Worst. Leadership race. Ever.

Somewhere in my collection of flotsam and jetsam of old newspaper clippings from my youth, I have the famous Edmonton Journal paper from the day after the Progressive Conservatives, under Peter Lougheed, finally toppled the Social Credit dynasty. The headline, written in massive type in true Tory blue, read: “Now! It’s Lougheed!”

Now, as the longest reigning Canadian provincial government in Canadian history staggers to the finish line of its third leadership race in eight years, the most likely headline should be “Finally … it’s Prentice.” 

On Saturday, the PCs will announce the winner of their leadership race, and if all goes according to plans (and polls), the new man will be Jim Prentice, another Calgarian with extensive ties to The Industry. (Calgary, it seems, produces leaders or would-be leaders; Edmonton produces opponents. Good thing somebody does.)  As everyone knows, the PCs are in disarray. After 43 years in power, the party seems to be suffering from the political equivalent of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. If you were to lay a bet right now, it would seem the wise choice to put your money on the odds-on favourite in the 2016 election, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

But wait! The PC party obit has been written more often than Mark Twain’s. (Twain, after a premature obit appeared, famously said: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”) In some ways, when Prentice takes over the party, he will be in a better position than Alison Redford.

Redford, you may recall (and it seems almost impossible to believe, considering how far she had fallen), took over with sky-high hopes. Finally, the progressives cheered, a truly progressive Progressive Conservative. A worldly, big-city lawyer — and a woman! (I had a feeling the Liberals were in trouble when a long-time Liberal operative I know greeted the election of Redford not with dread, but with unbridled joy.)

Redford was, shall we say, a bit of a disappointment. The party Prentice inherits is in disarray, bedevilled by a series of puny, travel-related scandals and a general sense of exhaustion. While Redford started on a high with great expectations, Prentice starts with the party at a low ebb. In other words, nowhere to go but up.

(I write this based on my assumption that Prentice wins. If either of the two lame-duck candidates — professional dunderhead Ric McIver, or the slithering Thomas Lukaszuk — somehow wins, you can dust off that PC obit and run it today. If Prentice wins, we can happily write the long overdue obit of Lukaszuk.)

Prentice actually has some potential. After the feckless farmer Ed Stelmach, and the patrician Redford, all Prentice has to do is play the hard-nosed businessman type and ground the government’s silly fleet of airplanes. (By the way, this ‘scandal’ of Finance Minister Doug Horner taking his wife on the occasional plane ride is a whole lot of nothing. If there was an empty seat on the plane, as I assume there was on the times she went along, the actual cost to the taxpayer is nil. This is small change.) Alberta, after all, is in pretty good financial shape, and to most voters, that’s all that matters. Once Prentice realizes that he had billions of dollars to throw at any problem — health care, education, whatever the problem du jour is — he will make these problems go away in time for the next election. 

Once this dreadful, uneventful, petty leadership ‘”race” is officially over, Prentice can get down to business. His first order of business will be, of course, business. Get to work, avoid trivial scandals, and the Tories can easily extend their record setting longevity streak. The Wildrose is always just one dip into the lake of fire away from reminding the public of their extremist roots, as we saw in the last election. 

(By the way, the New Democrats are also holding a leadership vote, pitting the earnest Rachel Notley against the earnest David Eggen, and somebody else who is, I assume, earnest. Just thought I should mention it.)

 

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Time to stop beating on Alison Redford … she’s already dead.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a Krusty the Klown impersonator for hire. At the opening of a new Krusty Burger, he savagely attacks the Krusty Burger version of the Hamburgler for stealing Krusty Burgers. Watching the beating, a child in the crowd says “Stop! He’s already dead.”

That’s the way I feel about Alison Redford. The announcement that Premier Dave Hancock has asked the RCMP to look into Redford’s use of government aircraft makes me think, “Stop! She’s already dead.”

Redford has already resigned in disgrace, mostly for being insufferably arrogant. She has been trashed mercilessly by two of the also-rans running for the leadership of the PC party, mostly by the oily Thomas Lukaszuk, who was one of her biggest supporters and his best political ally. This week, while Tories were running from her like she had the ebola virus, she resigned her seat in the legislature. That wasn’t good enough for the cowardly premier Hancock, who has asked the RCMP to investigate the auditor general’s claim that she had ‘ghost passengers’ listed on the manifests of government planes so she could ride without being surrounded by the hoi polloi.

Now, let’s look at this. If there really were doctored documents that ensured the princess premier would travel alone, and if the premier knew about it or authorized it (she denies it, and the fact she asked the auditor general to look into government travel tends to back up her claim), how is this possibly a criminal matter worthy of the precious time of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Surely this is light years away from being a criminal act. Stupid and arrogant, sure. Obnoxious, certainly. But criminal? Ridiculous.

The sad fact is that people seem to hate Redford with a passion, and it’s now seen as perfectly OK to pile on her mercilessly. Ralph Klein used government planes as his own personal taxi service. Nobody complained, because King Ralph was a beloved, rascally old alcoholic who playfully threw money at homeless people and told them to get a job. What a kidder! Redford, however, is a patrician snob who probably would have thought the idea of throwing money at homeless people to be in ‘poor taste’. What a killjoy.

Hey, I’m no fan of Redford. But nobody in recent Canadian political history has risen so high, so fast, and crashed so shamefully as has Alison Redford. Calling in the cops to investigate was is, at worst, petty use of government dollars is shameful. The Tories are using the RCMP as a shield to deflect attention away from their own culture of entitlement that allowed Redford to run rampant. And by calling in the cops, the PCs can now say they can’t comment on any matter that is ‘before the courts’ (which it isn’t). Also very conveniently, the RCMP is unlikely to make a decision on charges until after the PCs elected Jim Prentice as their new leader.

Redford’s use of government aircraft is disgraceful, and she has paid a high political price for her hubris. The PC party’s tossing Redford under the bus — then putting the bus in reverse, running over her again, then getting off the bus and kicking her, then calling in a tank to run over her again — is equally appalling.

 

 

Alberta: Land of milk and money.

Alberta is truly a land of wonders. For example, I wonder what kind of thinking went into giving whopping six-figure salaries to public servants?

Alberta is awash in examples of staggering salaries — and jaw dropping severance packages — given to government higher ups.

Let’s start up north, Fort McMoney way.

Glen Laubenstein, chief administrative officer for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (basically Fort McMurray), suddenly quit his job recently. This is surprising, in that Laubenstein had a base salary of $433,015, with an additional $100,000 in expenses. Fort McMurray mayor Melissa Blake, who presumably was in on approving Laubenstein’s fantastic salary, described Laubenstein was “a great guy”. Apparently, being a great guy was enough to warrant making Laubenstein the highest paid civic administrator in North America. Laubenstein made more money than the city manager of New York City (a little burg you may have heard of it).

Money bubbles like bitumen in Fort McMoney. Civic executives were awarded $400,000 in living expenses from 2011-13, including one guy who had his $4,000 a month rent paid for him for 28 months. Oh, and getting fired isn’t particularly painful in Fort McMurray — 84 fired employees got $7 million in severance from 2011-13. And on top of that, they got to leave Fort McMurray, so it was a win-win for those 84 lucky souls.

In Alberta, getting fired from a cushy government job isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Take Farouk Adatia, deposed premier Alison Redford’s former chief of staff. Apparently, Mr. Adatia was so valuable, such a one-of-a-kind talent (he was a lawyer, and we all know how rare lawyers are) that he was paid $357,000 to be keep Redford’s appointment book up to date. This is more than the stipend paid to the chief of staff of the President of the United States (a little country you may have heard of). When he was let go, Adatia received a lovely parting gift of $366,000. Redford’s revolving door of staff did very well for themselves when they had to apply for employment insurance. Eleven staff members got a combined $1.2 million in severance when she resigned, on top of the $600,000 paid out to staff members who were let go while she was still premier.

One has to wonder how these deals are “negotiated”. I imagine the conversation between Redford and Adatia went something like this:

AF: Hi, Farouk. First, thanks for running for the party in 2011. It was much appreciated.

FA: You’re very welcome, your majesty.

AF: Please, just call me Madame Premier. Anyway, Farouk, how would you like to be my chief of staff?

FA: Hmmm, I don’t know. What does it pay?

AF: What do you want it to pay?

FA: Well, $350,000 or so sounds nice. And about the same when I quit. Gotta look to my future, you know.

AF: Sold! I’ll send over the papers right away. Anyway, I have to go. I need to hire a communications person. Think I can get a good one for under 200 grand?

Seriously, why does Alberta feel free to throw such staggering amounts of money at civil servants?

I blame oil.

Alberta is a one-industry province, and that industry is the extraction of the most in-demand product in the world. There is so much money in Alberta that it has permanently warped our values. The oil industry has become the baseline for our monetary values in this province. This is a province where a high school dropout whose only accomplishment in life is getting a driver’s license can pull down six figures driving a comically outsized dump truck. If an uneducated and unskilled worker can make a hundred grand a year, the thinking goes, surely an educated and skilled person is worth triple that, right?

Makes sense … but only in Alberta. And maybe Qatar.

 

 

 

 

The PCs scorched earth policy on Alison Redford

When Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, his right hand man was Leon Trotsky. When Lenin and Trotsky had a falling out — never a good thing in the old Soviet Union — the Communists altered photos of Lenin and Trotsky together, effectively erasing Trotsky from the historical record.

You can’t really do that kind of thing these days, but you can try. The Progressive Conservatives can’t erase the record of Alison Redford, but they’re doing their best to purge the party of the Redford “era”.

On Friday, the government released hundreds of pages of documents detailing more and more shocking abuses of the public payroll by Redford, the self-deposed premier.

After the CBC broke the story of the premier’s planned penthouse suite atop the Federal Building — directed by the premier’s office, bypassing all normal channels — the government unleashed a massive data dump revealing the extent of Redford’s profligate spending. Airfare and accommodation for premier’s bloated staff, more than a million dollars in severance packages for that same staff (almost all of whom were Calgary based, showing that her support network was very limited), callous disregard for the cost of flying her to her disastrous trip to South Africa — it’s all there. Cabinet ministers are lining up to piously pronounce just how horrible she was. Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver (coincidentally, a possible leadership contender) says he called off the premier’s suite program as soon as he took over the portfolio. The greasy Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk (another possible leadership challenger who, if successful, would ensure the end of the Tory dynasty) called the suite “unacceptable”, saying it “broke all the rules of protocol.”

And I guarantee you there will be more to come. I’m sure that government staffers are going through every email, every memo, and every travel bill in its scorched earth strategy. If there’s a $13 glass of orange juice on a hotel bill somewhere with Redford’s name on it, we’ll hear it.

The PC strategy is clear — destroy Alison Redford. It’s not enough that she’s gone. They want her gone gone. Her imperial premiership has dealt the party a severe — perhaps fatal — blow, and the party wants its revenge.

I didn’t recognize the party’s hatred towards Redford until she resigned. Nobody said a good word about her. There were no tears shed. When she gave her resignation speech, one lone yahoo attempted to start an “Al-i-son!” chant, and got no takers.

Redford was an interloper, an outsider despite being a cabinet minister. Her support was a kilometre wide and a centimetre deep. Redford has announced that she will stay on as MLA. I don’t think she’ll be attending too many caucus meetings, or legislative sessions.

Alison Redford will go down with the ship

(I wrote this on Tuesday. Here it is Wednesday, and it’s already out of date. Shows what I know.)

Alberta politics is all a-twitter these days about the future of the Princess Premier, Alison Redford.

Two MLAs have resigned, bringing simmering discontent to the surface. Len Webber quit last week, calling Redford “a bully” (poor baby!), while Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity (whatever that is), threw in the towel this week.  There are ‘rumblings’ (media-speak for unsubstantiated blather) that 20 or so MLAs were on the verge of quitting. (That number seems laughable; there aren’t 20 PC MLAs with the balls to go it alone.) Whatever the number, clearly Redford is in trouble. It appears she is cold, aloof, unpleasant to deal with, authoritarian and cavalier with public funds. There have been no ringing endorsements coming from prominent PCs, and public statements of support have been tepid at best.

But with two years to go before the next election, she has plenty of time to ride out this storm, and lead the Tories to victory in 2016, right?

Hey, anything can happen. But I doubt it.

Alison Redford is finished. She’s a zombie premier, apparently alive but actually a dead woman walking. The Tories are finished, too. It’s just a matter of waiting out the next two years.

But wait, you say. Two years in politics is a long time, right? Anything can happen.

Yes, two years in politics is a long time. But I think the rot in the Tory tree is so deep that no amount of pruning can save it. And it doesn’t matter if Redford leads the PCs in the next election, or that she doesn’t survive the next few months and some would-be savior comes along to lead the party.

First, let’s look at Redford.

Back when Redford won the leadership in October 2011, it looked like the PCs had once again reinvented themselves. A new leader for an old party is one thing, but a new female leader of an old party — and a female leader who was a centrist, if not leaning a little left, and from the big city — signaled a reinvention of the party. There was goodwill aplenty for the new premier. But right away, Redford stumbled. She broke promises, and quickly showed her disregard for the public purse by spending $70,000 on a ‘retreat’ for government members, just before the 2012 election. Redford performed so poorly, and lost so much of the goodwill she inherited, that the PCs were ripe for the picking in the 2012 election. Here, she got lucky: the Wildrose stumbled into a ‘lake of fire’, reliably Liberal votes went PC to block the Wildrose, and Redford scored a huge, but somehow unconvincing, victory.

Even with a majority, Redford stumbled from miscue to miscue. A year after the election, the media featured multiple stories about Redford’s difficult first year. With the second year anniversary coming up, the stories will be more of the same. So the current problems besetting the Princess Premier are nothing new — Alison Redford has had nothing but problems since she became premier. She may be smart and accomplished, but she’s a lousy politician. I get the feeling the public just doesn’t like her, and you can’t turn around dislike with appeals to motherhood.

But what if the PCs undergo another palace coup, and find a new leader? Won’t that help?

I don’t think so. Unless there’s a new Ralph Klein lurking unnoticed on the backbenches, there’s not a lot of strength there. Redford’s cabinet is not exactly packed with superstars, and the backbench is the usual collection of retreads and nobodies. And there wouldn’t be a huge lineup of potential candidates to lead an arthritic party. The Wildrose will be smarter and sharper in the next election, and the PCs will be … older.

I think Redford will ride out this storm. But the PCs know they’re on  a sinking ship. A very slowly sinking ship, but still sinking.

Get ready for the return of sin taxes.

For weeks now, the provincial government has been warning us, in the most dire terms possible, that we’re in for a “tough budget” filled with “tough choices”, and a certain amount of “tough shit”.

Maybe tough isn’t a strong enough word. How about ‘cruel, but fair’, to borrow a line from Monty Python?  Whatever you call it, Alison Redford has been telling everyone that we’re in for a bitumen bubble bath thanks to the disparity between the oil we sell (discounted dollar store brand) and the oil Americans sell (Target brand). Seems like we’re going to be some $3 billion short in revenue. That’s three with 12 zeros, I think. Even by Alberta standards, that’s a ridiculous amount of money.

Now, the economists and various other know-it-alls are saying it’s time Alberta brought in a sales tax. Not surprisingly, Redford has reacted to the idea of a sales tax the way a vampire would react to the suggestion of adding a clove of garlic to spaghetti sauce. Some things are just NOT done in Alberta, and a sales tax is all of them.

Redford has been softening us up lately, trying to blame doctors for having the temerity of making lots of money (through contracts that the government agreed upon), and generally warning everyone who gets a government paycheque that they had better be prepared to chip in for the greater good of Alberta. But there will NOT be a sales tax, Redford has said. Can’t say that I blame her. The government that introduces a sales tax is the government that doesn’t want to govern anymore.

But bear in mind that while Redford has said there won’t be sales tax, and personal tax hikes are political suicide, there are other taxes that can be raised. Before the budget comes down, I would suggest you stock up on your smokes, your booze, and your gasoline, the trifecta of Alberta life.

In the Ralph Klein era, when times were tough, the government routinely raised what used to be called ‘sin taxes’. Remember sin? You young people might want to look up the word, since nothing is a sin anymore. Klein, and many other governments that found themselves in a bind, used to raise taxes on stuff that was bad for you, because nobody could complain about them. So, they’d raise the price of smokes by 25 cents, because they’re bad for you and you shouldn’t be smoking anyway. If smokers complained, everyone would just say, ‘well, stupid, stop smoking’. The other major sin tax hike was on booze. God knows we love our booze, and upping the tax on a luxury sin like booze was another no-brainer. As I recall, Ed Stelmach tried to up the tax on booze, and retracted it right away when people started throwing beer bottles at him, or something like that.

Governments have gone away from that lately, but I predict a return of the sin tax when the budget comes down in March. Tack on another 50 cents to a pack of smokes, and say the money is going to the health care system (smokers are bound to end up using the system a lot more than the rest of us.). And, don’t be surprised if the price of a dozen beer goes up 50 cents or so, same with spirits and wine. If you don’t want to pay the tax, just stop drinking, right?

Gasoline is an easy tax grab, particularly if it’s done in miniscule increments, like pennies. I expect the provincial gas tax will go up, something small enough like three cents a litre, but big enough to bring in billions upon billions of pennies to the treasury.

I fully expect the already ridiculous cost of renewing your auto registration to go up, as well as the cost of renewing your license. All museum fees and park entrance costs will go up. Basically, anything that you pay the government will cost more.

Those are the three obvious ones I expect we will see in March. But what about some others? With a little creativity, the PCs should be able to bring in billions more while keeping their pledge not to raise personal income taxes. For example …

• Albertans love their pick-ups. How about a 2% tax on the sale of new trucks? You can say that the money will go towards improving our highways, which are being slowly destroyed by new trucks.

• We’re also Canada’s biggest gamblers. How about a 5% tax on all gambling winnings? That way, not only does the government profit from gambling loses, it can profit from gambling winnings as well. It’s a win-win!

• We’re big on partying. How about a 5% tax on booze sold in bars and restaurants. That way, they can collect taxes on the booze sold to the restaurant, and the booze sold to the drunk in a bar. Another win-win!

See, fellow Albertans? There’s lots of room for our government to cut into that deficit by cutting into your pockets, and still not institute a sales tax. So, the day before budget day, remember: fill up your gas tank, stock up on that booze, and buy a carton or two of smokes. You’ll thank me for it.

 

 

Memo to PCs: Here’s how to go negative on Danielle Smith

OK, PC party, listen up.

I’ve been cheering for your demise ever since Peter Lougheed stepped down, so I really shouldn’t be giving you any advice. And please, don’t take this as any kind of endorsement.

But seriously, people. You guys just do NOT know how to campaign.

I mean, c’mon. You’ve got one of the most inviting targets EVER in Danielle Smith, and you’re not doing a thing about it. Staying away from attacking Smith is like Don Rickles saying only nice things about a fat guy in the audience — it’s totally unnatural.

So listen up. If you want to stop this Smith woman, you gotta go negative.

Oh, I know. Everybody says they hate negative advertising. Tsk tsk, it’s so bad. Everybody wants positive messages, right? Well, those ads of Alison Redford, smiling unnaturally before the cameras? How are those working out for you?

Let’s be blunt. Everybody says they hate negative ads, but the simple fact is that they work. Watch some negative American TV ads, and you’ll be convinced that Candidate So-and-So is a tax-and-spend liberal who wants abortions for all and burns American flags in his spare time. And remember, Stephen Harper destroyed both Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff through a series of negative ads.

God knows Smith has given you the ammo. And if you don’t have it, let me help.

Use something like this, only worse.

First, find as many unflattering pictures of Smith as possible. You know the ones, where her hair looks especially stringy and her eyes are half open, that kind of stuff. Now, put it in black-and-white. Ad some ominous music, and what appear to be newspaper headlines saying things like “Smith wants private health care”, or something equally scary.

From the first day of the campaign it was apparent you guys have some ammo. When the Ontario Supreme Court made a pro-prostitution ruling, you immediately went back into your Danielle file and proclaimed that she was in favour of legalizing prostitution. The charge didn’t stick, since prostitution is a federal matter, and she just batted it away. So yeah, you screwed up. But there’s WAY better stuff than that available.

Here is some suggested ad copy for your negative ad campaign:

“Danielle Smith and the Wildrose want to “open delivery of publicly paid services to any accredited private and non-profit provider” (Wildrose campaign promise). Open delivery means you’ll open your wallet for health care. Danielle Smith wants to bring American-style health care to Alberta.”

“Danielle Smith wants to send even the tiniest human rights dispute to court. They want to clog up our already overburdened court system and add dozens of highly paid judges to decide cases that can be handled by simple communication. Danielle Smith and the Wildrose: Good for judges, bad for Alberta.”

 “Danielle Smith and the Wildrose want to create “a one-window policy for fast regulatory approvals” of oil and gas projects. They want to bulldoze your rights so big corporations can bulldoze your forests. Danielle Smith and the Wildrose: Bad for the environment, bad for Alberta.”

Since it appears you have the best chance of retaining seats in Edmonton, how about some Edmonton-centric commercials?

“For years, the Federal Building sat empty, a blight on downtown Edmonton. The PC government wants to make a showcase for downtown Edmonton… but Danielle Smith considers it a waste of money, and would rather have empty buildings in downtown Edmonton. Danielle Smith: no friend of Edmonton.”

“Alison Redford wants a showcase, world-class museum for downtown Edmonton and all Alberta. Danielle Smith thinks museums are a waste of money. Danielle Smith: no friend of Edmonton.”

And finally, use her words against her. Back in March 2010, I wrote an article for Alberta Views about Smith’s background. I dug deep into her background and read columns she wrote for the Calgary Herald. Here are few incendiary quotes, which you can easily use. (I also found some examples of perfectly reasonable statements, but you’re not interested in those.)

• Smith was managing director of the Canadian Property Rights Research Institute, whose main goal was “oppose federal endangered-species legislation and municipal anti-smoking laws” (Source: the Ottawa Hill Times).

• Smith said privatization of health care is “a must” for Canada. (Actual quote: “The sooner Canadians realize that privatization is a must, the sooner we can move to the more crucial debate over how to refinance the system” (Herald, April 23, 2005).

• Smith says Alberta should abolish school boards. (Herald, March 14, 2006)

• Smith says kindergarten is “just another way to get taxpayers to pay for daycare services” and having a dedicated TA (teacher’s assistant) “for every special needs student is unreasonable”. (Herald, Oct. 19, 2003)

Yes, you’ll be accused of fear mongering. But fear is a perfectly acceptable product to monger. And of course, they’ll go negative on you. After all, Redford promised fixed election dates and didn’t deliver, promised a judicial inquiry into health care and didn’t deliver, and bought the votes of thousands of teachers by pumping $100 million into education just to get elected.

And, with both the Wildrose and PCs slinging mud at each other, there’s always a chance that voters will just say “a pox on both their houses” and vote …. oh, I don’t know, Liberal? Well, that’s a chance you should be willing to take.

A blog hodgepodge, from politics to Portlandia.

It’s been a while since I last blogged, as I’m sure you’ve noticed (he said delusionally).  Maybe it’s just the January blues,  maybe it’s just that I haven’t found anything that really tickles my farcical fancy. Whatever the reason, I guess it’s time to get back on the ol’ blogging horse. And what better way to do that than with a slapped together mish-mash of random thoughts? (OK, I guess there are better ways to do this, but as I said, it’s January.)

Anyway, let’s begin with provincial politics …

Our Dear Leader, Alison Redford, dropped a major hint this week as to when the next election will be held. We already know that under her “fixed” (a-hem) election rule, it will be held sometime between March and May. But this week, she promised a speech from the throne, and the passage of a budget. Passing budgets is a lot like passing a kidney stone — it’s a long, painful process. Since the Legislature won’t reconvene until Feb. 7, and it takes some weeks to pass a budget, we can eliminate a March election. Candidates across the province are breathing a sigh of relief, since nobody likes the late winter campaign. So, the best bet appears to be sometime in April for the actual vote. Now, we’ve been promised all sorts of stuff by Alison Redford before. Remember the promise of a full judicial inquiry into the health care system? And the fixed election dates promise? (She did promise to return $100 million to the education system, but since that was the promise that got her elected, she had no choice but to make good on that one.) So, I’m not holding my breath on the promise of passing a budget. She’ll have to get the OK from Ron Liepert first.

With so many PC heavyweights (and I do mean heavy … nobody spends 20 years in politics and comes out weighing less) retiring this time, there are going to be some pitched battles for those safe Tory seats. There are even pitched battles for unsafe Tory seats, as we’ve seen when the evidence of skullduggery in Carl Benito’s PC association came to light. Benito, arguably the most disreputable MLA in the Tory ranks (and that is a hotly contested title), is toxic. He’s the Mill Woods MLA who promised to donate his salary to charity, and never did. He’s also the guy who forgot to file his city taxes, and blamed his wife. Naturally, PCs in his area are anxious to get rid of him now before the voters do. But his constituency organization tried to pull a fast one by organizing a nominating meeting during the Christmas season, and neglected to inform a couple of people who were interested in running against him. The party stepped in and nixed the meeting. Benito, of course, was unavailable for comment, but there is no doubt that he and his cronies on his board tried to pull a fast one. Frankly, I hope Benito wins the nomination, so Liberal candidate, former MLA and my friend Weslyn Mather can kick his ass.

Onto the national scene …

Something tells me the Northern Gateway pipeline is never going to be built, at least not in its current configuration. The hearings will take 18 months, followed by who knows how long to pump out the report, followed by the inevitable lawsuits, and ultimately a Supreme Court ruling. This is the way we do things in Canada. We’re looking at years and years down the road before any work can be done, if it is ever done. Since most of the pipe will run through B.C., and most British Columbians won’t see any direct benefit from it (why should they spoil their province for Alberta’s profit, they will say), I can’t see this thing ever happening. Frankly, I think the Keystone project will get the go-ahead after the November election in the U.S., which will take the pressure off the Northern Gateway project.

And speaking of the U.S….

Mitt Romney is, after one real primary victory, already being hailed as the certain Republican nominee. I may be wrong, but I think there are 49 states yet to hear from, but American talking heads say he is not the “inevitable” nominee.  They are probably right, but not because he’s such a wonderful candidate. His opponents are the weakest, weirdest, least appealing group of half-wits, nit-wits and no-wits every to be assembled by a major American party. Ron Paul may well be the nuttiest guy ever to run for the nomination of a party, and he finished SECOND in New Hampshire. And what does it say about a party when a candidate, Romney, is tarred with the epithet “moderate progressive”? Romney is the only Republican candidate who has even a remote chance of beating Barack Obama, and even then it’s a long shot.

And finally …

Last week I teed off on a really terrible TV show, Work It. Well, let’s end on a positive note. I’ve found a really funny show, called Portlandia, which runs on the IFC channel in the States but not, for who knows what reason, on IFC in Canada. Starring Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia pokes gentle fun at the laid-back, locked in the 90s vibe of Portland, Oregon. Fresh, original, satirical without being cruel, Portlandia is a little gem. Check it out.

And speaking of cable (which I kinda was), last month I berated Shaw cable for putting Sportsnet on a Sports 1 tier, which meant I had to pay an extra $10 a month just for one channel to watch the Oilers. Well, lo and behold, just a few days after my gripe, Shaw adds Sportsnet to its basic package, and I dropped the Sports 1 package. Good for them.  Clearly, my stinging denunciation of Shaw has made a different.

And speaking (again) of writing, your humble scribe is still seeking employment. I’m about a week away from applying for a greeter job at Walmart (“Welcome to Walmart… ask yourself why you’re here.”), I would appreciate hearing of any jobs that require a writer. Turns out this blogging thing pays very, very poorly.

The obligatory review of 2011. With videos!

Well, here we are at the end of another arbitrary span of 365 days that we call a year. And what a year it was! Things happened! Famous people died! Future famous people were born (how come nobody talks about that?)! Movies and TV shows were produced, some of them good, and some of them bad! The earth moved, literally in some cases, figuratively in others. It was a year of bests and worsts, mosts and leasts. Here’s my entirely personal list, which has no scientific basis.

Canada, Alberta and Edmonton

Least surprising political event: Stephen Harper gets his cherished majority, and  immediately sets about cranking Canada so far to the right that even American Republicans are saying: “Slow down, Steven.”

Most surprising political event: The NDP becomes the Official Opposition as Quebec voters elect 20-year-old barmaids who don’t even live in their ridings. Quebecers apparently mistook election for one of those terrible Just for Laughs gags shows.

Most surprising political development: Alison Redford comes out of nowhere (Calgary) to win the PC leadership, using a canny mix of populist promises and a guarantee to spend $100 million on teachers, putting her over the top as teachers flock to the polls.

Least surprising political development: Alison Redford reneges on her promise of fixed election date. Calling it a fixed date when there is a three-month window is like saying your dog is fixed if he’s only had one nut removed.

Most welcomed political retirements, Alberta edition: No more Ron Liepert, no more Lloyd Snelgrove, and especially no more King Ken Kowalski, who leaves the speaker’s chair with $1.3 million in his pocket. But he earned every penny of it. Just ask him.

Least welcomed political retirements (Alberta edition): Hugh MacDonald and Kevin Taft from the Alberta Liberals, neither of whom is running next year. The legislature will be a lesser place without them, if that’s even possible.

Most protracted debate: the Edmonton arena debate. Hey, we all knew Darrel Katz was going to get his way. What took so long?

Least welcomed retirement: Rod Phillips calls his last Edmonton Oilers game. I’m pretty sure you can still hear “HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES” in the rafters of Rexall.

Most welcomed retirement (permanent): Serial killer Clifford Olson croaks. He won’t be meeting his child victims where he’s gone.

Worst season: The winter of 2011-12. Too much snow, too much cold, too much everything.

The World

Least effective protest: The Occupy Anywhere Movement. Remember those guys, hanging out in public squares, banging on drums and their old ladies (I assume that’s what they did to keep warm, anyway)? Now that they’re gone, the world has changed … how?

Most effective protests: Egyptians and Libyans and everyone else for overthrowing regimes by taking to the streets. See, Occupy people? THAT’S how it’s done.

Most hilarious political scandal: New York Congressman is ruined for emailing photos of his Little Congressman to women. His name? Anthony Weiner. And he doesn’t even pronounce it ‘Whiner’. It’s Weiner! This is like a sex scandal written by the staff of Family Guy.

Most recorded disaster: Japan earthquake and tsunami. Astonishing footage, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kOpVUTXqS0&feature=related and this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceym2c18OQM&feature=related and this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTeQt3KmpNA&feature=related. Unreal.

Most welcomed political retirements (permanent edition): Hosni ‘The Modern Pharaoh’ Mubarek of Egypt, Muammar ‘Multiple Spellings’ Gaddafi of Libya, Kim (I Once Got 18 Holes-In-One The First Time I Went Golfing) Jung Il of North Korea, Osama (Honey, There’s Someone At the Door) bin Laden of 9/11 infamy, Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga ‘ Berlusconi of  Italy. It was a really great year for taking out the trash.

Most overwrought media coverage: The death of Jack Layton. The untimely departure of the NDP leader was given the full ‘great man has passed away, nation grieves’ splash. The cane he used only briefly was raised to iconic status, like Charlie Chaplin’s.

Most overwrought media coverage, international edition: Marriage of Prince Prematurely Balding to Princess Way Too Hot for Him. Honorable mention: death of Steve Jobs.

Least surprising riot: Let’s see now… cram 100,000 young and privileged people into a public square to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, add liberal doses of alcohol and drugs, stir in a hometown defeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Most baffling riots: Youths run wild in London. Still don’t know why.

Most hilarious commercial: Herman Cain’s utterly bizarre Smoking Man ad. No Saturday Night Live parody was funnier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6VnTqpTqvQ

“Arts” and entertainment:

Most overrated TV show of the year: Two Broke Girls. Routine CBS style sitcom. But it stars two chicks, so that’s supposed to make it groundbreaking. I’d settle for funny. Also seriously overrated: Louie.

Best new TV comedy: New Girl. The only positive in a brutal year for TV comedy.

Best TV comedy: Parks and Recreation. By the way, the spinoff book, Pawnee, is hilarious. If you like the show, you’ll love the book.

Best new TV drama: Homeland, a genuinely gripping drama of post 9/11 America (and as an added bonus, with gratuitous nudity). Well worth downloading the first season.

Best TV drama: Breaking Bad. I hate to use a term like ‘pulse pounding’, but it made my pulse pound. One of the best seasons of any TV show. Ever. Honorable mentions: Garrow’s Law (a BBC series seen on PBS set in very, very, very olden times English courts; superb acting and writing), Boardwalk Empire (top notch HBO series about bootleggers and general criminal types in the 1920s; no character was safe), and Justified (crackling good lawman drama set in Kentucky).New season starts soon. Check it out.

Most disappointing TV finale: The Killing, which promised a resolution to a season-long murder mystery, then didn’t deliver. Producers actually apologized. Too late for that, pal.

Best books of the year (at least of the ones that I read): Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean; Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore; Life Itself by Roger Ebert; Fire and Rain, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

Most promising musical newcomer: OK, this is more of a prediction, since her album doesn’t come out until next year, but Lana Del Rey will be the talk of 2012 based on this song from this year alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO1OV5B_JDw&context=C35e71a7ADOEgsToPDskJqAaWUF6ojl0Vka21fUVFJ

Worst song. Ever: “Friiiiday, Friiiday…” You hate me for putting that song back into your head, don’t you? Fifteen million views and counting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0&ob=av3e

Best film I saw this year: Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s thrilling, awesome, touching 3D tribute to the early days of movies. Spend the extra to see it in 3D.

Most overrated movie: Bridesmaids. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was entertaining. But one of the best of the year? C’mon.

Most confounding but strangely captivating movie: The Tree of Life. Have no idea what the hell was going on, but couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Worst movie by good people: Larry Crowne, a total turkey from Tom Hanks. And Julia Roberts!

Sporting stuff

Best sporting event: Canucks do not win Stanley Cup. There, I said it.

Most overhyped sporting event: World Junior Hockey Championship. Seriously, until the gold medal game, who cares?

Worst sporting event: Canadian women’s soccer team crashes and burns in women’s World Cup. Who did they think they were, Canadian men?

Most disturbing sports trend: Half of the NHL is out with a concussion. NHL baffled as to why young men who are hit at high speeds by other 250 pound men suited up likes knights of yore are suffering concussions. Must be today’s softer skulls.

Most surprising sporting event: Eskimos trade proven winner Ricky Ray for unproven non-winner Stephen Jyles.  But the trade must be good, because Esk GM Eric Tillman is a genius. Right? Please, somebody tell me I’m right.

Most surprisingly entertaining sports event: The rugby World Cup from New Zealand. Now that’s a man’s game.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add your picks. Always happy to hear from my reader(s).

Happy new year to you all, and thanks for reading.

Redford’s trail of broken promises gives us hope for PC-free future.

When Alison Redford was chosen as the next (and, please God, last) Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, my heart sank a bit. It seemed that the collective wisdom of the party had done the right thing and elected a bright, exciting, more centrist leader. I say my heart sank because the Tories, under any leader outside of Jesus H. Christ himself, desperately need to be deposed. Redford, in my view, gave them the best chance to continue the dynasty. Gary Mar had a bull’s eye painted on his back, and you have to know that opposition parties were salivating at the chance to go after a guy with lots of baggage. But Alison Redford was a clean slate.

Remarkably, this very smart woman has proceeded to crap all over her clean slate.

She started off by giving Gary Mar a plum patronage appointment to make him go away. She followed up that blunder by appointing an older, crankier, whiter cabinet than even Ed Stelmach had. Then she called a fall “session” of the legislature, which lasted two days, which was just long enough for her to have the opportunity to read an hour-long speech on a matter of urgency — the urgency being that she wanted to give a speech.

Now, these kinds of blunders are easily forgotten. The public has a short memory, and probably didn’t care that much about this kind of stuff in the first place. But Redford’s most recent missteps will have staying power.

She is retreating on some of her most high profile promises. First, she promised a “judicial inquiry” into the allegations of intimidation of doctors by Alberta Health Services. She has revered course on what was a very clear promise, and now says a panel might appoint a judge or two, if one is available, or maybe not. In any event, an actual judicial inquiry won’t happen. I’m sure the fact that Ron Liepert, the former health minister, didn’t want a judicial inquiry had nothing to do with her decision. Right? I said, right?

That was broken promise no. 1.

Broken promise no. 2 was her pledge to set fixed election dates. Oh, we’ll have elections every four years, but it will be up to the government if it’s sometime in March, or April, or May. Call it floating fixed. That means the government will still hold the hammer about when to start spending precious election dollars. One of the biggest expenses is setting up a campaign office, which means finding a space to rent for a month. If the election was held at a set date, arrangements could be made well ahead of time. But who’s got money to rent an office for three months?

Oh, wait …

There is no reason — no reason at all — why there should not be a fixed date, no matter what kind of half-assed, embarrassing excuse Dave Hancock tries to peddle. If the United States of America, the mightiest democracy of all, can hold a fixed election date, then the puny Republic of Albertastan should be able to as well. But Alison Redford is not committed to democratic reform.

It’s extraordinary just how badly Redford is handling almost every issue that comes across her desk. Flagrantly breaking promises labels you a flip-flopper at best, a flat out liar at worst. Suddenly, I’m feeling a little better about the future.