All posts tagged Ted Byfield

Adieu to Mark Lisac, hello to Ric Dolphin – not exactly the same kettle of fish!

The estimable Mark Lisac, at left, interviews Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, back in 2011. Below: Insight Into Government Publisher Ric Dolphin, photo grabbed from his Twitter account.

Mark Lisac’s Insight Into Government newsletter was always worth reading.

This retro-style, subscription-only publication – which was emphatically not available online – was nevertheless distinguished by its author’s elegant prose and its ability to live up to its name as an insightful source of commentary on Alberta’s politics. As befits quality material, subscriptions to IIG were not inexpensive.

Because he was consistently fair to the people he wrote about, Mr. Lisac’s newsletter – which was distributed to subscribers via email in PDF format – was rarely controversial. It had an influential readership thanks to the care the author took to painstakingly research his commentary. He had many contacts throughout the Alberta government and an earlier career as a respected Edmonton Journal columnist who was the author of a well-reviewed biography of Ralph Klein.

Mr. Lisac could be counted on to cover areas nowadays largely ignored by the mainstream media – among them, labour relations, the daily conduct of the provincial civil service and the policy implications of political posturing.

Now, alas, Mr. Lisac – who like the author of this blog is no spring chicken – has retired after eight years at the helm of the newsletter and departed from the task of writing thoughtful weekly commentary for his exclusive audience.

This happened swiftly and with little fanfare. A “farewell edition” of IIG was sent to readers on June 28. An email to subscribers followed, saying the phone had been turned off. A little later there was another email, noting with apparent relief that after 27 years under Mr. Lisac and his well-regarded predecessor Rich Vivone, who founded the publication in 1986, a “credible buyer” had stepped forward.

And so, on Tuesday, Mr. Lisac emailed subscribers again to announce “the new publisher and editor will be Ric Dolphin, a veteran Alberta journalist with significant experience in legislature and political affairs, including the publishing of a national government affairs newsletter.”

The same day, subscribers received an email from Mr. Dolphin promising that “I look forward to continuing the quality, accuracy and reliability that you have come to expect under Mark’s excellent tutelage.”

However, if readers are anticipating the same kind of commentary provided by Mr. Lisac from Mr. Dolphin, they are likely in for a big surprise. For Mr. Dolphin, based on his past activities, is a different kettle of fish entirely!

Mr. Dolphin’s new official biography, which has appeared on the IIG website, describes the new proprietor as “a veteran journalist who got his start reporting from the tobacco fields of southwestern Ontario, but came to Edmonton in the early 1980s to cover politics and other matters for Alberta Report, where he rose to executive editor, before moving on to senior writing and editing positions with Maclean’s magazine in Toronto and the Globe and Mail in Vancouver.”

But that brief squib hardly tells the whole story of Mr. Dolphin’s often-controversial career in Alberta, which raises hackles in certain quarters, and his very colourful prose, which has often seemed designed to act like the proverbial red flag waved in the face of many of his readers.

This befits a writer who has had a long association with the string of publications and enterprises associated with the Byfield Family and their acolytes that began with Alberta Report magazine in the early 1970s.

The Byfield Clan’s beloved market spoke loudly about the commercial potential of the far-right nostrums they peddled in Alberta Report, and the magazine folded in 2003. But their efforts have nevertheless been influential, churning out dedicated journalistic apostles of unfettered markets who have founded other similarly themed publications and occupied senior positions in some of the most influential Canadian journals.

In this regard, Mr. Dolphin can be fairly seen as a charter member of the influential ideological network described by blogger Dave Cournoyer in his exhaustive and valuable post yesterday evening about who is driving the Conservative agenda in Canada.

In addition to working directly for the Byfields, Mr. Dolphin was employed for a time by the Western Standard, a controversial publication founded by former Byfield employee Ezra Levant, where he got in hot water for a statement about Colleen Klein, then-premier Ralph Klein’s wife, that was widely interpreted as a racial slur. “Once she stops being the premier’s wife,” Mr. Dolphin shockingly quoted an unnamed “fishing buddy” of the late premier, “she goes back to being just another Indian.”

He was also involved in some of the Byfield Clan’s loonier ideological projects – for example, serving as an editor of the Byfields’ The Christians, Their First 2,000 Years, which sounds like a Monty Python production but was apparently intended as a serious intellectual proposition.

I first really became aware of Mr. Dolphin – who nowadays tweets under the handle @weinersandbeans – when he wrote the notorious Velvet Coffin story for the National Post in 1999, a broadside against the Calgary Herald strikers (of whom I was one) commissioned by the newspaper founded by both publications’ then proprietor, Conrad Black. It was viewed at the time by supporters of the strike as little more than an effort to undermine the strikers’ morale.

Later, in 2003, Mr. Dolphin’s prose was censured and the Herald rebuked by the Alberta Press Council for a column that portrayed life on Western Canadian First Nations reserves as, among other things, “the road to hell . . . and a society in shambles.”

In its ruling, the Press Council, which has since been cut loose by the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, said of the article: “Dolphin’s assertions in the columns relied heavily upon nameless sources, including a cab driver, a waitress and a medic who were credited with profound insights and observations about the entire Native community. The columns in question lacked balance, credibility and crossed the boundaries of fair comment.”

About the same time, Mr. Dolphin published a piece on Nelson, British Columbia, that flayed the community for its supposed friendliness to unions and pot-smoking hippies and concluded, in part, “this place is more than a town, it’s a disease. No, that’s not quite right either. It’s diseased. It has been invaded by a virus.” Needless to say, many Nelsonites were not favourably impressed.

A few days after the Press Council ruling, Mr. Dolphin left the Herald’s staff, next cropping up on my personal radar screen as the publisher of a short-lived IIG-style newsletter called Provincial & Territorial Report.

More recently, he summarized the results of the March 2007 Quebec election thusly: “Effete Continental lefties rejected the blandishments of the coke-sniffing homoséxuel in the Italian suit, and not only didn’t make André Boisclair, 40, premier, but emasculated – if that can be the word – his separatist Parti Québécois, shoving ’em from official Opposition to who gives-a-fig rump.”

Since then, of course, the PQ under a different leader has forced a reassessment of its status and potential as a political movement.

All this proves that Mr. Dolphin possesses the power to annoy, and occasionally even outrage, readers like me. That said, IIG will probably be livelier with his hand on the tiller.

But whether he can produce the kind of reporting and commentary that will favourably impress Mr. Lisac’s loyal subscribers is another question entirely, and one that will have to be answered by Mr. Dolphin and not by me.

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With no market for hate and right-wing drivel, Sun News comes cap in hand for public subsidy

More gruel, sir? The face of Sun News Network that Sun News Network would like you to see as they beg for public subsidies. Below: The real face of Sun News Network.

Sun News Network, that fearless foe of state subsidies for the CBC, wants you, Dear Television Viewer, to directly subsidize it to the tune of $18 million a year.

Have no doubt, that’s just the beginning, but it would nicely cover losses the company says now amount to a modest $17 million a year – hardly a corporate killer, one would think, but apparently enough to get Sun News queuing up at the public trough.

It turns out, as others have discovered before them (Ted Byfield, c’mon down!) that there’s not much of a market in Canada for the kind of market fundamentalist pap Sun News peddles – at least when consumers have the choice not to pay for it.

There’s even less of a market, by the sound of it, for the filthy language and outright hate-mongering indulged in by some of the network’s so-called commentators.

Given the opportunity to choose to watch Sun TV, viewers run away in droves. And who can blame them with boring drivel like Ezra Levant’s regular venomous rants about the Roma, Idle No More protesters, Hispanic business executives, environmentalists and anyone else who provokes his ill-managed anger to fill the seemingly interminable 24-hour broadcast day?

Now the so-called news channel, which disseminates anything but news, has gone with its grubby cap in hand to one of Mr. Levant’s targets, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to beg for the right to inject its poison directly into almost every Canadian home because it desperately needs the wholesale revenue that would then automatically flow back into its coffers.

To put this in broadcast-speak, Sun News and its separatist bosses at Quebecor Inc. want the CRTC to grant it “mandatory carriage,” which means you can’t keep it off your TV dial because it would be included in basic cable coverage everywhere in Canada. That way, I guess, it’ll be easier for them to campaign against opposition parties led by committed federalists from Quebec, of which there will soon be two.

In the normal course of events, a broadcast regulatory agency like the CRTC is the sort of group that would provoke one of Mr. Levant’s trademark jeremiads, complete with accusations it is staffed by civil servants itching to help out “union bosses” by “censoring” his harangues.

But for the moment, Mr. Levant and the chorus of right-wing hysterics employed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s semi-official and ideologically approved state broadcaster are silent on the topic of the CRTC while they direct their supplications to it for a flow of public subsidies to be directed their way.

You see, Sun News Network is going deeper into the hole every day, with erstwhile Harper Government spokesthingy Kory Teneycke, now a vice-president of his former boss’s favourite network, pleading that opening the money tap “is live or die for us.”

For its part, the company claims it has market research that shows viewers would watch its programs if only they knew where to find them. But this is highly suspect, since cable companies push packages that include the network and viewers aren’t biting.

The fact is, if you wish, you can get a well-run focus group to endorse a ham sandwich for prime minister – which, come to think of it, is pretty much what Sun News Network spends its days doing right now to the minuscule audience of angry white gun-owning males and zitty-faced Internet trolls it has managed to attract so far.

The subsidy Sun News Network is seeking now would add up to about $4 a year from all cable subscribers to directly subsidize hate and propaganda, but you can count on it that, in the manner of all their ilk, the corporation will soon be back at the well for more.

So tell me, with Sun News imploring a federal agency for a quick infusion of cash from hard-pressed taxpayers, granted in the form of a bogus “user fee,” where’s the always noisy Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation? They’re like the proverbial cop, I guess, never around when you actually need them.

Regardless, according to the Globe and Mail, Sun News faces “stiff odds” in this effort, seeing as there are lots of other more credible and creditable broadcasters vying for the 10 channels that must be carried by all cable companies.

But Harper cronies and sympathizers are now deeply embedded in key positions at the CRTC and it has a proven track record of backing down and running away from confrontation with Sun News, as when the broadcast regulator hastily dropped its investigation of Mr. Levant’s on-air obscenities last fall after the network issued a vague and insincere apology.

Given all that, I don’t think we can count on the CRTC not to agree to put the Tory back into regulatory.

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Let’s see… reform the Senate or beat Ken Kowalski? The Missing Link reappears

The Senate, sans Link: Reform it, or abolish it? Whatever … just keep the room for something nice. Below: Non-senator Link Byfield.

After a short period of relative silence, Alberta’s Missing Link has resurfaced. Link Byfield, that is.

Mr. Byfield, an icon of the post-Conservative right out here in the New West, is seeking the Wildrose Alliance’s nomination for MLA in the rural riding of Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. He shouldn’t have any trouble getting it.

Mr. Byfield is the former publisher of the now defunct Alberta Report magazine, the loopy monthly panegyric to the towering twin True Faiths of God and the Market founded by his father Ted Byfield in 1973. It folded in 2003, presumably because there was an insufficient market for its market-fundamentalist bromides.

Whatever you may make of Mr. Byfield’s economic and religious views, you have to give the man credit for a certain intellectual consistency and the courage of his radical convictions. For example, he seems to have his doubts about that market-distorting war on drugs (though he blames “utopian proto-feminists” for its beginnings), thinks marriage should be handed back to the church and believes state-run education was the ruination of the family.

Be that as it may, Mr. Byfield is nowadays variously described as conservative newspaper columnist (true in the sense that out here in Western Canada, the term “conservative” is often used to describe “fundamentalist radical”), president of the Society to Explore and Record Christian History (true according to the Wikipedia, although one would have thought this field had been pretty well tilled by now), and one of Alberta’s three remaining “Senators in Waiting.”

The latter position, dating to a brainstorm experienced by then-premier Ralph Klein in 2004 as a way to keep on side those many Albertans dedicated to the proposition that a “Triple-E Senate” should be foisted upon a skeptical Canada, has amounted to non-Senator Byfield’s principal claim to fame in the eyes of the general public.

The cunning Mr. Klein knew perfectly well that no one was going to fall for the idea of an Elected Senate that gave Prince Edward Island Effective power Equal to that of Quebec and Ontario, or for that matter Saskatchewan. But he wasted a few taxpayers’ dollars on this nonsensical vote anyway in the name of popular political entertainment.

There were to be four members on Alberta’s senatorial wait staff, and in 2007 Tea Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually appointed one of them, Calgary-area farmer Bert Brown, before getting back to his Project for a New American Canada. (Mr. Harper’s PNAC should not be confused with the similarly named Project for a New American Century, of which it is arguably a part. Nor is the Triple-E Senate to be confused with the manufacturer of Triple-E recreational vehicles, which are very popular in all parts of Canada.)

By then everyone – including Mr. Klein, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, Prime Minister Harper and the other two remaining Senators in Waiting – was completely bored with the silly idea. Except for Mr. Byfield, that is, who continued to dedicate his rhetorical powers to the Triple-Edification of Canada.

Now, astonishingly, even Mr. Byfield appears to have given up on this lost cause and exchanged it for another equally hopeless passion, to wit, defeating Alberta Speaker Ken Kowalski, the province’s longest-serving and most secure Conservative MLA, in the next Alberta general election.

Both weekly newspapers in the Edmonton-area suburban city of St. Albert have now reported that Mr. Byfield is seeking the Wildrose Alliance nomination in Mr. Kowalski’s riding. Speaking from his rural redoubt in the delightfully named hamlet of Riviere Qui Barre a few kilometres northwest of St. Albert, Mr. Byfield told the weekly Saint City News: “I’m running against Stelmach. I’m not running against anyone else.”

Alas for Mr. Byfield, that’s not the way our Canadian Parliamentary system works, although we should never be surprised if supporters of the various Western “reform” movements fail to understand this. In the case of Mr. Byfield, of course, he knows perfectly well who he will be running against, it’s just that it is generally assumed by political pundits hereabouts that on his own Mr. Kowalski could only be blown out of his riding with an atomic bomb.

Talk about tilting at windmills! Mr. Byfield has exchanged the most hopeless cause in the federal jurisdiction for the most hopeless electoral crusade in Alberta. To put this another way, if Mr. Byfield can succeed in unseating Mr. Kowalski, a 30-year veteran of the Alberta Legislature who is still going strong, flying pigs will be waiting down the road at Villeneuve Airport to carry him to Ottawa and his seat in the Senate.

Back in Ted Byfield’s heyday, when young Link was barely out of his teens, Alberta Report was known as St. John’s Edmonton Report. It was named, we assume, for the patron saint of printers and publications.

As a scholar of Christianity, though, Mr. Byfield will appreciate that his current political efforts are more likely to be watched over by St. Jude the Apostlepatron saint of lost causes.

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What on earth sparked Wildrose leader’s awkward defence of failing clinic?

The Muses, above. Danielle Smith’s creepier muses, below.

They say that Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith keeps photos of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Ted Byfield in her office … used to, anyway.

The Iron Lady, the Great Communicator and Fierce Old Ted. The latter was a fundamentalist of both the religious and market persuasions, plus an educational eccentric, who nevertheless was for many years one of Western Canada’s more entertaining opinionators.

Despite his goofy views, Mr. Byfield always understood that a great column requires a beginning, a middle, an end, a fiercely argued thesis and no more than 800 words. One thing he never did in his writing days, though, was to make people laugh, intentionally anyway.

So it’s interesting to ponder which of these muses Ms. Smith was listening to when she decided to hasten to the defence of that corporate shipwreck, Networc Health Inc. of Calgary, and its bankrupt private surgical clinic.

As the Alberta political party farthest to the right and most deeply committed to privatizing the most public-sector activities the soonest, the Wildrose Alliance has a major problem with the straits in which Networc finds itself.

The company’s private, for-profit Health Resource Centre surgical clinic went broke after making an ill-considered investment in the hope of getting more contracts from the Alberta government’s province-wide health superboard. That, in turn, burned Alberta Health Services and left it fearful it would be unable to deliver scheduled hip and knee surgeries in Calgary. Thereupon AHS expended considerable sums of public money to pay a receiver to keep the facility afloat while they figured out what to do next.

In other words, Networc and its tribulations are quickly turning into a very public spectacle clearly illustrating why privatized, contracted-out health care – among the idées fixe of the Wildrose Alliance – is a really dumb idea.

Enter Ms. Smith with her call for Premier Ed Stelmach and his Conservative government to bail out Networc. She insisted unconvincingly that the company’s problems were entirely the fault of the AHS and the government, and that what she was proposing was something other than a bailout. But whatever it is, this quacking, honking fowl is not the graceful swan Ms. Smith says it is.

Up to now, the Wildrose Alliance has played things pretty shrewdly, so this latest move is hard to fathom. Maybe it’s just a Hail-Mary pass to toss an embarrassing situation out of sight.

Possibly it’s a misguided attempt to woo Calgary voters by suggesting the Alliance’s power base is somehow being shortchanged by Alberta Health Services, which the party likes to refer to as “Edmonton dominated.” Of course, while the AHS corporate offices are in Edmonton, its executive is dominated by people from … uh, the former Calgary Health Region. In other words, it would be fairer to refer to the provincial health superboard as “Calgary influenced.”

Regardless of that quibble, yesterday Ms. Smith was back in the pages of the Calgary Herald – the newspaper that once nurtured her and her crackpot economic dogma – blaming everyone but Networc for Networc’s troubles. She even assailed left wingers, for heaven’s sake – as if they had any power in Alberta – for being among the company’s tormentors.

Who’s next? Proof readers, irresponsibly irritated by the troubled corporation’s missing K?

Now, despite Ms. Smith’s claim in her story that the Calgary Health Region reneged on a commitment to increase the number of surgeries performed by the Health Resources Centre, thereby causing the company’s difficulties, the record seems to suggest otherwise.

Leastways, back on Sept. 9, 2009, Networc CEO Bernie Simpson told the late Michelle Lang of the Herald that “we’re pretty much at capacity for our (operating rooms) here today. … It just makes business sense to try to continue to grow.” The story went on: “While Simpson said there haven’t been any negotiations to expand the company’s surgical contract with the provincial superboard, he said the clinic is ‘always hoping and aspiring to do more work.’” (Emphasis added.)

Well, there you have it. Hoping and aspiring.

Aside from prompting fits of giggles among Ms. Smith’s readers, this contretemps suggests the Wildrose leader is finally running afoul of what many Alberta political observers long suspected could become her Achilles heel. To wit: the fact she is an ideologue, and not, despite her considerable charm, a consensus politician.

If true, this leads one to suspect her inspiration for this clanger was Mr. Byfield – father of the missing Link, Alberta’s putative “Senator in Waiting.”

Despite their many efforts and several re-branding efforts, neither Byfield, père ou fils, could make a success of Alberta Report, their kooky monthly panegyric to the glories of the market. Alas, it seemed there was no market for that stuff.

Ms. Smith could find herself in similar difficulties if she frightens enough Albertans by obstinately insisting that “if we want to fix our public health system, we need many more HRCs, not less.”

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