Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 15: The end is near …

As a citizen of the province of Alberta, I will dutifully head to my nearby polling station to cast my vote in the provincial election on Tuesday. I admit that, even after many decades of voting, I still get a tiny little thrill about the democratic process. As Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the others.

Barring something entirely unexpected (even impossible), one of two parties will form the next government:  the Rachel Notley Party (formerly known as the New Democratic Party), or the United Conservative Party. I am unenthusiastic about either option. I have never voted NDP, and I’m not going to start now. We all have biases, and a strong aversion to anything NDP is one of mine.

Jason Kenney has called the NDP an accidental government, and this is one of the few times that I agree with him. The NDP went from four members to government, so clearly they were not remotely prepared to win. But despite the handicap of having virtually no bench strength (it’s hard to run a government with social workers, baristas and 20-something university students), the NDP has not been as nightmarish as Kenney says. Some policies I don’t agree with ($15 an hour minimum wage is the kind of policy that is created by people who have never had to meet a payroll), and the climate change/carbon tax plan is a mixed bag.

In fact, I could almost be supportive if they made any effort to reign in spending, at least a little. But they didn’t. The plan was to keep spending, and to create jobs by hiring more and more civil servants. Keeping the civil service happy, after all, is one way for a government to stay in power.

Pipelines have become the dominant issue in this election. But is Rachel Notley to blame for the fact that not one single kilometre of pipe has has been laid anywhere in Alberta? No. I find her conversion to rabid pipeline supporter to be hypocritical (NDP governments in B.C. and the federal NDP are more in line with traditional, anti-pipeline NDP thinking), but I think she has tried to get it built. In the current climate in this country, getting ANYTHING done has become nearly impossible, so you can’t lay the blame on her shoulders. And it’s not her fault that the bottom fell out of the oil industry during her time in office.

And what of the UCP? 

There is no discussing the UCP without talking about Jason Kenney, a deeply unpleasant and worrisome leader. If he thinks he can finesse the construction of pipelines with bullying, he’s is sadly mistaken. I’m also concerned that he will go on a Ralph Klein like cutting spree, setting Alberta back years in important issues like health care and education. Basically, I don’t trust him. And there is the indisputable evidence that the UCP is infested with far right wing, Christian fundamentalist types. A UCP government worries me, probably more than an RNP government worries me. If I had no choice in the matter, I would push down the bile and vote NDP. But thankfully I have other options. The Alberta Party is a reasonable alternative. Socially progressive, fiscally conservative. Luckily for me, I live in a constituency with a very viable Alberta Party candidate, so I won’t feel like I’m wasting my vote.

Unless the polls are spectacularly wrong, the UCP will form the next government. And if they do, I hope Rachel Notley stays as NDP leader. We’re going to need a very strong opposition to keep tabs on Kenney and his government. And the NDP better hope she stays on, because without her, they have nothing.

I never thought of Justin Trudeau as being stupid, but I may have to re-evaluate my opinion. This week, with the flames of the SNC-Lavalin scandal/affair finally flickering out, Trudeau pumped fresh oxygen into the whole sorry affair. Out of nowhere, Trudeau threatened to sue Conservative leader Andrew ‘Howdy Doody’ Sheer for defamation over comments he made about the SNC thing.

Seriously, Justin? Sheer must have danced a merry jig when Trudeau issued this threat. Sheer has been a marginal player, at best, in the whole SNC thing. After overplaying his hand by immediately issuing his demand that Trudeau resign, Sheer has been almost forgotten. Now Trudeau has given Sheer an enormous boost. Maybe Trudeau’s critics are right – he doesn’t deserve to be prime minister. But then, does Howdy Doody?

So much happened this past week …

Scientists have succeeded in taking the most remarkable snapshot of all time – the first ever image of a black hole. What is a black hole? Well, it’s very complicated, but let’s just say it’s where Justin Trudeau’s reputation has gone. In science circles, photographing a black hole is a very big deal, but not being scientifically inclined, all I can say is: why isn’t it in focus?

Also big in the news this week, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested, pulled out kicking and screaming from the Ecuadorean  embassy in London after seven years. He is facing one single charge in the U.S. of trying to hack into U.S. government computers, but in Sweden they want him on a suspected rape charge. Stories coming from the embassy indicate that Assange was not the best visitor; there are reports that he smeared poop on the walls, perhaps a sign of derangement from being cooped up in an embassy for seven years.

And finally, India is holding elections. In a country of a billion or so people, you just don’t hold an election in a day. And India goes to extraordinary efforts to make sure everyone gets a vote.

This is from the New York Times: “Bharatdas Darshandas, the lone inhabitant and caretaker of a Hindu temple deep in the Gir Forest, has become a symbol of India’s herculean effort to ensure that the votes of every one of its 900 million eligible voters is counted … a team of five election workers will trek to Mr. Darshandas’s temple and set up a polling station solely for his use.”

The Indian election is the largest democratic election in history. There are about 900 million voters. It takes one million polling stations, and 12 million people to get the job done, spread out over 39 days. To provide ballots to voters in the most remote areas, the politically independent Election Commission of India will deploy 700 special trains, as well as boats, planes and teams of camels and elephants. And boy do they have choices: the total number of registered parties is 1,841.

RIP

Charles Van Doren, 93, a Columbia University English instructor and a member of a distinguished literary family who confessed to Congress and a disillusioned nation in 1959 that his performances on the television quiz show 21 had been rigged. The scandal was the basis of the film Quiz Show. Read the New York Times obituary here.

Advertisements

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 14: Debating the debate

During any political debate, voters and the media are always looking for the knock-out punch. Brian Mulroney famously destroyed John Turner in one debate in 1984, and Jim Prentice notoriously told Rachel Notley that “math is hard” in 2015, which backfired badly.

So, was there a knock-out punch in the 2019 Alberta leaders’ debate? Nope. Some swings and misses, lots of dodges, a few glancing blows, but no major harm done. By the time it was over, all four competitors were still standing, some just a little taller than the others.

To continue the boxing analogy, the debate had an undercard (Liberal leader David Khan vs. Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel) and a main event (United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney and New Democratic Party – a.k.a the Rachel Notley Party – leader Rachel Notley).

The competitor with the most to lose was Kenney, and nobody really laid a glove on him. As you might expect from a guy who knows nothing but politics, Kenney is a professional blowhard, supremely confident in everything he says. No matter how much Notley went after him, he just batted everything away. He seemed prepared for everything thrown his way, and Notley had no new ammo.

I though Rachael Notley’s performance was curious. She looks haggard, perhaps the result of carrying the entire weight of a government on her shoulders. She read much of what she said from her prepared talking points; shouldn’t she be able to rattle off the rhetoric without reading it from a paper? While she repeatedly went after Kenney, she said almost nothing about the accomplishments of the Rachel Notley Party over the last four years. She seems intent on telling people why they should not vote for the UCP, while forgetting to tell voters why they should vote for the RNP. For example, one of her signature policies – the $15 minimum wage – went unmentioned.

Meanwhile, Jason Kenney really laid into Justin Trudeau, didn’t he? He’s not running against Trudeau, mind you, but he sure clobbered him. Kenney went after Trudeau almost as much as he went after Notley, knowing that Trudeau’s popularity in Alberta is just below toenail fungus. In the undercard, Khan (who is a constitutional lawyer, as he mentioned repeatedly), who knows there is no value in going after Notley and Kenney, went after Mandel, calling one Alberta Party policy “ridiculous”. He even went so far as to suggest that people died from the opioid crisis when he was PC health minister because Mandel didn’t take federal government money. It was a clearly rehearsed cheap shot unworthy of Khan, who otherwise he did much better than anticipated.

So while there was no knock-out punch, no moment that will be replayed over and over, there were still winners and losers.

WINNERS: David Khan and Stephen Mandel. Khan presented the Liberal case skillfully, and Mandel was the appealing of the bunch (although why he didn’t wear a tie and a properly fitted suit was beyond me). Neither one had to worry about being the centre of attention, but as supporting players they outshone the stars. (And yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors here.)

DRAW: Jason Kenney. If the polls are right, this is still Kenney’s to win. He was respectful (calling Notley ‘premier’ repeatedly), and never got rattled. It’s hard to knock a voracious political animal off his feet, and nobody could do it.

LOSER: Rachel Notley. Not a real loser, just the least impressive in many ways. Try as she might, she could not best Kenney. She failed to boast about her government accomplishments, perhaps because two of them (the carbon tax and the $15 minimum wage) are so contentious. The RNP policy is to demonize Kenney, and Notley stuck to the script. But when the script isn’t working, it’s time to improvise, and she didn’t. I don’t think the debate moved the needle much, but it might have secured a seat for Khan in Calgary, and Mandel in Edmonton, and hopefully a few more players from both of those parties. (My old Liberal MLA pal. Mo Elsalhy is running in Edmonton South-West. If you live in that riding, you can’t go wrong with Mo.)

Still on the provincial election scene, anti-UCP deep research continued to lay waste to UCP candidates. This week, an old clip of UCP MLA Mark Smith seemingly questioning whether gay love is good love was leaked. And a document he wrote supporting the firing of gay teachers from Catholic schools also made an appearance. Then, a 2012 sermon by UCP candidate Roger Reid, where he said a book with some anti-Muslim views by evangelical Christian Charles Colson was “one of his favourite books” was released. And just for good measure, another candidate was taken to task for taking aim at the UN.

The UCP is being painted as a haven for the religious right and crackpot theories. The evidence is pretty hard to dispute, but Kenney is just brushing it aside. With two weeks to go, I suspect there will be more dirt to be uncovered. Pasty-faced political operatives are mining years of social media posts, trying to find anything damaging. Again, as a warning to anyone who is interested in getting into politics – stay away from social media!

This will be the last I’ll write about Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC-Lavalin scandal/affair. Honest. I’m sick of the whole thing.

Let’s be honest about JWR; the Liberal caucus had no option but to turf her. The case against Jane Philpott is weaker, but I guess kicking her out just saved the caucus of doing it later. That doesn’t make it any easier on Justin Trudeau. The holier-than-thou media types have piled on in a big way (“Rotting of the Liberal soul”, Andrew Coyne sniffed), but realistically what choice was there? JWR repeatedly blasted her own party’s leader. Her release of her private conversation with Michael Wernick last week was the last straw. It was flat-out unethical to tape the conversation without his knowledge, and releasing it was  vindictive. Clearly, she had to go. You can’t have one of your players repeatedly undermining the coach if you want to win.

But isn’t she a hero, as so many in the media seem to think? Well, aside from Philpott, how many others joined her crusade? The number is zero, including all the “strong women” in the cabinet. Trudeau is now paying the price for his “feminist” position. Speaking to something called the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday – the day after JWR and Philpott were turfed – anywhere from 25 to 50 of the young women turned their backs on him for daring to do something so unfeminist.

So let’s see if I understand this … if two men had done exactly what JWR and Philpott had done, they would be kicked out of caucus. But apparently, women are exempt, because, well, they are “strong women” and a feminist would have to support them regardless of what they did. Getting kicked out of caucus had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with trying to destroy your team from within. Trudeau, as usual, didn’t have the balls to say that.

I’m sick of this whole thing. Clearly, Trudeau was wrong to press the SNC-Lavalin issue as strongly as he did – but he did nothing illegal, as JWR herself has said. JWR is correct in being upset with the pressure that was brought to bear on her, but after making her point in her testimony before the justice committee, her illegal wiretap went too far. There was no conceivable way she could have stayed in caucus.

The damage to brand Trudeau is probably irreparable. Angus Reid’s most recent poll, released on March 28, has the Liberals trailing by nine percentage points, with 28 per cent support compared to 37 per cent for the Conservatives. “This is less of a result of the Conservative party surging and more the result of Liberal support just bleeding all over the place,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute. Whether Conservative leader Howdy Doody can cash in on this remains to be seen.

In the world of sports, the NHL season is over. I assume there are still playoffs to be played, but as an Edmontonian, there is no post-season. No, I will not throw my allegiance to the Calgary Flames just because they’re an Alberta team (my Edmonton roots won’t allow that), and I would never support the Toronto Maple Leafs (my Western Canadian roots, and my loathing for the eastern media bias towards the Leafs won’t allow it either). I guess Winnipeg is an acceptable alternative, but for me, if my team isn’t in the playoffs, I have no interest.

And speaking of no interest, did you hear that the Alliance of American Football folded this week? Or, better question, have you ever heard of the Alliance of American Football? No? You’re not alone.

The AAF is (or was) a spring professional football league, with plenty of money behind it. It was seen as a real threat to the venerable CFL, as the players were signed to guaranteed contracts that paid them better than most of them would have earned in the CFL. The league was banking on the insatiable appetite for football in the U.S., which proved to be plenty satiable after all. The eight-team league opened to small crowds that got even smaller, almost Toronto Argonauts small. The league never made it to a championship game, suspending play last week just eight weeks into the season.

And finally, a couple of Donald Trump items (sorry, I just can’t resist these ones). Trump has decided to threaten to close the border with Mexico, going so far as to say (and I’m not making this up): “The country is full”. But that wasn’t even the best Trumpism. In comments to the media about the U.S. relationship with Germany, Trump blathered on about how wonderful Germany is, even saying that his father was born in a small town in Germany.

Trump’s father was born in New Jersey.

RIP

Dan Robbins, 93, creator of the concept of paint by numbers.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 13: On GSAs, Mueller and JWR’s illegal wiretap

We all know that Donald Trump is a dirtbag, but is he a worse dirtbag than Justin Trudeau? An Ipsos poll on Thursday gave Trudeau an approval rating of 40%, lower than Donald Trump’s approval in the U.S. Seriously, people. Lower than Trump? Man, that’s cold.

It was another bad week for JT. At a Liberal fundraising event in Toronto, Trudeau was heckled by a protestor who shouted “Prime Minister Trudeau, people in Grassy Narrows (a First Nations reserve in Ontario) are suffering from mercury poisoning.” When the protester was being removed, Trudeau said “Thank you very much for your donation tonight, I really appreciate it”.

Cue the outrage. Trudeau did what he does best (apologize) but again, the damage has been done, and once again it is self-inflicted. But there was worse to come, again from inside his own party.

On Friday, Jody Wilson-Rabouyld (JWR) continued her scorched earth approach to Trudeau, her party and her caucus. She released a recording of a conversation about the SNC-Lavalin affair that she had with the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. In the recording, Wernick questions her about the whole SNC thing. Wernick is polite, never overtly threatening, but insistent; to me, he sounds frustrated and uncomfortable to be talking about it. JWR warns him that this is political interference, but he insists that the prime minister wants something to be done about the matter.

It sounds like the kind of conversation you would hear when one person knows they are being recorded, and the other doesn’t, which is exactly the case – JWR didn’t tell Wernick that she was recording the conversation.

Yes, there was pressure brought to bear on the SNC-Lavalin file, which we already know. But what is most interesting to me is this line from Werwick: “He (Trudeau) doesn’t want to do anything that’s outside the box of what’s legal and proper.” JWR promptly launched into a number of lectures that sound like prepared statements. Trudeau haters (and their numbers are growing by the day) will love this recording, and it does nothing to support Trudeau’s case. But I think it stinks. If you had to make an important, confidential phone call to JWR, would you? Would you trust her at all?

On Wednesday, the Trudeau cabinet meets. Trudeau has said he will excuse himself from the room while the caucus decides whether to let JWR and her sympathizer, Jane Philpott, remain in caucus. There is no option but to kick them out. If they don’t, it will be the death knell for Trudeau as leader. He may already be a dead man walking.

Next month, the United Conservative Party could become the first party in Alberta history to win an election without a full slate of candidates.

A UCP candidate in Calgary, Eva Kiryakos, posted a video last Sunday saying: “Someone outside of our party has been threatening to smear me, and I have had enough of the bullies and the threats.” So, what did the bullies find? Leaked Twitter posts (also known as NDP research) show Kiryakos posting about a “Christian genocide” and the “forced breeding” of Muslims. “Muslim forces continue to use murder, rape, kidnapping, terror and forced breeding in pursuit of Christian Genocide in the Middle East while the world turns a blind eye,” the post reads.

And there’s more. In another post, Kiryakos responds to a Twitter user talking about about gay-straight alliances in schools (more on that later), saying “you’re not interested in protecting children with GSAs, you’re interested in converting them.” Seriously?

Last week, another UCP candidate, Caylan Ford (why so many women?) removed her name from the running, after white nationalist rhetoric she posted online surfaced in a report by PressProgress.

The Rachael Notley Party has been scouring social media of every single UCP candidate, waiting for the right moment to leak old Facebook or Twitter postings to a willing media. Why anyone running for election in Alberta – or anywhere – doesn’t take the time to scrub their social media accounts of anything remotely controversial is beyond me. It’s almost as big a question as to what kind of vetting process the UCP puts its candidates through.

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, it was promises, promises, promises. Notley announced another multi-billion dollar promise ($25 daycare!), while Kenney unveiled the UPC’s entire platform, 100-plus pages that no one will read. But Kenney also inexplicably waded into the dormant issue of gay-straight alliances in schools. Kenney would no longer require a principal to establish a GSA “immediately”, and there would be no law (as there is now) against a school letting parents know that their son or daughter is in a GSA.

Why would Kenney raise an issue no one is talking about, and insert it into an election where his enemies are always looking for ways to paint him as a social troglodyte? Does he really think that this issue is one that needs to be addressed, even though the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools wouldn’t even crack the top 100 concerns of the average Alberta voter? Seriously, are these guys trying to lose this election?

There is a leader’s debate on Thursday which could have a profound impact on the outcome of the election. It should be fun.

In the United States, Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Or at least that’s what a four-page summary of the 300-page report (even Readers Digest Condensed Books couldn’t do that) by Attorney General William Barr says. The summary says that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Democrats and his media enemies (and basically anyone with an IQ over 12) were hoping for a smoking gun so they could begin impeachment proceedings. Turns out, the smoking gun was loaded with blanks.

So … not quite innocent, but not guilty enough to prove it? Trump, being the gracious winner, called anyone who supported the investigation evil and treasonous, and hinting at repercussions in front of a slathering crowd of supporters shouting ‘Lock Them Up!’ at one of his Nuremberg-ish rallies. Whether Trump colluded with Russians or not, he’s still a reprehensible scumbag. There are calls to release the full report. As I recall, there were calls for Trump to release his tax forms, but we all know where they ended.

RIP

Scott Walker, 76, lead singer of the Walker Brothers, who had two big hits with “Make It Easy on Yourself,” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” 

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 12: It’s the RNP vs. the UCP

Finally, after weeks of a pre-election posturing, the real posturing has begun.

Here in the People’s Republic of Alberta, Rachael Notley recalled the legislature, had the Lt. Gov. read a speech from the throne that was almost entirely a recap of how wonderful the Rachael Notley government has been, then travelled to Calgary to call an election. There are lots of choices for voters, but this election comes down to a head-to-head battle between the United Conservative Party (UCP) and the Rachael Notley Party (RNP).

Yes, I know that there is technically no RNP. But the New Democratic Party (the party name that goes on the ballot) has essentially ceased to exist. It’s the Rachael Notley Party now. When she makes one of her many policy statements, she stands behind signs with only her name. Candidate literature and advertising touts Team Notley, with the NDP logo barely visible, like the user agreement on Facebook. The reason is simple: the NDP has never been popular in Alberta, but Rachael Notley is. Frankly, I find her sanctimonious, with a Mother Knows Best vibe I find off-putting. But I’m clearly in the minority here. To her credit, though, she is trustworthy, and she is quite simply the only reason the NDP government has any chance of winning the April election. Don’t believe it? Just picture anyone else as leader of the NDP (if you can name one cabinet member other than the nasty Sarah Hoffman). Without Notley, the NDP is DOA.

The UCP has exactly the opposite problem. Jason Kenney is a voracious political animal. Kenney is the type of politician who knows nothing but politics, a guy with no experience in the world outside of right-wing politics. I trust him as far as I could throw him which, despite his weight loss, isn’t very far. He’s easy to demonize, mainly because he’s so damn demonic. But in some ways, he’s almost untouchable, in a Donald Trump kind of way. He is so confident in himself as to be completely unflappable, a guy who just shrugs off every criticism aimed at him because, well, he really doesn’t care what you think of him. He believes, probably correctly, that Alberta is a naturally right leaning province, and this NDP episode is the equivalent of a shotgun marriage that has to be ended.

The UCP says this election is about the economy. The RNP says this election is about Jason Kenney. Right now, I would predict a UCP majority government (with Edmonton returning to its traditional role as outsider). But it’s almost a certainty that the UCP will have a Lake of Fire moment (or two, or three) that could change everything. We’ll know in a few weeks.

OK, I admit I thought this whole SNC-Lavalin thing would just fizzle out, as things do in Canada. But this thing is the Scandal That Wouldn’t Die.

Another week has gone by, and the Trudeau government finds the SNC-Lavalin quicksand is sucking them further and further down.

This week, we had a budget (the details of which I will not bore you with, because I don’t know any of the details) that was supposed to take attention away from l’affaire Lavalin. It didn’t.

This week, the CEO of SNC-Lavalin, Neil Bruce, said in an interview that he didn’t tell the Trudeau government that 9,000 jobs are at risk, nor did he suggest that the company would move from Montreal. A communication error, I guess. Meanwhile, resigned cabinet minister Jane Philpott told Maclean’s that “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told”.

“My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story,” Philpott said.

“I believe we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth. They need to have confidence in the very basic constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system.”

And Jody Wilson-Rabould has, again, said she has more to say.

Liberal MPs are getting rather pissed off about the whole thing. Longtime MP Judy Sgro bluntly told the pair to “put up or shut up”. I agree. Clearly, the milquetoast Trudeau is terrified of these two, still treating them with kid gloves. Both of them should just say, screw it, give an interview and damn the consequences. What’s Trudeau going to do, kick them out of caucus? If they really have something to say, just say it.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation annually gives out something they call the Teddy Awards, citing the worst examples of government waste of taxpayer dollars. Most of the awards are expected (Trudeau’s fiasco of a trip to India), but there is one that got no publicity, and on the surface, it’s a gem. The town of Vulcan, right here in Alberta, was cited for spending $4,000 on Star Trek uniforms for city council.

Vulcan town council. Seriously. This is not a joke.

Ridiculous, right? Not so fast. Vulcan mayor Tom Grant strongly defends the purchase.

“It’s probably our cheapest and best means of advertising that we have, is these uniforms. It puts us on the map and there are more Star Trek fans in the world than any other genre or group,” he told High River Online.

Grant says the cost is minimal, and with a 20-year life expectancy, the final cost is $28.57 a year for all seven uniforms. Grant says the money stays in Vulcan as the work and all the materials were locally sourced.

Valid points, I guess. But it begs the question: who the hell wants to wear a Vulcan uniform?

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 11. The real world comes to New Zealand

We don’t hear a lot about New Zealand. Peaceful, stable countries don’t tend to make the news. Tragically this week, Australia’s little brother was thrust into the world’s spotlight for the worst possible reason.

On Friday, a man went on a shooting rampage at a pair of mosques in Christchurch, killing 50. He was a white nationalist from Australia who not only issued hate-filled ‘manifesto’, but also, in an act of modern-day cruelty, live-streamed the first shooting. (It took Facebook hours to take down the video, and only after they were alerted to the real life horror movie by New Zealand police.) The guns he used were plastered with the names of other mass killers, including Andre Bissonnette, who killed six Muslim worshippers in Quebec City two years ago.

That this appalling act happened in New Zealand proves that this kind of thing can truly happen anywhere. New Zealand is, by all accounts, a wonderful place to live; I consider it a warm weather Canada. The country has recently become a favourite place to buy homes for the one per cent from around the world, who see it as a safe haven when climate change renders the rest of the world uninhabitable. And it’s safe: in the entire country of 4.7 million, there were only 35 murders in 2017. (Edmonton had 27 murders last year.)

However, New Zealand has a strong gun culture. Six per cent of the population has a firearms licence, and there are 1.2 million registered firearms in the country. New Zealand law allows any person aged 16 or older with an entry-level firearm license to keep any number of common rifles and shotguns. Most guns can be purchased without being tracked by law enforcement officials. To her credit, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s gun laws will change.

New Zealand is known as an inclusive society, but some places are more inclusive than others. According to an article I read from The Guardian, Christchurch was known as the “skinhead city”; 84% of the population is white, and it is home, the article said, to “an insidious white supremacist presence”. If New Zealanders can take solace in anything out of this tragedy, it is that the gunman was Australian, a country where Islamophobia is mainstream. A far-right Australian Senator named Fraser Anning said after the massacre: “The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.” A teenager promptly smashed an egg on his head, and Anning replied by slapping the kid in the face and trying to kick him.

Donald Trump, as always, found a way to insert himself into the story. After news of the massacre broke, Trump’s first response was to tweet a link to a story about the killing from Breitbart, a notoriously right-wing news site. And Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s most repugnant mouthpieces, said the killer was an “eco-terrorist”. Nothing should be easier for a politician than issuing the pro forma “thoughts and prayers” statement, but Conservative leader Andrew Scheer botched it. In his initial statement, he (or someone in his communication team) tweeted that freedom has come under attack, and that that all people should be allowed to practice their faith. OK, but he didn’t mention that all of the victims are Muslim. After being called out, he had to release a second statement hours later, finally mentioning the attack on the Muslim community.

The United States has an obsession with colleges. And it’s not just getting into college; it’s getting in the right college. You know the names: Yale, Harvard, USC, etc. These colleges cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are open to only the best of the best, the most elite of students and strivers.

Or so we thought. A college admissions scandal has rocked the U.S. this week, and it speaks volumes about status and wealth and the various a-holes who have both.

The FBI says dozens of wealthy parents paid millions in bribes to secure the admission of their children into these elite universities. The parents used the services of William Singer, founder of The Edge College & Career Network. “We help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school,” said Singer, in a phone call with a parent he was helping to cheat, according to the FBI. “There is a front door which means you get in on your own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in.”

How did he do it? Parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 to his company so their children could be helped in one of three ways: Someone else would take the SAT or ACT exams for the student; a person would serve as the proctor and guide the students to the right answers; or someone would review and correct the students’ answers after the tests were taken.

When the marks were only good enough to make the child competitive, the parents paid bribes — structured as donations to the university and funnelled through The Key — to university coaches, who would identify their children as athletic recruits. To sweeten the deal, doctored images of kids would be submitted. For example, a photo of one girl was edited onto a picture of a water polo player. In her application, the girl was described as a varsity athlete who had earned a team MVP. Athletic coaches from top colleges were also implicated and accused of accepting millions of dollars to help students gain admission.

The system would give precious spots to elite schools to kids who simply did not deserve it. Take the case of the daughter of TV actress Lori Laughlin, a “social media influencer” named Olivia Jade Giannulli, who has close to two million YouTube subscribers and over a million Instagram followers. Her parents were described in the investigation as having paid multiple bribes amounting to $500,000 in order to have Olivia and her sister, Isabella, listed as recruits for the university’s crew team. Neither of them participated in crew, or probably knew what it was (it’s rowing, apparently). In August, she posted a video saying: “I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

How to explain this? I’ll leave it to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote this: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me … They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

I just would have said rich people are dicks.

Meanwhile, on the home front, the SNC-Lavalin affair showed signs of losing steam. The Liberals on the justice committee voted not to recall Jody Wilson-Raybauld for further testimony, to the cries of “shame” and “cover-up” from opposition MPs. With the crash of the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crash (which killed 18 Canadians) in Ethiopia, and the subsequent grounding of the problem-plagued planes this week – and then the New Zealand killings – there has been little room for the SNC-Lavalin affair. Parliament returns on Monday, so the opposition parties will do what they can to fan the fading embers of the “scandal”. But on Tuesday, the Liberals release their budget, which will eat up all the available media space. With JWR’s announcement that she will run again as a Liberal in the next election, the whole issue seems on the verge of fading away – but the damage has been done.

And even closer to home, the NDP government issues its speech from the throne on Monday. There is lots of speculation that the election will be called almost immediately after, but only Rachael Notley knows when she will pull the plug. My guess is that it will be called this week, and I base that on the fact that the NDP did not hold the traditional news conference outlining its bills for the upcoming session, because there won’t be a session. By this time next week, we could be in full election mode. Whenever it is called, it will be the ugliest, nastiest, meanest in Alberta history. Notley is already zeroing in on Jason Kenney as being unfit to lead the province. Today, the CBC revealed documents that showed the Kenney campaign was in league with a “kamakazi” candidate Jeff Callaway, who was running against Brian Jean for the leadership of the new UCP. Kenney’s campaign, the story reveals, basically ran the Callaway campaign, which was aimed at undermining Jean. The RCMP is looking into some of Kenney’s questionable tactics, and Notley will be making hay with this for the entire campaign. Frankly, I don’t care that much how a party runs a leadership campaign, but Kenney’s tactics tells you a lot about the man.

And finally, I just have to include this correction from the New York Times. Say what you like about the Times, you have to admire their dedication to getting things right, no matter how trivial the matter: “An article on Thursday about a restructuring of the World Health Organization misstated the number of trips taken to the Democratic Republic of Congo by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization. He was preparing to make his fourth trip, not his third.”

RIP

Harry Howell, 86, Hall of Fame NHL defenceman with the New York Rangers … Dick Dale, 81, the father of ‘surf guitar’, the man behind the Pulp Fiction theme music.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 10: Do you SNC what I SNC?

It was another week of developments, and non-developments, in the ‘Lavscam’ scandal/affair.

Where to begin? Let’s start with Jane Philpott. Remember her? She was the minister of something who resigned from office in solidarity with Jody Wilson-Raybould (again, heretofore to be referred to as JWR). Was this the start of a mass exodus from the Trudeau cabinet? Was there a cabinet revolt brewing? Turns out, the exodus ended with Philpott; nobody else left, and others lined up to pledge their support for Justin Trudeau.

Philpott’s timing was not good. Her bombshell announcement (everything’s a bombshell these days) was entirely overwhelmed by the next day’s testimony of Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s right-hand man and best buddy.

Butts made a compelling witness. Essentially, if I can distill four hours of testimony into one line from Cool Hand Luke, it would be this: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Butts made the case that there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the “pressure” put on JWR about the SNC case. He said he and the PM were surprised to hear that JWR was upset; in their view, they were just making sure that JWR knew all the options, and the consequences of whatever option she took. And gosh, they didn’t know she was upset.

So what do we know about this whole grubby affair? Here’s my take, for what’s it’s worth.

SNC-Lavalin is a powerful, important, Quebec-based international giant. Trudeau is a Quebec MP, whose hope for winning the next election rests largely in Quebec. It should not be a surprise that Trudeau would be inclined to help the company, just as Rachael Notley is trying desperately to get pipelines built even though, in her heart of hearts, she probably hates the oil industry. SNC put the case to the Trudeau government that being found guilty of bribery would endanger “9,000 jobs” but further research shows that was probably bogus; even though the Canadian arm of SNC would be barred from government work, international SNC arms could apply. As well, SNC is so big, that losing some Canadian government business would hardly bring the company to its knees. SNC, I think, snookered the Prime Minister’s Office with the 9,000 jobs claim. And the threat to move the company out of Montreal has also been proven to be false. Trudeau and Butts should have known all of this, but they didn’t.

The PMO did apply pressure to JWR to take the Deferred Prosecution Agreement route. JWR, who has been described as being stubborn by some sources, said no. The PMO’s opinion was that no doesn’t mean no until the case actually goes to trial, so they pressed the matter. Did they do anything illegal? JWR herself said no, they did not. So that should put to rest the ridiculous request from some quarters that the RCMP should be called in.

As for the cabinet shuffle, which looked like a demotion for JWR because she wouldn’t do the PMO’s bidding, Butts presented a reasonable case that it was just a necessary shuffle. Sorry, don’t buy it. I think JWR was simply a pain in the ass, and Trudeau used the resignation of Scott Brison as an excuse to shuffle out a troublesome minister.

How will this end? I think, in typical Canadian fashion, it will peter out, particularly if the Liberals on the justice committee continue to deny any further testimony from JWR. Nobody will resign, despite the learned advice from the media experts. The RCMP will not be called in to investigate, since JWR herself said nothing illegal happened. The story will slowly fade away, but it will leave a scar on the Trudeau image that will never fade. Trudeau got into a very public spat with the one minister he could not afford to piss off – a woman, who is also aboriginal. Just like that, fairly or unfairly, his credentials as a feminist and a champion of reconciliation were severely, if not permanently, damaged. Losing a second female minister did even more damage. And this past weekend, a Liberal MP – also a female, also a ‘person of colour’ – told the Globe and Mail that Trudeau was furious at her when she told him she was not going to run again.

The media is piling on. They’ve finally got a chance to dent Trudeau’s progressive armour, and they’re going at it with a vengence. (Trudeau held a press conference on Thursday, and when he didn’t say sorry, there was much feigned outrage.) Trudeau will survive this debacle, in part because Canadians aren’t prepared to have Prime Minister Howdy Doody.

Elsewhere in the world of real corruption, lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort learned on Thursday that he will serve almost four years in prison – far short of what had been expected and recommended – for financial fraud convictions obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller. It seems everyone was expecting Manafort to go to jail for the rest of his life, but in a country where a Texas woman got FIVE YEARS for voting illegally one time, Manafort’s four years seems awfully soft. He’s facing more jail time for another charge, so he’ll be behind bars, no longer a threat to society, for a good long time. Unless, of course, a friend gives him a pardon. That friend is Donald Trump, who admires the fact that Manafort didn’t turn rat on him like Michael Cohen.

RIP

Not the real Luke Perry.This is how the American Association for Retired People marked Perry’s 50th birthday, with a screen grab from The Simpsons.

Luke Perry, 52, one-time teen heart-throb from the TV series Beverly Hills 90210, and later Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the new Neflix series Riverdale. Perry suffered a stroke and was taken off life support shortly after. My only knowledge of Perry (all of his shows were age inappropriate for me) was his guest appearance on The Simpsons, as Krusty the Klown’s half-brother … King Kong Bundy, 61, an absolutely colossal wrestler from the WWE … Ted Lindsay, 93, legendary NHLer who was known as “Terrible Ted”.  Lindsay scored more than 800 points in his Hockey Hall of Fame career, and won the Stanley Cup four times. He helped to organize the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). In 2017, Lindsay was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history … Jan-Michael Vincent, 74, star of Airwolf and The Winds of War.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 9: Justin Trudeau’s very bad, awful week

If only he weren’t so sanctimonious. If only he hadn’t presented himself as a paragon of virtue in a corrupt, fetid political swamp, then maybe we’d cut him some slack.

I’m speaking of Justin Trudeau, inclusive, feminist, “sunny ways” prime minister who finds himself embroiled in a scandal that threatens his leadership.

As you may have heard – and if you haven’t, where have you been? – former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (heretofore to be referred to as JWR) testified to a House of Commons committee on Wednesday that members of Trudeau’s staff and senior officials used “political interference” and “veiled threats” in a campaign to get her to drop a criminal case against a major corporation. And not just any major corporation – a major Quebec corporation, SNC-Lavelin.

She described 10 meetings, 10 conversations and a series of emails about the criminal case with senior government officials, including Trudeau’s chief of staff, Gerald Butts, and the supposedly impartial clerk of the privy council (the top civil servant in the land), Michael Wernick, all urging her to come up with a “solution” to the SNC-Lavalin case. (SNC is a huge engineering, procurement, and construction services firm that has been charged with using bribes to secure contracts in Libya).

“I was quite taken aback,” JWR recalled, saying that she then asked Trudeau if he was trying to interfere with a criminal case. “The prime minister said: ‘No, No, No. We just need to find a solution,’” she said.

Others told her that if SNC was convicted of corruption (which would bar it from government work for 10 years), the company would move out of Montreal to London. Now, where would they have gotten that idea? Maybe from SNC-Lavalin’s multiple lobbying meetings with the government?

Speaking to reporters in Wednesday night, Trudeau dismissed his former minister’s testimony. “I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of these events,” he said, adding that he is waiting for the an investigation by the Parliamentary ethics commissioner “to clear the air on this matter.”

Trudeau has been, as usual, very cautious with his word usage. During his statement on Wednesday, Trudeau used his favourite speaking style, sounding like he’s explaining to a naughty five-year-old why he can’t have ice cream for dinner. His sentences. End after. Two words.

Trudeau emphasized that the decision about how to handle the case rested with “Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jody Wilson-Raybould alone” and insisted that it was appropriate to consider the consequences of a criminal conviction for the company, which the government says would threaten 9,000 jobs.

If only Trudeau had been fighting half as hard for pipelines as he had for SNC-Lavalin, he might be forgiven.

The reaction

I thought the demand from Conservative leader Howdy Doody for Trudeau to resign was over the top. But that was just the beginning. The news media, which has been waiting for a chance to take St. Justin down a peg or two or three, went along with it.

Paul Wells in Macleans wrote: “What Jody Wilson-Raybould described today is a sickeningly smug protection racket and it should make us all question what we’re willing to tolerate.” The National Post’s hyperbolic crime groupie, Christie Blatchford, said the Trudeau government looked like a corrupt, Third World banana republic. The National Post and the Globe and Mail called for the government to resign and/or call an election. The Globe’s Margaret Wente went so far as to say that she is ashamed of her country (feel free to pack up and leave, Margaret). It’s also important to note that, despite the cries from some sectors to begin an RCMP investigation (the cover of the Edmonton Sun cried “CALL IN THE MOUNTIES!” with a photo of the Musical Ride), JWR herself has said there was nothing illegal done.

In Quebec, the story is a little different, of course. Mario Dumont, a TV personality and former leader of provincial party Action démocratique du Québec, took note Thursday morning of how Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was dominating English-language media. “Excuse me, I will re-ask the same question as last week, and the week before,” he said in French. “Our friends at the Globe and Mail and the National Post — would they be as severe and intransigent if we were talking about a firm whose headquarters was in Toronto?” Touche.

With all the hyperbole, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Trudeau and company wanted JWR to drop the charges against SNC-Lavalin. They did not. Trudeau was “suggesting” that JWR and the director of public prosecutions use a method called a deferred prosecution agreement, a DPA. Here’s an excellent Globe and Mail article about what a DPA is. If you don’t want to read it, basically it says that DPAs are used all around the world to punish major corporations and to keep them in line. The “deferred” part refers to the fact that prosecution can still proceed if the company doesn’t clean up its act.

So, may I dare suggest (and I do dare) that the decision to go to a criminal trial rather than a DPA was the wrong decision? But could it be that JWR was wrong? Maybe the smart thing to do was go with the DPA? And is it really so wrong, or unexpected, that Trudeau would go to bat for a major corporation in his home province? Just askin’.

Hey, I’m not defending Trudeau. I’m as sick of this guy’s act as anyone, and there is no doubt that his demotion of JWR was in retaliation for her refusing to budge on the SNC file, and that he and his minions went way over the line in trying to influence JWE. And there is no doubt that political considerations came into play here – but should anyone be surprised by that? A politician making decisions based on their personal political gain is as old as politics itself. Does this whole affair make Canada seem like a Third World banana republic? No, it makes Canada look like any other country, where big corporations get preferential consideration from government. Hardly a surprise.

Any way you look at it, JWR’s testimony has permanently sullied Trudeau’s choirboy reputation. It seems that, when it comes down to crass political decisions, Mr. Sunny Ways is still just a politician.

RIPA

Andre Previn 89, German-born American composer (GigiElmer GantryMy Fair Lady), four-time Oscar winner (1959196019641965). Here’s his New York Times obit … Katherine Helmond, 89, the grandmother (I think; I never watched the show) from the sitcom Who’s The Boss.

Stuff Happens, IV: The Reckoning, week 8: It’s Oscar Sunday … zzzzz

Well, it’s Academy Awards Sunday. Remember when that used to be a big deal?

As a longtime movie fan and pop culture junkie, I’ve always watched the Oscars with varying degrees of interest. This year, it’s off the charts – in the wrong direction. Interest for me is near zero. Just like everything else in the Excited States of America, the Oscars have become hopelessly politicized. The entertainment value of the films and the performances have taken a back seat to their cultural significance, or at least the significance as decreed by the deep thinkers and the trolls that inhabit the internet.

The Oscars have become so toxic, such a cultural minefield, that nobody wants to (or is allowed to) host the show. Kevin Hart, a hugely successful stand up comic whose popularity is baffling to me, was announced as the host last month until some long ago jokes he made about how he would feel if his son was gay came back to haunt him. He apologized (naturally) and withdrew as host. The academy promptly gave up looking for a host, knowing that every possible host under the age of 40 would somehow be ruled ineligible due to some past indiscretion. (Martin Short and/or Steve Martin would be ideal, but old very white men are not in fashion today.)

The nine nominated movies have all been dissected for their political implications, and many have been found wanting. It’s almost as if the actual entertainment value of the film is now secondary to its alleged cultural implications.

I’ve hardly seen any of the nominated films, but the three that I have seen have not impressed. The odd-on favourite seems to be Roma, a black-and-white film from Mexico, made for Netflix. Sorry to sound pedestrian, but it’s so boring, only a critic would love it. Which means it will win. Black Panther is a superhero movie, which under normal circumstances would preclude it from nomination. But it’s the first superhero film to feature a black superhero, so suddenly it’s significant. It’s at best passable entertainment. I just saw Bohemian Rhapsody, and it is such a formulaic biopic I have no idea why it was nominated. I haven’t seen any of the other films, and until the nominations were announced, I didn’t even know there was movie called The Favorite, which clearly is not.

Rami Malek … or is it Freddie Mercury? Nah, it’s Rami Malek.

As for the acting nominations, Rami Malek seems to be the favourite for his depiction of Freddie Mercury. He may win for suffering through an entire movie with outsized dental appliances. Odds seem to favour Glenn Close as best actress for some movie called The Wife (which I doubt even Glenn Close has seen). Poor Glenn has been nominated 894 times and never won, so this could be her year. The supporting actors will either go to actors in lead roles that are in the supporting category, or to old-timers who have never been awarded for their work.

It really does seem to be a wide open race for almost every nomination this year. I just wish I cared even a bit.

Is Canada ripe for assassination? Canada’s top civil servant thinks so.

Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick told the House of Commons justice committee Thursday he is deeply concerned about Canada’s politics and where things seem to be headed.

“I worry about the rising tide of incitements to violence when people use terms like ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ in open discourse. Those are the words that lead to assassination,” Wernick told MPs. “I’m worried that somebody’s going to be shot in this country this year during the political campaign.”

Yikes! I can see that problem in the U.S. of A., but here? Does Wernick know something the rest of us don’t? I’m really not sure what to make of this. The political rhetoric in this country, as in every country these days, is set on high at all times. But assassination?

I think (hope?) he’s over-the-top in his concerns, but I do like one other comment he made: “I worry about the trolling from the vomitorium of social media entering the open media arena.” Vomitorium … what a perfect description of social media.

I’ll say this for the National Hockey League. It’s consistent. As in, consistently the worst run major professional sports league.

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers and its superstar Connor McDavid are going insane over a two-game suspension given to McDavid for a hit to the head to a New York Islander. The hit was clearly accidental and barely a glancing blow (he only got a two-minute penalty), but the NHL decided that this borderline infraction was enough to suspend its best player for two games. What other league would suspend its best player – a player with an unblemished record, a player who has never complained about the shabby treatment he receives from inferior players, a guy who is a credit to the game? Meanwhile, the league allows rats to run wild with cheap shots that get the same two-game penalty handed out to McDavid.

RIP

Peter Tork in his Monkee days.

Peter Tork, 77, the goofiest member of The Monkees, the made-for-TV band from the 1960s. The Monkees may have been the ‘pre-fab four’ but they produced a number of quality pop hits … Stanley Donen, 94, who directed Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, Gene Kelly singing in the rain and a host of other moments from some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals … Home Outfitters, the housewares arm of the Hudson’s Bay Company, is closing all 37 of its stores … Payless Shoes is closing all 248 of its Canadian stores, part of the complete shutdown of its operations which totals 2,500 stores.

Stuff Happens IV: The reckoning, week 7: Tru-d’oh!

I think it’s safe to say that the second week of February, 2019, was the worst week of Justin Trudeau’s leadership. And with the House of Commons returning to action this week, it may become only the second-worst week of the Trudeau era.

The Judy Wilson-Raybould affair or scandal (some members of the media have taken to calling it a scandal, because that sounds soooo cool) intensified this past week. Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted from Justice Minister to Veterans’ Affairs minister under peculiar circumstances (see last week’s blog if you want to refresh your memory) quit the Trudeau cabinet entirely this week. In her letter of resignation, she thanked all sorts of people – with one notable exception. (See: Trudeau, Justin.) Wilson-Raybould is remaining silent as a sphynx about her cabinet demotion, and her subsequent resignation. Trudeau, however, has plenty to say, none of it good. First, he questioned why Wilson-Raybould didn’t talk to him if she had problems. Then he said Wilson-Raybould talked to him about the SNC-Lavelin case. And then he said she was shuffled out of the justice ministry because his Treasury Board secretary Scott Brison resigned, and he had to shuffle the deck. If Brison hadn’t resigned, he said, Wilson-Raybould will still be justice minister. Of all of the Trudeau excuses, this is clearly the most bogus; Trudeau could have taken any one of his 184 MPs and put him (or more likely her) into the Treasury Board position, or veterans affairs. The excuse, offered only after a week of solid criticism, is clearly fraudulent.

Worse, Trudeau’s ‘feminist” credentials have taken a beating. And some aboriginal leaders say he has set back his reconciliation efforts, another of Trudeau’s high-profile campaigns. The media smells blood, and opposition is emboldened, and the anti-Trudeau forces are smirking. Trudeau is doing everything in his power to keep a lid on this scandal/affair, but the pot is boiling furiously and the lid won’t stay on. I suspect by the time the election rolls around in October, this affair/scandal may be forgotten, but the damage to Brand Trudeau may be long lasting.

The Alberta Party has been making some noise of late. But this past week, the party made the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Leader Stephen Mandel, who has energized the centrist party, was ruled ineligible to run for five years because he was late in submitting some financial disclosure forms. The punishment, which seems wildly disproportionate to the crime, was part of a package of changes to the electoral process instituted by the NDP government. Rules are rules, I guess. But Mandel said his chief financial officer was ill and missed the deadline, and besides, the document detailed exactly zero dollars in contributions. So, he got a five-year ban for missing paperwork that amounted to nothing. That’s nuts. Mandel is fighting this in court, and I hope he wins. If he doesn’t, the Alberta Party will have to go into the spring election with its leader sidelined due to late paperwork.

Political correctness, official over-reaction, and the evils of social media met head on in Fort McMurray this week. The Fort McMurray Midget A Junior Oil Barons cancelled the remainder of the team’s season to protect their kids from death threats – yes, death threats – made after a video was released on social media that showed them performing a powwow dance in their dressing room. The kids were dancing to Electric Pow Wow Drum by Indigenous electronic music group A Tribe Called Red. Within three hours of the video being posted, the idiots who run the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association called the video “sad and gravely unfortunate”, that it was “wrong and will not be tolerated,” and “We are sick to know how many people this hurts and offends and for that we sincerely apologize on their behalf.” 

The three players shown dancing were apologized online, but that wasn’t enough. Players have been threatened, and the RCMP said they would escort the team to and from its remaining games.

“We couldn’t guarantee the safety [from] people in the stands or the players on the ice from the other team,” parent Shane Kearney told the Globe and Mail. “Some of the threats made, it absolutely baffles you about mankind. To say, ‘We hope that the next semi that collides with a bus is your guys’ team’ [a reference to the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy] – who in their right mind says that to 15-, 16-, 17-year olds? Where in society is that acceptable?”

The parents, in their own news release, said the association’s lack of investigation, and overreaction, had “contributed to team members receiving death threats, threats of harm, and humiliating and degrading comments about them on social media.” The FMMHA statement has been removed from its website and its other social-media links, and nobody from FMMHA is talking.

And one final twist to this pathetic story … the kids in the video? Aboriginal and Metis. Oh, and the team has been fined for not finishing the season.

How much did you pay in taxes last year? Chances are, you paid more than a couple of small companies you may have heard of – Netflix and Amazon.

According to the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Amazon, which made a profit of $11.2 billion last year, paid not one cent in U.S. federal tax. In fact, it even got a rebate of $129 million, making its tax rate -1%. And, thanks to Donald Trump’s tax reforms, Netflix, which made a profit of $845 million in 2018, paid exactly zero dollars in U.S. taxes. Netflix also received a $22 million rebate from the Internal Revenue Service.

RIP

Lyndon LaRouche, 96, a political cult figure, who ran for president eight times … Joe Schlesinger, 90, one of the CBC’s most intelligent and articulate reporters back when the CBC had articulate and intelligent reporters … Gene Littler, 88, American Hall of Fame golfer, winner of the U.S. Open … Dick Churchill, 99, last survivor of the ‘Great Escape’ of WWII … Michael Wilson, 81, former Minister of Finance and Ambassador to the United States.

Stuff Happens IV, The Reckoning, week 6. The Trouble with Trudeau

This was not a good week for Justin Trudeau. The coming weeks may not get any better.

The Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould had resisted pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a directive to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to shelve court proceedings against SNC-Lavalin in favour of a negotiated settlement without trial. (SNC has been charged with bribery to secure contracts in Libya, in violation of Canadian law.) SNC-Lavalin is a giant Quebec engineering firm, employers of thousands, and a favourite of Liberal governments. Trudeau has denied the allegations, sort of. He said he did not “direct” Wilson-Raybould to shelve the case, but he didn’t say he never said a word about it to her. Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted to Veterans Affairs in a surprise cabinet shuffle last month, has refused comment, making the entirely bogus claim that “solicitor-client privilege” forbids her from discussing the case. All she has to do is say, no, the prime minister’s office did not pressure me to drop the charges, and the whole thing is over. But she hasn’t.

If the Globe story is accurate – and Trudeau is having a very hard time denying it – this is big trouble for Trudeau. As the top law enforcement official in the land, the attorney-general is supposed to be above petty politics. This whole thing stinks of giant corporations calling their friends in government to get sweetheart deals. Trudeau’s feeble denial/non-denial, Wilson-Raybould’s silence, and the fact that Wilson-Raybould (the country’s first Aboriginal justice minister) was demoted to Veterans’ Affairs last month looks very bad. This is not going to go away anytime soon, and the repercussions could be long lasting.

The hammer came down on two Canadian mass killers, and in a weird coincidence, on the same day. But, with somewhat different outcomes.

Bruce McArthur, who confessed to killing eight men, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur, 67, to a mandatory life sentence but with concurrent, not consecutive, periods of parole ineligibility of 25 years. That means he can apply for parole in 25 years – when he will be 91 years old. Even if he survives that long, his chance of parole for killing eight people would be, I would hope, nil.

Meanwhile, in Quebec City, Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to killing six men at a Quebec City mosque two years ago, also got life in prison, but will be allowed to ask for parole in 40 years, at the age of 67. The Crown asked for consecutive sentences for the killings, which would have kept Bissonnette in jail for 150 years before asking for parole. Superior Court Justice François Huot (who read his 200-plus page decision over nearly six hours) decided the consecutive option – which means serving time for each murder one after the other – was unconstitutional, and let Bissonnette serve 40 years until he could ask for parole. This one will almost certainly be appealed.

There is much outrage, as expected. Everyone wants to make sure these two monsters never walk through the prison gates as free men. And realistically, they never will. Even if McArthur lives to 91, he will most certainly not get parole. Ditto Bissonnette, although he has a slightly better chance. In all the outrage, it is important to remember that they received life sentences – they will only be eligible to apply for parole in 25 or 40 years. We’ll never see or hear from them again, and odds are they will die in prison.

Why politicians should stay away from Twitter, part XVIII. Last week, I suggested that politicians stay away from Twitter, because no good comes from it. This week, yet another example.

A Liberal MP, Adam Vaughan, took a shot at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plan to cut all-day kindergarten. Vaughan suggested that Ford will now go after young offenders, university students, etc., calling it a game of “whack-a-mole”. If he stopped there, no harm done. But then he added: “Let’s just whack him.”

Of course, he’s referring to the whack-a-mole game, but ‘whacking’ someone is Mafia-speak for killing. Naturally, the right-wing media hopped on board, screaming that he was advocating assassination. Vaughan apologized, adding it is “easier to tell a joke on Twitter than explain one”. Ford’s office, to its credit, just shrugged it off.

This will be a worrisome week for Edmonton Eskimo fans. CFL free agency opens on Tuesday, and Eskimo QB Mike Reilly is the top prizes up for grabs (Calgary QB Bo Levi-Mitchell is also a free agent, as are Travis Lulay and Jonathon Jennings in B.C. and Zach Collaros in Saskatchewan.) If the Eskimos lose Reilly (and there are reports from B.C. that he is going to sign with the Lions) it will be a long 2019 season for the Green and Gold. In 2018, Reilly took every meaningful snap of every game. He is easily the fans’ favourite, the face of the franchise, and Edmonton’s second favourite athlete (some kid on the Oilers is quite popular, I hear). Eskimo GM Brock Sunderland has made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to keep Reilly, saying: “I have literally told their camp: Name your price.” I hope it works. I can’t imagine the Eskimos without Reilly. That’s too scary a thought to contemplate.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the richest man in the world. The National Enquirer is a scuzzy, downmarket supermarket tabloid read and enjoyed by millions of idiots.

This week, Bezos has made public the Enquirer’s threat to publish humiliating personal photos depicting him and his alleged girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, unless Bezos’ newspaper, the Washington Post, backs off on its reporting of alleged ties between the unfortunately named David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, and Saudi Arabia. The Enquirer, incredibly, put the threats in an email!

This is a gross violation of his right to privacy, and a blackmail threat at the same time. There is talk that if Bezos sues, he could ruin the Enquirer, just the way Hulk Hogan put Gawker out of business for distributing a sex tape of him online. I’m pulling for Bezos. The Enquirer has been publishing outrageous, false stories for decades, and if this rag disappeared from the check out aisle, the world would be a better place.

Regardless of how this turns out, the story gave the New York Post the opportunity to run the most hilarious double-entendre headline of all time: “Bezos Exposes Pecker”.

RIP

Julie Adams in poster form.
Albert Finney

Albert Finney, 82, British actor who was a five-time Oscar nominee, the first being the title role in Tom Jones in 1963. His last role was in the James Bond film Skyfall in 2012. He declined the knighthood often bestowed on British actors, says “I think the Sir thing slightly perpetuates one of our diseases in England, which is snobbery.” … Frank Robinson, 83, the first black general manager in Major League Baseball … Paul Dewar, 56, well-respected Canadian MP … Andre Boudrias, 75, former NHLer with Vancouver, Montreal and Minnesota, and Quebec in the WHA … Julie Adams, 92, best known as the object of the creature’s affections in The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954.