Stuff happens, week 19: Debbie does disgrace; gold for Canada; Edmonton icon passes

For the third week in a row, Deborah Drever reigned as Alberta’s most talked-about NDP MLA. Or, more to the point, Alberta’s most talked-about former NDP MLA.

The last straw.
The last straw.

Drever finally shamed Rachel Notley to the point that she was kicked out of caucus, setting a possible world record for shortest and worst political career. After a couple of weeks of embarrassing photos (she was just a young person! defenders cried), an Instagram graphic she posted picturing Jim Prentice and Ric McIver as gay was finally too much for the politically correct NDP. Calling it “homophobic” (actually, the more accurate term would be sophomoric), Noteley expelled Drever from caucus and will now sit as an independent until a suitable period of penance is served. Clearly, Drever wasn’t remotely qualified to be an MLA — and she is not alone —  but she can’t bear the blame for this silly scandal. The fault rests solely and completely with the New Democratic Party, whose longstanding scam of running candidates in every riding, without even looking into their background, has backfired on them. All they had to do was look at her Facebook page to realize that she wasn’t the ideal candidate, but apparently nobody took even that routine precaution. Notley should apologize to Albertans for fooling the public, and particularly the voters of Calgary-Bow.

It was a bad week for the new government. The party sent out invitations to Sunday’s swearing in of the new cabinet, and added a fundraising plea for the party. The swearing-in is a public event, and combining a public event with party fundraising is a decided no-no, something so brazenly wrong that even the PCs didn’t do it. Initially, the party didn’t see anything wrong with this, but eventually they were shamed into admitting the mistake. A spokesman for the premier blamed the party for the error.

The week began on a terrific note with Team Canada thumping the evil Ruskies 6-1 to win the World Hockey Championship, the first medal of any sort in five years at the tournament. It’s a shame this tournament doesn’t get the kind of attention the endless NHL playoffs always get. With no Canadian teams in the running — again — it’s a joy to have a team everyone in Canada can pull for. Meanwhile, the Russians, showing the kind of class they are well known for, left the ice before the playing of the Canadian anthem. There will be sanctions against the team for their lousy sportsmanship. Maybe we should take Crimea away from them.

Still with sports, and still with hockey, there is genuine hope for renewal for the Edmonton Oilers. Owner Daryl Katz took the dramatic and unheard of step of hiring people with successful track records (hiring good people …. what a concept!) and on Tuesday added in-demand coach Todd McLellan as the new bench boss. Coupled with the addition of former Boston Bruins GM Peter Peter Chiarelli as GM, the installation of Bob Nicholson as the major domo of the operation, and the incredible luck of landing the No. 1 draft pick in a year with a can’t miss, guaranteed superstar as the top choice. the Oilers have successfully rid themselves of the dead weight of recent years. The Oilers now have one of the strongest behind-the-bench rosters in the NHL; now, if they can only find some decent guys to put on the ice. On a less positive note the Edmonton Rush of the National Lacrosse League appear to be ready to leave town. Poor attendance, indifference from City Hall (so says the owner; the city begs to differ) and the cold shoulder from the Katz group are the reasons for the imminent departure, said team owner Bruce Urban. Let’s be honest here, Edmonton, we are not the great sports city we think we are. We are a hockey city, with a bit of love for football, but nothing else. Soccer (outdoor and indoor) has failed repeatedly here, so has baseball and pretty much everything else.

In cultural news, Mad Men ended Sunday, not with a bang but an ‘ommmm’. And David Letterman ended more than three decades of late night TV on Wednesday. I’ve been a fan of Dave since way back before he became a TV mainstay. He was a must-see comic on shows like Merv Griffin, and his ill-fated but hilarious daytime show on NBC gave a much-younger me a reason to get up early. Dave’s monologues of late have been strictly mailed in, but once behind the desk, there was nobody better. While Dave’s generation idolized Johnny Carson, everyone post-Carson idolized Dave. Next up on the departing popular icons list … Jon Stewart.

In the appropriately-named Waco, Tex. on Sunday, a fun-filled gathering of biker gangs at a local restaurant went a little off the rails. An argument over what I assume was dividing up the bill (“OK, who had the quiche?”) got a little heated, and by the time the gun smoke had cleared, nine people were dead. But that’s small potatoes compared to a fracas in Mexico, where at least 39 people were killed when a fight broke out between security forces and armed civilians in western Mexico on Friday. Texas, you’re not what you used to be.

Last week, McDonald’s introduced the new Hamburgler, a supposedly hot but decidedly child-molester creepy sort of guy. This week, KFC brought Col. Sanders back from the dead, with former Saturday Night Live star Darrell Hammond playing the Colonel as a kind of maniac. Not sure how the colonel’s family will feel about it.

This is now in the hands of ISIS.
This is now in the hands of ISIS.

ISIS, your friendly neighbourhood monsters, took over the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra this week. This is horrible news not just for the people of Palmyra (there are reports of 400 dead, many of them women and children), but for civilization. Palmyra is a World Heritage Site, home of some of the oldest, most amazing ruins in the world. If ISIS holds true to what it has done in the past, the ruins will be reduced to rubble, an incalculable loss to history. Also in terrorism, ISIS is claiming responsibility for a bombing in a Shiite mosque in Saudi Arabia that killed 21 people. This would be the first ISIS attack in Saudi Arabia.

RIP: Eric Neville, a genuine icon of Edmonton TV, died unexpectedly this week at 78. For those of us of a certain age (that would be old) Neville is remembered as Klondike Eric of the beloved children’s afternoon TV show Popcorn Playhouse. Neville’s passing was mourned by hundreds on the Friends of Popcorn Playhouse Facebook page. You can read an interview I was lucky enough to do with the somewhat reclusive Klondike Eric here. … John Forbes Nash, Jr., the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who was depicted in the film A Beautiful Mind, died in a tax crash at age 82. 


Stuff Happens, week 18: PCs put up the ‘closed’ sign; candidate kerfuffle II; Dave departs

Election fallout continues. On Friday, the formerly unbeatable PCs essentially threw in the towel. In a stunning housecleaning, the ex-dynasty fired all staffers except one and announced plans to close their Calgary and Edmonton offices. Remember, this is a party that raised $825,000 in the first quarter of 2015 (more than the Wildrose and NDP combined), and $5.6 million in 2014. Now, with one bad election, they have virtually shut down.  Seriously, how can a party that raised about $6.5 million in less-than 18 months have no money in the bank to run the operation? One can only assume that the PCs ran their party exactly the same way they ran the province — spending wildly on everything without concern for the future. The Liberal party, which is run not on a shoelace but on an aglet (that little piece of plastic at the end of a shoelace), must be having a chuckle right now.

a2452858109_16Our favourite new NDP MLA, Deborah Drever, is back in the news again. You will remember last week she took heat for her Facebook pictures of her with a beer case on her head, etc. This week, it was discovered that she posed for the cover of a cassette (yes, a cassette) for a Calgary metal band called Gatekrashor. The cassette, titled Fear of Attack, shows Drever sprawled against a fence while a guy appears to be ready to assault her with a bottle. The NDP, desperate to distance itself from its own MLA, issued a statement supposedly from Drever which said: “The photo I appeared in was in poor taste, and I apologize for its offensive content. It is not a photo I would appear in today.” The reaction from some quarters (the director of women’s studies at the U of C called it “a gutwrencher”) is an overreaction, of course. Notice the title is Fear of Attack, not I’m All For Attacking Women. Drever will take the heat for his, but the real criticism should be directed at the NDP. For years, the NDs have put any name on the ballot just to look like a big league party. Clearly, they made no effort to vet this candidate, and probably none of the other paper candidates who won. They’ve been playing this game for years, and now they’re getting burned. Makes me laugh.

The Dippers aren’t the only ones who didn’t look into their candidates carefully enough. The federal Conservative candidate chosen to run against Justin Trudeau, Chris Lloyd, turned out to be an “artist” who was only running to “mess with” the Harper Conservatives. Turns out, Lloyd looked upon his candidacy as an art project, and he really can’t stand the Conservatives. But he still got his picture taken with Harper, both of them doing Harper’s moronic thumbs-up pose. I think Lloyd just blew his chances of getting a Canada Council grant.

In entertainment news, Fox has announced that the next season of American Idol, its 15th, will be its last. In more important entertainment news, actor Harry Shearer is leaving The Simpsons. Shearer is the voice of Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and most importantly Mr. Burns. And still in more entertainment news, CBS has announced that its long-running series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — a show that spawned CSI: Miami, CSI: New York and CSI: Cyber — has been cancelled. In all the years and in all its various forms, I have seen exactly one CSI, and it was so stupid I never watched it again. I don’t feel that I’ve missed anything. What I will miss is David Letterman, who is ending his 30 year run on late night TV this Wednesday. Just how important and oddly beloved is David Letterman? Watch the great, cynical Canadian comic Norm MacDonald give a tearful tribute to Dave, and you’ll see that there is no denying that Dave, the curmudgeon, the crank, the cynic, is genuinely loved.

In sports news, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has been suspended for four games for his role in (sigh) ‘Deflategate’, the pseudo-scandal involving underinflated footballs that has rocked the sports world. With America’s obsession with the National Football League at all-time highs, the suspension of one of its superstars is considered major news.

In the not-at-all surprising news department, a survey by Microsoft has found that the average Canadians’ attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. Thanks to our connected, smart-phone obsessed world, our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. The average (or maybe above average; they’re goldfish, so who knows?) goldfish attention span is believed to be nine seconds. If this research is accurate, then most of you reading this have already skipped over this sentence and gone on to the next item.

It was a big week for idiots using the f-word. First, ditzy Green Party “leader” Elizabeth May dropped the bomb at the parliamentary press gallery dinner, telling the assembled media and politicos, in a possibly drunken attempt at humour, that Omar Khadr had “more class than the whole fucking cabinet”. Her ‘joke’ did not go over well, and she was gently ushered off the stage by cabinet minister Lisa Raitt. Then there was the certainly drunken idiocy of Toronto FC fans during a live TV hit post-game on CITY TV. One of the boorish boobs used a phrase that is apparently all the rage to shout at female TV reporters amongst yahoos. (I will not repeat it here.) But this time, the reporter turned the tables on the jerks, and asked them why they would do something so crass. One of the idiots defended the hilarious line, even dropping another f-bomb during his brilliant statement, and saying that his mother would think the bon mot was hilarious. (I don’t know his mother, but somehow, I doubt it.) CITY posted the clip online, and the expected outrage was go great, the guy lost his six-figure job with Hydro One. I think the reaction of Hydro One is overkill and barely legal (the idiot was not a public figure, and he was on his own time, so where do we draw the line?) but I’m not too sympathetic. As a card-carrying male, proud member for 59 years, the increasingly boorish, sexist behaviour of my fellow males makes me sometimes think I should hand in my membership card. Men, show a little class, please.

RIP: B.B. King, the King of the Blues and one of the great guitar players of all time, died at 89. The thrill, indeed, is gone.

How to build a cabinet using mismatched pieces: pointers for Rachel Notley

Now that the euphoria of the election has worn off, I wonder if Rachel Notley is waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, wondering, “What the hell do I do now?”

If she isn’t, she should. She has a big, big job ahead of her, and the first thing she has to do is put a cabinet together. Compared to that job, winning the election was a snap. Forming a cabinet from mismatched pieces is like trying to, well, put together a real cabinet with mismatched pieces.

How do you build a cabinet with a government that is made up almost entirely of people who are not only inexperienced in government, but inexperienced in running anything more complicated than a paper route? Hell, a lot of them are inexperienced at life, period.

Luckily for Notley, there are a couple of natural fits for two vital positions. Dr. Bob Turner from Edmonton-Whitemud is the natural — perhaps only — choice for health minister. I mean, c’mon, the guy is a doctor; that’s got to count for something. And Sarah Hoffman, the former Edmonton school trustee, would be a nice fit for education. (If you follow this logic, however, you might be inclined to appoint a college student as advanced education minister, but this would be a mistake.)

After that, well, it gets a little more complicated.

First, what to do about the veterans?

David Eggen will have to be given a cabinet post, and Deron Bilous will have to get a seat at the table, too. But what to do with Brian Mason? Clearly, the long-time MLA an party leader has to be rewarded, but he would be another Edmontonian in a cabinet that is shaping up to be too Edmonton-centric, if you take into account the four existing NDP MLAs all get seats, and if Turner and Hoffman get seats as well. The natural choice for Mason is to be the Speaker of the House. He’s one of the few who knows the rules, he would love to have all the attention, and my guess is he would love even more to get some revenge.

After that, cabinet is a bit of a crapshoot. Clearly, Calgary needs a lot of seats, but outside of Joe Ceci, a former alderman and the most well-known of the new Calgary MLAs, who do you turn to? Anybody over age 30 and with any experience outside of being a flight attendant or a yoga instructor can probably punch their ticket into cabinet. The energy minister pretty much has to come from Calgary, but who qualifies? I’m not saying they need to find an oil executive, but it might help to have someone who knows a little more about the oil industry than just how to use the self-serve at the gas station.

Outside of the big cities, the NDP will need rural ministers to ensure representation from the different parts of the province. The MLA for either Peace River or Lesser Slave Lake (representing northern Alberta) could get a seat. (Have you seen those ridings? Either one is bigger than Prince Edward Island.) Both Red Deer and Lethbridge went NDP, so at least one or two of the new MLAs from those cities will be rewarded.

Now, if I may quote Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t someone please think of the children?”

Notley cannot just toss all of the children’s army to the back of the bus. Somewhere in that group of losing student union candidates there has to be a gem. I expect we’ll see a lot of ‘associate ministers’ — basically a minister on training wheels — appointed to get some young ‘uns involved. Associated ministers can also step in after the inevitable crash-and-burn of a minister(s). The NDP has also promised to create a women’s ministry, a nice 1980s idea that is paternalistic and kind of ridiculous today, that would be a nice starting point for one of the younger, female members.

Luckily for Notley, long-time veterans who believe they deserve their reward will not trouble her. And she won’t be forced to find positions for people who supported her. I suspect she’ll have a fairly small cabinet to start with, not because of ideology, but because she just doesn’t have enough cabinet material.

Perhaps the biggest break for the Notley government? They won’t have to face questions from Rachel Notley.

Stuff Happens, week 17: Freedom for Omar; a Facebook face plant; pollsters get it wrong (again)

At long last, a bit of justice for Omar Khadr. The so-called war criminal was finally released on bail in Edmonton this week, despite the best efforts of the despicable Harper government to portray him as an unrepentant terrorist who committed “heinous” crimes. Just to recap: Khadr was 15 years old — a juvenile in Canadian law — who was taken to Afghanistan by his radical parents. His home came under attack from American soldiers in 2002, and in the resulting fight, one American soldier was killed and another wounded. Khadr suffered terrible injuries, but the worst was yet to come. He was taken to Guantanamo, where he was tortured and abused. The Americans finally returned him to Canada despite the best efforts of the Harper government to make them keep him. The government continues to portray Khadr as a terrorist, despite all evidence to the contrary. Finally allowed to speak for himself on Thursday, Khadr came across as anything but the wild-eyed killer the Tories make him out to be. He was respectful, smiling, remorseful, just a little stunned that he was free. Hey, I’m not saying that what Khadr did was right, but at its most elemental he was a kid in a war zone who threw a grenade when he came under attack. War criminal? If trying to kill the guy trying to kill you makes you a war criminal, then there are hundreds of millions of war criminals free today. The treatment of Khadr by the Canadian and American governments is a black eye to both governments.

The honorable Deborah Drever (left)
The honorable Deborah Drever (left)

Well, that didn’t take long. One of the upstanding citizens the New Democrats recruited to run in the provincial election has proven to be — shock! — somewhat lacking in the gravitas was expect from our elected representatives. Her name is Deborah Drever, and she is the duly elected MLA for Calgary-Bow. Her Facebook page pictures her with a case of beer on her head, posing with a pro-marijuana t-shirt, and includes a photo of a single raised middle finger against a Canadian flag. Clearly, the NDP vetting process went something like this:

Candidate: Hey, I’d like to run for you guys.

NDP: You’re on!

When challenged about the images, Drever blamed the haters. “They’re attacking some candidates — it’s unfortunate,” she said. “(Those sharing the pics) are scared because we’re younger … They’re attacking the young candidates … but we have to start somewhere, we’re fresh new candidates who have a lot to offer … We’re the voice of tomorrow.”

God help us all.

In other news from the People’s Republic of Alberta, Rachel Notley was crowing about the diversity of her caucus on Saturday, which reflects the real Alberta. Let’s see now: there are lots of inexperienced, unskilled 20-somethings making six-figure salaries. Sounds about right.

Still with elections, while the pollsters finally got it right in Alberta, they got it horribly wrong on a larger stage. The UK general election was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested ever; a “hung” parliament (what we call a minority) seemed a certainty. Oops! Prime Minister David Cameron won with ease. This was the latest in a string of polls that got it wrong, wrong, wrong. Something has gone horribly wrong with polling, and at least 50% of people know that.

images-2And finally, McDonald’s has reintroduced the Hamburgler. No longer the cartoon character of old, the new Hamburgler is a real human being, supposedly a “hip, urban dad”. Judging from the photo here, he seems to be telling children, “Shhh, kids, if you don’t tell your dad what you saw me doing with your mommy, I’ll give you this burger.” I don’t know who this poor guy is, but I’m guessing his parents aren’t bragging about their son’s new job.

RIP: Ruth Rendall, 85, British mystery writer.

An open letter to the new NDP MLAs from someone who has been there

Hello, Newbies Democratic Party MLAs!

Welcome to the exciting world of provincial politics. No doubt many of you are still on a high (natural or otherwise) after your exciting and unexpected victories on Tuesday. I’m sure the Dippers who recruited you gave you assurances that you wouldn’t win, so you shouldn’t worry about what might happen next.

Well, welcome to what happens next.

You see, young ‘uns, I was once in your shoes. Back in 2004, I ran as a Liberal at the last minute, and won. I’ve always been quite proud of the fact that I spent less than $5,000 to win my seat, although I suspect that’s probably double or triple what many of you spent. I went into politics blind, and had to learn most everything on the fly. The class of 2004 had some excellent mentors (Laurie Blakeman, Hugh McDonald, Kevin Taft), and since there weren’t a lot of us, we got all the mentorship we needed. Not so much with you kids. You’re joining an existing caucus of four, and my guess is that Rachel Notley won’t have a lot of time to tell you where the washrooms are. (The best one is on the second floor of the Legislature; not very busy, with old school faucets and the like.)

So, let me help. Here now are a few pertinent facts about being an MLA.

1. Your life is no longer your own.

Seriously. No more hanging out on Whyte Avenue on a Saturday night looking for a little, shall we say, evening diversion. People know who you are now, and if you like to go to the bar, chances are everyone will be expecting you to pick up the tab because everyone knows you now make six figures! And they have these things called camera phones now. No, instead of karaoke, you’ll be attending awards ceremonies for your riding high school, or scarfing down a pyrogy supper at the local Ukrainian hall, or reading Dr. Seuss to schoolchildren. You will be invited to a lot of things, and you will not turn down any invitation in your riding. If you want to be re-elected, you will attend every event that is likely to attract more than a half-dozen people. Voters will want to meet you, buttonhole you about trivial matters, size you up, take pictures with you, get 100th birthday certificates for their grandmother from you, etc. etc. This is now your life. Oh, and cancel your Facebook account. It is guaranteed that at some point, one of your will not be able to resist the urge to post something ‘funny’, like: “Attending the Holocaust remembrance ceremony. Couldn’t I just have stayed home and watched Schindler’s List?” See how some people may not find that funny?

2. You may think the next election is four years away, but the campaign starts now. Most of you won by fluke, without really trying. That won’t be the case next time. In 2019, you will have to mount a REAL campaign. You’ll need a constituency organization, and money for the next campaign. And you will have to help raise it! So get started. Now.

3. You’ll need an office, and someone to run your office. I can’t emphasize enough how important it will be to have a solid office.I had a two excellent assistants in my time who always made me look good, and I never worried about anything in my office.People will come to you with problems, and expect you to clear them up. Well, not you, but your executive assistant, or whatever bloated title you want to give them. Resist the temptation to give this job to your sister because she can type fast, or your brother because he really seems lost right now and needs some direction, or anyone you’re friends with. This is no doubt your first hiring experience, so don’t blow it. All it takes is one messed up situation where you EA does a terrible job, and word gets around the community that you’re useless.

4. Your first thoughts upon winning may be about being in the Legislature. It’s a proud moment when you take your seat for the first time, but in reality, being in the Leg is the least of your worries. None of you are (is?) cabinet material (hey, just being honest here). Your job, while the legislature is in session, will be to sit in your cushy chair (very comfortable, by the way) and look attentive if the camera happens to catch you. You will not have to answer questions during Question Period; your role during ‘QP’ will be to thump your desk in support of whatever half-assed answer comes from a minister. You will be allowed to ask questions, but if you follow the PC template (and I hope to God you do not), your question will be a harmless ‘puffball’, as we used to call them, for which the minister will have the answer already prepared. You will be allowed to give a private member’s statement (known as a PMS… I’m serious about this) about a topic of your choice. And if you want to enter into the debate on, say Bill 22, The Pork Producers Organization Reorganization Act, feel free. Otherwise, your job will be to sit down and shut up. During evening sessions, your job will be to fill the seat to maintain a government majority, so feel free to work on your World of Warcraft skills. Just make sure no one is looking down from the gallery at your laptop.

5. You will have to attend committee meetings. And you will find these agonizing. There are umpteen committees that examine bills and government policy before they get to the legislature floor, and you will be assigned to many of them. They are so boring, you’ll be longing for the days when you used to sit stoned in your film studies class, watching Citizen Kane for the fifteenth time. It is during committee meetings when you will rue the day the NDP organizer asked you to run as a paper candidate with no chance of winning. Lying bastard.

6. Guys, you will have to buy some nice suits, and learn how to tie a tie. Judging from what I’ve seen as a suit salesman, this may be your biggest challenge. Come on by and see me.

7. You will put on weight. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15, or its modern equivalent, the Freshman 40? If refers to weight freshman college students put on in their first year. Well, same thing. You will be attending a LOT of dinners, sitting through a LOT of meetings, and being fed a LOT of food. You will find it hard to turn down free food (many of you were, or still are, students, so free food will be as irresistible as free beer). If you don’t believe me, just look at Brian Mason. Oh, by the way, there is an event called the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Christmas event. Do NOT miss this. Best feedbag in the province, guaranteed.

8. You will be coddled by the legislature. There is an organization called the Legislative Assembly Office, the LAO. It is made up of the most professional, patient, expert civil servants you will ever run across. They will set up everything for you, and if you have a problem, just call. They’re great.

9. Also great are the pages in the legislature chamber. They’ll bring you coffee or tea or Coke (but not coke). Always very polite and professional, the cream of the high school/college crop.

10. Always remember that no matter how hard you work, no matter what a great job you do as an MLA, you may be turfed in four years’ time, just the way some of you turfed very good, very hardworking MLAs. And there will be times when you hate, hate, HATE the job, and wonder why you ever got involved. During those times, remember these three little words …. six figure salary!

So, kids, enjoy. If you need any advice, I’m here to help.






Coming to grips with the ungrippable.

Sometimes, there are events that are so huge, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around all of the elements involved, and try to come up with some sort of reason as to why it happened.

The Alberta election of 2015 is one of those events. For 43 years, we’ve had one-party rule in this province. Going into this election, it looked as if the Progressive Conservative party would be (a little less) large and in charge for another four years. But on Monday, Albertans enthusiastically went to the polls and turfed out the PCs in favour of the New Democratic Party, an organization that the province had rarely shown any real affection for or interest in. And they not only won, they won huge, often by massive majorities, going from four seats to 54. The PCs fell to third place with just 11 seats; they’re not even the official opposition, that position going to the Wildrose party, which rose from the ashes of the worst political betrayal in Canadian history to score an impressive 20 seats.

So, what to make of all this? It’s almost too much for my aging brain to wrap around. But what the hell, let’s try by apportioning the blame/credit mathematically. Needless to say, this is unscientific.

First, let’s give a solid 45 per cent of the blame to the Progressive Conservative party, and within that 50 per cent, give 80 per cent to Jim Prentice.

The PCs, previously the most surefooted, ruthless, diabolical machine in Canadian politics, made a miscalculation of epic proportions. Why did Prentice call an election a year ahead of time, just months into his term as premier, as oil prices fell and deficits rose, and after presenting a budget with tax hikes for so many while leaving big business unscathed? I can only surmise that the PCs, complacent in their arrogance and thinking that their chief rival would be the Wildrose, cynically called an election in the hopes of further crushing the opposition. Or, they anticipated the economy would be even worse in a year. What they clearly did not take into account was the fact that the NDP was building a powerful election machine with the help of the federal party, and war chest bulging with money. Oh, and they had a telegenic, trustworthy-looking new leader in Rachel Notley. The PCs clearly missed all of the warning signs, and I can’t say that I blame them. Prentice knew that he was going to lose some MLAs, but with a caucus packed with nobodies and do-nothing career MLAs, he probably felt the party could trim some fat and emerge OK. Good call, Jim!

The PCs ran a terrible, listless, uninspiring campaign, led by their frontman. Prentice certainly looked the part of a premier, or a CEO. But if there was anything to Prentice other than an impressive resume and nice suits, it remained hidden. Prentice resigned as leader on Tuesday as expected. But he also resigned his seat hours after winning it, surely the most churlish reaction to a loss we’ve ever seen. If this is the way this guy operates, we are well and truly rid of him, just as we are happily rid of the likes of the International Man of Mystery David Xiao, and the scheming vulgarian Thomas Lukaszuk. (Sidenote: during the fall session of the Legislature, Lukaszuk leaked damaging information about fellow PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar in an attempt to get revenge on him for leaking information about Lukaszuk’s phone bill when he was running for leader. Ironic footnote: Bhullar won his seat.)

Returning to my formula, I’d assign 25% to the NDP. Seems low, perhaps, but bear with me.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the socialists ran a perfect campaign. They went all in on Notley, and their number came up. Even when they stumbled — their costing numbers were hilariously out of whack, like they were created using Yahtzee dice — it didn’t matter because the PCs and the other parties failed to pounce, and the media didn’t do its job. In fact, the media fell hard for Notley, in a teenage crush sort of way. Nobody even noticed that the NDP, while trumping the fact that they had candidates in every riding, had multiple paper candidates who were just names on the ballot. They also avoided any bonehead eruptions from candidates and played down their most unpalatable socialist instincts. (Whether Notley can keep the diehard socialists within her party happy will be one of her biggest challenges, but that’s a blog for another day.) Whatever they did worked, and worked in ways I’m sure they never expected.

And finally, a solid 30% goes to kick-out-the-bastards, anybody-but rage.

The PCs have been insufferably arrogant for years. In the dying days of the Klein regime, they were perhaps at their all-time worst. Prentice actually didn’t seem like a bad guy, and given time go get to know him, the result might have been different. So why now did the public choose this election to rise up in indignation?

There are lots of reasons. The early, unnecessary election call. The budget that dinged the average Joe with dozens of service charge hikes, and left big business untouched. Years of accumulated anger over inept management of health care and education. A smiling, unthreatening opponent. Oh, and a big shout out to the Liberal party.

The NDP won many of its ridings by giant margins. Oddly, that doesn’t indicate deep support. The NDP benefited greatly from the collapse of the Liberals. In the past, disgruntled anti-PC voters were split between the NDP and the Liberals, giving the PCs plenty of split-vote wins. With the Liberals having collapsed completely (another blog for another day), the anger vote had only one place to go (you’re welcome, Rachel). As my son told me yesterday, a lot of his friends told him they voted NDP, but didn’t feel good about it. How else do you explain 20-year-old students winning?

The NDP benefited from a unique set of circumstances. An angry public, an inept, exhausted, cynical governing party, a brilliant campaign, and the coalition of anti-government voters around one party. Overall, I see it as more of an anti-PC vote than a pro-NDP vote.

The NDP has four years to prove that this win was more than just a one-off. This will be interesting.







Stuff Happens, week 16: Nepal crumbles, Mayweather rumbles, Prentice stumbles

The provincial election is mercifully into its dying days, and the PCs are finally awakening to the fact that they just might actually lose this thing. Jim Prentice has failed miserably to get the public excited about him or his party, as all of the attention has gone to the golden girl, Rachel Notley. On Friday, members of the well-heeled business community in Edmonton weighed in with an unusual press conference, decrying any tax hikes for corporations. Not surprisingly, they are all big Tory supporters, as the Edmonton Journal gleefully wrote in one of its more one-sided stories. If members of the business elite think that a whining press conference about how hard done by they are will divert votes away from the NDP, they are sadly mistaken. Meanwhile, the NDP’s union supporters, who have poured hundreds of thousands into the party for years, have stayed very, very quiet. An NDP win would be a huge win for the public sector unions; if an NDP government sits down across the table to negotiate with a union that kept it alive with massive cash infusions over the years, you’ve got to know that they will be expecting something in return.

The story of the week, and one that is destined to be one of the stories of the year, is the tragedy in Nepal. No mere disaster, the earthquake that struck last week is now a catastrophe of historic proportions, with at least 6,500 dead and counting, countless numbers homeless, and whole towns and cities in ruins.

It must be getting close to the federal election — the Conservatives are ramping up their advertising campaigns. Mind you, there won’t be any overt mentions of the Conservative party, because the new $13 million in TV ads will focus on the federal budget. Mind you again, the budget is a political document, and all of the ads (which, if you watch hockey, will soon drive you crazy) will focus on tax cuts “for hard working Canadians”, etc. No government in our history has been as brazen as the Harper government at spending public money for political purposes. The ads have done the impossible: I now hate the first four notes of the national anthem, which are tagged onto the end of every commercial.

Two fading fighters, good guy Manny Pacquiao and bad guy Floyd Mayweather Jr. faced off in the biggest fight in boxing history (financially, anyway). There hasn’t been this much excitement about boxing since Mike Tyson was in his destructive prime. Mayweather won in a unanimous decision, although Pacquiao — with a payday of some $100 million or so — did pretty well for the loser.

One of my favourite Randy Newman songs is called Baltimore. The refrain goes, “Oh, Baltimore, man it’s hard, just to live.” Baltimore is so bad, it makes the Baltimore portrayed in The Wire look like bucolic small-town America. The city went nuts this week over yet another death of a young black man in police custody. It seems America can’t go a week without another video of yet another black man dying at the hands, or in the custody of, the police. The highlight (if I can use that word) of the Baltimore troubles was this clip of a mother hauling her son out of the riot scene, and vigorously slapping him upside the head. Never before has child abuse been so widely praised.

In England, a woman had a baby girl. For some reason, this is big news.

In First World troubles, the heart rate monitor on the Apple watch apparently doesn’t work if you have a tattoo on your wrist. This is a problem because chances are about 90 per cent that anyone buying an Apple watch also has a wrist tattoo.

RIP: Ben E. King, 76, soul singer best known the all-time classic Stand By Me; he had other hits like Spanish Harlem, There Goes My Baby and This Magic Moment … Jean Nidetch, 91, founder of Weight Watchers … Suzanne Crough, 52, the youngest member (Tracy) of The Partridge Family … Jack Ely, 71, vocalist for the famously indecipherable song Louie Louie … Marcel Pronovost, 84, Hockey Hall of Fame member … Jim Fanning, 87, former manager of the Montreal Expos.

Election roulette: picking winners in the impossible election

There is only one thing I can say with absolute certainty about the provincial election of 2015.

Jim Prentice has made a terrible, terrible mistake. After that, all bets are off.

Even if Prentice wins Tuesday’s election (and I think they will; more on that later), Prentice is a loser. Even if he squeaks out a minority victory, or wins outright, he will still end up with a vastly reduced majority, an emboldened and stronger Wildrose and NDP parties, and a pissed off party apparatus. The only reason I can offer as to why he would go to the polls a year ahead of time (saddling himself with a terrible budget that raises taxes and fees for most of us but not at all for industry) is that the PCs anticipated an even worse economy a year from now. I’ve always thought these guys were the saviest political operators, but not anymore. This election has epic gaffe written all over it.

Unquestionably, the PCs are riding for a spectacular fall, but I don’t think they’ll bottom out. The divided loyalties of Albertans — Edmonton voters going one way, Calgary voters going another, non-urban voters yet another way — makes a PC win still the most likely scenario.

Edmonton looks prepared to go NDP in a big way, but I don’t think it will be as big as the polls, the NDs, and the media-loving NDP believe. The polls show support for the NDP (actually, support for Rachel Notley) incredibly high. But each riding has its own very specific ebb and flow, and the supposedly massive support for the NDP may not translate into the sweep so many are predicting.

There are two really interesting numbers in the polls that often go unreported: the number of undecided is very high; and some polls put the number of voters who may change their minds as high at 50 per cent. The undecided could go any number of ways. There could be a fear that the NDP isn’t ready (which it isn’t), that could result in votes for the stability of the PCs. Or fears of the socialist hoards attacking the gates could swing Wildrose voters to the PCs. Or, all this NDP talk could get uninspired Tory voters off their duffs and into the ballot booths. There are any number of equations.

I would enjoy seeing the likes of Thomas Lukaszuk, Heather Klimchuk, Stephen Mandel, Steve Young, David Dorward and David Xiao go down to defeat. My preference, of course, would have been to see them fall to Liberals, but that’s not going to happen. Cleaning house of the various PC seat warmers would be a good thing. And if the PCs actually lose the election, having PCs sit on opposition benches would be glorious. Nobody deserves a stay on the opposition benches than PCs.

So, let’s assume that Edmonton goes solidly NDP. In order for the NDP to gain power, they will have to go from their current four seats to 40 or so. Outside of Edmonton, where will they gain?

They might pick up one or two in Calgary, and they might fluke off a win in rural Alberta, but I doubt it, not with the usual motley collection of U of A students running in rural ridings to fill out the roster. In order for the NDP to win the election, they will have to score big time in Calgary and Edmonton, and I just don’t see that happening.

Can the Wildrose win? Nope. There is still solid support for the party in the rural areas and some in Calgary, but (pardon the pun) the bloom is off the (wild)rose. You have to wonder how Danielle Smith feels right about now. If she hadn’t abandoned her principles, she could be on the verge of becoming premier. Oh, well.

So, despite the polls, I still think the Tories will win. A minority PC government would actually be the best outcome of this election. The NDP, despite what Notley says, is not prepared for government. Put it this way: imagine Alberta is a giant, multi-billion dollar corporation (which is basically is). One day, that giant corporation fires all of its top managers, and installs people who have never been in charge of anything more substantial than a paper route. That’s the situation we would face with an NDP government. My guess is that even the NDP quietly hopes it doesn’t win this time, because a minority NDP government would likely be a disaster. I’ll bet, in their heart of hearts, the NDP hopes for a PC minority with a powerful NDP opposition. That would give them time to find the Legislature washrooms and get some idea how government works. Then, after a couple of years, the minority would collapse and the NDP would be ready for power.

Mind you, my prediction abilities suck. Anything could happen on Tuesday; a Tory majority, a Tory minority, a Wildrose minority, an NDP minority or an NDP majority. I can safely say, however, that a Liberal minority seems, shall we say, unlikely.

Stuff Happens, week 15: Oilers clean house, Notley cleans up

The Edmonton Oilers, the widely-despised local hockey squadron, continue to make a lot of news for a team that missed the playoffs. After lucking into the No. 1 draft pick, on Friday the Oilers named former Boston Bruin GM Peter Chiarelli as their major domo of hockey operations. With Bob Nicholson taking over as CEO of the Oiler Entertainment (?) Group, the Oilers have effectively shunted the much maligned Craig McTavish and the even more maligned Kevin Lowe to the sidelines. Disgruntled Oiler fans who threw their jerseys on the ice at especially bad Oiler loses are now flooding Jersey City locations looking to buy new jerseys. The optimism should last well into the first week of the next season.

The big story in Alberta was the provincial leaders’ debate. With the election apparently an actual horserace instead of a foregone conclusion like a Harlem Globetrotters game (sorry for mixing sports cliches), much was expected. There was no knockout punch that can turn an election around, but there is no doubt that NDP leader Rachel Notley staked her claim as a potential premier. She was slick and well rehearsed, clearly the best performer of the bunch, right down to the well-practiced smile. PC leader Jim Prentice (whose future as PC leader is on the line thanks to his ill-conceived election call) failed to land a punch. Prentice devoting so much of his attention on Notley was a godsend to the socialist leader; obsessing on Notley simply gave her the stage, and she seized the opportunity by rudely talking over top of everyone else. The PCs are in a real bind now; they have to defend their right flank from attacks from the resilient Wildrose, and their left flank by the surging NDP. With the polls so close and the undecided so high, it’s still anyone’s ballgame, to end with another sports reference.

Hundreds upon hundreds of migrants died Sunday in the Mediterranean, victims of Libya’s human traffickers preying on people desperate to flee the war-wracked country. It is the worst mass drowning since the Second World War. You may not have heard this story, because they’re just a bunch of poor immigrants fleeing a war zone, after all, not something important like Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman. Now, THAT’S a news story.

Here’s one of those stories that just drives right-wing, anti-environmentalists crazy. In eastern Ontario, a mammoth, 324-hectare, nine-turbine wind farm has been kiboshed because of the Blanding’s turtle. The turtle apparently lives in the area, and because of fears that the turtle might get run over by the roads that will be built to accommodate the wind farm, the Ontario Court of Appeal has put a stop to the project. Nobody knows how many Blandings turtles live in the area, but the court said it doesn’t really matter. One crushed Blanding’s turtle is apparently one too many.

The Mike Duffy trial continues in Ottawa, with the revelation that the rapacious expense hog claimed $81,332.54 for living expenses …. for his own house in Ottawa. Seems the senator “from” PEI (where he has a cottage, not a home) claimed for expenses senators are entitled to while doing their duties in Ottawa, even though he had a home there for years. Also this week, it was revealed he fought like a very fat tiger to have expenses for his make-up artist to be covered by his senate budget. When the Senate said no, he simply paid for the make-up artist through a phoney-baloney company he had a friend set up.

In non-news, some Native Americans walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie because they found it demeaning to their culture. A better reason to walk off the set of an Adam Sandler movie? It’s an Adam Sandler movie.

RIP: Here’s a passing to make you feel old: Lois Lilienstein has died at 78. The name Lilienstein means nothing to you, but if you just use her first name, and add her partners Sharon and Bram, you’ve got beloved Canadian children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois and Bram … Sawyer Sweeten committed suicide this week, just short of his 20th birthday. Sawyer was one of the boys who played Ray Romano’s twins on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Stuff Happens, week 14: Oilers get lucky; Hillary hits the road.

The “big story” this week is one that may have long-term implications. Of course, I’m talking about the Edmonton Oilers literally defying the odds and winning the no. 1 NHL draft pick for 2015. This is a big deal because the kid who will be the no. 1 pick, Connor McDavid, is apparently a “generational” player, a Mario Lemieux-like guaranteed superstar who can singlehandedly boost a team to a Stanley Cup and/or find a cure for cancer. The Oilers have been the poster team for ineptitude for almost a decade now, and their continued incompetence has turned many of their fans into former fans. Like many in Edmonton, I’ve grown to kind of despise the whole organization, and a bit of me is unhappy the inept Craig McTavish has been rewarded for his years of utter incompetence. But another part of me — the born-and-raised Edmontonian part — wants the team to succeed. They are, after all, still the EDMONTON Oilers. So welcome to Edmonton, Connor McDavid. Good luck … you’ll need it.

The latest cop-kills-black-man story in the U.S. comes with a twist — it was an accident. Or, more accurately, an accident waiting to happen. In Tulsa, OK, a cop pulled out his gun instead of his Taser and shot a black man who was resisting arrest. But there’s another twist — the cop was a VOLUNTEER who was allowed to go on a sting operation, fully armed. Better yet, he is 73 YEARS OLD, and an insurance executive. How did he qualify to go on a genuine police operation? He was a generous donor to the Tulsa police department. Oh, America.

The U.S. presidential race is starting to shape up, a full 18 months before the actual election. In this corner, Hillary Clinton, who is so well financed and unstoppable any Democratic challenger will only be a paper candidate inserted into the race to make it look like an actual election. A mammoth media horde is already following Clinton, and the big “story” so far is that she stopped at a Chipotle restaurant for a meal, which was captured on a security camera. In the other corner, we have extreme libertarian Rand Paul, anti-immigrant son of an immigrant and former Canadian Ted Cruz, and wishy-washy token non-white Marco Rubio. They have collectively zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, but it’s always fun to watch delusional idiots go nuts.

Speaking of delusional idiots, Oiler GM Craig McTavish held an end of season press conference this week, on the heels of the club’s ninth straight year out of the playoffs. One of the gems from the GM: “There is no greater springboard to development than failure.” Is this guy a hockey general manager, of a self-help guru? He also said he sees a “very entertaining, very impactful, very successful era of Oilers hockey on the horizon.” Funny thing about horizons — they never really get any closer.

Also in business, Postmedia completed its deal to buy Sun publications, trumpeting the sale with a full page ad in the Journal. No word yet on what it will mean, but my guess is that it won’t be long before the staff of the mostly empty Sun building move into the mostly empty Journal building downtown.

Still with the Journal, a reporter talked to a homeless man about the Edmonton Public Library’s new ‘no sleeping in the library’ policy. The homeless man, Darren Richards, has been homeless for four years, and stops by the library to read, rest and charge his cellphone. Wait, what? A homeless guy with a cellphone? What company sold a homeless guy a cellphone? How do they bill him? Who calls him? Who does he call?

The Supreme Court continues to shoot holes in Stephen Harper policies. This week, the Supremes ruled that a mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun possession was unconstitutional. This is something like the ninth straight time the government has lost a Supreme Court ruling. Hey, I’m no lawyer, and I have no idea if the Supreme Court is right or wrong on any of these issues, but I’m always cheering any defeat of anything Stephen Harper does. On another issue, the court also ruled that a Quebec town council was banned from starting their meetings with a Catholic prayer. Can you imagine the U.S. supreme court making similar rulings?

RIP: Percy Sledge, 74, who recorded one of the greatest of all soul love songs, When A Man Loves A Woman. A great song, later covered and nearly ruined by Michael Bolton … longtime Edmonton Eskimo fans will remember Howie Schumm, who spent almost all of his 14-year career with the Esks as a linebacker and fullback from 1959-66. He was 75.