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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election roulette: picking winners in the impossible election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff Happens, week 14: And they’re off! But why?

This week, Premier Jim Prentice called his uncalled-for election. The question remains,  why?

The election — a year ahead of the lawful election date — has no validity. The PCs have a majority that any government in Canada, or the world, would kill for (and in some countries, that’s exactly how they do it). His “transformative” budget is unpopular, an ugly hodge-podge of tax hikes and service cuts. It does not, in any way, address the basic problem of the Alberta economy. The only possible outcome of this election is a win for the PCs, of course. But with the NDP polling well in Edmonton (with the shoddy track record of polling lately, this means nothing), and with the Wildrose showing signs of life (sympathy votes and anti-PC votes could give make them a surprise), the PCs are almost guaranteed to end the election with fewer seats than before the election. And if things go really, really wrong, the PCs could end with a minority. There is a very real chance that calling a 2015 election may be seen as a monumental blunder by Prentice. We shall see…

The National Hockey League season ended this week with thrilling playoff races. This surprised me, since I paid so little attention to the Oilers, and therefore the NHL, I wasn’t even sure it still existed. Anyway, I thought I’d try to catch a few of the games, secure in the knowledge that there are dozens of games on the various channels. Turns out, not ONE game I wanted to see was on TV. In any event, here in Edmonton we are forced to watch as REAL NHL teams in Ottawa (Go Sens! I guess), Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary (ugh) and Vancouver (double ugh) enjoy the thrills of the playoffs. By a quirk of the schedule, two of the five Canadian teams will be eliminated for sure in the first round, as they play each other (Calgary vs. Vancouver; Ottawa vs. Montreal). On the plus side, that means either Calgary or Vancouver will be eliminated.

Once again, an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a white cop in the U.S. But this time, the whole sickening sequence was capture on video. TV news has replayed the killing repeatedly; this poor guy had died a thousand deaths. Remember the days when it was considered in the worst possible taste to show someone actually getting KILLED on TV? Not anymore.

The Walterdale Bridge is a year behind schedule; the steel required to build the structure was delivered months later than planned. Considering how no city project ever finishes on schedule, this is the least surprising news of the year.

The trial of Mike Duffy, the scandalous senator, finally began in Ottawa. Charged with making umpteen false expense claims, the money claimed by Duffy is small change compared to the real prize — Stephen Harper. So far, we’ve heard that Duffy was so quick to suck on the government teat that he filed an expense claim on his very first day as a senator. We’ve also heard that the rules around senate expense claims are so loosy-goosy as to be almost non-existent. Basically, it’s the honour system. And we all know how much honour there is amongst senators.

RIP: Stan Freeberg, 88, comic and voice character actor. Freberg produced his 1951 Dragnet parody, St. George and the Dragonet, which was a No. 1 hit for four weeks in October 1953. He was considered the father of the funny commercial. His Wikipedia entry is well worth reading to get the scope of his career.

Why good polls may be bad for the Rachel Notley Party

In the first week of the Unnecessary Election of 2015, the big story has been the polling numbers. The media, desperate to find something to report on in the early going, has fixated on the numbers which show the Rachel Notley Party with shockingly high numbers. The stats are so out of whack, even the pollsters are advising to take them with a grain of salt.

Pollsters have taken a beating lately due to a long string of wildly wrong results pretty much everywhere. That is in part due to the down-and-dirty method of polling, which is cheap and not very accurate compared to old school, talk-to-a-human-being kind of polling. The polls you’re reading about these days are free, and as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

But clearly, something is afoot: the NDP is showing very well. And this may not be all good news for the Dippers. Let me explain.

First, I’ve got to hand it to the NDP. They’ve got a strategy, and it’s working, so far.

New face of the NDP, Rachel Notley.

New face of the NDP, Rachel Notley.

Obviously, the strategy is to play up Rachel Notley. Check out the website of the Rachel Notley Party (formerly known as the New Democratic Party); it starts with a video of Rachel, followed by a clip of rabid supporters chanting ‘Rachel, Rachel’, then there’s a sign up request the headline ‘I want to build a better Alberta with Rachel’, then there’s a profile of Rachel, then a picture of Rachel with some dude behind a sign that says ‘Rally with Rachel’. There are at least a half-dozen mentions of Rachel Notley, with only three small NDP logos. Almost all of the press release headlines have Rachel Notley in the lead. Clearly, the NDP is building a cult of leadership around Notley, which seems politically savvy, if a little anti-NDP. It helps that the media is absolutely in love with Rachel, providing the party with millions of dollars of unearned media.

So far, so good. The public seems to be responding to her, and the Dippers hope they will ride this horse all the way to official opposition status. But good poll numbers are not always good news.

Candidate Shaye Anderson, traditional face of the NDP.

Candidate Shaye Anderson, traditional face of the NDP.

As the polling numbers show support, it will draw more and more scrutiny to the party. And with increased scrutiny, curious voters will eventually want to know what the NDP stands for. Right now, however, you won’t find out on their website. As of April 11th, you won’t find one word on actual NDP policy. I’m sure in time they will release a complete policy document, but now they seem to be a Seinfeld party: the party about nothing. Eventually, the NDP will have to issue a full policy document for the interested public to study. It will have to be a carefully crafted document, with just enough red left-wing meat to keep the party’s lefties happy, without alienating the average voter. So far, we know they would raise corporate taxes, but so would the Liberals and anyone with a brain. The RNP is playing it very smart this year, and I’m sure when they come out with a policy doc, it will be as wishy-washy as possible.

A bigger problem is the ‘S’ word.

The New Democrats are a socialist party. That’s not a slur or an untruth, but a simple fact. I’m surprised that Jim Prentice has so far opted to call the RNP/NDP “far left”, which is silly. You’d think he’d be calling the RNP the socialist party at every opportunity. Socialism is anathema to Albertans, and just the way the Liberals had to wear the liberal label, the NDP will have to wear the socialist label. It’s just a matter of time, too, before the PCs link the NDP to federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and his previous references to “dirty oil”.

Life is good for the NDP right now. But if the polls, rightly or wrongly, continue to show the NDP staying strong, their strategy will be put to the test as the heat is turned up … way up.

Stuff happens, week 13: Election? What election?; this week in atrocities.

There was plenty of speculation amongst the political class about when Premier Grim Jim Prentice would call his (illegal) election. Monday came and went with no word. Then came the polls — suddenly the Wildrose was on the rise, and the polls were giving the budget the thumbs down. So Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday, then Thursday… then it was Good Friday, and Prentice would have been crucified for calling an election then. So, at earliest on Monday, but that’s Easter Monday, so Tuesday it is. Or is it? What a great way to run a democracy.

Gas prices took another inexplicable leap forward in Edmonton this week, jumping almost 10 cents, rising to almost a dollar a litre. Now if this sounds like a broken record from me, maybe it is. This is the fourth time I’ve mentioned rising gasoline prices in Edmonton in the 13 weeks since I started writing this blog. Meanwhile, the price of oil remains basically unchanged. How does this happen? I don’t know; wouldn’t it be nice if a politician, somewhere, asked that question?

Still on the provincial non-election front, the PCs continue their ugly infighting. The Edmonton-Meadowlark candidate was mysteriously disqualified in favour of a more sellable (i.e. female, TV-ready) candidate. Then Tony Caterina, who the last time I checked was a city councillor, announced that he was going to run in an Edmonton riding after getting a call from the PCs. Apparently, being a mere city councillor just isn’t enough for Caterina.

Another week, another atrocity. This time, the site was Kenya, the target Christian students at a university, the killers Boko Harum, and the death toll 148. No, the world isn’t getting worse, it only seems that way.

RIP: Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon, at 75. She was remembered as a “lovely lady” who was badly treated by Lennon … Gary Dahl, 78, came up with a nutty idea called the Pet Rock, which was a rock packaged in a little cage-like box and sold as a pet that you didn’t need to care for. Stupid? Sure. But in 1975, he sold more than a million pet rocks at $3.95, and became a millionaire. He tried again later with the Original Sand Breeding Kit (grow your own sand), but lightning didn’t strike twice … Robert Shuller, 88, one of the most successful of TV evangelists. His program, the Hour of Power from his spectacular glass Crystal Cathedral, was enormously successful. When he retired, however, the whole thing fell apart and the church fell into bankruptcy.

The Montreal Canadiens 'Punch Line' of Maurice Richard (bottom left) Elmer Lach (centre) and Toe Blake.

The Montreal Canadiens ‘Punch Line’ of Maurice Richard (bottom left) Elmer Lach (centre) and Toe Blake.

Elmer Lach, 97, the oldest surviving ex-NHLer, was a member of the legendary Punch Line of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940s-50s which included Maurice Richard and Toe Blake. League MVP once, he won three Stanley Cups, and when he retired, he was the highest scoring player in the NHL … Character actor Gregory Walcott, 87, made dozens of appearances in films and TV from the 1950s to the 1970s. He would have been pretty much unknown, except for the fact he had a lead role in Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely regarded as the worst film of all time. “I don’t want to be remembered for that,” Walcott said in an interview. “But it’s better to be remembered for something than nothing, don’t you think?” Words to live by.