All posts in Alberta Politics

A few harmless slaps were landed, but last night’s PC leadership debate in Edmonton was no donnybrook

The Three Tory Amigos just before last night’s Edmonton debate. Below: Mr. Lukaszuk, who your blogger says was the debate winner, frontrunner Jim Prentice, and the challenger with the best chance, Ric McIver.

If last night’s Alberta Progressive Conservative Leadership debate in a North Edmonton Ukrainian community hall shows anything, it’s that candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk were slightly better brawlers than leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice.

But you’d expect the two challengers to pile onto the favoured candidate at an event like this – the only forum in the entire leadership campaign not carefully scripted by the PC Party brass and caucus members, who overwhelmingly favour Mr. Prentice’s candidacy.

It was also the only forum to permit a few moments of actual three-way debate among the candidates for Alison Redford’s tarnished crown, an aspect helped by the able moderation of CBC announcer Kim Trynacity.

Anyway, you’d expect Mr. Prentice to tread carefully, especially around the two issues that provided some difficulty for him yesterday – his recent announcement his campaign would be giving away party memberships, instead of selling them as is the party tradition, and his ideas about how Alberta Health Services should be run.

So I’m not sure how much can be deduced about how each of the Tory trio are doing from the few moments of fun the forum provided to the crowd of about 100 people, about half apparently members of the Edmonton Ukrainian community. (A small slight of hand was managed by the event’s organizers, who moved the debate from a huge room, where the crowd would have looked pathetic, into quite a small one, which seemed impressively packed.)

To turn to the inevitable boxing metaphor, local homeboy Lukaszuk landed a couple of punches, Mr. McIver landed one, but the frontrunner escaped with no obvious bruising. There were no knockouts.

I’d have to respectfully disagree with one professional journalist who said the debate featured “a rowdy shouting match.” Voices were raised, but not for long. Decorum was maintained. As for the heckling heard by another reporter, it was mostly one guy, and he divided his attention between Mr. Prentice and Mr. McIver. I know this because he was sitting right behind me.

On the whole, I’d say all three candidates did OK, although I’d give the contest to Mr. Lukaszuk on points, if only for the best line of the evening, in which he mockingly encouraged “all Albertans to pick up a free membership from Jim and vote for me.”

He followed that up with a clever but harmless tap at Mr. McIver: “This province doesn’t need a Mr. Vague or a Dr. No” – the latter being a reference to Mr. McIver’s nickname as an austerity advocate on Calgary city council and the former a pretty fair description of Mr. Prentice’s approach to most issues.

Cut through the verbiage, though, and there was very little to separate any of the candidates on genuinely important issues other than how to run AHS.

None of them favour changing the oil and gas royalty structure (although Mr. Lukaszuk advocates more value added processing in Alberta), all of them say they want to make peace with Alberta teachers, and all of them advocate some degree of fiscal conservatism.

Not surprisingly, given the venue, all of them think warm thoughts about Ukraine, which Mr. McIver, with an unintended geographical tribute to former U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, described as our “good neighbour.”

On his call to restore board governance to the AHS and his justifications for giving away memberships when, after all, the party’s rules allow it, Mr. Prentice reminded me for all the world of a earnest Joe Clark trying to explain a complicated point to an inattentive listener.

Interestingly, the loudest cheer of the evening went to Mr. Lukaszuk’s argument the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program needs to be replaced by real immigrants who get to stay in Canada – but this too was a point of which all three candidates are really in agreement.

The reality is that while a fine time was had by most of the people who bothered to turn out, this contest is going to be decided by membership sales and committed voters – which likely means it’s a fight between Mr. Prentice, with the support of the party establishment, and Mr. McIver, who is emphasizing political niche marketing to committed groups.

This leaves Mr. Lukaszuk without much to show but two thumbs up from Alberta Diary for his modest debating victory last night.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Sure you can run in my riding! With friends like Neil Brown, does Jim Prentice need enemies?

Neil Brown interviewed by a reporter – Darcy Henton of the Calgary Herald, not Matt Dykstra of the Edmonton Sun – on the day the Tory caucus gave Alison Redford her “work plan.” Not long after that they skidded her. Below: PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice.

With friends like Neil Brown, does Jim Prentice need enemies?

Dr. Brown, QC, is a lawyer and PhD biologist, so while he is not actually a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, he is presumably a fairly smart guy.

Mr. Prentice is a lawyer, corporate lobbyist, former bank vice-president and former federal cabinet minister with a record of success in that role, so he’s presumably a pretty smart guy too.

The latter is a candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, a job that will automatically bring with it the premiership of the province of Alberta … at least for a little while.

The former is a member of the Alberta Legislature for the same Alberta PC Party and is in possession of something Mr. Prentice needs, but maybe doesn’t want just yet, thank you very much. To wit: a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

So I can’t imagine that Mr. Prentice was really all that pleased to read on the Edmonton Sun’s website yesterday that Dr. Brown is offering up his seat in Calgary for the heir apparent to the leadership of the PC Party. The offer is sure to be in the paper this morning.

“If Jim approached me and said he wanted to run in my riding, it would be a slam dunk for me,” Dr. Brown told the Sun’s Legislative reporter, Matt Dykstra.

Now, it’s not entirely clear who called whom, or why. Perhaps Dr. Brown was looking for a way out of the panic-stricken snakepit the PC caucus has become under the misrule of former premier Alison Redford and since. More likely Mr. Dykstra was calling all the known Prentice endorsers in the caucus and asking the same question, just to see whether anyone was silly enough to bite. Or maybe Mr. Dykstra wanted to talk to Dr. Brown in particular because his provincial riding shares territory with Mr. Prentice’s former federal constituency.

At any rate, the story made it clear Dr. Brown and Mr. Prentice have not actually discussed the idea. No surprise there!

Regardless, you can count on it that an offer like this is not what Mr. Prentice wants to hear just now.

For one thing, he may still be the acknowledged frontrunner in the race to replace Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, but his success is far from a sure thing – and seems less so now that PC membership sales are apparently flagging badly. So right from the get-go, any talk about Mr. Prentice running in Dr. Brown’s Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill Riding is wildly premature.

For another, it’s not entirely clear Mr. Prentice could win in Calgary, or anywhere else – at least without the boost of an overwhelming leadership vote victory. Indeed, right now there may be no safe riding anywhere in Alberta for a provincial PC leader.

In Calgary itself, there seems to be plenty of support for candidate Ric McIver, and for Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith. But for Mr. Prentice? Maybe not so much. Which is why, of course, the campaign-sponsored rumours of late have had him running in an Edmonton riding when the general election rolls around.

If he wins the leadership, Mr. Prentice may very well want to lead the party from the sidelines for a spell, rather than engage in a suicidal by-election while the memory of Alison Redford is fresh in voters’ memories. Such things are do-able in our Parliamentary system.

So what he doesn’t need just now is the well-meaning likes of Dr. Brown saying that stepping aside to make way for a potentially fatal by-election would be “a no brainer,” and moreover that “I’m sure there are probably other MLAs in Calgary who would to the same thing for him.” I’ll bet there are at that!

Spokespeople for the Wildrose Opposition, which is strong in Calgary as noted, will be delighted, I am sure, to loudly urge Mr. Prentice to take Dr. Brown up on his offer, and as soon as possible.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Have the PCs sold only 23,700 memberships? If so, it’s bad news for frontrunner Jim Prentice no matter how you slice it!

Jim Prentice tries to figure out what to do about his incredible shrinking party. Actual potential Progressive Conservative leaders may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: the real Mr. Prentice, plus candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

An intriguing rumour – impossible for an outsider to verify – did the rounds of Alberta political circles yesterday. To wit: That the Progressive Conservative Party has sold fewer than 24,000 memberships since the 2014 leadership race began.

If the three candidates have managed to sell only 23,700 memberships, this is not very good news for a party that hopes somehow to cling to its role as Alberta’s Natural Governing Party for another generation.

No matter how you slice it, it is particularly bad news for former banker, lobbyist and federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice, who is generally acknowledged to be the frontrunner in the contest, with the support of almost the entire elected PC caucus.

Even if Mr. Prentice manages to win, a victory on a pathetically low turnout like this is not going to do much to cement his credentials with wavering voters as a steady and inspiring leader. And remember, however many memberships are sold, the number of members who actually bother to vote is bound to be be considerably lower.

But to make things more scary for Mr. Prentice’s team, the lower the vote goes, the greater the chances are that he can be knocked off – most likely by second-place candidate Ric McIver, the MLA for Calgary Hayes and formerly the infrastructure minister in cashiered premier Alison Redford’s cabinet.

If it’s close enough on Sept. 6 that the vote must go to a second ballot on Sept. 20, and if candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and Ms. Redford’s former deputy premier and labour minister, throws his support to Mr. McIver, Mr. Prentice could be done for.

I’m betting that Mr. McIver has sold almost has many memberships as Mr. Prentice up to now, a situation that with a low turnout could result in yet another surprise defeat of the establishment candidate in a Tory leadership race – exactly the circumstances that brought the catastrophic Ms. Redford to the leadership in 2011.

Mr. McIver now appears to be turning to niche marketing to target pockets of potential supporters – for example, religious social conservatives, with whom he has been associated in the past, public employees with public-sector pension plans, whom he told Wednesday would see their pensions left alone under his leadership, and supporters of the soon-to-close Michener Centre for developmentally disabled adults in Red Deer, which he promised to keep open yesterday.

Each of those policies could be worth a couple of thousand votes or more to Mr. McIver, easily enough to turn the tide for him in a tight vote.

This puts Mr. Prentice’s unexpected announcement Wednesday that he would give away free Tory Party memberships to anyone who wanted them in a more understandable context.

Notwithstanding Mr. Prentice’s claims that this is standard operating procedure in party leadership votes, giving away memberships on this scale is really unprecedented. But Mr. Prentice needs the vote not to be embarrassingly low if he wins, and he may require the vote not to be embarrassingly low in order to win. If he has to suffer the humiliation of appearing to buy votes, so be it – desperate times call for desperate measures!

Now, the situation may not be quite as grim for the Tories in general and Mr. Prentice in particular as an extremely low number like 23,700 makes it sound.

Members if the PC Legislative Caucus are poised to hand in the memberships they have sold over the past few weeks, and that will likely mean another 5,000 or so memberships for the party. Since almost everyone in the caucus is on the record as a Prentice supporter, in theory all these should be Prentice votes. If they actually vote, that is.

Still, with less than three weeks left in which memberships may be sold, it remains highly possible, perhaps even likely, that the party will limp to its first leadership vote with only 30,000 legitimate memberships and a few thousand more undependable Prentice freebies.

That’s a far cry from the 100,000-membership benchmark Mr. Prentice set for his supporters back in June, not to mention the 144,000 members who voted in 2006 in the leadership race that chose Ed Stelmach as premier.

The PC leadership race is finally starting to get interesting – though hardly for reasons that can bring any joy to Alberta’s remaining Tory supporters.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The boss has gone crazy! He’s giving away PC Party memberships! And this time, it’s no joke!

Tory leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice: Yeah! That’s it! I’ll give away memberships! Below: Candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

Holy Cow! Not only does Alberta Tory leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice admit his campaign has been giving away free memberships, but he says the idea’s OK with him and he intends to keep on doing it!

Here’s what Mr. Prentice told the Calgary Herald a day after his leadership campaign was busted handing out free membership cards to would-be supporters: “There will be free memberships.”

Seriously? I confess I didn’t think it was possible for the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign season to get any stranger than it has, and that’s when it did with this startling revelation.

Mr. Prentice – a former federal cabinet minister, well-connected corporate lobbyist and banking executive – phoned up the Calgary Herald yesterday told its reporter that, yeah, everybody does it, so why not him too? (Children, do you remember what your Mama told you you when you tried that argument on her?)

“My perspective on all of this is we want as many people taking part in the democratic process as possible,” Mr. Prentice advised the no doubt dumbfounded Herald reporter, according to the story the publication rushed into print last night. “They need to have a membership card to vote and what I want to see is as many Albertans as possible taking part.”

Well, what could be more democratic than that? I’ll buy the votes, and you cast ’em!

And while this may or may not be a common practice in some leadership races, it’s not true that everyone’s doing it in this particular race, if only because candidates Ric McIver’s and Thomas Lukaszuk’s campaigns don’t have the money.

In fact, Mr. McIver, a Calgary MLA and former minister in fired-premier Alison Redford’s cabinet, was quick off the mark, accusing the frontrunner of buying votes for $10 each. Mr. Lukaszuk, an Edmonton MLA and former Redford minister, was a little less inflammatory, telling the paper he intends to continue selling memberships and hopes the others do too.

Even the party’s spokesperson, executive director Kelley Charlebois, obviously found the practice a little hinky. “The party doesn’t condone the activity,” he told the Herald. “I certainly personally don’t believe it is a successful way to go, but it’s not breaking any rules.” (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Prentice is the candidate with the deepest pockets, thanks to his support in corporate circles. So does that mean it’s finally become acceptable practice to do what, hitherto, only tinfoil-hat-wearing lefties like me have been claiming goes on? That is to say, just using corporate dough straight up to buy votes outright!

About the least you can say is that if Mr. Prentice wins the race, as is widely expected, the outcome will be tainted in the minds of many Albertans.

It also blows to smithereens Mr. Prentice’s benchmark, set back in June when he opened his Edmonton campaign office, of 100,000 new memberships. So what if there are 100,000 new memberships? The obvious question for a cynical public will be how many of them were bought directly by the Prentice campaign, and not paid for by real supporters.

And it sure sounds as if all three candidates together haven’t sold anything like the number of membership they need to make it look as if the Tories are still the Natural Governing Party of Alberta. Indeed, I’m starting to think my prediction of 45,000 memberships sold by the race’s end was wildly optimistic.

This also raises some interesting questions for those of us who don’t support the PCs, and never will.

Do we phone up the Prentice campaign and ask for our free membership – and then vote for the candidate that has the best position on, say, public service pensions? As of yesterday, that would be Mr. McIver, so be careful!

Do we sign up 20,000 leftward leaning Albertans and colonize the party, or at least tell its leadership candidates what they have to do? You’ll recall that progressive voters were accused of doing just that when Alison Redford was elected, although her subsequent policies should have laid that notion to rest.

It’s hard to imagine that this sudden and unexpected revelation – when claiming the giveaways were just a mistake by a junior staffer might have made much more sense – is going to help Mr. Prentice’s campaign, which up to now was coasting to an easy victory.

So here’s a conspiracy theory for you – just wait a sec while I put on that tinfoil hat … Is it possible Mr. Prentice wants to lose, and this is the only way he can think of to do it now that it’s too late to pull out of the race?

This bizarre announcement does, in all seriousness, change the dynamics of the race, possibly considerably. And every day another news story breaks about former premier Redford’s spending habits, the leadership of the PC Party becomes less of a prize.

Maybe this was the only thing Mr. Prentice could think of to get out of Dodge before the new sheriff rides into town?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Whiny e-pistle notwithstanding, Finance Minister Doug Horner a candidate for high jump

Finance Minister Doug Horner on his Alberta politics Most Wanted card. Below: The real Mr. Horner; Hamilton Burger, “incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial!” Sgt. Shultz: “I see nothing!

If you want evidence the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party is done like dinner – with or without former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice sitting at the head of the table – look no further than the recent statements of Finance Minister Doug Horner.

Mr. Horner had the opportunity to do the right thing, shoulder the blame as the minister responsible for Alison Redford’s misuse of government aircraft and bow to doctrine of ministerial responsibility by resigning his portfolio in Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s cabinet.

Albertans would have been dumbfounded and Mr. Horner’s enemies confounded. All the more so because, as others have rightly pointed out, so few Canadian cabinet ministers do the right thing and obey the rules of the important ministerial responsibility Parliamentary convention when they’re supposed to.

We would all have been scratching our heads and asking, “Why the hell didn’t we make that man our premier?” He might even have had a chance to become the leader of the Opposition and, perhaps after a spell on the west side of the House, an Alberta premier with a mandate to govern. He’s only 53, after all. History would have viewed him with a beneficent smile, even if he never returned to politics.

Instead, he sent a defiant email to his Tory caucus – where, obviously, the knives are out for him too, just as they were a few weeks ago for Alison Redford – saying he won’t be bullied into resigning by the opposition and media. Leaked copies of Mr. Horner’s whiny and self-justifying e-pistle were soon circulating on social media, quickly leading to speculation the government is in disarray.

His message in a nutshell, like Sgt. Shultz on TV’s Hogan’s Heroes: “I saw nothing!” (You can read the whole sorry thing here.)

And for what? A few weeks more of a cabinet minister’s pay – because, sure as heck, there’s not much chance Jim Prentice or whichever of the other two wins the race to become Alberta’s final PC premier, will allow Mr. Horner into his cabinet. Not unless he has an urge for assisted political suicide, anyway.

For the opportunity to spend a few days more associating with the leftovers and dead-enders from Ms. Redford’s cabinet who make up Mr. Hancock’s ministry? I’m astonished the Opposition parties haven’t started handing out “most wanted” playing cards with the faces of Redford cabinet ministers on them in preparation for the post-election de-Toryfication campaign!

The right-wing commentariat – possibly sensing a behind-the-scenes deal between the men – is gleefully calling on Mr. Prentice to toss Mr. Horner over the side the instant he assumes the reins of power. And in this case, who can blame them?

Look no farther that Mr. Horner’s attitude if you seek evidence that the legendary sense of entitlement of the PC Party still exists, despite the shocks that have been administered to its insiders in recent weeks. In spite of moments of lucidity, these people find it very hard to believe their time may be over, and this quaint faith in the permanence and rightness of their mandate clouds their judgment, as it seems to have clouded the normally clear-sighted Mr. Horner’s.

In March, terrified at their plummeting polls and growing hostility among voters who traditionally supported them because of the seemingly unending scandals about Ms. Redford’s use of government aircraft, first-class foreign travel, vanity building project atop a government building and a general sense of entitlement, the caucus fired the then-premier and replaced her with the hapless Mr. Hancock while a permanent replacement was sought.

The sacrifice of Ms. Redford, however, appears not to have eased the fury of Alberta’s voters one bit. Now the caucus seems to be turning on the finance minister, whose ministry was responsible for the government air fleet that Ms. Redford appears to have used as her personal taxi service.

Meanwhile, the three PC leadership candidates are squabbling over whether they should have a TV debate! After all, they say, the winner of the race will be the next premier of Alberta. But hardly anyone outside the chattering classes gives a hoot. We all sense we’re almost finished with these guys, and the sooner the better.

They can have a TV debate if they want, the public seems to be thinking. The event will be incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial, as prosecutor Hamilton Burger used to shout at TV’s Perry Mason. (No relation to Brian.) They can’t even give away PC party memberships any more!

Mr. Horner is a smart guy. He has been an unusually competent cabinet minister. But after his refusal to take responsibility for the blunders perpetrated on his watch, history is unlikely to view him much more kindly than the rest of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. And the probability is high he will be the next victim of the terror that his gripped the still barely governing PC caucus.

Barring another “Miracle on the Prairies” – which at this point would be … miraculous – about the only questions remaining are when and how he’ll be forced to walk the plank.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

A picture of Tories gone gray: How much will Albertans spend on oil portraits of Alison Redford and Dave Hancock?

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s official portrait imagined. Actual Legislative Building paintings may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Ed Stelmach as seen by Tunde Vari; Ralph Klein by Xin Yu Zheng; your blogger by Ryn Climenhaga.

“I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don’t interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

Unlike our neighbours in British Columbia, where since Oscar Wilde was alive a modest photograph has been sufficient to honour each of the province’s 35 premiers, Alberta’s premiers are memorialized with a large and elaborate portrait, painted in oils.

The paintings from No. 1 (Alexander Rutherford) to No. 13 (unlucky Ed Stelmach) now hang on the northeast wall of the third floor of the Legislature in Edmonton.

Alberta’s premiers each pick their own artist – which can be controversial, as when Premier No. 12 Ralph Klein’s pick, Calgary-based Xin Yu Zheng, broke with tradition and painted Mr. Klein with a huge dream catcher in the background and the mountains (which are not visible from Edmonton) out the window of his Legislature office.

By contrast, the last similar brouhaha in British Columbia was when B.C. Premier No. 26, New Democrat Dave Barrett, circa 1973, was assailed for choosing a portrait that was, quelle horreur, in colour, hitherto an unheard-of innovation in that province!

Getting back to paintings in the Alberta Legislature, there’s room for only two more in the area devoted to public hangings of this sort – and guess who they’ll depict!

The subjects will be, of course, No. 14, the catastrophic and wildly unpopular Alison Redford, and No. 15, the current premier pro tempore, Dave Hancock.

Indeed, one of my sources tells me an artist is already at work at on the painting of No. 15, Mr. Hancock. Presumably a painting of Ms. Redford is under way as well, although the way things are going they may decide to hang it in the Legislative sub-basement, while upstairs the actual Ms. Redford shows no signs of aging. The Speaker himself seems to know where the next two portraits will hang.

In normal times, this would not even cause a breath of controversy. But in light of the spending scandals associated with Ms. Redford’s unhappy premiership, the cost of having a portrait painted in oils by a professional artist of a premier who was in office less than three years, let alone of one who will have been in office for less than six months when he departs, is bound to spark yet another uproar.

That may explain why the government of Alberta was unhelpful yesterday when I attempted to get it on the record that the two portraits are being painted, and find out what they will cost.

The Speaker’s Office referred me to the Public Affairs Bureau, which referred me to the Premier’s Office, which referred me back to the PAB and eventually to a person with a name, whose telephone voicemail message box was full. Oh well

As for trying to estimate the cost of a painting of this nature, that proved surprisingly elusive – apparently Alberta’s professional journalists have not thought to ask they money question when recent portraits of premiers like Messrs. Klein and Stelmach were unveiled with cheerful press releases and receptions in the Legislature.

Just saying, but there probably won’t be a similar event with cheese and bubbly when the portrait of Ms. Redford is unveiled.

Alas, artist Tunde Vari, who painted Mr. Stelmach’s legislative portrait, lists no prices on her home page.

Xin Yu Zheng’s personal website lists a few prices – $12,000 for a 2002 portrait in oil of 118 by 108 centimetres, similar in size to Mr. Klein’s picture. Mr. Klein’s, for which no price was listed, was completed from photographs in 2007.

So, this not outrageous compared to the cost of a Sky Palace or a trip with an aide to South Africa, but certainly enough to annoy a lot of citizens in the case of a premier who spent considerably less time in office than Mr. Klein, and was considerably less popular while she was there.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Ms. Redford and Mr. Hancock, both of whom view themselves with considerable esteem, have chosen artists who charge a higher rate for a commission than that speculated upon here. The only way to find that out, I suppose, will be for some enterprising journalist to file a FOIP request.

After all, as Oscar Wilde also observed in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” And who knows who Ms. Redford may have been tempted to commission!

However, in the mean time, I’ve got a modest proposal that will continue to support the arts in Alberta, but not unduly outrage citizens.

Let’s continue to commission painted portraits of Alberta premiers who manage to remain in office for three or more years.

Premiers like Ms. Redford, who don’t quite pass that threshold, should get a nice photographic portrait by an Alberta studio artist.

And premiers like Mr. Hancock, who are in office for less than six months, can take a selfie with their cell phone.

Sound fair?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Blogosphere heaves sigh of relief: ‘Canada’s Worst MP’ Rob Anders is back, for now anyway

Rob Anders in his second most famous pose, the most famous with his eyes open, with 4.5-litre hat plus circa-.45 revolver. Mr. Anders is thought to be Canada’s Worst MP and hopes to keep it that way. Below: Bow River Conservative candidates Rolly Ashdown and Martin Shields.

Rob Anders to Canada: “I’m baaaaaaaaack!”

It’s a staple of the horror movie genre: You can’t keep a bad man down. Who can forget Hannibal Lecter’s last call to Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs? “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

Or Jack Torrance in the Shining: “Heeere’s Johnny!”

Now we have learned that Mr. Anders, renowned as Canada’s worst MP and still stinging from his rejection at the hands of Conservative Party members in the new Calgary-Signal Hill riding, has found another Alberta riding in which he will hopes to  exercise his undeniable electoral talents.

This time, thanks very much, Mr. Anders won’t be taking a chance on the citified voters of another Calgary riding like the redistributed district where he was handed his lunch in the nomination vote last April by Ron Liepert, Alberta’s former health and energy minister and a man famed for being a bull in a china shop in his own right.

Instead, Mr. Anders will be running in the also-new Bow River constituency, a vast patch of mostly bald-headed Prairie east and south of Calgary. There, according to Mr. Anders’ remarks in the National Post, men are armed, liberals aren’t welcome and there are more trucks. “I feel a real connection,” he told the Post, and, really, under the circumstances as described, who wouldn’t?

Mr. Anders also told the Post’s reporter he has a home in the riding – in the community of Chestermere, formerly the Summer Village of Chestermere Lake on Calgary’s eastern fringe, although whether he lays his head there or at his residence deeper inside city limits is unknown to this blogger.

Regardless, it will be interesting if the man who for the moment remains MP for Calgary West, a riding that will disappear after the next election, really fits in as well as he imagines he will in rural southern Alberta, which has changed too in the years the ground was slowly shifting under Mr. Anders’ feet inside Calgary’s boundaries.

Born on April Fools Day 1972 and rechristened “Canada’s Worst MP” by a Conservative newspaper columnist, the Winnipeg-born arch-conservative has been demonstrating since he was elected to the House of Commons at 25 in 1997 that he isn’t the sharpest knife in the Parliamentary cutlery drawer.

He’s done this on a variety of topics, ranging from his opinions about Nelson Mandela (he called the South African leader a communist and a terrorist), to his weird conspiracy theory about the circumstances surrounding Jack Layton’s death from cancer (he suggested Thomas Mulcair was responsible), to his choice of locations to catch forty winks (his desk in the House, while the cameras rolled).

Back in 1994, Mr. Anders travelled south to act as a “professional heckler” for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a “foreign political saboteur” for his trouble by CNN.) He later assailed Alberta’s still-beloved premier Ralph Klein as a “cocktail Conservative,” too soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.

As Calgary West MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that Quebeckers should be able to form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. He was the only legislator to vote against giving Mr. Mandela honourary Canadian citizenship.

He once boasted about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he’d taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he explained to a astonished and presumably appalled reporter, he had “gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will.”)

So, we – and Mr. Anders – will see how that kind of stuff goes down in places like Strathmore, Brooks and Rocky View, where one thing that hasn’t changed since 1997 is the importance of success in local public life for people what want to be the (inevitably Conservative) Member of Parliament.

Also seeking the Bow River Conservative nomination – and the automatic ticket to Ottawa that goes with it – are Rocky View Councillor and former reeve Rolly Ashdown and Brooks Mayor Martin Shields, who was quick to remind voters Mr. Anders doesn’t actually hang his oversized hat in the riding.

And if big facial hair is de rigueur in rural Alberta, as the success of the hirsute local political pair suggests, Mr. Anders is done like dinner at last, notwithstanding his 4.5-litre hat and butchy poses with pistols.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Let’s hear a big welcome for Preston Manning, a fresh new voice in Canadian satirical writing!

Preston Manning admonishes the Children of Alberta for abandoning the principles of Social Credit. Actual right-wing patriarchs may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Manning and, speaking of patriarchs, the sainted Ernest Manning, Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American right, and Ukip Leader Nigel Farage.

“Cancer and lightning go where they want. So does political corruption.” — JAMES LEE BURKE, Wayfaring Stranger, 2014

In all the brouhaha over former Alberta premier Alison Redford’s appalling misuse of airplanes and architecture, there haven’t been many light-hearted moments.

Thank God, then, for Preston Manning, patriarch of the Canadian right, for finally inserting a little levity into this otherwise sordid and depressing affair.

Yesterday, after chipping away in the Globe and Mail’s op-ed workshop atop Mount Sinai, Mr. Manning sent down to us stone tablets engraved with pithy sayings about the need to restore sound ethical principles to the government of Alberta.

In his lesson to the Children of Alberta, we the Chosen People of Confederation, Mr. Manning reminded us that things really started to go awry out here in the land of oil and honey with the election of that Peter Lougheed fellow, founder of the Progressive Conservative Dynasty that haunts us still, after nigh on 44 years.

What Alberta needs now as a result, Mr. Manning explained, is “a major housecleaning” – a sentiment, actually, that many of us share – but which in his estimation seems to involve the restoration of the kind of Social Credit leadership we Albertans used to get from the late E.C. Manning.

Of Dear Old Dad, Mr. Manning wrote: “What members of the Alberta Legislature – on both sides of the House – need to be reminded of is a basic principle hammered into the heads of his colleagues year after year by Ernest Manning, the province’s longest-serving premier: “Those of us who make the rules, and those of us who administer the rules, had better keep the rules, or we lose our moral authority to govern.”

Why, when the late Senator Manning (whom the son somehow forgot to acknowledge was his father, perhaps because we were all just assumed to know given the family’s well-known proximity to the Deity) was leading us through the wilderness, even Alberta civil servants could be depended upon not to take bribes!

Actually, as a matter of literal fact, you can still depend on front-line employees Alberta’s civil service not to take bribes, and I would have been offended by Mr. Manning’s suggestion were I a member of their ranks.

Indeed, he went on, even a senior fund-raiser for Alberta’s ruling political party (the name of which Mr. Manning also forgot to mention, it was Social Credit) could be depended upon to eschew bribe-taking, because “his personal integrity and ethics were rooted in his Christian convictions.”

Likewise, my guess is that most political bagpersons in Alberta can still be trusted not to take bribes, whatever party they’re associated with, notwithstanding their religious convictions.

Nevertheless, Mr. Manning’s fond memories of those golden days, when the sun shone on Albertans as they tuned into his late father’s Back-to-the-Bible Hour on the radio, certainly brought a smile of recollection to my wrinkled old face.

Oddly, in his treatise on the benefits of strong ethical leadership, Mr. Manning never uttered the name of Stephen Harper, once his colleague and protégé in the Reform Party of Canada and now the country’s “Conservative” prime minister.

Mr. Harper, of course, is the puppet master behind such highly ethical activities as the effort to smear Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a pixie-dust-coated radical Islamist, proroguing Parliament to avoid the untidy distraction of a democratic vote, the suppression of science, and the cynical use the Canada Revenue Agency as a weapon to silence critics of the government.

Speaking of the CRA, Mr. Manning also made no mention of the activities of his own charitable Manning Foundation, which funds the activities of his self-named Manning Centre for Building Democracy. These include a developer-financed scheme to knock off annoyingly liberal municipal politicians like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and an annual networking conference at which Mr. Manning’s earnest young stormtroopers recite passages from Ayn Rand to each other and discuss the need for Canadians to be able to sell their kidneys. Upstairs at these affairs, meanwhile, the grownups meet with far-right foreign wingnuts like Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party and Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American right, to plot the next steps in the creation of the Grand Unified Market.

Well, by their omissions, ye shall know them.

Notwithstanding her many and obvious ethical lapses, Ms. Redford’s key problem as Conservative premier – unique in the recent history of Alberta – was the combination of opposition from a well-funded political party to the right of her Progressive Conservatives, less than enthusiastic support from the mainstream media, and the successful network of a group of market fundamentalist groups like the Manning Foundation and Centre dedicated to pushing political discourse to the right.

If Ms. Redford and her party had been willing to step up and properly follow the instructions of the Manning Centre and the Fraser Institute, it is said here, her airplane scheduling practices would never have become an issue, let alone a problem.

So while it is true, as Mr. Manning says, that the people at the top set the moral tone for the folks they rule over, he may not define morality in quite the same way as most readers of this blog.

Mr. Manning, of course, is campaigning for the Wildrose Party. He has done this for a while – I heard him state that Ms. Redford needed to be replaced at his Manning Centre conference in the spring of 2013, long before the worst of her ethical lapses were known.

This is, of course, his democratic right. But to really be ethical about it, you’d think he ought to state clearly what he’s up to when he delivers these little homilies on moral authority.

In the mean time, though, Mr. Manning is a welcome addition to Canada’s limited supply of satirical writers. We expect great things from him.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alison’s Albertan airplanes and architecture: Who knew? No one, it turns out!

A search for a member of Alison Redford’s cabinet or caucus who knew what was going on in the premier’s office might look something like this. Nothing like this is necessary in Alberta, though, because no one knew anything. It’s hardly necessary to say that real Alberta Tories may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below, left to right: Dave Hancock, Doug Horner, Thomas Lukaszuk back in the day when they were ministers in premier Alison Redford’s cabinet; Mark Twain.

“When in doubt tell the truth,” Mark Twain famously advised. “It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”

No danger of anything like that ever happening out here in Alberta!

Now we have the scoop in detail on the former premier’s airborne and architectural shenanigans, thanks to Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher’s full report, released yesterday. (The Reader’s Digest version was published a week earlier by the CBC, with the assistance of a well-placed leaker.)

Astonishingly, it turns out not one minister in Alison Redford’s cabinet, and not a single member of her caucus had the faintest suspicion, the remotest thought, not a single clue in a carload, about what was going on!

No! Seriously! It came as a complete surprise. That Alison Redford, she must have been a world class sneak!

Who knew?!

Not the minister of finance, the fellow responsible for the provincial air fleet, the one used as a personal taxi service by the premier’s office, which we now know consistently lied about the size of their travel costs. He had no idea! And, no, Doug Horner’s not resigning his portfolio because … uh, he had no idea. (Never mind that ministerial responsibility stuff. Like all the other rules in the rulebook, it doesn’t apply to Alberta Tories.)

Anyway, Mr. Horner must’ve figured that Dave Hancock, the premier pro tempore who replaced Ms. Redford, tried that contrition stuff back on the International Day of the Worker and it just didn’t hit the right note for an Alberta PC.

I mean, seriously, how can you say “I’m sorry we damaged Albertans’ confidence in our party,” when, like, you didn’t actually know anything about what was happening?

Speaking of Mr. Hancock, not the former minister of human services either. It was all news to Dave Hancock too. He never heard a whisper about it until he was relaxing one day at his villa in Italy and the phone started making that funny buzzy chirp.

And not the deputypremier, either, now running for the real non-deputy premier’s job. Geeze, what a shocker it all must’ve been to Thomas Lukaszuk, long after he was busy being deputy dawg, and later even busier cutting the crap out of post-secondary education budgets.

Not the minister of infrastructure, who didn’t even know for the longest time about that Sky Palace apartment thing that was being built for Ms. Redford. Ric McIver’s also running for Ms. Redford’s job now … and it turns out the Sky Palace is also still being built. Although that doesn’t really come as news to any Edmontonian who’s been watching it take shape, day by day, atop the confusingly named Federal Building, which is a provincial building.

Not the Solicitor General, Sun Media’s beloved “top cop.” Jonathan Denis hadn’t heard a peep until Dave Hancock gave him a dingle from Umbria or wherever with the bad news that he needed to pick up the phone and call the Mounties.

Have I missed anyone? Oh, probably…

Not one of them heard a thing, all the way down, presumably, to Mike Allen, the honourable member, if you’ll pardon the expression, for the evocatively named riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. Mr. Allen, at least, has an excuse. He’d been busted for trying to hire a hooker in Minneapolis and kicked out of the hearing-impaired Tory caucus by … Alison Redford.

And in fairness, as far as we know, no one’s asked him. Maybe they should! He might have heard something when he was left wandering the hallways. Anyway, he’s back now, in time to take part in the rash of head scratching that’s broken out in Tory circles.

A lot of us thought it was pretty bad when premier Ed Stelmach said he had no idea the economy was going to take a header into the toilet in the third quarter of 2008. But boy, does Mr. Stelmach – who actually was honest, just like his nickname said – look good now!

This is just pathetic, whether they knew anything and kept their lips zipped or had beans in their ears. There’s really nothing more to say about it.

Except this: Call a public inquiry. Call it now! Just call it, already!

A real one, run by an impartial and independent judge, with the power to poke around where he or she pleases, unlike certain carefully directed health care inquiries.

The rot in the Alberta Progressive Conservative government is so deep, and the public cynicism it breeds about our democracy is so profound, that the Hancock Government owes it to the province and the country as an act of patriotism to clear the air about what the hell is going on in this place.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Oh, and if that’s just not on, call a flippin’ election!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Hurricane Redford shook Alberta to its foundations – the place may never be the same!

Her era drawing to a close, Alison Redford is sent out of a Progressive Conservative Caucus meeting on March 13 while Tory MLAs argue over her fate. Below: Premier Dave Hancock; Tory leadership aspirant Thomas Lukaszuk.

Former premier Alison Redford signed off from public life in Alberta yesterday morning with the words, “I truly believe we made a difference.”

Well, if nothing else, Ms. Redford got that part right! In less than three years Hurricane Alison, the royal plural and all, shook the place to its foundations.

After the lingering Air Redford scandal, the astonishing Sky Palace affair, the war on public employees, the attack on post-secondary education, the plummeting polls, the palace coup by her panicked caucus, not to mention the incredible, serial ineptitude of her government, it’s quite possible this province will never be the same again.

Certainly the aftermath of the Redford Revolution continued yesterday, with a panicky sounding Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock vowing to call in the Mounties from his holiday villa in Italy, where you have to dial 1-1-2 to summon the Carabinieri.

An RCMP investigation will most certainly be a waste of the taxpayers’ money with a purely political goal in mind – distracting voters from the myriad sins of the PC Party – but what they hey! The Tories aren’t the first political party to do such a thing in such circumstances, and they won’t be the last. And, as noted in this space yesterday morning, this being Alberta there’s always the chance it’ll work.

Opposition parties will now express their deep gratitude that Ms. Redford has at last done what they’ve been demanding, but behind the closed doors of their caucus rooms they are weeping. For them, Ms. Redford was a gift that kept on giving.

Her resignation – just as her former deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk, was demanding that she be humiliated by public ejection from the Tory caucus – and especially her refusal to take the generous Legislative payout to which she is entitled, will significantly muffle the sound of the many of her shoes one suspects remain to drop in in the province’s political shoe closet. Alberta political observers assume that collection is as big as Imelda Marcos’s!

Certainly, though, the uproar will continue for a spell – with the Auditor General’s report on her use of the government’s air fleet, expected to be released to the public today, possibly with additional details to those revealed a week ago by the CBC.

The story by CBC’s Edmonton-based investigative reporting team seems to have been what spelled the final downfall of Ms. Redford, but the writing was already on the wall.

The former premier will return to working in the international field, suggested her official swansong, which was published as an op-ed article yesterday morning in both Alberta’s Postmedia-owned newspapers, the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal.

Some shrewd observers have speculated the lavish lifestyle to which senior international officials are accustomed is where Ms. Redford’s seemingly spectacular sense of entitlement began. Don’t count on it. This problem was created right here in Alberta.

Still, work abroad might be just the ticket for Ms. Redford. No corporation or institution in Alberta is likely to want her name and picture in its annual report now.

The text of the document published yesterday deserves deconstruction. These things are clear:

  • Ms. Redford doesn’t really think she did anything wrong. Sure, she said, “I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made,” but it seems pretty clear she’s concluded it wasn’t her decisions that caused all the problems. The passive voice tells all: “Mistakes were made along the way.” By someone.
  • She thinks we, foolishly, didn’t give her enough time. “I had hoped to have more time to do more of what I promised Albertans.” It would all have gotten done, were it not for us.
  • She doesn’t think she got it wrong, we did, small-timers that we are, mired in parochial concerns. “My hope for Alberta is that we will be bolder, more confident and prepared to seize our opportunities, remembering what we have to offer the world; that we will leave behind the day-to-day parochial political debate that is dominating the public discourse across this country.”
  • She’s not sorry, and she doesn’t think the things that offended so many Albertans were such big deals. Leastways, she has nary a word to say about them.

If her weird pastiche of progressive posturing and regressive policies – enough of everything to offend just about everyone in the province – was a flop, we can conclude from this she thinks it was because we were too dumb to trust her to bring us into the 21st Century.

It is a remarkably graceless document. Historians will have some fun with it.

But for all that, it is not unreasonable to ask how this intelligent and accomplished woman could have been the author of her own unraveling and downfall, in such an excruciating and public way.

This apparent willingness to ignore the possibility Ms. Redford was wrestling with her own personal demons is the most discreditable part of the Tory Establishment’s otherwise understandable effort to ensure she alone wears the party’s sense of entitlement and bland assumptions about the rightness of its rule.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.