Ah, politics. It has the potential to inspire, and an even greater potential to inspire derisive laughter or fits of rage. Here, for your reading and enraging enjoyment, are my choices for the top 10 political blunders of 2012, local edition.
1. Allan Hunsperger and the ‘lake of fire’
In the April provincial election, the upstart (they were always called ‘upstart’) Wildrose party appeared to be on the verge of doing the impossible — toppling the PC dynasty. The public seemed ready to put aside its concerns about the far-right bent of the party to finally turf the exhausted 41-year Tory dynasty. But just before the election, a year-old blog posting by a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton, preacher Allan Hunsperger, resurfaced. In it, playing on the Lady Gaga song ‘Born this Way’, Hunsperger wrote in reference to gays: “You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”
The comments caused uproar, affirming for many that the Wildrose was harboring lunatics in the fold, and trying to keep them hidden until after the election. In keeping with her libertarian views, leader Danielle Smith rebuked Hunsperger for his remarks, but only mildly, saying he was entitled to his opinions. She let his nomination stand, but certainly the ‘lake of fire’ remark caused many soft Wildrose voters to revert back to form and vote en masse for the PCs. (I spoke to one young person, who had no intention of even voting, but the ‘lake of fire’ line encouraged her and her friends to vote — and they voted PC.) Which brings us to the no. 2 political blooper of the year …
2. Provincial election polls
With a week to go before the April 23 vote, all polls put the Wildrose within range of not just winning the election, but winning with a majority. One vote-projection model, with took all released polls and crunched the numbers, put support for the Wildrose at 41.9 per cent, in range of a majority government. The polls gave the New Democrats hope for a possible balance of power role in a potential minority government, and also predicted the Liberals would be wiped out. Come election day, however, panicked voters — including many who usually voted Liberal or New Democrat — took the lesser of two evils route and voted Conservative. In the end, Alison Redford’s Tories took 44 per cent of the vote and 61 seats, the Wildrose 34 per cent and 17 seats, the Liberals 9.89 per cent and 5 seats, and the NDs 9.82 per cent and 4 seats. How did the polls get it so wrong? See blooper no. 1.
3. Justin Trudeau opens his mouth
Justin Trudeau, one of Pierre’s two Christmas Day birthday sons (the Second and Third comings?) entered the federal Liberal leadership race, and immediately became the frontrunner, and remained that way even after others entered the race. But Trudeau, who posses some of this father’s charisma and none of his father’s intellectual heft, unwillingly himself in the middle of a federal byelection in Calgary in November that polls showed the Liberals had a chance of winning. A two-year-old interview emerged where Trudeau, speaking to a French reporter, said: ““Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.” Trudeau, and all Liberals by extension, was immediately labeled as being anti-Alberta. Trudeau was forced to apologize for his remarks, saying he was actually thinking of Stephen Harper when he said “Albertans”. Too late; the damage was done. What little chance of the Liberals winning a seat in Calgary evaporated, no doubt helped along by blooper no. 4 ….
4. David McGuinty opens his mouth
David McGuinty, the little known Ontario Liberal MP who was the party’s natural resources critic, unleashed a broadside at Alberta Conservative MPs, when he told the House of Commons that Harper’s Alberta sheep are “very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil fuel business and the oilsands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.” That could have gone without notice, but he went on to say that the Alberta MPs should “go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature.”
Not surprisingly, his comments were reduced to “go back to Alberta”, leading to howls of outrage and giving the Conservatives an opportunity to dredge up the National Energy Program. Combined with Justin Trudeau’s remarks, McGuinty’s broadside sunk the Liberal candidate in Calgary.
5. “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision”
Premier Alison Redford’s government came under fierce attack when it was revealed (by the Wildrose and its research arm, CBC News) that a potentially lucrative contract to sue Big Tobacco to recoup health care dollars was awarded to a firm that included Redford’s ex-husband. Redford denied any wrongdoing, saying “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision.” Well, that was sort of true, and sort of not true. When Redford was justice minister, she recommended her ex-husband’s firm, but the actual awarding of the contract was done when Verlyn Olson took over as justice minister while Redford ran for the PC party leadership. Redford was using oily legalese to try to defuse the situation, but only made the matter worse. The opposition howled for weeks, trying very hard to get the public to call the “scandal” Tobacco-gate. ND leader Brian Mason piously called for her resignation, getting the front-page Journal coverage he so craves. Turns out there are no conflict of interest rules against dealings with ex-spouses, and the whole thing just kind of fizzled out. But Redford took a hit to her credibility by trying to dodge the issue, rather than facing it head on.
6,7,8. Daryl Katz’s blooper hat-trick
Oilers owner and resident Montgomery Burns impersonator Daryl Katz singlehandedly scuttled the sweetheart deal he made with city council to build a new area for his wretched Oilers. His first mistake was to give $300,000 to the PCs during the provincial election (a donation that may, or may not, be ruled illegal) on behalf of himself, members of the Katz group, and his family dog for all we know. News of the donation ensured that the provincial government would not give the arena a dime, because it would like they were in his velvet-lined back pocket. Katz made a pair of other colossal miscues in 2012. When the arena deal was going sour, he made a trip to Seattle, clearly an attempt to panic the public into thinking he was shopping the team around. The tactic backfired horribly, nobody bought it, and he was forced to run an apology in the daily papers. His final, and worst, mistake, was to snub city council when they request Katz or someone from his organization appear before council to explain why he wanted more money than agreed upon in a deal reached earlier. Katz lost all support he had on council, and the arena deal went into deep hibernation. At year’s end, Katz tried to make amends, and the arena appears to have some life again. That is, until Katz’s next blooper.
9. Vic Toews and Peter McKay
Here’s why Stephen Harper’s ministers are not allowed to speak very often. First, Vic Toews, Harper’s Neanderthal public safety minister, said that anyone opposed to his bill that allows police easier access to snoop into personal Internet information is on the side of pedophiles. Then there’s Peter McKay, the increasingly clownish defence minister. McKay was caught using search-and-rescue helicopters for his personal use (under the guise of a “training mission”). When he was caught red-handed, he simply lied about it, while having the armed forces look into trips opposition MPs might have taken. Since both are stars in Stephen Harper’s eyes, neither was reprimanded.
10. Danielle Smith’s boob wagon
The funniest blooper of 2012 was a sight gag. When the Wildrose rolled out Danielle Smith’s election bus, the media immediately started to titter. Apparently nobody noticed that the juxtaposition of Smith’s face and the wheels of the bus made Smith look like Pamela Anderson. The gaffe even made Jay Leno’s Headlines segment.
And that wraps up the year in bloopers. Join us again next year in this space, where I’m confident we will have a whole new batch of idiocy to look back upon.