Stuff Happens, week 38: Too close to call; ‘stuff happens’ in Oregon; what was the Pope thinking?

The finish line of the federal election is in sight, but we’re no closer to seeing a winner than we were weeks ago. The latest polls indicate that support for the NDP is beginning to fall — turning their famous Quebec ‘orange crush’ into an ‘orange crash’ — while support for the Liberals is rising. Or at least that’s the way it seemed on Thursday; Friday’s polls put the Conservatives in the lead, and looking good to get the most number of seats. (It actually makes me physically ill to write this.) And a poll on Saturday put the Liberals in the lead. The one emerging trend is that the election is shaping up to a two-horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberals as the NDP begins to fade, particularly in Quebec. But, with a little over two weeks to go and the situation as volatile and unpredictable as any in Canadian history, any conceivable scenario is possible, although a minority for any party seems almost certain. And if the Harper Conservatives win, you can expect another election within weeks, since neither the Liberals or the NDP will prop up a minority Conservative government. In fact, barring a majority by one party, we can expect to be going through this whole process again with a year, two years max.

Worst possible news from the sports front: the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be legitimate World Series contenders. This means faux baseball ‘fans’ will dig their Blue Jays caps out of storage, and all of Canada will be allegedly in the grips of Blue Jay fever. There are two things I hate (well, there are lots of things I hate, but let’s restrict it to just two): baseball, and any Toronto sports team. So a winning baseball team from Toronto — with the attendant hoopla and boosterism from the Toronto-centric media, who will crown the Blue Jays ‘Canada’s team’ — is the worst of all sports worlds. Let us hope they do a face plant right away to spare us from Blue Jays ‘mania’. Speaking of baseball, the girls in this viral video from an actual baseball game are doing exactly what I would do if forced to go to a baseball game.

This week’s atrocity occurred at a small community college in an isolated Oregon town, proof once again that craziness can happen anywhere. It’s just a lot more likely to have in the U.S. of A. Ten people were killed by a lone gunman who went on a rampage at a college with the unlikely name of Umpqua Community College, in the small city of Roseberg, pop. 22,000. President Obama, speaking about the crime, said “thoughts and prayers are not enough”, expressing his anger at the inability of congress to do anything about gun control. And it will be that way forever, at least as long at the National Rifle Association tells the U.S. Congress what laws it can or cannot pass. Another victim of this latest terrible crime is Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, who said this Friday when asked about the shooting: “I had this challenge as governor because we had — look, stuff happens,” he said at a forum in South Carolina. “There’s always a crisis and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” Yes, stuff happens. Like a presidential candidate shooting himself in the foot.

Pope Francis is back home in Rome after a triumphant visit to the U.S. However, after the visit, it was revealed that the pope had a visit with that religious fanatic from Kentucky, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licences to gays. The ‘visit’ was revealed well after the Pope had left, leaving everyone to wonder why the Pope would meet such a divisive figure in America. Well, as reported in Esquire, it looks like some skulduggery on the part of an American conservative bishop. The magazine wrote that it looks like the bishop, unhappy with the Pope’s liberal ways, invited Davis to a meeting (along with dozens of others), and it is unlikely the Pope knew much, if anything, about her.

Edmonton, my home town, has a lot going for it. One thing it seemingly does not have is a well run bureaucracy. City staff gave the OK for a basement suite to a landlord well known for his, shall we say, less than ideal accommodations. When the provincial health inspector came by a few days later, the suite was found to be not fit for human habitation! Brilliant.

RIP: Michael Burgess, 70, Canadian tenor best know for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

Stuff Happens, week 37: He’s Pope-tastic; cabbies go wild; NDP plays giveaway.

Pope Francis made his North American debut this week, and he was boffo. The pontiff, who is not very popular with the right-wing of the Catholic church (which means he is doing something right) drew ecstatic crowds in his first U.S. visit. English, however, is clearly his second or third or fourth language. Listening to his speeches made me want to grab him by the shoulders, shake him and yell ‘SPEAK FASTER!”, which is not something you do with a pope. But his English is way better than my Spanish, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

The interminable federal election campaign has its third debate this week, this one in French. This of course meant simultaneous translation, which resulted in moments where five leaders were speaking at the same time, PLUS five translators. It was frequently incomprehensible, but from I can understand, Quebecers really have a hatred for the niqab, which is a major election issue there. (It’s not an issue outside of Quebec, but the French language debate is basically a Quebec issue debate.) The issue of Muslim women wearing wearing the full face veil while taking the oath of citizenship is a favourite of the Conservatives, who believe a bare face is required to recite the oath. The Liberals and the NDP disagree, and they seem to be offside with the Quebec voter, who is apparently anti-niqab in every way. The whole silly debate led Stephen Harper to say he would never demand that his daughter wear a niqab, which implies that the other leaders would. Such idiocy. The way I see it, if a woman wants to cover her face for religious reasons, fine, have at it. No big deal to me — but don’t expect that you can teach school or be a nurse or even work in the lowest civil service position with your face covered. That’s not the way we do things in Canada.

Is there a bigger scumbag in the business world right now than Martin Shkreli? Shkreli is the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, which jacked up the price for a medication from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight. The medicine, Daraprim, which has been on the market for 62 years, and is the standard of care for a food-borne illness called toxoplasmosis caused by a parasite that can severely affect those with compromised immune systems. Turing purchased the rights to the drug last month and almost immediately raised prices, from $13.50 a pill to $759 a pill! A reporter from a newsletter called Fierce Biotech asked the company CEO, the above mentioned dick Shkreli, why he did it. His reponse was to call the reporter  “irrelevant” and someone who doesn’t “think logically” and called him a “moron”. Shkreli has backed down a bit, but not before he was installed in the Corporate Scumbag Hall of Fame.

Speaking of corporate scumbags, who thought Volkswagen would enter such hallowed company? The auto giant, which had a sterling reputation, was found to have cheated on the emission numbers for its diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles are more efficient than those powered by regular gas but emit higher levels of bad stuff. In Europe, where rules emphasize fuel economy, diesel vehicles are common but until recently they struggled to meet U.S. emissions limits. VW has admitting using software that allowed its diesel cars to fool U.S. emissions tests. The company has been selling some of its most popular models, like the Golf and the Jetta, bragging about how environmentally sound they are, but it was all a lie. The company CEO has resigned, and damage to the company’s reputation is incalculable. Who would have thought that a company that developed cars for Hitler could do anything so awful?

Edmonton cab drivers don’t have the best reputation. It’s not hard to find people who have had miserable experiences in dirty cabs. Uber is eating into their market, and the cab drivers are fighting back in ways that will do their reputation no good at all. They went nuts at Edmonton city hall this week when changes to taxi bylaws were being discussed, screaming and yelling and taking off their shirts. Police had to be called in and councillors were forced to leave the chamber. I am sympathetic to their cause (they spend tens of thousands of dollars on their cabs, and now Uber comes along and arrogantly changes the rules), but disrupting a council meeting and exposing their flabby bodies to the public won’t win them any friends. I don’t think the public is particularly sympathetic to cabbies, even though they have a legitimate gripe. If they don’t, quite literally, clean up their act, they will never get the public onside.

Still with Edmonton city council, the spineless yes men/women we elected will, as always, do whatever a developer wants. This week, council overrode a five-year-old downtown plan to allow the development of three 40-storey residential towers downtown. The problem is that the shade from the towers will dramatically reduce the output of solar panels on an adjacent project under development. Architect and developer Gene Dub — who is quite simply one of the best friends downtown Edmonton has ever had — went the solar route at city council’s suggestion, and at a cost of $400,000 for his project. Now, the towers will put is building in shade, and reduce their output by 40%. Only one councillor, Ben Henderson, had the balls to say no to a developer. Like children, city council is fascinated by shiny baubles like big buildings, and they will never say no to a developer.

Finally, the Alberta NDP is acting like a real government — wreckless with public dollars and giving jobs to partisan hacks. This week, an NDP-dominated committee voted to give raises of 7.25% independent officers of the legislature, with no real reasoning. All of the civil servants made hefty six figure salaries and were in no need of pay hikes, but they got them anyway. The committee also voted to send itself on a junket to Boston. Opposition members from the Wildrose and PCs voted against, but no matter. For your information, the chair of the committee is the MLA-by-accident Denise Woollard  of Edmonton Mill Creek (  Also on the committee is Lorne Dach ( ),  Estefania Cortes-Vargas ( ) Heather Sweet ( ), and David Shepherd ( ).  If you find their actions disturbing, feel free to send a few polite words to their email addresses provided.  Also this week in NDP land, the NDP appointed a new head of the public affairs bureau. The public affairs bureau is the propaganda arm created by the old PC government that should have been abolished years ago, but the NDP is apparently keeping it alive by appointing a new director. The new hire, of course, is a former manager from the big union side and an NDPer. The NDP has has one hard and fast rule for hires — only people with union/NDP experience need apply. Yes, they’re acting like a real government now.

RIP: Yogi Berra, 90, the legendary New York Yankees manager/player and member of 13 World Series championship teams. Berra was credited with saying, among many other things, “It’s like deja vu all over again,” which, incredibly, is the way a lot of not very bright people use that expression to this day … Todd Ewen, 49, hockey enforcer (St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), by his own hand.

Stuff Happens, week 36: Another (yawn) debate; Trump blows hard; new look Journal just blows

The federal election is now into the home stretch, which in previous years would have been referred to as ‘at the starting line’. The Big Three (The Little One, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was no invited) debated the economy on Thursday, and just like everything else in this campaign, nothing was settled. For the first time ever, I didn’t watch an election debate. I know where all the parties stand on the economy, and frankly I don’t really care. Justin Trudeau admits he will run deficits to boost infrastructure; Thomas Mulcair promises a balanced budget, as does Stephen Harper; apparently, we are living in Bizzaro Canada. But really, is the deficit a big issue with Canadians? I don’t think so. The U.S. government deficit is $426 billion; you won’t find one American in million who knows or cares about the deficit. But here, the political parties have made it an issue. In 2013-14, the federal government spent $278 billion, so a shortfall or surplus of a billion or two is pretty small potatoes. But then, most Canadian politics is about small potatoes.

The only other thing to come from the debate was Harper’s peculiar use of the term “old stock Canadians”, a term so unusual nobody has ever heard it before. He was, apparently, referring to Canadians who have been here for a long time, but of course it touched off a predictable furor. Pollster Frank Graves said that Harper’s use of the term “old-stock Canadians” was a deliberate ploy to energize his supporters,  a “dog whistle” that only his supporters would hear. On Friday, Harper said his old-stock comment referred to “Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations.” Only in Canada would someone here for one generation be considered “old stock”. Up till Thursday, I thought old stock was a brand of beer.

One other development on the campaign trail: Wayne Gretzky has come out in support of Harper, calling him an “unreal” prime minister. Can’t argue with that — it’s positively unreal that this guy is prime minister. Clearly, Gretzky’s many years of playing with that cheap Jofa helmet took its toll. Sidenote: Gretzky has lived full-time in the U.S. since 1998, and is not allowed to vote in this election, thanks to Conservative party rule changes. Irony, thy name is Wayne.

While Canadian leaders were having a fairly sober debate on important issues, the Republicans in the U.S. continue their pre-election gong show. Donald Trump’s Flying Circus continues to amaze and appall. No matter how insulting, no matter how juvenile, no matter how un-PC his public utterances are, Trump continues to hold the American chattering classes in thrall. Can this certifiable loon win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency? Again, let me point out that Americans don’t actually go to the polls until November of NEXT YEAR, and the first of the primaries — where actual votes are cast and counted — aren’t until February. I think at some point Trump will grow weary of all the handshaking with the unwashed and unwealthy, and quit the race once he loses one primary. In the meantime, enjoy the show.

Still with politics, the differences between democratic systems were on vivid display this week. While Americans plod through an interminable election cycle (I guarantee you that there are candidates right now planning their 2020 run), and we here in Canada stumble through the longest campaign in recent history, in Australia they’ve switched prime ministers overnight. Arch conservative prime minister, Liberal leader Tony Abbott (yes, the conservative party is the Liberal party — they don’t call the place down under for nothing) was turfed and replaced through a vote of his caucus. Australia is now on its fifth prime minister since 2007, if you count the two terms of one guy who was turfed by this caucus, then got back in after turfing the woman who beat him. I think. It’s all very confusing. The prime ministership of Australia is apparently played like a game of high-stakes musical chairs. Historically, here have been 23 changes of prime minister without an election, six of them through in-house coups.

What would a week be without a police outrage or two. In Houston, the cops handcuffed and arrested a 14-year-old science whiz who brought a homemade clock to school. They thought it was a bomb. He, of course, was black. And a Muslim. And watch how delicately they handle this kid in California when he is charged with — wait for it — jaywalking.

Locally, the Edmonton Journal introduced its new look this week. And in my humble opinion as a life-long newspaper reader and former media type, it’s a dog’s breakfast. Or more accurately, a dog’s breakfast after the dog has had time to digest it. A jumble of unrelated typefaces and fonts. Mammoth pictures standing in place of actual stories. What used to be the arts and entertainment section is now renamed You, and it contains a jumble of entertainment and ‘lifestyle’ stories. The National Post section is eastern Canada-centric, with important world stories reduced to two or three paragraph briefs. The worst new feature is a page called (seriously) Envy. Described as “a look at life well lived”, it’s devoted to stuff rich people are doing or buying. Sorry, but buying diamonds is not a life well lived. Interestingly, a longstanding tradition of the newspaper business — listing the editor of the section on the front page of said section — has apparently been discontinued. That either means there is no longer local input into the story selection, or nobody wants to take the credit.

RIP: Moses Malone, 66, NBA Hall of Famer and three time NBA most valuable player.

Stuff Happens, week 35: Refugees keep coming; Liz sets employment record

The European refugee crisis continued unabated this week, and the numbers are staggering. For example, Germany has announced that it will accept 500,000 refugees. Every year. For several years. Germany is a big country, with 81 million people, but a half-million refugees every year for several years is an awful lot of people, particularly if those people don’t speak your language or share your customs. It’s almost as if Germany is trying to make up for some past misdeeds. The refugee crisis has become one of the dominant issues of the Canadian election campaign, with the NDP and Liberals trying to upstage each other in the sympathy department (“We’ll bring in 10,000 refugees” “Well then, we’ll bring in 20,000 refugees.” “OK, we’ll see your 20,000 and raise you 10,000.”), which the Conservatives remain steadfast in their view that only refugees that have passed stringent background checks should be allowed in. Could be terrorists risking their lives to leave Syria and travel to Canada, after all. Too bad the Cons weren’t quite so diligent in vetting their own candidates. Two of them had to quit this week, one because he was revealed to be a douchbag who made obnoxious crank calls (including pretending to be mentally disabled) and airing them on YouTube, the other for inexplicably taking a whiz into a homeowner’s coffee cup while doing repair work. Another Conservative candidate, an oily looking character named Konstantin Toubis, re-posted a nasty, anti-woman, Russian-language articles on his Facebook page, then tried to claim he was posting them because he was opposed to what was being said. Good one, Konny!

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated a milestone this week: she is now the longest serving monarch in British history, clocking in at 63 years, seven months, two days — and counting —  surpassing Queen Victoria. I loathe the monarchy, and everything it stands for (unearned privilege, the notion that someone is superior simply due to the luck of their birth, inherited wealth, etc.), but I have to admire the old gal just a bit. When she goes to a better place (or in her case, a lesser place), the monarchy won’t be the same. The public still loves the Queen, but affection is in limited supply for Prince Charles, next in line. The next gen of royals, the likes of Princes William and Harry, are hot properties, but mostly for their tabloid value. Nobody will bring the dedication to the cause (whatever the cause is) that Queen Elizabeth has brought to the job. She will most certainly die on the job, but if the royals can find a way to mummify her and prop her up and wave, a la Weekend at Bernie’s, she could go on forever.

Here in Edmonton, a city where nothing seems to get done either on time or correctly, found its scapegoat this week. City manager Simon Farbrother got the axe, most likely for doing such a poor job of keeping city council in the dark about delays in the LRT and various other projects. Simon will recover from his firing, however; his severance package will be in the neighbourhood of $800,000. Which is a pretty nice neighbourhood.

Also in Edmonton, the Journal is into hyper-Connor McDavid mania. McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers’ alleged can’t miss superstar, suited up in something called the Young Stars Classic (a.k.a. junior hockey exhibition) game in Penticton, B.C. This non-event was good enough for a front page picture, and the front page of sports, ahead of a critical home game for the CFL Eskimos. The Journal is not alone in small-town sports hype. Even the lordly Globe and Mail is into it right now, with the Toronto Blue Jays suddenly the hottest team in baseball. When a Jay’s game was rained out this week, the banner story on the front of the sports section, complete with a photo of a tarp-covered diamond, was “Still 1 1/2 games ahead!” Yes, with an exclamation mark! Still with newspapers, the Journal is touting its revamped look to debut on Tuesday. My guess is that it will look exactly like the Calgary Herald. We shall see.

RIP: Martin Milner, 83, a popular star of TV shows from the 1960s, Route 66 (he was Tod) 1960-64, and and Adam-12 (he was Pete Malloy) from 1968-75 … Judy Carne, 76, one of the ensemble of comic actors from the hugely popular Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In show in the 1960s and 1970s. Carne was the ‘sock it to me’ girl who would say the ‘sock it to me’ line, then get doused with water. You had to be there … Brad Anderson, 91, creator of the Marmaduke comic panel … Cody Ledbetter, 43, briefly a QB with the Eskimos.

Stuff Happens, week 34: One little boy changes everything.

The Syrian refugee crisis has convulsed Europe for weeks now, while making only the tiniest dent in the North American conscience. But that all changed this weeks thanks to one little boy, and one gut-wrenching photograph.

All this year, thousands of desperate Syrian refugees have been pouring into Europe in numbers far too numerous for Europe to handle. They’re escaping the six-year Syrian war which has pitted the dictatorship of Bashar Assad (who has no problem killing his own citizens) against anti-government rebels (no slouches in the atrocity department) and ISIS (which has no problem killing everyone). An estimated 3,000 refugees have drowned trying to get anywhere but Syria. Earlier this week, a truck jammed with 71 dead migrants was found at the side of a road in Austria. Horrible events all, but the death of one boy has galvanized the world. Three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned along with his brother and mother trying to get to Greece; the father survived. Alan’s body washed ashore in Turkey, and the photo of his lifeless body, clad in a cheery red shirt,  lying face down on the beach, is perhaps the most heart-wrenching photo ever (I won’t add it here, it’s just too, too sad). If one photo can galvanize the public and politicians to do something, this might be it. I am reminded of that famous photo from the Vietnam war of the napalmed little girl running naked down a road. Now, Alan Kurdi’s tragic death might become the enduring image of the worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war. On Saturday, Germany allowed 7,000 migrants into the country, welcomed with applause from some. What has Canada, land of immigrants, done during this crisis? We’ve allowed 2,400 Syrians into the county — over the past two years.

The Rachel Notely government laid on the bad news for Albertans this week … the provincial deficit would be as high at $6.5 billion this year. So, how does that rate on the deficit scale? Well, Justin Trudeau has campaigned on running small deficits of a couple of billion dollars or so, and that’s for running an entire country. So, yes, this is pretty grim. Alberta is in recession, and unless oil prices rebound big time — this doesn’t seem likely in the short term — massive deficits are going to be the norm for Alberta. Of course, the NDP blamed the former Conservative government, but that’s pretty much the last time they can sing the ‘Blame Prentice’ song. Tough decisions will have to be made, so, welcome to the big time, NDP. It’s your show now. And still in the bad news department, the Wildrose won the byelection in Calgary called to replace Jim Prentice, who cowardly PC leader who quit on election night. The good news? The new MLAs name is Panda! Adorable!

From the Only in America department comes the story of the Kentucky country clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licences to gay couples, claiming the usual religious objections. You’d think there would be some amicable way to settle this — maybe move her to another department, get someone else to issue the licenses, or even fire her — but not in America. A country clerk is an elected position, for whatever reason, so you can’t just fire her or move her somewhere else. She has defied court order to issue licences, so she has been sent to jail, where she is as of this writing.

And finally, at the West Point military academy last month, someone thought it would be a great idea to have a huge pillow fight for the cream of the American military’s future leaders. Didn’t go quite as well as planned; some of the future military leaders thought it would be fun to load the pillow cases with items a little heavier than feathers — like helmets. Twenty-four cadets suffered concussions.

RIP: Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema and a proponent of the slasher genre who was best known for creating the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” franchises, at 76 … Dean Jones, all-American nice guy star of innumerable Disney movies (The Love Bug) in the 1960s, at 84 … Wayne Dyer, American self-help author and motivational speaker, at 75. His first book, Your Erroneous Zones (1976), sold an estimated 35 million copies. 

Stuff Happens, week 33: Markets return to normal … whatever that is

The world’s stock markets did what they do this week — go up and down. And as always, investors and the media reacted as if this was something they had never seen before.

Following last week’s plunge/freefall/spiral (chose your adjective) in prices, there was more panic on Monday as prices cratered. The Dow fell by 1,000 points in early trading (which, I am lead to believe, is bad, even though I don’t understand the point system), resulting in the usual ‘Black Monday’ headlines. But the markets rallied on Tuesday — ‘Turnaround Tuesday’, by the way — as bargain hunters swooped in and picked up devalued stocks. By Wednesday, the market was rebounding, and by Thursday, the market had returned to normal, and market news was once again relegated to the business pages and brief info-graphics on the TV news. Nothing to be alarmed about here, people … until the next time.

This week’s shock to the system came via an innocuous TV morning newscast in Roanoke, W. Va. During a routine interview, a reporter and cameraman were shot dead by a former employee; the interview subject was injured. The whole horror story was televised live, which is exactly what the gunman wanted; he even filmed the killing with his cellphone and posted it, just for maximum coverage. Of course, this sort of thing could happen anywhere in the world, and probably will happen again somewhere. But you just have to know that if someone is going to be shot dead on live TV, there is only one country in the world where that would happen first. The killings have reignited the gun control debate in the U.S., but don’t expect anything to happen. As we saw after the unspeakable Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, no atrocity — no matter how big, no matter how public — will change gun control laws in the U.S. Meanwhile, here’s a powerful anti-gun video; a gun control group opened a gun store in New York City, proving every gun has a story.

In Egypt, Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohammed Fahmy was sentenced to three years in prison Saturday for (ready for this?) failing to register wit the country’s journalist syndicate, bringing in equipment without security approval, and broadcasting “false news” on Al-Jazeera. Stephen Harper, as has been his custom, has provided little more than lip service to freeing Fahmy, with the usual pious ‘tsk-tsks’. An Australian journalist, charged along with Fahmy, was departed back to Australia thanks to the direct intervention of the Aussie PM. Harper, meanwhile, does squat. One suspects that Harper is probably jealous of a country that lets journalists be thrown in jail.

RIP: Al Arbour, 82, one of the most successful coaches in NHL history. Arbour coached the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships before losing to the Edmonton Oilers. He was the second-winningest coach in NHL history … Darryl Dawkins, 58, the ‘duke of dunk’ whose dunks were so powerful they were known to shatter backboards in the NBA. Dawkins was known as ‘Chocolate Thunder’, a nickname given to him by, of all people, Stevie Wonder … Chico Maki, 76, former NHLer … Justin Wilson, 37, British IndyCar driver, as the result of an on-track accident … Oliver Sacks, 82, famed neurologist and bestselling author of books about the brain like Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The Pain Campaign, week 4: Nothing happens, so I make some stuff up

The interminable Canadian election campaign  is now one-month old. In the pre-Harper days, the election would have been over by now, and we would all be celebrating the end of the Harper horror show (let us pray). But thanks to Harper’s shameless manipulation of the system, the campaign has barely begun, and I am deeply regretting my decision to write a weekly recap. Oh, stuff is happening, alright. But we are into the melancholy last days of summer, as the nights get cooler and last longer. Back to school shopping kicks into high gear and Canadians begin to worry about what kind of winter we’re going to have. Who we’re going to vote for in October is the least of our concerns.

But the show must go on, and frankly, I’m kinda bored. So this week, I’m just making up a bunch of crap that we can expect in the coming weeks, mixed in with a dollop of true stuff that seems so crazy, you’d think somebody made it up.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper will announce a 0.025% tax credit for colour blind people, the 87th different Conservative tax breaks for “hard-working Canadian families”. Other breaks include tax breaks for families with fat kids, families with more than 2.5 kids,  couples who don’t have kids but are thinking about it, and parents of adult children who move back home.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper, speaking at a campaign stop in Aylmer, Que., will announce that Canadian dairy farmers will continue to be shielded from international competition with huge tariffs on foreign dairy products. “I vow to keep Canadian dairy products safe from incursions from insidious New Zealand milk,” Harper will tell dairy farmers. Later in the day, Harper will announce another micro-tax credit for parents of children who drink milk.

The actor who spouts the now-famous line “Nice hair, though” in Conservative attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau will reveal his career has been ruined by the ad. Gungadeep Pravadavabumbaay, a trained classical actor who has played the title role in an all-Hindi version of Hamlet, will say he can’t get work since the ad began airing thousands of times on Canadian TV. “Nobody wants to hire me now,” moans Pravadavabumbaay. “People really hate that ad, and they blame me. Yesterday, an old lady hit me with her umbrella, saying she can’t even watch Wheel of Fortune anymore.” Meanwhile, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, speaking at Stratford, Ont., will announce a tax credit for Indian actors who can’t find work. It is estimated that the tax break will help upwards of one actor.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will decry the Harper government’s eight consecutive deficit governments, moments before announcing that he plans to run up deficits for a few years. Oh wait, this one is true.

And finally, match the quote with the leader: “The best way for a government to create wealth is to leave the free market alone and get off the back of businessmen and businesswomen.”

Was it a) arch conservative Stephen Harper; b) free spending Liberal leader Justin Trudeau; c) leftist New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair.

The correct answer is c), Tom Mulcair. The so-called socialist leader said that in the Quebec National Assembly in 2001. He even praised former British PM Margaret Thatcher, reviled by the left, as saving England from a government that had “gotten its nose into everything.”

Again, I am NOT making this up.




Stuff Happens, week 32: Markets dive; Calgary has arena envy

OK, now I don’t want to panic anyone, but if you’re in the stock market, I have a few words of advice.


Just a suggestion.

On Friday, markets around the world went in the crapper. the reason being, apparently, China. Seem the world’s no. 2 economy is loosing steamed rice. Last week, China devalued the yuan, and this week a report suggest the economy could be worse than the Chinese are admitting. Thanks to the perculiar logic of the markets, bad economic news in China results in people selling off Apple stock. Go figure. Anyway, stocks everywhere fell so far, so fast, that those in the know called it a “correction”, defined as a 10 per cent drop from a peak. That may not sound so bad, but if you fall, say 10 per cent off the peak of Everest, you’re screwed. When the markets reopen Monday, two things could happen. Investors could continue their panic and the fall will continue, or investors might just back to in cash in on lower prices. If that’s the case, then ignore my ALL CAPS warning, and substitute ‘THE MARKET IS RED HOT! JUMP IN NOW, PEOPLE!!”

OK, I don’t want to panic anyone — again — but ASHLEY MADISON HAS BEEN HACKED! IT’S A BLOODBATH, PEOPLE!

Never heard of Ashley Madison? Neither have I. Seriously, never heard of it. Ashley Madison is a Canadian website that promotes adultery; if you want to have an extramarital affair, but just don’t know how to go about it, Ashley Madison can help. Isn’t the internet wonderful? Someone or something, perhaps with a sense of morality, hacked the site (that’s computer talk for ‘burgled’) and leaked (computer talk for ‘stole’) the names of millions of of clients, and posted them. Turns out, a lot of people want to have affairs. Who knew? The Toronto Star did an analysis, based on postal codes, of which parts of Canada spent the most on Ashley Madison. Not surprisingly, the top address was the postal code connected to the head office of Ashley Madison. The number two address? Lloydminster, which straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. The records suggest $142,000 worth of transactions originated from Lloydminster. Attention divorce lawyers … Lloydminster wants YOU!

The trail of Mike Duffy/Stephen Harper continued this week, at a pace that would cause a snail to say, “Can you speed it up a bit?” Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, continued to assert that he never told his boss that he paid the $90,000 Duffy owed for his illegal senate expenses. This week, it was revealed that Harper’s current chief of staff, Ray Novak, also knew of the payment. And, if you want to believe this, Novak ALSO didn’t tell Harper. In fact, it appears that none of Stephen Harper’s closest confidants — the guys who ran his office and used the Senate like a personal plaything — told the boss about the Duffy payments. Two things: if all of Harper’s minions conspired to plan the Duffy payment and subsequent media lies and didn’t tell him, don’t you think they should all be fired? The alternative is that Harper knew all along (which seems much more likely),and Harper lied through his teeth (he does have teeth, although he never shows them), which means he should be fired. By us.

Remember a while back, when the barbarians of ISIS took over the huge ruins of Palmyra? It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and the fact it exists today is largely due to the work of Kahled al-Asaad, an archeologist who was so connected to the site, he was known as Mr. Palmyra. There were fears that the Islamic State would destroy the site, as they have when taking over other heritage areas. But this time, ISIS decided that destroying ruins was so 15th century, that they upped the ante by beheading the 83-year-old al-Asaad, then hanging his body from a post for all to see. ISIS: Keeping barbarity alive in the 21st century.

Well, this was just a matter of time,wasn’t it? With Edmonton’s new arena taking shape, it was certain that Calgary would want a piece of that sweet, sweet arena action. So this week, the ownership of the Calgary Flames (who also own the Stampeders) announced a grand plan for a new arena, PLUS a covered football stadium, PLUS a field house, all on the same site. The project, pegged at anywhere from $800 million to more than a billion (what’s a few hundred million?) would be paid for by a ticket tax, a community development levy, and a measly $200 million from the owners, who are some of the richest men in Canada. In other words, less than a third would be paid by the people who would directly benefit, with the rest coming from taxpayers/ticket buyers/the city. Of course, they want provincial dollars, too, and this puts the NDP government in a bind. If Rachel Notley agrees to kick in some money for the project (she shockingly didn’t completely rule it out immediately, giving rise to some hope that funds could be found), Edmonton will go with its hand outstretched, looking for the same amount. That would be nuts, of course. There is no way the NDP would give money to private enterprise for frivolous things like arenas, what with all the pressures on the provincial treasury. Is there?

RIP: Bud Yorkin, 89, the lesser known half (with Norman Lear) of the producing team responsible for All in the Family, Maude and Sanford and Son. ..Yvonne Craig, 78, actress best know as Batgirl from the old Batman TV series.

(Note: That panoramic photo of downtown Edmonton at the top of this blog was taken by my brother-in-law, Kim Griffiths.)

The Pain Campaign: Election 2015, week 3: Harper rejects your premise.

After months of being labelled “just not ready” by the Conservative attack machine, the Liberals have launched a counteroffensive. Let’s call it the Just Not Ready for Being Just Not Ready campaign.

The Liberals aired a campaign ad this week that featured Justin Trudeau — no tie, no jacket — addressing the Just Not Ready ads head on. In the ad, Trudeau agrees he’s just not ready — but he’s “just not ready to watch hard-working Canadians lose jobs and fall further behind.” According to a story in the Globe and Mail, a polling firm that tracks reactions to campaign ads found the Trudeau ad quite effective. The share of respondents who viewed Trudeau as the most competent leader and the one who “cares for people like me” went up six percentage points after seeing the ad. And the perception that Trudeau stands up for the middle class went up 17 per cent. of course, it’s always good to be on the side of “hard working Canadian families”. After all, what other kind of Canadian family is there? A hard working Canadian family is just like a good driver — everyone’s a good driver. Just ask anyone.

Meanwhile, the boy in the bubble, Stephen Harper, continued his invitation only campaign appearances, but one backfired badly. A group of Canadian military veterans said they were denied access to a Stephen Harper event held at a legion in New Brunswick Monday morning. Yep … veterans shut out of a legion. Things are not going well for Harper so far. He is dogged by questions about the Mike Duffy trial, which must be annoying for a guy who hasn’t taken a dozen question from the media in a year. Harper’s new tact when asked a question he doesn’t like is to say “I don’t accept the premise of your question”, which is a classic example of Harper-speak. He ‘answers’ a question by rejecting the premise, rephrasing it the way he wants it to sound, then answers his own question.

On the left side of the ledger, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was called just as dictatorial as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, according to a New Democrat turned-Green MP named Bruce Hyer. In a Facebook post Sunday, Hyer wrote that if voters handed Mulcair and the NDP a majority government this fall, Canadians would be on their way to enjoying “another dictatorial Prime Minister. “Mulcair is a ruthless man who will say and do anything to get elected. Just like Stephen Harper. He certainly is not Jack Layton, and the NDP is no longer the Democratic Party that it was under Jack Layton.” As perhaps the only person in Canada immune from the so-called charms of Jack Layton, this could be a good thing.

And finally, here is one video clip that perfectly encapsulates the classic Stephen Harper supporter. Check out this insane rant by a Conservative supporter directed at CBC and CTV reporters who had the temerity to ask Harper some questions he didn’t like.

Stuff Happens, week 31: Oil falls, gas goes up … again.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and if you are, ask yourself why), you’ve probably grown tired of my ranting about Big Oil’s rip off of the Canadian consumer. From the Globe and Mail, a little proof: “Crude prices have tanked since early May, but gasoline prices have remained stubbornly high. The leading international benchmark, North Sea Brent, fell to $50 (U.S.) per barrel last week from $69 on May 1 – a drop of 28 per cent. But the average Canadian pump price actually rose over that period by three cents to $1.17.6 per litre last week, according to a survey done by Kent Group Ltd. Crude prices are 50-per-cent lower than last year, while the average pump price last week was down a mere 10 per cent, from $1.31.1 in the first week of August, 2014. Refining and marketing margins in Canada were 10 cents per litre higher as of July 21 than for the corresponding period last year, Natural Resources Canada reports.” Translation: we’re getting screwed. And just to add fuel to the fire (sorry) comes this week’s 15 cent a litre increase. The reason: a refinery went off-line in the Chicago area, resulting in an IMMEDIATE jump in the cost of gas in WESTERN CANADA in anticipation of a shortage. Yes, gasoline that was manufactured who knows how long ago went up 15 cents a litre overnight because of something that MIGHT happen. OK, I’m done with rants about oil. Seriously, I promise this is the last one …. until the next time.

CBC reporter Megan Batchelor was doing a live report from a music festival in Squamish, B.C. when a man planted a quick kiss on her cheek, took a selfie, and ran off. Summertime silliness at a concert, right? Nope. Ms. Batchelor said she was “rattled” by the incident, and the CBC asked the RCMP to investigate the “incident”. Yes, it’s an incident. There was, you may remember, the case of the idiot who screamed a vile vulgarity at a female reporter in Toronto earlier this year; the guy was ID’d and lost his job. But this? Turns out the guy came forward (he’s 17), and apologized. But really, have we gotten to the point where a silly little impulse is enough to “rattle” a TV reporter and serious enough to call in the cops?

On a much more serious crime note, have you heard of fentanyl? If not, you should.

Fentanyl is a painkiller, but calling it a painkiller is like saying Michelangelo was pretty good with a pen. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and is not something you should play with for a quick high; an overdose as small as a grain of salt can result in death. But illegal fentanyl is flooding Canadian cities. Sometimes it is sold as Oxycontin, a very powerful (but often abused) painkiller, and frequently turns up at concerts, where it is sold to teens and young adults. A report released this week says between 2009-14, fentanyl killed 655 Canadians, and the numbers are soaring. In BC, there were 90 deaths in 2014, and 60 this year alone. Here in Alberta, there were six deaths in 2011 — and 120 last year. In Edmonton, there have been 36 deaths from fentanyl this year; in Calgary, that number is 45.  If we had 36 murders in Edmonton this year, we’d be up in arms. But 36 drug overdose deaths? Just one of those things, I guess.

The Mike Duffy trial continued this week, with testimony from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright. Wright, who gave Duffy $90,000 that he owed the government apparently out of the goodness of his heart, continued to assert that Harper knew nothing of the payment. But it stretches credulity to believe that Harper, the most controlling prime minister in this country’s history, wasn’t involved. Now, Harper’s current chief of staff is being drawn into the scandal, and he’s making the claim that he just didn’t read emails from Wright regarding the Duffy payment. It’s looking more and more that there won’t be a single, explosive revelation that will bring down Harper (dammit), but there is a good chance the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations of the Harper teams lies and deceit will wear down the Teflon Harper wears.

RIP: Frank Gifford, 84, NFL hall of famer, husband of Kathy Lee Gifford, and former Monday Night Football announcer for 27 years.