Stuff Happens, week 28: Your bribe is in the mail; Republicans are Trumped

So, have you received your bribe yet? Stephen Harper’s utterly shameless federal Conservatives are in the process of giving away $3 billion in tax dollars to “hard working Canadian families” (is there any other kind of Canadian family?) in the form of monthly cheques for families with kids. The benefit cheques are larger than usual due to changes the Conservatives introduced last fall – $160 a month for children under 6, up from $100, and a new payment of $60 a month for seven- to 17-year-olds, regardless of family income. The cheques, going to roughly 3.8 million families, include the regular monthly amount for July plus catch-up payments for the first six months. Note that the payments are universal, meaning the poorest Canadian gets $160 a month for children under 6, and so does your local millionaire or billionaire. Yes,  Daryl Katz is getting a benefit cheque. Of course, it’s insanity to give $160 a month to the poorest of the poor (who need it), and the same $160 to the richest of the rich (who don’t need it, and might not even cash it). But “hard working Canadian families” is a voter-rich constituency, and Harper believes they can be bought. The Conservatives are spending untold millions advertising the giveaway (with your tax dollars), with the not-so subtle theme that this free money is coming to you via Stephen Harper and his Conservative party. And yes, it is entirely coincidental that an election is coming in October.

The American media is going absolutely bonkers over the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the reptilian Republican. This week, Trump denigrated the war heroics of Sen. John McCain by saying he was only a hero because he got caught, and Trump prefers his heroes to not get caught. The backlash was swift and universal, as expected. Equally expected was Trump’s refusal to drop out of the race, especially in light of the fact he is the no. 1 choice in the Republican race amongst the 487 delusional clowns running for the nomination. Let’s make this clear, folks: Donald Trump will never, ever, EVER win the nomination. He will stay in for a long time because he has the money and none of the shame. But even by Republican standards, he’s off his nut. I admit to a grudging admiration for anyone who says whatever brain-damaged idiocy comes into his head, and doesn’t apologize for it.

There was yet another tragic mass shooting in the US, when a 58-year-old man killed two civilians and injured nine in Lafayette, Louisiana, before killing himself. By recent mass shooting standards, this one was almost small scale.  If you’re thinking that mass shootings seem to be fairly common in the Excited States of America these days, you’re right. In the United States from January 1 to July 23, 2013, there have been 204 mass shootings, according to a website called (yes, this is real) Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that monitors gun-related deaths. The tracker defines a mass shooting as an incident “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period.” Not all of these mass shootings resulted in a death.

Summer in Edmonton, so we’re still talking hockey. The Oilers — whose ability to dominate the local media is truly remarkable — opened a virtual arena this week, displaying the seats in the new arena (wider, for our more corpulent population), with cup holders (hey, how do you think we got more corpulent?) and, or course, way higher prices. The Oilers have 38 price points; you can get a season ticket for as little as $1,950 for the nosebleed section all the way up to $23,000 for the top seat. Remember, however … you’re still just watching the Edmonton Oilers.

RIP: E.L. Doctorow, 84, author of the acclaimed novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate … character actor Alex Rocco, 79, best known for his distinctively gravelly voice. He played Moe Greene in The Godfather, and was the voice of Itchy and Scratchy studio head Roger Meyers Jr. on The Simpson.




Stuff Happens, week 27: ‘Ice’ to see you; El Chapo el escapos; oil spill oops.

The big non-news in Edmonton this week was the announcement that the area surrounding the new arena, previously known by the rather prosaic ‘arena district’, has been renamed Ice District. (Apparently, it is just ‘Ice District’, not ‘The Ice District’, according to the pretentious PR hacks behind this rebranding.) The Ice District (sorry) name was dreamed up by none other than Daryl Katz, the Oilers owner and arena co-owner. The grand plans for (cough, cough) Ice District include high rises with 1,000 units, 1.3 million sq. ft. of office space, a luxury hotel, restaurants, theatres, etc. Katz and co. didn’t bother to ask the city if they wanted the area renamed Ice District because, well, he’s Daryl Katz. Asking permission is for suckers. Bob Nicholson, vice-chair of the Oiler Entertainment Group, said the name will “capture the imagination of people in Edmonton and around the world.” Yes, I hear it’s the talk of the glitterati in New York already. My take? Who cares what they call it; it was just an attempt at cool PR move by the Oilers, maybe as an apology for allowing the new arena to be named (heavy sigh here) Rogers Place. Next up for Daryl Katz: buying up Chinatown, and renaming it the Rice District.

The Greek debt crisis is over. Sort of. After Greek voters roused themselves from doing nothing to vote against a package of austerity measures proposed by the European Union, the Greek government agreed to a package that was even worse than the deal rejected by the voters. In order to keep the money taps flowing, the Greeks have essentially agreed to turning over the keys to the Greek economy to the Eurozone, and by that I mean Germany. I won’t go into detail here because, well, I don’t understand it, but suffice to say that hard times are coming for Greece. There are even rumours that Greeks will have to start paying taxes! Part of the deal calls for Greece to sell off 50 billion Euros in assets. This could be difficult. How much can you get for an old pile of rubble like the Parthenon?

Oh, boy, is Mexico’s face red. Or even redder. Last year, the notorious drug kingpin Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman was finally arrested by Mexican authorities. El Chapo is such a successful criminal, he was once on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s top billionaires. Anyway, El Chapo was safely behind bars in Mexico’s most secure prison, until he escaped via a 1.5 km long tunnel beneath the prison. The tunnel had lights, a ventilation system, and a motorcycle apparently used to transport the dirt. It is believed that the construction on the tunnel began basically right after El Chapo was sent to prison. A massive search is on for El Chapo, with police concentrating on, oh, I dunno … tunnels?

The big news in the literary world this week was the release of Harper Lee’s second (actually first) novel, called Go Set A Watchman. Lee, of course, wrote the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most beloved novels of the 20th century. It was believed that she never wrote another book, until the manuscript for Go Set A Watchman was found last year, apparently in a safety deposit box. Publisher Harper Collins has put millions of copies into print, 200,000 in Canada alone. Go Set A Watchman features the same characters from Mockingbird, Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout, but now Scout is all grown up and an attorney. That’s not the horror of the book, though; turns out Atticus is a bit of a racist! What next? Is there an unpublished manuscript that portrays Anne of Green Gables as a Nazi sympathizer?

Pipeline owner Nexen has a little oopsy this week, when a pipeline rupture in northern Alberta spilled a couple of swimming pools worth of bitumen and other guck into the muskeg. As the saying goes, these things happen, but there are safeguards in place so that when these things happen, a warning goes out. But the warning system didn’t work; if it weren’t for an engineer walking along the pipeline, the rupture would have gone undetected for who knows how long. The spill will be cleaned up, and Nexen will do its penance and mea culpas. In the short term, things get cleaned up. In the long term, with each spill it will become that much harder to get pipelines built.

Familiar with the dating site Plentyoffish (that’s Plenty of Fish for those of you who don’t read websitese)? Founded by Vancouverite Markus Frind in 2003, it now gets 2.2 billion views a month. Frind built the site without outside investors, so he owns the whole thing. This week, Frind sold Plenty of Fish to rival company Match Group for $575 million.

And finally, a royal non-scandal. The British lowbrow tabloid, The Sun, released a the 17-second-long film clip that shows the Queen — then about 7-years-old — at the family home in Balmoral, with her uncle Edward, mother and sister. The Queen Mother is seen raising her hand in the Nazi salute, and, after glancing at her mother, the Queen does the same, followed by Prince Edward, the future Edward VIII. You can see it here.  In the great tradition of British tabloids’ tradition of clever/hilarious/rude headlines, The Sun’s report was titled “Their Royal Heilnesses.” Experts say that kids at the time often did the Nazi salute as a joke, and the Queen and her family were well-known for their hilarious sense of humour. Just a little fun … nothing to see here, people.

Stuff Happens, week 26: Grexit explained; bike lanes deflated; Cowboyhatgate

The big international story this week continues to be the Greek debt, and the threat of Greece getting kicked out of the Eurozone, a situation called the Grexit (if this had been an American crisis, it would have been called Greekgate). As a service to my 27 regular readers, I will try to explain this situation as best I can, which is not say not very well at all.

Greeks have this thing about paying taxes — in general, they just don’t bother — but they still like all the comforts that come with a welfare state. In order to keep the country running (or in the case of Greece, casually ambling) Greece has borrowed billions and billions of Euros from the Eurozone. Turns out that the moneymen have a thing about getting their money back at some point, which seems fair. The Eurozone tried to force austerity measures on the Greeks, which were not well received; Greeks seem to believe the idea of repaying loans and living within your means is some form of capitalist slavery. The public voted down the austerity measures in a hastily called vote last week, setting off much celebration and, I assume, a lot of broken glasses. The stage for some sort of showdown between Germany and France (the top dogs of the Eurozone) and Greece is now set. Greece risks getting booted from the Eurozone, which would mean they will have to go back to their old currency, and good luck getting anyone to loan you any money when you want to repay with drachmas. But on Friday night, the Greek government voted in a package of austerity measures that were pretty much exactly what the people voted against! OK, so now do you understand it?

Here in Edmonton, a city under a permanent state of delayed construction, the gleaming new leg of the Light Rail Transit system is all set to go, and has been for months. But there’s apparently something wrong with the signalling system, and nobody has a clue when the first trains will run down the tracks. It’s a fiasco, joining the list of major city projects (not one, but TWO major bridges) that are hopelessly behind schedule. But on the plus side, city council voted to rescind the error of previous councils by eliminating some dedicated bike lanes, which were unused by most cyclists and hated by all drivers. The catch? It will cost about a million dollars to remove the bike lanes. Ah, Edmonton.

On Monday, Canadian Vsek Popsisil (now that’s a classic Canadian name, eh?) pulled off an amazing feat at the Wimbledon tennis championships. He played in singles AND doubles in one day — almost six hours of tennis, two matches, 10 sets, losing the doubles but winning the singles, advancing to the quarter finals. Remarkable, but according to the Edmonton Journal, it was not as amazing as …. you guessed it … Oiler no. 1 draft choice Connor McDavid scoring five goals in an intrasquad game. That was their page 1 sports story; Popsisil’s remarkable feat was relegated to page 5.

A new public opinion poll shows the New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair “represents the clearest change from the Stephen Harper government,” an indication that anti-Harper forces could coalesce behind Mulcair. Yet, the Conservatives continue to pollute the airwaves with their anti-Justin Trudeau “just not ready” ads, blinkered in their belief that Trudeau is public enemy no. 1. Sooner or later, they’ll catch on and start running anti-Mulcair ads. Might I suggest a tagline? Thomas Mulcair: Just Not Cleanshaven.

imagesPremier Rachel Notley had one of those ‘oops’ moments that, in the days before social media, would never even have been a moment. At the Stampede, the premier donned the traditional white cowboy hat, but she put it on backwards. This incited the usual Twitter snickering and general stupidity. The premier’s chief mouthpiece, the incredibly humourless Cheryl Oates, said: “It’s absolutely unintentional. She was born and raised here her whole life and she respects all the intricacies that go with that culture.” What a ponderous, political answer. The best response is no response at all (which the NDP is very good at already), or something funny. The best comment came from a hatmaker from Smitbilt Hats, makers of the famed chapeau, who said: “Hats don’t come with how-to instructions.” In 2005, Stephen Harper appeared at the Stampede looking like the picture at left, backwards cowboy hat and all, and somehow survived.

So, y’all excited about the Pan Am Games in Toronto? If so, you’re practically alone. The first event was a water polo game between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, played in a 2,000-seat pool built specifically for the games. Total attendance was 25. Pan Am fever: catch it! 

The other shoe drops: the Nine West chain of 48 shoes stores filed for bankruptcy protection this week. If the stores close, that will leave the typical Canadian shopping mall with only 25 shoe stores.

RIP: Omar Sharif, suave actor best known for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, at 83 … Kenny Stabler, former QB for the Oakland Raiders, at 69 … Burt Shavitz, hippy beekeeper and co-founder of the Burt’s Bees lip balm and other products, at 80. By the way, Burt’s Bees was purchased by Clorox, the bleach people, in 2007 for $925 million.

Stuff Happens, week 25: The great $15 debate; more McMania; new low for Tories

“The folks over there think it’s totally appropriate for a single mother of two or three to have to work 70 hours a week in order to earn a living wage. I say to you that they’re just wrong, and that’s why we are changing the minimum wage in Alberta.”
That’s Rachel Notley indulging in a flight of hyperbole in the Legislature last week, defending her government’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2017.
This, in a nutshell, is the NDP’s rationale for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Because of all those thousands of single mothers of two (or three) who are working 70 hours a week, thousands of businesses across Alberta will see a dramatic rise in their cost of doing business. It’s all part of something called “social justice”, in the words of the jobs minister Lori Sigurdson. Oh, and anyone questioning the government policy is “fearmongering” said the jobs minister.
The NDP seems to believe (or claims it believes) that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will create jobs, because the folks making the new minimum will go out and spend the money. (Ironically, this is the same rationale Ronald Reagan used in cutting taxes for the rich; they called it trickle down economics.) But the people who actually have to pay the higher wages say it will cost jobs and/or raise prices for the consumer.
Clearly, the government’s contention that raising salaries will increase jobs is ludicrous. This contention comes from the U.S., where some studies showed an increase in jobs after a hike in minimum wages. But you can’t credit minimum wage hikes with job creation alone. And in states where the minimum wage wasn’t hiked? Well, their job creation numbers went up as well.
No, common sense says a huge increase in the minimum wage will have multiple ripple effects. Say you’re a small business that pays most of its employees $12 an hour. In a couple of years, that goes up to $15. Your costs have gone way up. What are your options? Well, you could suck it up and slash your profits, which if you’re in retail may already be razor thin. More likely, you will have to reduce your staff numbers, or reduce your opening hours, or raise your prices, or perhaps a little of everything.
But what about that single mother of two (or three) working 70 hours a week, so beloved by Rachel Notley? Good news for them, sure, and good news for teenagers working part-time during the summer for spending money, and for pot-smoking high school dropouts whose only skill is flipping burgers. Do they deserve $15 an hour?
The NDP won’t admit it, but the $15 an hour promise was made when they never believed they would win. They came up with $15 without consulting with anyone but like-minded thinkers. Now that they’ve won, they are fulfilling their promise, which is admirable for a political party. But when the people who will be most impacted by the increase — the business owners — tell you it will cost jobs and/or raise prices, you should listen, instead of just accusing them of fear mongering.

Seems like every week the Conservatives find a way to hit new lows in their war on Justin Trudeau and good taste. The Conservatives released an attack ad on Facebook that features Islamic State images. The ad begins with a still from an ISIL propaganda video that shows five men in a cage being lowered into a pool, then one showing prisoners on their knees with explosives wrapped around their necks. After these grotesque, shocking images, we see Liberal leader Justin Trudeau confirming that he would indeed pull Canadian troops out of Iraq if the Liberals win the election in the fall. It ends with the Conservative tagline for Trudeau: “Just No Ready”. Using images of horribly murdered people and Islamic State propaganda to make a political point is so far beyond disgusting, it’s hard to believe that even the increasingly desperate Conservatives would have given it the green light.

Elsewhere, Greece defaulted on its loans to the International Monetary Fund, becoming the first developed country to be officially labeled a dead beat nation. This is big news, or so the business newspapers tell me. Personally, I don’t like Greek food and feta cheese, so I don’t really care if Greece stays in the eurozone or not.

Canada was eliminated from the Women’s World Cup last Saturday, allowing everyone to officially stop paying attention. The worst player on the Canadian team, defender Lauren Sesselmann, whose stumbling ineptitude was on more vivid display on Saturday, defended her play in an angry rant on Instagram. “I know my worth and I know all the great things I’ve done to help this team get here,” she wrote. “For all you classless people with your negative comments and threats you know absolutely nothing. You can sit there and choose to focus on every negative and pick apart our team BUT you have NO IDEA how much passion, heart and hard work this team puts in.” She finished by saying “WE WILL be back and WE WILL be better”. Let’s reword that: THEY will be back, but Lauren Sesslemann won’t. She’s 31 years old, slow and injured. She shouldn’t have been playing, and for that we can only blame coach John Herdman.

Edmontonians with nothing better to do on a gorgeous summer day come out to watch a hockey camp.
Edmontonians with nothing better to do on a gorgeous summer day come out to watch a hockey camp.

Still with sports, the mania over Connor McDavid continues unabated here in Edmonton. Here’s a picture of part of the crowd of about 3,000 who came out on a glorious SUMMER DAY to watch Oiler “orientation camp”, whatever that is. Yes, that’s a crowd of people watching an orientation camp in the summer in Edmonton. Seriously, you people. On the same topic, on Friday the Edmonton Journal (which seems to be competing with the Sun for wall-to-wall McDavidmania coverage) ran this bold headline, which has to be the greatest “Well, D’uh?” headline of recent vintage: ‘McLellan expects McDavid to play with Oilers this year’. Wow. The most highly anticipated, highly hyped, “generational player” in, well, a generation is expected to play for the sad-sack Oilers. If the Oilers had said they expect McDavid to play another year in junior or the minors, THAT would have been news worthy of a huge headline.

Westjet has a little problem with flights not landing on time, and it’s not their fault. The airline has been plagued by false bomb threats, five times in six days. I don’t know what kind of lifeless loser plays these games, but it seems to me that one way to stop them is to stop publicizing them. If Westjet or any airline gets a bomb threat, they should take the appropriate steps, but don’t call attention to it. No press release, no press conference. Make it seem like it never happened, and maybe the idiots who get their jollies doing this kind of thing will stop doing it.

RIP: Jack Carter, 93, caustic comic who made dozens of appearances on the old Ed Sullivan Show and dozens of other TV shows since TV began. Norm McDonald’s video podcast did an interview with the old comic that you can see here.

Stuff Happens, week 24: McMania; a flag flap; PACing it in

Connor McDavid, wearing the surprisingly bold Edmonton Oiler travelling suit.
Connor McDavid, wearing the surprisingly bold Edmonton Oiler travelling suit.

OMG! OMG! OMG! Connor McDavid is an Oiler! Connor McDavid is an Oiler! Connor McDavid is an Oiler!

Sigh. Poor Connor. The hopes of an entire city are apparently resting on his muscled shoulders.

This city’s infatuation with the Edmonton Oilers reached a crescendo not seen since the Oilers last made the Stanley Cup finals a decade ago when the team drafted Connor McDavid — a “generational player”, so the experts say — at the NHL entry draft. “He’s Ours”, the Edmonton Journal gushed. Thousands paid to watch the draft on TV at Rexall, celebrating wildly when his name was announced. One fan, quoted in the Journal, said he would “remember this moment for the rest of my life”. McDavid jerseys were flying off the shelves. Local TV stations sent reporters to Florida (tough gig) to cover the coronation. And all of this BEFORE he even plays his first game. OK, Edmonton, listen up. I hope Connor McDavid becomes a big star. I hope he scores a thousand goals and leads the Oilers to Stanley Cup glory again and again. I hope he’s everything that he’s hyped to be, and more. But seriously, people … chill. He’s one kid, one professional hockey player who will make more money playing hockey in one season than you will in a lifetime. Can we all just remember one thing? It’s just hockey.

Meanwhile, in the real world, a day of global terror attacks struck France, Tunisia, and Kuwait on Friday, killing at least 80 people. Some of the victims were at prayer at a mosque in Kuwait (they were Muslim, but the wrong kind of Muslim), others were dressed in swim trunks at the beach (tourists mowed down by machine gun fire on the beach in Tunisia), one was beheaded for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (in France, where the killers apparently tried to blow up a chemical factory). Enjoy your summer, folks!

It was a big week in the Excited States of America. This week, President Barack Obama went on a podcast by comedian Marc Maron and, in a discussion on race and the Charleston shooting, used what is now invariably referred to as ‘the N-word’. Even the Daily Beast, an online news service, couldn’t bring itself to even print the dreaded N-word. It was amazing to watch the news media twist itself into knots to not use a word that was used by the President of the United States. On CNN, host Don Lemon held up a sign with “nigger” printed on it — but CNN blurred out everything but the ‘N’. If a positive can be found in the horrible killings in Charleston, it is that the Confederate flag — the symbol of the Civil War, slavery-loving south — is falling from statehouses across the south. And on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the U.S., as the most important, most powerful country in the world joined the 21st century. The decision was not, shall we say, unanimous. Justice Antonin Scalia somehow called the decision “a threat to American democracy”. If a small number of gay people choosing to marry is a threat to democracy, than democracy must be a very delicate flower indeed. 

I don’t know what this signifies, but nearly 60 sitting MPs are not running for re-election, including the bulk of what passes for Stephen Harper’s better ministers. One who is not is Dean Del Mastro, a former Conservative MP who was sentenced to one month in jail for violating Elections Canada laws. A photo ran in newspapers of Del Mastro doing the so-called ‘perp walk’ popularized by the U.S.; Del Mastro with his hands and legs shackled. Really, police? Do you really think this overweight former Member of Parliament, convicted of a white collar crime, needs the full shackles treatment? Why do we have to adopt so many of the worst of America’s habits? And speaking, again, of American habits, a group called HarperPAC (PAC is American political jargon for Political Action Committee) was formed to support the Conservatives this week, but it just as quickly was abandoned when the Tories said it wasn’t needed. Money has poisoned the American political process, so the death of the first PAC in Canada is cause for celebration. Mind you, it was formed in response to a less-obviously named group, Engage Canada, which supports Liberal and NDP causes. They have already produced their first anti-Conservative TV ad. What this all points out is that the Canadian election landscape, with a fixed election date, is changing in ways we didn’t anticipate.

RIP: Dick Van Patten, round-faced character actor best known as the dad from the old Eight is Enough TV show, at 86 … James Horner, one of the most successful, multi Oscar-nominated film-score composers in movie history (Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) at age 61 in a plane crash …  Don Featherstone, 79, creator of the kitsch classic pink flamingo lawn ornament … Patrick McNee, 93, the debonaire secret agent from the very, very cool British TV series, The Avengers. (Sidenote: Diana Rigg was his best partner; Emma Peel …. grrrr.)

Rachel Notley skilled at the art of the non-answer answer.

So, I’ve been watching Question Period in the Alberta Legislature since the bright orange dawn of the NDP government began. People sometimes ask me why I watch ‘QP’, as those in the know call it. The political answer would be that I watch it as my civic duty as a citizen, or that I want to be as informed about Alberta politics as possible for my 12 regular blog readers. The real answer is probably closer to the fact that I usually have my days open, and I’m a bit of a political nerd.

But I like the first answer, so that’s the one I’m sticking with.

Which brings us to the question of answers, specifically answers in Question Period.

I’ve been watching Premier Rachel Notley, and I have a grudging admiration for her ability to not answer questions, and her skill at torquing questions to fit the answer she wants to give. She’s clearly got the lawyer’s gift of listening to questions carefully, and saying whatever she wants in return.

Take, for example, this recent exchange between the premier and Mr. Nice, Brian Jean, the leader of the opposite position

The question of the NDP’s minimum wage hike up to $15 is hotly debated. The Wildrose and some economists say it hurts job creation; the NDP and some economists say it creates job. I won’t get into that debate here; suffice to say it has been a frequent line of attack by the Wildrose.

But in these two exchanges, you will see how good Notley is at the dark arts of not answering a question.

On Tuesday, Jean asked this question:

Mr. Jean: The labour minister and the Premier have both
said that increasing the minimum wage by 50 per cent will result in
more jobs. Every employer of minimum wage employees say
exactly the opposite. They point out that they will either have to
shut down or they will have to reduce staff or they will have to find
labour-saving ways to absorb a 50 per cent increase in labour costs.
Can the Premier please clarify: does she know one single employer
who will hire more . . .

Now, this is where the question was cut off by the speaker. There are time limits on questions, and if the question goes over, the speaker can cut off the microphone and the rest of the question is not recorded in Hansard, the official record of what is said in the legislature. Notley began her response by ragging the puck, lecturing Jean (and the speaker) about supplemental questions (I won’t bore you with the details). Then, with her time running out, she said this:

Ms Notley: Nonetheless, in answer to your question, yes, I do know
many employers who are going to create more jobs.

Interesting, I thought. She knows of “many employers” who are going to create jobs despite the 50 per cent rise in the minimum wage. I immediately thought that someone from the Wildrose would ask her to name the businesses. It wasn’t until the next day, but Jean took the bait.

On Wednesday, they had this exchange:

Mr. Jean: Yesterday I asked the Premier if she knew of any businesses
which plan to hire more employees because of this government’s
plan to increase the minimum wage by 50 per cent. She said that
she did, but when asked, she didn’t name names. I’m surprised the
media, actually, didn’t pester her about this for more details.
Exactly which employers have told the Premier that they plan to
increase the size of their workforce because she is raising minimum
wages by 50 per cent? Could she give us some names and table a
list, please?

OK, this should be good. But Notley, listening to every word, came up with this answer:

Ms Notley: Again, Mr. Speaker, I must say that the notion of a
supplemental question is quite broadly interpreted right now. That
being said, what the question asked yesterday was: in the current
environment do we know of any employers that are going to hire
new employees? And I answered that yes, I did, and as I said previously
and yesterday, for instance, just on Friday I was at a press
conference where Telus announced that it would be investing a
billion dollars in the city of Edmonton, notwithstanding that they
knew about our plan about minimum wage, and that there would
be . . .

See how clever that answer is? Jean’s inelegantly worded question was clearly related to the minimum wage hike, but Notley simply answered it based on the last part of the question, “does she know one single employer who will hire more …” So, she used the Telus announcement (which has no connection to minimum wage) as her one example, which is a far cry from the “many” employers she bragged about. Brilliant, in a political way.

Immediately after, Notley tore another page from the How to Answer a Question Without Answer the Question guidebook.

Mr. Jean: It’s all about hooey. The labour minister and the Premier
have both said more than once that increasing the minimum wage
by 50 per cent will result in more jobs in Alberta. They say that the
consequences of this policy are all good, all wonderful, and no harm
will come to Alberta. So let me ask a policy question. Since the
Premier says that there is no harm and only positives from boosting
the minimum wage by 50 per cent in three years, why isn’t she
actually calling for a 100 per cent boost? If this policy increases
employment, why don’t you set the minimum wage at $20 or $25
or $30 since we’re going to get more jobs?

Interesting question. Since you can pretty much guess that the $15 an hour wage was a number the NDP pulled out of their asses when they didn’t think they could win, it challenges Notley to support the $15 total. And why not $20, if indeed increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy?

Here, Notley gave a complete non-answer.

Ms Notley: You know, Mr. Speaker, it comes down to this. The
folks over there think it’s totally appropriate for a single mother of
two or three to have to work 70 hours a week in order to earn a
living wage. I say to you that they’re just wrong, and that’s why we
are changing the minimum wage in Alberta.

Wow! A total non-answer, one of the best. She could have said it was the result of careful calculations, or some sort of consultation with stakeholders, or some such rot. Nope, she just turned it around, feigned outrage, and sat down.

Gotta hand it to Notley. She may have the veneer of a shiny new-era politician, but beneath the surface she’s just as crafty as any old political hack.



Stuff Happens, week 23: And you wonder why the PCs lost; The Donald enters the race; atrocity of the week

Aside from a few staffing hiccups, things continue to go reasonably well for the New Democratic government. The Speech from the Throne, although limited to just two real bills, was almost universally well received. And the ‘almost’ part of that came from the stunningly clueless Ric McIver, the interim leader of what’s left of the Progressive Conservatives. The government’s Bill 1 will reform the election contribution laws, banning contributions from big business and big unions. The NDP has been asking for this for years, and it’s the right thing to do (although the NDP stands the most to gain, as I outlined yesterday). But McIver voiced his displeasure with the law saying it was a “naked attempt to tilt the political scale in the current government’s balance.” He also said the conservative parties have done well with the system that allowed massive donations. No kidding, pal. Nobody knows more about tilting the political scales in the government’s balance than a PC.

The first day of the new session of the legislature got off to what would charitably be called a rocky start. The new speaker, NDP MLA Bob Wanner, was just a little nervous. I know he’s new at the job, and it’s challenging, but I got the impression he had never seen a moment of the legislature. But Wanner was a star compared to some of the MLAs. A potential concern for Rachel Notley is her choice for energy minister, the completely clueless Margaret McCuiad-Boyd. She was so befuddled by the first question lobbed her way that Notley had to ride to the rescue. I can only imagine the gnashing of teeth going on in the boardrooms of downtown Calgary; McCuiad-Boyd seems completely out of her depth, and it looks like Notley has made her first major blunder by appointing McCuiad-Boyd to a vital portfolio. Almost as bad were questions from NDP backbenchers. The PCs had a long tradition of giving their MLAs “puffball” questions for the ministers to bat out of the park. The shameful tradition continued with Dippers asking insipid questions that the new MLAs seemed strangely proud to ask. I’m hoping that the newbies will come to realize something the PCs never did — that they are there to serve the interests of the people who elected them, not just the party.

Still in the legislature, and still clueless, we return again to McIver. Asking some moderately pertinent questions about how much tax revenue the government expects to raise by its tax increases (incredibly, the NDP had no answers), he said he has lots of friends who make more than $125,000 a year, and many of them are having trouble making ends meet. And you wonder how the Tories became so out-of-touch with the general public.

The hacker group Anonymous launched a cyberattack on federal government websites on Wednesday, crashing the system for nearly two hours, bringing federal government work to a standstill. Being that the attack involved federal government workers, no one noticed.

The National Hockey League season came to an end this week, with the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup again. Here in Edmonton, of course, the NHL season officially ended last October when the Oilers played their first game of the season.

Deranged billionaire Donald Trump entered the Republican presidential nomination race this week with an apparently unscripted, unintelligible, incoherent speech that set him apart from the rest of the pack of Republican challengers — he’s even crazier than the rest. Also entering the race, the immediate frontrunner Jeb Bush, son of George I and brother of George II. The odds are pretty good of the continuation of the Bush-Clinton political feud. You’d think that a country of 300-plus million people could at least expect a little variety in their politics.

And finally, this week’s atrocity involved a white supremacist loner with easy access to guns who went into a famous black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people in a Bible study group.  America is, once again, convulsed by issues of race and violence. The end result will be …. nothing. By this time next week, the horror will be forgotten, as the world awaits the next atrocity.

RIP: Kirk Kerkorian, billionaire developer who built the MGM Grand and other Las Vegas mega-hotels, at 98.

Here’s why the NDP doesn’t need union money anymore.

The NDP government’s first bill is designed to renew democracy in Alberta. It must, right, because it says so right there in the title — An Act To Renew Democracy in Alberta. Essentially, it imposes a ban on corporate and union donations, which pretty much everyone (except PC interim leader, Reactionary Ric MacIver) agrees with. This will hurt parties that have depended upon corporate donations, but it also hurts the NDP, which has relied on the generosity of unions to stay alive for years.I’m in agreement with the idea of removing big money from political campaigns. All you have to do is look south, to the U.S., to see the corrosive effects of big money on politics. In many ways, Bill 1 has levelled the playing field.

But not quite.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 1.16.20 PMAt left is a copy of an email that was send out to some Edmonton public teachers union members regarding the Sara Hoffman campaign in Edmonton-Glenora. The email says the campaign is hiring — at $20 an hour! — and includes a ‘Donate’ button. The address at the bottom of the email is that of Lou Arab, who is a longtime NDP loyalist, a communications staffer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Mr. Rachel Notley.

So, the CUPE sent out an email to teachers’ union members letting them know there were jobs available with an NDP campaign, while giving them the opportunity to donate. Now it is becoming more clear why the NDP was so willing to cut off funding from unions — they don’t need the money.

The NDP and unions have been bedfellows forever. For many years, unions have given the NDP tens of thousands of dollars. You could make the argument that the union dollars were needed to counteract the massive corporate donations that went to the PCs, and that’s a valid point. The playing field, financially, was tipped big-time in the PCs favour, so the fact that the unions supported the NDP was only fair … sort of.

Now the NDP is living up to its campaign pledge to ban union and corporate donations. No more big business money. No more big union money. And the NDP is fine with that, because they don’t really need union money. When you’ve got the entire apparatus powerful union(s) at your disposal, with their vast email contacts and employees only too willing to work for the party, you don’t need the money. When you’ve got the data, the people, and the time, who needs money?


Stuff Happens, week 22: A death in Edmonton; Peter MacKlown strikes again; an NDP miscue

A dark week in Edmonton. Const. Daniel Woodall, performing what should have been a fairly routine arrest at a west Edmonton home, was greeted with a hail of gunfire that took his life, and injured another officer. It’s an oft-repeated cliche (that’s what makes it a cliche) that cops never know when the routine can turn terrifying. As painful as the whole ordeal is for the city and the family, I always find some solace in the fact that the killing of a policeman in Canada is still front page news, and we share a collective grief. It says something about Canada that despite the fact we have less respect for authority than ever before, we still respect the law, and the people who uphold it.

Mayor Don Iveson, tears streaming down his face (not “choking back tears” as the Journal reported), spoke with real emotion at a press conference about Const. Woodall’s death. But, responding to a question, he mused that the end of the gun registry may be a contributing factor in the rise of gun violence. He quickly apologized via Twitter for his “premature” remarks. But venomous Justice Minister Peter MacKay attacked, calling Iveson’s remarks “inappropriate and ill-timed”, and his comments “absurd”. MacKay reveals himself, if any further evidence is needed, as a grade-A a-hole for attacking a grieving mayor at a difficult time. Everything is politics and messaging all the time for the Conservatives.

Speaking of the Conservatives, Stephen Harper is on a pre-election world tour. He visited Ukraine (as if they needed that headache), and met with the Pope (if you can call 10 minutes a meeting). Harper, as always, took almost no questions from the media. The trip was nothing more than a series of photo-ops to bolster the PMs authority on the taxpayers’ dime.

Meanwhile, here in the glorious People’s Republic of Alberta, the NDP government continues to appoint various like-minded types from across the country to key government posts. This week’s appointment of the chief of staff for the new energy minister became a PR problem for the government. Somebody named Graham Mitchell, another out-of-towner, was appointed chief of staff for energy minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd. Turns out, Mitchell was interim executive director for something called the LeadNow Society, which lobbied against the Northern Gateway pipeline. There’s a swell idea; calm the nerves of the already fidgety energy industry by giving a senior government job to an anti-pipeline activist. Worse yet, the appointment was made by Rachel Notley’s office, with no input from the minister or, apparently, the ministry. McCuaig-Boyd had the deer-in-the-headlights look when cornered by the media this week.

Another Canadian retail institution bites the dust. Blacks Photography announced the shutdown of all of its stores this week. Even though we are taking more pictures than ever before, fewer and fewer of them are being taken with actual cameras, and fewer still are being printed and stored in something called photo albums (remember those?). Blacks is another victim of changing times.

An inquiry was held in Camrose  into the tragedy at the Big Valley Jamboree that killed a woman when a storm collapsed the stage. You may or may not remember the incident: it happened almost six years ago. With all due respect to the victim, the bigger question is why does it take SIX YEARS to have an inquiry in this province?

RIP: Christopher Lee, 93, the British actor whose roles ranged from Dracula in Hammer films from the 1960s all the way to Lord of the Rings films in the 2000s… Dusty Rhodes, the corpulent American wrestler who called himself ‘The American Dream’, at 69 … jazz innovator Ornette Coleman at 85 … Vincent Bugliosi, the LA prosecutor who brought Charles Manson to justice and wrote the best-seller Helter Skelter, at 80.



Stuff happens, week 21: The truth comes out; goodbye Sepp; hello, Caitlyn

The long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission summary report on residential schools came out Tuesday, detailing the “cultural genocide” practiced by various Canadian governments against the First Nations. The report — actually, the summary report, with the full report coming later — made a staggering 94 recommendations, some of which make sense, others of which are nonsense (increased funding for the CBC? Really?). Prime Minister Stephen Harper — the most powerful, important man in the land — didn’t say one substantial word about the report, which took six years and $50 million to produce. Why would Canadians expect anything more from a prime minister who hasn’t held a press conference in two-and-a-half years?

There’s a new media hero in town in the personage of what used to be Bruce Jenner, the former U.S. Olympic hero and Wheaties box model. As everyone in the galaxy now knows, Bruce has had more than just a facelift … he is now a she, and prefers to be called Caitlyn. (S)he posed for Vanity Fair, and of course the media commentators all gushed how beautiful she is. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me, Bruce was a good looking guy but not a good looking Caitlyn. Whatever. In an hilarious attempt at figuring out how to refer to a woman who used to be a guy, the Wikipedia page for Jenner now calls him a her, even mentioning that “she” was named the Male Athlete of the Year.

A Quebec judge has ruled that Big Tobacco must pay $15 billion in damages to Quebec smokers in the largest class action suit settlement in Canadian history. The trial took nearly three years, and heard from not one single affected smoker. The number is eye-popping, and certainly caused a lot of non-smoking related coughing at Big Tobacco. But to be eligible, smokers must have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 12 years prior to 1998, and must have developed emphysema or lung cancer. The tobacco companies are appealing the judgement, which should take years. In the end, once the lawyers have taken their cut (which will be most of the judgement), eligible smokers will probably be reduced to about a dozen who should get just enough for a pack of Craven As.

Well, that didn’t take long. A senior PC party exec, southern Alberta VP Jordan Lien lambasted Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s decision to ban menthol cigarettes last week. OK, fair enough; you can debate the ban all you like. But in a Facebook post, Lien called Hoffman “morbidly obese”. And you wonder why the PCs lost the election.

Speaking of stupid decisions, Tim Hortons made a huge PR gaffe by paying too much attention to social media. Tims has in-store TV — Tims TV, apparently — that has been running ads for pipeline company Enbridge. An American environmental group decided that this respected, entirely legitimate Canadian company advertising in a respected, entirely legitimate Canadian company was an affront to the environment, and launched an on-line petition demanding the ads be removed. Timmy caved with alarming speed, without realizing that there would be a backlash against the manufactured backlash. Now, plenty of people are furious at Tims for knuckling under to an American lobby group at the expense of a Canadian company that employs thousands. Companies have become too attuned, so frightened of social media that they react in knee-jerk fashion to any social media uptick. If Tims had just ignored the so-called petition, the whole thing would have blown over. Now, they’ve alienated their core customer base to appease the Starbucks crowd. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Just days after winning re-election, Sepp Blatter stepped down as FIFA president. No exact reason was given, but it’s a good bet Sepp is in the cross-hairs of investigators. The stories coming out of FIFA are just getting worse and worse. Ireland was apparently given a cash payment to shut them up about being eliminated from World Cup contention by a bad referee’s call; the German newspaper Die Zeit reported on Friday that the then chancellor Gerhard Shröder supplied arms to Saudi Arabia in return for support in Germany’s World Cup bid. Like a lot of beautiful people, the ‘beautiful game’ is ugly under the surface.

RIP: Jacques Parizeau, former Quebec premier and leading figure in the separatist movement .. Wayne ‘Thumper’ Harris, 77, Canadian football hall-of-famer and Grey Cup champ, was a ferocious linebacker for the Stampeders. He was listed as the ninth best player in CFL history by TSN.