All posts tagged Tim Hudak

Big by-election in Fort McMurray? Never mind that! As goes Macleod, so goes Alberta…

Fort McMurray, before the Bitumen Boom. Things have changed. Below: Conservative Fort McMurray-Athabasca candidate David Yurdiga, Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha, NDP candidate Lori McDaniel, former Conservative MP Brian Jean.

If the good people of Fort McMurray climb out of bed this morning and decide to elect a Liberal to represent them in Parliament, there will be shock, dismay and consternation throughout Alberta.

But, fear not my fellow Albertans, even in the unlikely event this happens, it almost certainly won’t mean whatever you are told it means.

Yes, today is the day after the weekend and the day before Canada Day on which there’s a federal by-election in the riding of Fort McMurray-Athabasca, which occupies most of the northeast quarter of Alberta. Fort McMurray, where most of the riding’s 72,000 electors live, is the principal city of the Athabasca Bitumen Sands region and what we might therefore call the heart of Alberta’s Tarpatch.*

The by-election in Fort Mac is one of four in the nation, two in Alberta. The other Alberta vote will be in the Macleod riding, in the heart of Wild Rose Country, literally and figuratively, directly south and west of Calgary. The other two, in Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt, are in metropolitan Toronto.

Now, you may wonder why four important by-elections have been scheduled on the day between a weekend and a national holiday, a Monday when a lot of people in Toronto and Alberta are bound to make a four-day weekend of it and be out of town.

The reason is explained simply in two words: vote suppression. This from the government that brought you the “Fair Elections Act,” a piece of legislation whose title cannot be printed without quotation marks around it.

Low turnouts, as most readers of this blog will know, tend to favor governing parties, which is what Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada, the national vote-suppression guys, hope will happen today.

The Fort Mac by-election became necessary way back in January when MP Brian Jean, a Conservative, announced he was pulling the plug on politics. Mr. Jean was pretty diplomatic about his reasons for deciding to commit stepaside – he said he’d done his work after serving the riding for a decade and wanted to spend more time with his grandkids, which is fair enough.

Reading between the lines, though, it was apparent that Mr. Jean found the life of a stalwart Alberta Tory backbencher, taken for granted even though he won by 72 per cent, pretty dull. Leastways, lately he’d been spending his time on Parliament Hill devising crossword puzzles. Too loyal to do something exciting like Brent Rathgeber, another bored Alberta Tory ignored by the prime minister, he left quietly while he still had some tatters of dignity.

Which brings us to today’s big event in Fort McMurray-Athabasca:

The Conservative candidate is someone named David Yurdiga. Mr. Yurdiga is an oilpatch guy, a consultant and rural municipal politician who owns one of the neatly trimmed goatees attached to the faces of a surprisingly large number of Alberta Conservatives nowadays. He refuses to talk even to the reliably Conservative Globe and Mail, the respectful newspaper that after careful consideration endorsed the Conservative Party led by Tim Hudak in the recent Ontario election.

The Liberal candidate is a fellow named Justin Trudeau … No, actually it’s someone named Kyle Harrietha, although Mr. Trudeau, the leader of the party, has been spending enough time in the riding that you’d be forgiven if you reached the conclusion he was the one who wants to represent Fort McMurray.

Mr. Harrietha is a former Parliament Hill staffer and has ties to environmental and non-profit organizations. In his website picture, he looks unnervingly like a youngish Stephen Harper with a full beard. The first of these things is important to the message the Liberals are trying to send.

The NDP candidate in the riding is a Suncor employee named Lori McDaniel. She is a fine person, but she is not, alas, really a factor in this particular race.

The Liberals are throwing a lot of support into the riding, as Mr. Trudeau’s frequent visits indicate, because they hope they can arrange a reprise of last fall’s election in Manitoba’s Brandon-Souris riding in which even a respectable loss can be portrayed as a victory.

This is, of course, because Fort Mac is where it is, and hence the kind of riding that one would think would for economic reasons support a government determined to export bitumen at any cost.

So the idea that people there might elect a representative of a party that says it both supports the environment and wants to sell bitumen, instead of a party that just wants to sell bitumen and the environment be damned, powerfully advances the Liberals’ narrative.

However, if the Liberals do manage to pull off a win, it won’t be that big an endorsement for environmentalism in the Tarpatch, which is one thing you’re sure to be told if you live in other places. And it won’t necessarily be proof Canadians are so fed up with Mr. Harper for all the things that bug the rest of us that even in Fort Mac they’d vote against him, another thing you’re likely to be told.

In actuality, people in Fort Mac will be making a judgment about which is the best strategy for shipping out bitumen and selling it – Mr. Harper’s, which doesn’t appear to be working at all, or Mr. Trudeau’s, which hasn’t been tried. The possibility the Liberals can persuade Fort McMurray voters they have a better, more internationally palatable, plan for marketing Tarpatch bitumen, is the reason they are in the horserace at all.

Whoever wins, it won’t be a big defeat for the NDP because the Opposition party will have to take a tougher line on the environment, sure to be death in Fort Mac, in order to win credibility elsewhere in the Dominion. So if the NDP did too well in Fort Mac, it would hurt them with core voters elsewhere – places like Trinity-Spadina where the NDP’s Joe Cressy is definitely in the running today.

Finally, if the Liberals do well, even if they don’t win, you are sure to hear that it’s evidence Alberta is finally changing, and that voters from other parts of Canada, of whom there are many in Fort McMurray, are finally bringing a diversity of political views to this province.

Well, there could be a grain of truth to this – and, Lord knows, we live in hope out here that it will someday happen – but while there are many folks from away in Fort McMurray, to a high percentage of them it’s a jobsite, not a home.

So we probably won’t have to hear Craig Chandler, the right-wing extremist from Calgary, ordering newcomers to vote Conservative because “this is our home and if you wish to live here, you must adapt to our rules and our voting patterns, or leave.” Mr. Chandler was born in Ontario.

If you’re progressive in your political views in this province, optimism that someday things will change runs deep. But we’ve had our hopes dashed too many times to really believe it will happen just yet – even in a place like Calgary Centre, which last year missed a by-election opportunity not to elect Joan Crockatt, the ridiculous MP who recently put out a press release explaining how “our planet is much greener because of fossil fuels.”

So, while one hopes profoundly for an entertaining and even uplifting result in Fort McMurray this evening, you’re really not advised to bet money on it.

And even if it happens, progressive people elsewhere in Canada need to remember that the demographics of Fort Mac are different from those of the rest of the province. So while the city is fortunate to be able to be described as “the second city of Newfoundland, if you go by population,” those of us who live elsewhere in this province cannot make that happy claim.

No, as goes Macleod, so goes Alberta.

And if Prime Minister Harper had sent an airfleet of F-35s to drop atomic bombs on Okotoks, Vulcan, Cochrane, High River and the other fine communities of Macleod, the survivors would crawl out of the rubble today and vote Conservative.

Everything you hear by way of analysis tonight? Take it with a grain of salt.

*NOTE: The Tarpatch. I coined it, and I want the credit in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Red in Central Canada, blue in Ottawa an immutable rule that favours Harper’s Tories? Don’t bet on it!

Is Justin Trudeau finished because Kathleen Wynne just won in Ontario, like the mainstream media’s pundits are telling you? Don’t be too sure! (Say, as one Twitter commenter asked, who is that old man with Mr. Trudeau?) Below: The same guy with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. Weird! Below them: Lawrence Martin and Tim Harper.

It’s certainly true that the Ontario Liberals are going to miss Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak. He was a gift that kept on giving.

But their federal cousins, and the federal NDP as well, can take comfort. They still have Stephen Harper.

So it’s not necessarily a sure bet, as the Laurentian Punditocracy has been relentlessly trying to tell us, that because there are now Liberals safely ensconced at Queen’s Park, which is what Ontarians call their provincial Legislature in Toronto, and in the National Assembly, which is what Quebeckers call theirs in Quebec City, the Harper Government has no election worries into the indeterminable future.

Like the national aspirations implicit in the names of the two legislatures, our national electoral myth – that when rouges are in power in the largest provinces’ capitals, bleus must hold power in Ottawa – ain’t necessarily so.

This is true even if the national myth is being repeated in the wake of the Ontario provincial election by reasonably sensible pundits, as well as the Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spittle-flecked Sun News Network cheerleaders and the rest of his media barking chain. Consider Lawrence Martin, of the Globe but not in the Globe, and Tim Harper, in the Toronto Star, neither of whom are exactly far-right loons.

“The prime minister will not be terribly dismayed by the election result,” wrote the former immediately after last Thursday’s Ontario results were in, followed by a long list of recent times when one party at Queen’s Park seemed to assure the other would rule in Ottawa. “The contours of history and the power of incumbency cannot be ignored,” said the latter, with his version of the same list. “Historically, Ontarians vote contrarily on the provincial stage and the federal stage.”

Nowadays we in the west, of course, mostly reliably vote conservative provincially and federally alike no matter who occupies the seat of power in the nation’s capital, so whatever qualities we bring to the national table, we are not much help as electoral soothsayers.

And, it is certainly true, as Messrs. Martin and (Tim) Harper argue, that there is a general historical correlation between having Liberals in Central Canadian provincial legislatures and Conservatives in Ottawa, and vice versa. With good reason, as voters in the most populous regions of Canada sought balance in their governance.

But it is said here that Canada has changed in fundamental ways, and this historical axiom is far less likely to apply now and into the future.

For one thing, the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Harper is not the Conservative Party led by John A. Macdonald through to Joe Clark. Indeed, it is not a conservative party at all, but something sui generis in Canadian history, a radical neoliberal party in the mould of the modern American Republicans, clever at political tactics but scornful of Canadian history, contemptuous of Canadian values, disloyal to the idea of a Canadian nation-state and proudly disdainful of science.

There may be differences in tone and style between the Conservative parties of Prime Minister Harper and Mr. Hudak, but they are quite alike at base and quite different from anything we have seen calling itself Conservative in Canada before. Moreover, in Ontario they shared the same electoral machine – which has just been handily defeated by a government that voters had every reason to punish, and which also shares a demonstrably more effective electoral machine with its federal party in the same territory.

The Harper Conservatives have become, as Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman says of the Republicans, a party whose “intellectual devolution seems to have reached a point of no return” at which “allegiance to false doctrines has become a crucial badge of identity.”

Conspiracy theories, hatred for unions, kowtowing to the gun lobby, witch hunts against scientists, and hostility toward science in general and climate science in particular have become mainstream in both parties, and it is increasingly obvious to everyone.

It’s scary indeed that, as Tim Harper suggested, Prime Minister Harper is actually more moderate than Mr. Hudak!

The assumption that Central Canadians will continue to vote blue in Ottawa when they have voted red at home is based either on the notion that one of those parties offers a moderate reformist instinct and the other a quiet resistance to potentially harmful change, which is demonstrably no longer true, or that Central Canadians are too dumb to see it, which the circumstances and results of Thursday’s Ontario vote manifestly suggest they are not.

So the first problem with the Red-Blue Axiom is that Canadian Conservatives are blue no more, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to deny.

The second key change has to do with the movement of money, power and population to the west, and in particular here to Alberta.

On the face of it, since we Albertans vote Conservative with metronomic regularity, this would appear to help Mr. Harper, since he can always rely on his base on the Prairies no matter how much contempt he shows for us. But he could rely on us anyway, and the fact remains that while he may be able to form a majority government without Quebec, and even without Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, he can’t form a majority without Ontario.

What’s more, just as in Mr. Martin’s theory Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s supposedly high spending ways give the prime minister an effective target, the increasing income inequality among Canadian provinces – specifically, between Alberta and all the rest – will give Liberals and New Democrats new opportunities in their strongholds that are unique in Canadian history.

Even if, as far-right media rather unpatriotically hopes, foreign bond-rating agencies force Ms. Wynne into painful and destructive austerian policies, they are certain to come too late to help Mr. Harper in his next election hot zone.

And Central Canadians are unlikely to react well to Albertans – who are rich because they won the resources lottery, not because they have been particularly good managers – preaching to them self-righteously about the need for austerity while we insist on maintaining a firewall around our own high spending.

This will be especially so when we are demanding something for nothing – for example, a muscular petro-Loonie that lays waste to central Canadian manufacturing and unregulated Danzig Corridor for our pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas in other provinces. What do you think is next on the Harper Agenda now that the Northern Gateway Pipeline has been rubber-stamped? All this to suit a Cordilleran Elite that dwells within sight of the Rockies and proposes to run Canada in its own interests from there!

This will make a tempting target for both rouges et oranges, methinks. Indeed, I would bet we can expect some calls for national income balancing from smart politicians in Central Canada. This will drive Alberta leaders, federal and provincial, into a rage so perfectly frantic they will be unable to keep their lips zipped, Mr. Harper’s famous party discipline notwithstanding.

What these conservatives say in such circumstances has the potential to make the case in Central Canada against the Harperites and set the stage for success by parties that see no percentage in paying any attention to Alberta’s robotically Tory voters.

Moreover, with the prime minister’s increasingly frantic determination to proceed with pipeline development at any cost – it is, after all, the only way to finance his Thatcherite vision of dismantling of the Canadian social safety net, 209 safety conditions be damned – this strategy is as likely to sell in British Columbia as it is in Central Canada and the East.

These circumstances are new in Canadian history.

So while we are all welcome to cling to whatever myths and traditional wisdom we like – especially after an election that didn’t go the way the Cordilleran Petro-elite and its media echo chamber profoundly wanted it to go – that doesn’t alter the fact the conditions that made the Red-Blue voting axiomatic in Canada no longer exist.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Waitin’ for the end of the world … Hear, O Ontario! Mr. Manning will be with you momentarily

Preston Manning readies himself before the mirror of his Seventh Floor office at the Prophetic Market Institute in Calgary, the Calgary skyline in the background obscured by a June rainstorm, one of those June rainstorms, as he ponders the frightening meaning of last Thursday’s Ontario election. Actual Alberta market fundamentalists and the names of their institutions may not appear exactly as illustrated or stated. Below: The real Mr. Manning and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.”

- Jeremiah 2:19

You’ve done it now, O People of Ontario!

You have defied thy LORD, the Angry GOD of the Market! And there will be a price to pay. Oh woe! Oh woe unto thee!

Believe me not? Well, thee shall see! Just thou wait for it! Thy fear is not in the Market, and thou shall pay for that, dudes and dudettes, Big Time! This is no joke, saith the LORD of the Market and all His prophets.

The prophets of the Market have begun to speak. We have heard them, O Ontario, and we shall be hearing more from them. A lot more … I’m prophesying a bit myself here.

The Angry God of the Market, you see, wanted you to smite Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal Party, for they had defied the will of the Almighty Market. They wanted you to LIFT UP thine eyes to the bills and Wise Up! They wanted you to raise up the Prophet Hudak, who set out for you the hard and narrow path of righteousness, and you did not!

They say: It would have been better to have suffered the loss of 100,000 jobs – every one of them held by an undeserving Grit-voting public service union member anyway – than the apocalypse you have now loosed upon the land for, count on it, there will be consequences!

But the prophets can take comfort, predicts Matt Gurney of the National Book of Pestilence, the Voice of the Prophetic Market Institute, otherwise known as the National Post. “In the big picture, who is premier or what party won the most seats wasn’t the real issue,” he revealed.

This is the big issue: The province is out of money. The debt load is at the maximum. Credit-rating agencies are already watching keenly, and may have already downgraded the province, had they not feared being accused of meddling during the election campaign,” he wrote the day after the accursed election, which happened to be Friday the 13th.

“The party’s over, in other words, and the reckoning is here. Premier Wynne, clearly, is not one who’d prefer to lead a slash-and-burn government. It doesn’t matter. That’s what she’s going to have to do, anyway.” (Apocalyptic emphasis added.)

He went on (and on, and on, as prophets tend to do, since knowing when to quit is not a typical prophetic virtue): “Because while Ms. Wynne may be the premier, it’s the ratings agencies that will set the agenda. She’s just a caretaker. The number geeks own Ontario now.”

The Word of the LORD. Thanks be to the Market. (Never mind if fiscal stimulus works, which it’s been known to do. Never mind that a modest tax rise is also a policy option.)

You get the idea. It doesn’t matter. The facts don’t matter. The Angry God of the Market is in charge now and you’re going to suffer for not being willing to suffer. You should have embraced Mr. Hudak. Then, at least you could have enjoyed your suffering, knowing it was the right thing to do.

And the prophets at the National Pestilence? They’re going to like it when you suffer … although only in a grim, loving, patriarchal way that truly wants something better for you … poverty and obedience for sure, and probably a little bit of chastity wouldn’t hurt you either.

Mr. Gurney was only the first down from the mountain to explain the coming reckoning.

Here comes Scott Stinson, writing yesterday in the Pestilence: “Fresh from a remarkable victory in which the Liberal leader demonized the Progressive Conservative plan to freeze public-sector wages and shrink the size of government, Ms. Wynne will in short order have to confront how she will live up to her own promises to balance the budget on schedule, ramping down spending with… no cuts.”

And say a big prophetic hello to John Ivison, who also saw the future yesterday, also in the Pestilence, and did not like how it looked one bit: If Ms. Wynne “can’t cut spending,” Mr. Ivison prophesied, “she is going to have to increase revenues and federal Conservatives are already speculating that an HST rise is on the way.”

A tax increase! God have mercy upon our souls! Bitter is the day! Your stroke is heavier than your groaning, Ontario!

And that’s just the start. The Seventh Trumpet is about to sound. The Prophet Preston will be down himself momentarily from the mountain, or, leastways, the Seventh Floor of the Manning Centre near Seventh Avenue S.W. in the Holy City of Calgary. Then you’ll really be in for it, Ontario!

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, Markets without end. Amen.

Thus endeth the lesson.

This post also appeareth on Rabble.ca

Ontario election: OK, that didn’t really work … can we get back to being New Democrats now?

Ontario’s victorious Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne last summer. Below: Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Well! That didn’t work out quite as well as we’d hoped, did it? Can we get back to being New Democrats now?

I speak, of course, of the results of last night’s Ontario provincial election – in which it seems to me from my vantage point out here on the Great Plains that there are lessons in the vote for New Democrats in the west and the New Democrats in Ottawa too.

I realize that the great Canadian tradition of punditry is for the pundit to spin his or her favoured party’s electoral defeat as really being a victory.

We’ll be seeing lots of that this morning, I expect, as Conservative partisans at the National Post, Sun News Network and like outfits explain why Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals’ decisive defeat last night of Tim Hudak’s Tea Party Conservatives, through the medium of an an NDP budget, really means Ontarians want more conservative government, and, what’s more, that it’s actually good news for Stephen Harper’s Reform Party Government in Ottawa.

Both those propositions are mostly baloney, of course, but that won’t stop them from being trotted out by the very same people who just days ago were warning Ontarians not to fail to elect Mr. Hudak’s destructive, dishonest, economically ignorant, anti-worker, fundamentally un-Canadian party just because it made up factoids, got caught lying about them, used the Koch Brothers’ economist to cook the numbers, and planned to start off by destroying 100,000 jobs. Naturally, they’ll also blame unions – as if union members shouldn’t have a right to vote.

Indeed, Mr. Hudak’s program was so egregiously bad that even the members of the Globe and Mail’s Tory-to-the-bone editorial board were set to endorse Ms. Wynne’s Liberals until someone in the Roy Thomson Room at corporate headquarters picked up the good, grey telephone and gave them their marching orders.

Of course, conservative pundits out here in the west, and that’s pretty well all of them, will be telling you the Ontario election is good news for Alberta because companies will move here now since this province is so well run. Don’t believe that either. We’re rich because we won the oil lottery. And we don’t want to share.

Not being a real paid pundit, though, I’m going to break with tradition and say that the Ontario New Democrats, the party I not-so-secretly lean toward, could have done a heck of a lot better last night if they’d only acted like New Democrats instead of pretending to be conservatives.

Agreed, last night wasn’t a rout for the NDP. They hung on to most of their voters, and shuffled the deck chairs to hold the same number of seats. Unlike Mr. Hudak, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath won’t have to resign in ignominy. As Tom Walkom of the Toronto Star put it, they’re merely back to Square One.

Still, surely they could have done better if they’d paid attention to the evidence that what the people of Ontario wanted was … a New Democratic Party government.

I’ve been thinking for months that the Ontario New Democrats really had a chance to win this one. After all, enough people in Ontario are genuinely progressive, plus it’s been long enough for them to forget the NDP government led by Bob Rae, and he’s a Liberal nowadays anyway. Polls suggested Ontario voters recognized the Liberals richly deserved to be punished for their myriad sins of the recent past. And Ontarians were smart enough to recognize that 11 years in power is too long for any party – Alberta! Ah-hem!

But they were obviously pretty hesitant to use the sadistic wreckers of the unprogressive Ontario Progressive Conservatives to punish the Liberals because they recognized that, like the Harper Government in Ottawa, it held democratic institutions in contempt and has been infected with the extremist virus that has taken control of the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line.

The phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” springs to mind for using a party like Mr. Hudak’s to punish a party like Ms. Wynne’s. In other words, Ontario voters weren’t fools.

All the New Democrats really had to do to have a chance to win the government of Ontario, it’s said here, was act like New Democrats. For some reason, alas, Ms. Horwath decided to take another road, and by now we all know how that worked out.

So Ms. Horwath and her caucus voted down the budget that included a lot of what New Democrat voters pray for – infrastructure spending, public transit, pension improvements. This brought down the Liberal government, setting up last night’s less-than-optimum outcome from the NDP perspective.

Maybe just like generals are famously said to do, the NDP’s strategists were fighting the last war. Ontarians obviously decided that they’d rather have NDP policies than the NDP name with Conservative policies. Under the circumstances, it’s pretty hard not to agree with them.

Of course the knock against Liberals – entirely justified by history – is that they blink left and turn right. So we’ll see if Ms. Wynne keeps her promise and passes the budget the NDP helped defeat. And then there are the next couple of budgets after that, when Ontario will have to confront its $12.5-billion deficit.

And, yeah, the Liberals obviously persuaded quite a few NDP voters to change their votes by saying the Hudak Cons were scary. But they were scary! That’s the problem with the first-past-the-post system, which we’re probably stuck with, because if Canada adopted proportional representation we’d have progressive governments forever.

As for the so-called Conservatives, there’s a lesson for them here too – but they’re likely too far gone to take it. So many Canadians have had enough of their evil market-fundamentalist theology that they need to go back to being the kind of conservatives that actually conserve stuff worth keeping. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

For their part, Ontario’s Liberals need to recognize they got re-elected because voters wanted the policies they said they’d deliver. As a matter of fact, we’ve just watched this movie out here in Alberta, and it didn’t have a happy ending for the lead character.

Folks here were richly sick of the Progressive Conservatives in 2012, and rightly so, but they didn’t really want to elect a party that at the time sounded a lot like Mr. Hudak’s Conservatives. So they participated in the weird Alberta custom of joining the PCs for $5 and helping the governing party choose its leader, picking the apparently most progressive candidate of the lot. In addition, many progressive Albertans voted PC, instead of their traditional parties, because they were afraid of the only likely alternative.

It all turned out to be a dirty trick, though, and after two years with Alison Redford at the helm, this time it looks like they will be less susceptible to taking the same bait again.

We’ll see about that, I guess, but the advice from the Prairies to Ms. Wynne is to do what Ms. Redford should have done and govern like the progressive leader that electors voted for, not a Tim Hudak-Stephen Harper clone with delusions of grandeur.

But whatever the future holds, congratulations to Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals tonight. They certainly deserve it!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Ric McIver Progressive Conservative leadership campaign lurches to life as Hancock Government sends mixed signals

Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver, shown on his extremely uninformative campaign website. Below: Education Minister Jeff Johnson and newly appointed Jobs, Skills, Etc. Minister Kyle Fawcett. 

Ho-hum. After days of virtual silence, former infrastructure minister Ric McIver made the first official appearance of his campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s geriatric Tory dynasty at an Edmonton old-folks’ home yesterday morning.

Judging from the poor-quality CBC live-feed of the event, Mr. McIver’s heart wasn’t quite in it. But maybe I’m projecting – people keep telling me not to under-estimate Mr. McIver, so I won’t – but he sure looked like a guy who would rather have been somewhere else doing something else.

News reports said there were about 25 seniors at the event, and they probably would have rather been doing something else too. Shuffleboard, maybe.

But, hey, in for a dime, in for a dollar – Mr. McIver said he was going to run and he pushed back when heir apparent Jim Prentice’s secret agents tried to get him to quit the race, or so he said, so there’s nothing for it now but to load up his pickup truck with his camping gear and drive around the province until the ordeal is over in September. If the weather improves, it could even be a nice summer for him.

Folks will probably like him out there in the hinterlands, because he looks a bit like G. Gordon Liddy – you know, sort of like a cop with a big authoritative moustache who could crack a few heads and keep the city slickers in Redmonton in line.

As for his platform – which can’t really be scrutinized because his campaign website isn’t up and running yet – he seems to have cast himself as the Anti-Redford.

No senior member of the of the campaign team will be eligible for government contracts (the former premier’s ex-husband and transition team leader Robert Hawkes’s law firm springs to mind), the premier’s chief of staff will make less money than the premier (a reference to well-paid Redford chief of staff Farouk Adatia) and lobbyists won’t be allowed to work for the government while they lobby (jeeze, this could be anybody).

Mr. McIver averred that the people of Alberta will be his bosses, promised more money for municipalities and, in deference to the venue, vowed to implement a friendlier re-test for elderly drivers.

That said, Mr. McIver had to spend a lot of time at the newser resisting the efforts of a monomaniacally persistent radio reporter to say something negative about Ms. Redford’s controversial Sky Palace plans for a secret first-ministerial bedroom suite atop a provincial building in downtown Edmonton.

Mr. McIver refused to take the bait, remaining manfully inside his message box repeating that he would only have one office in Edmonton, thank you very much. It sounded as if he found the exchange as pointless and unsatisfying as everyone watching must have.

Beyond that, I can’t tell you much about Mr. McIver, who seems to be a bit of an interprovincial man of mystery. He was born somewhere, and moved to Alberta in his mid-20s from there or somewhere else. Before he became a professional politician on Calgary City Council, he did something in the food industry. For someone. And also for himself. The scant details available are mostly found on his official legislative biography. I await a return email from his constituency office with more details, which will be duly passed on to readers.

Meanwhile, while we wait and the already exhausted leadership race grinds on, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s cabinet has been busy sending mixed signals to public employees.

This week, Education Minister Jeff Johnson chose to continue his blood feud with the province’s teachers, taking a kick at their combined union and professional association that looked like an easy win with the public, but may come back to haunt the government later on.

Meanwhile, Kyle “Leaky” Fawcett, newly proclaimed jobs and stuff minister by Mr. Hancock to replace Thomas Lukaszuk – who is just now playing the role of the third wheel on the Tory leadership racing car – was trying to curry favour with the civil servants in his new department.

Mr. Johnson still seems to be mad about Alberta Teachers Association delegates voting “no confidence” in his cabinet role at a meeting earlier this month, something Mr. Hancock rather unavoidably ignored. So with plenty of fanfare, he overturned some ATA discipline he deemed “too soft” against several teachers found guilty of abusive behaviour toward students, misappropriation of funds and the like.

There’s no way the ATA – which one could argue comes with a built-in conflict because of its dual disciplinary-representational role, something the same Tory government has permitted and even encouraged over the years – can win a media micturition match with Mr. Johnston about this.

Just the same, what seems like a sure winner with a public that’s not really paying attention and the columnists in the Sun Media commentariat may not go over well the province’s hypersensitive and increasingly irritated teachers. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact they can normally be counted on to vote Progressive Conservative en masse in a pinch.

So Mr. Johnson’s provocative public gesture, which probably could have been accomplished diplomatically behind closed doors, may come back to bite the Tories in the next general election.

Meantime, Mr. Fawcett was provoking guffaws among employees of the Ministry of Jobs, Skills and Other Worky Stuff with his emailed effort Tuesday afternoon “to take a quick opportunity to say hello on what has been a truly thrilling week for me and my family.”

“As you may know, yesterday I was sworn in as the Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour,” the charter member of Alberta’s original Fiscal Four, who in 2009 vowed to wear black until the province was back in the black, emailed his new departmental staff. “What an honour! I am passionate about public service, and the responsibility I am accepting today is not something I take lightly. Alberta is an amazing place with amazing people.”

“The work you do and that we will continue to do together will help ensure we have safe and productive workplaces, and are well positioned to address the labour market challenges that a strong economy creates,” he continued larding it on. “I am excited to get started.”

There followed a long list of Mr. Fawcett’s accomplishments (U of C degree in political science, school board trustee, yadda, yadda), then an effort worthy of Mr. Prentice to establish his blue-collar street cred: “Both my dad and brother are tradesmen, and I hope that my familiarity with the trades will serve me well in my new role.”

Tears of hilarity were shed all ’round.

+ + +

National Post, you have achieved perfection … now get lost!

The National Post, I think, should just close down.

I have said this in the past, too, but on those occasions I am prepared to admit my comments were influenced by bitterness and bile. This time, though, my recommendation is based on pure admiration.

The Post, better known in professional circles as the Pest, founded by the revered Lord Black of Crossharbour, who is nowadays better known as Lord Black of Harbourfront, has achieved journalistic perfection. Nirvana! Since they can do no better, I say they ought not to try.

I refer, of course, to the headline on Andrew Coyne’s column yesterday, “Tim Hudak’s bogus Million Jobs plan is no reason not to vote for him,” a reference to the pathetic lies told by the Ontario Conservative candidate about how many jobs his platform will create. (Hint: Not nearly a million.)

You may have thought this headline was satirical, as did I when I first I spied it. But, no, it is an accurate reflection of Mr. Coyne’s central thesis, and Mr. Coyne appears to be in earnest.

So this is the perfect headline, the perfect column and the perfect argument for the neoliberal aesthetic: Just because we cheated you and lied to you is no reason not to love us. In fact, you’d better love us … or else!

I’d say you just can’t make this stuff up, except, of course, that’s exactly what Mr. Hudak did, and what Mr. Coyne thinks Ontarians should overlook.

Mr. Hudak, Mr. Coyne, the Post, the lot of them. They have all achieved perfection. And we love them for it. Really. Now, would they all please just sod off?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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.