All posts in Alberta Politics

What the Fraser Institute’s numbers actually show, minus the spin: Alberta has a revenue problem, not a spending problem

The Fraser Institute: peddling conclusions that don’t match the evidence and have enough holes to store captured carbon. Actual Fraser Institute “fellows” may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: A piece of Swiss cheese, which may actually resemble the claims in a Fraser Institute press release, metaphorically speaking.

If the Fraser Institute told the whole truth, or if the mainstream media did its job, here’s the what the first sentence of the Edmonton Journal’s story about the institute’s most recent “report” could have said:

“Alberta’s finances are in better shape than other energy-producing provinces and states, says a report released Thursday by the Fraser Institute…”

Instead, the Journal, having been led successfully down the garden path by the Fraser Institute’s undeniably skillful press-release writers, stated the opposite:

“Alberta’s finances are in worse shape than other energy-producing provinces and states, says a report released Thursday by the Fraser Institute…”

How did the Fraser Institute transform good news (by its own ideological lights) into bad, thereby justifying its predictable demand for less government spending? Through the application of the methodology the “institute” always uses to bend facts to its never-changing conclusions.

I don’t know if they’ve trademarked this approach, but they really ought to. Let’s call it the “Fraser Forumula.” ™

Because one thing you can say for the Vancouver-based market-fundamentalist propaganda shop – it is no more an “institute” than a lawnmower repair shop is a “hospital” – is that the facts contained in its reports are usually accurate.

Yes, you heard that right. The Fraser Institute doesn’t make up facts. It just twists their meaning – often with spectacular insouciance – and then tells the media they mean whatever it feels like saying.

Fraser Facts are also properly footnoted, if you happen to bother to read the report and check the reasoning – which the mainstream media rarely, if ever, does. Which is what justifies the insouciance, I guess.

So the Fraser Formula ™ works something like this:

  1. Cherry pick the facts you use as “evidence”
  2. If the evidence still won’t show what you want it to, ignore it
  3. If necessary, state the opposite conclusion to what the evidence shows

Fraser Institute conclusions, of course, tend to stick close to the “holey trinity” of neoliberal economics: governments are spending too much money, taxes are too high, and too much regulation is imposed on corporations.

And so we see on page 35 of the latest report – about midway through its 66 pages, a statistic the media never fails to omit, as if the number of pages gives a report’s conclusions additional weight – just how well Alberta is doing according to the measure of government spending relative to the other jurisdictions picked by the researchers.

Figure 15b tells the story quite nicely: Of the 10 jurisdictions cherry-picked by the Fraser Institute – every one of them conveniently in North America, as previously noted – Alberta’s average government expenditure to Gross Domestic Product ratio in the period examined is the third lowest.

Only Colorado and Texas spend less as a measure of GDP. Alberta is in a virtual statistical tie with Louisiana – and that’s with public health care up here in Canada!

Now, whether we ought to be spending even less than Louisiana is another matter entirely. The Fraser Institute obviously thinks so. Many of the readers of this blog may not. But the point is that, by the Fraser Institute’s own lights, Alberta is doing better than seven of the nine jurisdictions the group claims are proper comparators for energy-rich states and provinces.

And, as the report’s authors state, then blithely forget about: “this … measure is the most commonly used when gauging the size of government as it better captures the ability of a jurisdiction to finance government spending as well as indicating the broader impact of government spending.”

Naturally, the Fraser Institute prefers a measure considered less meaningful by economists – average per capita spending. But even by that measure, though, Alberta is not doing too badly – better than three of the cherry picked jurisdictions (spending less than half as much as Alaska) and not significantly different four others. Again, Colorado and Texas are the low-spending outliers. (This is illustrated in Figure 15a, on the same page, by the way.)

So it’s not the facts cited by the Fraser Institute that led the Journal and other media operations to the conclusion Alberta was doing worse than other (mostly Republican governed) jurisdictions, it was the press release … in other words, the spin.

Even here, the release writer couches his or her words carefully, so as not to be accused of misstating facts: “… When compared to other energy-producing provinces and states, Alberta loses its lustre.” (Emphasis added.)

Never mind the statistics, there are enough holes in the Fraser Institute’s sloppy interpretations of almost any issue to store captured carbon! But there’s something almost admirable about the sheer chutzpah of it.

As the figures cited in the fine print by the Fraser Institute clearly show, our government spending is too low, not too high. In other words, as a few voices in the wilderness have been crying out for several years now, when it comes to the Deadly D-word – Deficit – Alberta has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

Naturally, the conclusion reached by the Fraser Institute, and echoed by the press, is the opposite: “Increased government spending – not a dearth of revenues – has saddled Alberta with budget deficits…”

There’s even more in this piece of work, but 800 words is enough for one night. Perhaps we’ll return to this report one more time and talk about what the Fraser Institute has to say about North Dakota – unless, of course, they issue another deceptive press release first.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Anti-gay pastor, denied by Ric McIver, endorses the PC leadership candidate anyway for his ‘traditional Alberta values’

Pastor Artur Pawlowski and members of his flock march uninvited in 2012 at the head of the Calgary Stampede Parade, also known as the March for Mammon. Pastor Pawlowski, who holds extreme views about homosexuality, also has his own parade, which he calls the March for Jesus. Below: Ric McIver, whom Pastor Pawlowski yesterday endorsed as PC leader, at the pastor’s parade; and the pastor with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Calgary pastor who believes gays aren’t merely being duped by Satan, but are practically on the demonic payroll, endorsed Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver yesterday.

Artur Pawlowski of Calgary’s so-called Street Church, a well-known nuisance violator of civic noise bylaws and leader of the annual March for Jesus attended several times in his political career by Mr. McIver, yesterday told the Calgary Herald the candidate is the best man to preserve “traditional Alberta values.”

Never mind that Mr. McIver disavowed his connection with the Pastor Pawlowski’s beliefs at least thrice, if not quite his relationship with the pastor himself, after his 2014 appearance in the preacher’s annual “March for Jesus.”

No sooner had Mr. McIver allowed himself to be photographed at the June 15 parade than his political opponents were Tweeting links to the Street Church’s contentious views about participants in the city’s Pride Parade – “that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan).”

Mr. McIver hid out for a few days, and then gingerly backed away from the Street Church’s views, declaring that “if chosen premier, I do and will continue to defend equality rights for all Albertans as defined in the Charter, including sexual orientation.” Eventually, he issued a statement calling Pastor Pawlowski’s opinions “ugly” and “nasty.”

Pastor Pawlowski didn’t shed any tears about that disavowal, though. He went straight to the media and explained that “Albertans would be stupid not to vote for that man.”

Anyway, no roosters crowed before or after Mr. McIver’s disavowal of the pastor and at least some of his doctrines – thanks at least in part to Provincial Court Judge Catherine Skene’s 2012 ruling that the Cowtown bylaw prohibiting Calgarians from keeping chickens in their back yards is constitutional. (That’s enough obscure Bible references — Ed.)

The pastor told the Herald that real Albertans were disappointed by Mr. McIver’s disavowal, but they understood why he had to do it. “We have, in the Bible, very similar circumstances,” he said, referencing the same chicken story noted above.

He had some unkind words for both of Mr. McIver’s opponents – frontrunner and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, slamming the former for being too inclusive in his campaign staff and the latter for not living up to the pastor’s fiscal views.

The important question now, though, is whether Pastor Pawlowski’s endorsement and the votes of his flock will help or hinder Mr. McIver’s leadership bid.

As argued here, posts passim, they could actually boost Mr. McIver’s leadership campaign, since the Calgary-Hays MLA has now almost cornered what’s left of the extreme social conservative vote left among the PC Party’s supporters.

It’s even possible, if unlikely, that they could push him over the top. And they will certainly make the winner and future premier of Alberta – most likely Mr. Prentice – think twice about not putting Mr. McIver into his cabinet to shore up the province’s hard-core Christianist vote.

But if Mr. McIver did win, his association with Pastor Pawlowski’s flock would destroy him and the Progressive Conservative Party.

They may also sink the chances of any other candidate who wins, because between them, Mr. McIver and Pastor Pawlowski have torpedoed two years of concerted efforts by PC strategists to brand the Wildrose Party as a bunch of homophobic nuts for remarks discovered in a blog by a candidate in the 2012 election campaign.

Since both conservative parties stand for pretty much the same thing on most other issues, they have frittered away about the only significant advantage held by the PCs.

Thus endeth the lesson.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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.