All posts tagged NDP

Could Ric McIver still win the Alberta Tory leadership race? Actually, yes, he could!

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. All the money’s on Jim Prentice – but is it the smart money? Below: Ric McIver, Jim Prentice, Jim Dinning and Gary Mar.

CALGARY

Could Ric McIver actually win the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race?

Or, to put that another way, could Jim Prentice lose?

Maybe that seems like a theme for a political science fiction story to you. After all, Mr. Prentice – the former banker, corporate lobbyist and federal cabinet minister – is the choice of the PC establishment.

What’s more, he’s now backed by 49 of 59 PC Members of the Legislative Assembly. All the political oddsmakers say he’s a sure bet to win. He acts like a guy who’s on a holiday cruise to victory.

But if he astonished everyone by losing, he wouldn’t be the first front-runner preferred by the mighty PC establishment to drop the ball on voting night, would he?

As a matter of fact, he’d be the third in less than a decade! The fourth in a row if you want to count Ralph Klein’s victory over Nancy Betkowski in 1992, although that one seemed like more of a real contest at the time.

Alert readers will recall that in 2006 Jim Dinning’s ascension to the throne of Peter Lougheed appeared to be all but a certainty. The smart money was all on his candidacy. The PC establishment wanted the former Alberta provincial treasurer in the job – 38 caucus members supported him, compared with 13 for the next most popular candidate. The polls showed him leading by a mile. And all the hot Alberta political strategists were supposedly in his corner.

For his part, Mr. Dinning acted like a man on his way to an easy victory, and an easy general election after that.

Turned out Mr. Dinning was running a terrific general election campaign, visiting every riding in the province, reaching out to all kinds of Albertans. Alas for him, though, a leadership campaign is not a general election. The number of memberships you sell counts more than the number of ridings you visit.

Perhaps Mr. Dinning paid insufficient attention to the riding associations with the votes. Perhaps he didn’t concentrate on what die-hard Tories wanted, or where their loyalties actually lay. Whatever it was, when the dust had settled, a guy named Ed Stelmach was the premier. As we all asked at the time: Ed Who?

Then in 2011, after Mr. Stelmach said to heck with the abuse that automatically goes with the job of being premier, and after a short interregnum during which the party took a look at candidates like Ted Morton and Doug Horner, the smart money settled on Gary Mar.

Mr. Mar was a former minister under Mr. Klein, and tout le monde political Alberta reached the conclusion all at once that he was the front-runner, favoured by the Tory establishment and backed by some of the same hot political strategists who had worked for Mr. Dinning.

I don’t think that Mr. Mar’s ascension to the throne was ever seen as quite the sure thing Mr. Dinning’s appeared to be. Just the same, he had the most backing in caucus – 27 members compared with 14 for Mr. Horner and 11 for Dr. Morton. The smart money settled on him early and stayed there until the night in October on which the party selected … Alison Redford.

If you like, you can blame teachers and other public employees who bought party memberships to support Ms. Redford – whom they’d mistakenly decided was some kind of progressive. But, in their defence, buying memberships is what the PC Party asked them to do. What? It wasn’t supposed to make any difference?

As for the party establishment, Ms. Redford was backed by only one caucus member other than herself, and none of the party’s big movers and shakers.

Now, here it is 2014, Ms. Redford has been fired by her own caucus, Dave Hancock is premier pro tem, and Mr. Prentice is assumed by all the same people to be the front-runner with such a massive lead that no one could possibly catch him.

Mr. McIver, who seemed like he might have had a slight chance at the start, apparently shot himself in both feet by joining something called the March for Jesus last month. Remember that? When it turned out the organizers behind the march had some astonishingly homophobic views, the punditocracy reached the conclusion he was done like dinner. After all, the whole thing smacked of the Lake of Fire debacle, the discovery in 2012 of the undiplomatic blog post by an evangelical Wildrose candidate that appears to have sunk the Wildrose Party in the 2012 general election.

But are you sure? Don’t forget that Mr. McIver, the MLA for Calgary-Hayes, was well known in Calgary before his career in provincial politics as an alderman universally known as Dr. No – for his habit of saying no to spending proposals backed by other city councillors. I’m just saying, but it seldom hurts to have a nickname in politics.

In 2010, Mr. McIver ran for mayor of Calgary – and was favoured to win, so he knows what that’s like – and did well, even if he lost to a more liberal guy named Naheed Nenshi. The next year, he ran for the Legislature and got elected.

People all over Alberta – and especially in Calgary and the south – know who he is and what he stands for. A lot of them like that Dr. No stuff, and a fair number may even not have cared about – or noticed – the story about the March for Jesus.

Name recognition alone might not be enough to float his boat, but in the meantime, Mr. Prentice is campaigning a lot like … Jim Dinning.

He’s running a good general election campaign designed to persuade Alberta voters that he’s not scary and, even after the flip-flops and entitled behaviour of Alison Redford, he can be trusted.

That may work with the masses in Edmonton, where a lot of voters at the moment plan to vote NDP, and in Calgary, which seems to be leaning the Wildrose way nowadays. But how will it play in Ponoka? More importantly, how will it play inside the PC Party – where most activists are still plenty to the right of the general populace?

I don’t know about you, but at this point in the contest, it feels to me like Mr. Prentice’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep – and that he may have forgotten that in a party leadership race, memberships sold count for more than where they were sold.

Meanwhile, Albertans know who Ric McIver is, and a fair number of them may very well like what they see. Mr. McIver is capable of selling thousands of memberships in his south Calgary powerbase, not to mention to supporters of the March for Jesus.

Jim Prentice, the same people may ask … who’s he?

And you’ve got to admit, the whole PC leadership campaign sure hasn’t caught on fire – just yet, anyway. Blogger Dave Cournoyer called it the world’s most boring political leadership race, and I’d say he just about nailed it.

So could Ric McIver actually win?

It’s unlikely, I suppose. The Tory establishment isn’t going to make it easy for him. For one thing, there’s no way it wants to lose for a third time in a row … or a fourth if you count Mr. Klein, although that one worked out better for them.

And maybe I’m just a political blogger pipe dreaming about a race that’s actually interesting.

But the answer is yes, Mr. McIver could still win – notwithstanding the self-inflicted holes in both of his feet.

Could he go on to beat the Wildrose Party? That’s a story for another day.

And could Thomas Lukaszuk, the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and once Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and the owner of the best hair in Alberta politics, also pull off another “miracle on the prairies” and eke out a victory?

The answer to that one is easier: No.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

In one day, the ground shifts in Alberta politics in ways unexpected, sometimes uplifting, sometimes troubling

On March 23, Lewis Cardinal became the first nominated federal NDP candidate in Canada for the expected 2015 election. (Photo by Ben Lemphers, used with permission.) Yesterday he stepped aside in the face of undisclosed health problems. Below: Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.

What a strange day it was yesterday, at times uplifting, at times profoundly depressing, and at times just disorienting.

In the morning, Alberta suddenly dropped most aspects of its official homophobia. This less formal kind will continue to longer for a spell, of course, but as an issue for most Albertans it’s done like the family’s dinner.

At mid-day, the Opposition Wildrose Party – supposedly to the right of the governing Tories – announced that if it’s elected, it will end the Progressive Conservative government’s war on public sector workers and their unions by repealing Canada’s most anti-union legislation.

And at the end of the day we learned that Lewis Cardinal, one of the best NDP candidates in recent memory, was after years of hard work withdrawing from the race to become Member of Parliament for the Edmonton-Centre riding because of an undisclosed health issue.

Who would have thought even a few days ago that any of these things were on the radar?

While one can’t shake the feeling they were dragged to it, kicking and screaming, in the morning Premier pro tem Dave Hancock’s Legislative caucus voted in favour of changes to provincial laws that would remove the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The rule changes will also allow transgendered Albertans to change their birth certificates without having to prove they’d had gender-reassignment surgery. All three opposition parties, including the Wildrose, embarrassed by some of its own supporters’ homophobia in 2012, were already there.

The highly political preamble to the Marriage Act, containing the restrictive definition and a meaningless grumble about this history of marriage and the foundation of society, was introduced by the government of Ralph Klein in 2000 when the issue of same-sex marriage convulsed the province.

For a couple of years now, like pretty well everywhere else in North America, no one much really cared about this any more but for a few religious extremists and angry ninnies, a disproportionate number of whom seem to have time on their hands and access to social media. For the rest of us, “live and let live” and “get on with it” are the watchwords as Alberta reaches a consensus we have other priorities more worthy of our attention than meddling in people’s personal lives.

It will be harder for the PCs to change Bill 44, a holdover from the premiership of Ed Stelmach that tries to use the Human Rights Commission as a hammer to whack teachers who dare to teach about sexuality in the classroom. But this too will come.

No sooner had that been reported than the Wildrose Party released a statement on Bill 9, Finance Minister and would-be premier Doug Horner’s odious public service pension legislation that signals the end of the progressive coalition that saved the short-lived premiership of Alison Redford in the 2012 general election.

The statement, attributed in the Wildrose news release to Finance Critic Rob Anderson, broke new ground for the party’s leadership and indicated a willingness to try to build bridges to groups they had previously eyed warily.

“As usual, the PC government’s standard operating procedure on labour relations issues is that of bullying instead of good faith negotiations,” Mr. Anderson stated.

“Wildrose has long supported the view that contracts and agreements must be respected,” he went on. “That includes the pension arrangements promised to current public sector workers and pensioners who chose their careers in the public sector based, at least in part, on the promise of the current public pension arrangement.”

“Although we feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long term sustainability of public pensions, we believe that any such changes need to be negotiated openly and respectfully with union leadership, and that any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have yet to be hired, rather than those already employed or retired.”

Significantly, Mr. Anderson ended by promising not just to repeal Bill 9, but to dismantle the unconstitutional Bills 45 and 46, the first of which makes even talking about illegal strikes by public servants illegal, and the second which attempted to force the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees to accept a wage freeze by circumventing the collective bargaining process. That act is in abeyance for the moment thanks to a court injunction won by AUPE while it appeals the constitutionality of the bill.

“Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 9 if elected in 2016, along with Bills 45 and 46 which also unjustly ignore the legal rights of our public sector employees,” Mr. Anderson concluded.

This didn’t just come about without relationship building between the Wildrose leadership and that of AUPE, as first reported in this space.

Naturally, there are many in the union movement whose distrust of the Wildrose Party will make them suspicious of this promise – but it is clear and unequivocal enough, it is said here, that it would be hard for the party to back away from.

Progressive voters will have plenty to complain about if there is soon a Wildrose government in Alberta, but this position at least suggests that for the moment the party doesn’t intend to engage in open warfare with working people and public employees as the Redford-Hancock Government is doing.

Finally, around 6:30 p.m., media and bloggers were emailed the simple statement from Mr. Cardinal, who was such a promising and hardworking candidate.

“I would like to take this time to express deep appreciation to so many supporters and volunteers who have helped me in the federal riding of Edmonton Centre. Their commitment and energy demonstrates the passion for political change that is growing in Edmonton Centre and throughout our city,” Mr. Cardinal wrote.

“I have decided that due to personal and health reasons to step down as the nominated Federal candidate for the Edmonton Centre NDP. This decision was a very difficult one for me to make, but I know that a strong candidate will step forward to build the future that Edmonton Centre needs and deserves.

“I know the desire for change in Edmonton Centre is strong, and that the people here will continue to fight for the things we hold close to our hearts and the future we all wish to see.”

Less than a month ago, on March 26, Mr. Cardinal was nominated with great hope as the New Democratic Party’s first candidate for the next federal election. He had been campaigning in the riding for more than a year after a strong showing in the 2011 federal election. His announcement yesterday is very troubling, and not the first significant health setback to afflict the NDP in recent years.

The NDP will now have to scramble to find a candidate in a riding where a wide-open race was expected with Conservative MP Laurie Hawn retiring and a history of also electing Liberal members.

If yesterday proved anything it’s that the adage attributed to Britain’s Labour prime minister Harold Wilson in the 1970s, that a week is a long time in politics, considerably understates the matter. A single day can be a long time!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Battles in the ’Burbs: Independent St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber eyes formation of party as fund-raising vehicle

Independent MP Brent Rathgeber with machine gun, looking as if he could use some closer supervision, takes aim at the CBC. (Joke.) And, yes, that is Jack Layton with the other one. Below: Teddy Roosevelt. (That’s enough politicians with firearms! – Ed.)

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber – who since decamping from the federal Conservative Parliamentary caucus last June has become the Canadian media’s favourite Independent MP – has floated the idea of setting up his own political party.

When he’s not lecturing Canadians on the need to run the CBC as a charity or tilting at the prime minister’s incredible power-generation windmill, Mr. Rathgeber, 49, has taken to complaining locally about how hard it is for ambitious Independent candidates to raise money for their campaigns compared with members of national political parties.

No transfers of funds from party headquarters, dontcha know, when there’s no party headquarters to transfer funds!

Well, duh, one is tempted to say. Still, it’s news of a sort that Mr. Rathgeber, who seems determined to seek re-election, floated a party balloon a few days ago in the St. Albert Leader, a weekly newspaper in the riding.

While vowing never to join another established political party – the only ones in this part of the world available to a candidate with Mr. Rathgeber’s credentials and self esteem anyway being the Liberals and the New Democrats, who might not welcome a candidate of his views – the disaffected former Harper Tory suggested his local supporters were pondering the idea of “starting a local party purely for the purposes of fund-raising.”

“I will consult extensively with constituents before committing to a fledging political party,” Mr. Rathgeber promised cautiously, however.

Well, as one of Mr. Rathgeber’s constituents, here’s my two bits: Nobody’s had an idea quite this charming since Nova Scotia New Democrat Paul MacEwan got kicked out of the provincial Knee-Dip caucus in 1980 for calling the party’s leader a Trotskyite. (Or is that a Trotskyist, I can never remember.)

Anyway, Mr. MacEwan thereupon established the Cape Breton Labour Party in his hometown of Glace Bay and proceeded to thump the local NDP candidate and anyone else foolish enough to run against a local candidate who’d done his homework. Later, alas, Mr. MacEwan had to fold the CBLP, seeing as he was its only successful candidate. He ran, successfully once again, as an Independent.

Since 1990, Mr. MacEwan has been a Liberal, which I suppose is something to which Mr. Rathgeber could aspire, as there have always been lots of Liberals in St. Albert, which for years was almost French enough to support a candidate from the Bloc Quebecois!

Joining the Greens would be out of character, and the M-Party – readers know the one I mean – would be a problem for Alberta Diary, because every time I use that word this blog gets kicked off a bunch of corporate web browsers!

Anyway, if Mr. Rathgeber had asked me – which he never does, seeing as I don’t take him seriously enough – I would have encouraged this idea but advised him that, like an Internet domain, your party name is everything. It really needs appropriate political antecedents, a symbolic local touch, plus just a hint of ideology – which is why “Wildrose Party” is such a great name.

At the same time, one wants to avoid unintentionally hilarious acronyms – “Conservative-Reform Alliance Party,” springs to mind.

The only moose regularly spotted around here, unfortunately, is a cow, which would rule out the “Bull Moose Party,” which otherwise would be rather good even though it was already used before by a bunch of so-called progressives. Alas, about the only quality Mr. Rathgeber shares with Teddy Roosevelt is the thing about long guns.

Other animals seen regularly in these parts don’t led themselves as well to what Mr. Rathgeber seems to have in mind – all those coyotes in particular.

Political groups called Leagues always seem to end badly – Spartacus League, Social Credit League and the League of German Maidens, just for three examples. Worse, sooner or later, such groupings always seem to succumb to the temptation to wear matching shirts. (Red, green and white in the examples above, if memory serves.)

Personally, for Mr. Rathgeber, I lean toward something like the Big Lake And Sturgeon Ticket, which at least as a good acronym that won’t have to be changed two days later, and probably describes what’s going to happen to him in the next federal election.

I’m sure readers can do better, though, and I appeal to them to provide suggestions, which may be left here in the comments section for Mr. Rathgeber’s consideration.

Meanwhile, the race to replace Mr. Rathgeber as the Conservative MP for the renamed riding – which will henceforth be known as St. Albert-Edmonton – continues to generate mild interest locally.

Just today, declared candidate Ryan Hastman posted a blog designed to woo the ever-vocal St. Albert local business community away from lawyer and market fundamentalist ideologue Michael Cooper, who is the favourite of the entire local Tory party establishment, provincial and federal.

Provincial Tories seem to like Mr. Cooper because, unlike Mr. Hastman, he has never flirted with the Wildrose Party – although, these days, having the Wildrose vote in suburban Edmonton may turn out to be more useful if Mr. Hastman becomes the candidate.

Mr. Hastman, who ran for the federal Tories against unassailable New Democrat Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona in 2011, promised to set up a small business advisory council and, by implication, buy Chamber of Commerce members coffee and donuts a couple of times every month.

Other names mooted about in the St. Albert contest include Kevin Tam, a Conservative who worked for the Alberta Liberal Party, and Alex Tsang, who has a Facebook page.

Others are certain to surface soon, though, as the Conservative nomination hereabouts is assumed among party stalwarts, lulled by years of easy successes, to be a go-directly-to-Parliament ticket once the party cadres’ decision is sent to voters for a pro forma ratification

 

Calgary Conservative Ron Liepert makes attempt to knock off Rob Anders official

Well, the Calgary rumble on the right reported in Alberta Diary on Jan. 7 is on. Former AM radio disk jockey and Alberta Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Ron Liepert made it official yesterday by issuing a press release and launching a website saying he’ll challenge Calgary West MP Rob Anders for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in the newly redistributed Calgary Signal Hill riding.

Mr. Liepert, an MLA in the PC governments of Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, who served the latter two premiers in important cabinet posts, floated the trial balloon on a website called “timetodobetter.ca,” which he said yesterday had had received 3,000 visits. He apparently judges that to be enough to go after the person best known as Canada’s Worst MP.

Both men are formidable campaigners with reputations for a lack of diplomacy that borders at times on outright crankiness – although, when it comes to being a crank, Mr. Anders has got to be the champ.

For this reason, the nomination fight promises to be highly entertaining, as long as non-Tory voters in the riding aren’t seduced by the notion Mr. Liepert’s fundamental economic views are really any different from Mr. Anders’.

Nevertheless, despite the fact Mr. Liepert is the toughest opponent Mr. Anders will have faced in his political career, the smart money should probably remain on Mr. Anders, the only Canadian MP to vote against honourary citizenship for Nelson Mandela. Mr. Anders appears to enjoy Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s quiet support and the backing of suburban Calgary’s obviously comatose electors.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

NDP-Grit coalition to defeat Rob Anders? Unlikely! This is a Tory civil war

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, glares at Rob Anders, far right (as it were), Canada’s Worst MP, as challenger Ron Liepert, centre, with an unidentified vole who is not authorized to speak on the record, look on. Actual Alberta politicians may not appear exactly as illustrated, but pretty much. Below: The real Rob Anders, asleep on the job.

It’s hard to fault Rob Anders for framing his intramural opponents in the new Calgary Signal Hill riding as a conspiracy of Liberals, New Democrats and Red Tories.

After all, it’s a well-established fact that nothing frightens Calgary voters quite as much as the idea of a coalition of Dippers and Grits.

As for the idea of Red Tories, it’s not at all certain such a thing even exists in the Canada of 2014, or if it ever did in Alberta if you don’t count Joe Clark.

So the National Post’s Jen Gerson is almost certainly right when she says Mr. Anders can never be beaten by a Red Tory, but only by a Real Red Meat Conservative. But so what? That describes almost everybody in this province. Certainly former Alberta cabinet minister Ron Liepert, the first candidate to emerge as an Anders challenger in 2014, but pretty well everyone else as well – including some of the New Democrats around here!

But dismissing your enemies as mythical Red Tories sure proved to be a great way for the provincial branch of Mr. Anders’ Conservative Party of Canada, which goes by the name Wildrose, to differentiate its brand from the ideologically identical Progressive Conservative Party of Premier Alison Redford.

So surely, Mr. Anders has sensibly concluded, what has worked so well against the provincial PCs for Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith can work for him against the PC friends of Ms. Redford, whom he loathes, but for reasons wholly unrelated to ideology.

And as the Member of Parliament widely acknowledged to be Canada’s Worst MP, by no less an authority that the normally subservient Calgary Herald, website of record right in his own city, Mr. Anders is vulnerable.

It’s not just that Mr. Anders is incompetent, which he manifestly is. Still, there are MPs who are more incompetent. And it’s not just that he’s a buffoon, which is also an obvious truth. Nevertheless, bigger buffoons sit in the House of Commons. Nor is it that he’s a bigot, and distinctly a weirdo. All true too, yet both categories in which he is surpassed by others.

It’s the whole, as it were, that’s somehow greater than the sum of Mr. Anders’ parts. Like Toronto Mayor Ford, he is sui generis – utterly unique – which is how his qualities mysteriously add up to his being the worst MP in Parliament.

Since the whole world seems to be coming to recognize this, in one way it might make a more sensible challenger attractive to voters in Cowtown, especially if new riding boundaries force him to run in a different electoral district.

On the other hand, because Mr. Ford has prepared the way so effectively, it may at least give Mr. Anders something to do in the unlikely event one of the challengers now sure to follow Mr. Liepert out of the woodwork manages to topple him.

Americans obviously find entertainment value in bizarre and dysfunctional Canadian politicians, and a professional virgin who once worked as a foreign political saboteur in of all places Oklahoma, never mind his opinions about Nelson Mandela and Vladimir Putin, should give Mr. Anders an opportunity for a star turn south of the Medicine Line if his long Canadian gig should end in tears.

But despite all this, it needs to be said that no sensible Canadian New Democrat or Liberal, except perhaps some of those few who live in his Calgary riding, want Mr. Anders to fall to another Tory.

And so we need to recognize that Mr. Anders’ claim the NDP and Calgary Grits are part of the conspiracy against him, is not just a reach, but manifest nonsense, no matter how many times the local media repeats it for him.

Ask yourself this: Why would Liberals and New Democrats, on their own or acting in concert, hope for Mr. Anders to lose to another Tory, let alone work to see that it happens? After all, given the inclinations of voters in that part of Calgary, they know a virtually identical if better-behaved Conservative will win anyway.

On the other hand, from the NDP and Liberal perspective, an Anders victory in Calgary Signal Hill is immensely superior to his loss in a nomination fight. It sends the message to voters in the rest of Canada who might be leaning toward casting a Conservative ballot that the Tory caucus is peopled by extremists and crackpots, and that voters in the Tory heartland of Alberta do not provide a very good example to the rest of the country.

Opponents like Mr. Liepert, who are true friends of the Conservative Party and its neoliberal policies, recognize that Mr. Anders’ election to the House of Commons is not merely an embarrassment, but constitutes a threat to the Conservative Party’s ability to remain in power – because there’s more to Canada, thank God, than just Alberta.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s private view is not all that different, I suspect. For all his cautious statements of friendship with the MP from the riding next door, you’ll notice that the PM has never given Mr. Anders a post in his cabinet.

Sensible Dippers and Grits recognize that helping another Tory defeat Mr. Anders accomplishes nothing, and that keeping him in view of the public has certain benefits.

Ergo, there is no Liberal-NDP conspiracy to bring down Canada’s Worst MP.

No, this is a Tory civil war and nothing more. Mr. Anders hates Ms. Redford and anyone associated with her because in 2004 she challenged him for his job. Mr. Liepert was her campaign manager in that effort.

Civil wars are held in the popular imagination to be the worst wars of all. But still, as wise old Quaker told me many years ago, “we Friends hate all war, of course, but at least in a civil war … you know who the real bastards are!”

No, the job of Liberals and New Democrats and Greens in Calgary Signal Hill is to find a way to defeat the Conservative candidate, whether or not his name is Rob Anders.

That will take a miracle, but, who knows, between them, perhaps Mr. Anders’ camp and Ms. Redford’s can deliver it!

But if a Conservative has to be elected anywhere in Canada, better it be someone like Mr. Anders than someone with an ounce of common sense!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Hell freezes over in Alberta: Right-wing Wildrose Party sides with unions, sort of, over unconstitutional Tory bills

AUPE President Guy Smith, left, with Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson on the steps of the Alberta Legislature last night. Below: Part of the crowd … the pots and pans start to come out. 

With blizzard conditions prevailing throughout most of Alberta today, it was still a surprise when the right-wing Wildrose Party issued a news release supporting the province’s largest union and promising if it is elected it will undo much of the damage done by the Redford Government’s unconstitutional Bills 45 and 46.

Talk about the proverbial strange political bedfellows!

There was considerable discussion in some of Alberta’s more cynical quarters late yesterday about whether Hell actually had frozen over, or if it was merely the perfect (snow) storm that led to this unusual alliance. Of course, the most deeply cynical ventured the opinion it was all a snow job.

Regardless, as alert readers of this blog will recall, not very long ago it was revealed here the 80,000-plus-member Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the province’s largest union and the specific victim of the contract imposed in the vindictive Bill 46, seemed to be tilting toward the Wildrose Party.

Perhaps it was merely a matter of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but AUPE’s leadership seemed to have concluded a Wildrose government led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith could hardly be worse and might be considerably better than the one we have now, led by Premier Alison Redford’s supposedly Progressive Conservative Party.

Now it appears that the attraction may be mutual. This is a circumstance that spells extreme danger for the Ms. Redford’s PC Party – especially for dozens of MLAs from rural and small-town ridings who won in April 2012 by narrow pluralities that were buoyed by strategic ballots cast by progressive voters who feared the Wildrose was too far to the right even for Alberta. Many of those voters were public sector union members.

No one is suggesting here that core Wildrose beliefs have changed – notwithstanding the party’s recent reconstitution as the kinder, gentler Mildrose Party – but Ms. Smith and her House Leader and Finance Critic, Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson, have clearly found a way to square their fundamental beliefs with those of AUPE.

The Wildrose news release, issued over Mr. Anderson’s name, states that “the Wildrose believes strongly in respecting the rule of law and upholding contracts including collective bargaining agreements. Negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that is fair for taxpayers is an important goal; however, it does not give the government the right to terminate the legal arbitration rights of public sector employees.”

“In 1977, Premier Peter Lougheed provided public sector employees the right to binding arbitration as an alternative to removing their right to strike,” Mr. Anderson said, seemingly picking up on some of AUPE’s talking points. “We believe that this was and still is a fair compromise that should be upheld.

“For these reasons” – and this is the important part of the release – “the Wildrose will be actively opposing Bill 46 in the Legislature and will repeal Bill 46 and reinstate those lost arbitration rights should Wildrose form government in 2016.”

That’s pretty specific, and it would be a difficult promise to break.

On Bill 45, which in part attacks the free speech rights of all Albertans, the Wildrose statement was more cagey: “We will also be proposing Bill 45 amendments that protect the free speech rights of individual public sector workers to express opposition to the decisions or tactics of government, while supporting provisions in the Bill that deter the organization of illegal strikes by union leadership. It should be noted, however, there are already laws prohibiting illegal strikes including an expedited court process to end them, which is why the timing of Bill 45 is counterproductive as it unnecessarily creates suspicion and bad faith during the negotiation process.”

Indeed, why the PCs have done this just now, when there is no reason for it, remains something of a mystery – although one Edmonton mainstream media columnist advanced the theory yesterday that it’s all about me! Leastways, according to Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, a University of Alberta law professor has argued “the new legislation … is designed in part to intimidate high-profile, labour affiliated bloggers such as Dave Climenhaga and Dave Cournoyer.”

Well, that’s highly complimentary theory, of course, and all the more reason the readership of this blog should grow – but I nevertheless remain skeptical. It’s about shutting up everyone!

Getting back to the Wildrose release, its commentary on Bill 45 suggests the Opposition party would keep some of the harsher punishments for any public sector unions that permitted an illegal strike to take place. Nevertheless, the taking of a much more moderate position on this issue by the Official Opposition is a significant development in Alberta politics.

AUPE and other Canadian public sector unions have historically not been able to tell their members whom to vote for – nor has AUPE ever tried very hard. But AUPE certainly can suggest whom they should not vote for with a higher likelihood of success.

I can tell you that about 650 members of AUPE and other public sector unions cheered Mr. Anderson, who had been warmly introduced by AUPE President Guy Smith, when he addressed their rally in the bitter cold and snow yesterday evening, reading from his press release on the steps of the Legislature Building in Edmonton.

Notwithstanding the anger over Bills 45 and 46, very large numbers of members of AUPE and other public sector unions are already furious at the Redford Government for its plans to gut their pensions in a scheme announced in mid-September.

The pension plan changes announced by Finance Minister Doug Horner on Sept. 16 would significantly decrease the value of the plans for new members, and in some scenarios could even threaten the viability of benefits for pensioners and those closer to retirement.

Not only are about 300,000 Albertans directly impacted by the pension changes, most of them in AUPE and three other large unions, about 80 per cent of those people are married. That is a very significant number of voters who are now paying close attention to what the PCs say as they grow increasingly worried about their retirement income.

Mr. Horner’s pension changes provide a persuasive argument to this group, represented in every riding in Alberta, to quit supporting the Tories, who are increasingly perceived as untrustworthy, and take their votes to either more progressive parties like the New Democrats and the Alberta Liberals, or to the Wildrose Party.

In Edmonton, which is certain to be a key battleground in the election promised by Ms. Redford’s party for 2016, any riding that swings to the NDP or the Liberals will be doing a favour for the Wildrose if the Opposition party can hang onto its stronghold in rural southern Alberta.

And the impression the Redford Government is not trustworthy was hardly improved yesterday when the PC Speaker of the House, Gene Zwozdesky, found it in contempt of the Legislature for distributing a leaflet that announced public employees’ pay had been frozen – before MLAs had a chance to vote on the freeze.

No wonder with all this going on, the Opposition party has also recently produced a cute video cajoling current PC members to of the Legislature “c’mon over” to the Wildrose caucus – which, they allege, “will allow you to be you.”

The Wildrose caucus is a “pretty friendly crowd,” and, what’s more, “we’re awesome,” say some of the Wildrose MLAs who appear in the short video, which was first reported on Mr. Cournoyer’s blog.

Whether the Wildrose is more fun than being a tiny cog in the Tory machine or not, there’s a feeling in Alberta again that voters want change, and the PC Party’s decision to abandon its winning centrist alliance to woo its most reactionary elements makes change more likely, not less so.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets?

More than 1,000 union members and their supporters gathered at the Alberta Legislature last night to continue protests against the Redford Government’s Bill 45, which as well as attacking unions assaults Albertans’ Charter-guaranteed right to free speech. Below: Unexpected speaker Joe Anglin; a red square from Quebec. Make it black, pin it on, leave it there till Redford’s gone!

Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets?

Don’t laugh! This may be Alberta, but there’s a growing consensus across all parts of the political spectrum that the lying liars of the Redford Government have to go.

Alberta’s 42-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty’s insiders have been arrogant and in possession of a healthy sense of entitlement for a long, long time, but it’s only recently many citizens have really begun to realize just how high-handed, dictatorial, paranoid and out of touch with normal Canadian values this government has become.

Never mind that they have littered the frozen ground of Alberta with their broken promises, large and small. The real problem is their thuggish reaction now that more and more ordinary voters are figuring just how bad this government is.

Consider the assault on free speech squirrelled away in Bill 45, the so-called Public Sector Services Continuation Act, one of two pieces of heavy handed and unconstitutional anti-labour legislation introduced by Premier Alison Redford’s government on Wednesday.

If you’re a typical Albertan who doesn’t really have a deep love for public service unions and their members, this should nevertheless concern you.

Bill 45 sets out a series of vicious penalties for unions that hold, or even talk about in undefined and possibly imagined ways, “illegal strikes” in the public sector.

The penalties are designed to immediately crush any union in which even a small number of members dares to strike, even for a few hours, even over an issue of worker health and safety or to draw attention to cuts in service caused by government policy. The goal, obviously, is to terrify and paralyze union leadership and stifle dissent.

But to do that you must, to be blunt about it, suppress free expression.

So, while the bill is mostly careful to restrict penalties to union members and officers, on the always dangerous question of free speech, it extends its attack to “any person” who says the wrong thing to a civil servant – you know, like a blogger, newspaper editorialist or family member saying “the right to strike is fundamental” or “you ought to strike” to a public employee.

Presumably it would also snare members of the public who showed up on an “illegal” picket line, or members of other unions not subject to this thuggish legislation who joined a picket out of solidarity.

The penalty? Oh, only $500 a day or partial day for every time you exercise your constitutional right to free speech.

“The key issue here is that if someone uninvolved with a union (say a newspaper editor or an academic) says, ‘the workers’ only recourse is an illegal strike,’ that could well be construed as counselling workers or trade unionists to violate ss.4(1-2), which is a violation of s.4(4),” wrote Athabasca University Professor Bob Barnetson in his excellent labour issues blog yesterday.

“So,” asked Barnetson, “what happens to the editor or academic? Well, s.18(1) says that if you violate s.4(4) you are guilty of an offence. Under s.18(1)(d), the editor or academic would be liable for a fine of $500 a day per day of the contravention. Section 20(a) says that prosecution may occur within 1 year of the last day the offense occurred.

“So riddle me this,” he went on. “If Bill 45 had been the law before the jail-guard strike went down this spring and I made a blog post (primarily aimed at students) that suggested the guards had no choice but to strike since the employer would not address the health and safety issues at the (then) new remand centre (which is a reasonable conclusion to draw) and the employees illegally struck and I left the post up, I would remain open to prosecution for an offense indefinitely for a fine of $500 a day?”

They can’t be serious, you wonder – or more likely, that can’t be right. Well, read the act yourself and see what you think.

“What is this,” I heard an ordinary citizen wonder today, “Russia?” Actually, nowadays I think Russians have more rights than ordinary Albertans!

Remember, these are the same clowns who proposed just weeks ago to jail elected municipal councillors who had the temerity to hand over information desired by one of the government’s planned new regional governments without sufficient alacrity. That one got nipped in the bud, largely because the government party’s own municipal farm team raised merry hell about it.

The act also proposes to fine individual workers – say, employees resisting orders to work in unsafe conditions in violation of their right to refuse unsafe work – a day’s pay for every day they refuse to work.

Unintentional consequences of these tactics will include resistance through worker sabotage and vicious compliance. As Professor Barnetson points out elsewhere, “one of the knock-on effects of alienated workers is that quality of the work performed by government workers is likely to decline. … There may even be individual or small-group efforts at resistance – because employees have no other way to express their frustration and no confidence that their collective bargaining process is meaningful.”

Of course, like Professor Barnetson, if I say this in this space after the Redford PCs have rammed Bill 45 through the Legislature next week, I’ll probably be in violation of the law.

And once it’s been rushed through, without a sober second thought from the Borg Hive on the government benches, the province can piss away our money unsuccessfully defending the obvious Charter violations all the way to the Supreme Court, if the Supreme Court even deigns to hear them.

Wednesday afternoon about 400 trade unionists gathered in the cold to protest at the Alberta Legislature. Yesterday after work, about 1,300 people were there.

In addition to the NDP caucus, a couple of Alberta Liberal MLAs and a representative of the seatless Alberta Party, for the first time there was a speaker from the Wildrose caucus – Opposition front-bencher Joe Anglin.

So while the government certainly hopes temperatures will fall and the protest will peter out, something tells me this law is outrageous enough that continued protest has legs – even with people who normally don’t support unions.

Indeed, I’ve been hearing the suggestion we should start wearing little squares of cloth like they did in Quebec last year.

As happened in response to the student tuition protesters in Quebec in 2012, this Alberta government has attacked everyone’s rights in an effort to crush an effective opposition movement.

It’s something you could do whether you’re a New Democrat, a Liberal, a Wildroser, a union member, a student, or just a citizen who’d like your fundamental Charter rights to be left alone by these goons. Just wear a little black square of cloth – since, obviously, red is out of the question under the circumstances.

And keep wearing it until these people have been run out of office! What are they going to do? Say that you’re advocating an illegal strike?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Disillusioned by Tory hard line, one union’s ad campaign suggests tilt toward Wildrose

“The Alberta Way,” a hard-hitting 30-second TV spot from the province’s largest union, attacks the Redford Government’s broken promises and hard-right policies. It will go into heavy rotation on Monday. Below: Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith; PC Environment Minister Diana McQueen.

Never mind for the moment which of Alberta’s right-wing parties has the worse ideas about climate change, grudging support for the Opposition Wildrose Party is beginning to bloom in surprisingly progressive places.

Maybe calling it support puts it a little too strongly, but there’s a dawning sense in many progressive quarters in Alberta that a Wildrose government led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith could hardly be worse and might even be better than the one we have now, led by Premier Alison Redford’s supposedly Progressive Conservative Party.

Indeed, as Premier Redford’s government attacks public employee pensions, slashes funding to public education, leaves Alberta Health Services in a shambles, and (according to widespread rumours) prepares legislation to impose a Ralph-Klein-style multi-year wage freeze on public employees, many members of the liberal coalition that saved Ms. Redford’s party from the surging Wildrosers last year have reached the bitter conclusion they were had.

That realization takes concrete form Monday when the 82,000-member Alberta Union of Provincial Employees launches a hard-hitting TV advertising campaign that all but calls Premier Redford and her government liars.

“Here’s to working hard, talking straight and keeping your promises,” says the 30-second TV ad, which will be in heavy rotation for 30 days throughout Alberta, starting Monday. “You could call it the Alberta Way.”

“We appreciate it in each other … and in our leaders,” says the narrator. “So we notice when our premier doesn’t keep her promises, when government leaves our most vulnerable to fend for themselves, and young people without the advantages their parents enjoyed. In this province, we can do better. Let’s do things the Alberta Way…”

It is said here it’s no coincidence this advertisement is hitting the airwaves within 24 hours of a Wildrose policy conference in Red Deer at which the Opposition party seems likely to jettison all of the most offensive policies that contributed to its defeat in 2012.

Gone by Monday, it seems certain, will be any vestiges of Wildrose opposition to sexual minority rights, human rights commissions and allowing medical professionals to opt out of providing services for reasons of conscience.

In her speech to 500 party members last night, moreover, Ms. Smith changed her tune on climate change and mocked the Redford Government’s inaction on the file. PC Environment Minister Diana McQueen has been attacking the Wildrose Party on climate change, Ms. Smith asserted, “because there’s been absolutely no progress by her party.”

Wildrose members are also expected to obediently pass two resolutions today calling for climate change action.

Progressive voters are justified in wondering if the Wildrosers really mean any of this stuff, or if they’re just mouthing platitudes to improve their electoral chances in the next go-round.

On the other hand, with the Redford Government enacting policies that are in many instances to the right of what could have been expected from the Wildrose Party, they’ve already seen pretty conclusive evidence Ms. Redford didn’t mean it when she promised to support public services and find common ground with moderate voters.

Alberta unions like AUPE have never had much success telling their members to vote for the New Democratic Party.

Through these TV ads, though, AUPE at least now seems to be telegraphing its members that it’s OK for them not to vote PC to keep the Wildrose out of power – giving its progressive members the nod to go ahead and support the NDP and many of its cautiously conservative members the blessing to vote Wildrose in the next election.

This is no small thing. In the short term, the Redford Government is likely to respond to AUPE’s gambit, estimated to cost at least $700,000, with fury.

A statement posted on a well-known news aggregation site by a writer with ties to AUPE that “time is running out” for Ms. Redford “to change course and become the premier she promised Albertans she’d be” is likely to inflame the government, which after 42 years in power is not used to opposition.

Down the line, the government is sure to resurrect what blogger Dave Cournoyer calls the “ooga-booga-the-Wildrose-is-scary” approach that worked in the last election.

But that strategy may be far harder to sell with the Wildrose moderating its scariest positions, the Redford Tories acting scarier than the Wildrose, and the province’s largest union opting out of the shaky coalition of convenience with the PCs.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Coming soon, perhaps, a legitimate reason for Canadians to thank Conrad Black!

Linda McQuaig addresses the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees annual convention in 2008. (AUPE photo taken by Daryl Dyck.) Below: Conrad Black in the uniform of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, and not, as you may have thought, that of a security guard.

It occurs to me that we Canadians may soon actually have something for which we can be grateful to Conrad Black!

I know that for most readers of this blog this will come as an astonishing thought. Indeed, it would be fair to describe this as a unique development in the long and rocky relationship between Canada and Lord Black.

Still, should Linda McQuaig emerge on the evening of Nov. 25 as the next Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre, surely his Lordship will deserve a small portion of the credit!

Ms. McQuaig, a prolific and talented author and journalist, is well known today as one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals. Indeed, even the National Post recently admitted that is so – although accompanied by the claim she’s only one of “very few well-known public intellectuals of the Canadian left.”

This, it should be noted, is not because of any shortage of Canadian intellectuals of the left, rather the well-known propensity on loony-right journals like the Pest to refuse to give them any ink – or electrons or whatever it is one gets nowadays from what’s left of the media.

At any rate, for many years Ms. McQuaig been an effective critic of the corporate domination of everything, and more recently she been chosen by the New Democratic Party to bear its orange banner in the by-election in Toronto West, where she lives, and where a vote is scheduled to take place on Nov. 25 to replace the now-retired but never retiring Bob Rae, a Liberal with a New Democratic history.

Ms. McQuaig is a credible and creditable candidate for the federal Opposition party, notwithstanding the Pest columnist’s tendentious, as it were, attempt to sow fear and division in the NDP ranks by arguing she has flip-flopped insufficiently to suit the Organized Right, and by all accounts now has an opportunity to bring her considerable rhetorical talents to the national stage.

Lord Black, meanwhile, a former newspaper owner and former Canadian citizen, is known as one of Canada’s leading public intellectual nuisances.

Lately, His Lordship has been whiling away his hours writing increasingly soporiferous and, his age notwithstanding, sophomoric columns about how the United States is finished, washed up, done like dinner owing to the fact President Barack Obama is so un-presidentially hesitant to drop bombs on new Middle Eastern countries.

Lord Black is able to reach a large audience for this gloomy piffle apparently owing to his prominent role in the establishment of the National Pest, mentioned above, the signally vexatious website that got its start and still has a lingering half life as a print publication of the sort once used to wrap fried fish in the days before the ingestion of printer’s ink had been recognized as a serious health hazard.

Lately, for some reason, Lord Black also has been championing the cause of prison reform, an unexpected point in his favour.

Regardless, it was Lord Black who far back in the day opined that Ms. McQuaig ought to be “horsewhipped” for something she had written that offended his Lordship’s tender sensibilities.

On another occasion he dismissed her as a “weedy and not very bright, leftist reporter,” a comment Ms. McQuaig recalled in a Toronto Star piece a few years ago that apparently prompted some of her friends to suggest she sue him for libel.

“But there was the problem of proving his attack had damaged me,” Ms. McQuaig confessed in the Star on, appropriately enough one supposes, Bastille Day 2007. “In truth, it’s hard to imagine where my career as an anti-establishment author would be today without such colourful swats from Canada’s most flagrant and widely detested business tycoon.”

Our dual Houses of Parliament have been the home of late to rather too many Conservative journalists whose idea of literary achievement is filling out their Senate expense claims or Tweeting twaddle about the Tory Party’s high ethical standards in that same chamber.

Having someone like Ms. McQuaig in Parliament, it is said here, would brighten the benighted hallways of that institution considerably and do much to improve the reputation of the journalistic trade as well.

That may be why Mr. Rae’s present party, as opposed to his former one, has chosen another fine journalist to represent it in the same riding – Chrystia Freeland, who like Ms. McQuaig once worked for the Globe and Mail.

But, really, can Ms. Freeland claim to have been insulted by Conrad Black. I thought not! 

Surely that alone, not to mention the intellectual and literary accomplishments that set apparently envious Pest columnists to dispensing hysterical and dyspeptic fulminations, should be sufficient to decide the contest in Ms. McQuaig’s favour!

And if she wins on Nov. 25? Well, given his contribution to that development, perhaps someone will nominate Lord Black to the Order of Canada for at last providing a service to his former nation and present home.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

All lawbreakers will be punished … unless they happen to be Alberta Conservatives

“’Ave you got a leesence for your minkey?” An investigator for Elections Alberta pauses momentarily in his probe of political donations made to the Progressive Conservative Party by seeing-eye monkeys. If you don’t get it, I can’t help you. Actual Elections Alberta investigators by now have likely been transferred back to plain clothes. Below: Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, retired Chief Elections Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim and drugstore billionaire Daryl Katz.

In Alberta, lawbreakers must be punished, and they will be punished – unless, of course, they happen to be supporters of the ruling Progressive Conservative Party.

So, the government announced yesterday, it will be going after the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for the full cost of the wildcat strike by 2,500 jail guards – a figure the government ministers were somewhat fancifully suggesting yesterday will be about $6 million.

In addition, on top of the $350,000 in fines AUPE has already paid, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis was promising to use Alberta’s primitive labour laws to refuse to collect union dues from thousands of AUPE members who had nothing whatsoever to do with the strike for six months. That could cost AUPE another $8 million or so.

However, also yesterday, the Alberta government was delighted to learn nobody broke any laws when Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative party accepted a donation of $430,000 on a single cheque from drugstore and pro-hockey bazillionaire Daryl Katz seven days before the April 2012 election.

Now, Alberta election law states that no individual, corporation or union may make a donation larger than $30,000 during an election year, so as a layperson you might have thought a $430,000 cheque from one person was pretty strong prima facie evidence that something wasn’t quite kosher.

But don’t worry about it, said a report by Chief Electoral Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim that was released yesterday, everything was OK because the Katz Group sent along a letter explaining that the donation was really just a convenient way to deliver personal gifts from Mr. Katz and 17 of his friends, relatives and business associates.

Mr. Fjeldheim had hired a retired judge and a couple of private dicks to look into whether the rules were broken or merely bent when Mr. Katz turned up at PC Headquarters in the final desperate hours of the 2012 election campaign, when it looked very much as if the Wildrose Party was about to win.

Based on that investigation, Mr. Fjeldheim – who is a long-time Tory stalwart and Chamber of Commerce president from Vegreville in former premier Ed Stelmach’s riding – said he was satisfied that each of the contributors had made the donations from their own funds. You see, Mr. Fjeldheim explained, each of the contributors repaid Katz Group Properties Inc. some time later.

Premier Redford herself and Mr. Denis were quick to declare the ruling meant the story was over.

“None of the people the Opposition has repeatedly maligned throughout this entire province over the last few months were found in any responsible, they were completely vindicated,” Mr. Denis huffed.

“Mr. Katz has been vindicated,” echoed a spokesperson for the billionaire in a statement. (Or, maybe Mr. Denis was echoing the spokesperson. Whatever!)

Actually, one of the 17 donors was found to have broken the rules. You see, the Katz Group’s chief financial officer lives in Ontario, and non-Albertans aren’t allowed to make donations in this province. A donation from the same fellow’s professional corporation, though, was ruled A-OK.

His penalty? They put a stiff letter on his file!

“I just don’t see how they could have made this finding,” said a bemused Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason. But if Mr. Mason, or anyone else, would like to ask Mr. Fjeldheim any questions about the investigation, well, forget it! You see, Mr. Fjeldheim retired last month, and he’s not taking phone calls.

Speaking of unions, as we were a few minutes ago, can you imagine what would have happened if the $430,000 donation had been made to Mr. Mason’s NDP in the form of a cheque from, oh, say, the AUPE, and that the union has said it was really just a convenient way to deliver donations from a few dozen of its members?

You’d hear the cries of rage and hysteria all the way to Newfoundland! And do you think for an instant Elections Alberta would have ruled everything was just hunky-dory with the donation? Please!

Well, never mind children. Laws can be twisted into the shape of pretzels when it suits our rulers in this province, or ignored altogether for that matter.

As Dave Hancock, Alberta’s de facto labour minister explained the PC government’s thinking last month: “People should be able to organize their lives the way they want to, and if it’s more convenient for them to contribute through their company than personally, I don’t have a problem with that.” As previously noted, this convenience factor is unlikely to apply to union members.

Meanwhile, if you think this means you can break a law that they do find convenient, especially if it concerns something as insignificant as your right to work in a safe place and go home at the end of your shift in one piece, well, guess again.

That said, all the Redford Government’s blustering about what it’s going to do to AUPE may not be as simple as likes of Mr. Denis and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk make it sound – owing to the fact we still live under the federal constitution bequeathed in part to us by Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

One can understand the government’s wish to make it appear as if it didn’t blink first, especially after all the noise Mr. Lukaszuk made about not negotiating with lawbreakers.

But to proceed with its plans in any way except by unconstitutional legislative fiat, it will have to prove in a court somewhere its unlikely claim the strike cost $1.3 million a day, and that the dues suspension should be applied to workers who did not participate in the strike.

This could take years and cost taxpayers millions with no guarantee of success – although I suppose Premier Redford’s political brain trust may have concluded swaggering about it now and spending our money on it later may pay off in the next election.

But remember, Alberta Health Services and its predecessor organizations never managed to impose on AUPE the dues suspension they demanded for an illegal auxiliary nurses’ strike in May 2000 – and that one was over money, not workplace safety.

If you’re wondering about all these illegal strikes, by the way, I guess that’s what happens in a jurisdiction where most strikes are illegal – and employees’ concerns are treated with disdain.

Regardless, the important lesson from today’s two big stories is quite simple: In PC Alberta, the law must be obeyed, unless you’re a Conservative and you don’t feel like it.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Mysterious 2011 review of Alberta Labour Code explained – corporate influence, of course!

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, right, speaks to yesterday’s AFL news conference at the Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. Your faithful blogger can be glimpsed at the far right. Beside him, the CBC’s Charles Rusnell. Below: Rusnell, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason.

Back in the summer of 2011, as Ed Stelmach’s reign as premier of Alberta ground toward its inevitable terminal moment, then-employment-minister Thomas Lukaszuk sent around a letter advising stakeholders he was about to commence a review of the Alberta Labour Code.

It had to be done, said the minister responsible for the province’s labour portfolio, “to ensure we remain competitive over the longer term.”

Major players in Alberta’s labour movement found this development disquieting, not because the Code doesn’t need revising, but because no one in labour had any idea how such a thought had come to enter the minister’s normally relatively empty headspace.

No one connected with a labour union had been given a hint anything was up – with the sole exception, it turned out, of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, a group condemned in labour circles as an employer-dominated union that works hand in glove with construction employers.

It also seemed like an odd time to launch a review, with the government about to change leaders. Moreover, the make-up of the two-member review panel hardly inspired confidence – a lawyer with tight connections to the Progressive Conservative government and another known for his anti-union views.

So union leaders could be forgiven for wondering what the heck was happening.

Now we know – thanks to some assiduous research work by the Alberta Federation of Labour and some investigative journalism undertaken by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Yesterday morning, CBC Edmonton investigative reporter Charles Rusnell revealed a tangled web of unregistered lobbying, donations to the Progressive Conservative government and Premier Alison Redford’s leadership campaign, and behavior by a well-connected coalition of construction companies and anti-union contractors that one lawyer quoted by the CBC suggested “crosses the line in the Criminal Code bribery provisions.”

Regardless of the merits of that claim, for sure substantial donations were made to the PCs and there was intense lobbying by the group, made up of companies and individuals who with one exception were not registered as lobbyists.

It appears quite clear from the correspondence uncovered by the AFL researcher that members of the group, which termed itself the “Construction Competitiveness Coalition,” tried to tie generous support of the PC Party to specific changes in legislation, namely the Labour Code, desired by member companies.

Many of the changes the CCC wanted were clearly designed to put construction trade unions out of business. The Code as currently written, they claimed at the time, was “making Alberta companies uncompetitive,” which likely explains where Mr. Lukaszuk got his breezy explanation for his actions.

The evidence reported by the CBC yesterday also suggests several influential government members – including then-premier Stelmach, Premier Redford and Mr. Lukaszuk – enthusiastically entertained the CCC’s lobbying efforts, although they must have known only one member, the virulently anti-union Merit Contractors, was registered as a lobbyist.

In fairness, Alberta’s lobbying law is subject to interpretation in places, allowing unregistered lobbyists 100 unregulated hours as freebies. But it is known that Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign received donations of $26,900 from CCC members, and all leadership campaigns received donations of at least $121,800 from the group’s members. The PC Party got $186,750 in donations from the anti-union coalition between 2009 and last year.

CCC members received close to $1 billion in government contracts and grants over a six-year period.

By the 2012 election campaign, many of the CCC’s ideas had made it into the PC Party’s official election platform, where they can be found on page 30.

Less than two months later, when Ms. Redford was premier and the CCC was growing dissatisfied at the pace of the changes it was looking for, Tom Brown, a senior vice-president of Ledcor, one of the companies in the CCC, fired off a sharp note to the executive director of Premier Redford’s Calgary office.

In it, Mr. Brown said of his company and PCL Construction, “We both made major contributions to Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign and to the PCs’ election campaign fund (in Ledcor’s case up to the legislated maximum). Other members of our Coalition were also significant supporters of both the Premier and the PC Party. … there will be huge disappointment and possibly misgivings within our Coalition if I do not have something concrete to report next week.” (Italics added by me.)

For all intents and purposes, it sounds very much as if Alberta’s anti-union construction companies demanded, and very nearly got, the chance to write their own governing legislation!

As Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason noted at a news conference with AFL President Gil McGowan yesterday, “what these letters and emails show is that the PCs have been more than willing to collude on changing laws that affect Alberta workers and their families with the usual group of funders, friends and insiders.

“The premier accepted significant donations from Merit and the rest of this coalition during the PC leadership race and the last election,” Mr. Mason said. “It’s very clear they weren’t asking for changes to the Labour Code – they were expecting them.”

By the way, Ms. Redford’s office fought hard to keep several pages of this correspondence secret – but was overruled by the province’s privacy commission when the AFL appealed.

The AFL has called for the review put into motion by Mr. Lukaszuk in 2011 to be scrapped immediately as it is obviously hopelessly tainted.

The labour umbrella organization also demanded a full investigation of the CCC and the government under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbyists Act.

Observers of the continuing travails of Ms. Redford’s government can only shake their heads and wonder, “What next?”

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.