All posts tagged Alison Redford

Unsolved mysteries: Never mind those roaming charges, who leaked that Tory party membership list in 2011?

Capt. Queeg of the USS Caine channels Alberta Tory Party leaders as he describes the search for the missing strawberries. Imagine what he would have done with a purloined cell phone bill or a leaked list of Tory Party members! Below: Dave Hancock, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock is said to be pondering an official hunt for the perpetrator of the leak to the Edmonton Sun of Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk’s $20,000 Telus bill.

According to the Edmonton Journal’s account of the impending search for the missing strawberries, Mr. Lukaszuk complained to the premier about the leak, although it was not entirely clear form the story whether the former deputy premier actually asked for an investigation.

Meanwhile, on social media, some of Mr. Lukaszuk’s supporters blamed his political opponents for the purloined Telus bill ending up in the hands of the media.

That’s certainly a possibility. The timing was clearly designed to inflict the maximum damage on Mr. Lukaszuk’s campaign while leaving him the minimum opportunity to engage in damage control over something that is far from the worst offence ever committed by a politician. That’s certainly the sort of thing an opposing campaign’s war room might just do.

According to the Sun’s report early Monday, the documents were sent to the paper’s legislative reporter by someone inside the government and the identity of a Calgary resident was used fraudulently to have the package delivered by courier. The fraud potentially makes the leak a criminal offence.

Would anyone in a political campaign be dumb enough to commit a criminal office to advance the chances of their candidate? Oh, probably. (Michael Sona, c’mon down!) For the record, spokesthingies for both Jim Prentice’s and Ric McIver’s campaigns denied any involvement in the plot, the Journal said, and Mr. Lukaszuk’s campaign wasn’t exactly thriving on its own. So why bother?

On the other hand, there are plenty of people in the employ of the government, high and low, sufficiently displeased by Mr. Lukaszuk’s confrontational approach to any number of files to have been willing to fire a rocket in his direction, so it’s said here it’s not a slam dunk case that the leak originated with an opposing campaign.

What’s more, since at least in the short term the narrative reinforced the perception that the Redford-Hancock-Whoever Government is entitled and careless with public funds, I suppose we can’t completely rule out other political parties with no particular dog in the leadership fight from joining the growing list of suspects.

At this rate, it will soon be as big as a telephone book – those of you old enough to remember telephone books will appreciate the metaphor.

It’s said here the Tories, including Mr. Lukaszuk’s supporters, would be smarter just to drop the matter resentfully, because any search for the anonymous if unethical whistleblower will soon look like a witch hunt designed to suppress reports of irresponsible spending by government ministers – a perception that only reinforces the entitlement narrative.

On the other hand, if they’re going to do it, Premier Hancock should get on with it promptly.

Who can forget then PC Party president Bill Smith’s fierce vow in 2011 to root out the perpetrator of the purloined Tory Party membership list that was mysteriously leaked to a well-known pollster?

Readers will recall how, days before the second Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote in early October 2011, Alison Redford’s campaign effectively used an unexpected Calgary Herald-Environics poll of Tory Party members that showed her in second place behind frontrunner Gary Mar. This, arguably, created a new reality that motivated her supporters and gave her sufficient momentum to push her narrowly over the top.

The mid-September poll, which was controversial because it was based on a list of 22,000 card-carrying PC Party members passed on to Environics by a Calgary Herald columnist, whose mysterious possession of the list has to this day never been explained.

Using it for an opinion poll may have violated Alberta’s privacy legislation, and a furious PC Party President Bill Smith immediately issued a stinging rebuke on the party’s website of the unidentified villain or villains who allowed the “unauthorized and inappropriate use” of the party membership list.

The use of the list was “absolutely unacceptable,” Mr. Smith wrote. He vowed to get to the bottom of the mystery. “We will be contacting all leadership campaigns regarding this issue.”

For some reason, though, the party lost interest in pulling on that particular thread the instant Ms. Redford became the leader. “It’s the miracle on the prairies,” Mr. Smith later said of Ms. Redford’s victory.  “Nobody would have picked her.” After that, he quietly moved on.

It’s less likely the same thing could happen today – but that’s only because it’s quite possible the party doesn’t have 22,000 members any more!

Still, if Mr. Hancock doesn’t move forcefully on the matter of who leaked Mr. Lukaszuk’s phone bill, who is to say the investigation won’t fizzle out the same way again as soon as a new leader is in place?

That said, what Mr. Hancock really ought to be demanding is an investigation of scandalous roaming fees charged by Canadian cellular phone providers. Now, that would provide a public service!

Meanwhile, ministers of the Crown are advised to do what the rest of us have resorted to while travelling outside the Dominion. To wit: leaving their Telus devices at home in the sock drawer and, if necessary, buying a local “burner” for a modest price from a convenience store.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Just as things were looking up a bit for foundering PCs, Alison Redford showed up again

Alison Redford contemplates which way to turn as she leaves behind a trail of devastation, toward the capital city’s new Sky Palace Hotel, left, or toward Edmonton’s High Level Bridge, right. Actual former premiers and the landmarks they threaten may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Ms. Redford; Tory leadership candidates Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver.

Just when things were starting to look a little better for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government, Alison Redford blundered back onto the provincial scene like the monster from low-budget a 1950s horror flick.

So suggests the latest version of a regular Alberta poll, which was in the field between July 20 and July 26 and shows the Wildrose Party holding onto its commanding 41-per-cent lead among committed voters, the identical level of support the party received in the same survey back in May.

But Progressive Conservative support had crawled back to 26 per cent of decided voters in late July from a low of 19 per cent in March, according to the ThinkHQ Public Affairs “Eye on Alberta” on-line poll of 1,582 voting age Albertans, at which Alberta Diary recently had the opportunity to sneak a tantalizingly brief peek.

Respondents’ impressions of the Tory government’s performance had shown a similar modest improvement, the poll indicated, presumably also thanks to Ms. Redford’s ejection from the Premier’s Office by her caucus in March.

Alas for the unlucky PCs, that was just before CBC Edmonton reported the leaked preliminary report on the investigation of the Premier’s Office by Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher. There have been no shortage of embarrassing stories since then, and it is hard to believe that this will have a very positive effect on the PC Party’s faltering brand and foundering fortunes, no matter what one thinks of this particular poll.

The ThinkHQ survey is conducted for private clients of the Calgary-based pollster. The July edition also showed 14 per cent of decided voters province-wide supporting the Alberta Liberals, possibly a reflection of the warm light cast by Justin Trudeau. (That’s my interpretation, by the way, not theirs.) Provincial New Democrats were at 13 per cent and the Alberta Party, which has no members in the Legislature, at 4 per cent. The group of undecided voters remained high – a quarter of the respondents polled.

Broken out by region, the results indicate a trend that should concern – though not panic – the NDP, which as been polling very well in Edmonton in a number of surveys.

To wit: the Wildrose Party has now edged noticeably past the NDP in voter support inside the capital city – with 32 per cent of decided voters compared with the New Democrats’ 25 per cent and the Tories’ 21 per cent within city limits. This trend is more pronounced in the Capital Region.

Liberal support was at 15 per cent in Edmonton city proper and Alberta Party support was at 7 per cent, a number that likely reflects the makeup of the ThinkHQ panel more than actual voter intentions.

If this reflects reality, the good news in Edmonton for the NDP is that it remains the progressive party best positioned to defeat conservative candidates, whether they call themselves PCs or Wildrosers. The selection of a new leader like Rachel Notley or David Eggen – even if this poll suggests the NDP leadership race is hardly on the public’s radar – should help.

But the NDP is going to have to work hard to get that vote, and not just coast along with the thought several polls predict it will be handed to them. The can do this by persuading progressive voters who favour other parties, including the PCs, to vote strategically for them in Edmonton.

New Democrats need to remember that Wildrose strategy is now likely to shift if winning in Edmonton is within the party’s grasp. They will move from hoping the NDP wins seats to deny them to the PCs to actually trying to win the same seats themselves.

There could be also be some hope for the NDP in Calgary, despite the fact the poll shows Liberal support there spiking. While Alberta Liberal support may be strong now in Cowtown, if the Liberals can’t find good candidates to replace MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, who are departing in hopes of finding redder federal fields, and David Swann, who is retiring, an effective NDP campaign could attract progressive voters.

But the Wildrose lead is bigger in Calgary, according to the poll, at 39 per cent compared with 28 per cent for the PCs, 19 per cent for the Liberals, 8 per cent for the NDP and 5 per cent for the Alberta Party.

That trend accelerates for the Wildrose in small urban areas (43 per cent for the Wildrose; 29 per cent for the Tories; 14 per cent for the Liberals; 11 per cent for the NDP; and 2 per cent for the Alberta Party) and becomes overwhelming in rural areas that were once the PC heartland (60 per cent Wildrose; 25 per cent PC; 3 per cent Liberal; 10 per cent NDP; and 1 per cent Alberta Party).

Province-wide, according to ThinkHQ’s July poll, the Wildrose Party enjoys a commanding lead in every demographic category – men, 47 per cent; women, 35 per cent; under 35s, 32 per cent; 35-54, 44 per cent; and 55 and overs, 48 per cent.

In more bad news for the governing Tories, the poll suggested Albertans are still not much engaged by the PC leadership race.

Whatever the three candidates’ membership sales and support may be – there’s a persistent rumour out there that fewer than 30,000 memberships have been sold or given away that meet the party’s standards for acceptance – a mock ballot exercise in the ThinkHQ survey suggests Jim Prentice remains in the lead with poll respondents.

And this time, tying the candidates’ names to provincial vote intentions in another mock ballot for a future general election indicated little change from ThinkHQ’s results in May.

As noted in Alberta Diary’s commentary on the May ThinkHQ poll, there is a potential for selection bias in any online panel. According to many polling experts online panels should not publish margins of error, implying more statistical validity than such a poll can really claim. ThinkHQ does nevertheless, this time saying the margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.5 per cent.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Term limits on Alberta MLAs? ‘I think Jim Prentice is trying to lose… nothing else makes sense’

“A night to remember”: Jim Prentice explains to reporters how term limits for MLAs can work. Really! Below: The orchestra the Tories should have hired to play the lunchtime event.

There was no orchestra at Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice’s lunchtime speech in Edmonton yesterday. But if there had been, it would have been playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Many of the journalists who turned up for what had been billed as a major event in a sustained Twitter fusillade in the hours before the microphones were turned on were persuaded Mr. Prentice was about to announce the acquisition of a high-profile candidate, possibly former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.

The more cynical in their number joked that the Progressive Conservative establishment’s favourite in the race to replace the catastrophic Alison Redford as the province’s next permanent, full-time premier would be announcing he was going to hand out free steak knives to get people to take the free Tory memberships nobody seems to want.

So there was a palpable sense of disappointment when Mr. Prentice stepped to the microphone unaccompanied by Mr. Mandel or anyone else that looked like the sort of big-name star-power candidate the former federal cabinet minister, corporate lobbyist and bank executive was supposed to be able to attract to the moribund party’s banner.

Then Mr. Prentice began to work his way through his remarks, interminably describing the dismay, the frustration, the anger, the determination to restore public faith in the PC Government, that he personally has been feeling about the recent antics of the Redford Government. Eyes in the supportive crowd of about 80 souls grew glassy as he droned through three pages of this boilerplate.

Then he reached the point where he told us what he was going to do about it, to, as he put it, ensure the highest ethical standards and accountability: “There will be term limits. A limit of two terms for the premier and three terms for MLAs.”

I can’t speak for others, but this was the moment that I heard a faint creaking noise far below the waterline, and felt the slightest tremor through the deck of the unsinkable Tory Titanic that Mr. Prentice insisted he still hopes to captain, despite everything.

Say what? That’s unconstitutional. I mean, it’s really unconstitutional – unconstitutional enough to make the Redford Government’s recent foray into labour law look sober and cautious!

So that was the big news! Never mind the qualifiers (term limits will be grandfathered in, the limit clock only starts now) or the other promises (no holiday flights on government airplanes for anyone, ever, and a stern look at maybe selling them too, one day, yadda-yadda).

This was the plan of pure political genius that’s going to woo us angry Albertans all back to the Tory Mothership? Term limits!

People! How lame is that?

Notwithstanding the fact term limits are a bad idea – we the sovereign voters, thank you very much, will limit the PCs’ term in the traditional way, through the ballot box, to about 44 years – cooked up by disgruntled right-wing Americans to keep popular progressive politicians from using democracy to hang around the way Franklin Roosevelt did …

Never mind the fact this policy was apparently designed to woo back a sector of the electorate that’s long gone, and not to Saskatchewan – the wackiest fringe of the wackiest fringe of the Wildrose Party, whose leaders have never advocated this policy …

It’s simply not on.

The reason? It’s right there in black and white in the Constitution Act, 1982, Part 1, Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Every citizen. Even those Jim Prentice thinks ought not to be allowed to ask voters nicely for a fourth term in office.

Note also that the Constitution Act, 1867 assures us we will have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” And, by the way, that Section 33, the famed “Notwithstanding Clause” of our Charter, cannot be applied to Section 3, Democratic Rights, whether Jim Prentice or the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party feel like it or not.

This is a done deal. Term limits are simply not being placed on members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta or any other Canadian province.

Good lord, how dumb do they think we are? That’s probably more complimentary than the other question we might consider asking under these circumstances, How dumb are they?

I was shaken out of thoughts like these when Mr. Prentice thundered: “We can take back our party, and we can set it right, my friends!” All around me, the room was full of many of the same Tory hacks we’ve seen at dozens of government functions over the past decade.

Moments later, Mr. Prentice backpedalled a little from the stern promise of his speech, telling reporters: “It can be done in terms of party policy. It could be a combination of the two.” True enough, I guess, and we all know how well that’s likely to work.

“It works in the States,” he also observed, a titch defensively. But this isn’t the States: we don’t have a constitutional right to bear arms and we do have a constitutional right to run for MLA as many times as the voters will elect us. Get used to it.

Even the other PC leadership candidates were gobsmacked by this brainstorm. As Thomas Lukaszuk told the Calgary Herald: “It defies tradition. It defies the law. It defies fundamental values of democracy. It’s just bizarre.”

It’s hard to disagree with that, but I’m going to give the last word tonight to Lou Arab, union organizer, New Democrat and inveterate Tweeter: I think @JimPrentice is trying to lose. Nothing else makes sense.”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound fair?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.