All posts tagged Joan Crockatt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, as goes Macleod, so goes Alberta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This may not be a bad summation, actually.

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

In 1994, he travelled south to act as a “professional heckler” for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a “foreign political saboteur” for his trouble by CNN.) He later assailed Ralph Klein as a “cocktail Conservative,” too soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.

As Calgary West MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that Quebeckers should be able to form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. His was the only non-Bloc MP vote for the proposition. He also famously called Nelson Mandela a Communist and a terrorist and was the only legislator to vote against giving the South African liberator honourary Canadian citizenship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good advice for Alberta New Democrats from Quebec: this time, make it easy for voters to support you

Ray Guardia, one of the key architects of the federal NDP’s 2011 breakthrough in Quebec, at yesterday’s closing session of the Broadbent Institute’s 2014 Progress Summit in Ottawa. Below: Environmental activist Tzeporah Berman.


Here’s a tip for Alberta New Democrats from one of the principal architects of Jack Layton’s historic 2011 Quebec campaign: don’t tell voters they’re stupid because they’ve been voting Tory for 43 years.

Ray Guardia was too diplomatic, of course, to put it quite like that in a panel discussion yesterday on winning progressive campaigns during the final session of the Broadbent Institute’s 2014 Progress Summit in the nation’s capital.

Anyway, he wasn’t addressing the new political landscape now developing in Alberta when he made the comment during a much wider discussion moderated by Broadbent senior advisor and TV commentator Kathleen Monk at the Canadian centre-left’s first response to the loony right Manning Institute’s annual Ottawa bunfest.

But readers of this blog have to know that Alberta New Democrats have sounded very much like that through the 43 years the Progressive Conservatives have dominated Alberta. Or, if you want to get even more depressed about it, the 77 years Alberta social democrats have spent in the political wilderness since the day in 1935 the Social Credit League led by William Aberhart was elected.

And – hey people! – do you think there might be a connection?

Mr. Guardia, who ran the federal NDP’s campaign that resulted in the NDP’s massive 2011 breakthrough in Quebec, spun it positively: you have to make it easy for voters who have backed another party for a long time to switch to your side.

He pointed out that the federal New Democrats under Mr. Layton, who died of cancer the same year he led the national party to the Opposition benches in Parliament, tried other strategies that flopped in Quebec in 2006 and 2008.

In 2006, Quebec New Democrats argued they were better social democrats than the Bloc Quebecois, a coalition with social democrat and nationalist elements. This was true, but it didn’t excite Quebec voters who liked many things about the BQ. In 2008, they painted themselves as the alternative to Harper Hell. Which was true too – but so was the BQ, sort of.

In 2011, Mr. Guardia said, they finally hit on the formula that worked – getting the message to voters that the NDP and the BQ shared many social democratic values, and treating voters’ past decisions with respect.

The strategy recognized Quebec voters had liked the Bloc and its leader for good reasons, and that those things hadn’t really changed – but asked, if they were going to remain part of Canada, why not elect a team that would work to make it a better country?

So the party offered this proposition to Quebec voters: “let us play some offence for you,” he summarized.

“You have to make it easy for voters,” Mr. Guardia explained. “You can’t ask them to say they were wrong.”

So what does Quebec have to do with Alberta, where we all gloomily assume that voters transition from Social Credit to Progressive Conservative to Wildrose to the next conservative thing in intergenerational lockstep?

Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We know that Alberta voters, like Canadians everywhere, hold social democratic values even as they vote for conservatives for other reasons. As former NDP leader Ed Broadbent told the summit’s opening session, polling consistently shows that when it comes to their values most Canadians are social democrats.

And we know that at the municipal level, Albertans support determinedly progressive candidates – leastways, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi are powerful arguments for the truth of this proposition, observed high-profile environmental campaigner Tzeporah Berman in the same discussion.

And we know that large numbers of Albertans ran to Alison Redford in 2011 and 2012 because they thought she was a progressive – and abandoned her and her party in droves when it became apparent she was something quite different, leading directly to the political drama now gripping Alberta.

And we know Albertans are ready to think about our environment and our economy. “People are anxious in Alberta for a conversation about the pace and scale of development,” Ms. Berman said. “We’re ready for that conversation to happen.”

Indeed, that’s why the Liberals came so close to knocking off Tory Joan Crockatt in the November 2012 by-election that saw her elected as MP for Calgary Centre – a progressive victory thwarted by a strong vote for the Green Party’s candidate.

And, finally, we can have no doubt that Albertans are desperate for change – so desperate, in fact, that they’re willing to consider holding their noses and voting for the Wildrose Party, which shares neither their values nor their dreams, to make it happen. This reality is what is driving the provincial PC Party’s self-destructive behaviour now.

Yet the fundamental Wildrose beliefs that frightened voters in 2012 have not changed. It’s just that voters’ disappointment and disgust with Ms. Redford and the rest of her party has driven them to considering the Wildrose on the theory a change is as good as a rest. And Wildrose message discipline is vastly improved.

Progressive parties – the NDP in particular, perennially in third or fourth place in the Alberta Legislature – need to give voters a better reason for their support than asking them to admit they were wrong.

It’s time to recognize that Albertans voted Progressive Conservative because that party provided competent leadership, occasionally espoused progressive values and sometimes even delivered on them.

Those days are gone. Thanks to Ms. Redford, the PCs have disappeared down a far-right rabbit hole from which it is highly unlikely they will ever emerge again.

This should give progressive Alberta political parties hope – but they need to consider the possibility that what hasn’t worked for three quarters of a century is unlikely to miraculously start working now.

So maybe it’s time to take a leaf from Quebec’s strategy start thinking about ways to make it easier for Albertans to vote NDP, as unlikely as it might seem right now that they’ll respond.

But who in Alberta would have thought five years ago New Democrats were on the verge of a breakthrough in Quebec?

No, as someone is certain to point out, Alberta is not Quebec. But it may be a lot closer to it than it seems.

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Ice storm 2013: Is the Canadian government like the cops – never around when you need them?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper over flooded Calgary last June. Apparently there’s no sign of him anywhere near Toronto now. Below: Then U.S. President George W. Bush over New Orleans in August 2005; Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne; the PM’s unhelpful Tweet from Calgary Sunday night. 

The Toronto Star reported yesterday that an estimated 72,000 households remain without power four days after a catastrophic ice storm hit Canada’s largest city.

By the time you read this, that 140,000 or so Metropolitan Toronto residents will be in their fifth day without power or heat – many of them seniors and other vulnerable people trapped in high-rise apartments without food or adequate ways to keep themselves warm.

At one point, 300,000 Toronto-area homes were without electricity.

Of those who could move, at least 1,000 Torontonians made their way to “warming centres” on Christmas Eve and more who could make the move were expected to follow them last night. Outside temperatures, thankfully, were relatively mild – just a little below freezing as this was written.

Nevertheless, it is very likely, it is said here, that at least a few people are going to be found dead in their homes when this disaster is sorted out.

So where the hell’s the government of Canada while this goes on? Where are the Canadian Armed Services? Where’s the prime minister, the putative leader of Canada? What are we paying those people to do anyway?

Yes, the mayor of Toronto insists there’s no emergency. But Rob Ford is pretty well irrelevant now, and no one should waste a lot of time trying to penetrate the addled reasoning of a man who admits he spends a significant part of his time in self-induced alcohol- and drug-induced stupors. He’s been pretty well bypassed by Toronto City Council and the provincial government anyway, with good reason.

The provincial government of Premier Kathleen Wynne has the bit in its teeth and is sending disaster relief to Toronto anyway, despite Mayor Ford’s bizarre declaration that calling a disaster a disaster might cause people to panic.

Alert readers will recall that when massive floods hit Calgary and other parts of Southern Alberta last June, driving more than 100,000 Albertans from their homes, the Canadian army was soon on the scene, filling sandbags, shoring up levees and lending a hand.

Soldiers should be in Toronto now, clearing trees for Ontario Hydro crews and checking homes for vulnerable trapped citizens.

Calgarian Stephen Harper, allegedly the prime minister of Canada, showed up in Calgary last June a snappy green RCAF-FARC flight jacket, complete with unearned wings, and was much photographed solemnly gazing at the swollen Bow River.

He was also photographed flying over the flooded regions south of Calgary peering out the window of a helicopter in a scene hauntingly similar to U.S. President George W. Bush’s August 2005 fly-by of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But Mr. Harper was on the scene last spring, and it’s important for national leaders to be there during disasters like the one that hit Calgary and the storm still afflicting Toronto today.

So where is he now? As far as I can see from the reams of ice-storm news coverage, there’s been no sign of the elusive Mr. Harper in Toronto or environs.

Perhaps he agrees with Mr. Ford that there’s no emergency.

Perhaps he has concluded that the Toronto residents most severely hit by the after-effects of the storm – who according to the Star live mostly in a band running through east Toronto and Scarborough east of Yonge Street – aren’t the Ontario voters most likely to stick with his Conservative government in the election expected in 2015.

The lights are mostly on, presumably, in the Tory-leaning 905 Belt around Toronto, and maybe that’s good enough for Mr. Harper.

Perhaps Mr. Harper doesn’t want to further embarrass Mr. Ford, who despite the mortification he has caused Mr. Harper and his party remains an important political ally of the PM.

And perhaps Mr. Ford is worried about the budget implications for his next campaign to “stop the gravy train” if he turns for help to a federal government that has floated the idea municipalities should have to pay the Canadian Armed Forces back for emergency relief during natural disasters.

Maybe His Honour was in a self-induced stupor when then Defence Minister Peter MacKay rescinded that terrible idea, which had been run up the policy flagpole by Mr. MacKay’s Parliamentary Secretary, Chris Alexander, the MP for suburban Ajax-Pickering east of Toronto, where presumably the lights were burning brightly last night.

“We have to make tough choices, and we want those services and those core functions to remain strong and in order to do that we’re going to do some cost recovery under this heading of support to the civilian authority in case of natural disaster,” Mr. Alexander nevertheless said during a Jan. 10, 2013, CBC broadcast, making it sound very much as if this were an actual plan, not merely a balloon being floated to see who might take a potshot at it.

Yesterday, the prime minister made a very short statement on the Christmas season. He wished us all a “safe and happy holiday, a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and a prosperous New Year.” He also issued a statement on the terrible bombings in Iraq.

No mention of Toronto’s plight, however.

On Sunday, when the ice hit, the prime minister was visiting an old folks home in Calgary with Calgary-Centre MP Joan Crockatt, whose seat is most certainly very vulnerable in the next federal general election.

Sunday afternoon the PM issued a Tweet – a Tweet! – advising Torontonians he was thinking about them! “…Please stay safe.”

I’m sure Toronto thanks you for that, Mr. Harper.

This may be the most graphic illustration yet of the hands-off model for most aspects of federal governing favoured by the prime minister and his so-called Conservative Party – like the cops, you can never find a federal Tory when you need one!

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Sic Twansit Gloria: your blogger, elevated to Alberta’s Twitterati … for the moment, anyway

A typical member of the Alberta Twitterati, pretty much any time of year except yesterday. Your blogger and other renowned Wild Rose Country Twittarians may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Daveberta author Dave Cournoyer, apparently Tweeting.

I may not be on Alberta Venture magazine’s list of the 50 most influential Albertans, or even, annoyingly, on its list of the next 10, but, by golly, I did make the business magazine’s list of the province’s 15 most influential Twitterers, Tweetists, Twittarians or however obsessive Twitter users have come to be known.

Actually, according to Venturemag, these people (or perhaps I should just say “we”) are called the Twitterati. So, in addition to being a blogger with a certain following, a native Vancouver Islander entitled to be referred to as a Salmonbelly whenever I feel like it, and a candidate for St. Albert City Council, I am now a charter member of Alberta’s Twitterati, with a footnotable citation to prove it.

It would be unseemly to gripe about this, akin to people who pursue the media, begging it to pay attention to them, who then complain that what they told the reporter was “taken out of context.”

As a general rule, back in my days of practicing journalism, I came to the conclusion that “I was taken out of context” most often meant, “I wish I hadn’t said that!”

Now and then one actually is taken out of context, not usually at the hands of a professional journalist, and we shall look at a genuine example soon here at Alberta Diary.

But in the meantime, I don’t mean to be ungrateful for Venture’s tribute – which is partly based on something called the Klout Score, which supposedly is the Gold Standard of Influence, although I just threw in the Gold part of that phrase myself.

Don’t ask me how it’s supposed to work, suffice it to say my Klout score is lower than Barack Obama’s, who I bet doesn’t even write his own Tweets, and Justin Bieber’s, which is only mildly disappointing, but also quite a bit lower than that of my friend Dave Cournoyer, the blogger behind, which could result in a frenzy of competitiveness if I’m not really careful.

Other members of the Alberta Twitteratti on Venture’s list: political strategist Stephen Carter, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and Calgary Sun political columnist Dave Breakenridge, whom I mention because he was the only person on the list with a lower score than mine, although I did tie with one other guy.

Venture also assigns scores on its own scale, which I’m going to ignore, because I did way worse on it. They seem also to have thrown me some extra credit for the thickness of my beard, though, which if I may say so is entirely appropriate.

Still, Venture’s accolade fills me with a certain degree of ambivalence. After all, I have assailed Twitter as “the anti-social media,” better suited to churlish replies and quarrelsome countercheques than nuanced and balanced commentary, as well as a potential epic time waster that can keep you from doing things you’d be better off attending to.

That said, some of the hardest working and most effective people I know – St. Albert’s own Libarbarian, for example – seem to also find lots of time for Tweets, so maybe it’s just about time management.

I have been trying to do better lately, vowing to live by my mother’s admonition that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all – which is way harder to do than it sounds when you have only 140 characters to say what you really think.

I’m pretty sure I’ve had to apologize quite a bit less than Stephen Carter has for things I’ve Tweeted. Which, if I keep it up, will almost certainly result in my not being one of the illustrious 15 next year.

Obviously, as we have seen, Venture allowed politicians onto its Twitterati list – Mr. Nenshi certainly counts, and according to my way of thinking so does Mr. Carter.

So I was also astonished at who was not on the list – neither Calgary-Centre Tory MP Joan Crockatt nor Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk made it! I can only assume from this that Alberta Venture has found some way also to measure the quality of Tweets, as well as their volume.

So if I’m not at the top of the 2013 list, well, there’s room for growth!

And I promise that if I decide on an effort to get to the top, nevertheless never to send Tweets like those of Patrick Martin, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre and one of Parliament’s best orators, who before he voluntarily gave up his Twitter account composed a few Tweets famously capable of peeling paint.

Pack the Senate with cheats, then call for reform, then take off for Peru? Good plan!

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not pictured because he’s pretty well disappeared, has heeded the touristic lure South America, illustrated above. Below: Canadian Parliamentarian Joan Crockatt and U.S. Representative Davy Crockett. Note to Globe and Mail: There is a difference! Below them: Allaudin Merali.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was apparently grinding away at his Conservative caucus yesterday morning about the need for Senate reform.

An interesting strategy, his!

First you pack the place with self-entitled cheats and porkchoppers like Mike “The Puffster” Duffy, then you argue that their misdeeds are proof the institution needs reform!

If nothing else, this suggests Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt was sticking right to the party strategy handbook when she suggested in a now-ntorious Tweet that her Conservative Party is more ethical than all those other parties because some of its unethical senators resigned from caucus when they got caught.

Of course, this doesn’t mean very much when they can be expected to go on reliably voting for the same things as they would as caucus members while try to insinuate their way back to insider status, at least until they reach 75.

Ms. Crockatt’s risible suggestion prompted general hilarity among the chattering classes nationwide – and probably would have gone international had it not been for the antics of Toronto Mayor (and future Conservative senator?) Rob Ford, who was already occupying the Canadian Curiosity slot on foreign newscasts.

(By the way, here’s a note for the Globe and Mail’s editors, if such a thing is still employed by our National Paywalled Website: Unlike Davy Crockett, the late U.S. Congressman of a similar name, it’s Joan Crockatt, with an A.)

Let it be said nevertheless that Ms. Crockatt might be well advised to follow the example of former avid Tweeter Pat Martin of the New Democratic Opposition and shut down her Twitter account for the duration, or at least hand it over to a reliable aide.

Speaking of reliable aides, that brings us right back to the prime minister’s current sea of troubles.

I expect Mr. Harper’s suggestion at a studiously public caucus meeting yesterday morning that any of his MPs who are just there for reasons of self interest should “leave this room” was mainly greeted with discreetly rolled eyes.

“I know that like me and my family, you are scrupulous about paying personal expenses,” Mr. Harper is said to have added, presumably with a poker face and to a largely silent room, before quickly jetting off to the much friendlier environs of Peru and Colombia, leaving Question period to underlings.

Mr. Harper’s problem is that, right now thanks to Senator Duffy and others, the public has taken a fairly jaundiced view of his government, and he knows it. And nowadays who can blame them for a little cynicism, when just a few layers of the onion are peeled back yet the PM refuses to acknowledge any responsibility or even knowledge of what was going on among his closest aides right in his own office?

Instead, quite typically, Mr. Harper blamed the NDP and the Liberals for his self-inflicted troubles – and privately, no doubt, the “liberal” media as well. You know, those well-known social democrats like PostMedia’s Andrew Coyne and the editorial Board of the Globe and Mail, for whom l’affaire Puffster has been too much to swallow even with their usual tolerance for bad-tasting Tory potions.

Despite Mr. Harper’s not-entirely-successful attempts to “distance himself” form his stinky Senate appointments, the PM had very little to say before his hasty departure about the one issue that would have benefitted from the disinfectant properties of a little sunlight.

To wit: the unethical and possibly illegal payment of $90,172 by the former chief of the prime minister’s staff, Nigel Wright, to Senator Duffy.

Mr. Wright fell on his sword on Sunday morning to protect his prime minister after his effort failed to bail out the Harper Government by quietly paying off Senator Duffy’s improperly claimed away-from-home living expenses.

Alas for Mr. Harper – who has replaced Mr. Wright with a callow former National Citizens Coalition hack rather like himself who used to walk around wearing a picket sign reading, “Liberal, Tory, Same Old Story” – the issue just won’t fade away.

Indeed, the only way to make it go away forever is to fix the Senate. And unfortunately for the PM’s “reform” talk, the only way to fix the Senate that will actually work is to abolish it.


Contracts? Contracts? Who cares about contracts?

Meanwhile, out here in Alberta, Premier Alison Redford has vowed to forestall the inevitable and force former Capital Health and Alberta Health Services CFO Allaudin Merali to go to court if he wants to try to get his half-million or so dollars in severance.

Alert readers will recall how Mr. Merali’s expense account became a cause célèbre and a huge embarrassment to the Redford Government in August 2012 when CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell published the results of a Freedom of Information search revealing “how he spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish meals at high-end restaurants, bottles of wine, even a phone for his Mercedes Benz car.” Mr. Merali left the employ of AHS soon thereafter.

Yesterday, Calgary Sun political columnist Rick “The Dinger” Bell quoted Ms. Redford as saying, “If people think they are entitled to something in a contract and other people don’t think they’re entitled to it I guess they can hire lawyers and take legal routes and go to court.”

In other words, she said: “We are not going to voluntarily do anything with respect to his severance. … We are not going to simply sit back and take a look at what he may or may not feel he’s entitled to without resisting that.”

There are just four problems with this plan:

  1. Alberta Health Services signed a contract with the guy that says he’s owed the money
  2. Outrageous as his expenses may have seemed, all of them appear to have met the lax the rules for executive expenses in effect at the time he was a Capital Health Region employee
  3. He was rehired and then fired by another employer, AHS, and there’s no evidence his expenses at that organization broke any rules
  4. Canada, even the part governed by Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party, still has an independent and impartial judiciary

In other words, while Ms. Redford’s attitude is pretty typical of Alberta’s Top Tory Dogs – that is, the law is for you, not for us – sooner or later we Alberta taxpayers are going to have to pony the money up to Mr. Merali.

Yes, we can understand that by getting caught by the CBC successfully claiming expenses that offended ordinary voters, Mr. Merali embarrassed the government and incurred the premier’s wrath.

But we can also understand that Alberta taxpayers are not very well served by a legal fight against Mr. Merali’s claim, which as far as can be seen is entirely legitimate and backed up by a long trail of paper.

All Alberta’s premier is doing with this posturing, it is said here, is pouring good money after bad.

Unless, that is, she is slicing the facts extremely finely, since it will be AHS that has to pay up, and not technically “her” – that is, on the principle of l’état c’est moi, the government of Alberta.

On the other hand, if she is proposing to get involved in the affairs of AHS, that is not necessarily a bad thing either.

She could start by telling AHD Board Chair Stephen Lockwood to stop defending bonus pay for the health agency’s remaining executives on the grounds “it would be wrong from many perspectives to not compensate them as per their terms of employment.”

You know, completely unlike Mr. Merali.

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One Province, Two Guvnors … Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives eye reuniting right

Pleased to meet you… not! Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, left, shakes hands with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Below: Alberta Premier Joan Crockatt.

The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party under Premier Alison Redford and the Wildrose Party under Opposition Leader Danielle Smith plan to schedule an initial meeting on “reuniting the right” sometime this summer.

The parties are said to have agreed the time to reunite Alberta’s right is now, before Alberta faces the prospect of an NDP takeover like those anticipated later this year in British Columbia and Ontario.

“We are all neoconservatives with an austerity agenda designed to benefit the super rich, after all,” said a senior party strategist whose identity must remain known only to your blogger for the moment.

“Plus, the Americans are getting really antsy about having to deal with Danielle or Alison every time one of them pops up in Washington lobbying for the Keystone XL Pipeline,” said the strategist, who is the sole anonymous source for this story. “They can’t tell which one is the governor.”

“Anyway, you don’t want to leave this sort of thing too long or you could end up with Rachel Notley as premier and Raj Sherman as minister of health, and we’d be cooked in canola oil forever if it turned out Raj really could fix health care in 18 months like he says he can,” said the senior neocon strategist, who is close to the leadership of both parties but who can’t be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of either leader or either party, at least for the time being, if you take my meaning.

“Look,” said the strategist, “everybody knows I had a little problem there for a while and everybody knows it’s over now because they can’t afford to live without me and the Globe and Mail likes to quote me. There are just a few details to be straightened out before I’m running the campaign again. Anyway, I told them I didn’t say anything wrong and I promised them I wouldn’t say it again.”

Once the details of the planned reunion are ironed out, the formal merger is expected to take place in 2014 before the next provincial election is scheduled to occur in 2015.

“We need a slogan, something that starts with an R and means ‘reunion’ but doesn’t have the word ‘union’ in it,” said the anonymous strategist. “If anyone thinks of anything, drop me an email. I’m in the campus directory.”

One potential hurdle standing in the way of a reunion is who will lead the party, since Ms. Redford and Ms. Smith are well known to be unable to be in the same room as the other one at the same time for more than a few seconds.

Officials of the two parties are said to be seriously considering drafting Joan Crockatt, who is currently the Member of Parliament for the federal Wildrose Party for Calgary-Centre, to lead the new amalgamated party.

Ms. Crockatt is thought to combine Ms. Redford’s diplomacy and human touch dealing with subordinates with Ms. Smith’s deep intellectual rigour and strong commitment to public services. Moreover, it’s thought to be unlikely Ms. Crockatt can be re-elected to Parliament in her riding because of all the Liberal voters there who have finally figured out the difference between red and green.

Both Wildrose and PC officials are also thought to be in agreement that whatever happens, it is essential Rob Anderson never gets to be leader of anything bigger than his Mormon Stake’s scout troop in Airdrie.

Since the talks have not yet begun, discussion has only turned informally to what to call the reunited party. Ideas are said to include the Conservative Wildrose Alliance Party (CWAP) and the Wild Rosehip Alberta Tea Party (WRATP, which is likely to be pronounced “rat pee”).

Alright, everybody, settle down! It’s April 1. This is a gag. Perfesser Dave just made it all up, including the quotes, and forced me to put it in my blog. The Alberta Conservatives and Wildrosers won’t actually be talking reunion for at least three more years. This post also appears on

Why wait? Read 2013’s shocking political headlines right now on Alberta Diary!

The Dagny Taggarts, a synchronized skating team from Ottawa get ready to do their popular routine, “Where Is John Galt?” Defence Minister Joan Crockatt is in the front row, second from right. Below: Senator Tom Flanagan; U of C economics student Kim Jong-un, in full Calgary drag; Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, ecstatic for his boss; and Nobel Prize winner Raj Sherman with the author. Actual events may not turn out exactly as predicted.

Why wait for 2013’s headlines when you can read them here on Alberta Dairy right now? In a spirit of transparency bordering on clairvoyance, Alberta Diary consulted the Red Top Institute of Political Commentary, headed by Perfesser Dave and made up of a cab driver from each of the communities in Alberta large enough to license insufficient numbers of taxis. Here are the Institute’s predictions of the major Alberta political news stories in each month of the coming year, made by an all-Albertan panel of the favoured sources of professional journalists throughout the world, which Perfesser Dave hopes will result is numerous grants from the bazillionaire American plutocrats who bankroll the Fraser Institute. Warning: Actual events may not turn out exactly as predicted, sort of like similarly scientific Fraser Institute studies in that regard.

January: Allaudin Merali returns to Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Chris Eagle announces that former Chief Financial Officer Alauddin Merali would be rejoining the province-wide health agency and resuming his duties as CFO. “When we looked at how much Mr. Merali’s lawsuit was going to cost us, seeing as we fired him in a big fat hurry after Fred Horne called us, and we don’t have a legal leg to stand on anyway, we thought we’d just say ‘to heck with it’ and ask him back,” Dr. Eagle said. “We would never have done this if the price of oil wasn’t collapsing,” he added, “but Doug Horner told us we had to.” Dr. Eagle added, “we’re putting him in the basement next to Lynn Redford’s office.” Premier Alison Redford was not available for comment, either about Mr. Merali or her sister, who also works is a senior executive position for AHS.

February: Finance Minister Doug Horner launches leadership bid as oil heads lower

With oil prices heading south of $50 per barrel, Legislative insiders say Finance Minister Doug Horner has established a committee to explore the possibility of another bid for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party in the event Alberta Premier Alison Redford decides to step aside. He’s reported to have observed that his family has been in politics in Alberta longer than almost anyone else, and they might as well stick around and be the last ones in charge before the place shuts down. Petroleum markets have been hit by a glut of oil and gas supplies in the United States and a worldwide economic slowdown that has significantly reduced demand and prices. Ms. Redford was not available for comment, although her spokesperson, Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, said he would be sending out a Tweet later urging Albertans not to move just yet to Saskatchewan and B.C., which he referred to as “mudslide country.”

March: Trio of Liberal MLAs cross floor to join NDP Legislative caucus

Alberta Liberal (Liberalberta) MLAs Laurie Blakeman, David Swann and Kent Hehr all cross the floor to join the Alberta New Democrats, increasing the NDP caucus to seven and making the New Democrats the third party by size in the Legislature. All three are thought likely to contest the NDP leadership, along with NDP MLAs David Eggen and Deron Bilous, when New Democrat Leader Brian Mason retires next year and moves to the United States to take up an important position with the New York City Transit Authority. “I’m finally going to get to run the train,” Mr. Mason said proudly. The remaining NDP MLA, Rachel Notley, continues to refuse to consider a leadership bid.

April: Defence Minister Joan Crockatt censured for misspelled Tweets

Conservative Party strategists ask Canadian Defence Minister Joan Crockatt to give up her Twitter account after a series of embarrassing late-night Tweets in which she spells Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair’s name five different ways and accuses him of willfully transmitting Dutch Disease to Canadians who weren’t told he had the condition. To pass the time previously spent Tweeting, Ms. Crockatt said she had joined the Dagny Taggarts, a synchronized skating team that acts out the stories of author Ayn Rand on the ice. She said she is also considering marketing a line of high-fashion clothing based on old Shriners’ uniforms. Conservative Party insiders said Prime Minister Harper considers Ms. Crockatt’s punishment the end of the matter, although he would think about demoting her to Minister of Winter Sports Clothing and making her move to Helena Guergis’s old office if there are any more Tweeting incidents.

May: Tom Flanagan appointed to Canadian Senate

Prime Minister Harper announces that his former aide and Calgary School professor Tom Flanagan has been appointed to the Canadian Senate. “As an American, Dr. Flanagan knows exactly what I have in mind for the Canadian Senate, which would be the American Senate,” the Prime Minister said. A special provision will suspend the normal requirement that Canadian senators not serve past the age of 75, the prime minister said. “I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be get to move back to Ottawa, where I was born and grew up,” said Dr. Flanagan, at a press conference on Parliament Hill, a remark that confused several members the Ottawa press gallery. “It sure has changed, though, since I was a lad there,” observed Dr. Flanagan, who is 106. “They even seem to have rerouted the Illinois River to the north side of town!” The PM and the professor have patched up their differences over Dr. Flanagan’s book on how he made Mr. Harper the prime minister and won the federal government for the Conservatives. “I explained to Stephen that it was just a misunderstanding,” Dr. Flanagan said. “The publisher forgot to say it was supposed to be a work of fiction.”

June: Jason Kenney weds Hungarian in secret ceremony

The marriage of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to a woman he met at a street market in Hungary last summer stuns and shocks his friends and political associates. Little is known of the identity of the bride or the details of the ceremony, although one Ottawa insider is said to have cell-phone video of fellow Calgary MP Ron Anders sobbing throughout the service, which appears to have taken place outdoors at a campground. Sun News Network political commentator Ezra Levant turned down a request to serve as best man and refused to attend the rites. There is apparently some disagreement between Mr. Levant and Mr. Kenney about whether the European country is a safe destination for on-air political commentators. Alberta’s Mr. Lukaszuk, who serves as Premier Redford’s representative in matters involving European protocol, said he would not be sending a gift to Mr. Kenney and his bride.

July: Pope visits Fort McMurray, blesses Alberta oil sands

Accompanied by Prime Minster Stephen Harper, Pope Benedict XVI, flies into Fort McMurray, where the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide blesses the Alberta oil sands, conducts services for a huge throng of worried Newfoundlanders and prays for an increase in petroleum prices. The Papal aircraft is accompanied by a flight of J-20 stealth fighters from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, which the RCAF-FARC is said to be considering purchasing for the bargain-basement price of $35 billion. The Prime Minister is also said to have been persuaded by former British PM Tony Blair to become a Roman Catholic, since that would make it easier for him to get a great diplomatic gig after he retires from politics and because it’s been sort of a tradition with Canadian prime ministers, the better ones from Quebec, anyway.

August: Danielle Smith quits; Ted Morton to lead Wildrose Party

Saying that explaining the basic concepts of market doctrine MLAs from southeastern Alberta “is just too much work,” Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith announces she is leaving politics to move to Vancouver and join the Frasertarians, a New Age religion that worships Ayn Rand as the “Ascended Master and Mistress” and the late economist Milton Freedman as the “Missing Messiah.” After an emergency meeting of the party leadership at a retreat in the Rocky Mountain town of Cochrane, a press release is posted on the Wildrose website saying former Conservative finance minister Ted Morton has been asked to lead the party. Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson is reported to be in the southern Alberta community of Cardston conferring with someone named Craig Chandler about plans to establish a new party, which will be even farther to the right than the Wildrose Party. Mr. Chandler will draft the Wild Rosehip Tea Party’s constitution, an area where he is said to have experience if not expertise.

September: On ‘sabbatical,’ Kim, Jong-un commences studies at U of C

Saying he on “on sabbatical” from his duties as leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un commences studies in political science and economics at the University of Calgary. “I was very disappointed when I got here to learn that Professor Flanagan would no longer be teaching classes because of his duties in Ottawa,” said Mr. Kim. “My late father and I have both admired the professor and studied his advice for many years and I felt there were still some things I could learn from him.” However, Mr. Kim said, “I am looking forward to meeting and taking classes with other signatories of the Firewall Manifesto. As you know, it has been necessary from time to time to remind the American and Japanese imperialists of the DPRK’s own Firewall Doctrine, under which a Wall of Fire can be called down upon them at any time if they do not respect the territorial integrity of the DPRK. We were always encouraged by the existence of people who thought like us in the Canadian West.” Mr. Kim said he also hopes to make a “Gangnam Style” video with Justin Trudeau before returning to the Korean Peninsula in 2015. “Justin has enough star power to put a small satellite into orbit, although only for peaceful purposes!”

October: Raj Sherman quits, Darshan Kang to take over as Liberalberta leader

Liberalberta Leader Raj Sherman takes Albertans by surprise when he announces he will soon be stepping down as leader of the Liberalberta Party. “I’ve already achieved what I came here to do,” Dr. Sherman told an extremely small group of supporters. “You’ll know what I’m talking about very soon,” Dr. Sherman added mysteriously. Darshan Kang, the only remaining member of the Liberalberta Caucus, will become interim leader until a joint leadership convention is held with the Alberta Party in the spring of 2014. The Liberlbertans will publish advertisements in all Alberta community newspapers asking any Alberta Party members to come forward and identify themselves.

November: President Obama says cold fusion is product of ‘new Manhattan Project’

U.S. President Barack Obama announces in Washington that the work of a top-secret “new Manhattan Project” has resulted in the creation of a cold fusion reactor that will solve the world’s energy problems forever and end the threat of global warming using only water and peanut butter. Oil prices plunge to below $5 a barrel for sweet Saudi Arabian crude. Former PC leadership candidate Gary Mar is reported to have returned from Hong Kong to Calgary, where he is raising funds for another run at the Progressive Conservative Party leadership, should Premier Alison Redford decide to step down. “We all know that Alberta has a great future as a top producer of world-class beef and barley, and as the No. 1 holiday destination for Americans thanks to the steep decline in the value of the Loonie,” Mr. Mar said. Ms. Redford, who was reported to have been admitted for a period of rest at the Ralph Klein General Hospital on Third Way Trail in south Calgary, was not available for comment.

December: Raj Sherman awarded Nobel Prizes in Medicine, Economics

The Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm, Sweden, announces that former Albertalberal Leader Raj Sherman had been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine. The Emergency Room physician and former politician will receive the prize for having come up with all the answers to the problems faced by Alberta Health Services in just 18 months, then offering them to Mankind, the committee said. He will be honoured at a dinner of fermented herring and köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) in Stockholm later this month. The committee also awarded Dr. Sherman the Nobel Prize for Economics, for the same reasons. Dr. Sherman is the first winner of two Nobel Prizes in a single year. Dr. Sherman will take up a teaching post at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, where he said he has really good contacts. “See,” he told reporters who met him at Arlanda Airport near the Swedish capital, “I really was the smartest man in Alberta!”

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The Alberta Apocalypto: The world as you know it is about to end! Again…

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner gets ready to make a sacrifice to placate the mighty and angry Deficit God. Alberta politicians, not to mention the Legislative complex, may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Horner.

Oh my God! The world is coming to an end!

I’m not talking about the Mayan calendar, either, which says the jig is up tomorrow, which is going to be a big disappointment to those of us who were looking forward to a nice weekend followed by a little time off for the holiday.

But this time, it’s way worse than that. This is the Alberta Tory Calendar, after all, in which the End Times just keep coming around again and again with the regularity of a metronome. Tick-tock!

I’m telling you, it’s so bad that by the end of this post I’m going to have entirely used up my quota of italics for the rest of the year!

Right on schedule – Tick! – Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner was up on his hind legs in Edmonton yesterday – Tock! – to grimly inform us all that this time he really means it – Tick!really, the world as we know it is coming to an end, we’re all going to have to wear sackcloth and ashes – Tock! – and get a haircut too, because, oh golly, the world’s most volatile commodity seems to have shown some volatility again.

Oil prices. Fluctuating! Who’d’ve thought?

But yes, the sands of time are finally running out – and, this being Alberta, we thought for sure it would take longer than this because the sand in question was all clumped together with oily goo. But, nope, this is it, people. We’re screwed. It’s all over. Finished. Done. Finis. …

You get the picture. And if you don’t, you will when you watch the evening news.

Here are the key parts of the Edmonton Journal’s story about Mr. Horner’s dire warning yesterday. I’ve left out nothing important: “Tough choices … plunging price … big bite out of provincial revenue … warned his colleagues … facing financial constraints … not the greatest Christmas news … we have to adjust … everything is on the table … taken off the table … facing a deficit … oil has fallen to a record low … different than in the past … might not be able to count on any increases … live within their means … reining in and restraining our spending … meet our targets … tough stuff … tough decisions … spending freeze …” yadda-yadda.

Yes, everything is in there except the bit about tightening our belts, and, count on it, they’ll have added that by lunchtime today.

Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes warned us the same warning the day before yesterday, by the way, and Premier Alison Redford added a dire warning or two in the afternoon. Prime Minister Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are known to be fretting about this too, so count on them to weigh in on the need for more austerity momentarily.

And they just found out!

So, seriously, how stupid is this?

Of course we’ve got a freaking revenue problem! We don’t collect enough taxes.

We don’t collect enough taxes on purpose, because it keeps the oil companies who own our government’s soul happy and behaving themselves, politically speaking.

Last time they got exercised about this particular issue, they cooked up the Wildrose Party, which stands for exactly the same thing as the Mr. Horner’s PCs – only even more of it!

We also don’t collect enough taxes – and those that we do we take from the people who can least afford them through our thoroughly regressive and unproductive tax system – because it keeps voters disengaged.

Disengaged voters behave themselves too – by not voting.

That is, disengaged voters are good from the “conservative” perspective because they don’t feel like they have a stake in the province or anything it does, and so you get to stay in power for 41 years and counting.

Alberta politicians like Mr. Harper – the prime minister of Calgary – took this idea to Ottawa and would like to put it to work nation-wide. It was disengaged Alberta voters, you might say, combined with a useful split on the centre left, that got Joan Crockatt elected in the recent Calgary Centre federal by-election. Joan Crockatt!

Of course we have a cash shortage. We insist on paying cash for everything, including the house, the car and the new washing machine.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were run by economic imbeciles who hadn’t figured out that commodity prices go up and down like one of those pump jacks out on the Prairie. But we know for a fact these folks aren’t imbeciles – in fact, some of them, like Mr. Horner and Ms. Redford, for example, are quite smart. So something else must be going on.

Maybe they’ve actually bought the political calculus pushed by the right for three decades that you can’t do the sensible and prudent thing no matter what because … that’s just not the way we do things in North America. (“No taxes!” Ms. Redford barked this afternoon. She meant, presumably, no new taxes.)

Or maybe it’s because they have a plan to completely destroy our public institutions and they need the cash flow-through from a ’round the clock out-of-control boom non-renewable resources boom to keep us all distracted while they privatize everything.

While you think about those possibilities, here’s a home truth. Commodity prices are cyclical. They go up and down and they’re never going to stop going up and down. So plan for it! Put a little money in the bank. Don’t always pay cash. Have another revenue stream – you know, like a reasonable level of taxation.

Indeed, we could add a nice round figure like $10 billion to the taxes we collect here in Alberta and they’d still be the lowest in the country!

In the mean time, though, the world is ending, and the fact that the fixes are pretty obvious, easy to implement and relatively painless for everyone involved doesn’t mean for one second that they’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of being implemented.

So have a wonderful holiday and a great 2013 … and if the world doesn’t really end tomorrow, tighten your belt.

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And the winner is … no one: everybody missed Monday’s biggest story

Alberta families like this one just stayed home Monday and watched TV. Below: Pollster Janet Brown.

So who stayed home?

While poll analysts and pundits pontificated yesterday about what the somewhat-less-than-stellar victory of Conservative Joan Crockatt in the Calgary-Centre by-election might mean for the national political parties, the real story went largely unexamined – to wit, the wretched voter turnout.

With fewer than 30 per cent of the eligible voters in the inner-city Calgary riding able to bestir themselves to wander out and cast a ballot, it’s pretty obvious that a clear majority of electors truly didn’t give a hang about who governs them, or how. Indeed, given recent historical trends, the same thing can probably be said of all of Albertans.

“The big story from Monday night isn’t that Calgary Centre is leaning more left or more right,” observed the well-known Alberta pollster Janet Brown in a note she sent me. “It’s that the vast majority don’t care who represents them in Ottawa.”

“Although it got far more news coverage than the other two by-elections that were held Monday, Calgary Centre had the lowest voter turnout,” she observed, noting that 30 per cent isn’t all that unusual for a by-election, but it ought to be for this one.

“It was shockingly low for this particular by-election because the news coverage was so intense,” Ms. Brown said. “Every national public affairs program … covered the Calgary Centre by-election on multiple occasions.”

Well, maybe. Ms. Brown certainly speaks the truth about voter turnout. It was at 55 per cent in the riding in the 2011 general election, and at 29.4 per cent Monday it compared unfavourably to 35.8 per cent in Durham, Ont., and 43.9 per cent in Victoria, B.C., neither of which received quite the national publicity.

So what caused this truly pathetic turnout? We can only speculate.

It has been fair in the past to accuse the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of engaging in Republican-style voter suppression tactics, especially in the last federal general election, but it is said here this likely did not pay much of a role in Monday night’s Cowtown tally.

True, the efforts by the Conservatives and the party’s Sun News Network auxiliary to dredge up old comments by prominent Liberal Party figures and spin them as anti-Alberta were an effort of sorts to persuade some Liberal voters to stay at home.

If nothing else, this suggests the private polls to which the Conservatives had access made it clear Liberal candidate Harvey Locke was not losing support to Green candidate Chris Turner, and that in their estimation he still had the potential for growth.

Still, with Ms. Crockatt seemingly languishing in voter enthusiasm, the Tory effort this time focused more on a desperate drive to get out their vote than an organized effort to keep anyone else from the polling booths. Anyway, there was no way the national neoconservative party would take the chance on creating a Pierre Poutine-style scandal in a low-stakes Alberta by-election when observers and opponents were sure to be on the alert for misbehaviour of just that sort.

They’ll save that for the big one in 2015 or whenever, and for more desperate circumstances than these.

So who stayed home, and why?

It’s doubtful New Democrat stay-at-homes had much impact, if only because there were so few of them. More likely, the majority of the small number of committed NDPers in the riding who voted strategically against Ms. Crockatt would have switched their votes to the Greens, although it sounds as if a fairly significant number held their noses and went Liberal too.

Mr. Locke seems to have held the Liberal vote, and Ms. Crockatt also held onto her always-motivated Alberta Wildrose Party base. Moreover, fringe candidates managed to collect only a fringe vote.

So, it is said here, the largest group of stay-at-home non-voters in Calgary Centre Monday were Redford Red Tories, the kind of people who supported former MP Lee Richardson in past elections without qualms and who, in the event, just couldn’t live with themselves if they voted for a Wildroser like Ms. Crockatt and at the same time couldn’t bear to vote for anyone who wasn’t a Conservative.

If this theory is correct, the split on the right played out relatively harmlessly from Ms. Crockatt’s perspective, while the split on the left meant Mr. Turner drained votes from Mr. Locke. Oh well, as said here last time, there’s no point moaning about this, it’s the way the system is designed to work and it’s not likely to be changed any time soon.

But Ms. Brown thinks I’m giving Alberta voters way too much credit. “I think people stayed home because they simply don’t care who represents them in Ottawa,” she argued “They feel so disconnected from their federal representatives on a day-to-day basis, that they don’t feel much of a stake in who wins.”

She holds out hope they’re likely to be more engaged in a general election, when there’s more attention on the personalities and the policies of the leaders.

Well, it’s all grist for the mill. Maybe someone will do some ex first-past-the-post facto research and find out for sure.

Regardless, if my speculation holds any water, it goes to an important point. Both New Democrats and Liberals, if they are to have any chance of success in the next federal general election, need to do more than just fight over their own split voters.

One or the other of them is going to have to find a way to persuade soft Conservative voters – those legendary Red Tories – to come across and vote for someone who isn’t a Conservative.

In most places, convincing them merely to stay at home won’t make the grade.

Well, Ms. Crockatt has already jetted off to Ottawa to be sworn in and this will be the last I will have to say on this topic for a little while.

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