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.

A few kinds words about a Progressive Conservative. Seriously.

This is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write. But I feel compelled to say a few kind words about — shudder — a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Oh, this is gonna hurt.

Dave Hancock has announced his retirement from politics. At 59, and after 17 years in elected office and pretty much every position in cabinet from minister to premier, it must have been a difficult decision. He would almost certainly have won another term, regardless of how the next election goes for the PCs, and have enjoyed a very well paid semi-retirement as a backbencher and respected party elder. But, as he quoted a former cabinet minister, it’s better to leave the stage while they’re still applauding. In keeping with that theme, I’ll give him a round of applause.

I served in the legislature while Hancock sat on the other side, always in the front row.  Hancock was a formidable foe, and in a good way. A lot of ministers during the Ralph Klein/Ed Stelmach governments answered even the most honest questions with a snarling insult. Hancock wasn’t that kind of guy. Ask him an honest question, and he would give you an honest answer. But he was no pushover. If he thought a question was stupid (and, believe it or not, that happened) or was unnecessarily combative, he could dish it out with the best of them. When he was angry, it was (apparently) genuine anger, unlike the feigned outrage that cabinet ministers would so often summon. While many cabinet ministers clearly dreaded question period, I always got the impression that Hancock relished it. He even had a sense of humour, the rarest of commodities in government.

Perhaps most importantly, he was competent. You’d like to think that anyone in a provincial cabinet would be competent, but — prepare yourselves for a shock! — many of them were not. Honest! There was no shortage of complete and outright boobs in the Klein/Stelmach governments, second-raters who rose up the ranks thanks to their ability to kiss the right asses. Hancock was not one of them.

Former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey was known as ‘The Happy Warrior’ for his upbeat attitude and his obvious relish for politics. I think you could say the same thing about Hancock, a happy warrior for the cause. Oh sure, it was the wrong cause, but he was just the kind of guy we need in politics.

Note to Alberta Liberals: find a new bone to chew on.

I have a dog, Bam Bam (no, we did not name him) who loves to gnaw on bones. The bone begins with a little meat on it (not much, really, once I get through with it), and as the dog gnaws away at it, it becomes progressively smaller and smoother. After a day or so of this treatment, the bone is bare and not very interesting, except to my dog. Even my OTHER dog, Bailey, has lost interest in it, except when he decides it would be fun to hide it from Bam Bam, which is hilarious.

The Alberta Liberals, in their role of Official Opposition, are a lot like my dog Bam Bam. The Liberals get a bone with some meat on it, and just keep gnawing away on it until there’s nothing left of it. Basically — and this was my experience as an MLA — they just don’t know when to quit.

This is exactly what we’re seeing in the Legislature right now, for those of you who pay any attention to what is happening under the dome. The Liberals have been gnawing on the issue of how much money the PC party gives in supplementary pay to the premier. The PCs, who are flush with cash, give their leader extra pay on top of the $200,000 or so the government pays the premier (the highest paid in the land, we are told). The Liberals seem to think there is something nefarious in all of this, and have asked question after question in the past week. There have also been much better questions about an organization called True Blue, the legal vehicle for fundraising for the Tories, that is run by well-connected lawyer who gets incredibly lucrative contracts from the government. The uptake from the media — which, ultimately, is the point of modern question period — has been at best minimal.

I’m sure the Liberals are frustrated by the lack of coverage and attendant outrage over their questions. But I know why the questions are getting so little traction — NOBODY CARES!

Frankly, I don’t care if the PC party gives the premier top up money. How does this impact me in any way? The PC party is free to do whatever they like with the money they’ve raised. If they want to give it to the premier, fine. I don’t care, and I haven’t read any reason why I should care. If there is a reason why this is worthy of days of questions from the official opposition — which the government has easily batted away, since it’s not really public business — I haven’t seen it.  Perhaps there is something here, but the Liberals have done a bad job of relating whatever it is.

As for the True Blue story, yes, that stinks. But it’s not surprising. This government — hell, any government — repays its friends. That’s the Alberta way, or at least the PC way. And while it is a legitimate question, asking it any more than once is a waste of a precious Question Period space.

So, if I may, a little advice to my friends in the official opposition. Bury this bone, and forget about it. The public already has. I hope when the Legislature returns, the Liberals have found a new bone to chew on, preferably something with some meat on it.

Liberals: new politics, or desperation?

Well, it was an interesting weekend in Alberta politics. The Alberta Party held a leadership convention, and the Alberta Liberals held a policy convention. Of the two, I’d venture that the Alberta Party came out ahead, in that they actually have a leader for their party. So, maybe they’re a little short on policy, but really, does anyone care about policy?

I’ll answer that: no.

Meanwhile, my friends in the good ol’ ALP were busy “reimagining” themselves down in soggy Calgary. The Alberta Liberals are, as always, looking for ways to boost interest in their party. This has always been difficult, because it has little to offer compared to the other parties.

Joining the PCs means jumping on the bandwagon of a winning team, not unlike the thousands of new “fans” of the Vancouver Canucks. And if you join the PCs, you could brush shoulders with Ted Morton — now THAT’s worth the five bucks. Joining the NDP gives you the right to tell everyone else how to run the province, without ever having to worry about actually doing anything about it. Sanctimony is free with every membership. Joining the Wildrose gets you on the ground floor of the Cranky Old Man movement that might sweep the province. And joining the Alberta Party is cool because it still has that new party smell.

Joining the Liberals gives you a membership in an elite organization with a nearly unblemished record of abject failure. But it also marks you as a rebel, someone who isn’t afraid to use the “L” word in public. I always thought that was one of the benefits of being a Liberal, but apparently not. The young bucks in charge of the ALP these days (and it’s good news that there are young bucks in the party) have convinced the rest of the membership that actual paid membership in the ALP is so tainted that nobody wants to actually buy a membership.

The solution, as approved by the membership — give it away.

That’s right, folks. The party has opened up voting in its current leadership race, and even constituency nominations, to anyone. You don’t have to pay your five bucks; all they want is your interest, however fleeting, and your email and home addresses. As party president Erick Ambtman put is: “You’re not saying you want to marry us, but you’re saying you’re willing to date. It’s allowing people to engage with us without having to say we’re going to go all the way.”

There is no truth to the rumour that the new slogan for the Alberta Liberals will be: “We’re easy.”

Personally, I’m worried about abuse of the system. It wouldn’t take may mischievous PCs or NDPs to band together to support terrible candidates, or plant a candidate to run against a major opponent like Hugh MacDonald or Laurie Blakeman. And don’t think for a moment that they wouldn’t try to do something underhanded like that.

I am also baffled as to why the always cash-strapped party would go to this system during a leadership vote, which brings in members and money. Now, they’ll bring in members… but no money.

I’m sure all of this was discussed at length (Liberals do love to debate). The young turks say the party system in Canada is dying … except for the federal PCs, the provincial PCs, the Wildrose Alliance, etc. The move to an open membership is either a bold, visionary move, or a sign of desperation. We shall see…

Passion and posturing in the Legislature.

I’ll say this for Ed Stelmach — the guy has all the political instincts of a squirrel.

Wednesday’s QP was an example of Stelmach at his worst.

Liberal leader David Swann was asking some very pointed questions about long term care.

“The Premier likes to talk about not splitting up senior couples when they need long-term care, but the much bigger problem we’re hearing about is three people squeezed like sardines into rooms built for two,” Swann stated. “We’re not talking about the remand centre here; we’re talking about our public health system. To the Premier. It’s become common practice in Alberta Hospitals today to squeeze three patients into rooms built for two. Is the Premier aware of this? How does he justify it?”

Anyone with an ounce of political savvy would have expressed regret at the situation, vowed to repair the system, blah blah blah. But not our Eddie.

Mr. Speaker,” Stelmach stammered, “a bit of an irony here because when we were attempting originally to move patients from Alberta Hospital, from multiple patients in one room to a facility that gave individuals their private bedrooms, more green space, better accommodations, that party opposed it. Now they’re saying that, well, that’s not the right thing to do.”

Well, that got Edmonton-Riverview Liberal MLA Kevin Taft, former leader of the party, genuinely livid.  Here’s what was said right after Stelmach’s answer:

Dr. Taft: Oh, come on, Ed.

Mr. Stelmach: Well, they’ll have to decide where they stand on this particular issue.

Dr. Taft: You know perfectly well that in acute-care rooms people are squeezed in three to a two-person room.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker . . .

Dr. Taft: Don’t evade these life-and-death issues so badly.

The Speaker: Hon. leader, would you just tap the hon. Member for Edmonton-Riverview on the shoulder? You have the floor.

Dr. Taft: It’s offensive. This Premier is offensive.

The Speaker: The hon. leader has the floor.

Dr. Taft: He’s offensive to the people of Alberta.

The Speaker: The hon. leader has the floor. Edmonton-Riverview, if you want to take over, you go and fight that out behind these doors, but the hon. Leader of the Official Opposition has the floor.

This exchange, along with Pope Kenneth The Infallible’s snippy little cheap shot, really riled up Swann.

The Premier continues to dismiss these issues and talk around the issue rather than addressing the question. Albertans are not fooled. This Energy minister is the cause of the problems in the health care system today. Unbelievable. His arrogance and incompetence created such suffering in this province, and he sits over there and laughs. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why don’t you staff the beds that are needed so that we stop this squeezing of three patients into two-bed rooms?”

The energy minister is, of course, Ron Liepert, Stelmach’s disastrous previous choice for health minister. I couldn’t see Liepert, but I can well imagine him snickering away at the exchange. That’s the kind of guy he is.

You don’t often see real passion in the dog-and-pony show that is the legislature, but this was the genuine article.

Less genuine were questions from a couple of Edmonton MLAs, who were apparently trying to show that they can be tough on the government, too. Last week, I pointed out how some rural MLAs weren’t afraid to ask tough questions. Edmonton-Decore’s Janice Sarich, and Edmonton-McClung’s David Xiao tried to play tough on Wednesday, with embarrassing results.

In questioning  Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, Sarich was apparently trying to say that there was too much social housing in Edmonton. I guess she was. Read it yourself and try to figure it out:

“Several communities in Edmonton have repeatedly raised concerns over housing projects in their communities and have come to the realization that these concerns, quite frankly, are not making a lot of progress. My questions are for the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. What will the minister do to slow the growth of government-funded housing projects in Edmonton communities?”

Sarich was actually asking the housing minister to build LESS government-funded housing in Edmonton. Fewer homes for those who are struggling. Fewer homes for the disadvantaged. Incredible.

She followed that up with this garbled question: “Given that it’s not very appropriate to ignore community concerns, the community would like to know: why won’t this minister recognize that there seems to be a growing disconnect between the concerns of the community and the wishes of the residents and the will of government to have a concentration of low income housing in Edmonton?”

Sarich, I suppose, was trying to make a point that there is a lot of social housing in Edmonton, maybe more than there should be. If that was the case, she should have backed it up with numbers and some reasons why this is a bad thing. She botched her questions badly.

Worse, however, was the shamelessly self-serving and disingenuous series of questions from Xiao.

Xiao, the wealthy international man of mystery, jumped to the defence of a core constituency of his middle-to-upper middle class constituency — panhandlers.

Speaking in a way that indicates Xiao may have no mother tongue, Xiao asked the housing minister this baffling question:

“The Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs was very outspoken about the panhandling issue this past spring and promised action by this fall. Since then, the Calgary Homeless Foundation released a report saying that panhandling, according to the research, is not an issue. My questions are to the minister. How long has this minister been out of step with one of the biggest stakeholders, and why does he pick on such a disadvantaged section of society?”

WTF?

Denis responded by “that report does not indicate that panhandling is not an issue. It indicates that instances of it have gone down.“

Xiao, not content to look foolish with one question, waded in with another.

This minister promised action this fall. It’s now mid-November. To the minister: are you doing anything about panhandling, or are you planning more grandstanding?”

Man, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Xiao racing to the defence of panhandlers, something he has never mentioned in the past, is the height of grandstanding. Denis replied by calling Xiao’s questions “unduly caustic and self-serving”.

Xiao applied the coup de gras to his own credibility with this befuddling question: “My last question to the same minister: if he has nothing planned, whether he has a real handle at the provincial level, and instead is dumping this issue on cities to address it, what will he do if the cities have no plan or intention to address panhandling?”

Again, WFT? Even Denis had to say “I had some difficulty understanding this member’s question.”

While his questions are befuddling to read, to get the full impact of the cynicism behind them, you’d have to watch the video. At the end of the question, Xiao sat down with a self-serving, aren’t-I-a-naughty-boy smile on his face, like he’d done something really smart and clever.

This is the first we’ve heard from Xiao, and hopefully it will be the last. As the saying goes, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubts.

A perfectly cromulent day in the Legislature.

My old reporter’s heart, which bleeds ink, feels a certain empathy for the poor sods who have to cover the Alberta Legislature on a daily basis. All that sound and fury, and hardly a story to report.

I found a few things that were amusing over the past couple of days, if you really stretch the definition of the word ‘amusing’.

For example, Lindsay Blackett, the minister of Culture and Community Spirit (surely the silliest name for a ministry ever) must have been feeling like a forgotten man lately, and felt compelled to do something about it. On Monday, a backbencher tossed him a couple of puffballs about the arts and culture industry to get him back in the game, to wit:

“Can the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit please tell me what he is doing to help this critically important sector during these tough economic times?”, followed up by Can the minister please tell me what he is doing to ensure that this sector remains healthy after the economy has recovered?”

That should have been enough to keep the guy happy, but no. In Tuesday’s QP, another Tory seat warmer asked these questions: “Can the minister offer that assurance and tell us specifically what he’s doing to support the arts?”, followed by  “Can the minister tell us how we’re comparing with other jurisdictions?” and finishing withCan the minister tell us anything about planning for the future in terms of budgeting?”

If you look at the first question from the two days, you’ll see that they are essentially the same question. The other questions are simply variations on the theme.  Let’s hope that keeps the nearly forgotten Minister Blackett happy for a couple of weeks.

Elsewhere, it was a typically non-productive day in the Legislature. Of note, however, was the debate on Bill 12, the supposedly historic, landmark, etc. Alberta Health Act. For most of Tuesday afternoon, members debated the merits of the bill, quite accurately described as a “Seinfeld bill” — a bill about nothing. Nothing or not, that didn’t stop opposition members from entering in a vigourous debate about the bill. The trouble was, they were debating themselves — not one single government member rose to debate the bill on Tuesday. The Scrap Metal Dealers act was important enough for 11 of them to rise on Monday, but on the Alberta Health Act, they remained almost universally silent. Maybe it really is a bill about nothing….

And finally, one amusing moment from Twitter.

The Globe and Mail’s Edmonton correspondent, Josh Wingrove, Twittered about Premier Ed Stelmach’s use of the word “ironical” in the legislature.  “Hey, ABPremierComms, please tell Stelmach that ironical isn’t a word” he Tweeted. Moments later, some wag in the premier’s communication office offered “Ironical is a perfectly cromulent word.”

Wow! An obscure reference from The Simpsons from someone in the premier’s communications staff, and used properly! Kudos to the writer. Too bad the premier’s communication people don’t display that kind of with-it wit a little more often. Might make Stelmach look almost human.

Rural MLAs sowing their mild oats.

This session of the Legislature is now two whole weeks old — which, in the wonderland that is the Alberta legislature, means they have met for eight days — and things are just warming up. Which must mean it’s time for a break.

After eight days/two weeks of watching question period and skimming Hansard for amusing nuggets, I noticed something interesting. Some of the Tory’s rural MLAs are actually taking their jobs seriously.

Thursday, in particular, was a feisty day for the gang from the sticks. It started with Richard Marz, the lugubrious member from Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills. Marz asked a question about market value of land across the province. When Ron Liepert, the ever-snarling Minister of Energy, gave him an answer, Marz said  “Well, I’m getting a bit of a different story.”

OK, that’s not exactly open rebellion, but for a guy as mild-mannered as Marz, this is practically like waving a red flag and calling for a revolution.

It got better. Pearl Calahasan, the brassy long-time MLA from Lesser Slave Lake, asked this rather cutting question to the minister of housing: “The minister of housing has been all over the news in the last little while, a month or so, cutting ribbons, announcing affordable housing projects but all in big cities. It appears to me that this minister does not recognize the dramatic shortage of affordable housing in rural Alberta. With no plan for rural Alberta what will this minister say to the people in my area who cannot afford housing? Move to Edmonton? Move to Calgary? I’d like an answer.”

Whoa. Good one, Pearly. Anyway, when Jonathan Denis, the minister of housing, gave an answer that didn’t suit Calahasen, she shot back: “Well, Mr. Speaker, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, et cetera, do not qualify as rural Alberta. To the same minister: how can you assure this House that the RFPs that you will be providing for those opportunities are for developers in rural Alberta, giving them the same opportunity as those in big cities like Edmonton and Calgary?”

These are questions worthy of an opponent, rather than a member of the team.

Then there was Jeff Johnson from Athabasca-Redwater, who asked why work was not being done on an unsafe stretch of highway in his constituency. When Transportation Minister Luke Ouelette answered the question is his inimitable style — shouted, breathless gibberish — Johnson replied: “I appreciate the comments, but I don’t think the minister answered the question.” After another question and another gasping reply, Johnson somewhat mockingly said: “We’ll let the minister take a breath while I ask the next question here.”

And finally, George VanderBurg of Whitecourt-Ste. Anne, who already asked a tough question last week, asked some pointed questins about Internect connectivity “or, in the case of Whitecourt Ste. Anne, the lack of it.”

Are rural Tory MLAs being overlooked by their party, or are they just gutsier than the spineless city slickers from Edmonton and Calgary? Or are they simply bumping up their profiles in preparation for an election, which I get the feeling will come well before Ed Stelmach’s promised March 2012 date?  Or, in the case of people like Calahasan and VanderBurg, maybe they’re just a couple of former cabinet ministers who know their political career trajectory is trending downwards, so they have nothing to lose?

Whatever the reason, it makes QP a little bit more fun.

Speaker for Life, Pope Kenneth the Infallible, lost his cool on Thursday.

It’s difficult to get a feel for things on television, but it sounds like Rob Anderson, the Tory-turned-Wildrose, was being a naughty little boy. At least, he was treated that way.

At the end of QP, Pope Kenneth rose from his majestic throne, and singled out the member for Airdrie-Chestermere (Anderson) and the whole Wildrose caucus, for a little tongue lashing.

“Airdrie-Chestermere, just cool it, okay? “ thundered Pope Kenneth. With his finger wagging like an angry elementary school teacher in front of a room of antsy kids, Pope Kenneth warned “one of the things I’m going to look at – and I want to look at the deputy leader of that party and that caucus – is that in the last number of days we’ve been getting a lot of complaints in my office from people outside of this Assembly about the noise coming from there.”

Then, lowering the boom, Pope Kenneth threatened to move the Wildrose Alliance members closer to his throne so he could keep an eye on them.
“One of the items I’m looking at for the spring session is to actually move the chairs and the desks here so that you’ll be right close to me.”

Calm down, children, or you’ll be moved to the front of the class.

And one last bit from Anderson. In a later debate, Anderson was called on a contradiction on his voting record as a PC, and revealed what it was like to be a backbench Tory.

“I know. I spoke to it. I spoke to the land-use framework,” Anderson said.  “It just ticks me right off.”

Speaking of his time as a Tory, Anderson said: “That’s what happens when you’re a trained seal. You’ve got to get in there. You get a speech handed to you, “Here’s the speech; read it,” and you’ve got to read the speech. You’ve just got to do it … You give the speech, and then you realize: ‘Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ ”

Boutilier in full-flight livens up dreary day.

Day 3 of the Legislature

It was not a day for the ages in the Alberta legislature on Wednesday. Lots of questions about health care, emergency services, ducks, etc., and lots of platitudes and uninspiring answers. Still, it had its moments.

George Rogers, the PC member from Leduc, entered the Puffball Pitcher of the Session contest by asking this set up question of Failing Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky:

“Mr. Rogers: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Auditor General released his fall report. This report outlines several accounting and financial management issues related to the formation of Alberta Health Services. These questions raised by the Auditor General are very serious and, I believe, beg some clarification. My question is to the Minister of Health and Wellness. What is the cause of these financial issues? Has this money been properly accounted for?”

After Zwozdesky’s typically long-winded answer, Rogers replied with a soothing: “Mr. Minister, I’m pleased to hear that this money is safe.”

Phew. So am I.

But the highlight of a dull day was the performance of Guy Boutilier, for former PC turned Wildrose Alliance member from Fort McMurray.

Guy has always been an excitable type, with arms flapping away like he was being controlled by a drunken puppetmaster. Well, Guy was positively outraged — outraged, I tell you — by how hard-done by the poor oilsands industry was by Premier Stelmach. Here’s what he said:

“First of all, I want to take this opportunity to compliment – I said compliment – the Minister of Energy because he was the only, the only one, who didn’t throw the oil sands industry under the bus yesterday with the unfortunate duck situation. The Premier and the Minister of Environment clearly did. My question today is to the Minister of Environment. Will you apologize to the workers who are at the Mildred Lake site, working 24 hours a day, and, rather than being a judge and a jury and an executioner, wait for the findings first rather than the inexcusable tone that you used yesterday?”

Environment Minister Rob Renner was somewhat dumbfounded by the question.

“I have been doing my very best to turn down the rhetoric from members on the other side of the House from the media and point out to them that we have an investigation under way, and until that investigation has been concluded, we should not be jumping to any kind of conclusion.”

But Guy was just getting started:

“Perhaps the Minister of Environment can communicate that to his leader because the headlines today read that the Premier demands answers – he demands – yet here are the companies working out there, extraordinary lengths with technology, working 24 hours a day. They fail to talk about the motherhood that took place yesterday. It’s inexcusable, his tone and the Premier’s tone. So will you apologize for the Premier for what he had said in the media yesterday?”

Motherhood?

Anyway, Renner did his best to calm down Boutilier.

“The Premier is saying the same thing as I am saying: yes, we do want some answers. That’s why we’re conducting an investigation. We want to know – the Premier wants to know; I want to know – whether or not there were infractions of our regulations. That’s what the investigation is all about.”

Running out of steam, Boutilier gave it one last shot.

“Mr. Speaker, given that the minister is reassuring all Albertans that they’re not going to be inflammatory as they continue to put gasoline on fire, why hasn’t the minister, in fact, visited onsite that very situation? Why hasn’t he been there? Why hasn’t the Premier been there relative to the situation? Clearly, we hear about the oil sands. We hear about how important it is, but it’s not important enough to go and visit.”

Exhausted, Renner responded with “Mr. Speaker, the only person inflaming the situation in this House is that member over there.”

To get the full effect of Boutilier in action, you really have to see it. Arms chopping, eyes bulging, voice raising; it’s really a sight to see.

Rest assured, oilsands, you have a friend in Guy Boutilier. He’s a little nutty, but he’s in your corner.

On Edmonton names, Harry’s revenge, and the ND loving Sun.

New constituency of Edmonton South West
What Edmonton South West looks like.

Legislature session, day 2:

I am disappointed by Edmonton’s MLAs. Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats… all of them. Here’s why.

The bulk of Tuesday’s session (the stuff that happens after the media stops watching Question Period) was taken up with a discussion of the new electoral boundaries commission final report, which was ordered to add new seats to the Leg, including one to Edmonton. You may remember the initial boundaries report, after months of study and deliberation, changed the landscape of Edmonton, with new boundaries and new constituencies (Callingwood, La Perle, North West). But the politicians didn’t like it much, so the commission said; “Screw it, we’ll just carve off a corner of Edmonton and give it one new riding.” Which is basically what they did, creating a dog’s leg, dog’s breakfast constituency called Edmonton South West, that seems to be made up mostly of empty space with pockets of population from as far south as the Calgary Trail north to the Whitemud.

The deed has been done, and no one seems to care about this newborn orphan. But what disappoints me is that no Edmonton MLAs tried to give this unloved newcomer a better name.

Most of Tuesday was taken up by amendments, as MLAs asked for, and received, renames for some constituencies. Strathcona became Strathcona-Sherwood Park. Calgary Montrose became Calgary Greenway. And Calgary Nose Hill became … I am not making this up … Calgary Klein. (This resulted in an interesting exchange, when ND MLA Rachel Notley questioned whether Klein was “part of history” and should be honored. An unidentified member asked: “Do you want him to die first? Is that it?”, to which Notley replied: “I wouldn’t go there.”)

Since Edmonton South West has no sitting member, and no one to speak up for it, it will be born with the dreary name Edmonton South West. Couldn’t one Edmonton MLA have stood up and asked for a better name for this baby?

How about Edmonton-McLuhan, after media guru Marshall McLuhan, who was born in Edmonton? Or maybe Edmonton-May, after aviation great ‘Wop’ May, or Edmonton-Dickens, after another aviation great, Punch Dickens. Maybe Edmonton-Page, after J. Percy Page, Edmonton Grads coach and former Lt. Gov. If you insist on a political name, try Edmonton-Murphy, after Emily Murphy, the first female magistrate of the British Empire.Or how about Lois Hole, although I don’t know if anyone would want to be the MLA for Edmonton-Hole. Just to get the legislature talking, maybe Edmonton-Chong, after Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. Or Edmonton-Fox, after Michael J. Fox. Or Canadian nationalist and publisher Edmonton-(Mel) Hurtig. The Tories would love that one.

The bottom line is that there are dozens of worthy Edmontonians we could have named our new constituency after. But instead, because no one took the reins, we’re stuck with Edmonton South West. Missed opportunity for everyone

Elsewhere Tuesday, Calgary Varsity Liberal MLA Harry Chase must have enjoyed his day of revenge.

Chase spoke at length during first reading of the law on distracted driving, which bans the use of cellphones while driving. As Chase pointed out, he made an almost identical private member’s bill in 2005, which was shot down by the Tories. On Tuesday, Chase threw the words of Tories who disagreed with him back in their faces, gleefully quoting one Tory after another who disagreed with his bill, all of whom will no doubt agree with the government bill. That must have been a good day for Chase.

And finally, it’s time to call out the Edmonton Sun for what it is — a New Democrat supporting paper.

Seriously. In the story on the latest case of duckicide in Fort Mac, ND MLA Rachael Notley was quoted first and extensively, and her quote was used in a drop-quote in the story. Two pages later, in a story on the Auditor-General’s report on health-care accounting, ND leader Brian Mason was the only politician quoted, complete with mugshot.  That’s a lot of ink for the no. 4 party in the legislature. Could the Edmonton Sun be harbouring a soft spot for socialists … or are the other parties just doing a crappy job of getting their message out?