All posts tagged Stephen Harper

Redford-Hancock Government moves ahead with plan to gut public sector pensions

Alberta Environment Minister Robin Campbell, right, in one of the rather undistinguished jackets that are causing such a brouhaha in the provincial Legislature this week. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Doug Horner, below, is moving to attack the pensions of 300,000 Alberta public employees and no one is paying much attention. Below him, NDP Leader Brian Mason, who opposes his plans, and former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright. But you’ll have to read to the bottom if you want to know what Mr. Wright has to do with this story.

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner gave notice yesterday that the government is about to introduce bills allowing him to go ahead and gut the retirement security of provincial public employees.

Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, will be proof, if any more was needed, that the Progressive Conservative Government’s current survival plan does not include trying to rebuild the progressive coalition that pulled its fat from the fryer in April 2012.

If everything Mr. Horner has said up to now is true, the public sector bill is likely to significantly reduce the pensions paid to UNA members and other public employees over time, and quite possibly induce a run on the pension plans before then as it sinks into recently hired and new members’ heads what a lousy deal they’ll be getting for the same cost paid by current members.

Also based on past statements, the government hopes to leave unions representing some of the plans’ members holding the bag for the chaos that will inevitably ensue, an unlikely scenario.

In a news release yesterday, the Alberta NDP said the party’s legislative caucus will focus on the government’s attack on public service pensions for the rest of the legislative session.

With only four members, the New Democrats have little chance of stopping the carnage, even with the help of other Opposition parties. But the NDP release contained a nice jab at the Opposition Wildrose Party, which may or may not be farther to the right than the Redford-Hancock Tories.

“This is an incredibly important issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Albertans,” NDP Leader Brian Mason stated. “While other parties focus on jackets and junkets, we are focusing our efforts on real issues that affect real Albertans.”

Both the Wildrose Party and the media have been concentrating their efforts the past couple of days on stories about former premier Alison Redford’s many flights on government aircraft with her friends and relations, especially her pre-teen daughter, and on the government’s plans to spend $9,475 to dress government MLAs and their friends in unfashionable promotional jackets.

These stories don’t add up to much compared to the attack on the retirement security 300,000 working Albertans and their families, Mr. Mason seemed to be saying – a tactic that recognizes the NDP and Wildrose Party will be fighting it out for many seats in the Edmonton area in the next general election.

On Monday, in a related development, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock said the province’s non-union employees will have to live with the same wage package the government has tried without much success to impose on members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

In February, AUPE managed to prevent the government from forcing its members to swallow that bitter pill when it sought and got a Court of Queen’s Bench injunction blocking the use of Bill 46, the so-called Public Service Salary Restraint Act. The injunction was to remain in effect until the union’s appeal of the bill on constitutional grounds is complete, a process that could take years. The scathing injunction ruling by Mr. Justice Denny Thomas stated flatly “that Alberta did not meet its obligation to bargain in good faith.”

The Redford Government had intended to use Bill 46 to impose a contract and wage freeze on the 22,000 direct employees of the province represented by AUPE, and also likely as the template for other public sector bargaining units in health care and education. Now the Redford-Hancock Government continues to claim it believes the law is constitutional and that it can win on appeal. It is also appealing the injunction.

Mr. Hancock’s comment to the Edmonton Journal’s reporter, however, suggested he knows otherwise. “Hancock said the deal given to non-union staff may be re-evaluated in the future if the AUPE secures a better deal for union employees,” journalist Miriam Ibrahim wrote.

In other words, once the courts have had the opportunity to rule on Bill 46, the government knows perfectly well it is going to have to settle its dispute with AUPE through binding arbitration, as set out in the current law as an alternative to the right to strike.

It knows just as well that no independent arbitrator will allow it to force AUPE to take the deal it had intended to impose.

So Mr. Hancock knows, it is said here, that his government is just hosing away taxpayers’ money for political advantage. If he says otherwise, he is not being entirely forthright with you.

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No surprises as PCs release leadership race rules

Also yesterday, the PC Party released the timeline for the ongoing leadership contest required by the firing of Ms. Redford by her caucus last month.

Candidate nominations will open on May 15 – at which point cabinet ministers like Doug Horner and Thomas Lukaszuk will have to make a call or get out of the booth. All paperwork such as nomination forms and proof of party membership must be submitted by May 30.

Candidates must pay a $20,000 fee when picking up their nomination package and $30,000 more when handing it in. Aug. 15 will be the last day to withdraw from the race. Nothing was said about what will happen if a candidate withdraws and then discovers the party has already spent his or her fee on, say, communications advice.

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Tories decide to throw Mama from the plane

Finally, word came yesterday that in their desperation to pin decades of entitlement on the former premier in order to survive the coming election, the PCs have opted to throw Mama from the plane by allowing the Auditor General to investigate Ms. Redford’s many flights aboard government aircraft with her young daughter.

This was fine with her ministers when it was happening, but it is deeply disturbing to them now. So the AG will poke around until July and either exonerate Ms. Redford, in which case the government will tell the rest of us to get over it, or not exonerate her, which will allow the government to point to what a fine job it has done of blaming the former premier for what until a month ago was standard operating procedure.

In similar news, the RCMP said yesterday there would be no charges against Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, for paying $90,000 of suspended Senator Mike Duffy’s living expenses, which it turns out was merely a really nice gesture.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along please.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The ‘Self Preservation Society’ wants Jim Prentice for ‘The Alberta Job’ – but can he forgo his ambition to be PM?

“The Alberta Job.” Will the original “Self Preservation Society” get to keep the Tory gold? Is Jim Prentice – above, not exactly as illustrated – the man to help them do it? Read on to find out why we’ll probably never find out. Below: The actual Jim Prentice. Below him: Possible, rumoured, putative PC leadership candidate Stephen Mandel.

The question Jim Prentice really needs to ask himself is this: “Do I really want to ride that bus all the way to the bottom of the cliff and be sitting in it when it bursts into flames?”

The question the lawyer, banking boss and sometime federal Conservative politician will actually ask himself will likely be a little more polished, and a little more complicated. To wit: “Can becoming leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party help my ambition to become the prime minister of Canada?”

But in the end – since the metaphorical bus in the first question represents the Alberta PC Party, the original Self Preservation Society, the cliff it’s teetering on represents the election that is going to have to be called sooner or later, and the gold in the back represents the gold in the back – the questions are actually pretty much the same.

If Mr. Prentice is the person he appears to be, the answer to either question is likely to be a resounding No!

With an excellent and extensive political resume, and the opinion widely held in Alberta political circles that there’s no one in the current Alberta PC caucus and cabinet likely to be able to fend off a challenge to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party whenever an election gets called, it’s natural that die-hard PCs see Mr. Prentice as a potential saviour of their party after the disaster of the Redford-Hancock Government.

The other potential savior that gets some Tory hearts going pitty-pat these days is former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. But notwithstanding Mr. Mandel’s great collection of bow ties, it seems as if it’s Mr. Prentice that has them mopping their brows and fanning themselves.

Mr. Prentice is available, sort of, having quit his job as Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre North and resigned from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet, in which he had held a number of important posts, back in November 2010.

And he can probably afford the $50,000 entry fee, seeing as since January 2011 he’s been employed as senior executive VP and vice-chairperson of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. And heaven knows, they need the money!

Sounds like he’s dipped his toes in the leadership lake a couple of times too, just to see how warm the water is, as he’s been known to do once or twice before in similar circumstances.

But you’ll notice that, notwithstanding the understandable buzz from desperate Alberta Tories dreaming of a way to hang onto power one more time, Mr. Prentice doesn’t seem to have made any announcements, or said anything much of consequence at all. This, presumably, is because he’s still mulling over his chances and what they mean to his ultimate ambition – to wit, the prime ministership of Canada.

As I see it, there are three things that could happen if Mr. Prentice throws his hat in the Progressive Conservative leadership ring and tries to get “The Alberta Job”:

  1. He could lose to one of the other candidates – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.
  2. He could win the nomination and then lose the election – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.
  3. He could win the nomination and somehow win the election – which would be a disaster for his hopes of becoming PM.

The problem with Point 3 from Mr. Prentice’s perspective, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention since 1896, when the 69-day ministry of Charles Tupper came to an end, is that Sir Charles was the last provincial premier ever to become prime minister of Canada.

And it’s likely to stay that way. After all, why would Canadians elect a provincial premier as national leader – a surefire guarantee, in the public mind, of a leader who won’t consider the needs of the entire country.

Someday, I suppose, we may elect a PM who was a premier first, but it won’t be any time soon, and it will most likely be a short-lived accident like Sir Charles Tupper.

Ergo, unless he’s given up on his prime ministerial ambitions, Mr. Prentice would be nuts to run to be premier of Alberta.

Also, he’d have to give up his current job as a big shot with CIBC, which almost certainly includes a pretty comfortable bi-weekly pay packet and some nice additional perks.

On the other hand, perhaps Mr. Prentice has concluded, like me, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will never willingly let go. Yeah, I know, the Ottawa Press Gallery has been in a frenzy for a year about how Mr. Harper is depressed, Mr. Harper has no friends left, Mr. Harper will quit any minute now…

But it’s said here that reading this kind of stuff every day would make it pretty hard for a man of Mr. Prentice’s inclinations to take a chance on the Alberta Job.

Still, if you’re a desperate Alberta Tory, you can dream of just such a miracle.

And if you’re the Bull Goose Strategist for the Wildrose Party – whoever that is now that Tom Flanagan spends his days writing judgmental books about the prime minister we have at the moment – you can have nightmares about it.

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Who knew? The loons of the Right were right for once!

If you Google the terms “Lorne Gunter” and “Nanny State,” you will discover that this particular combination has been posted to the Internet more than 4,400 times.

Mostly, the Sun Media columnist seems to have been complaining about things done by the Alberta government, such as banning the use of cellular phones while driving, but other governments appear to be guilty of trying to create a nanny state too in Mr. Gunter’s relentlessly consistent worldview.

It gets more interesting. Replace “Lorne Gunter” with “Monte Solberg,” another Sun Media columnist of similar views, and you will Google 21,200 articles. After that, it just gets better: Ezra Levant: 47,500 articles using “Nanny State.” Brian Lilley: 72,300. Michael Coren: 203,000!

OK, we already knew these guys were drinking from the same bathtub. Still, it turns out they were right. Really!

At any rate, CBC Edmonton investigative journalist Charles Rusnell reported yesterday that when Alison Redford was still premier of Alberta, and before that when she was minister of justice, she not only took her daughter on 50 flights aboard the government airplane, but on at least one occasion she brought the nanny along too.

So it turns out Alberta really is a “nanny state”! Leastways, the nanny really was aboard the state plane. Who knew?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Advice to progressives: Don’t airbrush Jim Flaherty’s record out of sympathy for his family

The late Jim Flaherty tries on the traditional new shoes just before delivering his 2012 federal budget. Below, some of Mr. Flaherty’s friends and colleagues: former Ontario premier Mike Harris, in whose government he also served; Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Decent people naturally feel sympathy with the loved ones of any person taken unexpectedly from life, as just-retired federal Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was last week.

We are naturally more inclined to experience such feelings of vicarious loss when the person who has died is charming and engaging – as Mr. Flaherty was said by those who knew him to be. This is especially so if we worked closely with that person, as all members of all parties in Parliament did with Mr. Flaherty in the course of their work. This presumably accounts for the tears shed by NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair on learning of Mr. Flaherty’s death.

But this should not lead us into the temptation to paper over the faults of the departed one, as a great many progressive Canadians have been doing these past few days with the memory of Mr. Flaherty. This temptation is particularly great given our Western cultural superstition about “speaking ill of the dead.”

As the Canadian Press Stylebook wisely advises writers of journalistic obituaries, “the portraits should be exact, with no attempt to brush out wrinkles and warts. Resist the tendency to canonize the departed; very few are true saints.”

The Canadian media has failed spectacularly in this regard in the way it has reported Mr. Flaherty’s death. At any rate, among the accounts that I read, only the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom, writing with courage and grace, dealt with the reality of Mr. Flaherty’s policy record.

“There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that his motives were anything but public-spirited,” Mr. Walkom wrote. “But he was also an integral part of a government determined to smash or cripple much of what makes Canada a livable country. His death is a reminder that good people can do bad things for the best of motives.”

Mr. Walkom’s column focused on only some of the serial attacks on Canadian values and institutions led by the Harper Government, near the centre of which Mr. Flaherty always stood until only a few days before his death. To wit, mentioned in Mr. Walkom’s account: the piece by piece dismantling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the erosion of Canadians’ retirement and employment security, and the subversion of our country’s public health care system, all of which continue apace.

In these, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper carries on the destructive ideological wrecking started by the Ontario government led by Conservative Premier Mike Harris from the mid-Nineties through the early Zeroes. Not surprisingly, Mr. Flaherty also stood at the centre of the misnamed and destructive “Common Sense Revolution,” serving at various times as minister of labour, attorney general, finance minister and deputy premier.

Indeed, in his central role in the Harper government, a case can be made that Mr. Flaherty looked so good because so many of the current crop of Reform Party Conservatives are such trolls.

Obviously, Mr. Flaherty’s personal charm outshone that of the prime minister, which is not so much of an accomplishment on its own, enabling him to serve up Mr. Harper’s policy poison with a smile.

Perhaps this did not get Mr. Flaherty very far when he finally raised a warning flag on Mr. Harper’s income-splitting scheme. But, again, such cautious crossing of the uncrossable Mr. Harper hardly merits the Victoria Cross, as several media reports of the past few days have suggested. If, indeed, there was any difference between the two at all.

The important thing to remember when it comes to comparisons between the charmless Mr. Harper and the charming Mr. Flaherty is that their fundamental economic beliefs and the policies they supported were the same – often immoral, destructive and elitist.

It is possible that without his association with Mr. Harper, Mr. Flaherty might not have employed less vicious political tactics. But again, his choice of friends and political allies is evocative, even if we live in an era when guilt by association is frowned upon.

Not only was he a great and permanent ally of Prime Minister Harper, but he was a staunch and committed defender of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, about whom no more need be said. The fact Mr. Ford was a family friend was a good reason for Mr. Flaherty’s sympathy and personal support; it was no excuse for the defence of Mr. Ford’s scandalous misrule.

Moreover, in the context of the game played by all Parliamentarians of all parties, there was an element a good-cop-bad-cop strategy to the public positions taken by Mr. Flaherty versus those of the PM and some of his more odious supporters.

The families of all Canadians deserve the same certainty and security as Mr. Flaherty’s family now has. People who work to keep them from having it ought not to be portrayed as heroes, especially by those of us who are not parliamentary insiders.

This is not speaking ill of the dead. It is only speaking the unvarnished and necessary truth.

Mr. Flaherty’s state funeral is scheduled to take place Wednesday in Toronto.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This may not be a bad summation, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

What happens now that we know there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chip? Nothing?

Greenpeace Canada info-graphic showing connections among the far-right Conservative Party of Canada activists behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute. Below: Dr. James Talbot; Dr. John O’Connor; Ezra Levant.

Alberta’s chief medical officer has now confirmed that statistics released a couple of weeks ago indicate there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chipewyan, a predominantly native community about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Fort Chip, as it is often known, has long been a subject of controversy about the health impacts of bitumen sands development because – possibly coincidentally, and possibly not – it is not far downstream and downwind of the largest Bitumen Sands mining and processing operations in Alberta.

Nevertheless, the Edmonton Journal reported earlier this week, the government has no plans to try to identify the possible causes of the cluster of serious diseases, which includes unusually high rates of bile duct cancer, plus some others.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, before we get to that, a caveat: I am just a layperson who notices things, often sees connections with other things, notes them down and writes about them. I am not a medical professional, a statistician or a clairvoyant. So readers are entitled to take my conclusions with as large a grain of salt as they wish. I am, as they say, just saying…

Still, now that we’ve got that out of the way, what does this week’s news suggest?

First of all, it suggests Dr. John O’Connor, the physician who famously practiced medicine in native communities in the region, was onto something when he reported back in the mid-2000s that … wait for it … there was a cluster of unusual cancers among residents of Fort Chipewyan.

For saying this – regardless of why he reached his conclusions – Dr. O’Connor has been attacked in the vilest and most damaging terms imaginable, and very nearly lost his ability to practice his profession as a result.

Both the federal and provincial governments harshly criticized Dr. O’Connor for daring to suggest the Bitumen-extraction industry might have been the cause of the serious health problems he observed among residents of Fort Chip and nearby communities – including, as he then observed and has now been confirmed, an unusually high rate of bile duct cancer.

Not only did the provincial government dispute Dr. O’Connor’s conclusions, in 2007 Health Canada physicians laid four complaints of professional misconduct against him with the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. These included accusations he blocked access to his patients’ medical files, claims of billing irregularities, and the charge, redolent of totalitarian states, that he caused mistrust of government in Fort Chipewyan and “undue alarm” among residents of the community.

The accusations nearly resulted in Dr. O’Connor losing his license to practice medicine, and hence his livelihood. Eventually, according to the Edmonton Journal, he was cleared of all the charges against him.

This, however, has never stopped Sun News Network TV commentator and “Ethical Oil” propagandist Ezra Levant from using what we might call his national on-air bullying pulpit to launch a stream of vilification at Dr. O’Connor, calling him “a liar,” accusing him of “breaching professional ethics,” and saying “he just made it up.”

Now, Mr. Levant doesn’t have much credibility, in part because he attacks so many people in the same way – pretty much anyone who disagrees with him, in fact. Nevertheless, he has a devoted following and many of his acolytes no doubt believe his claims about Dr. O’Connor. His accusations are influential enough, it is said here, to make others with similar observations afraid to speak their minds.

Indeed, Dr. Margaret Sears, an Ontario expert in toxicology and health, told the Edmonton Journal doctors in the region were afraid of the negative consequences to their careers if they spoke out, or even were asked to treat patients who thought their might be a connection between their symptoms and nearby bitumen production.

She was not referring specifically to Mr. Levant’s on-air jeremiads, but it is not unreasonable to conclude just such an outcome was in fact the intention of the broadcaster’s on-air bullying. For, as has been noted in this space before, Mr. Levant is closely tied to both the petroleum industry in Alberta, through his so-called “Ethical Oil Institute,” and with the petro-government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a useful piece of work published earlier this week, Greenpeace Canada charted the connections among Mr. Levant’s so-called institute, the Harper Conservative Party, provincial versions of the same party and their energy industry patrons.

Greenpeace made headlines by calling for Elections Canada to investigate Ethical Oil for “colluding with the Conservative Party in order to get around rules that limit donations to political parties.”

Such a probe is of course unlikely because Elections Canada is already under attack from the Harper Conservatives for protecting the democratic rights of Canadians too effectively. But with that story in the news, mainstream media took notice when Greenpeace identified the frequent “mirrored messaging” between Ethical Oil and the CPC and the “multiple crossovers” among Harper Government staffers and Ethical Oil.

“Greenpeace argues election financing laws are breached even if a third party – in this case Ethical Oil – does not directly transfer money to a political party,” the CBC reported. “Greenpeace is urging the commissioner of elections to find that if Ethical Oil spends funds it raises on activities supporting a political party’s agenda, and has been set up by someone involved in the political party, then political donation limits have been contravened.”

“Our laws still ban oil companies from directly or indirectly funding political parties, so we hope that Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party will cooperate with the Commissioner in an investigation to clear this up,” Greenpeace said in its news release – no doubt rhetorically, given the uncooperative history of the CPC on such matters.

An effective info-graphic created by Greenpeace illustrates the connections among the CPC, Ethical Oil and their mutual operatives, including Mr. Levant, on this propaganda campaign.

Which brings us back to the Fort Chip cancer cluster.

“If anybody crunches the numbers for Fort Chipewyan, no matter how they are massaged, they wouldn’t show anything but a cancer cluster,” the Journal quoted University of Calgary professor John Dennis as saying this week. “It’s a huge red flag,” said the researcher, who conducted a review of the previous study at the government’s behest.

Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, told the same newspaper, in its reporter’s words, that “updated figures for bile-duct cancer in the northern community fit the definition of a cluster, as does the rate of cervical cancer. The lung-cancer rate comes very close.”

Of course, there could be many causes for the disease cluster – including lifestyle choices in an impoverished community. But it’s an interesting series of events just the same, isn’t it?

  • A physician has his character viciously attacked by a right-wing broadcaster linked to the Conservative federal government and the oil industry for suggesting there was a cluster of diseases in a community in a bitumen-extraction region.
  • A petroleum industry advocacy organization run by the same broadcaster is accused of breaching election laws to help the same government remain in power. Whether or not the group’s activities actually broke the law, the same group of right-wing activists are demonstrably involved in both campaigns.
  • Another study by other doctors shows the physician’s observations all those years ago were likely right, and yet a provincial government run by followers of the same ideology refuses to launch an investigation to find out what’s really causing the health problems.

Whatever can it all mean?

Could someone be afraid of the answers a credible study might reveal?

Did someone ask: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent doc?”

Is there an effort to keep a lid of science that might impact petroleum industry profits?

I’m not saying. I’m just asking.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alison Redford and the misogyny defence: does it really hold any water?

Former Alberta Premier Alison Redford in happier times, as we remember her on the eve of her selection as PC Party leader in the fall of 2011.

The suggestion former Alberta Premier Alison Redford was treated differently, and was presumably fired by her party more peremptorily, because she is a woman is generating considerable heat if not a great deal of light in political circles in Alberta.

This claim first surfaced a few days before Ms. Redford’s political ship sank, at a time when her Progressive Conservative Party was in a state of open rebellion against her leadership. It has been advocated and denied with equal passion and bitterness ever since.

An article in the Calgary Herald not only blamed misogyny for the former premier’s troubles but, predictably given the source, found fault with “left-leaning types” for not defending Ms. Redford with sufficient vigour.

Moreover, the farther you get from Alberta, the more credence this idea seems to get.

So, just as a starting point, non-Albertans reading accounts of this debate may want to remember that here in Alberta, opinion on the question seems mostly to divide along partisan political, not gender, lines.

Nevertheless, the idea deserves serious and thoughtful consideration because sexism and misogyny are real phenomena in our society.

So, was Alison Redford the victim of misogyny at the hands of the Tory Old Boys’ Club, and a lot of other similarly minded Albertans, or did her troubles stem from her own unique personality and attitudes?

Well, it is undeniable that Ms. Redford was the only woman who ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2011 and her gender certainly did not stop her from winning.

Moreover, during that race, her superior strategy saw her come from behind and pass several candidates who, whatever their other strengths and weaknesses may have been, had more years of experience and more support in caucus than Ms. Redford.

These particular facts, mind you, have been interpreted by some to suggest the Old Boys’ Club in caucus never accepted Ms. Redford as premier because of the essential fact of her gender, and it must be said here there is enough truth to this opinion to make it dangerous.

Still, the Tory Old Boys – for whom readers will recognize there is no love lost in these columns – were neither complete fools nor suicidal. Having seen Ms. Redford elected, it is said here it was hardly in their interests to upset her apple cart, even if she wasn’t the person they would have preferred to see riding atop it.

In 2012, the contest to see who would lead the government of Alberta was between two women – Ms. Redford, and Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party, which became the official Opposition after the votes were counted.

The two male party leaders, Brian Mason of the Alberta New Democrats and Raj Sherman of the Alberta Liberals, were also-rans, and at times almost afterthoughts – and more’s the pity!

Again, though, this is also more likely the result of partisan politics and the prevailing ideology in the province than the gender of the leaders who were taken seriously by most everyone, both women, and those who were not, both men.

So it is said here that Ms. Redford didn’t win because of her gender, and Ms. Smith – notwithstanding her remarkable achievement in making a fringe party a credible contender in one election cycle – didn’t lose because of hers.

But did the PC Party tire of Ms. Redford more quickly because she is a woman? Again, the preponderance of the evidence suggests this was not the case. At least, when the same PCs suffered the same crisis of faith with Ed Stelmach, they pushed him out pretty decisively too.

This was done quietly by comparison, but it is said here this was more a reflection of Mr. Stelmach’s and Ms. Redford’s personalities than of their sex.

Mr. Stelmach had had enough. Ms. Redford wanted to soldier on. Mr. Stelmach was more of a consensus leader than Ms. Redford. In the end, Mr. Stelmach’s inclination was to go without too much encouragement; Ms. Redford required a harder shove from her panicked fellow PCs.

Indeed, you can make a case that when gender played its most significant role, it was back in 2011 during the leadership campaign when we Albertans were just getting to know Ms. Redford, and then it worked mostly in her favour.

That was when many of us jumped to the conclusion that she must possess such positive characteristics as compassion, consensus building and even frugality because she was a woman – even though there was precious little actual evidence she’d ever demonstrated such qualities.

Many members of the public, moreover, continued to hold that positive impression of Ms. Redford long after the evidence was pointing the other way.

Whether or not “nice lady” was appropriate terminology for MLA Len Webber to use to describe the premier when he quit the PC caucus to protest her style of leadership and where it was taking his party, he was trying to get at real aspects of the former premier’s character.

Not unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ms. Redford ruled autocratically, showing contempt both for the concerns of her caucus and the views of the groups who supported her election to the leadership in 2011 and in the general election of 2012.

Says one astute political observer of my acquaintance, male: “She betrayed the progressives who elected her. That’s what did her in.”

He added: “When you only have 18-per-cent approval, I’m sorry, but it’s not just men who are against you.”

Says another, female: “Redford’s political failure had nothing to do with her lady parts. It came down to the fact that she promised to be different from the old boys, but she turned out to be exactly the same.”

Some observers have argued that no woman, least of all Ms. Redford, would have been forgiven the sins of Ralph Klein – who was famously publicly drunk and disorderly at times during his tenure as premier.

But if one thing can be said of Mr. Klein, it was that he had a terrific sense of timing – having sinned, he certainly knew when to fess up and apologize.

Ms. Redford’s timing was terrible – time after time she stuck to her guns when a quick climb-down would have worked, and then climbed down when it was too late to repair the damage. Her $45,000 South African travel repayment was just one recent striking example.

I can’t shake the feeling the misogyny defence was devised as a tactical Hail Mary pass by Ms. Redford’s now-fired communications brain-trust in the final hours of her ministry, before she accepted the inevitable and announced she would step aside on Sunday.

It does a huge disservice to Albertans and to women that so many people in so many places are giving this idea so much credence.

True, some Albertans unworthily and rather foolishly criticized Ms. Redford’s dress or her hairstyle instead of her policies – as some have similarly knocked Ms. Smith but will nevertheless vote for her party.

But it was Ms. Redford’s public sense of entitlement, her lousy policies, and her betrayal of her political allies, on both the right and left it should be noted, that really did her in.

For this, I’m afraid, she has no one to blame but herself.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Everyone must do their duty for Canada – even Sun News Network ideologues

Admiral Horatio Nelson gives up his life in the service of his country on the deck of HMS Victory on Oct. 21, 1805. Below: Horatio Nelson; his famous signal to his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Surely, Canada should expect no less!

NEW YORK

“England expects that every man will do his duty,” Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory to the brave sailors his fleet as the Battle of Trafalgar, the decisive naval fight of the Napoleonic Wars, commenced.

Sometimes there is a moment in a nation’s history when all good people must do their duty, no matter how hard.

Compared to the fate that on Oct. 21, 1805, awaited many British seamen – including Admiral Nelson himself – the sacrifice required of the supposed patriots employed in the Ideology Department of the Sun News Network is not very great.

Still, we recognize it is a sacrifice.

Sun News Network publishes the Sun tabloid newspapers, owns rural and small town weeklies across Canada and broadcasts the odious Sun TV commentary programs, and as such is home to a raft of so-called straight talkers like Ezra Levant, Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and the former Parliamentarian from Medicine Hat Monte Solberg.

Every one of these gentlemen would have us believe he is a loyal Canadian of the most patriotic stock. Indeed, it is part of the Sun chain’s shtick. The TV network, for example, characterizes itself as unapologetically patriotic.”

Now the owner of Sun News Network and the animating spirit behind its relentlessly spun news coverage and tireless far-right propaganda, Pierre Karl Péladeau, has announced that he will be running for the Parti Quebecois in the next Quebec election.

Technically, Mr. Péladeau is the owner of Quebecor Inc., the corporate owner of Sun News Network and other English and French media operations. But the line from Mr. Péladeau  through his corporate head office to the troops in the understaffed newsrooms of the chain throughout the land is direct and unequivocal.

Mr. Péladeau’s ambition, he bluntly admits, is to sever Quebec from Canada and create a new country that his children can be proud of. It has been said here his commentators have not done much to make them proud of Canada – but that was before the threat was obvious.

Now Mr. Péladeau may very well destroy the nation his network claims to unapologetically love.

Moreover, he says he has no intention of giving up his ownership stake in Quebecor – although it would seem he’s prepared to put it for a spell in what the Sun would no doubt call a Venetian-blind trust if it were a Liberal or New Democrat politician we were talking about.

This is something that men like Messrs. Levant, Coren, Lilley, Bell and Solberg, and a host of lesser lights at lesser Quebecor addresses throughout the land, will have to think about as they put their minds to the work that will be required of us all to save our country.

Now, I’m not saying that they owe it to themselves to say and do the right thing, or that they ought to think about it, or eventually get around to it.

I am saying that they have a duty to speak up clearly, unequivocally and loudly for their country. Now.

These are the people who claim to be the Canadian masters of “straight talk,” and there has never been a time in our country’s history when straight talk has been needed more.

If they are threatened by their arm’s length proprietor, they have a duty to ignore him.

And if they are prevented from doing their duty, they have the additional obligation to quit and no longer serve a man and an organization that – regardless of how they are loved for their ideology by the PMO of Stephen Harper – would then be like a dagger pointed at the heart of our country.

If they do not speak up for Canada directly, forthrightly, courageously and immediately, we will know what they are made of, and what they are.

As Admiral Nelson might have said on that bloody day in 1805: “That will do, gentlemen. Make it directly!”

NOTE: Astonishingly, here in New York City where one comes every year to be reinspired by Broadway, there’s nary a word in the local press about the fate of the Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty, what Dave Hancock is likely to do in his unexpected role of interim premier, or who may try to replace him. This is shocking in a way since it was just a year and a few days ago that the government of then-premier Alison Redford took out a $30,000 ad in the New York Times touting the Keystone XL Pipeline. Do these people remember nothing? Well, we’ll return to all those things soon enough, leastways, if this blogger makes it out of town on Tuesday ahead of what the local press is covering: “The Snow Bomb.” This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Vladimir Putin’s strategic crisis in 2014 sure looks a lot like John F. Kennedy’s in 1962

President John F. Kennedy signs the proclamation of the “Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba” on Oct. 23, 1962. The order imposed the U.S. naval blockade on Cuba that Mr. Kennedy had announced during his televised address the night before. Below: Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Sun News bloviator Monte K. Solberg.

“Good evening, my fellow citizens,” President John F. Kennedy said grimly on Oct. 22, 1962. “This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba.

“Within the past week unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island,” the U.S. president said. “The purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”

President Kennedy went on to explain that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were each “capable of striking Washington, D.C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area.”

Worse, he explained, the Soviets appeared to be installing sites for larger missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the continental United States, as well as locations in Canada and South America. Obviously – however it was to be resolved – this situation could not be allowed to continue for long.

“This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic base by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” the president stated.

“Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small,” President Kennedy continued in what may have been the most important passage in his speech.

“We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation’s security to constitute maximum peril,” he said. “Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace.”

Ergo, the Soviet rockets had to be removed by Cuba, or the United States would go to war.

I have been pondering this important speech and the thinking it represented in the context of the present U.S. and Canadian response to the so-called crisis in Ukraine, and the childish and belligerent rhetoric about it by our wedge-politics-obsessed Conservative leaders in Ottawa and their echo chamber at the Sun News Network, the CBC and the other official and semi-official state news outlets.

This is likely only to get worse now that the predominantly ethnic Russian population of Crimea has overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia – as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hypocritical and nearly hysterical sputtering yesterday illustrates.

Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian turned Sun News commentator wrote in the Sun newspapers earlier this week that “the Ukrainians should have long ago armed up and joined NATO.”

As we have seen, one of the key issues that led to President Kennedy’s speech during the Cuban Crisis of 1962 – not long before which the revolutionary government of Cuba had armed up and for all intents and purposes joined the Warsaw Pact – was how close Cuba was to Washington, D.C.

It’s just over 1,800 kilometres from the Cuban capital, near which some of the missiles were parked, to the U.S. capital. It’s estimated that it would have taken a missile like the ones the Soviets had installed in Cuba just 13 minutes to reach Washington.

The Americans believed the proximity of these powerful weapons made a first “decapitation strike” against the American leadership far more likely – since the flying time from Cuba to Washington was so short – potentially getting around the concept of “mutually assured destruction” on which great power nuclear strategy rested then and now.

While it was not so clear at the time, the general consensus of history now that we’ve discovered the truth about the “missile gap” seems to be that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was bat-poop crazy to take on the Americans in their own back yard. (Premier Khrushchev may have been suffering from a similar state of mind when he gifted the predominantly Russian Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1954.)

So if you accept that President Kennedy’s concern was legitimate, and his response, while extremely risky, was probably justified, you have to wonder how else Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to view the developing strategic situation in Ukraine today.

The distance to Moscow from the Ukrainian capital Kiev is 756 kilometres, considerably less than that from Cuba to Washington – a calculation that is little changed despite the passage of 52 years. A ballistic missile launched from Ukraine would reach Moscow in about six minutes.

There may be no American strategic missiles in Ukraine – yet – but there are certainly nuclear-capable U.S. Air Force units now in the region, most recently F-15 fighters sent with much publicity to Poland and Lithuania.

Likewise, Ukraine has not yet joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as Mr. Solberg suggests it should have, but some of its nearby neighbours have.

I dropped Mr. Solberg a line and asked him if these strategic considerations put the Ukraine crisis – or at least Canada’s and Sun News Network’s 1960s-style Cold War crisis rhetoric – into a different context for him.

Perhaps he gets a lot of email, but so far Mr. Solberg hasn’t bothered replying.

Thankfully, under the potentially volatile circumstances and apparent inability of certain elements of the U.S. state to stop pushing the Russians, President Putin’s responses have been pretty restrained so far, at least compared with the options President Kennedy publicly considered in 1962.

For the moment at least, the fight seems to have switched to the economic front, a war of sanctions and counter-sanctions that U.S. and Canadian politicians and their media echo chambers seem prepared to wage to the last Western European natural gas consumer.

Well, it’s better than all-out war, I guess, but you have to ask what flavour of Kool-Aid the clowns at Sun News Network are drinking. Grape, by the sound of it.

As for the Harper government, it’s never seen a wedge issue it wouldn’t exploit, even at the risk of a planetary catastrophe.

Given that, if Mr. Solberg’s strategic insights are a reflection of the geopolitical thinking of the Harper Government he not so long ago served, we should all be truly frightened.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca

PKP to run for PQ: Why PKP, with SNN and CPC PMO spell SOS for Canada, which could be FUBAR

Impressionable English Canadian youngsters tune in to SNN for sinister ideological conditioning by RWN (right-wing nuts) on the staff of the PMO-favoured network. Below: PKP and his now-ex wife (NXW), grabbed from the Internet; SNN broadcaster Ezra Levant.

Oh, H-E-double-hockey-sticks, PKP wants another D-I-V-O-R-C-E!

This time, having just given his common-law wife of a decade the old heave-ho, it’s from us! 

And I don’t know about you, but this smells a bit like C-O-N-S-P-I-R-A-C-Y.

Let me explain…

PKP for those of you who live in the ROC and are therefore wondering WTF is Pierre Karl Péladeau, who until recently was the CEO of Quebecor Inc. (QBR to the TSE.) Also until recently he was the common law husband of broadcaster Julie Snyder.

QBR was recently described as “one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known,” a statement that it would certainly be fair to extend Canada-wide.

PKP, as he is apparently known in Quebec, remains QBR’s largest shareholder, and working for him is obviously pure H-E-double-L for most of his now-former E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E-S, fewer and fewer of whom had managed to retain that un-coveted status even before he signalled a career change.

QBR, indeed, is well on its way to being the company that gave the ROC the completely journalism-free newspaper.

More important, though, PKP seems to be the guy who invented the faux patriotic Sun News Network (SNN), the tireless foe of the CRTC and the CBC that is billed by its opponents as Fox News North (FNN, I guess) and calls itself the home of “hard news and straight talk,” which seem to mean “far-right spin and extremely offensive and dishonest commentary.”

Indeed, it was SNN that gave Ezra Levant, who seems to have some troubles of his own just now, a national soapbox from which to insult people who disagreed with him in the basest imaginable terms, a proclivity SNN was willing to spend considerable time and effort to defend.

SNN is also the home of such luminaries of the lunatic right as Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and Lorne Gunter, who when they’re not reprinting Fraser Institute news releases strive with one another to express English Canada’s most offensive opinions and portray our society in the worst possible light.

In other words, SNN and its gaggle of unreconstructed rightists is a powerful symbol of the parochialism and ideological extremism that large numbers of Quebeckers have come to associate with English Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And BTW, as is well known, SNN, AKA FNN, is a particular favourite of both the CPC and the Harper PMO – which is bound, in the next election campaign, to try to falsely imply that federalists in the NDP have gone MIA.

Now, in addition to being a lousy employer and a tireless far-right propagandist, PKP is a deeply committed separatist. This is news out here in the ROC, although it was long well known in politically alert circles.

Accordingly, PKP announced yesterday he will run as a candidate for the Parti Québécois, and his reason for doing so was informative: “My devotion to the Parti Québécois is a devotion that rises from my most intimate values – that is to say: to make Quebec a country,” he told a PQ rally in the Montreal suburb of St. Jerome to roars of approval.

“I have extremely profound convictions to make Quebec a country,” he emphasized.

Presumably PKP didn’t come by his extremely profound convictions yesterday.

So we have to ask, did he intentionally promote an image of an intolerant and ignorant English Canada through SNN that he knew would make Quebeckers wish the ROC would just FO&DD?

Perhaps having contributed so much through QBR and SNN to making many Quebeckers ashamed of Canada, PKP was advancing his dream of giving his three children “a country they can be proud of.”

SNN, of course, tried to soft-pedal the obvious yesterday, trotting out the ghost of MBM (Martin Brian Mulroney) in its “news” columns to insist there’s no connection between PKP and QBR, and advising the ROC in its “opinion” section to pay no heed to the return of the separatist threat to Quebec if the PQ elects a majority.

IMO, we should treat it very seriously indeed before our entire country is FUBAR.

Indeed, it seems to me the best thing we could do for Canada right now would be to stick with Quebec while severing our ties as quickly as possible with SNN, QBR and Stephen “Firewall” Harper.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Can the Redford Government Survive Until 2016?

It’s unfortunate it’s illegal to say the word “str*ke” in Alberta, or you could write a great caption for this image. To be on the safe side, we’ll just stick to asking: “Can the Redford Government survive until 2016, or whenever the next provincial election is held?” Below: Alberta Premier Alison Redford; Soviet era prognosticator and dissident Andrei Amalrik, who predicted the fate, if not quite the date of the fate, of the Soviet Union. (Bowling image created by Luanne Climenhaga.)

With tip of the ushanka to Andrei Amalrik, we have to ask: Can the Redford Government survive until 2016?

A week is a long time in politics, of course, and a lot can happen between now and the next election to save Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s political bacon once again, but, gee whiz, the signs sure don’t look promising right now! Some days it doesn’t even sound like a sure thing the government can hang in till then.

The spring of 2016, of course, is the time Ms. Redford chose for her silly “fixed election period” law, which must have seemed like a good idea in 2011 when the Legislature passed it. Now, maybe not so much.

Readers who are both alert and relatively aged, like your blogger, will recall that Mr. Amalrik was the author of the 1969 essay that posed the question, which seemed preposterous at the time, “Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?

Maybe Mr. Amalrik got the bit about the war with China wrong, and in the event the Soviet Union managed to hang in until 1991, but, still, it made him look good to history. Alas, he didn’t live to see his prediction come true, dying in a suspicious car accident in Spain in 1980.

Historical note: The one-party Soviet Union lasted 69 years. The Alberta Progressive Conservative one-party state will have lasted 43 years this August, but if you count the Social Credit era as part of the dynasty, it’s been around 79 years now!

Thus endeth the history lesson.

Now, back to Alberta, where daily new rumours swirl and reports emerge about bitter divisions in the Tory caucus and the premier’s personal staff, dubious travel practices by the premier and her privileged entourage, and private polls that show disillusionment with the Progressive Conservative government deepening throughout the province.

But how much is real and how much is wishful thinking by the PCs’ various political opponents is unclear. This much we know:

The premier’s penchant for high-priced travel, which first gained public recognition with the revelation about the $45,000 South African travel bill she racked up in December when she and an aide attended Nelson Mandela’s funeral, are now stuck in the imagination of the public as surely as was federal minister Bev Oda’s $16 glass of OJ.

Trouble is, Ms. Redford’s the boss, so she’s unlikely to fire herself as Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushed Ms. Oda out the door.

The issue is not going away, moreover, especially now that the story about her flight back from Palm Springs, Calif., for Ralph Klein’s funeral with her daughter and two bodyguards has surfaced – what’s with this woman and funerals, and why does she need bodyguards in California?

While the trouble in the caucus has mostly played out behind closed doors, some of it leaked after the rebellious public comments made by Edmonton Riverside MLA Steve Young, who rapped the premier’s knuckles in the media for her South Africa trip and got away with it. He faced no discipline because he enjoyed considerable support in caucus.

But what about those persistent rumours a substantial number MLA are fomenting outright rebellion against Mr. Redford’s leadership – and the suggestion by some who claim insider knowledge that the premier’s riposte has been to threaten a snap election that would take everyone down with the ship? This would be the political equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction, a sort of Alberta political doomsday machine.

Whether or not there’s anything to this, the province is abuzz with such talk. Not to mention speculation Gary Mar will take another run at premier’s job if Ms. Redford falters. The former leadership front-runner and caucus favourite ended up exiled as Alberta’s Hong-Kong-based trade representative when Ms. Redford came from behind to win the Tory leadership race in October 2011.

Then there’s the Redford Government’s continuing troubles with the unions and the courts over collective bargaining and pensions. Who talked them in to taking on this needless fight?

Bill 46 – which was supposed to be the government’s labour relations nuclear bomb – can’t be enacted to force a contract on the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees as long as there’s an injunction against its use imposed by a superior court. Normal collective bargaining with the union representing 22,000 civil servants fell apart last week – with the union publishing a Top Ten List of reasons it rejected the government’s dubious sales pitch.

So while the heavy handed new law can’t be enacted, the old law applies – and AUPE has applied for the binding arbitration Bill 46 was supposed to keep from happening. Dates are scheduled for August. Since no arbitrator would give the union the deal the government’s staked its reputation on imposing, insiders must be worried despite their bluster.

What’s it going to do if they courts won’t overturn Mr. Justice Denny Thomas’s injunction? Just ignore them, as previous Alberta governments have tried to do?

Even the Catholic Church has waded into the fray. A column in the Western Catholic Reporter by the Associate Director of the Edmonton Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s Office of Social Justice chided the government and advised Albertans that “Catholic social teaching on human work … will mean little if it is left in isolation as a day on a liturgical calendar or even in an inspiring icon in our church sanctuary.”

“Each of us needs to bring this message into our homes, communities, workplaces and legislatures,” wrote Bob McKeon. (Ah-hem! Emphasis added.)

Later today, despite a forecast of temperatures around minus-33 with the wind chill, public sector union members are planning to gather outside in Edmonton’s Sir Winston Churchill Square to give Ms. Redford an “Academy Award” for the acting job she did when she persuaded progressive voters in 2012 she could be trusted.

I’d suggest the willingness to go outside and protest on a day that cold tells a story all of its own about how deep the dissatisfaction with the Redford Government is becoming – if not just how masochistic union members can be.

And those polls? Rumours abound, but published results are few and far between. One recent poll done in Lethbridge, in the province’s far south, suggests that if an election were held there tomorrow, PC cabinet minister Greg Weadick would fall to third place in Lethbridge West after NDP candidate Shannon Phillips and whoever the Wildrose Party chooses to bear its standard.

The poll by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College also shows Liberal turncoat Bridget Pastoor, who crossed the floor before the 2012 election to jump on Ms. Redford’s coattails, is in trouble in Lethbridge East.

In other words, the façade is cracking. Whether it breaks remains to be seen.

One thing’s for sure, though. For the next two years, there’s never been a time in Alberta history that’s called for such strict message discipline on the part of the province’s opposition parties!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.