the last word in that slogan for something else.

If it ain’t Alberta, at least a few folks are concluding, it’s less likely to be …

Unfortunately for Alberta’s beleaguered beef farmers, the people coming to that conclusion include not just Canadian and American consumers but the U.S. Customs Service!

Or how about that ubiquitous Alberta bumper sticker, “I [HEART] [ALBERTA MAP] [BEEF]”?

A lot of us, even here in red-blooded Alberta, are thinking about going vegetarian and changing the last pictogram of that one to read “Alberta Beets.”

With consumers all over North America being warned to toss their beef steaks, burger, roasts and heaven knows what else for fear of being poisoned by E. coli from Brooks, federal meat inspectors are said to be working night and day to figure out what the heck went wrong at XL Foods.

The trouble is, this is a little like closing the proverbial barn door after the proverbial horse is gone – and I’ll tell you something, that’s lucky for the horse, because a lot of Albertans would feel safer eating horse steaks these days than the beef variety. (They don’t even ask for a receipt at my St. Albert grocery store any more. They just take your beef, chuck it in a bin and fork over the price on the label.)

As Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons rightly put it Friday, part of the problem was caused by the “glacial” response by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

A U.S. food inspector discovered the problem on Sept. 3. The Americans found more on Sept. 12. But the CFIA, obviously way too concerned either about the feelings of the company or what their bosses in Ottawa might say, futzed around until Sept. 16. Then it issued a nothing-to-worry about report in Canada only. No mandatory recall.

The Calgary Herald said yesterday the CFIA had warned we should brace ourselves for “a series of recall announcements over the next few days.” Sure enough, this morning the Canadian Press reported helpfully that the list of recalled products is so long “consumers are advised to inquire at the point of purchase whether the beef they’re buying came from XL Foods.”

As for XL’s Edmonton-based parent company, Nilsson Brothers Inc., they’ve got nothing at all to say for themselves – an obvious indication they didn’t make it to their class in Public Relations 101! If they had, they’d know that’s a surefire way to poison your “brand” forever.

Needless to say, none of this does any good for Alberta beef producers or their reputation.

“The Lakeside plant went right on processing Alberta beef, for markets across the United States and Canada. XL … went on assuring consumers that its beef was safe,” Ms. Simons wrote. Yet it wasn’t until last Thursday that the CFIA took meaningful action.

Our federal government will probably try to spin this into an attack on the public service, but the problem is really the opposite.

Neoconservatives in the Harper government are big proponents of self-regulation by companies like XL Foods, and it’s happening already. But that’s a problem when both the federal and Alberta governments can be counted upon to put short-term corporate whims ahead of the needs of consumers and farmers, in this country and elsewhere.

Indeed, a spokesperson for the union in the plant, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, told the Herald workers have been raising concerns that far too many carcasses are being processed far too quickly in Brooks. “You can’t do that much work in that short a period of time without worker and public safety being compromised,” said Tom Hesse.

But as usual in Alberta, the concerns of workers, even when they’re obviously in a position to know what they’re talking about, appear to have been brushed aside by those who think they know better ex officio.

Meanwhile, the government meat inspectors’ union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the Harper Government’s $56 million in cuts to CFIA will result in the loss of about 100 meat inspection jobs across Canada.

“There has been a systemic change in the way inspections are done in these large facilities,” a PSAC spokesperson told the Globe and Mail yesterday. “Most of the inspection sampling, the day-to-day work that was done in the past by CFIA inspectors, is now done by plant personnel.”

For its part, the CFIA insists it had enough inspectors in the plant. So does federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

But it’s very hard to believe the Harper government’s continued assault on public service jobs, the resulting job insecurity, the pressures on government inspectors to accommodate corporations no matter what, and the federal Tories’ ideological belief in the benefits of letting corporations regulate themselves all didn’t contribute to a deteriorating state of affairs in Brooks.

From our governments, meanwhile, all we hear is bland assurances that there’s nothing to worry about and complaints about “too much” regulation.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford tells us not to worry. Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson even made a photo-op out of going to his grocery store in Camrose yesterday, trailed by TV camerapersons, to buy burger and steaks. (Do you remember British politicians buying British beef during the mad cow outbreak in the early 1980s? Where are they now, I wonder?)

But I think we should worry. If you thought the seven E. coli drinking-water deaths and 2,500 poisonings in Walkerton, Ont., a dozen years ago had settled such questions as who is best equipped to do safety inspections and why problems should be reported fully, frankly and quickly, well, guess again.

I think you’re right to worry if you’re a farmer, if you’re an agricultural products worker, if you’re a meat-eater, if you love someone who eats meat, or even if you don’t particularly care about those meat-eaters but are just a decent human being. (That’s why I say Mr. Olson should cook his steaks all the way through this weekend.)

As for Mr. Ritz and the other Harperites in Ottawa, they should immediately connect the dots and rescind their cuts to CFIA, for the good of Alberta’s beef industry and the rest of us.

But how likely do you think that is?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Are storm clouds forming in Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s sunny skies?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, gives a member of her caucus his marching orders. Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Ms. Redford, Stephen Carter.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford would appear to be unassailable.

A recent cross-Canada poll by Angus Reid found her to be the country’s second-most popular premier after Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, with a 55-per-cent approval rating among Alberta voters. That’s practically “beloved” territory!

Another poll conducted last month by Trend Research of Edmonton put her in an even more commanding position, with 62 per cent approval of the way she is doing her job as premier and her party enjoying the support of 49 per cent of the voters, up from 44 per cent on April 23 when they were re-elected as Alberta’s government.

That compares to 27 per cent for the Wildrose Party (down from 34 per cent on voting day) and 42 per cent for the Wildrose Leader, Danielle Smith, according to the Trend poll.

Nevertheless, while you may not have read about this in the media, there are clouds on Ms. Redford’s horizon, and her personal political weather forecast is – if not exactly stormy – not all sunshine and sweet breezes.

Premier Redford’s troubles aren’t with the Alberta public, at least not yet, and they aren’t really with the Opposition parties. On the left, they are too small to have much impact. On the right, the Wildrose Party is not yet experienced enough to punch up to its 17-member weight.

No, her problem is with her own caucus, which to be blunt about this, doesn’t really like her very much.

Now, this is all inside baseball, as they say – but, really, really if you love politics, that’s the only kind of ball that counts! Correct?

Ms. Redford’s problem in a nutshell goes like this: Back before her election as leader, she wasn’t the most popular kid in premier Ed Stelmach’s cabinet. She was sharp-tongued, critical of her colleagues and didn’t have many friends. That’s why when she ran for the leadership, she had the support of only one caucus member, lacklustre Calgary backbencher Art Johnston.

She still doesn’t have many friends in caucus. The difference is, now she’s the boss.

Ms. Redford was never what you’d call a touchy-feely politician. I’ve never heard of her, like long-ago British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, making grown men, cabinet ministers to boot, weep. But like the Iron Lady, there’s little doubt that she could do it if she wished.

Actually, nowadays, her cabinet is pretty happy. They’re the insiders. They get listened to, and respected.

But if you’re a rank and file Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA, and you’re not in cabinet, you are, as Pierre Trudeau might have put it back in the day, a nobody.

When the Tory caucus meets nowadays, members aren’t consulted about their thoughts and ideas as they were in the days of premiers Stelmach and Ralph Klein. They sit in rows and are handed their marching orders. And those orders, insiders report, read like this: “March or die!” A lot of them are not happy about it.

In addition to their high-handed treatment by the premier and her inner circle, Alberta government insiders say at least three groups in the caucus will resent her forever for the way she campaigned for the leadership, ably assisted by her sometime chief strategist and chief of staff Stephen Carter.

These groups are:

  1. Ralph Klein loyalists – mad at the way she characterized their hero for leaving the government in a shambles once he’d finished attacking the province’s debt
  2. Ed Stelmach loyalists – who also feel their former boss was unfairly disparaged and pushed aside
  3. Gary Mar loyalists – furious at how Ms. Redford and Mr. Carter trashed their guy’s reputation during the leadership race, then kicked him when he was down over his fundraising activities

Folks from each of these three groups (which sometimes have rather blurred edges) are already grumbling, accusing the premier of ideological shiftiness and looking hopefully to the future for an opportunity to tape a “Kick Me” sign to her back when she’s not looking.

Staff members who are not part of the premier’s personal Praetorian guard, meanwhile, miss the days of Mr. Stelmach’s good cheer and inclusive friendliness as the current premier blows by them without so much as a regal wave, and mutter darkly about some of her current favourites.

In other words, it’s a snakepit!

For her part, here’s betting that Ms. Redford believes she succeeded despite her caucus and her party, which she reckons had long ago wandered away from the path of righteousness as defined by the now-sainted Peter Lougheed. Indeed, to stick with the religious metaphor, she may think the party was only resurrected because she returned it to the straight and narrow. There are those who believe she is right, of course.

The trouble with this is that it’s not the voters or the Opposition who are likely to cause Ms. Redford the biggest problems in the next couple of years – it’s her own troops.

Remember, it wasn’t voters who brought down either Mr. Klein or Lady Thatcher, it was dissidents in the ranks of their own parties. This can – and does – happen in the Parliamentary system.

Moreover, here in Alberta, disenfranchised Tories have a home to run away too if things get to be too much for them in the form of the Opposition Wildrose caucus. Could there be more defections to the Wildrose? Not just yet, maybe, but in a word, yes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Redford is without her rainmaker. Mr. Carter has all but disappeared.

With B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a conservative Liberal, desperately low in the polls, facing an election in less than eight months, having just been forced to fire her chief of staff for unspecified naughtiness, who would want to bet against Mr. Carter showing up in Victoria with a smile on his face and a nice apartment overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Considering plagiarism? Just forget it! Nowadays you’ll be busted for sure!

Peggy Wente gets ready to write her next column. Globe and Mail columnists may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below, the real Ms. Wente, looking like she’s in a mug shot after being busted for plagiarism; the late Ken Adachi.

There has never been a shortage of plagiarism in Canadian letters.

The sins of the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente are literally nothing new, and hardly unique, although the highly entertaining social media furor about them may be.

Indeed, I feel just the tiniest bit of sympathy for Ms. Wente – who in the interests of full disclosure I must acknowledge briefly supervised some of my work at the Globe and Mail back in the 1980s. This is why I know about Conrad Black getting his driver to deliver his columns to her in the comfort of the company limousine.

The incidents of plagiarism uncovered by blogger Carol Wainio on her Media Culpa blog, while certainly a legitimate topic for reporting, do not seem to me to be particularly egregious examples of the cutting and pasting of other people’s intellectual property.

That said, Ms. Wente is an exceptionally bright woman, and it seems unlikely to me that she didn’t know what she was doing when she borrowed these materials.

Nevertheless, it has to be pretty easy to unintentionally lift a sentence or two from another writer and pop them into something you’re writing simply because it’s the most efficient way to explain a bit of background. I worry about this all the time when I write this blog – and I often find myself backwards putting some piece of elucidatory prose just so guilty I won’t appear of plagiarizing something I’ve drawn out of one of the many journals whence come my backward blog ideas.

Certainly more exciting examples of Canadian plagiarism exist than Ms. Wente’s pedestrian contributions to the genre. If you want to make an interesting prose comparison, for example, take a look sometime at Heather Robertson’s entirely original “The Last of the Terrible Men,” published in 1980, and then at a certain very well-known male journalist’s book on a similar topic, published two years later.

Or how about a long passage from a very well known sports novel by a much-honoured Canadian author and an obscure where-are-they-now article in a minor upstate New York newspaper inscribed by a much-less-well-known Canadian reporter?

The consequences for the high-profile stenographers in both cases? Zero, as far as anybody knows.

One might argue, as has been observed by many commentators, that Ms. Wente and her employer were their own worst enemies in this matter. Instead of just owning up to a mistake and getting on with their lives, they tried to wiggle off the hook, refused to address the problem, and (in the Globe’s case) even hinted darkly at the revelatory blogger about the possibility of expensive defamation actions. Then, when that didn’t work, they crankily blamed the messenger.

Ms. Wente has a point when she complains that her sanctimonious views had something to do with the intense interest in her current predicament in social media. After all, she has made a point of being outrageous from the vantage of a highly visible national pulpit. She has enjoyed it and benefited from it, I have no doubt.

Alas for Ms. Wente, now the worm has turned. Really, she can hardly be surprised that the many voiceless people she irritated with her unsympathetic harangues feel a modest degree of Schadenfreude at her present unhappy circumstances. This is true even if the sin she stands accused of is quite different from what irritated her readers in the first place. It’s simply human nature. And who knows, there may even be a few folks who share these sentiments within the white brick walls of the Globe’s bunker at 444 Front Street West.

But, je digresse, my main points today are a little different.

First, it has always griped me how some people get away with plagiarism while others have their careers or even their whole lives smashed.

Maybe this has more to do with our personalities and how easy it is for some of us to blow off being caught doing something naughty, while others among us feel devastatingly guilty for even meaningless infractions. But it’s fair to say, there’s no justice – and no consistency at all – in the way the consequences of this particular sin are meted out.

Who can forget Ken Adachi, the Toronto Star’s excellent literary reviewer, who was fired by the Star in 1981 after being accused of plagiarism? He was taken back for a spell, but was allowed to feel driven to take his own life in 1989 after being accused of stealing three paragraphs from a book review in Time Magazine.

Mr. Adachi knew he faced being fired again from his livelihood, and his vocation, this time without much chance of appeal.

Ms. Wente faces what? Well, we don’t know, because the Globe won’t tell us. But it’s unlikely to be much more than the proverbial slap on the wrist.

Maybe we should all agree now to what an appropriate punishment would be, and hold everyone accused of plagiarism to the same standard. A failing grade on their report card, perhaps, or two weeks in the stocks on Twitter, being pelted with soggy bons mots by the Twitterati. Or does that sound too much like a trade unionist’s compromise solution, designed to protect the sinner as much as the sinned against?

My second point, which I think is the most important one, is that technology has now made plagiarism obsolete. So if you’re pondering getting up to it, you’d better think about this!

You just can’t do it. You will be caught. Nowadays, every one of us can be a literary CSI technician busting scholarly malfeasance wherever we think it occurs.

This started with college professors who suspected their students of stealing prose. Having taught a few college courses myself, I can tell you the alarm bells always ring when some kid who couldn’t spell “CAT” if you spotted him the C and the T* turns in a polished and literate effort. (* I plagiarized that line from my friend and mentor Doug MacRae, a great journalist, long dead, alas. Since Doug is in no position to complain about it, I guess it’s mine now…)

As a result, the technology now exists to compare passages of prose and spot similarities with other passages that exist anywhere on the Internet.

I’m not merely talking about enclosing a phrase in quotation marks and looking for an exact duplicate on Google. These applications are something altogether more sophisticated, capable of spotting even suspicious patterns.

What’s more, while it may be high-tech stuff, it’s not billion-dollar software that can only be afforded by the likes of the National Security Agency or the Communications Security Establishment. Free versions are even available on the Internet! Here’s a link to one.

So you don’t have to just suspect Ms. Wente and some of her colleagues any more, you can check up on them and confirm your suspicions. What’s more – also thanks to the Internet – you can drop the dime on them without having the Globe’s Public Censor … I mean Public Editor … getting in your way.

Count on it that a lot more journalists and bloggers than Ms. Wente face a similar level of scrutiny in future. Indeed, some of them are doubtless being closely examined as this is being written. They – and you – will just have to get used to it.

This will also probably happen to bold fellows who crib sweet little poetic love notes from literary sources as well. Busted! Only with mockery or ardour dealt out to them unequally and unjustly based on such additional factors as appearance, size of bankroll, mood or recipient’s degree of charity.

In other words, there’s just no point in plagiarizing any more. You simply can’t get away with it.

If you steal someone’s words, you should just do what I advise my journalism students: put a comma after it, and follow that with the word “said” and the name of the person who said it. No one will criticize you. Indeed, they’ll hail your research.

Surely Ms. Wente must have known this.

If you do it anyway and you get caught, well, awkward though your days may be, we’re still all better off if you respond to your literary malfeasance as Ms. Wente did than the tragic way chosen by Mr. Adachi.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Motion 312 and reproductive rights: pay attention to what Tories do, not to what they say

What? What? I’m pro-choice and pro-life, Edmonton St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber seems to say in this shot grabbed from his website. Below: Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth.

In this era of routine political deceit, wise voters are advised to pay attention to what their elected representatives actually do, not what they say.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada tries to have it both ways on abortion in the debate surrounding Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312, which would have Parliament “study” the point at which a baby becomes a human being, this strategy should be seen for what it is: an effort to chip away at women’s reproductive rights through the Parliamentary back door.

Tory heavy Jason Kenney says he’s voting for it. Prime Minster Harper says he’ll vote against it. But by allowing the vote to proceed later today they are tossing a hunk of red meat to their hard-right social conservative base, which would ban abortion outright in a moment if it ever got the chance.

So even though the motion will likely be defeated – for the time being – they are keeping the issue on the front burner and providing the foes of reproductive choice with opportunities to organize, raise money and generate publicity for their cause. Count on it that they also see a continuing fund-raising opportunity for themselves in this tactic.

But no matter how calculatedly they split their votes, the Harperites really can’t be everybody’s good buddy on this one, as the party’s official caucus blogger, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, seemed to be trying to do in a jaw-dropping post on his Parliamentary website yesterday.

“I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life,” Mr. Rathgeber wrote. (Emphasis added.) “That does not make me bi-polar; it means that this matter extremely complicated, with multiple methods of examination, resulting in potentially polarizing conclusions.”

While it is indeed true this statement does not provide any evidence Mr. Rathgeber is bi-polar, what it does mean is that he’d really like to keep everyone voting for him and his party despite taking action on one side of an issue that is as polarizing in his riding as it is across Canada.

So it’s what Mr. Rathgeber does, and not what he says, that really matters.

And what he’s going to do today, as he stated elsewhere in the blog, is to vote for Mr. Woodworth’s motion, the intention of which is obviously to tighten the screws on women’s right to reproductive choice.

Mr. Rathgeber can try to justify his vote as he wishes, but he’s taking a stand against reproductive choice. Period. No excuses. No opportunity for appeal.

Yet try he does, at length: “A void exists in Canadian law regarding this issue; Canadians are perhaps unique among western democracies in that we have neither sanctions nor regulations approving abortion or the rights of fetuses,” Mr. Rathgeber bloviates. “The void in Canadian law means there are currently NO LEGAL restrictions regulating the process.  Theoretically, a very late term procedure, if performed, would not attract criminal sanction. …”

“Accordingly, given how divisive this issue is, I concede that if the matter were settled, it ought to remain so.  ….  So Parliament must do what the Supreme Court invited it to do in 1988: fill a vacuity in Canadian law, no matter how divisive and polarizing that debate will be.” Yadda-yadda.

In this way, Mr. Rathgeber – and by extension, the entire Conservative Party for which he so frequently speaks, even those parts of it that allow the vote and then say Nay – tries to pass off his action to suppress the rights of all women as just a matter of procedural consistency.

Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt!

A nice analytical hint about the Tories’ real motives is contained in Mr. Rathgeber’s previous blog post, about the death of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, in which the MP laments the decline in the quality of Parliamentary debate from a (largely imagined) golden age of substantial ideas to a contemporary one of fleeting and insubstantial sound-bites.

“Today, we live in the era of the seven-second sound-bite and reaction to the story becomes the next story. … Fulsome debate does not lend itself to the seven-second sound-bite,” Mr. Rathgeber moans, as if it was the other guys responsible for this. “It was policy, not spin, that interested Premier Lougheed.”

Unfortunately – for all of us – it’s nothing but blatant spin that interests Mr. Rathgeber, Mr. Kenney, Mr. Harper and all the rest of the Parliamentary Conservative caucus on this particular issue.

But it really boils down to something as simple as this: no matter what they tell you, if you’re concerned about women’s rights, you’re foolish to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

About Stephen Harper’s ambassadorial timeshare: maybe he missed the lesson on the Statute of Westminster!

Canadian and British Joint-Embassy diplomats work out their timeshare arrangements. Below: The young Stephen Harper on the day he missed his history lecture after lingering too long over Atlas Shrugged; Perfesser Dave feeds lines to Opposition leader Tom Mulcair last weekend; Mr. Harper at the NCC.

Like Sir John A. Macdonald, a British subject I was born and now, apparently, a British subject I may die. What’s with that?

Or did I fail to get it right yesterday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his gang of so-called Conservatives have decided to give up he trappings of independent nationhood and, just as the Scots are about to head out for the Highlands, go in with the British on a joint-venture diplomatic service?

This has got to be the weirdest story of the long, weird Harper government. Who thought we’d ever see the leaders of a sovereign nation state, even this one, so glibly toss aside the trappings of sovereignty and nation statehood?

What’s next, a cheerful bon voyage et bon chance to Quebec? (Scary answer: Don’t bet against it.)

What gives with these guys, anyway? Sovereign countries run by sensible politicians don’t just volunteer to stop being countries, even a piece at a time – not, leastways, until after a sustained bombing campaign by the U.S. Air Force and the other occupants of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Preferred Customer Lounge, formerly known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But Mr. Harper and his minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, have glibly done no less – all the while assuring us it’s just a cost-saving measure, doesn’t mean a thing, it’s simply a way to save Canada’s hard-working taxpayers a modest sum of free-floating Northern Credonias, or whatever the British-Icelandic-Canadian currency is called nowadays, by going back in with our previous colonial masters on their nice ambassadorial digs in Burkina Faso and what have you.

This prompted NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair to sound like he was channeling Perfesser Dave and riff that there’s plenty more the Harperites could do next. “Why stop at the embassies,” he wondered. “They could merge our armed forces. No wonder they’re so nostalgic for the war of 1812! Why not merge the Senate with the House of Lords? It’s the same difference. …” (It is true, Mr. Mulcair and the Perfesser chatted over the weekend at the Alberta NDP convention, but I can assure you they didn’t talk about diplomacy.)

Seriously, speaking of the War of 1812, was the young Stephen Harper so excited about that conflict that he missed the lesson on the Statute of Westminster?

The Statute of Westminster, for those of you who voted for Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party and may like him have missed that class, has nothing to do with the port up the Fraser River from the offices of the market-fundy “institute” of the same name. Rather, it was a law passed in the British House of Commons in 1931 that essentially established Canada and the other dominions of the British Empire as independent countries.

Among other things, the Statute of Westminster meant that never no more would our Canadian interests abroad have to be represented by the British Legation, even before prime minister Pierre Trudeau got us our own Constitution with an amending formula and everything. At least, that is, until Messrs. Harper and Baird came along.

So, seriously, people … are they nuts? The answer, I think, is probably yes. Let me explain.

Canadians and the citizens of other Western democracies that have been pushed relentlessly to the right for the past 30 or so years still count on their most right-wing politicians to entertain a certain amount of sensible hypocrisy when spouting their foolish bromides.

They can’t actually believe that nonsense, we tell ourselves after a night like the one in May 2011 on which Mr. Harper and his party finally got their coveted majority government, so they’ll probably run the place in a pretty sensible fashion.

It’s like in George Orwell’s 1984, the Party – and especially the Inner Party – isn’t supposed to consume the same tripe they spout over the Prolefeed. It’s supposed to understand the true Party agenda and vision (a boot stomping on a human face forever).

Now, in deference to my one-time supervisor at the Globe and Mail, Peggy Wente, I have to confess that I didn’t actually write the previous line myself, but pretty much stole it outright from a blog post economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, just throwing in an extra word here and there to confuse the no-longer-so-anonymous blogger at Media Culpa. I just forgot to put quotation marks around it because I’m tired and have to get up in less than six hours and drive to Red Deer, and because, anyway, I don’t really care that I’m falling short of the Globe’s journalistic standards in terms of reasonable credit for the work of others because … oh, wait. I just provided reasonable credit!

Whatever… Don’t expect Ms. Wente to be punished very severely for her transgressions. She knows where most of the bodies are buried at the Globe, including who authorized the payments to Conrad Black for that column his driver used to bring her in his limo. (Really!)

Anyway, it’s kind of scary when you start unearthing bits of evidence that Mr. Harper might actually believe what he said back when he was the Top Dawg at the National Citizens Coalition (which, readers are reminded, isn’t national, doesn’t represent citizens and isn’t a coalition).

It’s sort of like finding out that Ronald Reagan was relying on a tarot card reader for advice and may have really believed it when he whispered into the microphone, “I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Alert readers will recall Mr. Harper’s actual words to the NCC’s Colin Brown Memorial Dinner in 1994: “Whether Canada ends up as one national government, or two national governments or several national governments is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion. … And whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or 10 governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country may be.”

In other words, yesterday’s embassy timeshare announcement suggests that Mr. Harper actually believes the kind of nutty tripe he spouts! He may sincerely be the pure, globalized market fundamentalist fruitcake that the more excitable residents of the tinfoil-hat-wearing corners of the blogosphere keep saying he is!

And if that’s the case, he really may not give a hang who represents us abroad, who owns all our bitumen or anything else – be it the British, the Chinese, the Americans, KPMG or Coca-Cola – as long as they share his market-fundamentalist convictions.

And if that’s really the case, we Canadians might just be advised to skid his loony government as quickly as possible while we still have a country!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

If Alberta’s Tories loved Peter Lougheed so much, why do they have so little to say about him?

Linda Duncan at the Alberta NDP’s 50th annual convention over the weekend. Below: Ralph Goodale, Peter Lougheed.

We have 28 federal electoral districts in Alberta of which 27 elected members of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Of those 27 Conservative MPs, one has since been kicked out of caucus for refusing to blow into a Breathalyzer and now sits as an independent Conservative. One has quit and not yet been replaced. The 28th is a New Democrat.

So how many Alberta Members of Parliament, do you think, paid tribute to former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed in the House of Commons when Parliament resumed sitting four days after Mr. Lougheed’s death in Calgary at 84?

The answer would be “only one.”

And who was that sole Alberta Member of Parliament who did make a tribute to Mr. Lougheed in the House of Commons? Why, that would be Linda Duncan, Alberta’s sole New Democrat MP, the representative for Edmonton-Strathcona.

Indeed, only two MPs had anything nice to say about Mr. Lougheed in Parliament when it resumed sitting after his passing, and the other was a Liberal from Saskatchewan – former cabinet minister and deputy leader Ralph Goodale.

I raise this only because of the instinctively critical reaction of a few people in Alberta Tory circles to recent suggestions by some New Democrats that today’s Alberta NDP has more in common with the program of Mr. Lougheed when he was premier from 1971 to 1985 than does the party whose long spell in power began under his leadership.

Actually, even on this point the Tory response has been pretty muted – except for a few Twitterers who obviously haven’t been paying adequate attention to the Tory Trollfeed. After all, the governments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Alison Redford, who claim to wear the mantle of the former premier, would have trouble claiming in a serious debate that their market fundamentalism looks much like any policy Mr. Lougheed would have adopted, or that current NDP policies wouldn’t have mostly made sense to Alberta Conservatives circa 1971.

It’s said here the Conservative braintrust must recognize that it could get a little embarrassing for today’s Conservatives to try to make a serious case they ought to be called the party of Peter Lougheed – and not the party of Ralph Klein!

Mr. Lougheed, Ms. Duncan told the House of Commons during the 15 minutes before Question Period during which MPs may comment on whatever they wish, was “a formidable advocate for establishing provincial control of natural resources and for establishing a stronger place for Alberta in the federation.”

“Yet he contributed so much more on other fronts,” she went on. “He created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, investing resource royalties towards health care and medical research. He established the first Alberta Ministry of Culture and set aside protected areas, notably Kananaskis Country. He enacted the Alberta Bill of Rights and contributed to the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights. Recently, he raised concerns with the fast pace of development of the oilsands and called for greater attention to the environment. In his own words, Peter Lougheed was a Canadian first, an Albertan second and a political partisan third. He left a lasting legacy benefiting not only Albertans but all Canadians. We would do well to build on his legacy and his recent sage advice. …”

Since Monday was the first day after Mr. Lougheed’s death that our MPs got together, it seems unlikely Ms. Duncan’s remarks were meant as a cynical or overtly political gesture. As Opposition environment critic, however, she could hardly be blamed for mentioning Mr. Lougheed’s recent words of caution about the pace of oil sands development. That reference, along with the one about the Charter of Rights, must have made Mr. Harper and his spear-carriers grind their teeth – although possibly not nearly as much as when Mr. Lougheed said it.

No doubt Ms. Duncan expected to hear similar remarks from the some of her 25 Conservative fellow Parliamentarians. If so, she was disappointed.

Instead, from them, there was little but silence on the topic. From all the Conservative MPS in the House, according to Postmedia News, one said she was changing her name, one lauded an Olympic athlete, one said the government wants to restore the planet’s ozone layer and three told the same pathetic lie about the NDP’s tax policies.

Of course, you may say, Conservative politicians had their chance to make their remarks at Mr. Lougheed’s public memorial service in Calgary or in the media.

This is true enough. Mind you, Prime Minister Harper spent almost as much time on that occasion attacking the legacy of Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, even if he didn’t name the man, as he did praising Mr. Lougheed.

Those few in the ranks who mentioned him at all, like the redoubtable Parliamentary blogger Brent Rathgeber, passed pretty lightly over Mr. Lougheed’s real accomplishments – for the obvious reason, I am sure, that they don’t show the current crop of Conservative legislators at either level of government in a very good light.

Still, Mr. Rathgeber’s blog – posted eight days after Ms. Duncan’s tribute in the House – made one good point: “As a lasting legacy, modern politicians should study his style and replicate his methods. It would improve our democracy.”

Agreed. Although it wouldn’t hurt to adopt some of his policies too!

Twenty-five Conservative MPs from this province, and not one of them had anything to say in Parliament about Peter Lougheed! Their silence speaks for itself!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta NDP’s Brian Mason lays claim to Tory Peter Lougheed’s legacy

Free of his moustache, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason addresses his party’s 50th annual convention in Edmonton yesterday. Below: Federal NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, who also spoke yesterday; former Alberta Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed.

Freshly shorn of his trademark moustache, Alberta New Democratic Party Leader Brian Mason made the implicit explicit yesterday at the party’s 50th annual convention in Edmonton.

To wit: he stated outright what a lot of us have been thinking, that the policies advocated by today’s Alberta New Democrats have more in common with the managerial legacy of Peter Lougheed, who died in Calgary on Thursday at 84, than do those of the Progressive Conservative Party whose ruling dynasty Mr. Lougheed founded more than 41 years ago.

Conservatives, naturally, will scoff at this suggestion and accuse Mr. Mason of being the leader of a minor party trying to crash the former premier’s funeral cortege. Well, a minor opposition party the NDP still is, but, really, on the record, the logic of the rest of his case is pretty hard to assail.

Mr. Lougheed was a manager who raised petroleum royalties in Alberta to 40 per cent from the pathetic 17 per cent charged under the Social Credit government of Premier Ernest Manning. Today, after the succession of PC mismanagers that followed Mr. Lougheed into the premier’s office, Alberta royalties have been ratcheted down to 15 per cent, Mr. Mason said.

Citing the points Mr. Lougheed prescribed for sound management of the province’s rich natural resources, Mr. Mason concluded that “it is the NDP that is carrying on Peter Lougheed’s legacy and not the Progressive Conservatives in this province.”

Take Mr. Lougheed’s oft-made pronouncement Alberta’s government should “act like an owner” to manage the province’s resources. The numbers, he said, illustrate how premiers Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford have shortchanged future generations of Albertans. “That is billions of dollars that are being stolen from future generations in this province by a government that is in the pockets of foreign oil corporations.”

Of Mr. Lougheed’s call for Alberta’s resources to be developed with care and planning, Mr. Mason said: “The principles of planning have been abandoned by his party.” Of his call to add value here in Alberta: The PCs “are letting the oil industry write its own ticket and those jobs are going down the pipeline just as surely as the unprocessed bitumen.”

Mr. Mason didn’t mention the Wildrose Party – understandably enough, given the nature of the occasion – but it’s worth mentioning here that the province’s largest Opposition party would likely take corporate taxes and resource royalties even lower, exacerbating the artificial deficit crisis already created by the PCs.

There was far more tax fairness in Mr. Lougheed’s day, Mr. Mason observed, before business taxes were slashed, royalties rolled back and a flat-tax implemented that gave bit tax breaks to the wealthy and left the rest of us holding the bag.

Mr. Mason reminded his listeners that “when you attack teachers, you attack kids; when you attack nurses, you attack patients; when you attack long-term care, you attack seniors. We can’t permit deficits created by tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations to be paid for by the middle classes.”

Mr. Mason told his (obviously sympathetic) listeners of the great pride he felt at his role in defeating premier Klein’s “Third Way” health care policy, which, he asserted, was nothing more than an effort to bring in private health care by stealth. This is a plan, he warned, that despite new rhetoric is not much changed under the Redford Government.

“Alison will show her true colours before too long,” he predicted. “She may try to embrace the Lougheed legacy and lay claim to it, but in actual fact she is very different and shows no inclination to go back to that progressive vision. That leaves it up to the New Democrats.”

OK, this stuff is all well and good, but even with the opportunity to ride the Orange Wave generated by the federal NDP, Alberta New Democrats are still members of a boutique party in a province where the main opposition is even farther to the right than the government and the progressive vote is split at least between the NDP and the Alberta Liberals, and last time was shared with the Alberta Party to boot.

Mr. Mason’s prescription for changing the party from a phone booth to a big tent – in other words, reaching out other progressive voters who may have concluded that is where the future lies – is obviously needed.

Accordingly, earlier yesterday, convention delegates voted to give each party member a vote in future leadership contests, abandoning the old system of having elected convention delegates (who tend to be party insiders) choose the leader.

But if the Alberta NDP is going to succeed at broadening its base, it’s going to have to prove they can run a party meeting with more precision than a church supper – and get, for example, the evening’s main speaker to the podium in time to make the evening TV news.

Last night the time crunch left federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair scrambling with that deadline no doubt in mind to make similar points to Mr. Mason’s, packaged for a national audience.

Mr. Mulcair wondered why the Conservative governments of Alison Redford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are so determined to ship Alberta bitumen as fast as possible to the Texas Gulf and Communist China, where they’ll likely further depress the price Alberta’s resources can fetch, instead of adding value and creating jobs here in Canada.

“Your premier has said we need a national conversation about our natural resources. And you know what? I agree with her.” But instead, the Redford and Harper Conservatives seem determined to sell Canadian bitumen to a Chinese company that is nothing but an arm of the Chinese government “without even having a national debate. We’re calling for a national debate.”

As for Mr. Harper’s unrelenting attacks on environmental regulation and sustainable development – leaving the costs of his recklessness to the future – not to mention his tactic of just making stuff up to attack the opposition, Mr. Mulcair responded, “we’re in favour of a more prosperous Canada, but a Canada that’s more prosperous for everyone.”

He asked: “How is it that the Conservatives, who tend to talk that game, are living off the credit card of a future generation?”

In other words, he agreed with Mr. Mason, it’s time for Albertans and Canadians to do what Mr. Lougheed advised, and act like the owners of their resources.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Adoration of Peter Lougheed moves beyond canonization into deification

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s message at Peter Lougheed’s state funeral. Below: Premier Lougheed with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who haunts us still.

With his state funeral yesterday afternoon, the official adoration of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed moved beyond canonization into deification.

If other Canadians happened to pause and listen to what was actually being said in Calgary’s 57-year-old Jubilee Auditorium, which was broadcast by the CBC, they could be forgiven for wondering if we Albertans had collectively taken leave of our senses.

I mean no disrespect for Mr. Lougheed with this observation. As has been said here before, he was an undeniably successful politician, far-sighted by the standards of any generation and surprisingly liberal in his economic views from the perspective of the positions held nowadays by his fellow Conservatives.

But Mr. Lougheed was not the father of our country, and his record is as mixed as that of other politicians of his generation. Alberta would have been a great place to live, pretty much as it is today, had someone else become premier in his place in 1971. He most certainly was not born atop a mountain in the Kananaskis Range, which is what it was starting to sound like this afternoon!

Mr. Lougheed’s family is entitled to its heartfelt grief. People who knew him or knew of him and respected him, even if they disagreed with him, are right to honor his memory. And his political allies and beneficiaries of the political dynasty he founded 41 years ago naturally remember him very fondly.

I am not so sure, however, if the occasion of a state funeral – Canadian provinces are indeed entitled to hold such events – is an appropriate venue to try to gain a political edge or revise history, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper most certainly did in his remarks.

And as for suggesting that “every single one of us woke up this morning in Peter Lougheed’s Alberta, it was the Alberta of which he dreamed, and it was the dream he was able to make real,” as Premier Alison Redford did, that seems just a little over the top.

Still, Ms. Redford hit the best note of all the official speakers at the funeral. She was dignified, didn’t try to milk the occasion for too much political advantage, and her assessment of Mr. Lougheed as intelligent, compassionate and honest is certainly fair.

But was he, as broadcaster Rex Murphy said, “the greatest premier this country has ever seen”? Do our soldiers and the rest of us “all stand a little taller because of E. Peter Lougheed,” as former Treasurer and Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning intoned in the voice and diction of a beat poet? (Presumably Mr. Dinning had in mind Canada’s soldiers, as, just yet anyway, Alberta doesn’t have an army.)

Oh well, a little hyperbole is permissible on such occasions.

As for Mr. Harper, he can be forgiven his little joke about the supposed benefits of “strong, stable Conservative governments” and his homily to using the wealth we were all endowed with by nature to reward “entrepreneurs and investors.”

But he really ought not to have tried to turn the occasion into a sneaky attack on the legacy of Pierre Elliot Trudeau – who, unnamed, haunts us still, even here – and “the folly of the National Energy Program.”

Is Canada a better country because Mr. Lougheed – an undeniably admirable and determined fighter – won the battle to ensure control of this resource remained in Alberta and to restrict the flow of benefits from it to all Canadians? Was the country “from that point forward … changed for the better”? Are all Canadians, therefore, “fortunate that Peter Lougheed was there,” as Mr. Harper asserted?

All these points of the prime minister’s are highly partisan, intended to perpetrate a certain view of history, and all of them are legitimately debatable – as indeed, is the suggestion the NEP was folly or responsible for the economic circumstances visited upon Alberta in its wake. This is true even though Albertans take in that opinion as if it were fact with their mothers’ milk.

After the funeral ended, the Alberta and Canadian flags were raised to the top of their staffs. The state broadcaster did not play the national song, announce plans for a granite memorial in Redford Square or inform us that driving was permitted again, but none of these things would have seemed entirely out of place.

Just the same, as the flags atop their staffs imply, it’s now time for us to take a deep breath and get back to reality.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

News from Imperial Washington: Alberta Diary’s surprise endorsement (sort of) from afar

You want moments in American history? Apropos of nothing, here lies Alexander Hamilton, slain in a duel by his political foe Aaron Burr, who got off scot free. Top that! Below: Danielle Smith, disapproving of my tinfoil cap.

Your blogger is normally disinclined to give too much of this space over to people he disagrees with, on the perfectly sensible grounds they have access to more and better publicity opportunities of their own. Heck, some of them even own their own presses – for all the good that’s doing anyone nowadays.

Plus, of course, that’s what the comments section’s for beneath this blog.

But what the heck, it’s a slow news night, I’ve been sitting in a couple of airplanes all afternoon feeling cranky and increasingly hot (and not in a good way, either), and in defending herself against my suggestion she’d talk to anyone about selling Canadian water, the leader of Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose Party has gone and said something nice about me, in a backhanded sort of way.

So I suppose I’ll indulge Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and me too and reprint some of the comments from her travel blog.

Ms. Smith was in Imperial Washington last night for the opening engagement of her First International Tour, see posts passim, camped right across the street from the site of a famous American attempted assassination. (with one of her personal heroes in the crosshairs, one feels fairly confident to state, no less.)

From that historical address, she writes: “Normally I like reading Dave Climenhaga’s blog, but his recent uncharacteristically inflammatory posting seems to demand a response. For the record, I think Climenhaga gets it right more often than he gets it wrong. He is often the first to break news stories and political gossip (he outed my run for the Wildrose leadership before anyone else) and his analysis is usually very good, even if I don’t always agree with him.” (Emphasis added, of course.)

There, see, I wasn’t making it up about scooping the world about Ms. Smith’s leadership run. However, she goes on, “but he does stray into the realm of kooky conspiracy in his latest posting on my trip, hosted by the U.S. International Visitor Leadership Program.”

This, naturally, is a reference to my suggestion in this space two days ago that “it makes my blood run cold when I hear a committed market fundamentalist like Smith musing about the need to chat about water with our American cousins…”

First, I have to observe that I’m obviously falling down on the job if that post was “uncharacteristically inflammatory.” Now, last night’s blog – which was about Premier Alison Redford, Ms. Smith should note – really was uncharacteristically inflammatory. The one about Ms. Smith was pretty tame by comparison.

Nevertheless, if you ask me, it’s hardly evidence of over-fondness for kooky conspiracy theories or the desire to wear an aluminum-foil hat to bed to find oneself worrying about the dangerous mix of market fundamentalists like Ms. Smith and cool, clean Canadian water.

Indeed, not so long ago, the Fraser Institute, Ms. Smith’s erstwhile employer, produced a report that tried to make the case “water exports can be undertaken responsibly,” “water export can be environmentally sustainable,” and “reconsideration of the issue is warranted.”

Actually, what the report says is that “fact-based reconsideration of the issue is warranted.” The trouble is, the kind of facts the market fundy Fraserites retail could be called “Fraser Facts,” and they aren’t necessarily exactly the same as the real thing.

Regardless, this paper touts the economic benefits to Canadians of exporting our water to the USA, and calls (in violation of the institute’s tax exempt status) for governments to “repeal prohibitions against water exports,” replacing them with “institutional mechanisms for assigning private water rights.”

Well, you get the general idea here. This is why I worry, when I hear people like Ms. Smith want to talk about water – even if it’s not, as she insists, in a private chat with anyone. Although how public the chats are she’s having with the various folks the State Department’s IVLP have lined her up with is subject to a certain amount of interpretation.

Nor do I feel completely reassured by Ms. Smith’s lengthy recitation of the perfectly legitimate reasons she needs to think about water in her Highwood riding – which, as she accurately points out, is alternately parched and flooded every year. You can read the complete list for yourself by clicking here.

Still, kooky conspiracy theorizing or not, I continue to think these guys bear watching – even though I’m sincerely grateful to Ms. Smith for her assessment that I am Alberta’s must-read blogger. This is a view, needless to say, with which I heartily agree. It also makes up – somewhat – for the disappointment of this week’s kind letter about my Peter Lougheed post from Jeffrey Simpson, when he turned out to be the Jeffrey Simpson of Vancouver.

Ms. Smith closes her post by itemizing her expenses and comparing the modest sum ($876.13, including $8 for taxis) to the (not all that much) larger bills reported by Premier Redford when she is on the road. In fairness though, Uncle Sam is not paying for Ms. Redford’s hotel room or her airplane ride.

As for me, my cab ride last night in Lethbridge, Alberta, cost $16, so taxis must be a better deal in D.C. than in “L.A.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The only sector where you can’t have a union is the only one with no health and safety rules? Explain, please…

Alabama farm workers in 1935 – not so different from Alabamberta farmworkers in 2012. Below: Premier Alison Redford.

LETHBRIDGE, Alberta

Literally everybody – and that includes Alberta Premier Alison Redford – knows that permitting an industry to “voluntarily” self-regulate the health and safety of its own workers amounts to a load of a very common agricultural product frequently spread on the ground as fertilizer.

This includes, by the way, every one of those well-greased lobbyists and earnest spokespeople for Alberta’s agricultural industry who presumably subjected Ms. Redford to the full court press to forget about her impetuous promise to cover farm workers under Alberta’s health and safety legislation during last fall’s Conservative leadership campaign.

As was no doubt quickly brought to Ms. Redford’s attention upon taking the oath of office, Conservative premiers just don’t do that sort of thing in Alberta – even when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party. Maybe especially when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party!

So, am I calling these people liars? You bet I am!

They know as you know and I know and Ms. Redford knows that not including agricultural workers under the province’s health and safety laws costs lives now and will cost more lives in the future. They also know the principal reason they don’t want to have to comply with this reasonable kind of regulation is because now and then it might shave a few dollars off their bottom line.

Don’t ever let someone talk snottily about how life’s cheap in some other part of the world. It can be pretty cheap in Alberta too. (And it’s cheaper, take note, here than in any other part of Canada, because everywhere else in Canada, farm workers do come under health and safety legislation.)

Notwithstanding her broken promise, by the way, I’m not accusing Ms. Redford of lying. She’s merely scrambling to avoid having to lie about the topic. Earlier this week, according to the Calgary Herald, the premier’s media spokesthingies were referring reporters’ questions to members of her cabinet. Her agriculture minister and her minister responsible for health and safety law, meanwhile, refused to be interviewed about it.

This topic is in the news because a report of something called the Farm Safety Advisory Council, which was set up by Ms. Redford’s predecessor, Farmer Ed Stelmach, recommends that unlike every other civilized jurisdiction, Alberta farm workers continue to be excluded from the protection of health and safety law.

This being Alberta, they’re also excluded from laws governing hours of work, overtime pay, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, compensation if they’re injured on the job or even the right to be told if they work they’re being instructed to do is dangerous!

Ms. Redford’s ministers have been studying this and studying it and studying it – presumably while they try to come up with a way to pass off what they plan to do as concern for farm worker safety. Then some anonymous and inconsiderate person leaked the scheme to the media, whereupon reporters lobbed a few questions for the premier and her ministers to evade answering.

Now, the recommendation of the Farm Safety Advisory Council comes as no surprise, as Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan pointed out in a letter to the premier, because the advisory council is packed with representatives of agricultural corporations.

The advisory council, by the way, thinks the workers should be “educated” about safety. That’s a good one, considering the advantage bosses have anywhere – even if you happen to speak English and know a good lawyer or two. Temporary foreign workers, frightened, far from home and unable to speak the local lingo? Good luck to them!

One advantage of this approach from the employer’s perspective, of course, is that if something does go terribly wrong, God forbid, they can blame the dead or injured worker.

It’s also important to remember, while we’re talking about “farm workers,” that Alberta doesn’t just use that term to describe the hired hand on a run-down family farm – which I’m sure is the image they’d like you to think of when you hear the expression – but also for employees of giant industrial operations run by multinational corporations, including hog farms, massive feedlots and hay processing factories that ship stuff overseas.

In other words, in many cases here in Alberta, it’s a significant class of industrial workers that has been excluded from the right to a safe and healthy workplace by this lamentable situation.

Meanwhile, according to the director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, a government funded operation at the University of Alberta, the Advisory Council had no interest in his group’s advice, which was to include the farm workers under the health and safety umbrella.

“Our input was based on the science but it wasn’t listened to,” epidemiologist Don Voaklander, the U of A Centre’s director, told the Herald. He added: “These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn’t apply.”

Think about this sort of thing when you hear those kindly souls from the anti-union Merit Contractors, the extreme-right Tax Exempt Fraser Institute for Market Fundamentalist Propaganda (TEFIMFP) and the further reaches of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s backbenches explaining that we don’t need unions any more because we have all this great health and safety legislation, labour laws and the like.

Well, you may wonder, why don’t Alberta’s farm workers just join a union and start the long march to better labour conditions?

That would be the ticket, eh? Just one thing about that plan, though: it’s also illegal in Alberta for “farm workers” to be represented by a union!

Sure, the law’s unconstitutional, but someone who had suffered because of it would have to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.

So think about this the next time you’re serenaded about the need for “worker choice” and the “right to work” – meaning laws to make unions ineffective or outright illegal – by one of these “friends of the working person.”

If not having unions is so great because we already have such wonderful safety laws, labor laws and rules against children working in industrial plants, how come the only sector without this protection just happens to be the only sector where you’re not allowed to join a union? Just wondering.

In the meantime, let’s call a spade an agricultural implement. The fact Alberta farm workers are still not covered by basic health and safety law, and the fact Premier Redford has broken her promise to make sure they are protected, is a disgrace.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.