Wildrose rollover a betrayal of epic proportions.

Q: What do World War II France and the Wildrose Party have in common?

A: They both rolled over.

At least the French were facing the Nazi Germany army, and almost certain destruction. The only thing the Wildrose was facing was losing the next election. Not quite the same thing, but they rolled over just the same.

You can describe the defection of nine Wildrose members to the Progressive Conservatives in any number of ways — opportunism, cowardice, naked political ambition, whatever — but the one that really sticks is betrayal.

The last betrayal in Canadian politics of this magnitude was when Lucien Bouchard left the Brian Mulroney government to lead the separatist forces in Quebec in 1990. But there has never in Canadian history been a case of an official opposition party capitulating in such huge numbers. While Bouchard went on to near sainthood in Quebec, the same cannot be said about the Wildrose MLAs who are jumping the listing ship. And the leader of this traitorous bunch Danielle Smith. THE Danielle Smith who has spent her entire political career accusing the PCs of all manner of political scumbaggery. Almost as bad is Rob Anderson, who quite literally snarls in contempt in his questions for the government.

What Smith, Anderson and the other faceless drones that have bolted the party have done is unprecedented in Canadian history, where the opposition party has essentially conceded defeat to the government. It’s shocking.

It beggers the imagination that most of the Wildrose caucus would betray the people who voted for them, and the party that supported them, by quitting their party en masse. As bad as the Edmonton Oilers are, even they wouldn’t abandon their team (as much as they would like to) to join the Calgary Flames.

What is perhaps most amazing about this is how shortsighted the ex-Wildrose MLAs are. It was just a few months ago that the Wildrose were riding high, hounding Alison Redford from office. When Jim Prentice took over and co-opted virtually all of the Wildrose’s policies, the spineless Wildrosers threw in the towel, apparently believing that Prentice was unbeatable.

Apparently, the Wildrose MLAs are not only spineless, they are also lousy students of history. While Prentice is riding high right now, the next election is probably two years away, which, as the Wildrose should know, is an eternity in politics. Sure, the odds of the Wildrose winning the next election in 2016 were long. But hey, I ran as a LIBERAL in Alberta, knowing full well that I was NOT going to be on the winning side. But I did it anyway, and so did every Liberal and New Democrat in Alberta over the last 30 years. Winning isn’ the only thing that matters in politics. There are a few corny old things like public service and honouring the people who voted for you that still matter. Liberals and New Democrats run for office knowing their odds of winning their seats are long, and the odds of winning government are longer still; say, the distance from the Earth to Jupiter. But they run anyway, because they feel they have something to offer, or something to say.

Apparently, the Wildrose defectors feel they have nothing left to say. So they went into government.

What an insult to the voters of the ridings. What an insult to the thousands of people who donated to the party. What an insult to the party executive, who put in thousands of thankless hours, only to be shat upon by their politicians.

Let’s hear it for falling oil prices!

If you scan the newspapers these days, you will notice a lot of sky-is-falling stories, only with the word ‘oil’ instead of ‘sky’. Here in Alberta, news that the price of oil is falling is treated with Armageddon-like concern. The treasury is being depleted! Cuts are on the way! Jobs will be lost! Etcetera, etcetera!

Yes, we’re all supposed to be wringing out hands here in the oiltopia that is Alberta. Me? I’m chanting ‘How low can you go?’

I’m loving this. If that sounds greedy or selfish, well, maybe it is. But to me, an Alberta motorist, the falling price of oil means only one thing — less pain at the pumps.

As I write this, you can find gas for less than 85 cents a litre. About six months ago, the price was about $1.25 a lire. That’s a 40 cent a litre drop, which equates to a saving of $20 on a 50-litre fill. So this is good news, right?

Ah, wrong. It’s supposed to be bad news, because our treasury is addicted to oil revenues — about a quarter of our revenue comes from oil revenue — and we’re going to feel the DTs from royalty withdrawal. Outside of Alberta, our stock market is falling, and the dollar is dropping. Woe is us.

Or maybe, woe is you. I’m alright, Jack.

Here’s the thing. If the province doesn’t have as much money to squander, it impacts me not at all. My interaction with provincial government offices or services is so limited, I actually can’t think of any provincial service cutbacks that could impact upon me. I’ve unloaded my Canadian oil and gas stocks from my RRSP. I don’t travel outside the country, so the lower dollar doesn’t make any difference to me. Yes, I know some produce will cost more because of the falling dollar, but I can live with that.

I know that if oil stays low (let us pray) that the big oil companies will reduce investment in Alberta. But is that a bad thing? Thousands of people are pouring into Alberta looking for some of what sweet, sweet crude money. Is it a bad thing if fewer high school grads (if that) show up looking to drive trucks in Fort Mac?

Then there’s the borderline insane downtown building boom in Edmonton. Will a sustained period of lower oil prices result in a scaling back of the dozens of projects planned for downtown, if not some outright cancellations? Probably … and that’s not an entirely bad thing either. My feeling is that the Edmonton condo/office tower building boom has been based on the belief that $100 a barrel is here to stay. Welcome to reality, Edmonton.

The bad side to lower oil prices is more Big Picture stuff. If oil stays cheap and plentiful, there will be less reason to develop alternative energy sources. Regardless of the price, there will come a day in the not-so distant future when gas will not be the primary fuel for cars, and that will change the entire oil production picture. But that’s in the future. For now, enjoy the cheap gas. I know I will.

Inside the New York grand jury room: the leaked transcript

JUROR NO. 1: Alright, everyone, settle down. We have to make a decision on the Eric Garner case. Now, we’ve all seen the video of this unfortunate tragedy. The cop put him in an illegal choke hold, and despite the fact he was pleading ‘I can’t breathe”, the cop continued to apply pressure. And as we all know, Mr. Garner died. Clearly, we have to take some kind of action against the officer, agreed?

JUROR NO. 2: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 3: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 4: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 5: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 6: I agree as well. I mean, the evidence is overwhelming. But I think we should be careful, here. I mean, I think calling it a homicide would be a little extreme, don’t you think?

JUROR NO. 2: You’ve got a point there. We don’t want to look like this is just a knee jerk reaction to that Michael Brown case in Ferguson, do we? I mean, these are New York City cops we’re talking about here, not some hayseeds with military equipment in Mississippi.

JUROR NO. 2: Missouri.

JUROR NO. 2: Whatever. My point is, let’s not overreact. I say homicide is off the table.

JUROR NO. 3: Well, OK, but we have to consider manslaughter.

JUROR NO. 1: Oh, I agree. Absolutely. Unquestionably. But y’know, you can see the victim —

JUROR NO. 2: Alleged victim.

JUROR NO. 1: I stand corrected. The alleged victim does put up a bit of a fight. I don’t now about you, but if a cop says to me, ‘come with me, pal, you’re under arrest’, I put my hands behind my back and wait for the cuffs, you know what I mean?

JUROR NO. 5: That’s a good point. If he has just gotten into the squad car as he was told, none of this would have happened.

JUROR NO. 3: Actually, if he hadn’t been selling cigarettes illegally, none of this would have happened.

JUROR NO. 2: Good point. He was the author of his own misfortune, in many ways.

JUROR NO. 1: Exactly. And should a cop be liable for just doing his job?

JUROR NO. 3: Right. These guys are heroes.

JUROR NO. 2: I thought firefighters were heroes.

JUROR NO. 3: Cops, too. And military people.

JUROR NO. 4: Agreed. And may I just add EMTs as well?

JUROR NO. 3: OK, cops, firefighters, the military and EMTs.

JUROR NO. 5: OK, everybody’s a hero. But back to my point. The guy shouldn’t have resisted arrest. I mean, he actually stepped back and made the ‘get away from me’ gesture. That’s just asking for trouble.

JUROR NO. 2: And how was the cop supposed to know that a choke hold could kill a guy? I mean, I used to play something called the pass out game when I was in school where you chocked a guy, and he fainted. Nobody ever died.

JUROR NO. 5: I remember that. What a blast! But let’s be fair, here. The guy said ‘I can’t breathe’.

JUROR NO. 3: Could have been a ruse. If the cop let go, who knows what might have happened? He might have been shot.

JUROR NO. 1: But the guy was unarmed.

JUROR NO. 3: The cop didn’t know he was unarmed, did he? He could have had an  automatic pistol in his pocket. Let’s be honest, most New Yorkers have a gun.

JUROR NO. 1: That’s true. I’m armed right now.

JUROR NO. 3: Really. What are you packing?

JUROR NO. 1: A Glock.

JUROR NO. 3: Sweet.

JUROR NO. 3: Exactly my point. I didn’t know you were armed. This Eric guy could easily have been armed.

JUROR NO. 4: OK, so the cop was taking reasonable precautions under the circumstances. He was faced with a very large bla-

JUROR NO. 2: Careful!

JUROR NO. 4: A very large MAN, who may or may not have been armed, and who was engaged in a criminal act. The more I look at this, the more I think the cop was just doing his job, and something went wrong. Can we maybe just go with excessive force?

JUROR NO. 6: Was it? Did you SEE the size of that guy? It was like roping a steer in a rodeo.

JUROR NO. 1: And, let’s be brutally honest here; the guy was a heart attack waiting to happen.

JUROR NO. 3: Exactly. I had a big fat uncle who dropped dead one day, just like that. Coulda happened to this guy, too.

JUROR NO. 1: OK, let’s recap. A New York City cop, just doing his job, sees a crime in progress. He attempts to arrest the perp, who unwisely resists arrest. In the course of the ensuing struggle, the criminal expires. So …. no charges?

JUROR NO. 2: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 3: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 4: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 5: Agreed.

JUROR NO. 6: I agree as well. Now, to something much more controversial … what to order for lunch.

Why are the PCs so afraid of gay teenagers?

Premier Jim Prentice has gotten off to a pretty impressive start as the latest star of the longest running series in Canadian political history, Alberta Dynasty. He did a lot of little things right, like cancelling the ill-conceived plan to change our license plates and grounding the provincial fleet of airplanes. He did the usual big picture announcements, promising 1,487 new schools, or something like that. The voting public gave him a robust vote of confidence by going four-for-four in byelections, and just for fun he picked up a couple of Wildrose members, practically by accident. The Wildrose seems to be collapsing before our eyes, and the polls put the Tories back in front. All is well in Prentice Province.

So why is he so terrified of gay teenagers?

Prentice’s first misstep as premier has been in dealing with Liberal Laurie Blakeman’s fairly innocuous private member’s bill.

Blakeman, the best friend the gay community has in Alberta politics, proposed a bill that would require Alberta schools to institute something called a gay-straight alliance in high schools upon request from students. Sounds innocent enough, right? When I was in high school, I always felt like an outsider, and I’m straight; I can’t imagine how miserable life can be for a gay teen, particularly in this age when you can be hounded and bullied 24/7 via social media. You would think that something called a gay-straight alliance, which would create a more welcoming environment for gay teens, would be a slam-dunk for the government to support.

But no. Blakeman’s bill forced the Prentice government to cobble together a hodge-podge bill to supersede the Liberal bill. Titled “An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children” (Prentice has learned well while in the Stephen Harper cabinet; giving a bill a preposterous feel good title is straight from the Harper playbook), the bill doesn’t outlaw gay-straight alliances, but it gives the school boards the power to say no to the request to form such a group. But if a school board took such a measure, the kids would have a legal recourse — they could go to court! *

Seriously.

This is beyond preposterous. Does the province really believe that a bunch of high school kids have the know-how or the desire to take their school board to court?

Why would the Prentice government haul out a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito?

My guess is that Christian schools — and Catholic schools** — still have a tremendous amount of sway with the government. Presented with the choice of pissing off the gay voters, or doing the same to the evangelical Christian voter, the Tories sided with God.

What is especially surprising about this needless snafu is just how easy it would have been to avoid it. In fact, supporting Blakeman’s bill would have served the government’s political purposes.

If the Tories supported the bill, and the Wildrose didn’t, the Wildrose would have been pushed into the deep end of the lake of fire. But if the Wildrose voted in support of it as well, the issue would have died. If all parties supported the bill, those opposed would have no one to vote against.

But what of those MLAs who are opposed to the bill, for whatever reason? If the PCs or the Wildrose genuinely had MLAs opposed to the bill on ‘moral’ grounds or whatever, the smart strategy would have been to let them say a few carefully chosen words against it, then make sure they were absent on the day the bill came up for a vote. The MLAs could then go back to the voters, and in the unlikely event the issue came up, they could say, ‘Hey, I was opposed, and spoke against it. But I lost. That’s the way democracy works.’

But they didn’t do that. The PCs could have let the bill slide quietly through the legislature, taken a few minor hits from opponents, and wrapped themselves in the warm fuzzy embrace of inclusiveness and general niceness. But instead of voting for a bill that is designed to prevent bullying, they came out looking like bullies themselves.

* Early Thursday, the bill was amended to eliminate the court option in favour of going to the minister of education. The GSAs would then hold their meetings off-site from the schools. How this is any great improvement is beyond me.

** According to the Journal, the Catholic system doesn’t allow GSAs because the group is too narrow in its reach. What a crock. Catholic schools have football teams even though they exclude people who don’t play football, right? And if students wanted to form a support group for, say, native students, or new immigrants, there is no way the school board would say no to those groups despite being too narrow.

Talking about the CFL: Hey, don’t stop reading!

With Grey Cup CII upon us, I thought this week I’d write something about the venerable old Canadian Football League, even though I know I risk losing most of my readership. I could drop to single digits here, from my usual double.

I’m an unapologetic fan of the CFL, and have been for years and years, through thick and (more often than not) thin. I know that most people, whether you’re a sports fan or not, don’t care about the CFL. And after the season the league has just offered up, it’s harder than ever to defend the old league.

Even the most dedicated fan of the three-down game will have to admit that the 2014 Canadian Football League season was a bust.  This should have been a banner year for the CFL. Ottawa unveiled a new stadium and a new team. Winnipeg’s stadium still has that new stadium smell to it. Hamilton finally moved into its new digs, after the longest series of construction delays in history (lesson to everyone: construction NEVER finishes on time). It was shaping up to be the year when a crop of new quarterbacks made their mark on the league.

But it seemed everything went wrong. Important players fell like dominos this year. Defences dominated, so much so that we saw a number of no-touchdown games, unheard of in the score happy league. Referees decided that they knew more about the game than the players, making games unwatchable. Most worrisome is the number of fans in the stands. The CFL is still, despite the healthy TSN contract, a gate-driven league. Average attendance is down, and attendance in Toronto wasn’t worthy of the word. Crowds were weak in Montreal and Edmonton for the playoffs — playoffs, for crying out loud!

A lot of what went wrong in the CFL this year could be attributed to just having a bad year. Some of the problems can be fixed (better referees, bringing in Americans if we have to), improved TV production (I ask again, TSN, why no super slow-motion? And please, no more Rod Black and Glenn Suitor), and just better luck. But a poll released this week confirms the most worrisome CFL concern, one that may not be fixable.

An Angus Reid poll of about 1,500 Canadians found 24 per cent of respondents said they planned on watching the Grey Cup, which is good. It also found that the CFL was the second most followed pro sport in the country, slightly ahead of Major League Baseball and even the NFL. But here’s where it gets disturbing. When asked if they had to choose between watching either the Grey Cup or the Super Bowl, a huge generation gap emerges. Sixty-one per cent of people 55 and over chose the Grey Cup, while 65 per cent of those 18-34 chose the Super Bowl.

This is a problem. Older Canadians have an affection for the Grey Cup and the CFL, while younger Canadians are lured to the behemoth that is the NFL. Quite a number of years ago, the CFL would have been the unquestioned favourite of almost all Canadians. There was even a time, long long ago, when the CFL could and did bid for important players who came to Canada because they could make more money here. Not any more, obviously.

My concern is that younger Canadians have been permanently drawn into the orbit of the NFL. I still don’t believe the American style of football is superior to the Canadian brand, but there is no question that the televised product leaves Canadian football looking like a 97 lb. weakling. Also, the NFL is the most valuable sports league in the world — Forbes magazine says the average value of an NFL team is $1.43 billion — and a Canadian product competing against the world’s no. 1 sports behemoth can’t win. It’s a corner store versus Wal-Mart.

So, what to do?

First, make it one division. The old east-west rivalry thing doesn’t hold much sway anymore. That was the old Canada, where the west (as a country, not a league) was weaker. Now that western Canada is the economic engine of the country, national rivalries don’t exist anymore. Scrap the two divisions, and force the weaker eastern teams to field better teams.

Second, I would move the season up, way up, to avoid competing with the NFL as much as possible. Start the season in June, or even late May, to wrap up the season in late October. Better weather for the playoffs ensured (if the Grey Cup were in Edmonton this year, it would be a frigid fiasco), and the league would stay as far away as possible from NFL competition.

Third, get the Argonauts out of the Skydome, or whatever they call it now. They averaged about 16,000 fans this year, a disgrace for the biggest city in the country. Admit the most they will draw on any weekend is 25,000, and find them a place that works.

And fourth, get a team in Atlantic Canada. Do whatever it takes.

Now that I have solved all the problems of the Canadian Football League, I will pull up my rocking chair and watch with the rest of the old fogies in the country as the Stampeders destroy the Tiger Cats on Sunday.

The least wonderful time of the year.

Welcome, shoppers, to the most frenzied time of the year, when most of what used to be called ‘spare time’ is taken up by shopping, planning your shopping list, scanning online for bargains, or simply driving around the mall parking lot looking for a spot.

Christmas (or, if you prefer, the ‘holiday’ day) is a month away, which seems like a lot of time. But according to the retailers of the world, a month is barely enough time to get everything done. That’s why Christm — sorry, ‘holiday’ — shopping advertising began before you had the chance to throw out your Halloween pumpkin.

Here in Edmonton, shopping is not just a pastime and occasional necessity, but a way of life. Thanks in large part to the existence of The Mall, shopping has become the thing to do. (For non-Edmonton readers, when you say The Mall in Edmonton, it can only mean West Edmonton Mall, the 800-lb. gorilla of shopping and entertainment experiences. We have plenty of other malls in Edmonton, but when you say you’re going to the mall, you’re going to THE MALL.)

I work part-time at a store in The Mall so I can make enough money to spend on items at The Mall (it’s a vicious circle). Last week, my shift started in late afternoon on a Saturday. I gave myself plenty of time to find a parking spot, but I still had to park outside The Mall’s parking lot and walk several blocks (remember, this isn’t just a mall, it’s the largest in North America) to get to work. So, on a Saturday afternoon, more than a month before Christmas, I couldn’t find a parking spot at THE LARGEST PARKING LOT IN THE WORLD! *

Now, it’s not as if The Mall isn’t open enough hours so people have no choice but to shop on Saturday. The Mall is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm, and from 11 am to 6 pm on Sunday. It is open 364 out of 365 days of the year. The only places open longer hours than retail in Edmonton are emergency services and hospitals. As if being open 73 hours a week isn’t enough, The Mall (like most of Canadian retailing) has jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon from the Excited States of America and has added additional hours on Nov. 28, opening from 8 am to 11 pm.  Not enough hours for ya? Well, in December, The Mall has added another late shopping night on Dec. 12, and from Dec. 13-23, it will be open from 9:30 to 10 pm Monday to Saturday, and 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays. After an ‘optional’ day of rest on Dec. 25, it’s right back at it on Boxing Day at 7 am.

It may be the most wonderful time of the year for the consumer, but for the lowly frontline staff, it is something less than wonderful. As C*****mas approaches, the pressure builds. You think you hate shopping? Just picture yourself having to be nice to hundreds of people who hate shopping as much as you do.

So, if I may, I’d like to offer a few pointers to the thundering herds of shoppers heading to the malls before C-Day arrives.

First, remember those extended hours I mentioned? Make use of them. If you can avoid shopping at the mall on a Saturday afternoon, do it. Try a Monday or Tuesday night. Lots more parking, less stressed-out staff.

Second, don’t take out your frustrations on the lowly staff member. If you don’t understand a store policy, don’t ask them to explain it. They don’t make the policy, and they probably don’t understand it any more than you do.

Third, if you’re trying on clothes, don’t just dump them on the change room floor. You might do that at home, but don’t do it in a store, with someone else’s clothes. That’s just poor manners.

Finally, remember that the person behind the counter is just that … a person. They might have been on their feet all day. Their day might have started at 8 a.m. instead of 10. They might have been face-to-face with angry, sweaty, impatient shoppers for hours. Sure, maybe you’re waiting in a lineup and getting impatient, but it’s not the clerk’s fault that you’re shopping on a Saturday afternoon instead of a Monday night.

With a little planning and a lot of patience, this can be, if not the most wonderful time of the year, at least the most tolerable.

* The Guiness Book of World Records says the WEM ‘car park’ is the largest in the world at 20,000 spaces. 

Dear New Zealand: A few thoughts on your future flag flap.

Dear New Zealand:

G’day, mates!

Oh, wait. That’s an Australian thing, isn’t it? I’ll bet you found that just a little insulting. So, as we say in Canada, sorry. What do you say down there? The Internet tells me that the Maori have three different ways of saying hello depending on how many people you are addressing — kia ora, tena koe, tena korua, and tena koutou — but that seems awfully complicated. So let’s just use the universal greeting, of ‘hey’.

Let’s get down to the subject of this letter. Our prime minister Stephen Harper has been visiting your wonderful country. He’s in the neighbourhood to attend the G8 summit in Australia, and he figured since he was in the neighbourhood, he might as well drop by. Thanks to his visit, New Zealand has been in the news here, which is nice. News from New Zealand is about as rare here as news from Canada is in New Zealand.

I’ve been reading that you’re talking about designing a new flag. Well, bob’s your uncle (again, the Internet says that’s a New Zealand expression, which seems unlikely, but the Internet never lies, right?). Good on ya. I hear you’re having binding referendums on the matter in 2015 and 2016. I’m not quite sure why it takes two votes over two years; New Zealand is not a big country (it’s actually smaller than my home province of Alberta —268,000 sq. km vs. 661,000 sq. km) so why it would take two votes to decide on a flag is beyond me. Canadians are famously reticent people, but even we can decide things in one election. But, I guess you have your reasons.

Your prime minister, John Key, is the man behind the flag proposal, and he even used our flag debate in a major speech on the proposal.

“Fifty years on, I can’t imagine many Canadians would, if asked, choose to go back to the old flag,” he said, as you probably know.

As a Canadian, let me assure you that the prime minister speaks the truth. Not only would precious few Canadians want to go back to the old flag, even fewer Canadians know that we used to HAVE an old flag. Seriously, we do NOT know our history.

The old flag.

The old flag.

For the record, here’s what it looked like. Not particularly inspiring, is it? But at the time of the flag debate — or “flag flap” if you prefer alliteration — Canada was still very much of a white, anglo-saxon country with strong ties to Great Britain. But our prime minister, Lester Pearson, knew that Canada was changing. He also recognized that the old flag had pretty much zero significance to the French speaking population of Canada.

I won’t go into the details, but despite uncompromising opposition from Pearson’s nemesis, former prime minister John Diefenbaker, the flag was adopted and flown for the first time on Feb. 15, 1965. And I can say, with uncharacteristically Canadian certainty, that it has been a hit. If you look at a flag as your country’s corporate logo, it’s perfect; it’s like the apple of Apple. There is no question when you see our flag that it’s the Canadian flag, and we love it for that. It has become such a symbol of Canada, that innumerable American tourists have slapped it on their backpacks so that people would think they were beloved Canadians rather than less-beloved Americans.

That’s why you should change your flag, friends. Your current flag is rather, shall we say, nondescript. Kind of like our old one. And, as you know, it looks an awful like the Australian flag, which much really irk you. I know it would tick me off.

So I say, go for it.I encourage you to shuck the symbols of your colonial past and join the 20th century, even if you’re about a century late. If we can put a leaf on our flag and fall in love with it, there’s no reason why you can’t put a fern on your flag and fall in love with it.

Cheers, mate. Say hello to the Flight of the Conchords. I love those guys.

Your friend

Maurice

PS: It’s -15C here today, and snowing. Do you accept applications for citizenship?