The Return of Stuff Happens, week 18: Will the right unite; the ‘I’ word is spoken.

There was a seismic shift in Alberta politics this week. Only time will tell if it’s a real earthquake that brings down two (or maybe three) parties, or whether it just grunts and groans and nothing happens.

On Wednesday, Wildrose party leader Brian Jean and new Progressive Conservative party leader Jason Kenny officially signed a deal to unite the two right-of-centre parties into one entity, tentatively titled the United Conservative Party. If confirmed, it would shut down the Wildrose party, created by disgruntled PCers who thought the party had done too soft, as well as the PC party, which dominated the provincial landscape for more than 40 years. Having one united conservative party, the thinking goes, is the best bet to overthrow the Bolshevicks who fluked their way into power in the last election, sending those accidental NDP MLAs back behind their counters at Starbucks.

Of course, there is no guarantee a United Conservative Party will sweep to power in two years, but it has a lot better chance that either the Wildrose or the PCs would have has separate parties. The NDP won’t admit it, but their election was one of those periodic Alberta voter revolts, where the voters grab at any reasonable alternative to get rid of a government that is past its best-before date. There are hundreds of thousands of Albertans who would choose an hour-long colonoscopy over voting NDP who will flock to a united conservative party.

First, though, the deal has to be ratified by the memberships, and that is not a slam dunk. While the PCs only require a simple majority to approve the deal, the Wildrose has set a much higher mark — 75% approval. That could be tough. The Wildrose is the official opposition, with money in the bank and a likable leader in Jean, even if he has all the charisma of a carp. The PCs are massively in debt, a distant third in the Legislature, still widely hated in many circles, and led by by a ruthless political animal, the deeply unlikable Kenny.

So what’s in it for the Wildrose? Power. Two conservative parties going into the next election is a near guarantee of defeat for both of them; one conservative party has a solid chance at victory.

Assuming the deal goes through, then there will be another leadership contest, certainly pitting Kenny and Jean, and perhaps some others, like wildcard Wildroser Derek Fildebrandt. Some conservatives are drooling over the prospect of Rona Ambrose (the interim federal Conservative leader who stepped away from politics this week) joining the race. It seems unlikely, as she has just taken a job with a U.S. think tank. But if the deal goes through, there will be pressure on Ambrose to join the race. Ambrose leading a united conservative party is Rachel Notley’s worst nightmare.

They’re already talking impeachment

It was inevitable, wasn’t it? We knew it was coming, but maybe not quite this quickly.

I’m talking, of course, of the impeachment of the President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump.

It’s not a certainty, of course. And he can be impeached, and carry on as president. Sounds like something he’d do. But the chances of full impeachment hearings against Trump — who has been president only since January — gets more likely every day.

Last week, following on the heels of his shocking firing of FBI chief James Comey, a memo Comey wrote after talking to Trump was leaked to the Washington Post. The memo quotes Comey as saying that Trump has asked him to end an investigation into former national security advisor (and perjurer) Michael Flynn. If true, this could be construed as obstruction of justice, which is an impeachable offence. (Another report said Trump — who leaked confidential information to the Russians — told the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job”.) Unless there are tape recordings of their conversation — which Trump hinted at darkly in one of his more threatening, Bond-villainesque Tweets — this will be a matter of whom do you believe. Do you believe Comey, a career FBI man with an unblemished record (OK, maybe ONE blemish), or chronic liar and egomaniac Trump? Not a tough call. A special counsel, a former FBI director, has been appointed to oversee the investigation into allegations that the Trump campaign and Russia collaborated to influence the 2016 campaign.

Even Republicans are getting antsy about this ugly mess. John McCain said the scandal is “of Watergate size and scale”. With support for Trump at historic lows (he never even had a post-election honeymoon), other Republicans are likely to distance themselves from the Orange Menace, particularly those facing re-election next year.

Trump is defiant, of course. The told U.S. Coast Guard cadets that he had been “treated worse than any politician in history”. Visitors to the Lincoln memorial in Washington said they were quite sure they heard a voice say, “Um, seriously?”

The not-so great cultural appropriation debate

Are you familiar with the term cultural appropriation? It’s all the rage in elite circles these days.

Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines cultural appropriation as follows: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

This could be a guy wearing dreadlocks, or hipsters at a music festival wearing a native headdress.

In certain circles (writers of books few people read, and writers of poetry that nobody reads) taking a contrary stand on cultural appropriation will cost you your job. Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of Write, the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada (there’s such a thing?) wrote “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” and jokingly suggested there should be a “cultural expropriation prize” for literature. Cue the uproar! The union immediately issued a grovelling apology, and Niedzviecki resigned.

Later, Jonathan Kay, the editor of The Walrus (there’s such a thing?) wrote an opinion piece in the National Post that defended the right to debate cultural appropriation. Cue the uproar! Kay stepped down as Walrus editor.

And finally, the managing editor of CBC’s The National was reassigned for making “an inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable tweet” about the appropriation uproar. What did he say that was inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable? He volunteered to donate $100 to establishing the cultural expropriation prize. Cue the uproar! The ever-PC CBC immediately begged forgiveness.

If cultural appropriate a thing? Sure. Is it something that we can discuss? Apparently not. Deviating from the agreed upon orthodoxy in Canada is now a firing offence.

RIP

Roger Ailes, 77, the villainous genius behind Fox News, a organization that rejected objectivity in favour of rabid pro-Republican conservatism. Without Fox, there would never have been a Donald Trump presidency … Chris Cornell, 52, one of the most respected contemporary lead singers in rock music with his bands Soundgarden and Audioslave …  Brad Grey, 59, chairman of Paramount Pictures for a dozen years who played a pivotal role in the creation of seminal television hits such as The Sopranos .. .

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Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe, 68, actor known for playing bad guys in dozens of films and TV shows.

 

Stuff Happens, week 43: ‘Trudeau II: The son also rises’ makes its debut; pipeline politics

It’s now official — Prime Minister Trudeau. For those of us of a certain age, that has a familiar ring.

Now, I’m not a naturally optimistic person. I see myself as more of a realist. However, I’m strangely optimistic about our new government. Maybe it’s just the residual joy of ridding the country of Stephen Harper, but I feel pretty good about the Trudeau cabinet. For now.

To be honest, I was concerned about this ‘gender parity’ silliness. At the risk of sounding like a ‘privileged white male’ (I am a white male, but I’m still waiting to be awarded  my privilege), I agree with some of my fellow men that forcing gender neutrality risks appointing less qualified people. And that applies both ways — maybe there were some highly qualified women who were passed over the for gender neutrality goal. Ever think of that, huh? The fact is, however, that cabinet posts have never been based solely on merit. Look at the gallery of sycophants, incompetents and toadies that occupied the front benches of Stephen Harper’s government. And of course, you have to appoint members, qualified or otherwise, from the regions. So meritocracy has never existed, and it doesn’t exist with Trudeau, either. But diversity? You bet. This cabinet has 15 women, two indigenous people, five visible minorities, two people with handicaps, four Sikhs (more Sikhs than there are in the government of India), one gay (that we know of, wink wink) and even a millionaire. Yes, it does look a lot like Canada. And just like Canada, some of these people will be great at their jobs, some mediocre, some flops. But Trudeau had a remarkably diverse and accomplished group of MPs to choose from, and it appears so far he chose well. The least accomplished, it seems? Justin Trudeau.

The other big story on a very newsy week was Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. This news was as expected as Edmonton’s annual property tax hike.

Millions of words have been spoken and printed on Keystone, so I won’t recap them here. The bottom line, in my view,  is that Obama came down on the side of symbolism rather than common sense. With the climate change summit coming up in Paris shortly, Obama needed something to take to the conference so he could wear the environmental champion mantel. Saying no to Keystone is low-hanging fruit for Obama, just as it was to environmentalists. It keeps the greens happy, it looks like he’s doing something, it has no real impact on the U.S. economy, and coming down against “dirty oil” is easy. Obama ignored the facts about the oil sands. Yes, they are “dirtier” than conventional oil, but the oil sands only contribute 0.1 per cent of of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moving oil by pipeline is less damaging to the environment than moving it by rail. And get this: Canada is the only major major supplier of oil to the U.S. that has greenhouse gas rules. Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Venezuala? No rules.

In Edmonton on Wednesday noon, TV newsrooms were no doubt torn as to what the top news story of the day would be: the Trudeau cabinet swearing in with an Edmonton member; or Edmonton Oiler Connor McDavid breaking his clavicle. The clavicle won.

The Oiler rookie being out of action for not days, not weeks, but months cast a pall over the city as bleak at the November skies. This guy was looking like the real deal, and although the Oilers are still losing more than they’re winning, McDavid displayed the kind of skill that we haven’t seen here in years. Now, the potential rookie of the year season for McDavid is over, and the Oilers chances of making the playoffs are more remote than they were last week. Which is to say, very very remote.

The masochist in me still tuned into Question Period from the Alberta Legislature. Yeah, I know. That’s pathetic. Almost as pathetic as the performance of Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

A typical Jean question goes something like “Why won’t this government stick up for Albertans?” (actually, that was the exact wording of a question).  When a ludicrous softball question like that is tossed Rachel Notley’s way, she can barely contain her smirk. On Wednesday, Jean said Notley has “consistently campaigned against our pipelines, and our oilsands.” Here’s the problem with this kind of question: it may or may not be true, but proving it to be true takes elementary research. Perhaps the Wildrose hasn’t heard of something called Hansard, which contains every single word said in the Alberta legislature. If Notley has “consistently campaigned against our pipelines, and our oilsands” it shouldn’t be very hard to dig up some quotes from Hansard, from newspaper files, or NDP press releases. If I were running the Wildrose research, I’d have a crew of people pouring over everything Notley, Brian Mason and David Eggen have said over the years. Goodness knows, the NDP does that every day, throwing Wildrose policy back in their faces. By Thursday, the Wildrose appeared to have finally discovered that what the Dippers said in the past can come back to haunt them. The opposition scored real points against the holier-than-everyone government by blasting them for selling $250 tickets to events to meet government members — exactly what the NDP made a stink about during the Stelmach years. After Mason rose to say that wasn’t the truth, it was up to health minister Sara Hoffman — who sounds like a chipmunk on helium — to read an apology. So Mason was saying all was well, then Hoffman said no it wasn’t. It was really the first time since the Notley-ites took over that the Wildrose laid a solid hit on the government. See what happens when you do some research?

RIP: Melissa Mathison, 65, the screenwriter responsible for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial … George Barris, 89, the custom car designer who created the Batmobile for the 196os Batman TV series, and the Munster Koach from The Munsters. 

Rachel Notley skilled at the art of the non-answer answer.

So, I’ve been watching Question Period in the Alberta Legislature since the bright orange dawn of the NDP government began. People sometimes ask me why I watch ‘QP’, as those in the know call it. The political answer would be that I watch it as my civic duty as a citizen, or that I want to be as informed about Alberta politics as possible for my 12 regular blog readers. The real answer is probably closer to the fact that I usually have my days open, and I’m a bit of a political nerd.

But I like the first answer, so that’s the one I’m sticking with.

Which brings us to the question of answers, specifically answers in Question Period.

I’ve been watching Premier Rachel Notley, and I have a grudging admiration for her ability to not answer questions, and her skill at torquing questions to fit the answer she wants to give. She’s clearly got the lawyer’s gift of listening to questions carefully, and saying whatever she wants in return.

Take, for example, this recent exchange between the premier and Mr. Nice, Brian Jean, the leader of the opposite position

The question of the NDP’s minimum wage hike up to $15 is hotly debated. The Wildrose and some economists say it hurts job creation; the NDP and some economists say it creates job. I won’t get into that debate here; suffice to say it has been a frequent line of attack by the Wildrose.

But in these two exchanges, you will see how good Notley is at the dark arts of not answering a question.

On Tuesday, Jean asked this question:

Mr. Jean: The labour minister and the Premier have both
said that increasing the minimum wage by 50 per cent will result in
more jobs. Every employer of minimum wage employees say
exactly the opposite. They point out that they will either have to
shut down or they will have to reduce staff or they will have to find
labour-saving ways to absorb a 50 per cent increase in labour costs.
Can the Premier please clarify: does she know one single employer
who will hire more . . .

Now, this is where the question was cut off by the speaker. There are time limits on questions, and if the question goes over, the speaker can cut off the microphone and the rest of the question is not recorded in Hansard, the official record of what is said in the legislature. Notley began her response by ragging the puck, lecturing Jean (and the speaker) about supplemental questions (I won’t bore you with the details). Then, with her time running out, she said this:

Ms Notley: Nonetheless, in answer to your question, yes, I do know
many employers who are going to create more jobs.

Interesting, I thought. She knows of “many employers” who are going to create jobs despite the 50 per cent rise in the minimum wage. I immediately thought that someone from the Wildrose would ask her to name the businesses. It wasn’t until the next day, but Jean took the bait.

On Wednesday, they had this exchange:

Mr. Jean: Yesterday I asked the Premier if she knew of any businesses
which plan to hire more employees because of this government’s
plan to increase the minimum wage by 50 per cent. She said that
she did, but when asked, she didn’t name names. I’m surprised the
media, actually, didn’t pester her about this for more details.
Exactly which employers have told the Premier that they plan to
increase the size of their workforce because she is raising minimum
wages by 50 per cent? Could she give us some names and table a
list, please?

OK, this should be good. But Notley, listening to every word, came up with this answer:

Ms Notley: Again, Mr. Speaker, I must say that the notion of a
supplemental question is quite broadly interpreted right now. That
being said, what the question asked yesterday was: in the current
environment do we know of any employers that are going to hire
new employees? And I answered that yes, I did, and as I said previously
and yesterday, for instance, just on Friday I was at a press
conference where Telus announced that it would be investing a
billion dollars in the city of Edmonton, notwithstanding that they
knew about our plan about minimum wage, and that there would
be . . .

See how clever that answer is? Jean’s inelegantly worded question was clearly related to the minimum wage hike, but Notley simply answered it based on the last part of the question, “does she know one single employer who will hire more …” So, she used the Telus announcement (which has no connection to minimum wage) as her one example, which is a far cry from the “many” employers she bragged about. Brilliant, in a political way.

Immediately after, Notley tore another page from the How to Answer a Question Without Answer the Question guidebook.

Mr. Jean: It’s all about hooey. The labour minister and the Premier
have both said more than once that increasing the minimum wage
by 50 per cent will result in more jobs in Alberta. They say that the
consequences of this policy are all good, all wonderful, and no harm
will come to Alberta. So let me ask a policy question. Since the
Premier says that there is no harm and only positives from boosting
the minimum wage by 50 per cent in three years, why isn’t she
actually calling for a 100 per cent boost? If this policy increases
employment, why don’t you set the minimum wage at $20 or $25
or $30 since we’re going to get more jobs?

Interesting question. Since you can pretty much guess that the $15 an hour wage was a number the NDP pulled out of their asses when they didn’t think they could win, it challenges Notley to support the $15 total. And why not $20, if indeed increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy?

Here, Notley gave a complete non-answer.

Ms Notley: You know, Mr. Speaker, it comes down to this. The
folks over there think it’s totally appropriate for a single mother of
two or three to have to work 70 hours a week in order to earn a
living wage. I say to you that they’re just wrong, and that’s why we
are changing the minimum wage in Alberta.

Wow! A total non-answer, one of the best. She could have said it was the result of careful calculations, or some sort of consultation with stakeholders, or some such rot. Nope, she just turned it around, feigned outrage, and sat down.

Gotta hand it to Notley. She may have the veneer of a shiny new-era politician, but beneath the surface she’s just as crafty as any old political hack.