All posts in Canadian Politics

Thanks to Tom Lukaszuk’s memo, Albertans know it wasn’t just Alison Redford with the entitlement problem

Members of the Alberta government’s Public Affairs Bureau spin a good yarn in response to freedom of information requests filed ages ago by Alberta journalists, opposition politicians and other busybodies. Actual government propaganda officials may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Information Commissioner Jill Clayton and Finance Minister Doug Horner.

VICTORIA, B.C.

Albertans owe Thomas Lukaszuk a small gesture of thanks for illustrating it’s not just Alison Redford who had the problem with entitlement.

Surely it’s a sense of entitlement that drives the attitude, all too typical among members of Alberta’s still-ruling Progressive Conservative elite, that the rules are for everyone else.

And the view that the rules are not for PCs but just for the rest of us is, pretty obviously, what was behind the former deputy premier’s Nov. 29 memorandum, revealed Tuesday by the Wildrose Opposition, that ordered his Redford Government cabinet colleagues’ press secretaries to slow down and control freedom of information requests that had the potential to make the government look bad.

Well, it would actually be surprising if it even occurred for a fraction of a second to Mr. Lukaszuk, who is now the labour minister, that this might amount to an improper effort to interfere with what got released, or how long it took to release it.

That’s what entitlement is all about, isn’t it? Why would he – or any member of the PC government then or now – think that whatever they darn well pleased might not be entirely proper? After all, they’re the Tory dynasty, and they can do as they wish, thank you very much!

I also imagine that Information Commissioner Jill Clayton’s sotto voce suggestion at the time that Mr. Lukaszuk might want to reconsider this course of action was greeted with incredulity, and then anger, when it was sent to him. How dare she! Doesn’t she know who I am?

As always with this secretive and entitled government, whatever generation of it we happen to be dealing with, potentially controversial data just isn’t willingly provided to mere members of the public, let alone reporters and opposition politicians – and certainly not without the Public Affairs Bureau first getting the opportunity to spin it as hard as they like.

This is useful to know because Mr. Lukaszuk is likely to eventually get around to revealing himself as a candidate to wear the mantle last worn by Ms. Redford and Dave Hancock, the premier pro tempore. Like the other candidates, most of whom will also be Tory insiders who were once part of the Redford Government and are now part of Mr. Hancock’s ministry, he will try to portray himself as something completely different.

It will be only Ms. Redford, in this misleading version of events, who was the aberration – entitled, out of touch, even personally greedy, and not at all representative of the PC values that deserve yet another chance to govern, just one more time…

Perhaps that’s why Mr. Hancock raised no fuss at Ms. Redford’s desire to continue to be paid, even while she doesn’t do her work as an MLA.

What the Opposition revelations of Mr. Lukaszuk’s and other senior Tories’ past conduct really show is that’s not really the whole story. The entitlement problem runs deeper than one premier, or a single MLA. It’s endemic to the Alberta Tory Party.

So whatever faults she may have possessed as premier, we need to be skeptical when the Hancock version of her party tries to pass off the excesses of the recent past as the sins of Alison Redford and none else.

Mr. Lukaszuk has unintentionally illustrated with his memo that the problem runs much deeper. And for that, if little else, we should be grateful to him.

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Only 32 of 57 PCs manage to vote for candidate Doug Horner’s budget

Speaking of former members of Ms. Redford’s cabinet and current members of Mr. Hancock’s largely unchanged ministry who are interested in being the next PC to inhabit the premier’s Legislative office, what does yesterday evening’s vote on Doug Horner’s budget portend for the finance minister?

No actual news stories about this have found their way to this dampish corner of the West Coast just yet, but the Twitter feed from Edmonton indicates only 32 of the government’s 57 remaining MLAs could bestir themselves to vote for the still-undeclared Tory leadership candidate’s budget!

Indeed, perhaps out of embarrassment, Mr. Horner himself apparently didn’t manage to show up to vote for his own budget, which nevertheless managed to scrape through third reading with 33 votes, the extra one coming from Independent Donna Kennedy-Glans.

So, while this wasn’t technically a vote of non-confidence, it sure doesn’t sound like a resounding vote of confidence, either, in Mr. Horner’s abilities and appeal.

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Conservatives are at 24 Sussex Drive, so outrage averted, thank goodness!

Can you imagine how Conservatives would have reacted if an ambulance had to be called to prime minister Justin Trudeau’s residence with an under-aged girl suffering from the effects of drinking too much?

It’s almost too much to contemplate!

Thankfully, it’s the family of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper that nowadays resides at the PM’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, so media has been quite responsible and restrained in reporting that an 18-year-old girl was taken to hospital from that address yesterday with suspected alcohol poisoning.

An 18th birthday party was under way for one of the Harper scions at the time. The legal drinking age in Ontario is 19 and it is illegal in that province to serve alcohol to minors. Nevertheless, from 24 Sussex one can see Quebec, where it is legal for 18-year-olds to drink, so it’s probably OK

The Mounties, who are responsible for the Harper family’s security, are reported to have said they do not consider this a police matter. End of story.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

In one day, the ground shifts in Alberta politics in ways unexpected, sometimes uplifting, sometimes troubling

On March 23, Lewis Cardinal became the first nominated federal NDP candidate in Canada for the expected 2015 election. (Photo by Ben Lemphers, used with permission.) Yesterday he stepped aside in the face of undisclosed health problems. Below: Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.

What a strange day it was yesterday, at times uplifting, at times profoundly depressing, and at times just disorienting.

In the morning, Alberta suddenly dropped most aspects of its official homophobia. This less formal kind will continue to longer for a spell, of course, but as an issue for most Albertans it’s done like the family’s dinner.

At mid-day, the Opposition Wildrose Party – supposedly to the right of the governing Tories – announced that if it’s elected, it will end the Progressive Conservative government’s war on public sector workers and their unions by repealing Canada’s most anti-union legislation.

And at the end of the day we learned that Lewis Cardinal, one of the best NDP candidates in recent memory, was after years of hard work withdrawing from the race to become Member of Parliament for the Edmonton-Centre riding because of an undisclosed health issue.

Who would have thought even a few days ago that any of these things were on the radar?

While one can’t shake the feeling they were dragged to it, kicking and screaming, in the morning Premier pro tem Dave Hancock’s Legislative caucus voted in favour of changes to provincial laws that would remove the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The rule changes will also allow transgendered Albertans to change their birth certificates without having to prove they’d had gender-reassignment surgery. All three opposition parties, including the Wildrose, embarrassed by some of its own supporters’ homophobia in 2012, were already there.

The highly political preamble to the Marriage Act, containing the restrictive definition and a meaningless grumble about this history of marriage and the foundation of society, was introduced by the government of Ralph Klein in 2000 when the issue of same-sex marriage convulsed the province.

For a couple of years now, like pretty well everywhere else in North America, no one much really cared about this any more but for a few religious extremists and angry ninnies, a disproportionate number of whom seem to have time on their hands and access to social media. For the rest of us, “live and let live” and “get on with it” are the watchwords as Alberta reaches a consensus we have other priorities more worthy of our attention than meddling in people’s personal lives.

It will be harder for the PCs to change Bill 44, a holdover from the premiership of Ed Stelmach that tries to use the Human Rights Commission as a hammer to whack teachers who dare to teach about sexuality in the classroom. But this too will come.

No sooner had that been reported than the Wildrose Party released a statement on Bill 9, Finance Minister and would-be premier Doug Horner’s odious public service pension legislation that signals the end of the progressive coalition that saved the short-lived premiership of Alison Redford in the 2012 general election.

The statement, attributed in the Wildrose news release to Finance Critic Rob Anderson, broke new ground for the party’s leadership and indicated a willingness to try to build bridges to groups they had previously eyed warily.

“As usual, the PC government’s standard operating procedure on labour relations issues is that of bullying instead of good faith negotiations,” Mr. Anderson stated.

“Wildrose has long supported the view that contracts and agreements must be respected,” he went on. “That includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners who chose their careers in the public sector based, at least in part, on the promise of the current public pension arrangement.”

“Although we feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long term sustainability of public pensions, we believe that any such changes need to be negotiated openly and respectfully with union leadership, and that any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have yet to be hired, rather than those already employed or retired.”

Significantly, Mr. Anderson ended by promising not just to repeal Bill 9, but to dismantle the unconstitutional Bills 45 and 46, the first of which makes even talking about illegal strikes by public servants illegal, and the second which attempted to force the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees to accept a wage freeze by circumventing the collective bargaining process. That act is in abeyance for the moment thanks to a court injunction won by AUPE while it appeals the constitutionality of the bill.

“Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 9 if elected in 2016, along with Bills 45 and 46 which also unjustly ignore the legal rights of our public sector employees,” Mr. Anderson concluded.

This didn’t just come about without relationship building between the Wildrose leadership and that of AUPE, as first reported in this space.

Naturally, there are many in the union movement whose distrust of the Wildrose Party will make them suspicious of this promise – but it is clear and unequivocal enough, it is said here, that it would be hard for the party to back away from.

Progressive voters will have plenty to complain about if there is soon a Wildrose government in Alberta, but this position at least suggests that for the moment the party doesn’t intend to engage in open warfare with working people and public employees as the Redford-Hancock Government is doing.

Finally, around 6:30 p.m., media and bloggers were emailed the simple statement from Mr. Cardinal, who was such a promising and hardworking candidate.

“I would like to take this time to express deep appreciation to so many supporters and volunteers who have helped me in the federal riding of Edmonton Centre. Their commitment and energy demonstrates the passion for political change that is growing in Edmonton Centre and throughout our city,” Mr. Cardinal wrote.

“I have decided that due to personal and health reasons to step down as the nominated Federal candidate for the Edmonton Centre NDP. This decision was a very difficult one for me to make, but I know that a strong candidate will step forward to build the future that Edmonton Centre needs and deserves.

“I know the desire for change in Edmonton Centre is strong, and that the people here will continue to fight for the things we hold close to our hearts and the future we all wish to see.”

Less than a month ago, on March 26, Mr. Cardinal was nominated with great hope as the New Democratic Party’s first candidate for the next federal election. He had been campaigning in the riding for more than a year after a strong showing in the 2011 federal election. His announcement yesterday is very troubling, and not the first significant health setback to afflict the NDP in recent years.

The NDP will now have to scramble to find a candidate in a riding where a wide-open race was expected with Conservative MP Laurie Hawn retiring and a history of also electing Liberal members.

If yesterday proved anything it’s that the adage attributed to Britain’s Labour prime minister Harold Wilson in the 1970s, that a week is a long time in politics, considerably understates the matter. A single day can be a long time!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Advice to progressives: Don’t airbrush Jim Flaherty’s record out of sympathy for his family

The late Jim Flaherty tries on the traditional new shoes just before delivering his 2012 federal budget. Below, some of Mr. Flaherty’s friends and colleagues: former Ontario premier Mike Harris, in whose government he also served; Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Decent people naturally feel sympathy with the loved ones of any person taken unexpectedly from life, as just-retired federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was last week.

We are naturally more inclined to experience such feelings of vicarious loss when the person who has died is charming and engaging – as Mr. Flaherty was said by those who knew him to be. This is especially so if we worked closely with that person, as all members of all parties in Parliament did with Mr. Flaherty in the course of their work. This presumably accounts for the tears shed by NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair on learning of Mr. Flaherty’s death.

But this should not lead us into the temptation to paper over the faults of the departed one, as a great many progressive Canadians have been doing these past few days with the memory of Mr. Flaherty. This temptation is particularly great given our Western cultural superstition about “speaking ill of the dead.”

As the Canadian Press Stylebook wisely advises writers of journalistic obituaries, “the portraits should be exact, with no attempt to brush out wrinkles and warts. Resist the tendency to canonize the departed; very few are true saints.”

The Canadian media has failed spectacularly in this regard in the way it has reported Mr. Flaherty’s death. At any rate, among the accounts that I read, only the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom, writing with courage and grace, dealt with the reality of Mr. Flaherty’s policy record.

“There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that his motives were anything but public-spirited,” Mr. Walkom wrote. “But he was also an integral part of a government determined to smash or cripple much of what makes Canada a livable country. His death is a reminder that good people can do bad things for the best of motives.”

Mr. Walkom’s column focused on only some of the serial attacks on Canadian values and institutions led by the Harper Government, near the centre of which Mr. Flaherty always stood until only a few days before his death. To wit, mentioned in Mr. Walkom’s account: the piece by piece dismantling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the erosion of Canadians’ retirement and employment security, and the subversion of our country’s public health care system, all of which continue apace.

In these, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper carries on the destructive ideological wrecking started by the Ontario government led by Conservative Premier Mike Harris from the mid-Nineties through the early Zeroes. Not surprisingly, Mr. Flaherty also stood at the centre of the misnamed and destructive “Common Sense Revolution,” serving at various times as minister of labour, attorney general, finance minister and deputy premier.

Indeed, in his central role in the Harper government, a case can be made that Mr. Flaherty looked so good because so many of the current crop of Reform Party Conservatives are such trolls.

Obviously, Mr. Flaherty’s personal charm outshone that of the prime minister, which is not so much of an accomplishment on its own, enabling him to serve up Mr. Harper’s policy poison with a smile.

Perhaps this did not get Mr. Flaherty very far when he finally raised a warning flag on Mr. Harper’s income-splitting scheme. But, again, such cautious crossing of the uncrossable Mr. Harper hardly merits the Victoria Cross, as several media reports of the past few days have suggested. If, indeed, there was any difference between the two at all.

The important thing to remember when it comes to comparisons between the charmless Mr. Harper and the charming Mr. Flaherty is that their fundamental economic beliefs and the policies they supported were the same – often immoral, destructive and elitist.

It is possible that without his association with Mr. Harper, Mr. Flaherty might not have employed less vicious political tactics. But again, his choice of friends and political allies is evocative, even if we live in an era when guilt by association is frowned upon.

Not only was he a great and permanent ally of Prime Minister Harper, but he was a staunch and committed defender of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, about whom no more need be said. The fact Mr. Ford was a family friend was a good reason for Mr. Flaherty’s sympathy and personal support; it was no excuse for the defence of Mr. Ford’s scandalous misrule.

Moreover, in the context of the game played by all Parliamentarians of all parties, there was an element a good-cop-bad-cop strategy to the public positions taken by Mr. Flaherty versus those of the PM and some of his more odious supporters.

The families of all Canadians deserve the same certainty and security as Mr. Flaherty’s family now has. People who work to keep them from having it ought not to be portrayed as heroes, especially by those of us who are not parliamentary insiders.

This is not speaking ill of the dead. It is only speaking the unvarnished and necessary truth.

Mr. Flaherty’s state funeral is scheduled to take place Wednesday in Toronto.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Rob Anders loses by a nose in Signal Hill as Cowtown Cons make the best of a bad choice

Lost by a nose … but what a nose! A 22-year-old Rob Anders in 1994, heckling an Oklahoma politician. Below: Calgary Signal Hill nomination victor Ron Liepert; Mr. Anders as he looks today.

There was blood in the water of the Bow River as it flowed through Cowtown last night.

After a while, it became clear the metaphorical blood had been shed by the ever-embarrassing Rob Anders, who at a mere 42 years of age had served an excruciating six terms as the Reform, Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament for the Calgary West riding, which will soon cease to exist.

This, however, was not immediately obvious. After more than an hour and a half of waiting for ballot counters in the new Calgary Signal-Hill electoral district to figure out whether Mr. Anders or challenger Ron Liepert had won the hard-fought Tory nomination, the Calgary Herald posted a story saying they both had!

It was soon apparent Southern Alberta’s Website of Record had published a draft version containing two alternative leads, causing a few minutes of confusion before the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., whose employees were victims last week of massive cuts by the federal Conservative government whose nomination Messrs. Anders and Liepert were fighting over, came to the rescue of political news junkies and confirmed the former provincial cabinet minister’s victory.

The CBC reported that about 2,400 of the riding’s 3,250 eligible Tories voted, but said the party refused to release the final tallies. Tweets earlier in the evening had claimed the two were separated by only five votes.

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, and myriad Twitterists took advantage of the hour and half of silence to get up to all kinds of mischief, posting old Youtube videos of Mr. Anders in a Pinocchio nose being humiliated while heckling an American politician and dozing off in the House of Commons, and making jokes about how it takes time to fix a good election.

But in the event, it appears the election wasn’t fixed at all – notwithstanding endorsements of Mr. Anders by the likes of Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. In retrospect, the PM’s endorsement seemed half-hearted at best, so this may be a rare case of the rats being chased off a sinking ship.

Leastways, the contest obviously wasn’t fixed in Mr. Anders’ favour. So Mr. Liepert, a 64-year-old former AM radio disk jockey and Progressive Conservative minster from the cabinets of Alberta premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, was eventually declared the victor, leading one Tweeter to crow that party members in Signal Hill had chosen “the lesser of two weasels.”

This may not be a bad summation, actually.

Appropriately born on April Fools’ Day, Mr. Anders’ foibles are almost as well known as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s.

In 1994, he 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 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. His was the only non-Bloc MP vote for the proposition. He also famously called Nelson Mandela a Communist and a terrorist and was the only legislator to vote against giving the South African liberator honourary Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Anders 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 appalled reporter, he had “gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will.”)

In 2012, he was captured on TV falling asleep on TV in the House of Commons. The same year, he accused NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair of hastening Jack Layton’s death.

As for Mr. Liepert, while hardly able to reach Mr. Anders’ sub-orbital levels of idiocy, he was nevertheless the perennial bull in the china shop of Alberta provincial politics.

As a short-tempered minister given the Education portfolio by Mr. Stelmach, he soon roused Alberta’s teachers, hitherto practically a branch of the Progressive Conservative Party, to a state of open rebellion.

Later, as minister of health and wellness, he launched Alberta’s catastrophic experiment in health-care centralization, pushed seniors’ care toward a high-cost private model, watched a crisis in the province’s emergency rooms boil over, and brought in Stephen Duckett, the egotistical and undiplomatic Australian PhD economist, to lead Alberta Health Services into a black hole, where it remains.

Mr. Liepert became so unpopular as health minister seniors would boo spontaneously when he walked into a room. Mr. Stelmach eventually had to shuffle him off to the energy ministry to get him out of harm’s way.

To the astonishment of everyone who hadn’t been paying attention to their political history, upon taking power, former premier Alison Redford jumped Mr. Liepert up to the finance portfolio, his provincial swansong before what obviously turned out to be an insufficiently engaging retirement.

His history with Ms. Redford? He managed her unsuccessful 2004 campaign to … wait for it … try to topple Mr. Anders in Calgary West.

As a result, no love was lost between the two, and Mr. Anders in particular ran a sleazy campaign, claiming Mr. Liepert was backed by “temporary Tories” from Liberal and NDP ranks, portraying the old privatizer as a tax and spend liberal and employing misleading phone calls to attack his opponent.

The conventional Alberta wisdom is now that Mr. Liepert will go on to automatically win the next general election for the Harper Tories and that Mr. Anders has had his last dance, but one wonders.

Even with redrawn boundaries, the sinking of Rob Anders is a political event of sufficient force to register on the Richter scale. Could it be that Mr. Anders’ accusation was true and Mr. Liepert’s ten-minute Tories will return to their own parties while his own gun nut and fundamentalist Christian supporters stay home on election day?

Or, even better, that Mr. Anders might run as an independent to bleed off the vote of the sizeable Conservative lunatic fringe in the riding.

These seem like improbable scenarios to this former Calgary resident, but hope springs eternal on the dusty plains of Alberta. After all, a Liberal very nearly knocked off Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt in November 2012, and may have a better chance to do so next time.

Mr. Anders could also get the nod from his friends in the party to seek another Calgary riding’s nomination, thereby surviving to make a fool of himself another day.

Nevertheless, the defeat of Mr. Anders by Mr. Liepert last night marks the end of an era in Alberta.

That is, except for the fact he will continue to serve as the MP for Calgary West until an election is called, leaving plenty of time for new embarrassments.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Vladimir Putin’s strategic crisis in 2014 sure looks a lot like John F. Kennedy’s in 1962

President John F. Kennedy signs the proclamation of the “Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba” on Oct. 23, 1962. The order imposed the U.S. naval blockade on Cuba that Mr. Kennedy had announced during his televised address the night before. Below: Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Sun News bloviator Monte K. Solberg.

“Good evening, my fellow citizens,” President John F. Kennedy said grimly on Oct. 22, 1962. “This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba.

“Within the past week unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island,” the U.S. president said. “The purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”

President Kennedy went on to explain that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were each “capable of striking Washington, D.C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area.”

Worse, he explained, the Soviets appeared to be installing sites for larger missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the continental United States, as well as locations in Canada and South America. Obviously – however it was to be resolved – this situation could not be allowed to continue for long.

“This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic base by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” the president stated.

“Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small,” President Kennedy continued in what may have been the most important passage in his speech.

“We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation’s security to constitute maximum peril,” he said. “Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace.”

Ergo, the Soviet rockets had to be removed by Cuba, or the United States would go to war.

I have been pondering this important speech and the thinking it represented in the context of the present U.S. and Canadian response to the so-called crisis in Ukraine, and the childish and belligerent rhetoric about it by our wedge-politics-obsessed Conservative leaders in Ottawa and their echo chamber at the Sun News Network, the CBC and the other official and semi-official state news outlets.

This is likely only to get worse now that the predominantly ethnic Russian population of Crimea has overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia – as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hypocritical and nearly hysterical sputtering yesterday illustrates.

Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian turned Sun News commentator wrote in the Sun newspapers earlier this week that “the Ukrainians should have long ago armed up and joined NATO.”

As we have seen, one of the key issues that led to President Kennedy’s speech during the Cuban Crisis of 1962 – not long before which the revolutionary government of Cuba had armed up and for all intents and purposes joined the Warsaw Pact – was how close Cuba was to Washington, D.C.

It’s just over 1,800 kilometres from the Cuban capital, near which some of the missiles were parked, to the U.S. capital. It’s estimated that it would have taken a missile like the ones the Soviets had installed in Cuba just 13 minutes to reach Washington.

The Americans believed the proximity of these powerful weapons made a first “decapitation strike” against the American leadership far more likely – since the flying time from Cuba to Washington was so short – potentially getting around the concept of “mutually assured destruction” on which great power nuclear strategy rested then and now.

While it was not so clear at the time, the general consensus of history now that we’ve discovered the truth about the “missile gap” seems to be that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was bat-poop crazy to take on the Americans in their own back yard. (Premier Khrushchev may have been suffering from a similar state of mind when he gifted the predominantly Russian Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1954.)

So if you accept that President Kennedy’s concern was legitimate, and his response, while extremely risky, was probably justified, you have to wonder how else Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to view the developing strategic situation in Ukraine today.

The distance to Moscow from the Ukrainian capital Kiev is 756 kilometres, considerably less than that from Cuba to Washington – a calculation that is little changed despite the passage of 52 years. A ballistic missile launched from Ukraine would reach Moscow in about six minutes.

There may be no American strategic missiles in Ukraine – yet – but there are certainly nuclear-capable U.S. Air Force units now in the region, most recently F-15 fighters sent with much publicity to Poland and Lithuania.

Likewise, Ukraine has not yet joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as Mr. Solberg suggests it should have, but some of its nearby neighbours have.

I dropped Mr. Solberg a line and asked him if these strategic considerations put the Ukraine crisis – or at least Canada’s and Sun News Network’s 1960s-style Cold War crisis rhetoric – into a different context for him.

Perhaps he gets a lot of email, but so far Mr. Solberg hasn’t bothered replying.

Thankfully, under the potentially volatile circumstances and apparent inability of certain elements of the U.S. state to stop pushing the Russians, President Putin’s responses have been pretty restrained so far, at least compared with the options President Kennedy publicly considered in 1962.

For the moment at least, the fight seems to have switched to the economic front, a war of sanctions and counter-sanctions that U.S. and Canadian politicians and their media echo chambers seem prepared to wage to the last Western European natural gas consumer.

Well, it’s better than all-out war, I guess, but you have to ask what flavour of Kool-Aid the clowns at Sun News Network are drinking. Grape, by the sound of it.

As for the Harper government, it’s never seen a wedge issue it wouldn’t exploit, even at the risk of a planetary catastrophe.

Given that, if Mr. Solberg’s strategic insights are a reflection of the geopolitical thinking of the Harper Government he not so long ago served, we should all be truly frightened.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca

PKP to run for PQ: Why PKP, with SNN and CPC PMO spell SOS for Canada, which could be FUBAR

Impressionable English Canadian youngsters tune in to SNN for sinister ideological conditioning by RWN (right-wing nuts) on the staff of the PMO-favoured network. Below: PKP and his now-ex wife (NXW), grabbed from the Internet; SNN broadcaster Ezra Levant.

Oh, H-E-double-hockey-sticks, PKP wants another D-I-V-O-R-C-E!

This time, having just given his common-law wife of a decade the old heave-ho, it’s from us! 

And I don’t know about you, but this smells a bit like C-O-N-S-P-I-R-A-C-Y.

Let me explain…

PKP for those of you who live in the ROC and are therefore wondering WTF is Pierre Karl Péladeau, who until recently was the CEO of Quebecor Inc. (QBR to the TSE.) Also until recently he was the common law husband of broadcaster Julie Snyder.

QBR was recently described as “one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known,” a statement that it would certainly be fair to extend Canada-wide.

PKP, as he is apparently known in Quebec, remains QBR’s largest shareholder, and working for him is obviously pure H-E-double-L for most of his now-former E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E-S, fewer and fewer of whom had managed to retain that un-coveted status even before he signalled a career change.

QBR, indeed, is well on its way to being the company that gave the ROC the completely journalism-free newspaper.

More important, though, PKP seems to be the guy who invented the faux patriotic Sun News Network (SNN), the tireless foe of the CRTC and the CBC that is billed by its opponents as Fox News North (FNN, I guess) and calls itself the home of “hard news and straight talk,” which seem to mean “far-right spin and extremely offensive and dishonest commentary.”

Indeed, it was SNN that gave Ezra Levant, who seems to have some troubles of his own just now, a national soapbox from which to insult people who disagreed with him in the basest imaginable terms, a proclivity SNN was willing to spend considerable time and effort to defend.

SNN is also the home of such luminaries of the lunatic right as Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and Lorne Gunter, who when they’re not reprinting Fraser Institute news releases strive with one another to express English Canada’s most offensive opinions and portray our society in the worst possible light.

In other words, SNN and its gaggle of unreconstructed rightists is a powerful symbol of the parochialism and ideological extremism that large numbers of Quebeckers have come to associate with English Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And BTW, as is well known, SNN, AKA FNN, is a particular favourite of both the CPC and the Harper PMO – which is bound, in the next election campaign, to try to falsely imply that federalists in the NDP have gone MIA.

Now, in addition to being a lousy employer and a tireless far-right propagandist, PKP is a deeply committed separatist. This is news out here in the ROC, although it was long well known in politically alert circles.

Accordingly, PKP announced yesterday he will run as a candidate for the Parti Québécois, and his reason for doing so was informative: “My devotion to the Parti Québécois is a devotion that rises from my most intimate values – that is to say: to make Quebec a country,” he told a PQ rally in the Montreal suburb of St. Jerome to roars of approval.

“I have extremely profound convictions to make Quebec a country,” he emphasized.

Presumably PKP didn’t come by his extremely profound convictions yesterday.

So we have to ask, did he intentionally promote an image of an intolerant and ignorant English Canada through SNN that he knew would make Quebeckers wish the ROC would just FO&DD?

Perhaps having contributed so much through QBR and SNN to making many Quebeckers ashamed of Canada, PKP was advancing his dream of giving his three children “a country they can be proud of.”

SNN, of course, tried to soft-pedal the obvious yesterday, trotting out the ghost of MBM (Martin Brian Mulroney) in its “news” columns to insist there’s no connection between PKP and QBR, and advising the ROC in its “opinion” section to pay no heed to the return of the separatist threat to Quebec if the PQ elects a majority.

IMO, we should treat it very seriously indeed before our entire country is FUBAR.

Indeed, it seems to me the best thing we could do for Canada right now would be to stick with Quebec while severing our ties as quickly as possible with SNN, QBR and Stephen “Firewall” Harper.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Shocker: Canadian Taxpayers Federation suffers 17-per-cent membership slump!

Riley Climenhaga, who has some duties as an actual watchdog despite being one of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation’s 70,000 “supporters,” watches suspiciously. Below: CTF Alberta mouthpiece Derek Fildebrandt and Operations VP Shannon Morrison. 

In a stunning development, membership in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has slumped close to 17 per cent – from six members, to five!

Alert readers will recall Alberta Diary’s revelation in March 2013 that the much-quoted organization, which is as pure an example of political AstroTurfing as can be found in Canada, in reality has only five members.

The self-described “citizen advocacy” group had been allowing itself to be portrayed by its many friends in media as an organization of 70,000 Canadians – including, as it happened, your blogger’s dog Riley, who, aside from his rather basic understanding of economics, is as friendly and loyal a fellow as you could wish to meet.

However, when one of those 70,000 people and non-citizen pets actually asked to see the books, a CTF official fessed up and admitted that the only actual members the CTF has are its board members.

Since many people who sign on with the CTF are operating under the misapprehension they are members of the group, Edmonton-based corporate ethics advocate and researcher Tony Clark had decided to see what would happen when he acted like a one.

With a copy of the CTF’s letters patent in hand, Mr. Clark signed up on the CTF website, then wrote the organization to explain that as a new member he wanted to see the group’s audited financial statements.

Eventually, after a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing – “according to the bylaws, I have the right to see the audited financial statements” – CTF Operations Vice-President Shannon Morrison broke the news to Mr. Clark that, no, he couldn’t see them, because, “technically the only ‘members’ are the board directors themselves.”

This resulted in Alberta Diary’s widely quoted scoop that the supposed 70,000-member group, regularly touted by the media as a “tax watchdog,” in fact had a membership that was infinitesimally smaller.

The day the post was published, however, the CTF let it be known that – ah-hah, you incompetent nincompoop! – membership was actually 17 per cent larger than I had reported, owing to the fact there were six members on the board.

Now, I’m certain, folks, that there were only five when I looked there a night or two before, but I admit that I failed in my duty to prudently take a screen shot of the site.

Now, however, I have been back, only to discover that director Erin Chutter appears to have disappeared from the CTF board, precipitating the 17 per cent drop in the membership’s organization noted above.

I mean, sorry guys, but you’re just going to have to take the good 17 per cent with the bad 17 per cent!

I sincerely hope this news doesn’t come as a surprise to Ms. Chutter, a former Conservative Party candidate, seeing as her presumably previous role with the CTF continues to be mentioned in her Bloomberg Businessweek “executive profile.”

The CTF’s entire membership list is now:

  • Michael Binion, who boasts of having established the first western company in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia
  • Karen Selick, Litigation Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a group that among other things litigates for “patient choice in health care,” code for the right of physicians to choose their patients, not actually the other way around
  • Paul Pagnuelo, a retired Bank of Montreal Executive
  • John Mortimer, president of the Canadian LabourWatch Association, a group that says it helps companies in “maintaining or achieving union-free status”
  • Ken Azzopardi, a former Mountie once on the board of the “World Taxpayers Association

As has been restated in the past, and can never be said to many times, the CTF is no more a tax watchdog than Riley is a regular watchdog.

The latter would cozy up to a burglar at the drop of a Milk Bone. The former reliably supports the policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s so-called Conservative government and its provincial branches, even when they hurt the interests of ordinary taxpayers. It is a tireless foe of such taxpayer and community benefits as fair pensions.

Indeed, it has also served as something of a farm team itself for the Conservatives, providing many candidates for public office, including such luminaries as Employment and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney.

A case can be made that the CTF does not really represent taxpayers. Moreover, it doesn’t really seem to be a federation since all its supporters do is sign up for list and, if they’re foolish, make a donation.

However, the jury is still out on whether it’s really Canadian, something that’s impossible to determine without a peek at its books – which, as has already been established by Ms. Morrison, is not allowed.

It is certainly well financed, maintaining a constant lobbying effort in favour of neoliberal economic nostrums and employing a staff of at least a dozen people in offices across Canada. Where the money comes from to do all this is not 100 per cent clear since, as noted, despite its calls for transparency in government, the CTF prefers opacity for its own operations.

How to explain the group’s sudden drop in membership? Maybe it began when the Alberta government started quoting CTF functionaries in its press releases.

Could it be that when Alberta “Accountability” Minister Don Scott’s media advisors quoted CTF Alberta mouthpiece Derek Fildebrandt in a news release touting the government’s “Sunshine List” of civil service salaries last December they started the organization on a long slide?

Or maybe it’s just a five-member organization.

Well, this time I have a screen shot.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Advice to Canadian politicians and media: Proceed with caution on your support for Ukraine’s rebels

Anti-Government Ukrainians prepare to fight police in Kiev. Below: Rioters throw gasoline bombs at police in Ukraine; Alberta Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. (Wikimedia photos.)

You can bet money that when trouble is brewing abroad things are always far more complicated than local enthusiasts for one side or the other make them out to be.

Here in Canada we have many citizens, including a number of prominent politicians who ought to know better, proclaiming noisy support for the violent protests in western Ukraine, demonizing Russia and demanding Canada play an active role in in ensuring the success of the rebels’ campaign.

Well, so be it. Revolutionaries usually seem romantic from the safe seats, even when they turn out not to be very nice people – Che Guevara is often cited in this regard. Alas, as it was in Sri Lanka, so it is in Ukraine and ever shall be, world without end.

It is ironic and even mildly humourous to hear people like Alberta’s Hair Apparent to the premier’s job, the magnificently coiffed Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, proclaiming support for free speech in Ukraine while spearheading an unconstitutional legislative campaign to suppress it at home.

What may not be as apparent, though, is why it is dangerous for someone with his influence to do so.

Even to a layperson who has not followed post-Soviet eastern European politics with much engagement, let alone passion, it is obvious that the situation in Ukraine is far more complicated than people like Mr. Lukaszuk and Cold-War-style Russia-bashers like federal ministers Chris Alexander and John Baird pretend it is.

How so? Well, here are four points to keep in mind as you try to figure out what’s happening in Ukraine:

First, many of the revolutionaries in western Ukraine, which includes the capital of Kiev, are not very nice people. 

Indeed, quite a few of them are neo-Nazis. This includes the far-right Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) that has played a prominent role in the rioting.

The western media has downplayed this to the point of ignoring it. A New York Times video shows young women bringing tea and food to PS fighters, declaring them to be the finest of Ukrainian manhood and expressing their hopes to marry one. So romantic! Nary a word about their political convictions, though.

The Globe and Mail has written one article that, while trying to soften them a little, actually discusses this reality. Otherwise, most such commentary is restricted to obscure corners of the Internet, ignored or inaccessible to many readers.

Protesters in Ukraine are often characterized as “pro-European,” which sounds suitably modern and progressive to Canadians. According to the Wikipedia’s piece on Pravyi Sektor, though, this isn’t true as far as the far-right PS radicals are concerned. They don’t like Western Europe because it’s not fascistic enough.

Second, both Ukraine’s geography and politics are divided along ethnic, religious and linguistic lines.

An informative map provided by the Washington Post illustrates this. The farther west you go, the more militant the anti-Russian sentiment. The farther east, the less it matters. In the west, Ukrainian is spoken; in the east, Russian.

So here we go again, as we disastrously did in Afghanistan – which, thankfully, was farther off the well-trod path to nuclear war – calling for intervention in a civil war we don’t understand and thinking it’s all about ideology and western democratic values.

“This is about politics, yes, but it’s also about identity, about the question of what it means to be Ukrainian,” writes the Post’s foreign affairs blogger, Max Fisher. “Ukraine’s ethno-linguistic political division is sort of like the United States’ ‘red America’ and ‘blue America’ divide, but in many ways much deeper – imagine if red and blue America literally spoke different languages.”

Writing in Slate, Fred Kaplan observes that “apart from right-wing nationalists, the Ukrainian people are evenly divided on whether they want to lean west at all. … The eastern and southern parts of the country have deep roots in Russia, dating back not just to Soviet times but to Peter the Great. Their land borders Russia, their factories and farms are intertwined with Russian markets.”

Religion can also be added to this volatile mix. In addition to being primarily Russian speaking, the east is dominated by the Orthodox churches. The Ukrainian-speaking west by the various schools of Catholicism. There is of course a long history of conflict between these two Christian camps. That said, this is another topic about which it is astonishingly difficult to find current information on the supposedly omniscient Internet.

Third, there are signs that the Ukrainian rebels in the country’s west who our media and politicians are romanticizing will turn on ethnic Russians and other minorities.

Certainly leaders of the rebel groups have publicly vowed to fight Russians and Jews to the death. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported Saturday that a prominent rabbi in Ukraine is advising Jews in Kiev to leave the city and, if possible, get out of the country.

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman said “there are constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions,” Haaretz reported, also quoting Edward Dolinsky, head of the country’s umbrella Jewish organization, describing the situation in the country as dire. The Israeli Embassy in Kiev has advised Ukrainian Jews to remain in their homes.

Are our naïve politicians and media outlets celebrating racist and anti-Semitic proponents of ethnic cleansing?

Fourth, Russia cannot be expected to ignore the Russian community in Ukraine and its strategic interests.

Naturally, this will be described in Western media as the resurgence of Soviet imperialism, and there are indeed elements of this in the Russian response to date. But, really, would the United States or Canada do any different if a similar situation was developing on their borders?

Russia still feels the sting from what happened in the Balkans, when NATO was able to hammer the Russians’ Serbian cousins without consequences in 1999. Russian President Vladimir Putin proved Russia had had enough of that when he put a stop to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia in 2008.

It is hopelessly naïve to assume Russia will now tolerate widespread ethnic cleansing of Russian-speaking Ukrainians and a strategic disaster right on its western doorstep. We may have forgotten what happened on June 22, 1941; the Russians assuredly have not.

“It is extremely unlikely that Putin will shrug his shoulders and let Ukraine go west,” observed Kaplan in Slate. “Ukraine is an existential matter for many Russians, especially for Putin, who has described the Soviet Union’s collapse as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th Century.”

A senior Russian official ominously told Britain’s Financial Times last week that Russia is prepared to fight to protect the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine’s Crimea region and the naval base there that is home to the Black Sea Fleet. About 60 per cent of Crimea’s population is Russian.

Ukraine “will lose Crimea first” because Russia will go in to protect it, “just as we did in Georgia,” the FT quoted the official, whom it did not identify.

Such a situation should in fact create a conundrum for Canadian policymakers requiring some finesse to unravel.

The question our leaders should be trying to answer is this: How can we encourage more democracy and strengthen democratic institutions in Ukraine, not to mention ties and trade with the west, while discouraging neo-fascism and racism, and reducing the possibility of understandable strategic paranoia by Russia?

We won’t get there, though, with the knee-jerk Cold War posturing we’ve been hearing from politicians like Messrs. Lukaszuk, Alexander and Baird.

And we won’t find the right balance by refusing to make distinctions between genuine supporters of democracy and neo-Nazi thugs, as in the romantic and deceptive picture painted for us by the Canadian media during the past few weeks.

I am no expert on Ukraine, as someone is certain to point out. But I know enough to see a warning flag that is apparently invisible to the Harper and Redford governments, led by their 1960s geopolitical mind-set to encourage violence abroad.

And how odd, considering the rage they express at much more peaceable and benign disagreements over oil policy, environmentalism and labour rights here at home.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Future bleak for Brent Rathgeber’s CBC disclosure bill; perhaps less so for Rex Murphy’s commentaries

Your blogger with CBC commentator Rex Murphy, quite possibly on his way to a speaking engagement with the oil industry. Below: the same blogger with Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, who has a date with history next week; the controversial Press Progress Rex Murphy info-graphic.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill, the CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act, is scheduled to be back before the denizens of the House of Commons on Wednesday night.

Bill C-461 has no chance of passing in the form the Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament desires for the simple reason that from the perspective of the Prime Minister’s Office the national broadcaster is now behaving itself with properly helpful deference to the Harper Government and its policies.

The recent kerfuffle in progressive and environmental corners of the Internet about CBC commentator Rex Murphy’s frequent and apparently quite profitable oil industry speaking dates could be argued to illustrate quite nicely how this is working for both the CBC and the PMO.

For his part, Mr. Murphy struck back today from his lofty perch at the National Post at critics who have argued he should declare his relationship with Big Oil to listeners on the CBC’s The National and Cross Country Checkup with a broadside in which he accused “vicious blog posts” of seeking “to shut me up.”

Before we get to that, what do you say we consign Mr. Rathgeber’s doomed bill to the ash heap of history?

The appearance of Bill C-461 in the House Wednesday is sure to generate a certain amount of media attention – not so much because of the content of the bill but because of what Mr. Rathgeber so famously did last June when the Parliamentary committee considering it made changes of which he disapproved.

Readers will recall that Mr. Rathgeber surprised everyone, possibly including himself, by resigning from the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent, earning for himself a certain amount of popularity in media circles, a book contract and no doubt the undying hatred of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabal of strategists.

While this has made Mr. Rathgeber popular with some voters, and of course with the media, it has not done much to enhance his Parliamentary career in this riding, which has reliably elected Conservative candidates under one party name or another with metronomic regularity throughout the Reform-Alliance-Conservative era.

Indeed, it is said here that after the next federal election in 2015, Mr. Rathgeber will follow his bill into the history books, possibly reemerging as a political commentator on the CBC alongside Mr. Murphy.

The fate of the bill, which if it were passed the way Mr. Rathgeber wants would make the salaries of CBC employees paid more than $188,600 a year subject to Freedom of Information searches, will generate additional headlines, quite naturally, because the media likes stories about the media.

What really seems to have made Mr. Rathgeber mad last June in fact was when MPs on the committee, led by the majority from his own former party, raised the search threshold to $444,661, a development he discusses in this recent post on his MP website.

As for the demands that commentator Rex Murphy declare on air his connection to the oil industry and the fees they pay him, the CBC has been blowing them off with an email from Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge that smarmily tells writers, “you were one of a few dozen concerned viewers who wrote to me, most it seems, after being encouraged to do so by the latest Sierra Club fundraising blog.” (Sierra Club supporters of my acquaintance say they have received no such thing, but whatever…)

More likely, members of the public who have written the CBC have been provoked by reports in the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress online publication, which published an info-graphic Thursday saying Mr. Murphy as been paid up to $30,000 a pop for 25 speeches to oil and gas groups since 2009, and by former CBC and CTV journalist Andrew Mitrovica’s columns on iPolitics.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mitrovica argued that both CBC News and Mr. Murphy have a duty to inform viewers and listeners of Mr. Murphy’s relationship with the oil and gas industry. However, he wrote, “apparently neither CBC News nor Murphy believes that they have a journalistic duty to disclose such a conflict … even though CBC News requires other so-called ‘freelancers’ to publicly reveal other types of conflicts in order to be seen as transparent.”

In a column yesterday, just before Mr. Murphy entered the fray directly with his National Post column, Mr. Mitrovica said, “I hope he avoids the tedious tendency of his confrere, Conrad Black, to hurl epithets as a substitute for argument,” and further that “I also hope Murphy doesn’t paint himself as the aggrieved victim of a cabal of left-wing rags and hacks.”

Alas, the way I read Mr. Murphy’s column this morning, that is pretty much what he has done.

He accuses his opponents of calling him “a ventriloquist for hire,” which he dismisses as “an empty, insulting slur against my reputation as a journalist.”

To be fair, this isn’t quite what those who argue for disclosure of Mr. Murphy’s speaking fees by the CBC are saying, but I suppose a certain amount of hyperbole in such a situation is inevitable.

Mr. Murphy argues that speaking to oil industry groups for “more than a dollar” (his only comment on the quantum of his speaking fees) is no different from his being paid for speeches to farmers, academics, A&W hamburger-restaurant franchisees, and civil servants over the years.

Full disclosure here: I have a fairly low tolerance for Mr. Murphy’s commentary and I have never stayed tuned long enough to hear the many stout defences of A&W hamburgers or Canadian civil servants that he presumably has offered on the air. 

Mr. Murphy notes that he once appeared on the same stage as the late NDP Leader Jack Layton – although I’ll bet that Mr. Layton wasn’t paid on that occasion. And he vows that he’s not about to change, which is of course his right even if it is not really the issue.

In conclusion, if I could be so bold as to offer a suggestion to a politician I have too often complained about, perhaps it’s not too late for Mr. Rathgeber to slip a clause into his bill requiring the CBC to publish its freelance commentators’ speaking fees, no matter how large or small, and who paid them?

Either way, count on it that we’ll be hearing more about both stories in the next few days.

In the interests of even fuller disclosure, it needs to be said that I am a member of one union, the United Steelworkers, an employee of another, the United Nurses of Alberta, and an unabashed supporter of the labour movement in the pages of this blog. Like Mr. Murphy, I occasionally speak to groups in an engaging, sometimes even riveting, fashion. Also like him, my words are always my own and it’ll take more than a few vicious blog posts or cheap Tweets from ministers of the Crown to make me change. Unlike Mr. Murphy, alas, I am rarely paid for my bon mots and, when I am, I can’t ever recall getting more than $100 and a serving of rubber chicken. But let the record show that if any oil company offers me $30,000 to speak, I can’t promise that they’ll like what I have to say, but by gosh I’ll strive to make it entertaining! This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Back to the future with Guy Boutilier: a run to be Fort Mac’s MP looks to be in the cards

Guy Boutilier in his Wildrose caucus office in Edmonton back in 2009. Notice Ralph Klein peering over his shoulder. Below: Other Fort Mac politicians Brian Jean, the Conservative Crossword King, and Mike Allen, a saxophonist, in his St. Paul Police mugshot.

Guy Boots, Member of Parliament?

Why not? When you think about it, Guy Boutilier – nowadays he pronounces Guy in the French way, Ghee, and Boutilier in the English Way, Boot-a-LEER – is one of Alberta’s most successful politicians.

At least, he was until he wasn’t.

But now he’s lookin’ good again, and with a federal by-election likely to be called soon in his Fort McMurray area riding thanks to the unexpected resignation last month of Conservative MP Brian Jean, the temptation to throw his hat in the federal Tory ring is almost irresistible. Sad to say, nowadays, a Conservative victory in the Fort McMurray Athabasca federal riding is probably all but a certainty.

For the record, all Mr. Boutilier is doing is thinking about it, considering his options, never saying never. “I’m not ruling it out, that’s for sure,” he told me in a short conversation yesterday.

But depend on it, the last mayor of Fort Mac and the first mayor of the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality (meaning he was wearing the chain of office when the city morphed into the massive Bitumen Patch municipality in 1995) and former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister under Ralph Klein, is thinking a bit more seriously than that about a run to be MP for the principal city of Canada’s most notorious oil-producing region.

Since last October, Mr. Boutilier has been back on Fort Mac’s city council after running for the Wildrose Party and losing narrowly to a Tory named Mike Allen in the 2012 Alberta Provincial election. That was the one in which Alison Redford’s slick campaign advisor managed to snatch her bacon out of the fire at almost the last possible moment.

Mr. Allen, a professional saxophonist before he was a professional politician, went on to distinguish himself by getting busted in St. Paul, Minnesota, of all places when he mistook a woman police constable for a hooker. This got Mr. Allen skidded from Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative caucus to the independent benches in the Legislature, where he is serving out his term in quiet ignominy.

As a consequence, needless to say, the usually cheerful Mr. Boutilier – who is a character, but not a disreputable one; uxorious and besotted with his eight-year-old son – is looking pretty good these days to a lot of Fort McMurray voters.

Remembered as the city’s youngest mayor, he certainly had no problems getting back on council last fall. He’s a still-youthful 54, with his 55th birthday in 16 days.

Back in the day, after doing his time on Fort Mac council, Mr. Boutilier was recruited by Ralph Klein to run for the Provincial PCs. Once in office, Mr. Klein made him intergovernmental affairs minister, then environment minister.

It just wasn’t the same for Mr. Boutilier after Mr. Klein left office, though. Premier Ed Stelmach didn’t put him in cabinet after the 2008 election – maybe because he’d first backed Lyle Oberg during the leadership race.

In 2009, Mr. Boutilier became embroiled in a slanging match with Mr. Stelmach over a plan to build a seniors’ long-term care residence in Fort Mac, which Mr. Boutilier characterized as a broken promise when it didn’t get built. (It still hasn’t been.) Nowadays, Mr. Boutilier calls this dustup his proudest moment.

That summer, Mr. Stelmach kicked him out of the caucus, after which he sat as an Independent for close to a year before joining the Wildrose Party. While Mr. Boutilier was happy enough to find a political home and a banner under which he could run, it’s said here he wasn’t really a natural Wildroser.

When the Wildrose Party faltered in the final sprint to the 2012 election – thanks in no small part to the homophobic ranting of one of the party’s Edmonton candidates – Mr. Boutilier’s chance to return to Edmonton in laurels turned to ashes.

Which gets us back to the present, if not quite the future.

Mr. Jean resigned last month after being mocked for taking to composing crossword puzzles to combat the excruciating boredom of being a Harper Government backbencher. This will necessitate a by-election, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn’t seen fit to call one just yet.

Since then, Mr. Boutilier’s been getting calls from friends and supporters urging him to consider running for the job. Could be he’s even checked out real estate prices in Ottawa.

Mind you, what a control freak like Mr. Harper would make of having a potential loose canon like Guy Boots in Fort Mac – the location nearest and dearest to Mr. Harper’s heart and to his schemes for Canada – is another matter.

He’d probably be just as happy not to have caucus member with a Harvard degree and a proven record of being prepared to go toe to toe with his first minister over a smallish disagreement.

The people of Fort Mac, on the other hand, might be prepared to elect the former Nova Scotian, if only for the entertainment value.

So look for Mr. Boutilier’s political career to take a turn back to the future, possibly quite soon.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.