All posts in Canadian Politics

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

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

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The horror! The horror! Brent Rathgeber and the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce on the nightmare of too few TFWs

St. Albert by night. My lord! What would we do if the local McDonald’s wasn’t open at 3 a.m.! Below: Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber.

St. ALBERT, Alberta

I have a challenge for Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce and all the other hysterics wailing about the disaster wrought by the federal government when it imposed some modest limitations on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, some of which don’t apply to Alberta anyway.

Show me one – just one! – Alberta company that’s had to go out of business because of a shortage of TFWs.

Mr. Rathgeber and the local chamber here in the Edmonton bedroom community of St. Albert were in full flight last week about the horrors that await us if the TFW spigot isn’t turned back to full, posthaste.

“The situation is actually worse than I thought,” a horrified Mr. Rathgeber told the credulous local twice-weekly after his audience before the local Chamber of Horrors, I mean Commerce, which the paper indicated was a private get-together at which the horrified Chamber men and maids could spin their horrifying yarns without interruptions or questions from the unwashed, which would be horrifying, I presume.

Mr. Rathgeber, an Independent MP who not so long ago resigned from the federal Conservative caucus in Ottawa, says he has decided to run again under no party banner. To do so, he has apparently hit upon the strategy of campaigning to the right of the Harper Conservatives. This is hard to do at the best of times, but on the issue of TFWs, he seems to be succeeding. And it sure beats going out and door knocking, which both of his Conservative challengers have been doing.

Why, said Mr. Rathgeber, the possibilities of an insufficient supply of foreign indentured labourers are simply appalling: “It is quite conceivable, and they told me I could tell you, both Tim Hortons and McDonald’s may not be able to operate any of their stores 24/7,” our MP told the local rag.

I’m just going to pause to give readers an opportunity to get the breath back and get back up from the floor after thinking about that one. Good gosh, does he mean we won’t be able to go out for coffee at 3 a.m.! In a town where the last of the liquor stores closes at 2? How will the people driving through on their way Fox Creek and Fort McMurray sober up?

It only gets worse from here. Among the other frightening consequences of a TFW shortage enumerated by Mr. Rathgeber, with a hearty Hear! Hear! from the spokesperson for the local Chamber are the following:

  • Local restaurant owners may put off plans to expand. (The MP explained: “They can’t staff the stores they have, why do they want to build another one?”)
  • Canadian employees, already reviled by Mr. Rathgeber and the Chamber’s members as shiftless and lazy, may get even crankier! (“They get overworked and frustrated – and leave,” explained the local paper.)
  • If fast food restaurants aren’t open as many hours, they’ll buy fewer supplies – and, get this, according to Mr. Rathgeber they actually do buy some supplies locally! I confess I have no idea how many all-beef patties our three local McDonald’ses sell between midnight and 7 a.m., but I’m betting it’s not all that many.
  • And the piece de la resistance, “philanthropic donations from local franchisees might go down as their profits dwindle.”

Readers will be getting the hint by now – even before I get to the likely story that local businesses will have to start laying off Canadian employees if they can’t have their TFWs – that your blogger is not all that shaken by the dire possibilities enumerated by our local MP.

Indeed, the only moment Mr. Rathgeber found himself in the vicinity of the real story, it’s said here, was when he suggested, again in the words of the local paper, that “in some high volume, low-margin industries, raising wages could have a dramatic impact.”

Exactly! Without Ottawa interfering in the local labour market to keep wages as low as possible, the Alberta fast-food industry faces the appalling prospect of having to pay its employees something approaching a living wage. And after them, who’s next? Wal-Mart?

Worse, they’ll have to put up with uppity Canadian employees, who are well known for standing up for their rights, even complaining to Alberta’s toothless Employment Standards branch!

The possibilities are endless, and to Mr. Rathgeber and the Chamber, apparently endlessly horrifying.

But bottom line – and this is the truly horrifying part – if they start to pay a living wage, their profits might have to decline a little. Either that, or we’d have to pay a few cents more for our coffee.

One thing that won’t happen, though, is that any Alberta business will ever have to close because of a shortage of TFWs.

A lousy business plan? Maybe. A wrong guess about what the market wants? Quite possibly.

But a shortage of indentured labour from abroad? If that’s going to kill your business, you need to be in another business.

I’ll say it again: No Alberta business has ever failed because of a shortage of TFWs and no Alberta business ever will.

I challenge Mr. Rathgeber and the local Chamber – and all the other conservative MPs and all their local chambers – to name just one shuttered Alberta business that even makes that claim. Then we can actually look at the facts of the case.

In the mean time, the big threats are no Big Macs at 3 a.m., crabby waitrons and a dip in philanthropic donations?


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Whatever the ‘Canadian Taxpayers Federation’ is, it’s certainly not a ‘tax watchdog’ – let’s stop calling it one!

“Canadian Taxpayers Federation” Alberta Communications Director Derek Fildebrandt dressed up for a typical CTF stunt, which the media falls for every time. Below: Mr. Fildebrandt back in the days he was part of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University; CTF board members Karen Selick, Adam Daifallah and John Mortimer. (Thumbnail photos grabbed from CTF’s website.)

While the Canadian Taxpayers Federation claims to be a “tax watchdog” that opposes waste and advocates transparency in government, evidence suggests its principal purposes are to provide partisan support for the Harper Government, fulfill the corporate agenda and undermine the rights of working people.

The July 2 Alberta Diary post on the CTF’s disgracefully misogynistic and personal attack on a group of promising young Canadian scholars for the crime of being awarded scholarships provides an example of the former.

Today let’s take a look at the evidence of the CTF’s strong anti-worker, anti-union bias, as well as the group’s lack of transparency about its own supporters and objectives.

A recent report on the CTF by a group called Canadians For Responsible Advocacy, highlights connections between some members of the CTF board of directors and various anti-union groups in both Canada and the United States

As has been previously reported, the CTF’s seven current board members are the group’s only members, despite the media’s repeated claims it has tens of thousands of members – a reference to the group’s “supporters,” people who have clicked on a web button to find out more about the CTF.

Board member Karen Selick, the CFRA reports, is also a board member of a group called the “Workplace Democracy Institute of Canada,” an organization that argues on its website “Canada’s economy and the lives of a majority of Canadians are negatively affected by the impact of union leaders.”

Ms. Selick, a lawyer, is also the litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a registered charity that takes legal action to undermine Canada’s public health care system and gun registration laws, as well advocating on behalf of as other far-right causes.

Ms. Selick’s 43-word biography on the CTF website does not disclose her connection the WDIC although it mentions her connection to the Constitution Foundation.

John Mortimer, another CTF board member, is president of the Canadian Labour Watch Association, a virulently anti-union group that provides employers with resources to assist with union-busting activities.

The CLWA is also actively touted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which like the CTF is another AstroTurf group that purports to represent the interests of small business owners but in fact works against middle-class Canadians, whether they are employees or small-business operators.

Mr. Mortimer, the CFRA noted, is also a member of the board of directors of CUE, a U.S. group that works to keep its member companies union-free. CUE advocates keeping unions out by maintaining positive work environments, but also offers services and links related to more traditional union-busting activities.

CTF board chair Michael Binnion, by the way, is president of one multi-million-dollar energy sector company and has connections to others. Until last month, after it was put under pressure by the CFRA, the CTF did not disclose these connections by its president to the energy industry.

Erin Chutter, who appears to be a former CTF board member, is a former political staffer to Preston Manning, when he was leader of the Reform Party Opposition in Ottawa, the CFRA reports.

Since the CFRA report, the CTF has added two members to its board, Vancouver lawyer David Hunter and lawyer, public affairs advisor and commentator Adam Daifallah.

Mr. Daifallah was once a member of the National Post editorial board and researcher for former newspaper owner and author Conrad Black. He is the author of the 2005 tome Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution.

Mr. Daifallah’s personal online biography – although not his CTF bio – states that he was active in party politics “at the local, provincial and national levels for several years.” This included stints as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association and policy director of the Progressive Conservative Youth Federation of Canada. He is a “fellow” of the Montreal Economics Institute, another far-right ideological “think tank” clone of the Fraser Institute.

Ms. Chutter and Mr. Daifallah are two more of the many examples of the role played by CTF operatives in partisan Reform-Alliance-Conservative Party activities. The group’s most famous, success story, of course, was that of Employment Minister Jason Kenney – who according to his Wikipedia biography was CEO of the CTF in the 1990s.

Lest you think the CFA’s anti-worker leanings are restricted to encouraging union-busting, its Internet web page currently features an attack on unemployment insurance benefits in the Maritime provinces, claiming Ottawa’s so-called Employment Insurance programs are a drain on the region’s economy.

The real reason for this campaign, it is suggested here, is an objective by the CTF to weaken the Canadian middle class and make jobs and communities less secure – and therefore more vulnerable to the corporate agenda the web of far-right groups that includes the CTF is financed to advocate – as well as to support the Conservative Party in its long-term goal to cut unemployment supports and regional equalization programs.

Regardless, some paid CTF operatives are open in their anti-union advocacy.

Derek Fildebrant, the group’s “Alberta Communications Director,” and as such a familiar name to those who follow Alberta media, published a blog post on the CTF site on June 23 in which he called a rowdy crowd that heckled his presentation demanding public sector pensions be gutted at meeting of a legislative committee “union thugs” and “screaming unionistas.”

Canada’s still a free country, so Mr. Fildebrandt can term a little heckling union thuggery if he likes – although he probably should have told his readers that he was blowing kisses at the crowd in an apparent effort to stir them up, bait to which they imprudently rose.

The Calgary Herald, which regularly serves as the happily wagging tail of the CTF’s barking chain, repeated Mr. Fildebrant’s claims in an editorial and used his inflammatory language, although it doesn’t appear to have had a reporter at the meeting. If that is indeed the case – I have not been able to confirm with this with the Herald, although a senior editor promised several days ago to get back to me about it but never did – it was relying on Mr. Fildebrandt to do its reporting for it.

Since I wasn’t at the meeting, I sent two emails to Mr. Fildebrandt seeking clarification about some of the allegations he made, which were repeated by the Herald, including the claim he was shoved by a “union boss.”

Mr. Fildebrandt has not replied, so I’ll have to continue to rely on the observations of the half-dozen witnesses, including an MLA on the committee, with whom I spoke.

While Mr. Fildebrandt’s CTF biography does not mention it, he was reported by the Victoria Times Colonist to have worked for the Harper Conservatives on Parliament Hill and by the Edmonton Journal to have been a Conservative staffer as recently as 2008.

While a student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Mr. Fildebrandt was also the president of a group calling itself the Reagan-Goldwater Society. Ronald Reagan, of course, was the U.S. President whose 1981 tax cuts for the rich set the stage for today’s huge income disparities and began the erosion of the U.S. middle class. Barry Goldwater was the Republican Party’s nominee in the 1964 presidential election, a key inspiration to young Republicans opposed to the reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933-1936 New Deal and an advocate of dropping atomic bombs on North Vietnam.

As the CFRA report indicates, the CTF does not live up to its own standards of transparency, failing to report many evocative connections of its board on its website, refusing to provide audited financial statements, and neglecting to report the names of corporate or individual donors who have contributed more than $5,000 to the organization’s annual budget of close to $4 million.

Whatever the CTF is, it is clearly not a “tax watchdog,” and it is time for the media and government groups – not to mention the rest of us – to stop treating it as if it were, let alone relying on it to report the news.

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CTF bullying and misinformation: just what’s ‘wacky’ about rape prevention research?

Canadian Taxpayers Association Federal Director Gregory Thomas dressed up as a professor, with a man dressed as a pig, at a CTF news conference trashing government support for academic research. A cameraman can be seen at left obligingly filming. Below: Dr. Melanie Beres, unfairly ridiculed by the CTF for her 2006 thesis; Mr. Thomas when he’s dressed as a grownup.

According to the comedians at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a $17,500 grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to a promising young Alberta-trained sociologist whose research looks for ways to improve rape-prevention education is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

If you ask me, the CTF’s sophomoric “tongue-in-cheek, cap-and-gown ceremony on Parliament Hill to shine the spotlight on some of the most wacky grants handed out by the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for university research over the past few years” misses the mark both as comedy and commentary.

Leastways, even if CTF Federal Director Gregory Thomas’s news release and insulting video performance suggest otherwise, surely most of us think there’s nothing “wacky” about sexual violence. I personally would be pleased to see more of my tax dollars spent on research that seeks ways to reduce it.

But the CTF’s frat-boy humour in the service of neoliberal economics and its apparent view that any topic sensitive to women’s rights is inappropriate for government support reveals both sloppy research and a nasty bullying streak on the part of the organization, whose field operatives singled out the work of individual young academics for ridicule and public contempt.

It is no coincidence, it is said here, that six of the seven academic works named by the CTF for attack were authored by women.

But I guess if you’re a young scholar who manages to get a government grant for academic work in a field the CTF doesn’t approve of – which would presumably cover pretty well everything outside petroleum engineering and conservative advocacy – you can count on being at risk of public derision by this AstroTurf group.

When the CTF boys picked on Dr. Melanie Beres, who received her PhD in sociology at the University of Alberta and now teaches at the University of Otago in New Zealand, they obviously didn’t bother to read her thesis with much care.

For, while it uses colloquial language and a colourful title – which is obviously what caught the attention of the CTF’s “researcher” – even at a casual glance by an old newshound like me, largely unschooled in academic sociology, it is quickly apparent it is an example of legitimate scholarly research.

That did not, however, deter the CTF from pulling a few lines out of context from Dr. Beres’ thesis – entitled Sexual Consent to Heterosexual Casual Sex Among Young Adults Living in Jasper – in order to attack the fact she was awarded a $17,500 SSHRC grant for her work.

If they trashed the quality of Dr. Beres’ research or hurt her personally by singling her out, they presumably felt this was legitimate collateral damage in their effort to work with the Harper Government to justify its attack on science and social science research that fails to reach the conclusions the government desires.

“My thesis is not so much about casual sex, but more about sexual consent,” Dr. Beres observed in an email to me. “The goal of the thesis was to learn how young people consent to sex in order to improve rape prevention education. The context (Jasper) was chosen because of the high rates of casual sex and drinking. I wanted to choose a potentially contentious environment to examine issues of consent.”

Interestingly, the CTF “researchers” seem to be obsessed with sex and sexual issues in the academic papers they singled out for attack. This reflects their sly understanding of the news judgment of lazy journalists, who have been socialized to believe the notion that “sex equals news.”

Moreover, writing newspaper articles mocking scholars for their work is among the oldest and laziest tricks in the journalistic playbook. The CTF’s operatives, at least one of whom typically dresses up as a pig for these events, merely exploited a couple of the most obvious failings of modern journalism and were rewarded with a few cheap headlines that reinforce their ideological goals.

The CTF obviously had to dig pretty deep to find topics that met its criteria for scorn. Dr. Beres’ PhD thesis, for example, was submitted in 2006, marked as 2007 by the CTF’s crack research team in its background paper.

“I could have titled my thesis Foucauldian negotiations: Discursive constructions of everyday intimacies,” Dr. Beres observed dryly. “It would be more or less accurate and would likely have slipped past the CTF member who was looking for ‘wacky’ research.”

“But this would also make my research less accessible,” she explained. “I want people to be able to read it and to engage with it. As a former rape prevention educator it is paramount to me that my research speaks beyond the ivory tower.”

“The fact that CTF picked out my research demonstrates that it is accessible to those not particularly used to engaging in scholarly endeavours. To some extent, this means my writing has been successful,” she added generously.

As is well known, the CTF gives the impression it’s a large membership-based organization, but in fact has only five or six members – its board of directors – at any given time. Similarly, the CTF purports to be non-partisan, but in reality acts in partisan support of the goals of the Harper Conservatives and their counterparts in the provinces.

The CTF’s anti-SSHRC histrionics – which the group tastelessly calls “Screwed U” – is part of its “Generation Screwed Movement,” an effort to propagandize college students in the Conservative Party’s neoliberal worldview and encourage intergenerational strife to further tax gains for the wealthy.

CTF operatives and publicists have also proven to be an able talent pool for the federal Conservatives’ political ranks.

Occasionally, it must be noted, the CTF protests Conservative policies – such as the continued availability of SSHRC grants for young researchers – but usually only in the furtherance of long-term Conservative policy goals.

Knowing this is important to understand the motivation of the CTF’s attacks on Dr. Beres and her colleagues. They support a likely Conservative goal of reducing funding for all social science research, because too often it doesn’t support party policy. This is the same instinct that motivates attacks on the traditional sciences when they demonstrate politically unpalatable truths – such as, for example, the fact Earth’s atmosphere is growing hotter.

Social science research findings, Dr. Beres observed, “often shed light on inequalities and injustices in the social world. This is the case for research on poverty, families, work, sexuality or any other social topic.”

“Those who have a lot of privilege and don’t care to address these inequalities sometimes try to discredit research that exposes inequalities,” she noted. “They do so because they feel threatened by the findings or fear the potential loss of their privilege if action is taken to address these inequalities.”

Dr. Beres’ research points to the way male and female desires are treated and valued differently in our society – and how that can lead to sexual violence. That the CTF didn’t bother to mention her conclusions, she noted, suggests they may not have wanted to hear them. “It is sometimes much easier for people to dismiss findings they don’t like rather than to take a look at themselves and their social world and see things that need to change.”

I’d say that’s a given. Consider what Mr. Thomas, who presumably didn’t actually read the paper himself, had to say when he trashed it: “Now that it’s public knowledge that the federal government will pay you $17,500 to hang out in a ski resort for a couple of months and investigate casual sex, we expect every frat boy in the country to be lining up for a research grant to replicate this study – in Whistler, Banff, Tremblant, you name it.”

Well who would know frat boys like the frat boys at the CTF? Look to the Harper Conservative Government for the priorities and worldview of the CTF. They are the same.

As for Dr. Beres’ 2006 thesis research, it has already achieved the goals she set out for it. “It has been used to inform and shape sexual violence prevention programming in Canada and in New Zealand,” she told me. “I am currently on an advisory board to support the development of a national rape prevention program for New Zealand high schools.”

I call that extremely good value for a very modest tax investment that all Canadians can be proud of – we could fund almost 35,000 research projects like Dr. Beres’ for the cost of one F-35 warplane!

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Happy Canada Day from the prime minister of Canada and the premier of Alberta, channeled by Perfesser Dave

Oooooh! Happy Canada Day, Canadians. Enjoy yourselves. Prime Minister Steve Harper and Premier Dave Hancock wish they could be here with you and Perfesser Dave. Below: Mr. Hancock and Mr. Harper … Happy-Happy!

Happy Canada Day!

Perfesser Dave, here, the political predictions guy, speaking on behalf of my friends Stephen Harper and David Hancock, who weren’t available to talk to you last night.

Both of them were really, really busy getting ready for Canada Day today, but I know they would want me to let you know they hope you have the best Canada Day holiday ever! And they hope you’ve had a really great weekend up to now, too, and didn’t have to work like they did, seeing as they’re the prime minister of Canada and the premier of Alberta.

First thing, never mind what you read on the Internet, I’m sure Steve was really happy with the by by-election results last night in Alberta, and if the Liberals got a couple of seats in Toronto, well, whoop-de-doo! What did you expect from that town, anyway?

If Steve could be here to talk to you, he’d have said it was mostly just Knee-Dippers and Grits fighting with each other in Toronto anyway, and there’s not much his guys could do about that but sit back and hope they beat the crud out of each other, which they sort of did in Olivia Chow’s old riding.

Now, I’m sure the PM will want to tell you he’s going to take another look at the pot smoking ads about Justin Trudeau. It would be better for the Tories, of course, if Rob Ford smoked pot and Justin smoked crack. But in a by-election you just have to work with the best facts you can make up in the time you have.

Of course, the Macleod riding south of Calgary was going to vote for Steve’s Tories anyway because they always do, even if the locals didn’t pick the most pro-gun candidate, which I reckon the PM worried for a while might be kind of a problem – and, come to think of it, maybe it was, because at last count the Conservative candidate down there was getting less than 70 per cent of the vote!

Just the same, as Steve would say if he liked soccer as much as he loves hockey, no harm no foul! That is a soccer saying, isn’t it?

As for the by-election up in Fort McMurray, well, I’m sure the PM was really yukking it up last night at all the trips Justin Trudeau took out there because he thought his Liberal guy – who had the cheek to kinda look like Steve – could actually win.

Good one! That’s why you hold elections in places like Fort Mac in the middle of a long weekend, for crying out loud, because all the Liberal voters are home in Newfoundland and the Tories are at home on the farm in the Municipal District. Bingo!

Well, it worked, so maybe the next federal general election may have to be in the middle of a long weekend too! Because you’ve got to know there are a lot of ridings like Fort McMurray-Athabasca out there in the Canadian Homeland, and there will be even more if Steve has anything to say about it.

As Steve would say if he could be here with you, the Grits can call it a moral victory if they like and as the NDP probably will, but by the time everyone’s recovered from their Canada Day hangovers, it won’t even be on the radar. Fort Mac will be Conservative just like it’s been for the past 56 years, and Pipelines Ho!

I bet Steve was chugging back a couple of brewskies last night to celebrate the minute his fart-catchers shooed the photographers out of the neighbourhood.

As for Dave Hancock, well, it had to be a good day for him, splitting up the long weekend into two parts, even if he had to work yesterday putting out the annual financial reports that don’t even look remotely like the budget his party introduced less than four months ago.

Doug Horner, his finance guy, announced a surplus that wasn’t really a surplus and hardly anyone even noticed or complained about it.

Well, OK, the Alberta Liberals sent out a news release that said Alberta’s surplus was really a $302-million deficit, but who even gets their releases, let alone reads them? And the Wildrosers pegged the deficit at about $2 billion. Same story.

Anyway, Ole Doug’s got more sets of books than an all-night trucker dodging the Idaho State Police Highway Patrol outside of Pocatello, so nobody knows what the hell’s going on. I think even Doug and Dave are pretty confused nowadays, so you can imagine how the Opposition feels! But by the time Wednesday rolls around, the only thing Albertans are going to remember is “surplus of $775 million.”

So I am pretty certain that both Steve and Dave would want you to have so much fun today that you don’t even remember your own name or where you live when you wake up on Wednesday … or Thursday, or whenever.

Fill your boots, Canadians! You deserve it!

Happy Canada Day! We are Canadian! Your country is in good hands.

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Big by-election in Fort McMurray? Never mind that! As goes Macleod, so goes Alberta…

Fort McMurray, before the Bitumen Boom. Things have changed. Below: Conservative Fort McMurray-Athabasca candidate David Yurdiga, Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, NDP candidate Lori McDaniel, former Conservative MP Brian Jean.

If the good people of Fort McMurray climb out of bed this morning and decide to elect a Liberal to represent them in Parliament, there will be shock, dismay and consternation throughout Alberta.

But, fear not my fellow Albertans, even in the unlikely event this happens, it almost certainly won’t mean whatever you are told it means.

Yes, today is the day after the weekend and the day before Canada Day on which there’s a federal by-election in the riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca, which occupies most of the northeast quarter of Alberta. Fort McMurray, where most of the riding’s 72,000 electors live, is the principal city of the Athabasca Bitumen Sands region and what we might therefore call the heart of Alberta’s Tarpatch.*

The by-election in Fort Mac is one of four in the nation, two in Alberta. The other Alberta vote will be in the Macleod riding, in the heart of Wild Rose Country, literally and figuratively, directly south and west of Calgary. The other two, in Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt, are in metropolitan Toronto.

Now, you may wonder why four important by-elections have been scheduled on the day between a weekend and a national holiday, a Monday when a lot of people in Toronto and Alberta are bound to make a four-day weekend of it and be out of town.

The reason is explained simply in two words: vote suppression. This from the government that brought you the “Fair Elections Act,” a piece of legislation whose title cannot be printed without quotation marks around it.

Low turnouts, as most readers of this blog will know, tend to favor governing parties, which is what Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada, the national vote-suppression guys, hope will happen today.

The Fort Mac by-election became necessary way back in January when MP Brian Jean, a Conservative, announced he was pulling the plug on politics. Mr. Jean was pretty diplomatic about his reasons for deciding to commit stepaside – he said he’d done his work after serving the riding for a decade and wanted to spend more time with his grandkids, which is fair enough.

Reading between the lines, though, it was apparent that Mr. Jean found the life of a stalwart Alberta Tory backbencher, taken for granted even though he won by 72 per cent, pretty dull. Leastways, lately he’d been spending his time on Parliament Hill devising crossword puzzles. Too loyal to do something exciting like Brent Rathgeber, another bored Alberta Tory ignored by the prime minister, he left quietly while he still had some tatters of dignity.

Which brings us to today’s big event in Fort McMurray-Athabasca:

The Conservative candidate is someone named David Yurdiga. Mr. Yurdiga is an oilpatch guy, a consultant and rural municipal politician who owns one of the neatly trimmed goatees attached to the faces of a surprisingly large number of Alberta Conservatives nowadays. He refuses to talk even to the reliably Conservative Globe and Mail, the respectful newspaper that after careful consideration endorsed the Conservative Party led by Tim Hudak in the recent Ontario election.

The Liberal candidate is a fellow named Justin Trudeau … No, actually it’s someone named Kyle Harrietha, although Mr. Trudeau, the leader of the party, has been spending enough time in the riding that you’d be forgiven if you reached the conclusion he was the one who wants to represent Fort McMurray.

Mr. Harrietha is a former Parliament Hill staffer and has ties to environmental and non-profit organizations. In his website picture, he looks unnervingly like a youngish Stephen Harper with a full beard. The first of these things is important to the message the Liberals are trying to send.

The NDP candidate in the riding is a Suncor employee named Lori McDaniel. She is a fine person, but she is not, alas, really a factor in this particular race.

The Liberals are throwing a lot of support into the riding, as Mr. Trudeau’s frequent visits indicate, because they hope they can arrange a reprise of last fall’s election in Manitoba’s Brandon-Souris riding in which even a respectable loss can be portrayed as a victory.

This is, of course, because Fort Mac is where it is, and hence the kind of riding that one would think would for economic reasons support a government determined to export bitumen at any cost.

So the idea that people there might elect a representative of a party that says it both supports the environment and wants to sell bitumen, instead of a party that just wants to sell bitumen and the environment be damned, powerfully advances the Liberals’ narrative.

However, if the Liberals do manage to pull off a win, it won’t be that big an endorsement for environmentalism in the Tarpatch, which is one thing you’re sure to be told if you live in other places. And it won’t necessarily be proof Canadians are so fed up with Mr. Harper for all the things that bug the rest of us that even in Fort Mac they’d vote against him, another thing you’re likely to be told.

In actuality, people in Fort Mac will be making a judgment about which is the best strategy for shipping out bitumen and selling it – Mr. Harper’s, which doesn’t appear to be working at all, or Mr. Trudeau’s, which hasn’t been tried. The possibility the Liberals can persuade Fort McMurray voters they have a better, more internationally palatable, plan for marketing Tarpatch bitumen, is the reason they are in the horserace at all.

Whoever wins, it won’t be a big defeat for the NDP because the Opposition party will have to take a tougher line on the environment, sure to be death in Fort Mac, in order to win credibility elsewhere in the Dominion. So if the NDP did too well in Fort Mac, it would hurt them with core voters elsewhere – places like Trinity-Spadina where the NDP’s Joe Cressy is definitely in the running today.

Finally, if the Liberals do well, even if they don’t win, you are sure to hear that it’s evidence Alberta is finally changing, and that voters from other parts of Canada, of whom there are many in Fort McMurray, are finally bringing a diversity of political views to this province.

Well, there could be a grain of truth to this – and, Lord knows, we live in hope out here that it will someday happen – but while there are many folks from away in Fort McMurray, to a high percentage of them it’s a jobsite, not a home.

So we probably won’t have to hear Craig Chandler, the right-wing extremist from Calgary, ordering newcomers to vote Conservative because “this is our home and if you wish to live here, you must adapt to our rules and our voting patterns, or leave.” Mr. Chandler was born in Ontario.

If you’re progressive in your political views in this province, optimism that someday things will change runs deep. But we’ve had our hopes dashed too many times to really believe it will happen just yet – even in a place like Calgary Centre, which last year missed a by-election opportunity not to elect Joan Crockatt, the ridiculous MP who recently put out a press release explaining how “our planet is much greener because of fossil fuels.”

So, while one hopes profoundly for an entertaining and even uplifting result in Fort McMurray this evening, you’re really not advised to bet money on it.

And even if it happens, progressive people elsewhere in Canada need to remember that the demographics of Fort Mac are different from those of the rest of the province. So while the city is fortunate to be able to be described as “the second city of Newfoundland, if you go by population,” those of us who live elsewhere in this province cannot make that happy claim.

No, as goes Macleod, so goes Alberta.

And if Prime Minister Harper had sent an airfleet of F-35s to drop atomic bombs on Okotoks, Vulcan, Cochrane, High River and the other fine communities of Macleod, the survivors would crawl out of the rubble today and vote Conservative.

Everything you hear by way of analysis tonight? Take it with a grain of salt.

*NOTE: The Tarpatch. I coined it, and I want the credit in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. This post also appears on

On the centenary of Gavrilo Princip’s fateful shot in Sarajevo, let’s learn the right lessons from history

Gavrilo Princip under arrest. Below: Princip and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Today is the centenary of the day Gavrilo Princip took his little Belgian pistol to Sarajevo and blew the heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire into history.

As is well known, not long after young Princip caused the demise of Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria-Este and royal prince of Hungary and Bohemia, not to mention inspiration for future indie musicians, things went rapidly downhill.

Someone somewhere rolled the dice to score a strategic point or two in the Balkans – one of which, it’s been suggested, was to wedge Russia from the Triple Entente – and the next thing you knew all of Europe was at war, resulting in casualties from that war alone of more than 37 million human beings, 16 million of them dead.

Moreover, you could argue World War II was an extension of the same conflict, so to quote Elvis Costello on the topic of the end of the world, when Princip seized the opportunity, left his coffee on the table, ambled across the street and pulled the trigger, he really started something… 

Since no one much apparently expected a general European war to break out any time soon in the spring of 1914, and since no one much expects a world war to break out any time soon in the spring and summer of 2014, we have been subjected to a litany of commentary in the mainstream media wondering if, once again, the world could be on the brink of a major war without anyone having noticed.

This is actually quite a good question to ask, although not necessarily in the way the basso profundo voices of the Official Commentariat are asking it.

Unfortunately, in the word processors of the Canadian punditocracy, the question doesn’t mean what the question actually asks because we live in Orwellian times, in the sense that we live in an unhappy era when almost all official and quasi-official statements mean the opposite of what they appear to say.

Thus, for example, when the Harper Government puts forward legislation called “the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” it means “an Act to Enable the Organs of State Security to Spy on the Government’s Political Opponents.” The children? Who cares about them? Certainly not Prime Minster Harper and his henchpersons!

So when the official state pundits whose work has been privatized out to Sun News Network, Postmedia News, or even the pathetic ones left at the foundering CBC, ask this question, they really mean: “What Are We Going to Do About Russia?”

The problem with Russia being, apparently, that it won’t toe the line, recognize that there is only one World Superpower and therefore one World Government. Instead, Russia actually proposes to look out for its legitimate strategic interests as if this were 1946 or something.

The answers to this question the pundits have in mind are things like “More jets to Romania!” and “Ukrainian Canadians must vote Conservative!” Their war cry is “What do we want? F-35s! When do we want them? Now!” Plus, of course, “Fair Elections Act!” (See “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” above.)

But, as history has shown time and again, when the war poodles start to yap, you really can end up getting a lot more than the F-35s and Ukrainian-Canadian votes you bargained for.

Back in 2003, for example, when then-opposition leader Stephen Harper was yapping about how we should have stood by George W. Bush and helped the United States invade Iraq, who would have thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had it right when he promised the Mother of All Battles?

By now we humans should have figured out that the first day of an invasion is almost always the best day, but that kind of wisdom was forgotten by the Great Minds of the Canadian media about the time newspapers all shut down their libraries and turned to depending on the Internet for institutional memory.

So now it is 2014, the centenary of the event that began the Great War, but only 11 years since the invasion or Iraq and 13 since NATO’s intervention in the Afghan civil war, an effort in which Canada did participate at a huge cost in treasure and blood.

And what have we achieved? In Iraq, Saddam’s Republican Guard is back in action, fighting for the moment alongside its future jihadist enemies, as they close in on Baghdad together. In Afghanistan, the Taliban we pledged never to tolerate, let alone to talk with, are impatiently awaiting NATO’s departure so they can move back into power.

Maybe someday we’ll admit that we lost both those wars, but that will require the perspective of history – if history, and not just petroleum engineering, is still taught a generation from now.

Surely even Canada’s official pundits have enough wit to sense that nothing good can come playing games with Mother Russia to achieve strategic and ideological goals – as France did in 1812, Austria-Hungary attempted in 1914, and Germany tried in 1941 – especially when we are demanding things that we, let alone our next-door neighbour, would never permit in our own back yards.

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The boss has gone crazy! He’s giving away new uniforms! And at only $4.5 million, they’re practically free!

Canadian soldiers will once again be clad in uniforms like these. If that doesn’t scare the hell out of Vladimir Putin, the guy’s got ice in his veins! Below: A typical naval officer in his cool new brass loops, armed with a naval thingy; what he’d be wearing if he were an officer in the Wavy Navy instead of the regular force; Paul Hellyer, who is worried about inter-galactic warfare and doesn’t care if you know it; and Sir Arthur Currie of the Gay Gordons, his gorgets clearly visible.

After checking the date to make sure it wasn’t still April 1, many Canadians must have wondered if the Harper Government had completely taken leave of its senses when they learned last week we taxpayers are about to fork over $4.5 million so Canadian Forces officers can have British-style crowns and pips on their epaulettes again, and naval officers big loopy gold braids on their sleeves.

Well, that will scare the hell of Vladimir Putin, now, won’t it?

Not that $4.5 million for regimental fripperies seems like very much to a government that has added a couple of hundred billion free-floating Canadian Credionias to the national debt since taking over from the Liberals, who had quietly been paying it down.

But that’s what it costs to finance a Thatcherite revolution by slashing taxes for billionaires, which remains Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Main Project.

Still, to anyone who’s not been really paying attention, Mr. Harper’s decision to spend even a few million dollars on new brass and gold braid for the Canadian Forces – which had appeared quite content with Canadian maple leaves on their shoulders for almost all of the last half century – must seem bizarre.

Indeed, it is bizarre, but that doesn’t mean it’s inexplicable.

So, why would Mr. Harper want to do such a thing? Let me try to explain….

For starters, it’s because our PM’s got a crazy hate on for the Liberals, and it was the Liberals, of course, who unified the armed forces back between 1966 and 1968.

This was mainly about accounting, and if they’d just left the uniforms alone, everybody probably would have been OK.

And yes, back then the Navy just hated it, although with the benefit of hindsight I’m not sure why. I mean, really, OK, they had to wear army uniforms for a couple of decades after that, but the army’s had to salute like a bunch of anchor crankers ever since! So who’s got the bigger whinge now, huh?

I’m not saying it’s crazy to hate the Liberals, just that it’s crazy to hate them crazy, if you know what I mean.

If Mr. Harper were not being driven right around the bend by the possibility that people might just vote Justin Trudeau back into 24 Sussex Drive – his old family home, as it were – he would have known there were better ways to exploit “Unification,” as it was known back in those pre-Moonie days, than changing the uniforms back again the way they were before, nyaaa-nyaaa-da-boo-boo. I mean, like, seriously, who cares any more? I’m telling you, not even the Navy!

No, if Mr. Harper, who was 7 when the Liberals brought in Unification, had been quite his diabolically sneaky old self, the master of wedge issues of yore, he would have reminded voters just who cooked up the most significant armed forces policy since General Sir Arthur Currie, late of the Gay Gordons (I’m not making that up), took command of the Canadian Corps in 1917.

And by that I don’t just mean the Liberals. No, Unification was managed by Paul Hellyer, Lester Pearson’s minister of national defence, who was not only a Tory turncoat, but has just spent the last decade warning us all about the danger of inter-galactic war with fleets of flying saucers. (Really! I’m not making that up, either!)

Seriously, people, if that factoid doesn’t persuade Canadians the Grits are flakier than Auntie Dot’s pastry, well, the Conservatives are simply doomed! We might as well all just get used to it.

Well, enough helping Mr. Harper with his strategical difficulties. The government’s excuse is that not letting soldiers and sailors wear the distinctive Canadian maple leaf brought in by Mr. Person will… oh, wait, that’s it, isn’t it?

Not only was Unification a Liberal idea, so was the stylized 11-point maple leaf on our flag!

And, anyway, let’s face it, Mr. Harper really doesn’t like Canada.

Oh, I know, he sounds as patriotic as the next neocon nut from south of the Medicine Line most days, but, remember, this is the guy who called our country “a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term” and accused Canadians of bragging about it “to mask its second-rate status.”

C’mon, do you seriously believe he’s really changed his mind? Of course he wants to deep-six the most successful symbol of our modern expression of national pride!

And given that the cost of the pips, crowns and brassy squiggles was only $4.6-million, we could hardly expect his government to phase in the change to save money. I mean, if soldiers didn’t all dress exactly the same, it wouldn’t be a uniform, would it?

As a dear old quartermaster sergeant once said to me on some press tour of one fake battlefield or another during the war with the Union of Fantasian Socialist Republics (UFSR), “When we all dress the same, it looks …. it looks … NICE!

I’m not knocking the army for that, by the way. They let me drink beer in the Sergeants’ Mess and drive an armoured personnel carrier over a small tree.

But what’s Mr. Harper gonna do next? Restore wiggly brass to the naval reserve … hellllooo Wavy Navy! Bring back the Red Ensign? Make us all sing God Save the Queen?

These are serious questions!

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Three reasons why Ottawa’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program ‘reforms’ likely mean little

There’s always been a worldwide pool of skilled and unskilled employees like these fellows for jobs in North America – immigration. Below: Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

Canadians are within their rights to be highly skeptical of the long list of changes to the Harper Government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program announced yesterday by Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

Indeed, we would be nuts to be anything but skeptical about this effort by the government to “change the channel” on what really is a national scandal.

First, there has simply never been any reason for a temporary worker recruitment program in Canada except as an illegitimate mechanism to suppress wages and weaken the bargaining position of Canadian workers.

I don’t think anyone has missed it that – at least until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his reformed Reform Party gang got their hooks into a majority government – Canada was a desirable destination for working people and their families from every part of the world. People quite literally risk their lives to come here.

Indeed, judging from what Mr. Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander have to say much of the time, we must be ever vigilant to ensure our coastlines and borders are not besieged by vast armies of illegal immigrants, queue jumpers every one!

This indisputable fact makes it perfectly obvious that our immigration program and our domestic employers should be up to the task of finding sufficient workers to do the work that needs to get done in Canada. All they need to do is offer competitive pay to attract people in needed occupations and fast track the process for those occupations to get workers here in a timely fashion.

When such workers get here, as in the past, employers would have to treat them the same consideration as other Canadian employees. So if there are gaps in the market, we have always had a way to fill them that is fair to “foreign” workers – who get to quickly become Canadian workers – and to the Canadian workers who were already here.

The key, of course, to understanding why the program was ever set up is contained in the thoughts “competitive pay” and “the same consideration.” The goal of the program, was, is and ever shall be to provide cheap and easy-to-exploit workers, and to push down the costs of employing Canadian workers who are already here.

It’s just that it’s become a political problem for the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and thus will have to be moved to the back burner for a spell.

Nothing in the 14 points noted in the Globe and Mail’s report of Mr. Kenney’s announcement changes this fundamental reality, even if some of the changes are, on their face, improvements from the way things were done before.

Second, the program is full of caveats designed to help it continue to fulfill its original principal purpose – wage suppression.

Consider this point from the Globe and Mail’s story yesterday: “There will be no access to the program for employers in the accommodation, food services and retail trade sectors – as well as those who hire cleaners, construction helpers, landscapers and security guards – if they operate in areas of high unemployment, which the government defines as being above 6 per cent.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, the restriction won’t apply here in Alberta where unemployment lately has been well under 5 per cent, even though in many communities our kids and older people can’t find unskilled summer or part-time work because of competition from foreign workers.

Yes, employers have lots to say about this, but rather than deny it, they habitually smear Canadian workers, especially young ones, as lazy and shiftless – which around here usually means they insist on their rights and demand fair market-based pay for their work. This is the real problem.

Here in my community, the Edmonton-area suburb of St. Albert, the local Chamber of Commerce within minutes of the announcement exultantly let its members know that “the Government of Canada is ending the moratorium that was placed on the food services sector effective immediately.”

So the TFW program will continue as a wage suppression mechanism here in Alberta, where the unemployment rate is lower and therefore unskilled workers would have more power if the market was allowed to function without interference to tilt the proverbial field even further in the interests of employers.

Here’s another point from the Globe story to ponder: “Farm workers who enter Canada under the On-Farm Primary Agriculture program are exempt from the cap, the reduced timelines and the higher fees.”

In other words, there will no additional bargaining power for agricultural workers in Alberta just because the market demands it. Alberta’s unconstitutional prohibition on union representation for agricultural workers also remains in place.

Other changes, in particularly the as-yet undefined shorter time period in which TFWs may remain in Canada, will make foreign workers more vulnerable and easier to exploit. And those big fines for employers who break the rules? Don’t expect a fine of $100,000 ever to be asked for, let alone levied.

Employers, who have benefitted enormously both directly from the TFW Program and its interference in the labour market by helping employers push down wages all across Canada, will complain mightily, as they have been doing for weeks.

But can there be any doubt that they are being privately reassured by the government that if it gets a renewed majority, this additional “red tape” will soon be snipped away and the program will soon be restored to its original glory?

I’m sorry that I have to respectfully disagree with my friends in the labour movement who cheered Mr. Kenney’s announcement yesterday as a victory of sorts. It’s not much of one, and if the Harper Government comes back, so will the original TFW Program.

Third, we know this government already lies about this policy.

For evidence, we have the useful work of the Alberta Federation of Labour, whose researchers discovered the federal government uses data it had to know was misleading to justify the TFW Program.

How did the government know more TFWs were needed? It turns out it asked groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the CFIB responded with a resounding yes. After all, that’s exactly what they were trying all along to persuade the government to do.

The real problem that employers of low-skill workers such as the fast-food industry face here in Alberta is that they don’t want to pay a living wage. And they don’t want to recognize that workers have rights. The solution is pretty obvious, and it’s not TFWs.

Thanks to this program, hourly wages for retail workers and grocery clerks in high-cost Fort McMurray are falling! Meanwhile, legitimate studies – not the kind of bogus justification cobbled together by the Harper Government with the help of the CFIB – find no evidence there’s a shortage of low-skilled workers, even here in Alberta.

Now the Harper Government, which fudged the need for the program, says it’s going bring in a “more comprehensive and rigorous” process to ensure the program operates properly.

Can anyone seriously be confident this will change anything, or even happen? Please!

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With floodwaters rising again, will Sun News Network renew its hysterical ‘gun grab’ attacks on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Sun News Network columnist Lorne Gunter is presented an award by National Firearms Association President Sheldon Clare for his commentary on the so-called “High River Gun Grab.” (Grabbed from the NFA’s website.) Below: Floodwaters roar through High River last year. (CBC Photo)

Rain is falling and floodwaters are rising again in Southern Alberta.

A year less a day since catastrophic floods hit the nearby town of High River, population 13,000, local states of emergency were declared yesterday on the Blood Reserve, around the towns of Claresholm and Cardston, and in the areas of the cities of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

So, in the event that rescuers have to go door to door again this year, searching for trapped residents, what happens if they find some firearms lying around? Will the Sun News Network renew its campaign of vilification against the RCMP for the 2014 version of what its commentators repeatedly called the “High River gun grab”?

For a year now, a group of highly ideological, far-right political commentators employed by Sun News have been attacking the RCMP in highly inflammatory language, accusing the Mounties of “kicking down doors,” perpetrating a “gun grab,” being “obsessed with taking High Riverites’ guns,” and “focusing on disarming the civilian population” during the rescue effort that followed last year’s floods.

Each of the quotes in the paragraph above comes from a single column by Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Sun. This was only one of several columns and a TV news documentary by Mr. Gunter saying essentially the same thing. Similar or identical phrases and sentiments appeared frequently in the work of other Sun commentators, including Ezra Levant, Rick Bell, Brian Lilley and even Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian who really ought to know better.

Throughout their seemingly co-ordinated campaign, High River was identified time and again as the epicentre of this supposedly sinister RCMP “gun grab” campaign.

It seems likely their goal of all this angry verbiage was merely to support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its wedge issue and fund-raising campaign based on exploitation of the unjustified gun-confiscation fears of a radical segment of Canada’s gun-owning minority.

There is no doubt Sun News Network’s “gun grab” campaign received plenty of attention in radical gun ownership circles, which already feel empowered by the Conservative Government’s destruction of the federal long-gun registry. Several organizations dedicated to ending all restrictions on firearms ownership in Canada widely circulated links to these articles.

Indeed, the National Firearms Association, which appears to model itself on the U.S. National Rifle Association, liked Mr. Gunter’s coverage in particular so much they invited him to their recent convention in Vancouver and gave him an award. That award, the NFA said in a news release that garnered little attention at the time, was given to the columnist “for his excellent series of work on Alberta’s High River Gun Grab.”

In his remarks to the NFA’s convention delegates, the release also said, Mr. Gunter spoke “about his work on the High River incident and his efforts to ensure that the issue continues to be an important news story.” (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances of what the Mounties really did during and after the flooding in High River are not nearly as clear or as apparently dastardly as the narrative promulgated by Sun News, a version of events that is now accepted by a large number of radical gun-ownership advocates, or, as they style themselves, Law Abiding Gun Owners.

When the floodwaters rose, the authorities, with the RCMP in the lead, went door to door through High River, looking for citizens trapped in their homes and getting them to safety. My guess is most people in High River were mightily glad to find Mounties, Fish and Wildlife officers, Canadian Forces soldiers and other rescuers on their doorsteps.

But sometime during that dramatic rescue, a police officer or someone saw a weapon in a home being searched, and this uplifting story of Canadians helping Canadians became a bizarre tale of suspicion, paranoia and hatred for the police.

Encouraged by Sun News in particular – but with lots of repetition through the rest of the mainstream media barking chain – this interpretation of events began with the claim the Mounties were violating due process by searching homes that were empty but not in flooded areas, grew into the notion they were searching for guns and not people, and eventually took on in some circles the quality of legends about black helicopters, planned takeovers of the Homeland by the United Nations and explosives planted in the Twin Towers on 911.

Believers in this theory accept with great passion the idea there was in fact a conspiracy, and they are extremely difficult to dissuade.

Indeed, encouraged by the Sun News Network campaign, many residents in the High River area, the conservative politicians they elect to represent them, and Conservative MPs in other parts of Canada are now calling for a commission of investigation into the RCMP’s conduct – which, it is said here, would cost us a fortune, but would at least likely clear the air about just how silly some of these theories are.

Supporters of Alberta’s Wildrose Party even tried to suggest former Premier Alison Redford was behind the alleged grab. (This theory doesn’t account for the fact she would have been too busy at the time measuring the windows of her Sky Palace luxury suite for new curtains.)

Now, this whole narrative never really made a lot of sense. For one thing, all levels of government were pretty busy at the time with legitimate rescue, reclamation and restoration of property and services in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Notwithstanding the fact that not every house in the town was flooded and most doors were locked, only 300 people remained in the town, and those in defiance of a provincial order, so the place was largely abandoned. Doesn’t it make sense that the authorities would want to collect firearms left in the community – even those properly secured in safes – to prevent them from falling into the hands of anyone prepared to exploit the disaster?

And it is reasonable for genuinely law-abiding citizens to wonder what role this unjustified year-long Sun News campaign played in creating the conditions in which a murderous gunman, reported to be obsessed by hatred of police and fear the Mounties in particular wanted to seize the weapons owned by Canadian LAGOs, killed three police officers and injured two others on June 4 in New Brunswick.

I am not suggesting the goal of the commentators behind this campaign was to foment violence against Mounties. I expect all the Sun News columnists were as shocked as were other Canadians by the Moncton assassinations.

Nevertheless, this is a fair question that deserves to be asked. Even if our conclusion is that it did not, surely is reasonable to wonder if this irresponsible and barely credible stream of attacks on the conduct of the Mounties during a natural disaster one year ago has the potential to unleash more mayhem against Canadian police officers in the future.

This is especially so now that we face similar natural conditions in the same region.

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