All posts in Canadian Politics

Rob Anders, Canada’s Worst MP, has been handed his great big hat a second time

Calgary West MP Rob Anders waves farewell from the back of a pickup truck, a type of vehicle that along with firearms was numbered among his most loved things. Below: Nomination victor Martin Shields; Mr. Anders in one of his favourite poses, with a great big pistol, and asleep in the House of Commons.

Leaving so soon, Mr. Anders? Here’s your hat.

Long before Canadians had the Ford Brothers to humiliate them around the globe, there was Rob Anders, the hardy perennial of the Canadian loony right – elected six times over 17 years by the inattentive voters of Calgary West.

But last night, Mr. Anders, renowned across the land and throughout the world as “Canada’s Worst MP” and the man who dismissed Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist,” was rejected by Conservative Party members in the rural Bow River riding, which covers a vast tract of land east and south of Calgary.

It was the second time in the last six months Mr. Anders, born on April Fools Day 1972,  has suffered that fate in a nomination vote the hands of local Tories, who are seemingly as fed up with his antics as the rest of us.

Mr. Anders’ double defeat is a huge loss to the Canadian blogosphere, which will miss his comedic value; both opposition parties, to whom he was a useful symbol of Conservative lunacy; and the country’s most extreme gun nuts and social conservatives, who were apparently his only remaining supporters.

Conservative Party members in the new Bow River electoral district elected Martin Shields, mayor of the Town of Brooks, site of the massive meat-packing plant at the centre of Canada’s largest meat products recall in 2013 and one of the larger communities in the huge and sparsely populated area.

Back in April, Mr. Anders was sent packing by the urban voters of another new riding created in the last redistribution of Alberta’s federal electoral districts, Calgary Signal Hill. They chose instead Ron Liepert, the former Alberta health minister, a politician almost as controversial as Mr. Anders himself.

Given that the new Calgary Signal Hill riding occupied much of the same territory as the old Calgary West district, it’s not at all certain Mr. Anders would not have been skidded by his own party even without redistribution. He was increasingly recognized as an embarrassment serious enough to pose a threat to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That said, it is probably a mistake to over-analyze Mr. Anders’ defeat in a geographical area where the local Conservative Party candidate, no matter how bizarre, is normally a shoo-in in the next general election.

So perhaps it was not Mr. Anders’ bizarre behaviour – falling sleep on camera in the House of Commons, suggesting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair caused the death of former leader Jack Layton, striking butchy poses with his latest firearms, voting against honorary citizenship for Mr. Mandela and, in his youth, working as a professional heckler in the United States – so much as his lack of local connections that caused his electoral demise this time.

Mr. Shields was a well-known mayor in one of the riding’s main rural communities. The two other candidates – one from a semi-suburban community east of Calgary and the other from a rural area – did not have his support base. As for Mr. Anders, despite his enthusiasm for guns and pickup trucks and his formidable talent as a campaigner, was seen as a carpet-bagger, and a weird one to boot.

Most of the interest in Mr. Anders second, desperate bid for a nomination came from outside the riding.

Now that he has been handed his great big hat a second time, one would expect Mr. Anders just to take his generous Parliamentary pension and go quietly away. Don’t count on it.

That, alas, is probably too much to hope. He will remain the MP for Calgary West until the next federal election, plenty of opportunity to embarrass the nation. And he will likely turn up shortly as a spokesperson for one or another far-right think tank, lobby, crowd-funding agency or “charitable” foundation. Manning Centre, c’mon on down!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Political business in great waters: When they that go down to the sea in ships are up to no good!

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty Stephen Harper. For all we know, actual Canadian prime ministers do appear in silk stockings and tri-corner hats exactly as illustrated. You know, in private. Below: The unlucky Sir John Franklin.

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy— The Navy Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

VICTORIA, B.C.

And preserve us all from belligerent clowns who would exploit ships of all kinds and the brave mariners that sail them to score the basest of political points.

Canadian ships are in the news these days – put there, apparently, by the Harper Government as part of its intensifying campaign for reelection, its cynical stratagems advanced without thought for consequences, to Canada or the world.

As is so often the case with the buffoonery of the Harper Regime – which always seems to operate, with just enough justification to be disheartening, on the assumption we are all imbeciles possessing neither memory nor a sense of irony – these latest maritime developments are both troubling and unintentionally hilarious.

So, first, there is the matter of HMCS Toronto, the apparently* corroded and ill-maintained Canadian frigate allegedly “buzzed” by a couple of geriatric Soviet-era SU-24 military aircraft in the Black Sea, leading to much huffing and blowing by Conservative Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who called the Russian flight “unnecessarily provocative” and said it risked “escalating tensions even further.”

Never mind that the 40-year-old Russian jets seem only to have flown by in the general vicinity of the Canadian warship – leastways, apparently no one was able to procure any video that suggests they were even visible from Toronto’s bridge, odd since surely every able seaperson aboard must have an unauthorized iPhone in his or her pocket!

This lack of evidence, unsurprisingly, hasn’t stopped the proliferation of the unlikely story the Russians were picking on the Canadian ship because the Harper government has been so strident in its recent condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s so-far quite successful ripostes to Western machinations in Ukraine.

Never mind that Mr. Nicholson is the same Canadian defence minister who was blustering triumphantly just four months ago about how Canadian fighters similarly buzzed propeller-driven Russian bombers outside Canadian airspace. That considerably closer encounter was also accompanied by self-serving theorizing about the Russian strategy of approaching Canadian airspace with ancient Bear bombers, relics from an even earlier Soviet period than that of the aged Su-24s glimpsed momentarily from HMCS Toronto on the Black Sea horizon.

For the hilarious part, to take this posturing seriously it is necessary to forget that the Black Sea, strategically speaking, is a Russian lake, where hostile or threatening incursions are bound to be viewed in Moscow with profound concern. In other words, the appearance of Canadian, U.S. and French warships in those waters is about as “unnecessarily provocative” as you can get, even if your actual objective is to “risk escalating tensions even further.”

Mr. Nicholson, unsurprisingly, groused about how the Black Sea is international waters, which is true enough. But let me ask you this, what do you think our American neighbours would do if a Russian cruiser, a Chinese frigate and a couple of destroyers, all armed with God only knows what, cruised cheerfully via Cuba into the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing a couple of U.S. aircraft considerably newer than the SU-24s would quickly make their presence known in an unmistakable way to such an unnecessary provocation in that particular large American lake!

Then there is the matter of the wreck of HMS Erebus, or perhaps it is the evocatively named HMS Terror, underneath the Arctic Sea where, even now, a nefarious Russian submarine bent on challenging our sovereignty could be lurking – although it would have to be a small sub, because the long-missing sailing ship appears to be only 11 metres beneath the surface.

Why we’re spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we’re allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.

Desperate to be seen to be doing something – and preferably something that won’t be as expensive as actually building and maintaining a harbour or other infrastructure – to preserve Canada’s Artic sovereignty, the Harper Government has hit upon the historical oddity of the reappearance of the doomed ship from Sir John Franklin’s effort to find an unfrozen Northwest Passage, which began in 1845.

Indeed, His Nibs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to mount the podium himself to make the rather tendentious claim, given the relatively southern location of the wreck, that discovery of the ship strengthens Canada’s claims to the Arctic. Well, perhaps it also allowed him to bask enjoyably in the reflected glory of the imperialism of old as he advocates for the New Imperialism of unregulated capital. One is almost surprised, given all this, that Mr. Harper didn’t don the garb of a 19th Century sea captain for the occasion!

Which leads us to the unintended hilarity in this maritime news story. Mr. Harper was quick to pour loads of dough into his pet science project and to tout the “commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved.”

It is ironic, of course, that the same government actively pursues a policy of science denial and science suppression, especially when the science in question runs counter to the quasi-religious ideological nostrums of the Harper Government.

Indeed, global warming – denied and disparaged by the Harperites – may have contributed to the discovery after all these years of the unlucky Royal Navy vessel.

Well, at least the Harperites can argue they’re helping solve the problem of too much ice in the Northwest Passage, which seems to have been the undoing of Commander Franklin’s ill-fated expedition.

This seems an appropriately nautical note on which to end my short sojourn adjacent to salt water, which was required by some urgent family business on Vancouver Island. I will not have a regular Internet connection for the next couple of days, and will return to commentary on the state of Alberta politics next week in Edmonton. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

* Or so it looks in several recent news pictures. Perhaps the Canadian Navy, royal or otherwise, has in the Harper Era forgotten the useful naval dictum: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, move it. If it won’t move, paint it.”

Dispatches from your crazy Uncle Steve: It’s all the fault of the media elite!

“Isn’t that Brian Mulroney talking to some guy … Hey! Isn’t that one-a those Trudeaus?! Mulroney’s just another Trudeau lover! Like the Ottawa media elite!” Yadda-yadda… Below: The real Crazy Uncle Steve, Mr. Mulroney again, Heather Mallick. You can tell she’s a member of the urban Ottawa media elite because she’s wearing pearls!

VICTORIA, B.C.

You may think the Harper Tories are getting ready to do battle with the Liberals under Justin Trudeau (whom former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney just called “a potent package”) and the New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair (whom Mr. Mulroney called “the best Opposition leader since John Diefenbaker”), but if you do, you’d be mistaken.

Nope, at least according to the mail they constantly send their supporters, the Harper Cons getting ready to go to war with the media.

That’s the right, according to the stream of fund-raising emails the Tories send to The Base, the Libs and the Knee-Dips may be a bit of a problem, but the big one is that “the urban media elite are mobilizing against us.”

Reading this stuff makes it feel like your country is being run by your crazy Uncle Steve, the guy who brags he has an unregistered firearm hidden under the floorboards of every room in his house – “in case of burglars” – and says he’s ready to shoot back when the black drones from the United Nations manned by aliens start patrolling the airspace over his house. And he lives by himself, so there’s no one to give him his meds and lead him back to his room. Yeah, that Uncle Steve.

Except, you might argue, the Uncle Steve running the country, the one whose party functionaries and MPs send out these electronic epistles to the faithful, may be crazy like a fox.

Every third line or so in every one of those little e-pistles says something alone the lines of this: “chip in $5 and help us fight back and get our own positive record out.” (You know, like the 111,800 real jobs lost in Canada last month, which a compliant Statistics Canada managed to whittle down to one tenth that sum thanks to anemic job growth in the public sector and by counting the almost 87,000 people who chose, if you will, “self-employment.” Another 21,000 people didn’t even get counted any more because they’d given up and stopped looking for work.)

Who knows? By writing this I myself may get a dishonourable mention in a Conservative fund-raising email as an honourary member of the media elite – something for which the real media elite, which is Conservative to a man and woman, would never give a blogger credit. They’re certainly willing to strike back at individual journalists who fail to toe the Tory line. Case in point…

“Friend,” Fred DeLorey, the CPC’s “director of political operations” told me the other day in a note sent to thousands of others who clicked a link in a Tory Facebook ad, “this morning, I picked up a paper to read with my morning coffee. You won’t believe what I found inside. I discovered a 740-word column by the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick, full of disgusting personal attacks on the Prime Minister. I won’t go into detail, but it included the word ‘sociopathic.’ Not even trying to hide her bias, Mallick ends her column hoping that when it comes to Conservative majority, ‘next year it will be over.’”

I think they threw in the bit about 740 words because that would sound like a lot to the Conservative Base. But, anyway … then came the first pitch for a $5 donation.

Holy Cow, Martha, better send five bucks to Mr. Harper right now!

Just for the record, in fairness or whatever to Ms. Mallick, here’s what she actually said: “Perhaps it was Harper’s dead sociopathic eyes or the way he campaigned with pre-selected audiences from behind a metal fence. No. It was when people started to think of his hair as a separate organ, like Dick Cheney’s heart which he basically kept in a pocket, a living pulsing thing that would halve, leap on you and clap both sides of your head if you poked it.”

This of course, prompted the usual withering response from the real media elite, the one that instructs its editorial boards to plump for Tories even when they’ve spent weeks deciding to do something else. Never mind that, though, back to Mr. DeLorey:

“How did the Liberal leader fare in her column, by contrast? It read like a heartsick teenager’s love letter: She swooned over his ‘intellect and wit’, his ‘good looks’, and the fact that he can really ‘wear a suit.’ Yes, it was thorough, hard-hitting journalism. If you ever had any doubt that the urban media elite are mobilizing against us, this ridiculous piece should end it.”

Actually, this sounds a bit like Mr. Mulroney, swooning over Mr. Trudeau: “He’s a young man, attractive, elected two or three times to the House, attractive wife, beautiful kids.” Maybe Mr. Mulroney’s now part of the urban Ottawa media elite now too, though! And you’ve got to admit – just sayin’ – Mr. Trudeau really can wear a suit!

Getting back to Mr. DeLorey’s come-on, this is where we find the second pitch for $5, which I particularly liked: “Let’s make sure that Mallick and her friends in the Liberal media elite have something to write about for four more years. Chip in $5 today …”

He concludes: “We’re up against the Liberals and the NDP in the next election, but we also have to fight an uphill battle against all their friends in the Ottawa media. Since we can’t count on fair coverage, we’re going to need to speak directly to voters. It’s not cheap, but it’s the only option.” This is followed by yet another pitch for five bucks.”

Other Tory emails ask for 25 bucks. “Unlike the Liberals, we don’t have the Ottawa media elite backing us,” said one such recent plea. “But we have something even better – our strong and supportive grassroots base – people like you and me, who understand that we’re better off with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and are willing to work together to make our country a better place.”

You get the picture.

Now, look, I hate to say this, but if you do have five bucks, there’s a better way to put them to use. Why not click on the donation button on the left-hand side of this page? Bloggers? We’re doing more than the Conservative Party ever will to bring the media elite to its knees!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The push-polls prove it again, Canadians hate unions … really, really, really they do! Happy Labour Day

The past is a foreign country: Labour Day in Vancouver, not so long ago. Below: The workers, united, will never be defeated! The goal of union “transparency,” “worker choice,” “right to work” and other Orwellian right-wing buzzwords is to ensure the workers are never united and always defeated. Below that: Stephen Kushner, president of the anti-union Merit Contractors Association.

VICTORIA, B.C.

NOTE TO READERS: Since the Alberta chapter of the Merit Contractors Association, a group of non-union construction companies, seems to have recycled much of its past opinion survey and press release on union “transparency,” I thought I’d recycle most of my 2012 post responding to nearly identical claims made by the same group. Remember, it’s not plagiarism if you’re only plagiarizing yourself.

When I was a kid growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, there was a holiday at the end of the summer called “Labour Day” on which Canadians celebrated the vast contribution of working people to the past, present and future of our great country.

Unions, groups of working people who pooled their modest individual strength to bargain collectively and ensure that a fair share of the great wealth they created ended up in the hands of ordinary families, would sometimes gather for picnics on this holiday, which was tinged with true patriotism, and sing songs.

One of those songs, a particular favourite in those long-ago days, went like this: “It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade; Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid; Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made; But the union makes us strong….”

Well, those days are gone – the part about “but the union makes us strong,” anyway – and I can almost hear many of you, dear readers, silently mouthing “Thank God!”

Today, our Tea Party of Canada government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dedicated to signing “trade agreements” that ensure high-paying Canadian jobs are exported as quickly as possible to more efficient foreign jurisdictions, such as China, the role of public education is well on its way to being outsourced to corporate shills, and the final long weekend of our short Canadian summer is devoted to what might be called the Seventy-Two Hour Hate, a three-day frenzy of official and media sponsored loathing for the weakened vestiges of the labour movement.

Oddly enough, though, this occasion is still known as “Labour Day.”

This year, as in the recent past, we are marking Labour Day 2014 with the traditional publication in the media of “studies” by right-wing think tanks that “prove” how we’d all be better off if there were no unions, no pensions and no public health care, as well as with a “new” poll that purports to show everyone is in agreement that unions are at best an irrelevant anachronism, at worst an outright menace.

OK, enough with the sarcasm. The survey was conducted for the Merit Contractors Association, a group that describes itself as “the voice of open shop construction in Alberta.” Open shop, in this context, means non-union and prepared to do pretty well anything to stay that way.

The poll was conducted by Innovative Research Group, Merit said in its press release on Friday, which otherwise was little different from statements it has made about similar polls conducted for the association by other pollsters in the past.

The survey purports to show, in the words of Merit President Stephen Kushner, that “Albertans have a strong desire for labour reform on union fiscal transparency, worker choice and a fair and equitable labour market.”

Now, two points need to be made about this statement:

  1. Merit’s claims about the survey are hard to verify because the group has not provided us with access to a copy of the poll and the questions asked of respondents.
  2. Several of the phrases in Mr. Kushner’s statement, which may have been used in the poll, are coded expressions that do not mean what they appear to say. “Union fiscal transparency” means forcing unions to comply with expensive reporting rules more severe than those required of corporations and other organizations. “Worker choice” means effectively depriving workers of the choice of being union members. “A fair and equitable labour market” means U.S. style “right to work” laws that make it impossible for unions to operate.

In the past, this poll was conducted for Merit by another pollster that provided details about the questions asked and the number of respondents. It was possible to argue based on that information that the poll was a “push-poll” that asked questions clearly designed to make unions look bad, thereby leading respondents to the obvious “correct” conclusions about how to deal with that badness.

Deprived of this information about the current poll, it is impossible to say that this is also a push poll. However, the probability, given Merit’s history and well-known position, plus the loaded terminology repeated in Mr. Kushner’s news release, is quite high that the results of the 2014 poll are not a legitimate measure of public opinion.

Unlike its previous pollster, which had a reputation for serious public opinion research and was taken to task publicly for its role in promoting a push-poll, Innovative Research Group appears from its website to be principally a public relations firm specializing in issues management, corporate communications and fund-raising. This is not a comment on the quality of its public opinion research, of course, because we do not have an example of the work to comment on.

Merit has not yet responded to my request, made Friday afternoon as soon as I became aware of their news release, for more information about the poll. Perhaps they left work early to enjoy the Labour Day weekend.

Regardless, it is easy to get poll respondents to say they support “transparency” of union finances – a position for which an argument can be made.

However, I can guarantee you that with the right loaded questions it would be similarly easy to get like results in a poll asking about the benefits of financial transparency for governments, private corporations doing business with the public, public and private employers during negotiations, far-right “think tanks” and, just for one more example, non-union construction employers’ lobby groups. A good argument can be made for all these ideas as well.

Similarly, one could use push-poll questions to elicit responses that would allow us to confidently state that a majority of Canadians, including people who work in management, support a ban on corporate political donations and an end to charitable status for corporate think tanks that engage in constant political advocacy.

Be that as it may, most Merit Contractors members are virulently anti-union small construction firms that have banded together to pool their strength and lobby collectively (you know, like a union) for laws that would make it much more difficult for unions to organize Merit employees and represent them effectively. As a necessary sideline, they make a big effort to persuade the public that this is a good idea.

At any rate, for all their rhetoric about “choice” and “freedom” and their alleged concern for the rights of working people, I think it’s fair to say that Merit members’ principal interests in this are avoiding the inconvenience of dealing with unions generally as well as finding ways to compete with larger, often more successful, unionized contractors.

If they can recast their competitive struggles as a fight for “worker rights” and see the imposition of legislation that also makes it harder for their chief competitors to operate as they do now, perhaps they can increase they market share.

I wonder if IRG has done any parallel – and methodologically similar – polls on how many Albertans support the full disclosure of company financial information, especially during union negotiations? They might also ask how many Albertans want their tax dollars to subsidize excessive contracts with private companies, large executive bonuses and severance payments, or any advertising, including glossy corporate and government brochures.

You get the idea. Probably almost all of our imaginary respondents would agree with the conclusions suggested by these questions too – especially they’re worded like those in a typical push poll.

Well, never mind. Later today, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Edmonton and District Labour Council will hold its annual Labour Day picnic at Giovanni Caboto Park.

This popular event will attract a huge throng of Edmonton’s many unemployed and working poor citizens, hardship that stubbornly persists despite Alberta’s seeming economic prosperity. Similar events organized by unions will take place in communities all across Canada.

My guess is that most Canadians, polled about this informal annual charitable effort by unions and their members, would strongly approve. I wonder what they would say if they knew the proposals pushed by the Merit Contractors and their ilk would make these picnics illegal?

Happy Labour Day!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Why Edmonton Strathcona electors should vote NDP, as (not exactly) explained by Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland

Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland, a Liberal, after speaking at the University of Alberta Faculty Club last week. Below: Eleanor Olszewski, nominated Liberal candidate in the federal Edmonton Strathcona riding; Linda Duncan, NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona.

Last Wednesday night, during an engaging talk at the University of Alberta Faculty Club, Chrystia Freeland pretty clearly laid out the arguments for why voters in Edmonton Strathcona should re-elect New Democrat Linda Duncan in the next federal election.

The Toronto MP, who is one of the bright lights of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s caucus, wasn’t aiming to make that point, of course. Indeed, she was actually gamely making the argument to the more than 100 Liberals who spent two hours listening to her remarks why voters should elect Eleanor Olszewski, the Liberal Party of Canada’s standard-bearer in the riding.

As a native of Alberta – born in Peace River and raised here in Edmonton, where she was educated in public schools before attending Harvard and Oxford – Ms. Freeland is likely to be to play an important cabinet role if the Liberals manage to form a government. As such, it was bizarre no one from the local mainstream media could be bothered to show up to cover her remarks or even try to get a file photo.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about Ms. Freeland’s potential as I am, by the way. A scion of the Ukrainian-Canadian diaspora, she has been banned from Russia by President Vladimir Putin’s diktat, a retaliatory slight that must get up similarly hostile Harper Conservative noses, pretending, as they do, to be Ukraine’s only friends in Canada.

But at the risk of being mean (Ms. Freeland was certainly very nice to me, and kindly posed with me for a photograph), and also of offending my friends in both the Liberal Party and the NDP, the case she so articulately set out is in fact stronger if you replace Ms. Olszewski’s name with Ms. Duncan’s.

I imagine the recently elected Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre knows all this, although she was too loyal a Liberal to let on, having just won a hard fought by-election against New Democrat Linda McQuaig, who like Ms. Freeland is an author, journalist and high-profile and effective spokesperson for progressive Canadians. Both of them deserve to be in Parliament, but, alas, that’s not the way the system works here.

It’s important to all Canadians, Ms. Freeland emphasized to start, “not to have the Conservatives form the next government.” Agreed!

She excoriated the so-called Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as deeply sexist, profoundly out of touch with the values of Canadians, anti-science and not even able to live up to its No. 1 talking point, “that it is business oriented, business friendly or oriented to business.”

“It’s just not true,” she said, wondering what kind of a pro-business government wants to suppress science and ignore facts. She introduced a nice argument that the Harper Government’s hostility to science is in fact evidence of its lack of business acumen.

So, she argued, is its misunderstanding of the U.S. government and the psychology of President Barack Obama. Mr. Harper’s bizarre pronouncement that he won’t take no for an answer from Washington is not likely to be effective, she said, nor is his apparent notion he can exploit Alberta bitumen while ignoring the need for social consent in the United States or elsewhere.

“The fact that Keystone hasn’t been approved is directly the fault of this government,” Ms. Freeland stated. “Believing we have to choose between the oil industry and the environment totally misreads the situation,” she went on.

Whether or not you endorse the entire range of views expressed by Ms. Freeland, it’s hard for me to argue with her conclusions the Harper Conservatives suffer from “an arrogant sense of righteousness and entitlement” or that allowing them to continue to govern would be deeply harmful to Canada.

Which brings us back to Ms. Duncan and Ms. Olszewski. In Edmonton Strathcona, Ms. Duncan can win, while Ms. Olszewski cannot – although Ms. Olszewski very well could split the vote sufficiently to ensure a Conservative gets elected.

The arithmetic is pretty simple: if the Liberals do well in Edmonton Strathcona in 2016, the Conservatives will win in the riding, as they have many times in similar circumstances in the past.

If you are simply a party partisan, this doesn’t matter, I guess. For most of us, though, Ms. Freeland spoke a profound truth when she said of the Harperites that this is an election in which we simply “can’t let them continue to be our government.”

So this calls for a certain degree of strategic voting, as unpopular as that idea is bound to be with both Liberal and New Democrat true believers. But here too the electoral math is pretty clear: the more seats not held by Tories, the better off the country is.

I think Ms. Freeland’s late mother, Halyna Chomiak Freeland, might have agreed with this analysis. After all, she ran for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona in 1988 and came pretty close to winning.

Regardless, Liberals should hold their noses and vote NDP in Edmonton Strathcona, for the very reasons Ms. Freeland ably enumerated.

New Democrats in some other ridings – including, I daresay, Toronto Centre – are going to have to return the favour.

The hard part for many progressive voters is going to be figuring out how and where to cast a strategic ballot – which is seldom completely clear.

It is clear in Edmonton Strathcona, though, and that requires a vote for Linda Duncan, whether it’s strategic or deeply partisan.

As Ms. Freeland rightly stated: “We cannot afford in this crucial year to split the progressive vote.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Justin Trudeau in Edmonton: dismiss this guy as a flake or a lightweight at your peril

Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau energized a crowd of Liberals and the curious last night in Edmonton. Below: His father, Pierre Trudeau, circa 1968; the chip off the old block.

I’m pretty sure it was in the spring of 1968 that I heard Pierre Trudeau speak in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. I think it was March ’68, as a matter of fact, right before the convention that made him leader of the Liberal Party and prime minister of Canada.

I can tell you this for sure, it was a beautiful day, the sun was warm, there was a nice breeze off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the daffodils were in bloom, and the presence of the still-youngish Mr. Trudeau (he was not quite 50 and the minister of justice at that time) generated a heck of a lot of excitement.

Seems to me there were about 1,000 people there that day – the single Internet account I could find was imprecise about such details, including the exact date. The crowd was abuzz. Mr. Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. It was exciting. I can’t recall much of what he said, but it isn’t really important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

Fast forward to yesterday evening and Justin Trudeau, 42, was in Edmonton. And to my mind there were a lot of things in common with that afternoon in Victoria, lo those many years ago.

Maybe I just caught a taste of the Kool-Aid. Maybe I’m just getting old and remembering my youth through rose-coloured spectacles. But I can tell you this, it was a beautiful evening last night, the sun was warm and some marigolds or something were blooming nearby. Edmonton’s River Valley was nice, although I’m afraid it didn’t quite come up to the standards of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains.

But there were about 1,000 people there. Justin Trudeau spoke for about half an hour. People seemed to find it pretty exciting. Nowadays, of course, we have an Internet record of what he said, but it isn’t really that important anyway. It was boilerplate campaign stuff.

The mood was the thing: Upbeat. Hopeful. It was memorable.

I’m telling you people, if it hadn’t been for the boring interlude when the rally organizers tried to get their most fervent supporters to break a silly record by making phone calls to voters in other cities, a lame idea that momentarily took the wind out of the rally’s sails, the feeling was much the same.

Yes, there was more than a whiff of old-style Trudeaumania in the air, just like in ’68.

As I’ve said before, whether you’re a New Democrat or a Conservative like most of the people who run things in this province, if you think you can just blow this guy off as a flake or a lightweight you’re sadly deluded. He’s got some ideas, he’s got charisma, and so he’s got people listening to what he has to say.

There are differences: We’ve got a mean spirited, tired old government in Ottawa that has discovered from its fellow travellers in the United States how to wedge the electorate and go negative to great effect. It’s prepared to do things to stay in power that real Conservatives like Bob Stanfield or Joe Clark would never have contemplated.

The Liberals in ’68 were just renewing a franchise that had gone a little stale.

Oh, and we all have cell phones with cameras in them now.

So you can say that was then and this is now if you like.

Still, 2014 is starting to feel to me a bit like 1968. Maybe more than a bit. It sure did for a little while last night, anyway.

A return to civility? An end to Internet anonymity? Please! The leaders of all Parliamentary parties need protection now

Political discourse in Canada, as seen by the National Post, that well known champion of common courtesy. Below: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The National Post is shocked, just shocked, at the tone of the public commentary responding to the threatening break-in at Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa home while his wife and small children slept.

“Canadian political dialogue is devolving into a mosh pit where even the vilest personal attacks are more or less routine,” lamented political columnist Michael Den Tandt in the Post yesterday, apparently in response to some of the ferocious debate that reports of the frightening incident sparked in the comment sections of various media outfits.

This is true enough, although a mosh pit is for too benign a metaphor for what has become routine political discourse in this country, thanks in large part to the rise of what’s known here as the Online Tory Rage Machine.

These boiler rooms full of angry Conservative Party agitators respond instantly to any issue with furious online denunciations of anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasms of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no matter how mild the disagreement.

Fret about the death toll in Gaza, get ready to be called a friend of terrorists, if not an outright terrorist yourself. Express some worries about sabre-rattling in Ukraine, and you’ll be told you’re in bed with Vladimir Putin. Express doubts about the war on drugs, be prepared to be accused of drug use yourself, or maybe selling the stuff. And just try talking about moderate firearms regulations and then watch with astonishment the threatening tone the response to your remarks quickly takes on.

For, oh, the past eight years or so, it’s been relentless – and, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of the Harper government. And it is semi-official – who can forget the famous Craigslist ad of 2011, when this stuff was really getting off the ground, seeking social media writers to “make up facts” and use “sarcasm and personal insults” to “score points” and “stir outrage.”

No one has ever persuasively denied this was legitimate, although recruitment of operatives seems to have moved to more secure channels, perhaps the back rooms of various right-wing centres for “building democracy.”

This routine abuse of the CPC’s doubters, let alone its actual opponents, has even crept into legitimate media, through the agency of the prime minister’s favourite TV station, the semi-official Sun News Network.

Hell, thanks to Sun News, the Two Minute Hate is practically a Canadian institution now, except that it seldom runs for less than eight or 10 minutes.

And that’s not to mention the Harper Government’s approach to political advertising, which as we know nowadays tends to target on the mostly imagined failings of Mr. Trudeau, with an occasional halfhearted sideswipe at Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.  The fact it doesn’t seem to be working just arouses them to new heights of vituperation.

Not that I’m jumping to any conclusions, but it’s not hard to imagine the possibility that one of the many violent fruitcakes of the right was motivated by this stream of invective to decide they had to … do something.

This has served a purpose for the government. For one thing, keeping the tone of political debate ugly, and fostering the sense that all politicians are corrupt, is a well-understood technique of the political right in North America. It has the tendency to suppress the vote by people who might otherwise be motivated to do something about the state of affairs at the ballot box.

For another, it does in fact have a chilling effect on legitimate democratic discourse and the expression of views not approved by the official right.

Mr. Den Tandt, in the traditional enabling manner of the mainstream media, tries to paint this as something equally contributed to by intemperate supporters of both sides. “As quickly as Trudeau haters popped up to dine out on the break-in, Stephen Harper-haters piled on with their own equally anile attacks,” he wrote, and, I admit, I had to look up “anile” to realize it is sexist as well as largely incorrect.

Although, in fairness, I have noticed in the past few months that traditionally mild-mannered Canadian progressive commentators are holding themselves back much less than in the past – a sleeping dog, perhaps, than the political right may yet regret having awakened. Or perhaps not, since the goal of the strategy was always to debase political discourse.

And so we come to Mr. Den Tandt’s proposed solutions: an end to Internet anonymity and a return to “time-tested standards of common courtesy and decency.”

Well, I understand they’ve been trying something like the former idea in Russia. But good luck with getting any of that to happen in Canada, where, among other things, it would immediately put the Online Tory Rage Machine out of business.

We’re well past all that, I’m afraid. What needs to happen now is for the Mounties to assign protection to the leaders of all Parliamentary parties, and their families. Even the one with only one member. Right now.

That’s going to cost us a few bucks. We’re told we had to pay $47 million from April 1, 2009, to Jan. 31, 2011, to protect Mr. Harper and his family.

Well, so be it. The alternative is much, much worse.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

A meditation on the parlous state of the prime ministerial belfry: is he batty, or what?

Psychological-political portrait of Prime Minister Stephen Harper by Edmonton artist William Prettie. (Used with permission.) Below: The young Vladimir Putin; the young Stephen Harper.

When I ponder our prime minister’s mental state nowadays, my mind spontaneously offers up a rude phrase about the things bats leave behind in belfries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has got a national election looming; he’s none too popular in certain essential parts of the country and not quite popular enough just now in others; Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy is facing a criminal trial and apparently wants the PM on the witness stand; it’s attracting public notice that his government uses tax policy as an ideological bludgeon; and the economy is easing toward the crapper everywhere except out here in Alberta, where our disproportionate economic success depends on laying waste to the environment.

So it should be easy for everyone to understand why he might call up the Globe and Mail and ask for space for a little heart-to-heart with the nation.

And what does he want to talk about? Vladimir Putin?

I’m not making this up, people! Click here and read it for yourself. The world’s problems? They’re all caused by Mr. Putin! Who knew?

I don’t know about you, but I always took a certain comfort in the notion Mr. Harper was a cynical master of manipulation, a politician for whom no wedge was too harmful or divisive to be shunned. This is bad, of course, and both immoral and dangerous, but it contains the comforting kernel of thought that no one as bright as Mr. Harper is could actually fail to see the glaring contradictions in the stuff he says. This always offered the faint hope he didn’t actually believe everything he was saying, and therefore might be philosophical if voters indicated they disagreed.

Naturally one hoped his petulant and furious reaction to the complicated situation unfolding in Ukraine reflected only the availability of another potential wedge issue here in Canada. That is, a chance to capture the Ukrainian-Canadian vote. Perhaps, one hoped, it didn’t reveal his actual thoughts on the unstable and dangerous crisis in which there are plenty of nasty players and victims on all sides.

However, after reading Mr. Harper’s little magnum opus about how Mr. Putin is all bad, and the current Ukrainian government – neo-Nazi enforcers, foreign fascist mercenaries, the illegal coup that brought it to power and everything else – is nothing but good, I’m not so sure.

His diatribe doesn’t seem to bear a precise relationship to the facts on the ground in the borderlands of Russia, let us say, but it did sound like something the man actually believes, and may well have written himself!

The most astonishing part, though, is what Sherlock Holmes might have called the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. That is, the glaring omission in Mr. Harper’s 866-word diatribe of any mention of what’s happening in the other great conflict playing out on our planet at this moment. To wit: Israel’s assault on Gaza.

About the first, he has everything to say. About the second, nothing. That is the curious incident – and a remarkable inconsistency given the seeming similarities of the two tragedies, and the fact many innocents are suffering and dying because of both.

According to Mr. Harper’s fulminations, by looking out for its undeniable national interest and making noises about protecting the large Russian community in Eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin’s government is aggressively and recklessly “threatening the peace and security of eastern and central Europe.” He must be punished, he must be punished now, and Canada is resolved to punish him!

Surely, Israel too views its massive air and artillery bombardment of Gaza in response to missiles fired from that tiny enclave as being in its undeniable national interest and protecting its people everywhere, and not necessarily just passport holders. Moreover, all political parties in the Canadian government apparently agree that, as Mr. Harper’s PMO put it a week ago, “Canada remains steadfastly in support of Israel’s right to defend itself as long as the terrorist attacks by Hamas continue.”

The ferocity of Israel’s response, however, apparently leaves Mr. Harper utterly unmoved.

Mr. Harper’s sermon on Ukraine showed him to be particularly furious that the Russian government, “remains in violation of international law for its illegal occupation of Crimea.”

Again, it’s hard here not to see the parallel to the situation in the Middle East. Whatever you may think of international law and the United Nations – apparently not much, if you’re Mr. Harper’s foreign affairs minister – it is undeniable that Israel has for many years defied both. By contrast, this in no way troubles the current Canadian government.

So why is an illegal occupation of Russian speaking Crimea by Eastern Europe’s greatest military power an outrage, while an illegal and much more violent occupation by the Middle East’s predominant military power so perfectly reasonable in the eyes of the PM that it doesn’t even require his or our notice?

Look, I understand that there are persuasive arguments to be made that the situations are quite different. What’s bizarre is that in the face of such a seeming inconsistency the PM feels no need to make them – or, indeed, that he chose this topic at all for his little fireside chat with the Globe’s reliably Conservative readership.

Mr. Harper is focused on one thing, and one thing only: “Mr. Putin’s Russia increasingly autocratic at home and dangerously aggressive abroad.” Rather like Mr. Harper’s Canada, one is tempted to note, in that regard.

OK, when you’re assailed politically on the home front, it makes a sort of irresponsible sense to try to unite the country around a foreign enemy. But who believes now that Mr. Harper hasn’t started to believe everything he says?

Truly, one has to wonder if the cognitive dissonance of it all is going to make the man spontaneously combust! Or, if there’s no danger of that, then if there really is something other than bells in that belfry of his.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alberta honours troops with new licence plate

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

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

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

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

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

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