Stuff Happens, week 45: Everybody loves France.

The world is still coming to grips with the Paris attacks of last week. From late night talk shows to international soccer (a.k.a. football) matches to Facebook postings, the world is showing solidarity with the French. This might be the one good thing to come of this horrendous event; next to Americans, the French are probably the least favourite people in the world. But for now, everyone loves France, and Paris in particular. Parisians have given ISIS a manicured middle finger salute, and returned to their cafes and bars in record numbers.

An unappreciated aspect of the Paris atrocity was the extraordinary work of the Paris police on the night of terror, particularly the courageous and bold actions of the Paris police who ended the hostage-taking at the Bataclan concert hall, site of the worst of the killings. With the terrorists holding 20 people hostage, the police first tried to negotiate an end to the standoff. After an hour, when it became clear there was no negotiation with these sub-humans, the police chief ordered his men to storm the narrow, 10-metre hallway to where the terrorists and hostages were holed up. They broke down the door and, behind a thick metal shield on wheels, advanced through a hail of gunfire. All hostages escaped unharmed, and the terrorists were killed, one through his suicide vest. It took all of three minutes.

There has been the expected backlash against the new Liberal government’s plans to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end, with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall saying we should slow down the process. And I have to agree, but not because of the Paris attacks. We shouldn’t stop doing what is right because a small handful of sub-humans did something wrong. (Of the so-far eight terrorists who took part in the Paris attacks, not one had a Syrian passport; they were either French nationals, or Belgian.) My concern is with the timeline. For a country as large as Canada, adding 25,000 people is certainly manageable. But to get it done by the end of the year, which is just 40 days away? In all of last year, we only admitted 10,000 refugees; now we want to add more than double that number is barely a month-and-a-half? And with the traditional Christmas shutdown in the middle of it? There is simply too much to do in too little time, I’m afraid. No one would fault Trudeau is he walked back his promise a few months, particularly in light of terrorist fears, justified or otherwise. The fact is that campaign promises are usually made in back rooms, without proper research, and with an eye only towards election. And as for the refugees? If you’ve already been waiting for a year or more in some lousy refugee camp, a few more weeks won’t make much difference. And it might also be kinder to the refugees to bring them here in, say, the spring, than in the depths of a Canadian winter.

A libel suit has gone to trial in Calgary, seven years after it began.

Remember Arthur Kent, brother of newsman-turned-politician Peter Kent? He was the Canadian-born NBC correspondent known for his reporting of the Iraq war, who became known as the ‘Scud Stud’ because of his looks and his ability to do a report while scud missiles fell behind him. Anyway, the Stud ran for the PCs in the 2008 provincial election, and lost. During the campaign, Calgary Herald columnist Don Martin wrote a column headlined ‘Alberta’s ‘Scud Stud’ a ‘Dud’ on the Campaign Trail’. Martin wrote that Kent was arrogant, self-absorbed, and a failure as a campaigner. This was enough for the thin-skinned (but beautiful) Kent to launch a defamation suit, which is only going to trial now. I’ll keep you informed.

Hack actor and poster boy for substance abuse Charlie Sheen has come out and admitted that he is HIV-positive. Sorry, I don’t see this as big news. With his background, it would have been news is he had announced that he is NOT HIV-positive.

Edmonton city council is tying itself up in knots trying to accommodate the “ride sharing” (also known as a taxi) service Uber. Cab drivers, who have a whole raft of rules to live by that don’t apply to Uber, are enraged. I don’t blame them. Uber is a terrible corporate citizen; bullying, arrogant and contemptuous of the law. But the bottom line is that thousands of people have taken to Uber because the taxi system has failed them miserably. There is no shortage of stories of dirty cabs, rude drivers and hours-long waits at peak times. The taxi industry has a problem, and it’s not just Uber.

The Edmonton Eskimos are, for a change, putting in a real effort to get people out from in front of their TVs and out into the cold of Commonwealth Stadium for the Western Final Sunday against the Stampeders. In Tuesday’s Edmonton Journal, the team actually took out a substantial ad, encouraging fans to come to the game versus … the B.C. Lions. Whoops, wrong team! In Wednesday’s paper, the team ran a full page ad with the right opponent listed, which tells me it was a make-good ad on the part of the Journal.

RIP: Jim Perry, 83, Canadian TV host. In the 1970s and 1980s, when Canadians actually used to watch Canadian TV, Perry was the familiar, smiling host of hundreds of hours of Canadian game shows, like Definition, and a pretty solid show called Headline Hunters, which you can see in this old clip


Stuff Happens, week 44: Dark night in the City of Light

searchWay back at the beginning of the year, when I first started writing Stuff Happens, the first topic was the attack on the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. That was an atrocity, but at least it was a predictable atrocity: as terrible and unforgivable as it was, at least there was a reason, however pathetic.

But Friday night’s attacks? They were something else altogether.

People going out for dinner, at a cool cafe in Paris, surely a dream for some? Gunned down.

Concert goers at a performance of a band called Monsters of Death Metal? Massacred, mercilessly.

People who may never had had a thought about Syria, or the Islamic State? Victims of a level of hatred that we can’t even begin to fathom.

The deaths of 128 people in Paris on a balmy November night will be remembered for years to come. In time, it may be seen as a turning point of sorts, but which way the world will turn remains to be seen.

In the Olympics, advances in pharmaceuticals are at least as important in advancements in kinesiology.

The evil empire named Russia, if a report from the Wold Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is to be believed, took doping to a whole new level. The Republic of Putinstan has been accused of creating an entire, government-backed doping system. It is so bad, in fact, that the anti-doping agency wants Russian track and field athletes barred from the Rio Olympics in 2016. Russia, as is its want, says the report is “unprofessional, illogical and declarative”. But the report says the situation was so bad, that members of the Russian secret police visited and even posed as staff at the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory. In another incident, 1,1417 tests were destroyed just days before the WADA came to visit — tests the WADA specifically asked to see. The situation is so dire, that Putin has actually vowed to look into it, which is tantamount to a confession of guilt.

There was yet another mega-mega merger in the beer industry this week. It’s so big, I’m not sure who is swallowing who, or even whom. So, I will quote directly from a newspaper story: “Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch InBev announced Wednesday a final agreement to buy SABMiller for $107 billion in a deal that will combine the world’s two biggest brewers and create a company that makes almost a third of the world’s beer. In an effort to assure regulatory approval in the U.S., SABMiller agreed to sell its 58 percent stake in a venture with fellow brewer Molson Coors for $12 billion.” What does this mean? Well, as far as I can tell, it means almost every bottle of beer drunk in Canada will be be made by the same colossal company, BudweiserAnheuser-BushMillerMolsonCoors InBev SAB. And yet, this still won’t stop normally sane people from buying Coors Light.

There was a major protest at the University of Missouri this week that led to the resignation of the college president. The protest was about racism and a number of other things. But it looked like nothing was going to happen until black players on the university’s football team threatened not to play until the president resigned. That, of course, was the move that forced the president to quit; cancel classes all you like, but don’t you DARE cancel a football game. (The university would have lost $1 million by forfeiting a game, which is basically the take for all CFL games played in a week.) There was an interesting sidebar to the story. At a student protest, a photographer with an independent campus newspaper, Mark Schierbecker, began taking pictures of the event. Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication who specializes in popular culture, went nuts and refused to answer any questions from Schierbecker, telling him to “get out” and grabbing at his camera. Then she turned to supporters behind her and said, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” Yes, this is a professor of COMMUNICATIONS who tells a member of the MEDIA to leave a PUBLIC protest. Apparently “Professor” Click doesn’t realize that a protest without media attention is just a bunch of people standing around doing nothing.  (According to a university bio, Click serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication. “Her work in this area is guided by audience studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and media literacy. Current research projects involve 50 Shades of Grey readers, the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, messages about class and food in reality television programming, and messages about work in children’s television programs.” Yes, this is university level stuff.)

RIP: Nathaniel Marston, 40, actor on the soap opera One Life to Live … Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of West Germany from 1974-82 … Allen Toussaint, 77, musician and songwriter (“Fortune Teller”, “Working in the Coal Mine”) … Andy White, 85, British drummer who played the drums on The Beatles first single,”Love Me Do,” when producer George Martin deemed Ringo Starr not up to the task.


Stuff Happens, week 43: ‘Trudeau II: The son also rises’ makes its debut; pipeline politics

It’s now official — Prime Minister Trudeau. For those of us of a certain age, that has a familiar ring.

Now, I’m not a naturally optimistic person. I see myself as more of a realist. However, I’m strangely optimistic about our new government. Maybe it’s just the residual joy of ridding the country of Stephen Harper, but I feel pretty good about the Trudeau cabinet. For now.

To be honest, I was concerned about this ‘gender parity’ silliness. At the risk of sounding like a ‘privileged white male’ (I am a white male, but I’m still waiting to be awarded  my privilege), I agree with some of my fellow men that forcing gender neutrality risks appointing less qualified people. And that applies both ways — maybe there were some highly qualified women who were passed over the for gender neutrality goal. Ever think of that, huh? The fact is, however, that cabinet posts have never been based solely on merit. Look at the gallery of sycophants, incompetents and toadies that occupied the front benches of Stephen Harper’s government. And of course, you have to appoint members, qualified or otherwise, from the regions. So meritocracy has never existed, and it doesn’t exist with Trudeau, either. But diversity? You bet. This cabinet has 15 women, two indigenous people, five visible minorities, two people with handicaps, four Sikhs (more Sikhs than there are in the government of India), one gay (that we know of, wink wink) and even a millionaire. Yes, it does look a lot like Canada. And just like Canada, some of these people will be great at their jobs, some mediocre, some flops. But Trudeau had a remarkably diverse and accomplished group of MPs to choose from, and it appears so far he chose well. The least accomplished, it seems? Justin Trudeau.

The other big story on a very newsy week was Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. This news was as expected as Edmonton’s annual property tax hike.

Millions of words have been spoken and printed on Keystone, so I won’t recap them here. The bottom line, in my view,  is that Obama came down on the side of symbolism rather than common sense. With the climate change summit coming up in Paris shortly, Obama needed something to take to the conference so he could wear the environmental champion mantel. Saying no to Keystone is low-hanging fruit for Obama, just as it was to environmentalists. It keeps the greens happy, it looks like he’s doing something, it has no real impact on the U.S. economy, and coming down against “dirty oil” is easy. Obama ignored the facts about the oil sands. Yes, they are “dirtier” than conventional oil, but the oil sands only contribute 0.1 per cent of of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moving oil by pipeline is less damaging to the environment than moving it by rail. And get this: Canada is the only major major supplier of oil to the U.S. that has greenhouse gas rules. Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Venezuala? No rules.

In Edmonton on Wednesday noon, TV newsrooms were no doubt torn as to what the top news story of the day would be: the Trudeau cabinet swearing in with an Edmonton member; or Edmonton Oiler Connor McDavid breaking his clavicle. The clavicle won.

The Oiler rookie being out of action for not days, not weeks, but months cast a pall over the city as bleak at the November skies. This guy was looking like the real deal, and although the Oilers are still losing more than they’re winning, McDavid displayed the kind of skill that we haven’t seen here in years. Now, the potential rookie of the year season for McDavid is over, and the Oilers chances of making the playoffs are more remote than they were last week. Which is to say, very very remote.

The masochist in me still tuned into Question Period from the Alberta Legislature. Yeah, I know. That’s pathetic. Almost as pathetic as the performance of Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

A typical Jean question goes something like “Why won’t this government stick up for Albertans?” (actually, that was the exact wording of a question).  When a ludicrous softball question like that is tossed Rachel Notley’s way, she can barely contain her smirk. On Wednesday, Jean said Notley has “consistently campaigned against our pipelines, and our oilsands.” Here’s the problem with this kind of question: it may or may not be true, but proving it to be true takes elementary research. Perhaps the Wildrose hasn’t heard of something called Hansard, which contains every single word said in the Alberta legislature. If Notley has “consistently campaigned against our pipelines, and our oilsands” it shouldn’t be very hard to dig up some quotes from Hansard, from newspaper files, or NDP press releases. If I were running the Wildrose research, I’d have a crew of people pouring over everything Notley, Brian Mason and David Eggen have said over the years. Goodness knows, the NDP does that every day, throwing Wildrose policy back in their faces. By Thursday, the Wildrose appeared to have finally discovered that what the Dippers said in the past can come back to haunt them. The opposition scored real points against the holier-than-everyone government by blasting them for selling $250 tickets to events to meet government members — exactly what the NDP made a stink about during the Stelmach years. After Mason rose to say that wasn’t the truth, it was up to health minister Sara Hoffman — who sounds like a chipmunk on helium — to read an apology. So Mason was saying all was well, then Hoffman said no it wasn’t. It was really the first time since the Notley-ites took over that the Wildrose laid a solid hit on the government. See what happens when you do some research?

RIP: Melissa Mathison, 65, the screenwriter responsible for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial … George Barris, 89, the custom car designer who created the Batmobile for the 196os Batman TV series, and the Munster Koach from The Munsters. 

The supplement conundrum

As an OMIT (Old Man in Training is an acronym I just now made up. I think it’s pretty cool, but then, I’m an Old Man in Training), I am increasingly concerned about my health. Overall, I’m pretty healthy, at least I think so. My health care plan is quite simple: if I never go to the doctor, I’ll never know if anything is wrong with me. As an OMIT, I know I should visit my doctor at least once a year for a physical, but physicals for OMITs include an invasive procedure that involves fingers going where fingers are not meant to go. If you know what I’m talking about, your sphincter just tightened involuntarily.

Anyway, aside from avoiding the doctor, I do take some “proactive” steps towards remaining reasonably healthy. I take some daily supplements to keep myself well oiled (for more substantial lubrication, I prefer beer). After a great deal of research, some months ago I settled on taking a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of fish oil capsules. According to virtually everything I’ve read, omega-3 fatty acids are wonderful, despite the combination of the words “fatty” and “acids”, two things I would think most people try to avoid. Omega-3 is supposed to lower elevated triglyceride levels (I don’t know what triglyceride levels are, but if something should be lowered, I’m guessing it’s best to have them lowered), ward off or lessen depression, curb stiffness and joint pain, and possibly protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. As an OMIT, all of these things are a concern to me, so I figure investing in a little omega-3 can’t do me any harm, and can possibly do me a lot of good.

But wait! The most recent edition of Esquire magazine had one of those articles that magazines these day love to run, headlined How Not To Die. A part of the article, called The Supplemented Life, discussed which of the 65,000 vitamins and supplements a man should take to possibly prevent nasty stuff like heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, prostate/or and colon cancer. It also listed some things you shouldn’t waste your money on, and guess what’s on that list?

Yep. Fish-oil pills.

The article quoted an authority as saying:  “New data on fish-oil and omega-3 show they don’t give any substantial benefits to health. To get omega-3 fatty acids and help protect against heart disease, add to servings a week of fish to your diet. You can’t just pop a pill and get what you need.”

Well, then, what’s the point? If you can’t get what you need by popping a pill, then the whole reason for supplements goes out the window. That’s why we have pills, isn’t it?

The same article, remarkably, suggested that men take a multivitamin, particularly one of those products aimed at OMITS like myself, such as Centrum Silver.The story says multivitamins help prevent lung and colon cancer. Again, this goes against most everything I’ve read about multivitamins, which are regularly decried as a waste of money. The thinking goes that if you eat properly, you’ll have no need for a multivitamin. Now I’m being told to take a multivitamin, and skip the fish oil.

So, what to do now? I’m tempted to just say screw the supplements. The thing about supplements is that you can never conclusively say whether they do any good. If you don’t develop heart problems or Alzheimer’s or cancer, you can’t credit you daily dose of fish oil because, well, you might just have been one of those people who doesn’t get heart problems or Alzheimer’s or cancer.

I will, however, continue with my one other supplement that I take, or more accurately, luxuriate in: dark chocolate.

In case you haven’t heard this, prepare to have your mind blown. Dark chocolate, specifically chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa, is actually good for you. Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate or ‘chocolately’ flavoring) contains fibre, iron, magnesium, copper and even manganese, which is something I assume you need. It is an excellent course of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent; the fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates. It may also lower your blood pressure, and your risk of cardiovascular disease. The key is not to take too much. Eating a whole bar of dark chocolate a day may give you loads of manganese, but it will also cause you to balloon to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float size.

The bottom line is that one or two squares a day of dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa) is good for you. And if Esquire or any other publication tells me otherwise, that’s when I’ll give it up. And by that, I mean reading.

Stuff Happens, week 42: Red is the new orange; attack of the killer bacon

The orange wave that swept across Alberta earlier this year has turned to a decidedly darker hue.

The NDP government released its first budget this week, and boy, are their faces red! The government will run up a deficit of $6 billion this year, which is not entirely unexpected. The government is going ahead with building schools and hospitals and such, using borrowed money. And to me, this makes sense. Alberta has the best possible credit rating, so money is cheap. Building will spur the economy and provide job, and building in a down economy saves money, as desperate builders compete hard for government money. So, I’m fine with this. We can’t allow Alberta’s infrastructure to rot, Klein style, just to keep the books balanced. But wait, there’s more! For the first time in more than 20 years, Alberta will borrow nearly $4 billion between 2016 and 2018 to pay for operational expenses such as government programs and services. In other words, we’re not taking in enough money to pay for the teachers and nurses for the fancy new schools and hospitals. Now, this is a problem. If you have to put your groceries on your credit card, and you only pay the minimum monthly payment, you’ve got serious economic troubles. And that’s basically what the Dippers are are doing. Instead of doing the hard work of cutting costs, the government is hoping that oil will rebound and we can go back to spending beyond our means. I can’t expect an new government go overcome years of PC mismanagement in one budget, but c’mon guys, give it a try.

So this week, we learned that bacon causes cancer. Worse yet, it’s rectal cancer. Rectum? It nearly killed ’em. Sorry.

Anyway, the World Health Organization, the world’s leading killjoys, announced this week that after reviewing some 800 studies from around the world that there is enough evidence to indicate that processed meats — bacon and its delicious friends — are carcinogenic. That means that they cause cancer, most particularly colorectal cancer. Yeah, I know. That’s shitty news. But does this mean you should stop eating bacon and other processed meats? Well, in general terms, you probably should; nothing that tastes as good as bacon can be good for you. But it’s nothing to worry about, really. The risk, as always, is extremely minimal. A person who consumes 50 grams of processed meat a day (which is about one hot dog, or two slices of bacon or a few slices of smoked turkey) has an 18 per cent increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Hey, I’ll take those odds. If I’m going to give up bacon to prevent cancer, the odds of getting bacon-related cancer should be around 90 per cent. Besides, everything, it seems, causes cancer. It’s just a matter of time before someone discovers that saliva causes cancer, but only if swallowed in small amounts over a long period of time.

A business scandal here in Alberta got little publicity, considering how egregious it was.

Utilities giant Trans-Alta payed a $56 million settlement — the largest of its kind in Canadian history — for deliberately timing outages at power plants to drive up electricity prices. In other words, it ripped off its customers. So who gets the benefit of the record penalty? The government! Yes, the $56 million goes entirely to the government of Alberta. Here’s a thought: maybe TransAlta should have been forced to cut cheques to thousands of customers, with a letter of explanation and an apology for ripping them off. As it stands, TransAlta’s shame is limited to those who read the inside pages of the business section. A public shaming, and a refund, would have made a lot more sense.

RIP: Al Molinaro, 96, goofy, big nosed actor best known for his roles as Murray the cop on The Odd Couple, and restaurant owner Al on Happy Days … Tillman, the skateboarding bulldog, age 10.

Stuff Happens, week 41: World notices Canada, enjoy it while you can.

Canadians, forever the neglected middle child in the family of nations, are always weirdly excited when the world pays us any attention. So worldwide reaction to the election of Justin Trudeau got media play this week, as the world is briefly paying attention to Canada in a way not seen since, well, Pierre Trudeau. And some of it is hilariously over the top, thanks mostly to the hyperbolic British press. The Mirror in London wrote the Liberal win kicked off “what has to be the sexiest political dynasty since the Kennedys” thanks to Trudeau’s “luscious brown hair, spellbinding eyes,” “chiselled physique” and “very manly tattoo.” It asked: “Is Justin Trudeau the sexiest politician in the world?” Sexier than Angela Merkel? I think not. In the U.S., the left-leaning The Nation told Democrats they would be wise to see what Trudeau did in the campaign, even calling the escalator ad “genius”. England’s The Guardian predicted Trudeau’s impact on the world stage will be felt immediately. The New York Times gave the Trudeau victory substantial coverage. Even late night comic Conan O’Brien weighed in with a couple of jokes: “Canada’s new prime minister once put on a striptease show for charity. In Canada, a strip tease just means unzipping your outer layer of fleece”, and “Canada elected a new Prime Minister named Justin Trudeau, and many consider the guy a heartthrob. The good news is, any Canadian heartthrob named Justin is sure to be popular forever.” OK, not his best, but we’ll take any acknowledgement we can get.

Perhaps the least surprising poll result of the election came out after the vote. Insights West surveyed 605 Albertans, and found 48 per cent of voters were “very upset” at the prospect of Trudeau as prime minister. Wow. Who would have thought that a province that voted about 60 per cent AGAINST Trudeau would be “very upset” by a Trudeau win. The same poll found 46 per cent of those polled think the Liberals should find a new leader, which tells you something about the intellect of the people they spoke to. Or maybe it just says something about the Alberta voter. Personally, I was very happy to see Randy Boissonnault win in Edmonton Centre. He is a quality person, an excellent speaker and a guy with a real charisma. But a bit of me is upset with the win, because I had him pegged as a potential leader of the Alberta Liberals. Applications are now being taken, by the way. Anyone?

Still on the election, remember all those ‘accidental MPs’ from Quebec, the 20-something students who ran for the NDP four years ago and won? The most famous was Ruth Ellen Brosseau, then 27,  part-time barmaid who had so little chance of winning, she went to Vegas during the campaign. She didn’t even live in her mostly French-speaking riding! So, how did she do in 2015? Well, this is a rare happy political story. She won again, and won big, crushing her Liberal and BQ rivals. Brosseau took the break of a lifetime and made something of it. She is, by all accounts, an excellent MP, and the voters responded. As for the rest of them, all but one was defeated.

South of the border, it is now a 100 per cent certainty that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. The only person with even an outside chance of catching her, Vice-President Joe Biden, announced Wednesday that he will not be running. That leaves Clinton versus radical socialist (by American standards; here he would be slightly left of centre) Bernie Sanders and a couple of pygmies. Sanders is an amusing diversion, but too old and too radical to ever win the nomination. On the Republican side, Donald Trump mania has cooled, but the rising star, Ben Carson, is every bit the delusional crackpot that Trump is. Trump has staying power, but I still say there is no way he will win. If neither Carson nor Trump wins, that leaves … uh, Bush? Who just laid off some of his staff to save money? Or Marco Rubio, I guess. Maybe my ‘there’s no way Trump can win’ prediction is a little off.

And finally, a big thank you from here to the Kansas City Royals, who defeated the heroic, never-say-die, loved-by-all-of-Canada (cough, cough) Toronto Blue Jays to end the Jays playoff run. Now, all you baseball ‘fans’ who bought Jays caps and gear can put them away until the next sports fad comes along. And the Toronto Globe and Mail can go back to being a legitimate newspaper, instead of the pathetic Blue Jays fanzine it has become.

RIP: Maureen O’Hara, 97, one of the last stars of Hollywood’s golden era. Thanks to her red hair and green eyes, she was the queen of Technicolor movies. One of her most famous roles was as the mother of Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street. … Cory Wells, 74, one of the three lead singers for the band Three Dog Night … the Stephen Harper government, 9, euthanized by the Canadian public.

Why the sunny son eclipsed the prince of darkness.

On my way back from voting Monday, I chanced upon a bit of election literature that had been tossed on the ground next to one of those damnable supermailboxes. Being the good citizen that I am — hey, I just spend 10 minutes of my day voting — I picked up the debris.

But I read it first. It was a piece of Conservative propaganda I hadn’t seen, a direct mailing to a resident, so my guess is it was sent to a contributor. On one side was a picture of Stephen Harper, looking almost saintly. The photo was accompanied by this quote from Chairman Harper: “It is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to joining the Canadian family.” The other side had a checklist of things the Conservatives have done to “Keep Canada Strong”. The three items were “more jobs”, “less tax” … and “fight terrorists”.

It struck me that this mailer encapsulated the entire, brutal Harper campaign. The election, in Conservative land, was only about jobs, taxes, terrorism, and two women who wanted to wear the niqab during their citizenship ceremony. That was Stephen Harper’s Canada — obsessed with taxation, beset by enemies from within (newcomers, i.e. Muslims, who don’t believe in Canadian values) and without (terrorists).

Everything about the Harper campaign was bleak and negative. Justin Trudeau just wasn’t ready, he was going to ruin the economy, raise your taxes and destroy your business. Harper himself never appeared in his own party ads, except until the bitter end when a still photo of Harper attempting to smile was used.

Trudeau remained upbeat. He rarely mentioned Harper, and when he did, it was “Mr. Harper”, while Harper referred to Trudeau as “Justin”, as if he wasn’t worthy of the honorific. Everywhere he went, Trudeau was the sunny son. While he reached out to adoring crowds, posing for innumerable selfies, Harper surrounded himself by true believers only. Few, if any, voters got close enough for a selfie. Perhaps nobody wanted one.

Trudeau was a “we can do better” kind of guy. Harper was a “we’re doomed without me” kind of guy. In his previous victories over the Liberals, Harper benefited from the Grits having terrible leadership; the charisma-challenged Stephane Dion, and the icy academic Michael Ignatief. Faced with no choice, Canadians turned to Harper. But this time, the formula didn’t work. No matter how hard they tried to destroy Trudeau, it didn’t stick. Even the notorious “nice hair” ads didn’t do the trick, and I think it’s because Trudeau has never taken a bad picture. Even when the Cons resorted to the trope of running a picture of Trudeau in black and white, he was still shown smiling and looking handsome. Even when he opted for that crazy devil goatee look and longish hair, he still looked better than helmet-head Harper.

There are dozens of reasons why Stephen Harper was so decisively defeated. I’m not going to list them here, but I think the primary reason was that Harper and the Conservatives ran a relentlessly negative campaign, while Trudeau was upbeat and positive. Canadians, I believe, are naturally optimistic people. Harper represents one side of the Canadian personality. When he faced unpleasant Liberal leaders, the public turned to an unpleasant Conservative. But faced with a sunny and optimistic leader, an outgoing, young, handsome guy who clearly loves people, we jumped at the chance to vote for him, despite misgivings we might have about his mental acuity.

I think Trudeau represents the way we want to see ourselves, whether it’s accurate or not.

Stuff Happens, week 40: Relax, people, it’s almost over.

It’s finally almost over … the longest, ugliest election campaign in recent Canadian history. In the dying days of the campaign, a couple of distractions tripped up the frontrunners. Put these under the category of With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

First, Justin Trudeau was bushwacked by his campaign co-chairman, a longtime Liberal operative named Dan Gagnier. The Canadian Press revealed he has given advice to TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the Energy East pipeline, on how to lobby the new government. This is incredibly stupid, and of course the pius Stephen Harper and the even saintlier Thomas Mulclair (sorry, that’s Mulcair) piled on with indignation. Trudeau cast Gagnier aside immediately, but the damage was done. Around the same time, Harper received an endorsement from Canada’s favourite drug addicted, alcoholic, worldwide laughing stock Rob Ford. The Harper campaign says they’re happy for the endorsement. Next up for the Tories: Clifford Olson comes out for Harper.

Speaking of endorsements, the Edmonton Journal and the Globe and Mail both came out in support of the Conservatives. The Journal’s endorsement (likely on orders from HQ in Toronto) was one of the worst written opinion pieces I’ve ever seen, and I say that as someone who has written a lot of lousy opinion pieces. The Journal’s view is that Harper is a good manager of the economy. Or to use the exact words in the editorial: “Now, more than ever, we need a “moderate and sensible” economic plan for Canada …” They put “moderate and sensible” in quotation marks, like someone doing air quotes. The editorial completely ignored Harper’s decade-long abuse of power and his shameless pandering to the worst instincts of Canadians. It utterly failed to make the point that Harper deserves to extend his mandate. Meanwhile, the Globe took a different approach. The Globe supports the Conservatives, but NOT Harper, advising him to quit immediately. It’s one of the most convoluted editorials ever written. As comedian Brett Butt put it on his Twitter account, “So as I understand it, the Globe&Mail just endorsed french fries…with gravy…and cheese curds on top… but NOT poutine.”

Speaking of The Journal, while the paper’s opinion makers support the Conservatives, the paper’s editors (if such a creature still exists) are big NDP supporters, particularly of one candidate, Edmonton Centre’s Gil McGowan. Early this week, the NDP held a press conference to “announce” that four of its candidates have a good chance of winning in Edmonton. There is no news value in this, of course; it’s a shameless attempt to get free publicity. And it worked! The Journal bit, and ran a big story on the candidates, focussing on McGowan in the huge photo with the story. On Thursday, the NDP trotted out McGowan again, making an announcement that the NDP would review the Temporary Foreign Workers program. No news there, but again, the Journal bit with lengthy story and another picture of McGowan in Friday’s paper. On Saturday, a story on ridings to watch included Edmonton Centre, which is awash with signs from all candidates. The Journal’s choice of a picture? Three signs for McGowan. I’m sure the Journal’s lavish support of McGowan has absolutely nothing to do with the fact the NDP spent a fortune on wrap-around front page ads over the past couple of weeks, while the Liberals haven’t spent a dime. No, no newspaper would stoop that low, right?

The cultural barometer sign of the week — maybe of the year — goes to Playboy magazine. Remember Playbody? If you’re in my age bracket (old), you remember Playboy as the one and only place you could reliably see naked women. Now, Playboy is about to become the one and only place you can reliably NOT see a naked woman. Playboy announced this week it will no longer run its carefully airbrushed photos of gorgeous, naked women. The magazine’s founder, 382-year-old Hugh Hefner, has agreed that since every kind of porn imaginable is now available online, for free, Playboy no longer sees the need to spice up the magazine with nudity. It appears sex no longer sells. According to executives quoted by The New York Times, once Playboy got rid of online nudity the average age of its online reader dropped to age 30 – the coveted millennial demo – from age 47, and web traffic quadrupled from four million to 16 million monthly visitors. Now, when someone says they read Playboy for the articles, they really will read it only for the articles.

To the dismay of some Canadians (OK, maybe just me) and the disinterest of most, the Toronto Blue Jays completed their comeback and defeated some other team to advance further in the baseball playoffs. Oh, sorry, I forgot we’re all supposed to be Blue Jays fans. Well, we’re not. There are plenty of Canadians who would never, ever, ever pull for for a team of Americans and Puerto Ricans playing an American game from Toronto, so this ‘Canada’s team’ garbage is just that — garbage.

This is not an important story, but just a hilarious one. A man here in Edmonton riding a bicycle on the sidewalk Tuesday was stopped by police because he didn’t have a bell on his bike. Apparently, this is a law. Anyway, the guy then gave the cop a fake name.  He was then arrested for obstruction. As he was being arrested, a knife fell out of his pants. Officers searched him and his backpack and found a sawed-off shotgun, drugs and trafficking paraphernalia. The idiot is now facing 18 charges for weapons, trafficking, obstruction and breaching conditions. And he was also given one ticket for riding a bicycle without a bell. Ding-ding!

RIP: Ken Taylor, 81, hero of the ‘Canadian Caper’. Back when revolution swept Iran in 1979, revolutionaries took over the American embassy and held the staff hostage. But six escaped, and took sanctuary in the Canadian embassy. Ambassador Taylor took an enormous risk, hid them, and successfully spirited them out of the country. The movie Argo is based on the Canadian Caper. But if you watched the movie, you’d think Taylor was a bit player in the whole thing, instead of what he really was — the heroic mastermind.

Stephen Harper must go: a plea

imgresLast week, I was talking to a young guy at work who was pondering who to vote for in this election. He doesn’t want to vote (he “doesn’t have the time”), but his mother told him he must. Knowing my antipathy towards Stephen Harper, he asked: “Things are pretty good, aren’t they?”

That was a light bulb moment for me. I’ve been trying to figure out why anyone would vote for the Conservatives, knowing the damage they’ve done to the country, and the possibly irreparable damage another four years of Harper could do. That “things are pretty good” question gave me an answer.

If you look at Canada in purely economic terms, we’re going OK, I suppose. Here in Alberta, due to the collapse of oil prices, the economy sucks somewhat, but as much as I would like to blame Harper, that’s not his fault. The economy is not firing on all cylinders, but it’s not off the rails, either. Most of us have jobs. We’ve got our Tim’s. We’ve got our hockey. We’re all right, right?


We’re not all right. I firmly believe, when history passes its judgment, that Stephen Harper will be seen as one of the worst prime ministers in Canadian history.

Surely, you may be saying, he’s not that bad? After all, Canadians voted for him, didn’t they?

Well, yes, some of us did. In the election of 2011, the Conservatives won less than 40 per cent of the vote. In 2006, the Cons won less than 38 per cent. In 2004, it was 36 per cent. Put another way, in every election won by the Conservatives, more than 60 per cent voted against the Conservatives. But hey, that’s our system, screwed up as it is.

If you’re one of those people who votes on purely economic matters, well, shame on you. Canada is not just a great, big, moneymaking machine. It’s a country, with laws and rules and traditions and values. Stephen Harper has trampled all over the Canada we’ve built for generations.

His government has crapped on our democratic traditions. Successive governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have weakened parliament, but Harper has nearly destroyed it. He has coarsened political discourse to such a degree that getting an honest answer from his ministers was nearly impossible. He neutered Parliament with omnibus bills designed to push through contentious legislation with minimal discussion. His government was found in contempt of parliament, the first time in Canadian history. And no one has politicized the civil service to the degree of Stephen Harper. Some time back, civil servants were ordered to dump the traditional “Government of Canada” in their correspondence, in favour of the “Harper government”. And while the rest of the civil service was cut back, Conservative government advertising budgets ballooned. At one point, the Conservatives were advertising a program that hadn’t even been approved by parliament.

Harper has gone to great lengths to muzzle any information that goes against his narrow worldview. The Harper government instituted rules that stopped every government scientist from answering even the most innocuous question from the media, leaving it up to government PR hacks to write out answers. Why? Well, government scientists frequently uncovered information that was at odds with Conservative party policies, so they had to be silenced. Long-standing government research projects were shut down, and in some cases their information was destroyed.

He has wrecked our international reputation. In 2010, Canada did not win a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, an embarrassing rebuke of this nation’s previously stellar international standing. Harper’s slavish devotion to Israel is cynical politics; even Israel isn’t as big a supporter of Israel as Canada has become.
We have never had a prime minister who is such a relentless, vicious partisan. It was Stephen Harper’s party that introduced attack ads that ran during non-election times, aimed at destroying Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (mission accomplished). This election, virtually every Conservative ad is negative in tone, aimed not at selling the Conservatives but destroying the other parties, particularly the Liberals.

The niqab debate is the Conservative party in a nutshell. Until the Conservatives made it an issue, most Canadians had never heard the word niqab, much less met even one woman who wore it. But Harper and company made it an issue. And by announcing a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line run by the RCMP (another example of Harper using the public service for his own ends), he has stepped over the line. Do yourself a favor and read this excellent letter signed by 587 academics who decry Harper’s dangerous, crass politics.

And then we have Harper’s Senate appointments, a rogue’s gallery of partisan conservative hacks who face a variety of criminal charges. The Mike Duffy trial revealed that the Prime Ministers office concocted cover-up schemes and planned to falsify audits to mislead the public. Harper’s solution to the uselessness of the Senate? He’s just not going to appoint any more senators.

After all this, if you still say Harper is the man to lead Canada economically, ask yourself this. Harper has pegged the economic wellbeing of Canada on pipelines, like Keystone XL. In nearly a decade, how many pipelines have been started, much less built? The answer is zero.

And finally, in almost a decade of power, Stephen Harper has not one single signature policy. He will not be remembered for any progressive legislation, or any major accomplishment. Stephen Harper will be remembered for portraying Canada as a cold, negative, unwelcoming place, beset by enemies from within and without, who are intent on destroying his conservative vision of Canada.

We’ve had nine years of this guy. For the good of the country, Stephen Harper must go.

Stuff Happens, week 39: Big (yawn) trade deal; Harper plays niqab card; Notley bombs

The big story this week was a trade deal. Wait, wait! Please don’t stop reading.

Canada has joined 11 other countries in something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a collection of countries including big dogs (the U.S., Japan), middle-sized dogs (Canada, Mexico, Australia) and some pups (Vietnam, Brunei). The combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries is $27.5 trillion US, and it took eight years to put it together. So, yes, it’s kind of a big deal, but not as big as you might think. We already have free trade agreements with the four of the countries which account for 96 per cent of our exports, so this is in some ways small potatoes. The deal has not been released yet, and even when it is there is no doubt it will be total gibberish to all but a handful of Canadians. The only real question is: what does this mean to me? And by me, I mean you, the consumer. Apparently, not much. The biggest impact may be on Canada’s coddled dairy industry, which has been protected from most foreign competition. We pay through the nose for dairy products here thanks to the government, which pretty much guarantees dairy farms are profitable (they are concentrated mostly in voter-rich Ontario and Quebec). But as a concession to the TPP, Canada will allow more duty-free imports of dairy and poultry products, equivalent to 3.25% of of our current dairy production. To compensate the dairy farmers, the Conservatives have promised the dairy industry $4.3 billion for 15 years to further protect an already overly-protected industry. So, we might pay a little less for dairy or get more variety. That’s small cheese. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has said he feels no obligation to sign the deal if he becomes prime minister, making the totally unsubstantiated claim that it will cost 20,000 jobs (pick a number, any number). Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have taken the most sensible stand — let’s take a look at it first. Expert opinion on the deal is split: I read an article in Maclean’s that said consumers were left out to dry, and another in the National Post which said consumers are the winners. In a case like this, it’s just best to forget the whole damn thing. Which is pretty much exactly what the media did: two days after the TPP was signed, it vanished from the airwaves and print media. There are much more important things to talk about, like….

… the niqab. Yes, the non-issue that won’t go away. The matter of a handful of Muslim women who choose to wear full facial covering has become a hot-button topic in the Canadian election, thanks entirely to Stephen Harper. It is the Conservatives who inserted this non-issue into the campaign, a shameless, cynical — and successful — attempt to insert a wedge issue into the campaign. Harper is painting his anti-niqab policies as protecting women from being exploited by men. You see, he’s not anti-Muslim, he’s pro-women! Harper, master of cynical politics, is giving the ol’ ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ to anti-Muslim feelings, which are particularly strong in xenophobic Quebec. Harper, as we know, tried to ban a niqab-wearing woman from attending a citizenship ceremony; his attempt has been shot down in court after court. Now he’s musing niqab-wearing women should not be allowed to work in the civil service. This is a cure for which there is no known disease; the major unions representing federal public servants across Canada say they are unaware of a single incident involving an employee donning a niqab on the job, according to Global news. The niqab question is a sideshow, a puny non-issue that the Harper Conservatives has inserted into the campaign to divide Canadians between right-leaning ‘real’ Canadians and soft lefties who have no respect for Canadian ‘values’.

Something Harper said this week that got little publicity was this gem: the Conservative leader said marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco. I’m no expert on this, but I have never seen a single report of pot killing anyone. If that was the case, Willie Nelson would have been dead years ago. Here’s what a real scientist, Steven Laviolette from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, had to say about Harper’s statement: “In terms of the statement that marijuana is infinitely more harmful than tobacco, there’s simply no evidence at all to suggest that’s true either in terms of health care costs, or in terms of relative health dangers. The cancers and other source of pulmonary diseases associated with smoking — to use the word infinitely — are infinitely more serious than what we would ever encounter with smoking marijuana and that’s well-established.”

Speaking so stupid comments, last week I wrote about Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, and his callous “stuff happens” comment about America’s most recent mass killing. This week, Dr. Ben Carson — who is second to Donald Trump and rising in the polls — had this to say abut the Colorado killings: “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,” Carson wrote, “but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Yep, that’s right. A bullet riddled child is not as offensive as restricting the sale of guns. I didn’t think it was possible, but Donald Trump is suddenly looking like the voice of reason. (On a related matter, an 11-year-old boy killed his 8-year-old neighbour with a shotgun in an argument over a puppy, according to authorities in Jefferson County, Tenn. The 11-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder in the girl’s death. But at least the constitution is safe.)

I swear this is true: the first item on the Global News noon edition on Wednesday was the breathtaking, shocking, extraordinary news that Andrew Ferrence is no longer the captain of the Oilers.  The 5 pm newscast on CTV also made the Oilers captaincy story as their top pick. Yes, that’s what passes for major news in Edmonton. And still in sports, Canada’s team (cough, cough), the Toronto Blew Jays are in danger of being swept in their series against whoever they’re playing, having lost the first two games of their best-of-five series — and in Toronto, to make matters worse. Or, in my case, better.

Premier Rachel Notley has had a pretty easy time of it since winning election, thanks in large part to a doting media. But the premier stepped in it, big time, in Calgary on Friday. Giving a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the premier told a crowd of worried oil executives that what Canada needs right now is the “grit, determination and intellect of Thomas Mulcair”. You can imagine how well that went over with a right-wing crowd of Calgary oil types. Crickets chirped, tumbleweeds rolled. There was dead silence, and justifiably so. Making a brazenly partisan statement like that, in front of that crowd, was either courageous or foolhardy. I vote for foolhardy. Nobody wants to hear a partisan rant from a premier during an election.

And finally, what would Stuff Happens be without This Week In Atrocity. In Turkey on Saturday, two suicide bombs went off, with bitter irony, at a peace rally in Ankara. The death toll is 95, and so far no one has taken responsibility.

RIP: Long-time (and old) Edmonton Eskimo fans will remember running back Jim ‘Long Gone’ Thomas, who died this week at at age 76. Thomas spent nine years with the Green and Gold from 1963 to 1971, racking up 6,161 career yards (third on the Eskimos all-time list) on 1,111 carries with 37 touchdowns. He still holds the record for the three longest rushing touchdowns in Eskimos history — a 104-yard TD run on Oct. 9, 1965 against BC, a 100-yard TD run on Aug. 2, 1966 against Winnipeg and a 97-yard TD run on Sept. 4, 1964 against Ottawa. He also recorded 221 receptions for 2,642 yards and 14 touchdowns. Thomas was pretty much the lone bright spot during the darkest days in Eskimo history …  Paul Prudhomme, 75, American celebrity chef, cookbook writer and restaurateur … Billy Joe Royal, 73, American pop and country singer (Down in the Boondocks, Cherry Hill Park, Burned Like a Rocket).