All posts tagged Naheed Nenshi

Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes quits Alberta cabinet – presumably to run for PC leadership

Half-confirmed Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ken Hughes, on the night in 2011 Alison Redford won the party’s leadership. Well, that was then and this is now, as the appalled looking unidentified passerby seemed to have sensed. Below: Doug Horner. Anyone else?

Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister quit his cabinet post yesterday, by the sound of it because he intends to run for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.

If that’s the reason for Ken Hughes unexpectedly showing up in one of the back rows of the Legislature’s latest seating chart – he didn’t give a lot of notice that he’d asked to be moved there – it will surely come as a huge relief to the PC Party executive.

Mr. Hughes, who was also former premier Alison Redford’s Energy Minister for a spell after he got elected to the Legislature in 2012, may not be the most scintillating or charismatic guy you’ll ever meet, but at least he seems capable of doing the premier’s job in a pedestrian sort of way.

So if that’s what this is actually about, after a week of old party warhorses publicly saying “hell no, I won’t go,” it can no longer be said that no one who can actually do the job is interested in it.

It’s said here it was a little odd Mr. Hughes didn’t just say he’s running, instead promising to make another announcement about something soon and referring everyone to an evocatively named website that tells about how he “has demonstrated personal strength of character,” “has a frugal approach to money,” and “has an ability to dream big and then deliver.” (Examples please!)

Presumably in an effort to establish some outsider cred, the site also says the former Southern Alberta Member of Parliament is “someone who has not spent most of their last 15 years in and around politics,” which if you ask me is a bit of a stretch, if not an outright howler.

It’s true that as the Chair of the Board of Alberta Health Services from 2008 to 2011, Mr. Hughes wasn’t actually an elected politician. But since premier Ed Stelmach did away with regional health authorities in 2008, it’s hard to imagine a more political job in this province – or a job that anyone could land without being politically connected.

Well, that was back in the days when Alberta Health Services still had an independent governing board, before Redford Government Health Minister Fred Horne went and fired them all for paying insufficient attention to his orders. It’s safe to say that if Mr. Hughes hadn’t resigned that position in 2011 to run for Ms. Redford’s party, AHS would still be governed by its board.

More likely, though, this was just a way to squeeze two news hits out of an essentially dull story weirdly scheduled on a day when the national media had bigger fish to fry. To wit: the widely predicted defeat of the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec.

Either that or Mr. Hughes hasn’t quite raised the $50,000 he’s going to need to get his name on the ballot and has a few more calls to make.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, as is well known, several other cabinet ministers have been dropping hints about being interested in the leadership race without actually doing anything that Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has decreed would require them to give up their cabinet posts.

This list includes Finance Minister Doug Horner, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Energy Minister Diana McQueen.

Of this group, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner are probably the most likely candidates, based on their experience and diplomatic skills. Although, for his part, Mr. Horner is also still doing the dance of a thousand fans – hinting at plenty but not actually revealing very much.

Regardless of whom is chosen, it still seems quite possible it will turn out to be a fairly short-term gig, although with the hope of a more permanent position afterward as leader of the opposition. So perhaps we shouldn’t rule out Mr. Lukaszuk, who seems to have no friends in his own party but does have the sort of aggressive personality usually associated with the opposition benches.

There’s a school of thought – nicely articulated by Old Warhorse Jim Dinning in his recent I’m-not-a-candidate announcement – that the only way the party can survive is by choosing a real outsider. So far, though, while several names have been mentioned, none has actually put up his or her hand and volunteered.

Rumoured outsiders have included former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who at nearly 69 seems a little long in the tooth to start a new career; banker and former Conservative Parliamentarian Jim Prentice, who those in the know say is more interested in a timely return to the greener pastures of the Ottawa Valley; and current Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose putative candidacy, presumably, is merely somebody’s fevered pipedream.

Regardless, if more candidates don’t come forward soon, the party may have to adopt a “negative option leadership candidacy” policy or resign itself to an extremely boring runoff between Mr. Hughes and Mr. Horner, with a bow-tied Mr. Lukaszuk taking annoying potshots from the peanut galleries.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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.

OTTAWA

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.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Campaign Diary Volume 7: It’s Nomination Day … ‘In for a penny, in for a pound!’

That’s me, David Climenhaga, candidate for St. Albert City Council, handing over my nomination papers yesterday morning to city Chief Legislative Officer Chris Belke. Below: Checking my papers one last time; pausing at the entrance to the East Boardroom of St. Albert Place, where yesterday’s democratic action took place.

“In for a penny, in for a pound” was the phrase in my mind yesterday morning as I filed my nomination at St. Albert Place.

Alas, there were no pipers on scene as there were at Edmonton City Hall, where three pipers were on duty to lend a little Celtic flair to the occasion.

Like any sensible person, I pity the man who hasna’ heard the pipes o’ Bonny Scotland, and the skirl of a distant piper never fails to send a shiver of delight up and down my spine.

Still, I’ll admit that even without bagpipes nearby my heart beat a little faster to be playing a role in our Canadian democracy.

So it’s official – unless I get cold feet by noon today, that is, and given my mood tonight and the green election signs still in the garage, that’s unlikely – my name will be on the St. Albert City Council ballot on Oct. 21.

Now, I should cautiously note that my reference to “in for a penny,” etc., is just a metaphor for, as the Wictionary explains it, “having started something, one must see it through to its end.”

One would hate to hand certain intemperate St. Albert bloggers – who have already found plenty of reasons to dislike anyone who has ever worked for a government, been a member of a union or possessed a library card (and I’ll admit right now that I’ve done all three) – an excuse to accuse that person of wanting to spend pounds, when even pennies are too much!

I mention this only in light of the brouhaha that surrounded the brief and nasty Twitter debate last week between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and a Sun News Network bloviator who twisted a rather unfortunate analogy sufficiently to claim the Cowtown mayor had meant something quite different from what he said.

So, to repeat, as it says on the card I’ve been handing to homeowners and dropping into mailboxes all over town, “St. Albert needs to preserve the quality public services for which our municipality is known, while continuing to keep municipal costs under control.” I stand by that opinion.

Perhaps, since I’ve done this once before and proved the truth of the adage that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, a more appropriate sentiment to have put inside quotation marks would have been “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”

That’s from a speech, of course, that’s as stirring and quotable in 2013 as it was in 1599, when the Bard put pen to paper. (How did he manage without a MacBook Air, one wonders?)

And couldn’t we fairly say of all 16 candidates for St. Albert City Council, 18 if you count the candidates for mayor:

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot…

Then again, maybe that’s pouring it on a little thick for nomination day.

Got trouble with ‘overbearing urban planners’? The Manning Centre wants to help!

A civic election all-candidates’ meeting in Calgary. “Why don’t we pass the time with a game of solitaire?” Actual Manning Centre supported candidates may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Manning Centre namesake Preston Manning; Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; Calgary developer Cal Wenzel (CTV photo).

If on Oct. 21 the market-fundamentalist slate trained and sponsored by the so-called Manning Centre for Building Democracy should fail to sweep most of the seats on Calgary City Council, the wealthy developers who bankrolled this effort can take comfort in the knowledge they received their money’s worth in other ways.

Leastways, the Calgary-based Manning Centre – set up in the mid-Zeroes by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to be a key facilitator in the coast-to-coast network of think tanks, Astro-Turf groups, media bloviators, academics, pollsters, campaign operatives and other ideological agents that comprise the Organized Right in Canada – is likely to place undermining democracy in Canadian city halls high on the agenda of its next national conference.

The details in a moment, but first, a little background:

Alert readers will recall how, early in 2013, a video, clandestinely recorded by persons unknown, surfaced showing one of Cowtown’s most prominent developers saying what he really thought about Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and explaining what the development industry proposed to do about him.

The developer in question, Cal Wenzel, was addressing a closed-door industry clambake the previous November on how to confound Mayor Nenshi’s approach to governance by finding ways to bankroll candidates more inclined to “swing our way.”

Since the extremely popular Mayor Nenshi was obviously unlikely to be unseated when Alberta communities hold their municipal elections in October, the unhappy developer confidentially explained, “for whatever and however, we have to ensure that we end up with the eight votes.” He was referring to the eight votes required to swing Calgary City Council the development industry’s way, regardless of what the mayor and voters might think about it.

Mr. Wenzel drew his listeners’ favourable attention to the Manning Centre’s blandly named “Municipal Governance Project,” and noted: In order to bring Preston Manning on board, 11 of us have put $100,000 – $1.1 million … so it’s not like we haven’t put up our money.”

Now, for its part, the Manning Centre insists its Municipal Governance Project is not up to anything nefarious, that it isn’t running a slate of Manchurian Municipal Candidates in Calgary, and it isn’t misusing the charitable donations the Centre relies on for partisan purposes because it publishes “research” on the Internet.

Mr. Manning’s namesake hobbyhorse merely means “to offer customized training courses for those who wish to strengthen their knowledge and skills in communicating market-oriented ideas and principles in the municipal political arena,” it explains soothingly on its website. This will happen first in  Calgary, and later across the land. Those who do not accept the Centre’s extreme market-fundamentalist take on economics and society need not apply.

Indeed, even conservative candidates who are deemed unduly moderate in their views can find themselves being aggressively pushed to the far right by Manning operatives. The experience of one such Calgary councillor prompted Mayor Nenshi to accuse the Centre of playing partisan politics, its claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Well, never mind, there’s more to the Manning Centre than the candidates it is backing, whether or not they technically amount to a slate.

For one thing, there’s that annual springtime bunfest in nation’s capital, formally known as the Manning Networking Conference, at which Mr. Manning’s starry eyed and frequently impassioned acolytes get to hear from the leading intellectual lights of the Organized Right and mingle with the captains of industry who generously stock their hospitality suites.

Indeed, as this is written the Manning Centre’s capable event organizers are hard at work on the “MNC” agenda for March 2014, and the list of speakers and seminar topics they are considering is informative, not least because it serves as a useful barometer of what the Organized Right is likely to demand next.

This information is not a particularly deep secret – the list was circulated widely to those who attended last year’s conference, not every one of whom shares the Manning Centre’s philosophy.

So what do the Manningites want to talk about next? This is a bit of intelligence from which we can discern what they expect the rest of us to be talking about soon, as their always-effective echo chamber takes up the cry.

At the very top of their list – judged by the number of suggestions put forward to gauge the interest of previous conference participants – are topics related to public education, or, rather, one might say, opposition to public education.

So readers can anticipate, it is said here, increasing interest in this topic among the multitudinous commentators of the right as well as its various political arms. Indeed, this has already started!

Other themes under consideration: the perennial attack on unions, naturally, plus “innovations in the think tank world,” not to mention encouraging inter-generational conflict – a political game that should be known as Blame the Boomers.

The former topic suggests anti-union legislation will remain on the Harper Government’s 2014-15 agenda, both as an effective election wedge issue and a point of ideological principle. The latter is interesting, since we Boomers do deserve a whack or two, although not for “stealing our children’s future,” as the Manningites would have it. The robbery victims mostly are our children, after all. Rather, we should get it for allowing the market-fundamentalist right to get away with its steady erosion of much of what was best about Western society over the past 40 or so years since we came of age.

Would-be future MNC attendees were also asked to rate possible speakers from a long list of the usual suspects in the supposedly liberal dominated media – the likes of Andrew Coyne, Jonathan Kay, Mark Steyn, Paul Wells, John Ivison, and, my personal favourite, Margaret Wente. Readers will get the general idea.

Possible speakers among the political favourites of the Organized Right abound as well, including former would-be Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove, long the dark force behind the right’s electoral shenanigans south of the Medicine Line, and, just in case you weren’t paying attention to the Canadian scene, Alberta Opposition leader Danielle Smith.

But what and who are missing is almost as informative.

The Manning crowd seems to have largely abandoned the propaganda attack on public health care. This is not, one suspects, because they have changed their opinion, but because they have changed their strategy. After all, their noisy ideological attack on public health care has failed utterly to persuade most voters – and so they have switched their efforts to undermine the system to the courts and the organs of international trade relations.

And what about Brent Rathgeber, the Alberta MP who abandoned the Conservative caucus to attack the Harper Government as arbitrary and undemocratic? Since his critique echoes Mr. Manning’s past complaints, one would think Mr. Rathgeber would be a natural invitee – but, alas, no soap. Or at any rate apparently no invitation. One can only wonder why.

Even the right’s beloved Ezra Levant was not mentioned – strengthening my private conviction Mr. Levant has gone missing with his “Freedom Cruise” and that his fevered columns are being written by some other Sun News functionary. I mean, surely even Mr. Levant himself wouldn’t have been so silly as to suggest Justin Trudeau has become a secret convert to radical Islam? And has anybody heard even a single whisper about the MS Zuiderdam’s passage through the cold and stormy ideological waters of the North Pacific since she slipped from her berth in Vancouver in August?

Getting back to the original point of all this, right there on the list for consideration were “the problem with municipal public consultations” and “confronting overbearing urban planners.”

Given the well-known habit of right-wing think tanks and their ilk to respond compliantly to the wishes of their funders, plus the Calgary development industry’s extremely generous contributions revealed by Mr. Wenzel, what do you want to bet that we can count on the next MNC to devote considerable attention to these matters?

And what, do you think, will they find to be the problem with municipal public consultations? That they’re too democratic? A cynic might wonder, but it’s important to remember that the people who finance and staff the Manning Centre, and indeed Mr. Manning himself, don’t necessarily define democracy the same way you and I do.

They are big on “economic democracy” – which might cynically be described as the right to get rich as stink any way you please and not pay taxes while you’re about it. They are not so enthusiastic about your right to decide your fate through the ballot box without interference or deception, especially if your preferred representatives are not of a mind to “swing their way.”

So if some overbearing urban planner gets in your way, abetted by an overly liberal mayor, count on the Manning Centre – which really has very little to do with building democracy – to be there to help you.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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 Daveberta.ca, 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.

The Six-Point-Four-Billion-Dollar Question: will the Redford Tories drop their budget balancing act?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi talk to reporters with the swollen Bow River and Calgary’s skyline in the background. (Photo from Ms. Redford’s Facebook page.) Below: U.S. Republican contender Mitt Romney; Calgary talk show host Dave Rutherford.

It is not unreasonable, in a purely academic sort of way, to recognize that no major natural event happens without political consequences.

As Mitt Romney, the now nearly forgotten Republican candidate in last November’s U.S. election lamented not long after he was soundly beaten by President Barack Obama, “obviously, a hurricane with a week to go before the election stalled our campaign.”

Hurricane Sandy may or may not have actually damaged Mr. Romney’s presidential chances. Certainly the president’s pitch-perfect reaction to the disaster did Mr. Obama no harm. But under the circumstances the Republican contender’s reaction was understandable enough.

It is a loser’s prerogative, though, to blame outside factors, as a bad craftsman blames his tools. It would be extremely unseemly for a winner to have gloated about it, though, so a polished politician like President Obama will likely never have anything to say about this topic, even in his memoires.

But we can take it as axiomatic that the devastating floods that hit Southern Alberta last week are bound to have political consequences in this province, even if it’s not yet clear just what they will be.

The first victim, it almost goes without saying, will be right-wing Calgary talk radio jock Dave Rutherford, who had been kicking around the idea of challenging Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi for the city’s top job next Oct. 21.

But Mr. Nenshi’s response to the evacuation of 100,000 of his city’s citizens was so graceful and sure-footed – the right answers, confidently delivered, empathetic, reassuring and marvellously briefed – that Mr. Rutherford surely realizes his campaign is over before it began. He could still run for city council, and he may now need the job, but the mayor’s chair is not very likely to be his for at least four years after October.

The prime minister of Canada and the premier of Alberta are both Calgarians as well, but next federal and provincial elections are far enough away that the impact on them of the floods and their aftermath cannot be calculated with quite as much ease.

Still, it’s said here that both Stephen Harper and Alison Redford acted competently as the disaster unfolded – they were where they should have been, acting as they needed to act – so their political performances as the waters peaked will do them no harm.

Nor does it hurt them – ironic as it may seem – that they were able to stand beside the liberal Mayor Nenshi.

You can’t blame the Opposition parties for trying to capitalize on the issues at hand. Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason assailed the provincial government for failing to implement the recommendations of a 2006 flood mitigation report. Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith seemed genuinely upset that some High River residents have not been allowed back into their homes. And it’s hard not to empathize with her on that, whether or not one agrees, seeing as she lives there.

But it seems unlikely voters will worry much about either of those issues, as long as the provincial and federal responses to the flood send the right signals, which so far they have.

Mr. Harper’s implicit message that municipal voters will not be penalized for finding themselves in the path of a natural disaster they could do nothing to control or mitigate sends a message that will comfort a lot of voters in all parts of Canada, which will do his chances no harm in 2015, regardless of what the man actually thinks.

Ms. Redford’s explicit message seems to be that no expense will be spared to rebuild Calgary – a billion dollars cash on the barrelhead right now and whatever it takes to rebuild every single house, bridge and sidewalk.

Some political commentators see this as a political liability for the premier by 2016. I say it will be the opposite: enormously popular in every part of the province, as long as no one is seen to be suffering so that Calgary can get back on its feet.

Surely neither Ms. Redford nor Mr. Obama would have wished these natural disasters on their constituents, no matter how they played out for them, but it is said here Ms. Redford is as likely to benefit from last week’s floods as Mr. Obama benefited from Hurricane Sandy last fall.

For one thing, the disaster virtually eliminates the budget-balancing problem she would certainly have otherwise faced.

“Are we sticking to plan to balance the budget? No, we’re not,” the premier stated on Monday. “The world changed on Thursday morning and I think that as a Treasury Board we’ve come to terms with that. We think Albertans have come to terms with that. This is like nothing we’ve ever faced before and we’re going to respond to the challenge.”

The Six-Point-Four-Billion-Dollar Question – to coin a phrase, give or take a billion – is what will the Redford Government’s strategy be as far as other spending goes?

With deficit pressure lifted by happenstance, and the danger of regional rivalry a genuine threat over time, the government could drop the entire deficit-fighting drama and spend money where it will win support with little fear of harmful repercussion.

Any opposition party that dared to assail her for spending “too much,” especially one positioned to the right of her government, would risk looking churlish at best and heartless at worst.

This reality may very well kill the Wildrose Party’s current strategy as dead as Mr. Rutherford’s putative challenge to Mayor Nenshi!

Or the government could double down and say the added burden of flood repair requires tighter fiscal discipline everywhere else – a strategy that, as noted, brings its own dangers.

The conventional wisdom in Alberta this morning seems to be that Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative government will choose the path of parsimony and clamp down on most other spending.

My prediction is the opposite: they’ll spend more and worry less about balancing the budget.

Why not? Certainly if former Energy Minister Ron Liepert’s 2012 prediction was right and there’s a bitumen bonanza not that far over Alberta’s horizon, the Redford PCs could very well now spend to their heart’s content and balance the budget before too long.

If they do that, and repair Calgary swiftly and beautifully as well, it may not seem like that long before we’re all complaining about how “50 years is enough!”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Cashing in on Disaster Tourism: Rob Ford’s a boon to bloggers, if no one else

Your blogger drops pearls of political wisdom on the Toronto City Hall media. Below: Same fellow, outside the office of Mayor Rob Ford. Below that: Conservative Calgary talk radio host Dave Rutherford, said to be musing about running against Naheed Nenshi for mayor of Calgary.

TORONTO

If you ask me, it’s a sign of just how badly things have slipped for Rob Ford, not to mention the sorry state of journalism in this country, that an unscheduled lunch hour visit by a couple of Alberta bloggers to the Toronto mayor’s office yesterday almost caused a media stampede.

Now, let me be perfectly clear, when I say we visited the mayor’s office during a break in the convention we were attending, I don’t mean we were actually visiting the mayor. Whatever Mr. Ford was doing, it didn’t involve me, which is probably just as well for both of us.

No, this was just Disaster Tourism, plain and simple, the disaster-struck jurisdiction in question being Ford Nation. The big disaster, of course, is Mr. Ford himself, the one-man catastrophe afflicting Canada’s biggest city at this moment.

And I don’t suppose I made things any better when one of the crowd of bored city hall reporters milling around Hizzoner’s office waiting for news to break out asked who I was and what I was doing there, and I responded by barking back, “We’re crack dealers from Edmonton.” (Nobody laughed.)

That crack was untrue, it was also uncalled for, the now world-famous crack-smoking allegations against Mayor Ford are unproven, and, what’s more, they originate with the Toronto Star, so let me say right off the top that I unreservedly apologize.

Well, you’ve heard it said here that reporters act like herd animals and the next thing you know, we were the subject of several interviews with the Toronto City Hall press corps that, what the hey, had nothing better to do at that hour, seeing as there was no sign of Mr. Ford

Although, I’ve got to say, these were no “swarming, grunting masses of jackals,” as Conrad Black once said of the media in the same town – that must have been the business press when they still asked tough questions back in the day before his Lordship’s American martyrdom and subsequent Canadian elevation to sainthood.

No, things settled down quite nicely, thanks very much, and everyone was polite and respectful as soon as the initial media frenzy had subsided. And I must say, I didn’t feel for a moment as if I was being swarmed by maggots, as Mayor Ford’s brother Doug characterized these very same people in another imaginative animal metaphor not so long ago.

My colleague compared Mayor Ford unfavourably to some of the farsighted and exceedingly well-behaved mayors we have back in Alberta, like Naheed Nenshi in Calgary, and I gave Mayor Ford’s recent performance – There’s no video, and I’m not in it! – two thumbs down compared with the late Ralph Klein’s contrition after his bad moment in the men’s shelter.

The point being that Mr. Klein’s 2001 admission he had a problem and his pledge to do something positive about it won everyone’s heart, even cold, hard ones like mine, which at the time nurtured the suspicion he might not really mean it and wasn’t actually going to quit drinking.

Plus, I got in the great disaster tourism crack above … oh, I admit it, credit should really go to a reporter named Don Peat, chief of the Toronto Sun’s City Hall Bureau, who asked, “Would you call this disaster tourism?”

“Yes, I would call this disaster tourism,” I responded, adding: “Let me rephrase that … We’re here for the disaster tourism!”

This is perfectly respectable journalistic technique called “feeding your subject a line” – I used it myself when I was chief of the Calgary Herald’s one-man city hall bureau. But just so we all understand, now it’s my line, and I won’t give it back!

Unfortunately, later in the day, Mr. Ford decided to take a stroll through some City of Toronto-owned housing – unsurprisingly, he didn’t much like it – and Mr. Peat and his colleagues had something better to write about than the ruminations of a couple of out-of-province bloggers.

You just have to be philosophical about losing a chance to publicize your blog for free like this – stuff happens, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the time I was edited out of a newsroom scene in Rockabye, a truly dreadful movie filmed at the Globe and Mail’s offices at 444 Front Street West in 1986, and became just another pretty face on the cutting room floor.

So I’m not bitter. But getting back to maggots, they have their place in nature, cleaning up things that drop dead in the forest – you know, like Mr. Ford’s political career.

OK, I recognize it’s a risky proposition to make predictions about politics in cities where you don’t live – Dave Rutherford in a sweep? – but it’s said here that Mr. Ford’s political career is done like dinner because of the continuing crack allegations and his risible response to them.

This is not, as my former colleague Naomi Lakritz suggested in a preposterous Calgary Herald column yesterday, because a bunch of “self-appointed elitists” with lefty tendencies and no respect for the presumption of innocence just won’t admit they lost the election, but because Mr. Ford now poses an existential threat to any politician who appeared in a photo at one of his barbecues. (Stephen Harper, c’mon down!)

Among her imagined left-leaning elitists, take note, Ms. Lakritz included the media, adding a weird new animal metaphor, accusing them of continuing “to pursue him like a pack of hounds baying at full throttle.” Motorized hounds?

Ford Nation and Ms. Lakritz may still love Rob Ford, for the moment anyway, but the prissy Upper Canada College graduates who approved his campaign, helped bankroll it and privately look down their noses as his déclassé barbecues do not. These folks – the real elitists in this story – want a conservative Toronto mayor who won’t embarrass them every time he eases his ample bulk out the door.

Mr. Ford may have seemed like a good idea to them at that moment he looked like a potential winner with the right ideological credentials, even if he wasn’t quite their kind of person. But now that there’s some danger his hard-to-mistake visage might show up alongside the prime minister in a federal opposition attack ad, you can assume he’s not nearly as appealing.

My guess is Toronto’s Tory elite would now quite happily put up with an NDP mayor who knows how to behave herself with dignity and wait a term or two to get the chief magistrate they really want.

And as for due process, as has been said here before, and as unfair as this may be, there is no presumption of innocence in politics, never was and never will be.

Mr. Ford is finished, even if we haven’t quite reached the end of the story.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Has Alberta pioneered an unlegislated ban on collective bargaining?

“Post-secondary collective bargaining,” Alberta style. Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and a post-secondary employer negotiator rig the deck, foreground, while a faculty association negotiators ponder what’s just happened. Actual Alberta bargaining teams may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Lukaszuk, former advanced ed minister Steve Khan.

As is well known, Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has sent a letter to the boards of all of Alberta post-secondary institutions instructing them on what their bargaining position and final wage offer must be in negotiations with their faculty associations and staff unions.

The position can be summed up in the phrase, now frequently heard on college and university campuses throughout the province, “Zero, zero, zero.”

Oh, wait – and I mean that literally – after three years of nothing you can ask nicely for a 2-per-cent raise. If you’re lucky, and unlike Athabasca University your institution’s administration hasn’t spent its reserves into oblivion, you might get something.

This leads us to a new axiom in the Annals of Labour Relations in Alberta.

Alert readers will recall that it is an opinion expressed frequently on this blog that strikes are not permitted in Alberta unless the union is so weak that the workers cannot possibly win. This practice is already well established.

This is not mere hyperbole. It is literally true, since Alberta’s labour relations legislation, anticipating the Republican “reforms” in Wisconsin by decades, outlaws strikes by essentially all public employees – civil servants, health care workers and post-secondary education employees.

Where such blanket bans aren’t in place and a strike threatens to be effective from the perspective of working people – in the private sector as well as the public – the government directly or through the tame and toothless Alberta Labour Relations Board is willing to step in immediately to postpone or outlaw any strike the union has a chance of winning.

Strikes are only allowed to proceed when there is a strong chance the effort will fail.

Now, though, it would appear that in the matter of public sector negotiations, Mr. Lukaszuk is going for the “Full Wisconsin” and banning collective bargaining by public sector unions altogether – only without the American-style bother of actually passing legislation.

Why waste the time passing laws? This is, after all, Alberta!

So the new axiom is simply this: collective bargaining is illegal in Alberta, unless it can be shown in advance to be ineffective.

What else can we make of Mr. Lukaszuk’s statement – which is no request at all, but an instruction – in his letter that “limits on compensation and improvements in productivity are necessary everywhere in the public sector, including post-secondary education.”

“In this regard,” he suggests, it would be in the public interest for any and all future collective bargaining to result in agreements with the following parameters:

“Annual percentage wage changes over four years of not more than 0/0/0/2; and…

“Negotiated deals which include methods to achieve productivity gains by remedying any inefficiency in current agreements.”

The former point is code for a government ban on wage increases; the latter for wholesale gutting of collective agreements in the name of “productivity.” Certainly, under this formula, negotiating contract improvements that benefit working people is impossible.

This is not, of course, collective bargaining and Mr. Lukaszuk, who is a reasonably bright man, surely knows this.

But the government can confidently proceed with this program in the knowledge it would take more than four years for any challenge to reach the Supreme Court, by which time the government’s inevitable loss would be legally and politically moot.

So, let it be said here, this is an example of bargaining in bad faith on an epic scale.

Indeed, what if universities, colleges, technical institutions and their employees should come up with ways to be more productive? Well, why bother, since Mr. Lukaszuk’s diktat means there is no incentive for their productivity improvements to act as an incentive, collectively or individually.

Mr. Lukaszuk is also Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s deputy premier. Readers will recall that he was only recently slipped into the Advanced Education portfolio after the government brewed up its Bitumen Bubble misdirection. The previous minister, St. Albert MLA Steve Khan, was unceremoniously skidded, presumably for being too nice and honourable a guy. So Mr. Lukaszuk is most certainly aware that government budgets are passed on a one-year cycle – an inconvenient and unchangeable aspect of the Canadian Constitution.

So why is the Redford (un-)Progressive Conservative Government dictating collective bargaining over a four-year cycle? The answer, of course, may be summed up in a single word: politics. The four years will get them through the next election, the government obviously hopes, closing in on a half century of Tory rule.

This is what passes for “labour peace” in Alberta.

It’s said here that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi – a Mount Royal University professor in a previous life – got it right when he said this government’s attacks on post-secondary education are a disgrace and wrote a letter to the MRU Board urging them to stand up to this government on the question of program and budget cuts.

Indeed, every post-secondary board in this province should do that – though it’s doubtful any of them will have the courage.

Speaking of courage, if this government had any real courage, they’d brush the boards aside and “negotiate” these contracts themselves – it’s what they’re doing anyway. Of course, if they did that, they’d have to take responsibility for whatever happened next.

Count on it, though, when that time comes, this government will be back knocking on the doors of public sector unions, social program supporters and progressive voters, respectfully asking for their sympathy and assistance and trying to scare the bejeepers out of them with tales of what a Wildrose government might do.

Oh, please!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Is Chuck Strahl’s dual role on the Manning Centre and security committee appropriate?

Chuck Strahl listens to a participant in the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa in March. Below: Manning Centre founder and figurehead, Preston Manning.

Should Chuck Strahl be able to serve simultaneously on the board of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a partisan political organization tied to the ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other provincial conservative parties, and on the apolitical Security Intelligence Review Committee?

The SIRC is supposed to be, in the words of its website, “an independent, external review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”

“Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to intrude on the privacy of individuals,” the website explains. “SIRC ensures that these powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms.”

Mr. Strahl is a former Reform Party, Canadian Alliance and Conservative Member of Parliament from the British Columbia Interior who served as Deputy Speaker and held several cabinet portfolios during his political career. He retired from politics after the 2011 election and was appointed to a five-year term on the SIRC in June 2012. His biography on the committee’s site is open about his dual role, stating clearly that in 2011 he was appointed as a director of the Calgary-based Manning Centre.

As readers of this blog know, according to an email the group sent to its supporters, Mr. Strahl has now been appointed chair of the board of the Manning Centre, the organization founded and led by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning that works openly to keep the Harper Government in power and is now trying to extend the reach of neoliberal politicians into Canadian municipal governments.

Well, it’s still a relatively a free country, so the Manning Centre can call itself whatever it likes and work for the political outcomes it supports, but the question of whether the chair of this partisan organization’s board should serve in a sensitive and apolitical Parliamentary security review position is another matter entirely.

A claim by B.C. Premier Christy Clark last Wednesday that Mr. Strahl has been campaigning for her Liberal Party in the current election in that province has proved highly controversial and prompted swift backtracking by Ms. Clark.

The B.C. Conservative Party issued a press release Thursday stating Mr. Strahl was barred from campaigning in the election because of his membership on SIRC and demanding Ms. Clark apologize for saying he was doing so.

The Globe and Mail reported Ms. Clark quickly “clarified her statements,” explaining, “he has been active for the last two years and when he took on his non-partisan role just very recently, he stepped back from that.”

No doubt spokespeople for the Manning Centre will try to claim that organization is non-partisan too, but, really, how can they?

“The Manning Centre is dedicated to building Canada’s conservative movement,” the group’s website states. At the federal level, there is only one Conservative party. As the statements, speeches and participants at last March’s Manning Centre “Big Ideas” conference in Ottawa made perfectly clear, time and again, the “conservative movement” means Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party and, here in Alberta, the Wildrose Party of Danielle Smith. “Us” and “the Conservatives” meant the same thing for most participants in the conference.

For example, Mr. Manning staked out a partisan position in Alberta politics in one of his principal speeches, stating, “in Alberta an aging Progressive Conservative administration has lost its way ethically and fiscally and needs to be overhauled or replaced.”

Mr. Strahl, naturally given his position, attended the conference.

As for the Manning Centre’s foray into municipal politics, its so-called “Municipal Governance Project” is also a directly partisan activity whether or not the group is actually backing a slate or trying to unseat Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. It is most certainly backing individual candidates, one or more of whom, presumably, may challenge Mr. Nenshi directly.

If it is inappropriate for Mr. Strahl to serve SIRC and work for the B.C. Liberals’ at the same time, surely it is equally inappropriate for him to have a similar dual role with the Manning Centre and SIRC.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Are Alberta’s Tories taking the right message from Wildrose Party’s fund-raising success?

Counting pennies: Premier Alison Redford and MLAs Peter Sandhu and Steven Young count up donations to the Progressive Conservative Party in this photo stolen from Daveberta.ca. Actual donations, especially those brought in by Darryl Katz, may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Floating balloons and Calgary mayors, apparently nothing new about that idea either.

As Alberta prepares to bid a final farewell to Ralph Klein this afternoon, more evidence has emerged the province’s politically active right has given up on the party the market-fundamentalist avatar led for 14 years.

Mainstream media reported this week fund-raising by the farther-right Wildrose Party is outstripping that of the governing Progressive Conservatives, strongly suggesting efforts by such PC leaders as former premier Ed Stelmach and Premier Alison Redford to ease their party back toward the centre after the radicalism of the Klein Era are encountering stiff resistance.

This creates potential challenges for Redford’s party — but is not necessarily a disaster, as the horserace-addicted media seems to be working itself up to claiming.

Still, while the historically unmatched Progressive Conservative money machine is hardly faltering under Ms. Redford’s leadership, donations are pouring more quickly at the moment into a cash-collection mechanism for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party that is based on the federal Conservative Party’s successful fund-raising techniques, unofficial annual financial statements from Elections Alberta indicate.

But while the Wildrose Party was better at raising large amounts of money from small donors in 2012, media coverage has (intentionally?) exaggerated this portion of the party’s donations to make it sound as if it is almost exclusively supported by grassroots contributors.

The reality, of course, is that just like the PCs, the Wildrosers are also very good at raising large donations from corporations, especially companies in the oil and gas sector.

Alberta election financing laws set a large maximum donation of $15,000 and make it easy for out-of-province corporations to launder their donations through local operations – naturally tilting the fund-raising field in favour of the right-wing parties like the Redford Tories and Smith Wildrosers.

Still, the fact the Wildrose Party could raise about 40 per cent of its revenue in 2012 from small contributors – versus less than 10 per cent in the same year for the Redford Conservatives – should be cause for concern for the Tories. It reinforces recent polling trends that indicate support is strong among conservative voters for the new party’s radical platform, which resembles Mr. Klein’s harsh market purism during his four terms as premier.

In the three-month period before the last election – which must be accounted separately under Alberta election laws – the Wildrose Party raised $2.8 million compared to the PCs’ $2.3 million. Those numbers compared with $517,000 raised by the NDP in the same three-month period and $150,000 contributed to the provincial Liberals.

But the spread really begins to grow dramatically when you look at contributions outside the three-month pre-election window. In all of 2012, the Wildrose Party raised $5.9 million compared to $3.9 million raised by the Redford PCs.

The NDP raised total contributions of a respectable $1.4 million and the Liberals had total 2012 donations of about $479,000.

Much was made by media commentators that this situation leaves the PCs with a post-2012 deficit of $785,000, while the Wildrose Party has a surplus, but it is said here that in itself is probably not all that significant given the ability of both parties to raise huge amounts of cash and the likelihood well-heeled donors will hedge their bets and support both until a clear winner emerges in the run-up to the next election.

It would be a serious mistake to jump to the conclusion this spells the doom of the Progressive Conservatives.

With the party’s emphasis on corporate fund-raising, many friends in corporate boardrooms and the province’s lax financing rules, PC revenues will likely peak later than those of the Wildrose Party. As a result, it is said here they will catch up to and surpass the Opposition party’s successes as the next election nears in 2016.

But with right-wing voters and their money obviously drifting toward the Wildrose, continued PC success obviously also depends on the ability of the premier and her inner circle to maintain the centrist coalition they built in the desperate weeks before the April 23, 2012, election.

They won’t do that by competing with the Wildrose Party for right-wing voters who have already abandoned them, taking their money with them, as the party seems to be trying to do at the moment by letting Ms. Smith set the province’s economic and policy agenda.

No matter what their political lizard brains are telling them right now with Mr. Klein’s public memorial scheduled to take place at noon before misty-eyed throngs in Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall, for the Redford Tories the choice is getting back to the centre or arranging their own political funeral.

Mr. Klein, who served four terms as premier from 1992 to 2006 and who was mayor of Calgary from 1980 to 1989, died in Calgary on Good Friday at 70.

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Deep-pocketed neocons prove useful target for Calgary mayor 

Speaking of fund-raising and Calgary mayors, when neoconservative Godfather Preston Manning floated his Big Idea balloon about knocking off small-l liberals at Calgary City Hall, he gave Mayor Naheed Nenshi something to shoot at.

If Conservatives with deep pockets don’t like him, Mr. Nenshi reportedly told a closed-door fund-raiser Tuesday, they should run against him, not undermine councillors who are doing a good job.

When it comes to fund-raising potential, it is said here, it’s always useful to have a potential boogieman like Mr. Manning on the other side to concentrate your supporters’ minds – and if you don’t believe me, just watch this short video and see which well-known campaign mastermind pops out the door at the end, a very big grin on his face. If you don’t know his name, the answer is in the index.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.