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.

 

 

Stuff Happens, week 20: red card for FIFA; love-in for NDP; MacKay out

The week began with a love-in at the legislature, as Rachel Notley and her puny cabinet were sworn in on a beautiful sunny day in Edmonton. The crowd was huge and wildly enthusiastic, more evidence that the love affair with Notley remains in full bloom. She also introduced her cabinet, a mere 12 members, the smallest in recent memory. Why so small? Well, no matter what the government may say, the reason is obvious: there are precious few MLAs in the young, inexperienced caucus who are up for the challenge. I’m guessing that within a year, the cabinet will be larger as Notley gets a handle on who is up to the challenge of being in cabinet. The government continued to be showered with love when it restored millions in cut funding to education later in the week. Giving money away is the easy part; the real challenge is to find ways to save money without pissing people off.

An unexpected consequence of the NDP victory is the surprise muzzling of Brian Mason. For years, Mason was the media’s go-to guy for pithy quotes about the latest PC outrage. Mason was always ready to talk, and the media loved him for it. But this Saturday’s Edmonton Journal contained this phrase that has never before appeared in print: “New Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason declined to comment.” And from another story: “NDP house leader Brian Mason did not respond to a request for comment.” Brian Mason NOT talking? Truly the world is upside down.

The big news of the week was the mammoth corruption scandal that has engulfed FIFA, the notoriously evil but wildly powerful and important governing body of soccer (a.k.a. football). A number of top dogs were arrested at their annual meeting in Zurich, with most of the baddies connected to CONCACAF, the governing body of North American soccer. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here, bringing the entire FIFA organization into disrepute. Or should I say, further disrepute. FIFA president-for-almost-life Sepp Blatter (or, as the always witty British press calls him, Septic Blatter) simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “How am I supposed to know everything that’s going on around me?” Despite the scandal, he was re-elected to another four-year term, just like one of those banana republic dictators who win ‘elections’ with 90 per cent of the vote.

Big news in Ottawa was the resignation of Peter MacKay, Harper’s go-to minister. The resignation is a bit of a shocker, in that MacKay was frequently seen as a successor to Harper. With Harper at best 50/50 on winning the next election, it would seem that MacKay’s time might have been nigh. But citing the usual family concerns, MacKay will not run in October. Why MacKay had any stature within the party is a bit of a mystery, in that everything he touched turned to rubbish. MacKay is a man of special incompetence who rose up the ranks despite evident inability to do anything right.  Also this week, the first election ads were released, and they were as predictable as an episode of CSI. The Conservative ads say Justin Trudeau “isn’t ready” and that only Stephen Harper can save us from ISIS, the Liberal ad targets the middle class, and the NDP ad tries to make leader Thomas Mulcair seem somehow less scary.

RIP: Anne Meara, 85, wife of comic Jerry Stiller (George’s dad on Seinfeld) and mother of Ben Stiller. Meara was an accomplished actress and comic, appearing on dozens of TV shows.

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

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

The last straw.
The last straw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, what to do about the veterans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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