Stuff Still Happens, week 7: Horse racing put down; The Rebel yells

Edmonton Northlands, the so-called ‘agricultural society’ that has been a force in Edmonton since Edmonton was in diapers, announced a sweeping plan to rebuilt the soon-to-be-vacant arena and the area surrounding it. It’s partly a great idea, and partly nutty.

The great idea, if they can find $85 million between the government’s couch cushions, is to retrofit Rexall Place into a six-rink community hockey facility. Great, and the work can begin once they finish fumigating the stench left over from another failed Oiler season. They also want to repurpose Hall D at the adjacent Edmonton Expo Centre into a 5,000 seat concert venue, which has its pluses and minuses. But the truly dumb ass idea is a pie-in-the-sky plan to tear down the Northlands race track (killing horse racing in Edmonton, which only survives thanks to lottery money) and build an indoor-outdoor concert bowl that could accommodate between 90,000 to 140,000 people. Price tag: $45 million. This is ludicrous. We already have Commonwealth Stadium for the handful of times that there is an act coming to Edmonton that needs room for 60,000 people. I can’t think of one single time in Edmonton that we have needed a public space for 90,000 people, much less 140,000. This space will sit empty for easily 360 out of 365 days a year, draining the finances of Northlands and eating up valuable land that could be used for real revitalization — or, for that matter, horse racing, which would still bring in more people and provide more jobs than this concert bowl ever would. The festival site is a pipe dream that should be turfed before a dime is spent on it. My guess is that it will never see the light of day. Horse racing, however, is on its last four legs.

Christmas came early for a website called The Rebel. Never heard of it? Most people haven’t. But thanks to a ham-handed action by the stumbling Rachel Notley government, The Rebel has likely gained thousands of new readers.

The Rebel is the creation of professional blowhard Ezra Levant, the far right-wing gasbag who desperately wants to be the Rush Limbaugh of Canada. Levant, who was a (cough-cough) ‘star’ of the failed Sun News TV channel, rails against all things liberal, meaning federal Liberals and provincial New Democrats. After losing his very tiny Sun News podium (national viewership in prime time for the channel was pegged as low at 5,000), Levant, finding no one interested in his talents, created The Rebel website. When one of his “reporters” attempted to attend a provincial government press conference, she was kicked out. The NDP at first said The Rebel wasn’t a real journalism site, because at one point Levant, in court testimony, admitted he was not a journalist. Of course, The Rebel made a big stink about this, and the so-called mainstream news media held its nose and rushed to The Rebel’s defence. The government has since backed down and will allow The Rebel to attend press conferences, while at the same time appointing a former journalist to “consult and give recommendations on what the government’s media policies should be”. But the damage has been done. A website virtually unknown to anyone other than like minded right-wingers can now claim martyr status, and probably thousands of new readers. Well done, NDP. Only you could make Ezra Levant a sympathetic figure.

The big news from the Excited States of America was the passing of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. The most articulate member of the right wing of the court, his unexpected death touched off an election year firestorm, with Republicans saying President Barack Obama has no right to appoint a new judge because he’s a “lame duck” president. Only in America could a man who still has nearly a full year on the job be considered lame duck. The fear of the right wing is that Obama will appoint a left-leaning judge, which will (in the words of Ted Cruz) spell the end of the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms and kill each other). This little spat will go on for months, adding more fuel to the out of control election campaign.

The Republican battle got progressively worse, if that’s possible. Donald Trump repeatedly called Ted Cruz a liar, which in the more respectable days of politics  — and by that, I mean last week — was something that you just did not do. Meanwhile, Trump got into a pissing match with … the Pope. Yes, THE POPE! Pope Francis said his plan to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country was “unChristian”, and Trump responded by saying when ISIS attacks the Vatican, the Pope is going to want the U.S. on his side, or something equally stupid. As usual with The Donald, fighting with the Pope had no effect on him. On Saturday, Donald Trump won another primary, this one in South Carolina, and Hillary Clinton barely edged past Bernie Sanders in Las Vegas, where she was previously expected to win in a walk. Sanders has probably peaked, and soon enough Clinton — loved by no one — will win the nomination. On the Republican side, history favours Trump. No Republican has won New Hampshire and South Carolina and not won the nomination. With Ted Cruz and Marco ‘Mr. Roboto’ Rubio splitting the anti-Trump vote (just the way the provincial PCs won elections when the anti-PC vote split between Liberals and NDP) things are looking rosy for The Donald. March 1 is the first of several Super Tuesdays, when 12 states hold primaries, including Cruz’s state of Texas and a bunch of deeply conservative southern states.

And one last note on the Republican side: poor old Jeb Bush has quit the race. Despite spending more money — WAY more money — than anybody else, Bush was rejected with extreme prejudice by voters. Bush was shown to be something that you just can’t overcome, no matter how much money you have — a terrible politician.

RIP: Harper Lee, 89, author of the beloved American classic, To Kill A Mockingbird … Umberto Eco, 84, author of The Name of the Rose.


By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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