All posts in Alberta Politics

Tory candidate Ric McIver to voters: No to green light speed enforcement; yes to booze sales at 4 a.m.; maybe to chain gangs

Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue at 4 a.m., as imagined by Ric McIver, would-be Tory leader and premier. Actual Alberta street scenes are unlikely ever to be as described with regard to the availability of taxicabs. Below: Mr. McIver, candidates Jim Prentice and Thomas Lukaszuk.

Well, no one can say that Ric McIver hasn’t set himself apart from the other two candidates for the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership.

While frontrunner Jim Prentice and tail gunner Thomas Lukaszuk have each offered five largely meaningless anodyne platitudes as their priorities, Mr. McIver has been right out there with some fairly definitive ideas.

Not good ideas, mind you. And they’d be bound to be highly controversial if anyone except me thought he had any chance of winning. So if I’m right, and everyone else is wrong, this could end up making a lot of people very unhappy.

I’m not talking, by the way, about Mr. McIver’s March for Jesus faux pas, in which he claimed not to have noticed the extremely homophobic views of a religious group whose annual Calgary parade he’s made a practice of marching in, an association that might actually help him sell memberships.

And I’m not talking about his placement – if we believe in guilt by association, at any rate – at the embarrassingly socially conservative end of the conservative movement.

Rather, this is about his views on speed enforcement, liquor sales and the treatment of inmates in (and out of) Alberta’s provincial jails.

Last Friday, Mr. McIver announced that, as far as he’s concerned, speed-on-green-light radar cameras are nothing but tax-collection devices.

“‘Speed-on-green’ cameras don’t control speed,” the former infrastructure minister said in his “justice policy,” released Friday. “A Ric McIver government will ban the use of speed-on-green cameras in Alberta.”

I’m not sure I understand his logic when he says speeding is bad and needs to be enforced, but it’s OK if you happen to be speeding through an intersection. He cites statistics from Calgary that, as far as I can see, neither support his case nor indicate anything other than the fact more people speed through green lights than drive through red lights – which ought not to be a revelation.

I can tell you this: Speed-on-green lights have made the highway that runs through my Edmonton bedroom suburb significantly safer, and it would be unfortunate if the province banned a safety measure that apparently works. What about local democracy?

Mr. McIver also thinks it would be just dandy if patrons in Alberta’s bars were able to drink for two more hours, until 4 a.m., before they drive home. Not, of course, that he will say that they should be driving, but it’s a certainty that some of them will – with their judgment and their driving abilities that much more impaired.

Mr. McIver’s argument is that if everyone has to go home at 2 a.m., as they technically do now, there aren’t enough cabs and some folks are tempted to drive drunk, whereas if they have to go home at 4 a.m., they’ll have plenty of time to share the available cabs around. There’s a flaw with this plan, since it assumes lots of die-hard drinkers will leave the bar between 2 and 4 a.m. instead of just sticking around and getting boiled as owls, as somebody is bound to learn hard way in the wee hours if Mr. McIver has his way.

It’s an interesting observation that when Alison Redford became premier 2011, the first thing she tried to do was make it harder to drive drunk, and if Mr. McIver becomes premier the first thing he wants to do is make it easier to get a drink at an hour when the temptation to drive will prove irresistible to many.

As an aside, it’s a wonderment to me how social conservatives like Mr. McIver and the Wildrose Party activists who are anxious to control what we smoke and whom we marry take such exception to regulating the nexus of booze and automobiles. I must be missing something.

Getting back to Mr. McIver’s ideas about justice, as stated last Friday, the candidate offered a vague idea about putting prisoners in provincial jails to work – outside jails. At first glance, this sounded suspiciously like former Ralph Klein minister Steve West’s Mississippi-style highway-cleanup chain gangs, a national embarrassment that has thankfully disappeared from Alberta’s highways.

But Mr. McIver says the inmates would be asked to volunteer for this duty – which, presumably, they would do if they wanted more fresh air or planned to escape and needed to be close to a place suitable for helicopter landings. It wasn’t clear where they would work, but it occurs to me that if they could bake donuts and run a cash register, this might be the solution to Ottawa’s currently controversial Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

I wonder how the Chamber of Commerce would react to an Alberta Temporary Incarcerated Workers Program? You don’t have to pay them anything, but heaven only knows what they might do to the burgers when you aren’t looking!

Meanwhile as for Messrs. Prentice and Lukaszuk, there’s not much to separate their five policy points. They say they stand for:

  • Sound conservative principles (Prentice) and fiscally conservative principles (Lukaszuk)
  • Ending entitlements and restoring trust (Prentice) and open, trustworthy government (Lukaszuk)
  • Planning for our economic future (Lukaszuk) and maximizing the value of our natural resources and respecting property rights (Prentice)
  • Increasing access to basic health and education services (Lukaszuk) and ensuring Alberta leads the way on health care and education training (Prentice)
  • Being an environmental leader (Prentice)
  • Encouraging new ideas (Lukaszuk)

In fairness, Mr. Prentice is a little more specific in gatherings with his supporters – I’ve heard him promise no end to the flat tax, no changes to Alberta’s petroleum royalty structure, “choice” in education (i.e., more tax funding for private schools) and “pipelines in every direction” at recent meetings.

But I doubt either Mr. McIver or Mr. Lukaszuk would disagree with him on any of that stuff.

Apparently they’ve all fallen in love with LRT lines too, although you have to wonder how long that’ll last once they start competing seriously with the fiscal conservatives in the Wildrose Party.

On the grounds it’s a good thing to actually know where your leaders stand out there on the fringes, kudos to Mr. McIver. I guess.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Russia must be stopped! And Peter Goldring’s just the man to do it! We’ll fight to the last Frenchman and German!

After we’ve won the war with Russia, a beachhead in the Caribbean! Edmonton MP Peter Goldring as illustrated by Press Progress. Below: Rob Ford, Louis Riel, Ann of Green Gables and last year’s military licence plate, which is presumably the same as this year’s military licence plate.

Whenever you think it’s safe to start ridiculing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford again, Peter Goldring opens his mouth, proving that this province remains Canada’s Home Sweet Alabamberta of egregious political bufoonery.

Mr. Goldring, 69, is the Member of Parliament for Edmonton East and the source many of the more entertaining if inconsequential political stories in Alberta. Yesterday he was back in the thick of it, using the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine as an excuse to demand Canada declare war on Russia.

Well, in fairness, all Mr. Goldring was really calling for was “total economic warfare,” but that, he added, should only be “the first precursor to much more strident efforts” – which will be fought, presumably, to the very last German, Frenchman and Italian.

Thoroughly in tune with the sprit of the era, Mr. Goldring also demanded the West start a religious war by establishing a competing Patriarchy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to compete with one inside Russia’s borders. Maybe later we can argue about whether it should be Canada’s state church.

Mr. Goldring has long had a lively interest in foreign policy, and indeed is best known as the country’s most enthusiastic advocate of bringing the Caribbean’s Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation, an idea that for some reason has failed generate much enthusiasm elsewhere in Ottawa’s halls of power throughout his 17-year Parliamentary career.

He argued that the Turks and Caicos would be just like Prince Edward Island – only, you know, farther away, and without potatoes, Anne Shirley or Green Gables.

But Mr. Goldring’s latest effort should find considerably more sympathy in the bellicose PMO of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as the Top Tory Banana attempts with his friends at Post Media and the Sun News Network to revive the Cold War.

Last December, Mr. Goldring engaged in a little “freelance diplomacy,” visiting Kiev on his own dime to whip up the crowds in support for the rebels who later toppled the former Ukrainian government in last spring’s coup. Later, the Harper Government sent him back to Ukraine in May and June to make impartial observations about the current Ukrainian government’s election.

On the Home Front, Mr. Goldring is also well known for his view that this homelessness stuff is vastly overstated. “You don’t want to look at it coldly, but they’re really not in desperate need until they’re holding that eviction notice in their hand,” he explained in 2012.

In 2009, he railed against what he called the effort to “unhang” Louis Riel, whom he dismissed as a villain.

While he has spent most of his career in Parliament as an MP for the Conservative-Reform-Alliance Party, Mr. Goldring spent all of 2012 and bits of 2011 and 2013 in the doghouse after he was accused of refusing to provide a breath sample to a police officer who pulled him over on his way home from a dinner at the Ukrainian Hall. In June 2013, he was acquitted of that change and welcomed back in to the Conservative fold.

Mr. Goldring has long been a fervent opponent of roadside Breathalyzer tests on what he calls civil liberties grounds. During his spell in political Coventry, he described himself as a Civil Liberties MP.

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Alberta honours troops with new licence plate

IMPORTANT BLOGGER’S NOTE: As a public service, to save taxpayers money and government information officers time, I have updated last year’s Redford Government news release on Alberta’s new licence plates honouring the military to serve as today’s announcement by the Hancock Government of Alberta’s new licence plates honouring the military. Changes are shown in italic type. Remember, people, it’s not plagiarism if you’re plagiarizing yourself – a rule firmly adhered to on this blog:

The Redford Hancock government is giving Albertans another way to support the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces with the launch of a new licence plate.

The plates, which bear the Yellow Ribbon and the Support our Troops slogan, will be available for pre-order early next later this year. The new plates will cost Albertans $150. This includes the regular registration fees as well as expenses for production and delivery. Revenue beyond these costs will go directly to the Support our Troops campaign to assist members of the Forces and their families in Alberta.

Manmeet S. Bhullar Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Service Alberta Culture, will make the announcement at K-Days in Edmonton today.

Under the Building Alberta Plan Jim Prentice’s Keeping Alberta Strong Plan, our government is investing in families and communities, living within our means, and opening new markets for Alberta’s resources to ensure we’re able to fund the services Albertans told us matter most to them without the words “Wild Rose Country” appearing anywhere on anything. We will continue to deliver the responsible change Albertans voted for. Uh, never mind that last bit.

The first half of this post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tories shut down any possibility leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk will get to shine

Thomas Lukaszuk is an entertaining speaker with a full range of facial expressions. His party is going to make darned sure he doesn’t have a chance to use those talents in the service of his leadership bid. Below: PC leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice and candidate Ric McIver.

While Thomas Lukaszuk’s chances of succeeding in the race to become leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party always seemed like a long shot, one has to feel a certain sympathy with the Edmonton MLA’s protest his party won’t permit a real unscripted debate to take place among the three candidates for the job.

The forums organized by the party are tightly scripted and aimed at party insiders, not potential new members who might sign up to back a candidate that impressed them, he complained to a local newspaper late last week.

The explanation is pretty simple, though. The PC Party establishment is going to make darned sure that this time the heir apparent wins – unlike the 2006 and 2011 leadership races, both of which ended up in the elevation to premier of a person the party’s old warhorses had deemed not quite up to the job.

Actually, the same thing happened in 1992 as well, but Ralph Klein worked out rather well for the party in the role of premier of Alberta, thank you very much, something that can’t really be said of Ed Stelmach or especially Alison Redford.

This time the party is determined to see the frontrunner win, and the frontrunner is Jim Prentice, not Mr. Lukaszuk. In other words, the old fixaroo is more than halfway in!

From the perspective of ordinary Albertans, as from that of Mr. Lukaszuk, this is a pity.

Us because we’ll deprived of what could be a highly entertaining hour or two of television, as Mr. Lukaszuk, with the desperation of a last-place candidate, threw caution and the hopes of a future cabinet post to the wind and tried to trip up Mr. Prentice.

Mr. Lukaszuk because he’s the only one of the three who is a really entertaining public speaker, capable of delivering a little bombast along with the usual anodyne platitudes. Unlike the other two, Mr. Lukaszuk also has a full range of facial expressions, plus just the faintest echo of the accent of his native Poland. It’s an appealing combination to most people who hear him speak.

Calgary MLA Ric McIver, notwithstanding the No. 2 candidate’s apparent far-out social conservative views and the loony right types he hangs with, has a speaking style that’s about as exciting as a block of wood. He seems to have the facial expressions to match.

And Mr. Prentice – a former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal politician – has a way of speaking that would be earnestly persuasive in a boardroom or a one-on-one meeting, but is unlikely to light many voters afire on the stump.

In other words, Mr. Lukaszuk’s best chance to shine was in a real rough and tumble debate, and he’s not going to get it because the PC grandees aren’t going to give him the chance.

Their objective is certainly to ensure that Mr. Prentice can’t be pinned down on what he really plans to do in a number of areas. The frontrunner is running a classic low-bridge campaign designed to reveal as little as possible and alienate no voter who might be persuaded to give the tired old PC dynasty one more chance. This, without doubt, is why Mr. Prentice has been skipping debates organized by third parties whenever he can.

Farther down the road, the party also wants to make sure opposition leaders aren’t tipped off to the best potential lines of attack.

This indicates recognition by at least some of the Tory leadership that the world has turned and Alberta isn’t what it used to be, thanks in particular to the bizarre spectacle of Ms. Redford’s brief and chaotic tenure at the helm.

The fiction peddled to generations of Albertans has been that they really should buy a party membership for a small sum and vote for the premier (for that’s what the Tory party leader always turned out to be) because this was the only true expression of democracy when general elections were a sure thing.

There was always just enough truth to this notion to make it dangerous.

Now, though, there are two parties that could conceivably form the government, even if they are manifestations of the same right-wing political movement. The Tories will be extremely fortunate if 50,000 members new and old turn up to vote for a leader on Sept. 6, compared with 133,000 in 2006 and 78,000 in 2011.

In other words, once he’s been selected the leader, Mr. Prentice faces a real election campaign that he could very well lose, and it behooves the party’s strategists to take no chances with the leadership-selection process that could wound their leader at the ballot box later on.

This is bad news for Mr. Lukaszuk.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Could Ric McIver still win the Alberta Tory leadership race? Actually, yes, he could!

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. All the money’s on Jim Prentice – but is it the smart money? Below: Ric McIver, Jim Prentice, Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

CALGARY

Could Ric McIver actually win the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race?

Or, to put that another way, could Jim Prentice lose?

Maybe that seems like a theme for a political science fiction story to you. After all, Mr. Prentice – the former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal cabinet minister – is the choice of the PC establishment.

What’s more, he’s now backed by 49 of 59 PC Members of the Legislative Assembly. All the political oddsmakers say he’s a sure bet to win. He acts like a guy who’s on a holiday cruise to victory.

But if he astonished everyone by losing, he wouldn’t be the first front-runner preferred by the mighty PC establishment to drop the ball on voting night, would he?

As a matter of fact, he’d be the third in less than a decade! The fourth in a row if you want to count Ralph Klein’s victory over Nancy Betkowski in 1992, although that one seemed like more of a real contest at the time.

Alert readers will recall that in 2006 Jim Dinning’s ascension to the throne of Peter Lougheed appeared to be all but a certainty. The smart money was all on his candidacy. The PC establishment wanted the former Alberta provincial treasurer in the job – 38 caucus members supported him, compared with 13 for the next most popular candidate. The polls showed him leading by a mile. And all the hot Alberta political strategists were supposedly in his corner.

For his part, Mr. Dinning acted like a man on his way to an easy victory, and an easy general election after that.

Turned out Mr. Dinning was running a terrific general election campaign, visiting every riding in the province, reaching out to all kinds of Albertans. Alas for him, though, a leadership campaign is not a general election. The number of memberships you sell counts more than the number of ridings you visit.

Perhaps Mr. Dinning paid insufficient attention to the riding associations with the votes. Perhaps he didn’t concentrate on what die-hard Tories wanted, or where their loyalties actually lay. Whatever it was, when the dust had settled, a guy named Ed Stelmach was the premier. As we all asked at the time: Ed Who?

Then in 2011, after Mr. Stelmach said to heck with the abuse that automatically goes with the job of being premier, and after a short interregnum during which the party took a look at candidates like Ted Morton and Doug Horner, the smart money settled on Gary Mar.

Mr. Mar was a former minister under Mr. Klein, and tout le monde political Alberta reached the conclusion all at once that he was the front-runner, favoured by the Tory establishment and backed by some of the same hot political strategists who had worked for Mr. Dinning.

I don’t think that Mr. Mar’s ascension to the throne was ever seen as quite the sure thing Mr. Dinning’s appeared to be. Just the same, he had the most backing in caucus – 27 members compared with 14 for Mr. Horner and 11 for Dr. Morton. The smart money settled on him early and stayed there until the night in October on which the party selected … Alison Redford.

If you like, you can blame teachers and other public employees who bought party memberships to support Ms. Redford – whom they’d mistakenly decided was some kind of progressive. But, in their defence, buying memberships is what the PC Party asked them to do. What? It wasn’t supposed to make any difference?

As for the party establishment, Ms. Redford was backed by only one caucus member other than herself, and none of the party’s big movers and shakers.

Now, here it is 2014, Ms. Redford has been fired by her own caucus, Dave Hancock is premier pro tem, and Mr. Prentice is assumed by all the same people to be the front-runner with such a massive lead that no one could possibly catch him.

Mr. McIver, who seemed like he might have had a slight chance at the start, apparently shot himself in both feet by joining something called the March for Jesus last month. Remember that? When it turned out the organizers behind the march had some astonishingly homophobic views, the punditocracy reached the conclusion he was done like dinner. After all, the whole thing smacked of the Lake of Fire debacle, the discovery in 2012 of the undiplomatic blog post by an evangelical Wildrose candidate that appears to have sunk the Wildrose Party in the 2012 general election.

But are you sure? Don’t forget that Mr. McIver, the MLA for Calgary-Hayes, was well known in Calgary before his career in provincial politics as an alderman universally known as Dr. No – for his habit of saying no to spending proposals backed by other city councillors. I’m just saying, but it seldom hurts to have a nickname in politics.

In 2010, Mr. McIver ran for mayor of Calgary – and was favoured to win, so he knows what that’s like – and did well, even if he lost to a more liberal guy named Naheed Nenshi. The next year, he ran for the Legislature and got elected.

People all over Alberta – and especially in Calgary and the south – know who he is and what he stands for. A lot of them like that Dr. No stuff, and a fair number may even not have cared about – or noticed – the story about the March for Jesus.

Name recognition alone might not be enough to float his boat, but in the meantime, Mr. Prentice is campaigning a lot like … Jim Dinning.

He’s running a good general election campaign designed to persuade Alberta voters that he’s not scary and, even after the flip-flops and entitled behaviour of Alison Redford, he can be trusted.

That may work with the masses in Edmonton, where a lot of voters at the moment plan to vote NDP, and in Calgary, which seems to be leaning the Wildrose way nowadays. But how will it play in Ponoka? More importantly, how will it play inside the PC Party – where most activists are still plenty to the right of the general populace?

I don’t know about you, but at this point in the contest, it feels to me like Mr. Prentice’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep – and that he may have forgotten that in a party leadership race, memberships sold count for more than where they were sold.

Meanwhile, Albertans know who Ric McIver is, and a fair number of them may very well like what they see. Mr. McIver is capable of selling thousands of memberships in his south Calgary powerbase, not to mention to supporters of the March for Jesus.

Jim Prentice, the same people may ask … who’s he?

And you’ve got to admit, the whole PC leadership campaign sure hasn’t caught on fire – just yet, anyway. Blogger Dave Cournoyer called it the world’s most boring political leadership race, and I’d say he just about nailed it.

So could Ric McIver actually win?

It’s unlikely, I suppose. The Tory establishment isn’t going to make it easy for him. For one thing, there’s no way it wants to lose for a third time in a row … or a fourth if you count Mr. Klein, although that one worked out better for them.

And maybe I’m just a political blogger pipe dreaming about a race that’s actually interesting.

But the answer is yes, Mr. McIver could still win – notwithstanding the self-inflicted holes in both of his feet.

Could he go on to beat the Wildrose Party? That’s a story for another day.

And could Thomas Lukaszuk, the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and once Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and the owner of the best hair in Alberta politics, also pull off another “miracle on the prairies” and eke out a victory?

The answer to that one is easier: No.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Climate change divestment movement gains ground in church – but not in Canadian media or political circles

Ho-hum... Some typical Canadian reporters, hard at work … Actual Canadian newsrooms may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Is he more influential than we imagined in Alberta?

CALGARY

When retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Alberta’s Tarpatch capital of Fort McMurray last month and called the output from bitumen mining “filth,” the commentary here in Alberta was pretty predictable.

The right-wing rage machine creaked briefly to life, complained bitterly about celebrities who don’t know what they’re talking about just passing through, and then moved on to other complaints.

About the kindest thing said about the retired Anglican churchman by officials and media in these parts was the suggestion he was a naïve do-gooder who should stick to his theological knitting, never mind that he was a veteran of South African politics during and after the apartheid era and thus probably knew a thing or two about persuasion.

As for his contention that “the oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate,” Alberta politicians and oilpatch commentators forgot about his brief appearance almost as soon as he had departed. A few Twitter trolls defamed him for a couple of extra days before they too lapsed into forgetfulness.

Perhaps they should have paid a little more attention, though.

From the Guardian, Britain’s faintly progressive daily newspaper, comes a report that the World Council of Churches, an umbrella group that represents about half a billion Christians around the world, including Anglicans like Archbishop Tutu in both Canada and South Africa, plus members of the United Church of Canada, has decided to pull all of its investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Back in April, Archbishop Tutu told the same U.K. newspaper that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

Now, whether this divestment is a big deal or just a blip on the political radar is hard for a layman (as it were) like me to predict. For one thing, some pretty big churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, are not affiliated with the WCOC, and there may be plenty of investors to buy up they stocks they divest. For another, the WCOC doesn’t have that big an investment portfolio anyway, the Guardian pointed out, and no one yet knows if its member churches will all go along with this.

Still, it’s a powerful symbol, and it’s bound to result in some additional pressure being put on the energy industry – and on the Alberta Tarpatch in particular. What’s more, it’s evidence that when Archbishop Tutu speaks, people listen – even if Alberta’s various varieties of conservative, used to getting their own way without too much backchat, think that’s an outrage.

So at the very least you’d think there’d be some interest out here in the Lone Tar State in this development – if only to dismiss it as inconsequential.

But here in Alberta, and across Canada, the mainstream media seem not to have touched this development with the proverbial 10-foot bargepole. (That’s 3.05 metres to those of you born after 1970.)

Here in the Alberta ’patch, not one of the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal or even Fort McMurray Today seemed to have mentioned it as of yesterday.

They need feel no embarrassment, though, for the national media has ignored it too – leastways, there’s not been a word about it that I could Google up from the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star or the CBC.

Last May, also writing in the Guardian, the United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres encouraged religious groups to “provide a moral compass to their followers and to political, corporate, financial and local authority leaders” on this issue.

She noted in that article that Archbishop Tutu had called “for an anti-apartheid style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry.”

And as the Guardian observed last week, “studies have suggested the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which began in the US, has been faster than any previous divestment movement such as tobacco and apartheid.”

So even if Canada’s tame and obedient media and Alberta’s influential conservatives of various stripes don’t like the message, they might want to pay attention to the story just the same.

I have a feeling that just pretending to have a climate change strategy, as Alberta does, isn’t going to be a very good strategy for dealing with a global divestment movement.

And whether or not it gets covered in Canada just yet, this story isn’t going to go away. Ignore it at your peril.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Once a Tory leadership front-runner, Gary Mar reaches out from Asia to haunt Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives

Brian Mulroney, right, famously responds to the claim made by John Turner, left, that he had “no option” but approve Pierre Trudeau’s patronage appointments. Below: Gary Mar in 2011.

Advice to Jim Prentice: If, in some future pre-election leaders’ debate someone asks you about Gary Mar’s 2013 compensation package, don’t say: “I had no option.”

In fact, that would be true if Mr. Prentice were to say it. Ditto Ric McIver, the second- or third-runner, depending how you calculate it, in the 2014 version of the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race.

As for Thomas Lukaszuk, he was in cabinet when the details of Mr. Mar’s compensation deal were worked out, so maybe he’d better really beware that one in the event of yet another “miracle on the Prairies.”

Just the same, best for all three of them to try to spin their way away from it. After all, someone might just say, as Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Brian Mulroney famously said during that fateful 1984 debate, addressing Liberal prime minister John Turner about his acquiescence to patronage appointments made by Pierre Trudeau: You had an option, sir. You could have done better.

Mr. Mar, the front-runner unexpectedly and narrowly defeated by the catastrophic Alison Redford just in time for Halloween 2011, has been haunting the PC Party ever since.

Mr. Mar had been the candidate favoured by the PC caucus – disdainfully, though not without justice, dismissed as the Tory Old Boys’ Club by many of us here in the Blogosphere.

No doubt their preference in candidates was influenced by a certain degree of old-fashioned Alberta misogyny, as we suspected at the time. It turns out, though, that they must’ve known a thing or two more about Ms. Redford than was disclosed to us among the great unwashed, who had been persuaded by her campaign she was some kind of brainiac who came from the progressive side of the conservative movement.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that Mr. Mar – a skillful old pol of considerable experience – would have been a far better choice to act as helmsman and steward of the PC Party in its dotage. Leastways, he wouldn’t have charted a course, as Ms. Redford did, straight for the reef.

Mr. Mar, being no dummy, recovered quite nicely from the disaster that became evident in the wee hours of Oct. 3, 2011.

Having won with no support from her own caucus, Ms. Redford was anxious to get the caucus favourite out of town as quickly as possible. Having no Alberta trade office in Buffalo, she shuffled Mr. Mar off to la dolce vita in Hong Kong.

At any rate, it is fair to describe what awaited him there, as Alberta’s non-state plenipotentiary, as a pretty sweet deal.

It was revealed last week in financial disclosure documents from the annual report of the province’s International and Intergovernmental Relations Department that Mr. Mar was paid $275,159 in base salary, another $50,868 in “cash benefits,” whatever that means, plus $234,252 in non-cash benefits last year.

Not only is that an increase of $100,000 from his pay the year before, the local press reported, but you’ve got to know he didn’t have to buy a thing while he was looking after the province’s trade interests – whatever that involves – in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.

As I wrote back on Oct. 17, 2011: “Albertans will probably be even more annoyed when the penny drops that, unlike you or me, the disappointed Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner won’t have to pay his own rent in hyper-expensive Hong Kong, and will probably have a decent enough living allowance to cover all the pork, barbecued or otherwise, that he wants. There’s sure to be a nice car provided, with a driver to boot.”

Well, now they know! And, yes, they will be annoyed – that’s one word for it, anyway.

This is not the first time Mr. Mar – whom we might call, with apologies to author Jane Gardam, Old FILTH, for Failed In Legislature, Try Hongkong – has succeeded at something like this.

The best example was when he left his job as an MLA and Ralph-Klein-era minister back in 2007 to serve in a similar – and similarly well-compensated – role as the Biblical-sounding Minister-Counsellor of the Province of Alberta to the United States, working out of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

When he quit the Legislature for Washington, he said he wouldn’t take his $478,000 MLA severance while he toiled in the vineyards of the public service, then he said he’d take it but not while he was in Washington, and then he took it anyway.

That may have contributed to his loss to Ms. Redford in 2011 – certainly both she and candidate Doug Horner complained about it at the time. They and others also noted Mr. Mar’s questionable decision as Health Minister in 2004 to pay $400,000 to his former executive assistant Kelley Charlebois to do something that was never clearly explained or even written down, but seemed to involve only spoken advice.

No sooner was Mr. Mar in Hong Kong than he became something of a hazard to navigation for Alberta’s mighty Tory ship of state.

Premier Redford ordered him to take an unpaid leave of absence in March 2012 for auctioning off a trip to the Asian entrepot during a fundraiser to pay some of the $260,000 debt left over from his leadership campaign the year before. The Opposition screamed for his head. Later he was cleared by a couple of consultants hired by the deputy minister of the premier’s office.

Now Mr. Mar is back in the news, appearing in the same general kind of news story that has haunted the PC Party from time to time throughout his long association with it.

“They had to make a special deal for him and there’s no good reason for that other than the fact that he is a political insider and a former leadership candidate,” NDP leadership candidate Rachel Notley told a local newspaper in a thumbnail analysis that rings true.

But given the way his Alberta political career ended in in 2011, Mr. Mar may not be all that unhappy with this outcome. As for the RMS Torytanic, this time he may have holed her below the waterline.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

‘Targeted exemptions’ for TFWs – Tory fund-raising tool, a backyard maquiladora in every neighbourhood, or both?

Typical Canadian fast-food help, as seen by Canadian fast-food employers, sort of. Below: Employment Minister Jason Kenney in Stampede-Week-appropriate garb and the CFIB’s Richard Truscott.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Unemployment has climbed to 7.1 per cent in Canada and yet a key segment of the Harper Government’s donor base is screeching for more Temporary Foreign Workers. What to do?

From the perspective of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, this is a serious problem. Too many Canadians remain unpersuaded by the hysterical campaign cranked up by the country’s retail business sector to turn the TFW spigot back to full, and to do it right now, lest … well, lest something really bad happens.

Not satisfied by mere wage-suppression – delivered in spades by the federal government – now they’re hooked on a steady supply of powerless and compliant workers from abroad.

Fast-food restaurant owners have threatened everything from cutting back the number of coffees they serve after 3 a.m. to trimming their charitable donations, and yet the general public seems unshaken by their warnings. Maybe the usual suspects can blame the education system: here in Alberta our teachers still seem to be teaching their charges how to do the math.

Behind closed doors, have no doubt about it, the TFW lobby is telling the Harper Cons that the spigot that’s actually going to be shut off if they don’t get their way, and soon, with the flow of easily coerced and underpaid foreign workers fully restored, is the one full of money they send to Conservative Party coffers.

The Harper Government’s Solomonic answer? “Targeted exemptions,” which according to the Canadian Press means Employment Minister Jason Kenney will consider fewer restrictions on a steady flow of TFWs “in specific areas with very low levels of unemployment in regions with a higher level.”

That’s vague enough it should be possible for any fast-food business owner to claim a special unemployment zone around his or her store sufficiently low to set up a backyard maquiladora anywhere in Canada – successfully suppressing wages despite market realities while enabling Conservative politicians to make soothing noises to Canadians that all is well with the rigorously enforced TFW Program.

I await publication of the Harper Government’s clear and accessible rules for these regulatory exemption zones with interest.

Meantime, the usual suspects in the campaign to suppress wages by hiring no one but TFWs – thus eliminating the need to deal with uppity Canadians and their propensity to insist they have workplace rights – are starting to snarl at more people than their Conservative MPs.

Back in April, the Alberta Director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an AstroTurf group that purports to represent the interests of small business owners and has been at the forefront of the fight for unlimited use of TFWs, was pleading for reasoned discourse to prevail.

“It’s time to dial down the rhetoric and have an informed conversation about labour shortages, skills training for Canadian workers, new government strategies to match employers with qualified employees, and fixing the permanent immigration system to ensure it matches the current and future labour force needs within the economy,” Richard Truscott wrote in the vast expanse of free space donated to him by the Calgary Herald, a once-great newspaper that nowadays appears to rely on full-time right-wing agitators from groups with mysterious funding sources to report the news.

The targets of his call for sweet reason? “Some union leaders” whom he said had “turned their rhetoric dial all the way up to shrill, and are calling for the program to be scrapped.”

Well, as I’ve said before, it’s still a free country, after a fashion, so you can call that shrill if you like.

But just yesterday, Mr. Truscott – sounding a little shrill himself – was accusing this blogger via Tweet of “profound ignorance” of how small businesses operate. My offence was daring to challenge the hysterics of the TFW lobby to produce even one Alberta business that’s had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

They can’t because there are none. But Mr. Truscott promised fast-food businesses won’t disappear overnight for want of a TFW, but some will … someday.

My question remains the same: “If the market’s so great, what’s wrong with the market?” That, in turn, leads inevitably to a prescription: Pay a living wage and employees will find their way to you.

All the pro-TFW crowd has to offer are anecdotal tales about how hard they’re trying to find Canadians to work in their restaurants, and how few of these ungrateful wretches respond to their calls.

So here’s a little equally unscientific anecdotal evidence of my own, from right here in St. Albert where our more-Tory-than-the-Tories Independent MP claims to be inundated by pleas for more TFWs from local fast-food business owners who insist Canadians won’t apply for the jobs they need to fill.

I looked in the Saturday edition of the local twice-weekly newspaper. There were only 13 help-wanted ads, not one of them from a fast-food restaurant.

Can’t find local kids willing to work in their stores? Maybe they need to look a little harder.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Wild Rose Country no more? What are we gonna call this place if the Alberta Party starts soaring in the polls?

Alberta Minister of Licence Plates Doug Griffiths poses with some of the versions of Alberta’s plates considered by provincial officials before they settled on the three finalists unveiled yesterday. Below: Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen, centre, examines a licence-plate-making facility on a recent government trip to Minnesota. (Whoops: forgot to mention … actual Alberta political figures may not appear exactly as illustrated!) Below that: The real Doug Griffiths and his sidekick Jonathan “Dep’uty Jono” Denis, the chief lawman of the territory.

So here’s my question: If it were the Alberta Party instead of the Wildrose Party breathing down the necks of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, would they change the name of the province?

Yesterday, elected provincial officials dressed as cowboys made a huge deal of a plan to replace the province’s venerable red, blue and white automotive licence tags – replete with the slogan “Wild Rose Country” – with a plate that redundantly promotes Alberta’s official website, Alberta.ca.

Uh, does anyone – other than the typical Tory minister, I guess – not know what appears at the top of the list when you Google the word “Alberta”? Do they even know that Google’s a verb? Just asking.

Well, it’s said here the Wildrose Party, even if they do spell their version of the provincial flower as just one word, can take yesterday’s announcement as a sort of backhanded compliment.

Ooooh! I almost forgot. You’ll get to vote on which plate you like best, Albertans! That’s only fair, since you’ll be paying five bucks extra for your next plate to cover the cost of excising the words Wild Rose. And just like before, you’ll only get one.

The timing of the announcement in Calgary – by Minister of Licence Plates Doug Griffiths, accompanied by Solicitor General Jonathan Denis, both dressed up as cowpokes, a painful annual tradition in the few days each year in the former Cowtown that it’s actually too hot to wear cowboy boots – was convenient.

Leastways, it ought to keep folks from talking too much about the embarrassing stuff that’s been in the news lately, like dilapidated hospitals springing leaks every time it rains, an underfunded legal aid system reduced to chaos, schools bursting at the seams and the embarrassing “happy ending” to the sorry tale of  Fort Mac MLA Mike Allen, sent to Coventry for a year after trying to hire a hooker while on government business in Minnesota.

Well, for sure under those unhappy circumstances they could hardly merely switch out the provincial flower for the provincial bird (the great horned owl), the provincial animal (the big horned sheep) or the provincial fungus (the red cap mushroom), could they? And I’m not making up a word of that!

About all that’s left that’s is the provincial fish – but, I don’t know why, for some reason Welcome to Bull Trout Country seems not to have made the grade.

And those are just the stories that are already in the news.

The licence plate announcement was also conveniently timed to coincide with the release of provincial Auditor General Merwan Saher’s report, which went on at great and inconvenient length about the province’s pathetic climate change program, which has been doing nothing and achieving less since it was set up six years ago, Finance Minister Doug Horner’s slightly iffy and highly unpopular accounting practices, and the lack of oversight by Alberta Health Services of surgeries contracted out to the high-cost private sector.

Could’ve been embarrassing if everyone wasn’t thinking about something more interesting, like which garish licence plate to vote on, huh?

Getting back to the original question, if it were the Alberta Party that was forcing changes, what would the options be for renaming the province?

Texas North? Alabamberta? Tarsylvania?

Readers’ are invited to submit their suggestions.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta Tory MLA arrested in U.S. prostitution sting? Not a problem, apparently…

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tory MLA Mike Allen: Excited to be back in the Tory caucus. (Dave Cournoyer photo, used with permission.)

Say what you like about the many flaws of former Alberta premier Alison Redford, she never would have let Mike Allen back into the Progressive Conservative caucus, not as long as the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tory MLA lived, breathed and managed to get reelected.

It was on July 16 last year when the once and future professional jazz musician was in St. Paul, Minn., as a representative of the Government of Alberta when he was caught by a police officer he’d mistaken for a prostitute and got himself busted for trying to buy sex.

Mr. Allen was charged with what the Minnesota justice system calls a “gross misdemeanor,” which was later reduced to a plain old garden-variety misdemeanor when he agreed to plead guilty. He was fined $500, sentenced to a year on probation, to be served as far away from Minnesota as possible under the circumstances, and sent home to Alberta in disgrace – or so we all thought at the time.

Ms. Redford judged him guilty of a gross political and social misdemeanor – and rightly so, when you think about the real implications of a well-connected foreign politician trying to hire a vulnerable prostitute, even if she did turn out to have a badge, a gun and a set of real steel handcuffs.

So the premier sent Mr. Allen packing from the PC caucus for, we can presume she assumed, forever.

Ah, but this is Alberta, where in normal times there’s one set of rules of the government and its pals, and another for the rest of us, so it was not to be so. Many things have happened since the July night when Mr. Allen found himself excited to be in Minnesota with time on his hands and a couple of hundred U.S. dollars in his wallet.

One of them was that the boys in Ms. Redford’s caucus, who never liked her anyway, fired the former premier last March. They had their reasons, and some of them were sound ones, but after yesterday’s development we all have to wonder how many of them had to do with her just not being one of the good ole Tory boys.

At any rate, in a decision that would fulfill the fondest dreams of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a well-known believer in letting bygones be bygones, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s PC caucus welcomed Mr. Allen back into its self-satisfied midst yesterday.

When he got back to Alberta in July 2013, Mr. Allen described his decision to buy sex from a stranger in St. Paul as “a profound lapse of judgment.” Apparently that was good enough for the fellows in the Tory caucus.

“Mike has paid his penalty and he has paid a personal price,” PC caucus Whip George VanderBurg said yesterday according to the Edmonton Journal, not explaining what that personal price might have been, other than a year on the west side of the Legislature.

“He handled himself well through this,” Mr. VanderBurg added, explaining that when he asked the caucus what to do about Mr. Allen, the boys said OK … “and he’s back in.”

And now, Mr. Allen’s old-new caucus mates are no doubt thinking, can we just put this behind us and move on?

We’ll probably never know for sure just what it was that Mr. Allen thought was the profound lapse in his judgment – trying to buy the services of a hooker, doing it while he was out of town on government business or merely mistaking a police officer for a prostitute.

What we do know for sure is what the members of the Alberta Tory caucus – notwithstanding their sanctimonious support for their federal counterparts’ legislative efforts to make prostitution even more dangerous for sex workers and supposedly to emphasize prosecuting their customers – seem to think Mr. Allen’s behaviour was really not all that serious a breach.

Perhaps those of them who hold publicly to religious principles will quietly assume he’ll be punished in the next world, seeing as he’s not going to get his knuckles rapped any more in this one.

The political principles of Alberta’s Tory caucus are clear – they no doubt concluded that Mr. Allen, popular with many voters in Fort Mac despite his antics, threatened their ability to win in the northern oil sands town where the Wildrose organization is weak.

Well, at least there hasn’t been another Alberta case come to light involving a prostitute and a politician since 1983, when Graham Harle, Premier Peter Lougheed’s solicitor-general, was found in a government car in Edmonton in the company of a prostitute.

Mr. Harle explained to the police officer who rapped on his car window that he was conducting a one-man investigation into Alberta’s prostitution problem, as the Canadian Press disbelievingly put it. And he had discovered, he noted, that prostitution “doesn’t appear to be a problem right at the moment.”

Mr. Harle resigned his cabinet post immediately after the discovery but was allowed to remain in caucus. He did not seek reelection in the 1986 Alberta election.

It is not yet known, of course, if Mr. Allen, who told the media yesterday he was also “excited to be back in the caucus,” will run again when next an election is called.

His probation – presumably served without the requirement of regular visits to a Minnesota Probation Officer – will expire just before Christmas.

A provincial election is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2016, although there has been speculation one could be called sooner. One thing is virtually certain: when it is, Ms. Redford will not run again.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Wildrose ‘fires’ MLA Joe Anglin, who continues to sit as Wildrose MLA … for now

A scene at the Wildrose Party nomination vote in Rimbey Saturday night. Actual Wildrose Party members may not have appeared exactly as illustrated. Below: Wildrose, sort of, MLA Joe Anglin and his leader, for now, Danielle Smith.

The Wildrose Party has fired rabble-rousing MLA Joe Anglin.

That’s how Mr. Anglin said he’d view it, anyway, if the party’s local members nominated another candidate in his rural Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding.

Well, nominate another candidate was exactly what they did Saturday night by choosing constituency association president Jason Nixon as their standard-bearer in the next general election by a substantial margin.

In this regard, I’m inclined to see the vote results the same light as Mr. Anglin. But Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith subsequently told the Calgary Herald she wants Mr. Anglin to run again for the party, in urban Edmonton.

Say what? So he can lose to the NDP? Leastways, those are the questions I’d be asking myself if I were Mr. Anglin. Plus: What the heck kind of a deal is that?”

The sixtyish Mr. Anglin was polite about it Saturday night, gracefully Tweeting congratulations to Mr. Nixon after the 34-year-old challenger won by a vote of 242 to 122. Mr. Anglin’s cellular phone message yesterday afternoon indicated he’d be taking a little break, until July 15 – and who can blame him, under the circumstances!

It’ll be a break to consider his options, I’ll bet – and they include more than just running for the Wildrose Party in an urban Edmonton seat.

Indeed, I’d say Mr. Anglin ever running for the Wildrose again is a pretty unlikely scenario, notwithstanding Ms. Smith’s assertion that her firebrand west-central-Alberta MLA has been “a huge asset to our party” and “an incredible champion on the issue of property rights.”

What she really means, more likely, is: Go away, Joe. Don’t come back.

Mr. Anglin has a habit of saying what he thinks – which, despite the claims of the Wildrose Party and other right-wing Western Canadian political groups that’s how elected officials should act, doesn’t really go over that well in the real world of politics. And since the former Alberta Green Party leader became aware his own constituency association president was challenging him, he’s already said some pretty harsh things about the Wildrose Party and its leadership.

When Mr. Anglin failed to persuade the Wildrose officials to disallow Mr. Nixon’s candidacy on the grounds the challenger didn’t resign his constituency position soon enough to comply with party rules, he accused the party of being no different from the long-governing Progressive Conservatives.

“If the Wildrose can’t follow their own rules, I am not sure they’re fit to govern,” he grumped to the media. “You just can’t make rules up and say you aren’t going to follow them. Otherwise we’re no different than the PCs.”

Uh… Hard to disagree with that.

Mr. Anglin also filed a complaint with the Calgary Police reporting he’d received an anonymous death threat after refusing to step aside for Mr. Nixon, and accused what the Red Deer Advocate called “a senior Wildrose Party player” of offering him “in essence a bribe” in return for stepping down – a job with the Alberta Electric System Operator, Alberta Energy Regulator or the Alberta Surface Rights Board, presumably on the assumption the party wins the next election.

So, no, I don’t think the Wildrosers really want Mr. Anglin to be a candidate, or expect him to try to be one. And I expect any regulatory job offers, whoever may have made them, are off the table by now.

When Mr. Nixon’s last-minute challenge suddenly surfaced in late June, days before the nomination meeting, Mr. Anglin told me that he’d view losing the nomination vote as proof he’d been fired by the party. In that event, he said, “I will view this as my options are wide open.”

Those options include running for another party, if one can be found that will take him, even joining another party immediately and sitting as its representative in the Legislature, running as an Independent or saying to heck with it and not running for anything.

I would say the most likely options for Mr. Anglin, who is most often described as a “maverick” by the mainstream media, are running an Independent or finding a home in the Legislature under someone else’s banner. Parties with seats in the Legislature now are likely to be wary – but what about the seatless Alberta Party, for which hope always springs eternal?

If Mr. Anglin has approached the Alberta Party – the still barely functioning invention of a group of Alberta Liberal Party reformers in 2010 – it would once again have a member in the Legislature and Mr. Anglin would have an opportunity for up to two years to call a press conference every day as its only MLA.

There is said to be interest in such a symbiotic relationship among the membership of the Alberta Party executive.

If he runs as an Independent or an Alberta Party candidate, even if he doesn’t win, he could just split the vote enough in the riding to let a Progressive Conservative squeak in.

Whatever Mr. Anglin does, as a man who famously neither minces his words nor engages in self-censorship, the former U.S. Marine is likely to do it with guns blazing.

Since, for the moment at least Mr. Anglin remains a full member of the Wildrose Legislative caucus, that should make for some very interesting conversation when next they meet.

+ + +

Alberta’s Greens, once defunct, are defunct no more

When I last wrote at length on this topic, I described the Alberta Green Party, of which Mr. Anglin was once the leader, as being defunct.

This, as it turns out, is only sort of true. Let me turn it over to Janet Keeping, the leader of the current version of the party, to explain:

“A Green Party was first registered in Alberta in 1990. … However, in 2009 disaster struck when internal dissension culminated in a failure to fulfill provincial filing requirements and the Green Party was deregistered, i.e., ceased to exist.

“About two years later, a small group of supporters formed a society – Vision 2012 – with the goal of getting a renewed Green Party off the ground. During the fall of 2011, volunteers collected thousands of signatures of Alberta voters on a petition calling for registration of a new party which, pursuant to the Chief Electoral Officer’s rules, had to bear a different name for the purposes for the next election. 

In this way the Evergreen Party was formed and ran 25 candidates in the 2012 provincial election. With that election under its belt, provincial Greens were able to change the name of the party back to the Green Party of Alberta and are now looking forward to fielding candidates under that banner in the next provincial election.”

Got that? The Greens are defunct no more.

Another option for Mr. Anglin, perhaps. Or, perhaps not, as he doubtless expressed a point of view during the internal dissention that led to the party’s discombobulation in 2009.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.