All posts tagged Sun News Network

With floodwaters rising again, will Sun News Network renew its hysterical ‘gun grab’ attacks on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Sun News Network columnist Lorne Gunter is presented an award by National Firearms Association President Sheldon Clare for his commentary on the so-called “High River Gun Grab.” (Grabbed from the NFA’s website.) Below: Floodwaters roar through High River last year. (CBC Photo)

Rain is falling and floodwaters are rising again in Southern Alberta.

A year less a day since catastrophic floods hit the nearby town of High River, population 13,000, local states of emergency were declared yesterday on the Blood Reserve, around the towns of Claresholm and Cardston, and in the areas of the cities of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

So, in the event that rescuers have to go door to door again this year, searching for trapped residents, what happens if they find some firearms lying around? Will the Sun News Network renew its campaign of vilification against the RCMP for the 2014 version of what its commentators repeatedly called the “High River gun grab”?

For a year now, a group of highly ideological, far-right political commentators employed by Sun News have been attacking the RCMP in highly inflammatory language, accusing the Mounties of “kicking down doors,” perpetrating a “gun grab,” being “obsessed with taking High Riverites’ guns,” and “focusing on disarming the civilian population” during the rescue effort that followed last year’s floods.

Each of the quotes in the paragraph above comes from a single column by Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Sun. This was only one of several columns and a TV news documentary by Mr. Gunter saying essentially the same thing. Similar or identical phrases and sentiments appeared frequently in the work of other Sun commentators, including Ezra Levant, Rick Bell, Brian Lilley and even Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian who really ought to know better.

Throughout their seemingly co-ordinated campaign, High River was identified time and again as the epicentre of this supposedly sinister RCMP “gun grab” campaign.

It seems likely their goal of all this angry verbiage was merely to support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its wedge issue and fund-raising campaign based on exploitation of the unjustified gun-confiscation fears of a radical segment of Canada’s gun-owning minority.

There is no doubt Sun News Network’s “gun grab” campaign received plenty of attention in radical gun ownership circles, which already feel empowered by the Conservative Government’s destruction of the federal long-gun registry. Several organizations dedicated to ending all restrictions on firearms ownership in Canada widely circulated links to these articles.

Indeed, the National Firearms Association, which appears to model itself on the U.S. National Rifle Association, liked Mr. Gunter’s coverage in particular so much they invited him to their recent convention in Vancouver and gave him an award. That award, the NFA said in a news release that garnered little attention at the time, was given to the columnist “for his excellent series of work on Alberta’s High River Gun Grab.”

In his remarks to the NFA’s convention delegates, the release also said, Mr. Gunter spoke “about his work on the High River incident and his efforts to ensure that the issue continues to be an important news story.” (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances of what the Mounties really did during and after the flooding in High River are not nearly as clear or as apparently dastardly as the narrative promulgated by Sun News, a version of events that is now accepted by a large number of radical gun-ownership advocates, or, as they style themselves, Law Abiding Gun Owners.

When the floodwaters rose, the authorities, with the RCMP in the lead, went door to door through High River, looking for citizens trapped in their homes and getting them to safety. My guess is most people in High River were mightily glad to find Mounties, Fish and Wildlife officers, Canadian Forces soldiers and other rescuers on their doorsteps.

But sometime during that dramatic rescue, a police officer or someone saw a weapon in a home being searched, and this uplifting story of Canadians helping Canadians became a bizarre tale of suspicion, paranoia and hatred for the police.

Encouraged by Sun News in particular – but with lots of repetition through the rest of the mainstream media barking chain – this interpretation of events began with the claim the Mounties were violating due process by searching homes that were empty but not in flooded areas, grew into the notion they were searching for guns and not people, and eventually took on in some circles the quality of legends about black helicopters, planned takeovers of the Homeland by the United Nations and explosives planted in the Twin Towers on 911.

Believers in this theory accept with great passion the idea there was in fact a conspiracy, and they are extremely difficult to dissuade.

Indeed, encouraged by the Sun News Network campaign, many residents in the High River area, the conservative politicians they elect to represent them, and Conservative MPs in other parts of Canada are now calling for a commission of investigation into the RCMP’s conduct – which, it is said here, would cost us a fortune, but would at least likely clear the air about just how silly some of these theories are.

Supporters of Alberta’s Wildrose Party even tried to suggest former Premier Alison Redford was behind the alleged grab. (This theory doesn’t account for the fact she would have been too busy at the time measuring the windows of her Sky Palace luxury suite for new curtains.)

Now, this whole narrative never really made a lot of sense. For one thing, all levels of government were pretty busy at the time with legitimate rescue, reclamation and restoration of property and services in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Notwithstanding the fact that not every house in the town was flooded and most doors were locked, only 300 people remained in the town, and those in defiance of a provincial order, so the place was largely abandoned. Doesn’t it make sense that the authorities would want to collect firearms left in the community – even those properly secured in safes – to prevent them from falling into the hands of anyone prepared to exploit the disaster?

And it is reasonable for genuinely law-abiding citizens to wonder what role this unjustified year-long Sun News campaign played in creating the conditions in which a murderous gunman, reported to be obsessed by hatred of police and fear the Mounties in particular wanted to seize the weapons owned by Canadian LAGOs, killed three police officers and injured two others on June 4 in New Brunswick.

I am not suggesting the goal of the commentators behind this campaign was to foment violence against Mounties. I expect all the Sun News columnists were as shocked as were other Canadians by the Moncton assassinations.

Nevertheless, this is a fair question that deserves to be asked. Even if our conclusion is that it did not, surely is reasonable to wonder if this irresponsible and barely credible stream of attacks on the conduct of the Mounties during a natural disaster one year ago has the potential to unleash more mayhem against Canadian police officers in the future.

This is especially so now that we face similar natural conditions in the same region.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Newsprint ‘wraps’ – not good for fish and, as it turns out, not much good for newspapers either

The Edmonton Journal’s “wrap” Friday, showing the hidden front page inside. Below: The wrap’s uninspiring front page.

Now that nobody sells fried fish wrapped in yesterday’s edition of the local daily any more, presumably for fear the ink will leak through into your liver, the term “wrap” has come to be faintly respectable in newspaper circles.

The word nowadays is used to describe a four-page advertising feature that wraps around the entire newspaper. They’re one of the few profitable services the declining industry has left to sell in an era when fewer readers want the print product, and when ads hardly work at all if you can’t click through to a web page but nobody can figure out a way to make very much money from the Internet.

It’s hard to see, though, how wraps are going to provide much more than short-term gain in return for future pain for the flagging industry.

At any rate, it’s hard to imagine the question being asked in Alberta journalistic circles last Friday about the wrap that covered the Edmonton Journal that morning will do any good for the paper’s reputation, let alone anything at all to persuade readers what what they read in the local daily is suitable for anything but wrapping fish.

This is a pity because the Journal’s reporters still work hard and produce an excellent product by the standards of most Canadian cities. And it’s hardly their fault if their paper’s fortunes are chained at the ankle to owner Postmedia News’s expensive boutique flagship product, the National Anvil, otherwise known as the National Post, just as the water starts to slop over the decks.

The question that had everyone abuzz Friday: Was it mere coincidence that the day Alberta Health Services bought an expensive “wrap” obscuring the Journal’s cover, bad news was expected on the front page the next morning about the province-wide public health care authority?

Certainly the coincidence between the timing of the appearance of the four-page wrap Friday morning, dully laid out and full of inconsequential stories about what a wonderful job AHS is doing, and the scheduled arrival on Thursday of two reports from the Health Quality Council of Alberta that highlighted the mishandling of long-term care by AHS and the provincial government was … shall we say … evocative.

Leastways, it seems probable given what was going on Thursday that AHS and the government’s spinners would have known the news from the report about the health care provider’s controversial “first available bed” policy was going to be bad, and that it was likely destined for Friday’s front page.

So speculation was everywhere that was the explanation for the wrap’s appearance Friday morning.

In the event – as often seems to be the case with AHS – the $20,000 or $30,000 or whatever was spent on the wrap (I’m speculating here based on my own experience with newspaper advertising) was not needed if indeed something sinister was going on.

As is well known, the tragic shooting in Moncton, N.B., dominated front pages everywhere in Canada, and the story about AHS’s troubles slipped deep inside, to page 8. Nor was the story that was written likely to do AHS much harm, since the government sensibly promised to implement all the Health Quality Council’s recommendations.

But even if the timing is nothing but an unfortunate coincidence – which is also quite possible, given the speed at which a bureaucracy as big as AHS can move – such cynical speculation will do little to improve the public’s perception of AHS, or the newspaper that sold it the advertising feature.

Wraps have been much in the news lately in the Ontario election, with various political parties being encouraged by the shameless Sun News Network to buy wraps that appear to be legitimate Sun front pages – if such a concept is not an oxymoron – touting their candidates as if the coverage had been written by real journalists.

The goal of these ads, quite clearly, on the part of both Sun News and the parties that have bought them was to deceive readers.

No good can come from this. They don’t buy much credibility for their purchasers, and, in the long term, they’ll leave the remnants of their sellers’ reputations as sources of news in tatters.

If these papers were smart, as well as desperate, they’d forget about this particular advertising vehicle before the wheels fall off.

The NFA is right about one thing: it’s time to talk about guns and mental health

The National Firearms Association’s logo and slogan. What do you think their message is? Below: NFL President Sheldon Clare and the organization’s Executive VP, Shawn Bevins. All photos grabbed from the NFA’s public Facebook page.

Enough time has passed since the shocking murders of three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, N.B., for Canadians to start to ponder the serious issues raised by this tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the need for calm reflection didn’t hold back the so-called National Firearms Association from immediately publishing a press release that bizarrely argued the shootings proved Canada should have fewer controls on guns than the eroding regulatory structure we have now.

The NFA crassly rushed into print on the day of the apparent assassinations, well before the suspected shooter had been captured, let alone before most of us had any idea what was going on.

But common decency or respect – for the facts or for the dead – didn’t seem to guide the actions of Canada’s wannabe National Rifle Association, as it rarely guides the increasingly militant and hysterical self-described law-abiding gun owners the organization represents.

So last Thursday afternoon, while police were still searching for the suspected killer and large swaths of Moncton remained in a frightening lockdown, NFA President Sheldon Clare, Communications VP Blair Hagen and Executive VP Shawn Bevins put their names to the press release that, as the firearms lobby on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border frequently does when a law-abiding gun owner crosses the line into lawlessness, tried to blame the mentally ill for the slaughter.

Accordingly, the news release stated, “the NFA deplores the terrible actions by a clearly deranged individual that led to these deaths and injuries.” (Emphasis added.)

However, it went on, getting to Messrs. Clare’s, Hagen’s and Bevins’s main point, “incidents like these demonstrate the validity of the mounting evidence that none of Canada’s firearms control efforts over the past 50 years have had any effect on preventing violence, or otherwise stopping bad people from carrying out their evil deeds.”

Canada’s “excessive” gun-control efforts, they argued, “do not in any way increase public safety, but merely contribute to an expensive and unnecessary regime which harms only those of lawful intent.” Like the presumed Moncton shooter, one could speculate, up until 24 hours or so before June 5.

“Resources wasted on this fundamentally flawed firearms control regime could be better placed to support a health care system which could be better enabled to diagnose and treat conditions that put people’s lives at risk,” the NFA concluded, with the release’s authors no doubt patting themselves on the back for their cleverness.

Now, while it is certainly true that Canada needs a health care system that can do a better job of diagnosing and helping people with mental illness, this call for improved mental health care is highly ironic coming from a group that represents the increasingly paranoid Canadian variants of the Tea Party and that has made common cause with the federal political party dedicated to dismantling Canada’s public health care system.

Nevertheless, let’s indulge Messrs. Clare, Hagen and Bevins for a moment and discuss the issue of mental health and guns, which they suggest is the real problem requiring action.

Because, to be blunt about it, the NFA in particular and the anti-gun-law lobby in general appear to have a real need to address questions about the mental health of some law-abiding gun owners.

That is to say, just for starters – judging from the enraged, paranoid and threatening responses from some in the no-controls faction of Canada’s gun owning minority (about 30 guns per 100 people) – mental illness appears to be a genuine problem among that segment of the population attracted to multiple gun ownership and unrestricted firearms activity.

It is particularly troubling that such a significant percentage of the gun enthusiasts who comment publicly on the issue appear to believe that public support and agitation for registration rules similar to those required of automobile drivers constitute the first step in a massive conspiracy by the state to seize their beloved weapons.

The tone of their commentary inside their private online enthusiasts’ chat rooms is more frightening. There, they talk openly of the need to use violence to overthrow governments that dare to regulate their enthusiasm.

At the same time, apparently unaware of the contradiction, they frequently disparage liberal “gun haters” and would-be “gun grabbers” – the supposed authors of this mass totalitarian conspiracy – as limp-wristed namby-pambies unable and unwilling to protect the Canadian state from a variety of foreign threats, some real, but mostly imagined.

This paranoia has been effectively used as a wedge issue to generate votes and raise funds, by the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and encouraged by a group of neoliberal “journalists” associated with the Sun News Network in particular – yet another irony, since it is the secretive and intrusive Conservatives who constitute the biggest threat to freedom in Canada in all areas except perhaps gun ownership and the requirement to provide census data.

Judging from news reports, it was a motivating factor in the Moncton police murders. Because, it is safe to say, these notions didn’t just spring fully formed into the shooter’s mind. They came from somewhere – and they sound suspiciously like the very stories told by extremist gun owner groups on both sides of the border through the Internet.

This is not to say that there are not genuinely responsible and sensible gun owners. I hear from some of them too, who respectfully disagree with the positions taken in this blog and sometimes offer persuasive arguments worth considering. I even hear from some gun owners who have no objections to registration of firearms.

Nor is it to say that anyone could provide credible figures that state X or Y per cent of Canadian gun owners or gun enthusiasts are mentally ill.

But I am saying that you only have to read the correspondence received by advocates of mere registration of firearms in Canada to recognize that a significant portion of pro-gun letter writers, if not law-abiding gun owners, have mental health issues.

We all know from a cool-headed reading of history that violence has always attracted some people who are mentally ill, and that weapons of all sorts quite naturally exert a powerful attraction upon people who want to commit violence.

Indeed, I would go farther and suggest because of this natural and understandable draw, there is a connection between violence and the manufacture and sale of low-calibre firearms designed to look like military assault rifles.

The gun-lobby is forever complaining that bleeding heart liberals mistake these weapons, often designed to fire .22-calibre bullets, with military assault weapons that use heavier ammunition and are capable of fully automatic fire, and therefore show themselves to be uninformed.

But surely it is fair to wonder, since these rifles are essentially the same as other small-calibre “varmint rifles” and are supposedly merely purchased for “sport” or rodent control, why a traditional .22 wouldn’t satisfy these gun owners. I think we all intuitively understand the real reason.

And none of this addresses the tragic interconnection among guns, mental illness and suicide – because in reality most people who do harm with guns, do it to themselves. According to the Canadian government’s now out-of-date figures and analysis, gun use in suicide is far higher in the United States than in Canada

And in the United States, despite the often successful efforts of the NRA to prevent accurate records from being kept by law enforcement agencies, the Centre for Disease Control has captured death-certificate data from throughout the United States, Forbes Magazine reports. “When so-called ‘self-inflicted’ death by gunshot is taken into account, the liberal thesis is supported almost perfectly: more guns, more gun deaths; less guns, less gun deaths. It’s as simple as that.”

The NFA is right about this much: we need to spend more on identifying and treating mental illness in Canada.

A good place to start would be by talking honestly about the nexus between mental illness and firearms.

But don’t get your hopes up expecting more help for the mentally ill if the NFA gets its political way. It’s said here they don’t care a fig about this issue, except as an excuse to divert attention from their main program, which is the imposition of a wide-open and totally unregulated gun ownership regime.

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.

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.

With free expression under assault in Alberta, where’s ‘free speech advocate’ Ezra Levant?

So-called free-speech advocate and celebrity commentator Ezra Levant. Below: Free-speech opponent Alison Redford, Canada’s answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, shown below her; that Voltaire guy; nearly forgotten Tory political strategist Stephen Carter.

Where’s Ezra Levant now that we need him?

Mr. Levant, after all, is frequently billed as Canada’s foremost “free speech advocate,” although mostly by himself and his friends in the headline writing department at the National Pest.

Still, establishing his free-speech-defending cred is an effort the celebrity Sun News Network entertainer seems to take seriously, going so far as to have a whiny website called StandWithEzra.ca at which he catalogues his various efforts on behalf of freedom of expression and solicits donations to assist with the legal contretemps that can sometimes afflict those who speak freely.

Meanwhile, out here in Alberta, Mr. Levant’s home province as it happens, we are facing some pretty serious free-speech challenges of our own.

Astonishingly, though, Mr. Levant seems to have nothing to say about them!

Alert readers will recall that the provincial government of Premier Alison Redford, who apparently aspires to be known as Canada’s answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, has made the helpless MLAs in her timorous caucus pass legislation that takes a swipe at Alberta’s public sector unions and in the process restricts the free-speech rights of all Albertans.

This is weird, because unlike the Midwestern Republican governor south of the Medicine Line, a pretty good case can be made that Ms. Redford scraped back into office in 2012 thanks for those very same public employees she and her ministers are now trying to kick to the curb.

Well, maybe it wasn’t Ms. Redford who made all those promises to the public sector and its supporters! Maybe it was just something her 2012 campaign supremo, Stephen Carter, cooked up on his own and didn’t tell her about. Regardless, I’m sure it’s OK with Ms. Redford if Mr. Carter gets to wear the rotten tomatoes now that she’s decided to flop-flop on public services and flip off Alberta’s pubic servants!

The important thing to remember is that the Redford Government’s big entry into the field of drafting labour legislation includes a provision that makes it illegal for any Albertan to express certain opinions about labour issues of which Ms. Redford disapproves.

Under Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, which has precious little to do with continuing public services, it is now illegal for anyone, no matter what motivates them, to suggest that a public employee might be justified to strike illegally – which, since strikes by public service employees were already illegal in Alberta, presumably means it’s illegal to say it makes sense for a public employee to strike, period.

Maybe you’re wondering about those physicians who sometimes tell the health care employees they work beside, “Man, you ought to go on strike!” Well, technically, they’re now subject to a $500 fine just for saying it, and another $500 every day they say the same thing. This goes on every day after that until the $500 fines start to cut into that zero-per-cent increase the docs supposedly got, but didn’t really, from Ms. Redford and her finance minister.

Actually, I misspoke. They’re not subject to the new law yet – which is why I’m writing about it here today. Ms. Redford’s crack legal team made sure that while the Public Sector Thoughtcrime Act was passed and given Royal Assent, it was not proclaimed into law – presumably as a gambit to make this obviously unconstitutional law more difficult to challenge in court.

Still, since everyone figures it’s going to take five or six years of stalling by the government’s lawyers before the Supreme Court punts it, umpires in the civil service softball league are going to have to start yelling “Ball” and “No-Ball” instead of shouting “Strike!” at slow-pitch games next summer.

The problem with this is that every time the ump calls “No balls!,” a worried looking member of the Tory caucus is likely to show up expecting to be told to cast a vote against his constituents!

Where was I? Oh yeah. Ezra.

So what does Mr. Levant, Canada’s greatest friend of free speech, have to say now that the most direct attack on free expression since the imposition of the War Measures Act is taking place in his home province?

Not a peep! Nada.

I know, I know. Mr. Levant is no friend of unions. Indeed, he calls anyone who works for one a “union boss,” which is a bit of a stretch in certain cases.

Still, it’s that thing Voltaire didn’t say, but guys like Mr. Levant won’t stop saying, right? “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it…” Yadda-yadda.

So now that it’s illegal in Alberta to express certain opinions Ms. Redford doesn’t want to hear on pain of a fine of $500 a day – $10,000 a day if you happen to be a union boss – isn’t it mildly surprising that Mr. Levant’s got nothing at all to say about it? What’s with that?

Instead, the celebrity commentator is beating up an old rocker like Neil Young for saying things Mr. Levant disagrees with about his other favourite topic – the wonderfulness of Alberta’s Bitumen Sands. Talk about finding the easy way out!

So where does all this get us, you wonder?

Well, it gets us here: If Mr. Levant doesn’t say something soon about the most serious attack on free expression in Canada in the last half century, presumably because he doesn’t particularly like the people who are being victimized by this offensive law, I think we’re within our rights to reach the conclusion he’s full of … you know, stuff.

And if he’s full of stuff about free speech, maybe he’s full of stuff about everything else he goes on about too.

 

Free speech still matters in Ukraine, so why not in Canada?

Apparently concern about a lack of free speech in Ukraine continues to grow in Canadian Conservative circles that are completely untroubled by the same thing in Canada.

The latest example is federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who according to the unblushing stenographers at the Toronto Sun, told a demonstration of Ukrainian Canadians in Toronto Sunday that Canada is considering economic sanctions against Ukraine for that country’s legislative crackdown on protesters, which includes a ban on wearing masks during demonstrations.

Uh, isn’t this the same Canadian government that last summer enacted legislation cracking down on protesters that … bans wearing of masks during an unlawful assembly, on pain of a 10-year jail sentence?

If this is evidence that Ukraine is “moving away from Western-style democracy,” as the Sun reporter put it, does that mean Canada is also moving away from Western-style democracy? Actually, there is plenty of evidence for just that proposition.

As noted, Mr. Alexander’s example of official Canadian doublethink on the topic of public protest in Ukraine is not unique. Last month, Alberta’s then deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk expressed his distress at the attacks on free expression in Ukraine.

Mr. Lukaszuk is one of the principal architects of Bill 45, unconstitutional Alberta legislation that attacks the free-speech rights of all Albertans. Like Mr. Alexander, he was also speaking at a demonstration by Ukrainian Canadians worried about what’s happening back on the steppes of Eurasia.

The difference? Kiev is 7,000 kilometres from Ottawa and 8,000 kilometres from Edmonton, I guess. Plus, Canadian Conservatives apparently don’t think Ukrainians are stupid.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca

It’s time to recognize the market-fundamentalist elephant in the airport security screening room

Some of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s sub-contracted passenger screening supervisors at Edmonton International Airport. Fortunately for them, theirs won’t be the heads that roll. Below: Skylar Murphy, the 18-year-old brainiac with a recreational pipe bomb; the proverbial elephant in the room.

Canadian airports really do have a security problem with fundamentalists: market fundamentalists!

Everyone knows that if Skylar Murphy, Edmonton International Airport’s adolescent pipe bomb brainiac, had been Skylar Mohammed, not only would he still be in jail, but the nation would be convulsed with the efforts of the usual suspects from Sun News Network, the conservative “movement” and the Interwebs to bring us all to a fever pitch of hatred and hysteria.

This is so obvious it’s even been said aloud a few times in the mainstream media, not to mention in chatter on Twitter, which illustrates that now and then common sense can pop up in the most unexpected places.

Moreover, the crowd that constantly complains about little old (white) ladies having to take off their tennis shoes at the airport when we ought to be going after more obvious candidates for harassment (and we all know who they have in mind) has been strangely quiet these past few days.

It’s no certainty, sad to say, that large numbers of Canadians would have been able to keep their sense of perspective if Mr. Murphy had indeed been Mr. Mohammed and the front page of the Sun was right there on the table at Tim Horton’s telling us whom to hate, and why.

Regardless, the profiling issue at the heart of the gong show that began on Sept. 20 when Mr. Murphy walked through security with a working pipe bomb in his camera bag is not “the elephant in the room” in the sense that idiom is normally used to describe an important issue no one is talking about.

But there is an elephant in this room, and it’s how the market fundamentalist ideology of several recent federal governments contributed to the situation that unfolded when Mr. Murphy, then 18, had the coruscating idea of taking his pipe bomb for a plane ride.

The federal government, of course, is the jurisdiction responsible for transportation security. And even if successive Canadian governments hadn’t been all that engaged by the topic of air security, notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, they had to pay attention after Sept. 11, 2001, because our next-door neighbour and No. 1 trading partner became rather focused on the subject for obvious reasons.

Before the 911 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Canadian government was quite happy to leave the heavy lifting on airport security to the airlines.

Under the circumstances of the post-911 world, though, they had to appear to up their game, under pressure both from the Americans and the Canadian travelling public, which after all is mostly made up of voters.

As a result, on April Fool’s Day 2002, we got CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Notwithstanding the symbolism of the date, this was a genuine step forward. It makes sense to have a centralized air travel security agency run by the government to screen passengers, airport staff and luggage, and to ensure the validity and proper use of airport security passes.

But this is where the elephant in the room appears – or, rather, doesn’t appear.

Because for decades now, our Liberal and Conservative federal governments have been in thrall to the demonstrably false notion that the private sector always does a better job of everything and anything than governments do.

In their hearts, most Canadians know this is baloney – which is why they want real cops, firefighters and paramedics around when there’s an actual crisis, not some doofus in a private security company’s uniform schlumping back to the main floor to see if he can locate the fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.

This is why CATSA’s brain trust engaged in the deception that is at the heart of last fall’s debacle at EIA.

Instead of hiring its own airport security personnel, training them properly, including teaching them how to use their noggins in unanticipated circumstances, then paying them a salary appropriate to the gravity of their duties, CATSA sub-contracted the vital job of manning the security front lines of our airports to for-profit security firms.

Now, the services of such companies cost plenty because there are corporate bottom lines to pad, executive nests to feather, donations to be made to right-wing think tanks and huge dividends to pay to well-heeled shareholders.

In fact, after the promises are all broken and the dust from the bidding process has settled, private contracts often cost more than it would to train and pay a civil servant and provide her with a decent defined-benefit pension plan for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to carp about.

Maybe CATSA saved some money, maybe they didn’t. They’ll never be forthcoming with the facts, so we’re unlikely ever to know.

Regardless, what CATSA did do was hire corporations that owe a duty to their shareholders to scrimp on training and equipment for their employees, and to pay those employees as little as possible – so little they’re bound to have very limited commitment to the job they’re supposed to do.

This gives rise to what we might call the Mercenary Syndrome. Mercenary soldiers are all very well when victory is a sure thing. But when the going gets tough, tough mercenaries bug off. And who can blame them? Mercenaries have no stake in the battle but their paycheque, and someone else is always around willing to pay for their services. Which is why, despite all the propaganda about the market, sensible governments of all ideological stripes maintain their own armies.

When you think about it, some private security firm’s minions are cut from the same piece of cloth – which is why we’d rather have a real police officer looking out for us, not just because she’s better trained and paid, but because she has a sense of duty inculcated by her training, not to mention the legal right to arrest some clown trying to sneak a pipe bomb onto an airliner.

Should it really surprise us that a for-profit company’s employees gave the bomb back to the guy they caught and wished him bon voyage – and, when he didn’t want to take it with him after all, left it lying around all day while thousands of travellers filed past? Really, what did you expect?

Like you, the sub-contractor’s employees the victims of a scam, carried out with the connivance of this government agency.

CATSA requires airport security sub-contractors to dress their poorly paid, ill-trained, disengaged, fearful, non-union-protected employees in official uniforms that give travellers the false impression they’re dealing with real Canadian government security specialists who know what they’re doing when they confiscate our shampoo.

Underneath the snazzy uniforms, though, they’re just barely trained rent-a-cops paid not much above Alberta’s disgraceful minimum wage. It’s hardly the front-line employees’ fault that on Sept. 20 they didn’t have a clue.

Well, it’s time to put an end to this fakery – before the U.S. authorities wise up and impose more restrictions on Canadian travellers.

Instead of concentrating on which poorly trained employee’s head should roll for this fiasco, it’s time to recognize the obvious – that regardless of 40 years of uninterrupted market fundamentalist propaganda and the charming faith of several recent federal governments in the goodness and wisdom of the Almighty Market, some jobs can only be done properly by public employees.

As our American neighbours, who are not exactly socialists, recognized when they set up the Transportation Security Administration after 911, airport security is one of them. Even the Mexicans, despite their economic challenges, do a better job in this area.

It’s time for Canada to dump the incompetent for-profit contractors, who are barely capable of ensuring too much toothpaste doesn’t make it into airplane cabins.

It’s time to make CATSA a real transportation security organization, staff it properly, train its employees and pay them a decent salary.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The Top 13 from 2013: Alberta Diary borne ever upward on wings of far-right loons

Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the American right, surrounded by grinning acolytes at the 2013 conference of the Manning Centre for Undermining Democracy in Ottawa. Putting Dr. Paul here worked before, so maybe it’ll work again! Below: For New Year’s Eve, we show Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who says he doesn’t drink alcohol, hoisting a doublethink cocktail. Below him, Deepak Chopra, the exercise guru from Canada Post. And below him, put there as a service to the public, Deepak Chopra the New Age guru. Thanks to Alberta Diary, you now all know the difference!

The midwinter holidays equal desperate times for political bloggers.

I mean, where’s Stephen Harper when you really need him? Hiding out at 24 Sussex, presumably, with the blinds pulled down and the Mounties on high alert, trying to figure out a way to offer zero help or encouragement to the people of Toronto without offending any voters in the 905 Belt or the few remaining Ford Nation loyalists. Either that, or he’s hunkered down in Bragg Creek or some such Alberta redoubt figuring out how to make an election slogan out of “Yo, seniors! Your retirement’s a great time for fiscal discipline!” 

Nobody else much worth commentating on is around either. Unless you count Deepak Chopra, that is – not the New Age guru but the exercise guru of the same name from Canada Post who’s trying to make all us fragile senior citizens get out and walk to a postal box in the middle of winter, when we bought the flippin’ house because it had home mail delivery!

Well, for lack of anything better to do, here were the 13 best-read Alberta Diary stories of 2013, plus the number of people who read them, which must tell us something about this blog’s readership, or at least the days on which they had time on their hands. There’s Big Data in here somewhere to be mined, I’ll bet ya, and we could all get rich if we could just figure out what it was.

If nothing else, these results prove that this blogger needs the Sun News Network, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Manning Centre and other collections of far-right loons and liars, not to mention Messrs. Ford and Harper, even if the rest of you would be better off without them!

It surprised me mildly that no post about Mr. Ford made it on to the Top 13 list – though mention of his name was always a guarantee of a healthy readership. Maybe that only happens on Rabble.ca, the other place these posts appear. Rabble numbers are not included in these totals. Since I try to file every day, the vast majority of the visits recorded happen on the first day of publication.

My commentary, by the way, on once and future Conservative-Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan’s bizarre depiction of child pornography as principally a freedom-of-expression issue, which resulted in his quick although now obviously temporary banishment from conservative organizations and news organizations, was edged out of the No. 13 spot by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unsavoury political misuse of Remembrance Day.

But the No. 1 spot … well, we’ll talk about that when we get to it.

No. 13: Hoist with their own petard, Harper Tories face veterans’ Remembrance Day protest, Nov. 11, 1,254 readers.

No. 12: Hell freezes over in Alberta: Right-wing Wildrose Party sides with unions, sort of, over unconstitutional Tory bills, Dec. 3, 1,301.

No. 11: The government blinked: defiant Alberta jail guards have every right to declare victory, May 1, 1,403.

No. 10: Alberta Tories respond to protests by disabled Albertans with instinctive diversionary attack, June 2, 1,409.

No. 9: Sorry for anti-Roma rant? As It Happens interviewer demolishes Sun News VP, March 26, 1,734.

No. 8: With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy, Jan. 22, 1,913.

No. 7: Craziness in Alberta jails continues – and may get worse today, April 29, 2,027.

No. 6: Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets? Nov. 29, 2,438.

No. 5: Four-day school scheme shows Tories view Fort McMurray as not much more than a work camp, Jan. 14, 3,139.

No. 4: Redford Government set to impose wage freeze on public employees, blowing winning coalition to smithereens, Nov. 27, 3,186.

No. 3: Minuscule Canadian Taxpayers Federation in running for ‘Turfy Award’, March 13, 3,687.

No. 2: A serious question for Albertans: Is the Redford Government out of control? Nov. 28, 6,676.

No. 1: Is the right-wing Manning Centre plotting ‘Manchurian Municipal Candidates’? March 12…

Mostly over a day and a half, an astonishing 12,888 people visited the blog about the Manning Centre to read the No. 1 post of the year, almost all of them from the United States.

This can only be explained, I think, by the presence of a photo I took of Ron Paul during my infiltration of last spring’s Manning Centre conference in Ottawa. Dr. Paul is the crazy uncle of the American right and a man with more than 1.2 million followers on his Facebook page. Someone posted a link, apparently. Thanks Ron, even if you are nuts!

Still, whatever the cause, it’s no bad thing to have an opportunity to inform the wider world of the perfidy of the Manning Centre – even if I’d have preferred more people just read and did my crossword puzzle.