All posts tagged Tim Hudak

Ontario’s by-elections: potentially a perfectly acceptable result for Premier Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Conservative Tim Hudak’s Vandal horde sacks Rome Upon Lake Ontario, the media narrative for last Thursday’s Ontario by-elections that was sensibly ignored by the province’s voters. Below, Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. Was she taking a page from the Book of Alison Redford, also below?

One can read too much into any by-election result, I suppose. And it’s particularly dangerous for a commentator from far away to divine profound truths from the results of an election to which he paid scant attention until the final tally appeared on the Internet.

Still, maybe distance lends an opportunity to see the forest despite all the trees, as the professional pundits of what remains of the mainstream media certainly failed to do in the case of Thursday’s five provincial by-elections in Ontario.

The media narrative leading up to the by-elections was that Ontario voters were set to punish the province’s still-governing Liberals for the sins of former premier Dalton McGuinty by turning entirely to the loony market-fundamentalist, anti-union Conservative fringe led by the thoroughly dislikable Tim Hudak.

Indeed, to those few of us paying any attention out here on the Great Plains of Alberta, it sounded very much as if Mr. Hudak’s Vandal horde would triumph in all five ridings in preparation for sweeping away the last vestiges of Liberalism in Rome Upon the Lake in the next general election, whenever that takes place. Farewell Premier Kathleen Wynne… get used to it … yadda yadda.

In the event, of course, something quite different transpired. For one thing, Ms. Wynne’s government hung on to two of the five seats – not at all a bad outcome in a situation in which it is said, stereotypically and usually accurately, that the Opposition has the edge.

For another, the New Democrats took two of the others, so not a bad night for them either – depending on how they play it now.

As for the putatively resurgent Tories, they only managed to win one seat – and that one narrowly, with a high-profile candidate in a location heavily influenced by Toronto municipal politics. Heck, the guy was even helped on the doorstep by Toronto’s ever-popular Conservative Mayor Rob Ford … I got that right, didn’t I?

Regardless, from way out here in the oil-soaked hinterlands this sounds like a pretty acceptable result from Ms. Wynne’s perspective. It was a potentially good jumping off point for NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as well – if the NDP can manage to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as New Democrats have been known to do, or leaving the impression they could split the vote sufficiently to get the disagreeable Mr. Hudak elected by accident.

For Mr. Hudak? Not so good, I’d say, although I suppose he can take some comfort from the fact his candidates placed second everywhere they didn’t win and the confidence he will remain the favourite of the media’s fanciful story line.

As for the media, never inclined to let the facts get in the way of a compelling narrative, it’s sticking to its story that losing three out of five seats on a night of by-elections amounts to a shellacking and humbling punishment for Ms. Wynne’s Liberals.

For her part, Ms. Wynne slyly acknowledged both this possibility and the media’s narrative in her post-vote summation – hoping, presumably, that voters can be persuaded they have now punished her Liberals enough and will swing back to the government in the next general election out of fear of what Mr. Hudak might do.

Indeed, just such a phenomenon may explain what happened in the April 2012 election here in Alberta, in which voters wanted to punish the Progressive Conservatives under then-newly minted Premier Alison Redford, but not so severely that they punished themselves by electing a still-scary Wildrose government.

When polls in the final hours before the election began to indicate a Wildrose government was a real possibility, and with no third party like the NDP also in a position to form a government, nervous voters swung back to the Tories under Ms. Redford. Arguably, what most Alberta voters really would have liked to have seen was a term of two of Conservative minorities.

Since the election, by the way, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has taken the opposite tack to Mr. Hudak – working hard to appear less radical and keeping her party’s loonier followers under tight control.

Ms. Wynne must surely hope that the minority government she inherited from Mr. McGuinty followed by last Thursday’s by-election results, carefully spun, will be enough to persuade Ontario voters to act like Albertans and send her back on the rebound with a comfortable majority.

Given Thursday’s results, that outcome doesn’t seem all that farfetched.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Some Alberta seniors will soon be eating better meals – they can thank the union for them

AUPE’s powerful viral video on the unappetizing 21-day menu. Below: Former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne.

One of the least successful experiments of the short, unhappy reign of Stephen Duckett as CEO of Alberta Health Services was the so-called 21-day menu, the unpalatable tinfoil- and plastic-wrapped meals that were trucked in, reheated and fed to helpless residents.

Cooks who once prepared nutritious and more appetizing meals at more than 70 public long-term care facilities around the province were let go or assigned to other duties.

The TV dinner-style meals were hauled in by reefer truck from factories in faraway places like Ontario and Pennsylvania, just in case you were wondering if they came from a nearby, centralized kitchen.

Dr. Duckett’s idea when he championed this scheme was apparently that it would save money. Whichever senior manager did the cost estimates for the Australian PhD economist, who was fired by the government in November 2010 after the Notorious Cookie Incident, must’ve used a wonky calculator. If the scuttlebutt is to be believed, it ended up costing about 6 per cent more.

The packaged menu was recycled every 21 days – hence the name – although, a lot of it was recycled in the conventional sense a lot more frequently than that, because residents couldn’t bear to choke down their sickening meals and the leftovers went straight into the recycling bin out back.

Now the Alberta Government has announced that – rather like Dr. Duckett himself – the 21-day menu has passed its best-before date, at least in Alberta’s long-term care facilities.

In a terse news release that never mentioned the term “21-day menu,” Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said yesterday he has directed AHS “to discontinue the practice of preparing meals offsite and reheating, and bring back on-site food preparation services in the long-term care facilities it operates.”

There will be rejoicing in nursing homes throughout Alberta, and rightly so.

And good for Mr. Horne for making this decision – it likely took some courage on his part to overcome bureaucratic inertia within his department and the monolithic province-wide health authority. Mr. Horne said in the release that a plan must be given to him by October, and it must be put into in operation at 73 facilities by December. That should mean decent meals are again being served to approximately 2,700 residents by Christmastime.

But while you’re cheering, don’t forget that this never would have happened without the efforts of a labour union – the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represented the small group of cooks directly affected by this foolish policy.

AUPE put a lot of effort into fighting the 21-day menu, even though it didn’t really have a lot to gain from it – after all, the number of AUPE members affected was a drop in the bucket out of the union’s close to 90,000 members. What’s more, only a few actually lost their jobs. If AUPE gets any additional members because of today’s decision, it’ll probably be fewer than a dozen.

While it’s all very well to say that residents and their families raised a ruckus about these inedible meals – they screamed bloody murder, as a matter of fact – it’s said here they would have been ignored if it hadn’t been for the ability of AUPE to take collective action on behalf of its members, and on behalf of the rest of us.

Working with a Calgary-based advertising agency called Scout Communications, which does a lot of work for unions, AUPE created a documentary video that explained in terms anyone could understand why the meals were so bad, and what needed to be done about them. That video had enormous impact when it went viral on the Internet.

It was obvious AUPE and Scout had created something really remarkable when the video started showing up on right-wing websites, being distributed virally by Canadians (and some Americans too) all across the political spectrum and even became the topic of a Wildrose Party press release calling on the government to re-hire local cooks at these facilities.

Wherever that video appeared, it was accompanied by statements like these, picked off a social media site at random:

  • “The food at the Bashaw long care is gross. Trucked in ,reheated and fed to the residents if they can choke it down. If not they go hungry and the slop is thrown in the garbage.”
  • “Who came up with this idea they should have to eat it, All these people have to look forward to is a good meal with good smells how dare you take that away from them and then not listen to the people who are dealing withit every day. Shame on you as a government.”
  • “This vidio should be aired on all the TV networks several times to make sure everybody sees it. Maybe a HUGE public outcry would change some poiicy. Then again I believe the PC party could care less.”

I’m sure readers will pardon the errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar. This stuff comes straight from the heart.

Pretty soon a local broadcaster got into the act, asking its food reviewers to rate the 21-day meals (two thumbs down!) and making fun of the government.

It was that kind of response to the AUPE video, let it be said, that lit the fire under the government – the heat from which led directly to Mr. Horne’s announcement yesterday.

Remember this when right-wing think-tanks, on-air bloviators and market-fundamentalist political parties like the Ontario Conservatives, led by former Wal-Mart manager Tim Hudak, talk about restricting the ability of unions to do anything but negotiate contracts, and to tie their hands so they can’t do that very well. This is precisely the kind of thing they’re trying to stop.

These well-funded corporate-backed groups will tell you they’re just supporting “worker choice,” “the right to work” and an end to “forced union dues.” This is all hot air. They want to make it impossible for working people to act collectively, in their workplaces and outside of them, because they see that as being to their political and financial advantage. When people like the Fraser Institute say they are only worrying about your rights – watch out!

Perhaps this is why Lorne Gunter, the far-right Sun Media columnist and longtime friend of the Fraser Institute, launched an attack on AUPE last night, posted to the Suns’ websites about eight hours after Mr. Horne’s announcement. Or perhaps it was merely a coincidence and yesterday was chosen for some other reason for the old climate change denier to start reciting old-fashioned market fundamentalist bromides about unions in general and AUPE in particular.

Regardless, everyone is going to say they’re delighted by Mr. Horne’s decision yesterday – but, behind the scenes, a lot of far-right ideologues are going to find this decision very tough to swallow and will be vowing revenge on AUPE.

One way they’ll try to get it – as in Mr. Gunter’s screed – will be to encourage more private sector, for-profit nursing homes, and fewer facilities like the 73 under AHS control. That’s a topic for another day.

In the mean time, let’s celebrate this small victory. Here’s to decent food for seniors. As Mr. Horne said, “They deserve to live in comfort and dignity and enjoy food that is not only nutritious, but looks and tastes home-cooked and satisfies cultural food preferences.”

And here’s to AUPE for making it happen.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca. Just so you read it here first, David Climenhaga once worked for AUPE. He no longer does.

National Post poll bad news for Alberta Tories … in the unlikely event it’s right

A word of advice, boys: don’t bet all your kibbles on the results of a one-day demon-dialer poll! Alberta political analysts or the chances they take may not be exactly as illustrated.

Toronto’s National Post – or, as I prefer to think of it, the National Pest – states in its meta tags that it’s “Canada’s trusted source for national news, financial news, world news, blogging, twitter, tweets, opinion, vodcast, podcast, commentary, entertainment and sports.” Really, it does!

Nothing in there about polls, though, so we’re not going to get to report them to the Better Business Bureau, tonight anyway.

But for some reason the Toronto newspaper took it upon itself to publish details of a poll about Alberta politics. Who knows why? Their new managing editor lived in Calgary until recently, so maybe he got nostalgic for the warm tickle of a Chinook on his ears. (For you Easterners who aren’t in the know, a Chinook is a nasty warm wind that makes people act crazy when it blows. They get them a lot in Calgary and almost never in Edmonton, which may account for why we elect more New Democrats up here.)

Whatever the reason, the Post was happy to oblige with a story when a Toronto polling company called Forum Research, which has little or no track record in Alberta, took it upon itself to get the skinny on what we Albertans are really thinking, politics-wise. To do this, Forum used robotic demon-dialing technology to call 1,072 Albertans over the course of one day at the worst time of year to get people at home. Forum knows its respondents were all over 18, by the way, because they all pressed a button their phone saying they were.

By doing all this, Forum came up with results that would be extremely bad news for the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford if they were true.

Based on this information, the Post’s reporter wrote a story that treated the poll credulously and concluded its results were good news for the Redford Conservatives. As previously noted, the local papers – which surely have journalists on what’s left of their staffs who know better – reprinted this yarn whole cloth.

The Forum poll’s key conclusion was that, on Dec. 14, anyway, the intentions of decided Alberta voters broke down like this:

Progressive Conservatives: 38 per cent
Wildrose Party: 23 per cent
New Democratic Party: 13 per cent
Alberta Liberal Party: 12 per cent
Alberta Party: 6 per cent
Other Parties: 9 per cent

The Post’s report reversed the numbers for the NDP and Liberals, and didn’t mention the “Other Parties” column, leaving some readers with the impression Forum’s numbers didn’t add up to 100. (They still don’t actually, but since they’re only off by one, we’re going to chalk that up to rounding.)

Now, if the Redford Tories are really at 38 per cent three or so months from a general election, they are in deep doo-doo. This would mean they are a full 15 per cent behind where they were at the time of the 2008 general election. It would put them close to their lowest level of popularity since first being elected more than 40 years ago.

So, if there were anything to this poll – and the mood around here sure doesn’t feel like it – it would not place the Redford Tories with “a strong lead heading in to next spring’s vote,” as the Post’s scribbler concluded.

In fact, since former premier Ed Stelmach announced he was stepping down last January, most credible polls have put the Conservatives in a much stronger position. For example:

Environics (Nov. 4-8) – 51 per cent
Citizen Society Research Lab (Oct. 1-2) – 48 per cent
Environics (July 15-24) – 54 per cent

Those results by pollsters who used credible methodology suggest the Forum poll is an outlier at best.

Some of the Forum poll’s other results strain credulity too. The Wildrose numbers seem unlikely, but are within the realm of possibility. The Alberta Party numbers, it is said here, stray across the line into fantasy. As for 9 per cent committed to other parties, we can only ask, what other parties? I know, the Communists and Social Credit run a few candidates now and then, but, uh … 9 per cent? I don’t think so, people.

The poll also concludes that Premier Redford’s personal approval ratings are low, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s are high and Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s are disastrous. There’s no mention of NDP Leader Brian Mason, despite the fact the New Democrats have outpolled the Liberals in several polls, including this one, and outpolled the Wildrose Party in one.

There’s plenty to like about Forum’s poll – but only if you’re a Wildrose supporter who hasn’t been paying attention. Naturally, the comments section of the Post was full of input from such citizens, concluding that “Wildrose should get 40 to 50 seats,” “Redford is a red tory and will destroy this province,” we need to “get rid of this socialist,” yadda-yadda.

My only advice to these nice folks: Don’t bet the bungalow or even the moose antlers in the den on the results of a single poll! They need to remember that this is the same company that back in June predicted that Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was well-positioned to form a majority government in October.

As for the Post, I guess, they really need to get polling onto that list of meta-tags.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.