Wildrose rollover a betrayal of epic proportions.

Q: What do World War II France and the Wildrose Party have in common?

A: They both rolled over.

At least the French were facing the Nazi Germany army, and almost certain destruction. The only thing the Wildrose was facing was losing the next election. Not quite the same thing, but they rolled over just the same.

You can describe the defection of nine Wildrose members to the Progressive Conservatives in any number of ways — opportunism, cowardice, naked political ambition, whatever — but the one that really sticks is betrayal.

The last betrayal in Canadian politics of this magnitude was when Lucien Bouchard left the Brian Mulroney government to lead the separatist forces in Quebec in 1990. But there has never in Canadian history been a case of an official opposition party capitulating in such huge numbers. While Bouchard went on to near sainthood in Quebec, the same cannot be said about the Wildrose MLAs who are jumping the listing ship. And the leader of this traitorous bunch Danielle Smith. THE Danielle Smith who has spent her entire political career accusing the PCs of all manner of political scumbaggery. Almost as bad is Rob Anderson, who quite literally snarls in contempt in his questions for the government.

What Smith, Anderson and the other faceless drones that have bolted the party have done is unprecedented in Canadian history, where the opposition party has essentially conceded defeat to the government. It’s shocking.

It beggers the imagination that most of the Wildrose caucus would betray the people who voted for them, and the party that supported them, by quitting their party en masse. As bad as the Edmonton Oilers are, even they wouldn’t abandon their team (as much as they would like to) to join the Calgary Flames.

What is perhaps most amazing about this is how shortsighted the ex-Wildrose MLAs are. It was just a few months ago that the Wildrose were riding high, hounding Alison Redford from office. When Jim Prentice took over and co-opted virtually all of the Wildrose’s policies, the spineless Wildrosers threw in the towel, apparently believing that Prentice was unbeatable.

Apparently, the Wildrose MLAs are not only spineless, they are also lousy students of history. While Prentice is riding high right now, the next election is probably two years away, which, as the Wildrose should know, is an eternity in politics. Sure, the odds of the Wildrose winning the next election in 2016 were long. But hey, I ran as a LIBERAL in Alberta, knowing full well that I was NOT going to be on the winning side. But I did it anyway, and so did every Liberal and New Democrat in Alberta over the last 30 years. Winning isn’ the only thing that matters in politics. There are a few corny old things like public service and honouring the people who voted for you that still matter. Liberals and New Democrats run for office knowing their odds of winning their seats are long, and the odds of winning government are longer still; say, the distance from the Earth to Jupiter. But they run anyway, because they feel they have something to offer, or something to say.

Apparently, the Wildrose defectors feel they have nothing left to say. So they went into government.

What an insult to the voters of the ridings. What an insult to the thousands of people who donated to the party. What an insult to the party executive, who put in thousands of thankless hours, only to be shat upon by their politicians.

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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.)

 

The year in political bloopers.

Ah, politics. It has the potential to inspire, and an even greater potential to inspire derisive laughter or fits of rage. Here, for your reading and enraging enjoyment, are my choices for the top 10 political blunders of 2012, local edition.

1. Allan Hunsperger and the ‘lake of fire’

In the April provincial election, the upstart (they were always called ‘upstart’) Wildrose party appeared to be on the verge of doing the impossible — toppling the PC dynasty. The public seemed ready to put aside its concerns about the far-right bent of the party to finally turf the exhausted 41-year Tory dynasty. But just before the election, a year-old blog posting by a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton, preacher Allan Hunsperger, resurfaced. In it, playing on the Lady Gaga song ‘Born this Way’, Hunsperger wrote in reference to gays: “You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”

The comments caused uproar, affirming for many that the Wildrose was harboring lunatics in the fold, and trying to keep them hidden until after the election. In keeping with her libertarian views, leader Danielle Smith rebuked Hunsperger for his remarks, but only mildly, saying he was entitled to his opinions. She let his nomination stand, but certainly the ‘lake of fire’ remark caused many soft Wildrose voters to revert back to form and vote en masse for the PCs. (I spoke to one young person, who had no intention of even voting, but the ‘lake of fire’ line encouraged her and her friends to vote — and they voted PC.) Which brings us to the no. 2 political blooper of the year …

2. Provincial election polls

With a week to go before the April 23 vote, all polls put the Wildrose within range of not just winning the election, but winning with a majority. One vote-projection model, with took all released polls and crunched the numbers, put support for the Wildrose at 41.9 per cent, in range of a majority government. The polls gave the New Democrats hope for a possible balance of power role in a potential minority government, and also predicted the Liberals would be wiped out. Come election day, however, panicked voters — including many who usually voted Liberal or New Democrat — took the lesser of two evils route and voted Conservative. In the end, Alison Redford’s Tories took 44 per cent of the vote and 61 seats, the Wildrose 34 per cent and 17 seats, the Liberals 9.89 per cent and 5 seats, and the NDs 9.82 per cent and 4 seats. How did the polls get it so wrong? See blooper no. 1.

3. Justin Trudeau opens his mouth

Justin Trudeau, one of Pierre’s two Christmas Day birthday sons (the Second and Third comings?) entered the federal Liberal leadership race, and immediately became the frontrunner, and remained that way even after others entered the race.  But Trudeau, who posses some of this father’s charisma and none of his father’s intellectual heft, unwillingly himself in the middle of a federal byelection in Calgary in November that polls showed the Liberals had a chance of winning. A two-year-old interview emerged where Trudeau, speaking to a French reporter, said: ““Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.” Trudeau, and all Liberals by extension, was immediately labeled as being anti-Alberta. Trudeau was forced to apologize for his remarks, saying he was actually thinking of Stephen Harper when he said “Albertans”. Too late; the damage was done. What little chance of the Liberals winning a seat in Calgary evaporated, no doubt helped along by blooper no. 4 ….

4. David McGuinty opens his mouth

David McGuinty, the little known Ontario Liberal MP who was the party’s natural resources critic, unleashed a broadside at Alberta Conservative MPs, when he told the House of Commons that Harper’s Alberta sheep are “very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil fuel business and the oilsands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.” That could have gone without notice, but he went on to say that the Alberta MPs should “go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature.”

Not surprisingly, his comments were reduced to “go back to Alberta”, leading to howls of outrage and giving the Conservatives an opportunity to dredge up the National Energy Program. Combined with Justin Trudeau’s remarks, McGuinty’s broadside sunk the Liberal candidate in Calgary.

5. “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision”

Premier Alison Redford’s government came under fierce attack when it was revealed (by the Wildrose and its research arm, CBC News) that a potentially lucrative contract to sue Big Tobacco to recoup health care dollars was awarded to a firm that included Redford’s ex-husband. Redford denied any wrongdoing, saying “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision.” Well, that was sort of true, and sort of not true. When Redford was justice minister, she recommended her ex-husband’s firm, but the actual awarding of the contract was done when Verlyn Olson took over as justice minister while Redford ran for the PC party leadership. Redford was using oily legalese to try to defuse the situation, but only made the matter worse. The opposition howled for weeks, trying very hard to get the public to call the “scandal” Tobacco-gate. ND leader Brian Mason piously called for her resignation, getting the front-page Journal coverage he so craves. Turns out there are no conflict of interest rules against dealings with ex-spouses, and the whole thing just kind of fizzled out. But Redford took a hit to her credibility by trying to dodge the issue, rather than facing it head on.

6,7,8. Daryl Katz’s blooper hat-trick

Oilers owner and resident Montgomery Burns impersonator Daryl Katz singlehandedly scuttled the sweetheart deal he made with city council to build a new area for his wretched Oilers. His first mistake was to give $300,000 to the PCs during the provincial election (a donation that may, or may not, be ruled illegal) on behalf of himself, members of the Katz group, and his family dog for all we know. News of the donation ensured that the provincial government would not give the arena a dime, because it would like they were in his velvet-lined back pocket. Katz made a pair of other colossal miscues in 2012. When the arena deal was going sour, he made a trip to Seattle, clearly an attempt to panic the public into thinking he was shopping the team around. The tactic backfired horribly, nobody bought it, and he was forced to run an apology in the daily papers. His final, and worst, mistake, was to snub city council when they request Katz or someone from his organization appear before council to explain why he wanted more money than agreed upon in a deal reached earlier. Katz lost all support he had on council, and the arena deal went into deep hibernation. At year’s end, Katz tried to make amends, and the arena appears to have some life again. That is, until Katz’s next blooper.

9. Vic Toews and Peter McKay

Here’s why Stephen Harper’s ministers are not allowed to speak very often. First, Vic Toews, Harper’s Neanderthal public safety minister, said that anyone opposed to his bill that allows police easier access to snoop into personal Internet information is on the side of pedophiles. Then there’s Peter McKay, the increasingly clownish defence minister. McKay was caught using search-and-rescue helicopters for his personal use (under the guise of a “training mission”). When he was caught red-handed, he simply lied about it, while having the armed forces look into trips opposition MPs might have taken. Since both are stars in Stephen Harper’s eyes, neither was reprimanded.

10. Danielle Smith’s boob wagon

The funniest blooper of 2012 was a sight gag. When the Wildrose rolled out Danielle Smith’s election bus, the media immediately started to titter. Apparently nobody noticed that the juxtaposition of Smith’s face and the wheels of the bus made Smith look like Pamela Anderson. The gaffe even made Jay Leno’s Headlines segment.

And that wraps up the year in bloopers. Join us again next year in this space, where I’m confident we will have a whole new batch of idiocy to look back upon.

Tories have bungled tobacco file, but it’s no scandal.

The Edmonton Journal’s main headline today, “Speaker clears Redford” takes its place on the list least surprising headlines ever, right up there with “Winter will be cold” and “City to raise taxes”.

There was never any doubt that Speaker Gene Zwozdesky would find some way to proclaim that Premier Alison Redford in no way misled the Legislature when she said “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision” to award a potentially lucrative lawsuit against the tobacco industry to a firm that included her ex-husband. Redford was always in the clear on the point of privilege raised by Wildrose’s snarler-in-chief Rob Anderson. The only way Zwozdesky would ever find a member of the government lied to the Legislature would be if … OK, I actually can’t think of a situation where Zwozdesky would ever make that ruling, regardless of how egregious the lie might be.

This led to the most bizarre day of question period I’ve ever seen. On Monday, Zwoz uncovered an obscure reference in the rules of parliament that said that when a question of privilege is raised, there can be no further questions on the issue until the matter was addressed by the speaker. And since Zwoz had yet to make his ruling, that meant any questions involving the use of the words “tobacco” and “lawsuit” would be ruled ineligible. So, whenever Wildrose leader Danielle Smith rose to ask a question that the Wildrosers desperately want to call “Tobacco-gate” (just like the Wildrose to use a painfully dated reference), she was shut down. Baffled and clearly not too quick on her feet, Smith soldiered on, and Zwozdesky shut her down every time, sounding oh-so-apologetic at first, then completely frustrated.

Then it got really weird, as members rose to challenge the speaker. When Pope Kenneth the First, speaker Ken Kowalski, ruled the chamber, nobody would ever have dared to rise and question his authority. Kowalski would have not only shut down the questioner, he would also have put their names in his naughty MLA list. The fact that MLAs have no problem with questioning Zwozdesky’s authority shows just how little respect the opposition has for him.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, some sharper MLAs got what Zwozdesky was talking about, and found a way to twist their questions around so the word “tobacco” and “lawsuit” was never mentioned. Consider this ludicrous dance between ND leader Brian Mason and Zwozdesky:

Mr. Mason: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, what’s sauce for goose is sauce for the gander.

Given that Albertans need to have confidence that their Premier knows how to avoid situations that might create a conflict of interest or the appearance of bias and given that they have a right to demand complete honesty as well, why won’t the Premier do the right thing and step aside until this matter is fully investigated?

 

The Speaker: Hon. members, I’m not sure what the hon. member was referring to. He didn’t seem to mention any case in particular if someone from the government side wishes to answer.

Seriously. This is how stupid the whole thing got.

Of course, the whole imbroglio could have been avoided if Zwozdesky had warned the opposition parties in advance, in writing, that he would not allow any questions about the tobacco lawsuit. Perhaps he did, but I haven’t heard or seen any evidence of the advance warning.

As for this whole so-called scandal, it’s time the Wildrose and the Liberals and the New Democrats moved on. Yes, the evidence clearly shows Redford wanted her ex-husband’s firm to handle the lawsuit. But, dealings with ex-spouses are not considered to be conflicts of interest (most ex-spouses are mortal enemies, so this makes sense). Did Redford stand to gain by awarding the contract to her ex-husband’s firm? No. They are not married anymore, and have gone their separate ways. It is true that they have remained close (good for them!), and that ex-hubby even led her transition team. But there is no law against anything Redford did. This is Alberta, where Tory friends help each other all the time. Redford should have said come clean at the time the first questions were raised, instead of hiding behind legalities. But she didn’t do anything legally wrong. 

Bottom line: it’s time the Wildrose went on to other things. This so-called “scandal” is simply not resonating with Albertans. There is no question Redford massaged the truth when she said she didn’t make the decision, but the Wildrose won’t be able to destroy Redford’s reputation for integrity with this weak gruel. 

New Wildrose attack ads revealed here.

Alison Redford has been officially the premier of Alberta for, what now, 24 hours and change?  And already, she is lacking in integrity and anti-democratic.

Well, I’ll say this for the new premier — she works fast.

The lacking in integrity/anti-democratic charges come from the Wildrose, who didn’t even give Redford the benefit of a modest honeymoon before barging into the electoral boudoir and criticizing her technique. The Wildrose (or more accurately, DANIELLE SMITH and the Wildrose) launched attack ads (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klsAfLCfvaU) aimed at Redford even before she was sworn into office on Friday. In one ad, complete with the requisite unflattering black-and-white photos, Redford is accused of trying to shut down the legislature after promising openness, and promising fixed election dates, then not giving a date.  After black-and-white Redford, we are then treated to full colour Smith, giving off a creepy Sarah Palin vibe, smirk-smiling while promising to always do the right thing. Like, apparently, attacking somebody before they’ve even had a chance to do anything.

Are the ads fair? Of course not. They’re simplistic and inaccurate, and will hurt the Wildrose a lot more than they’ll hurt the PCs. But the Wildrose, coffers apparently flush with oil money, clearly took note of the federal Conservative’s trashing of successive Liberal leaders by airing attack ads when there was no election campaign. The Harper ads were so effective — painting Stephane Dion as in bed with the separatists, and Michael Ignatieff as ‘just visiting’ Canada — that they contributed greatly to creating negative public images of the two leaders that they never recovered from. It’s dirty politics, but in Danielle Smith’s universe, it’s the Alberta way.

And this is just the beginning. Thanks to a source deep inside the Wildrose, I have obtained the scripts for a number of future attack ads from the party, aimed at Redford. Here they are:

• While the Keystone Pipeline was under attack in the United States, Alison Redford was throwing a lavish party… for herself. Alison Redford: no friend of Alberta industry.

• Alison Redford has promised $100 million to hire more teachers. And yet, not one single teacher has been hired yet. Alison Redford: promises not kept.

• Alison Redford has promised $100 million to hire more teachers. Who’s calling the shots in Alberta? The government… or the teachers’ union? Alison Redford: Alberta’s first NDP premier.

• Alison Redford has consorted with terrorists and criminals (show photo of Redford and Nelson Mandela)… and she was our justice minister! Alison Redford: out of touch with Alberta values.

• Alison Redford’s middle name is Merrilla … what else is she hiding? Alison Redford: a funny middle name.

• Alison Redford has been to  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Philippines. But has she ever been to Tofield? Alison Redford: just visiting Alberta.

• Alison Redford’s chief of staff defaulted on a $600,000 judgment against him. What kind of people is she hanging around with? … Alison Redford: a bad judge of character.

• Alison Redford used to have short hair, and now it’s long …. Alison Redford: if she flip flops on her hairstyle, what else will she flip flop on?

• Alison Redford was born in Kiimat, in the People’s Republic of British Columbia.  Alison Redford: not born here.

• Alison Redford has broken up the old boys’ clubs … what has she got against boys? Alison Redford. Against boys. And the elderly.

• Alison Redford is a lawyer, just like Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Alison Redford: we don’t need another Trudeau.

 

 

Did Smith blow it with her airport stand?

Public opinion polls taken when an election is about 18 months away are more fun than informative.  As John Diefenbaker said, “Dogs know what best to do with polls.” And, just like dogs, it’s best to just sniff around for a minute, then do on to something more important.

But what they heck; let’s look at the most recent poll on political preferences, from the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College. A telephone survey of 1,067 Alberta voters, held Oct. 2-3, found the PCs still out in front with 30 per cent of the vote, with Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party (that should be their official name; without her, they’re like the Heartbreakers without Tom Petty) at 20 per cent, the Alberta Liberals at 17 per cent, and NDs at nine. A healthy 18 per cent was undecided. .

While the PCs and Danielle Smith are duking it out in Calgary, Edmonton is a much different story. Here, the PCs still lead with 33 per cent support of decided voters, with the Liberals second at 24, NDP at 20 and Wildrose at 16.

Whoa. The supposedly surging Wildrose at a puny 16 per cent in Edmonton? And behind the Few Democrats? Those are the kind of numbers that must give the supremely confident Smith pause.

I’ve been saying for a long time (mostly to myself) that the Wildrose is much more of a southern and rural Alberta party. Their MLAs are all from well outside Edmonton, and unless they’ve got somebody hiding out somewhere, they haven’t come up with any high profile (or even mid-high profile) Edmonton candidates.  As far as I can tell, they have two candidates  so far in Edmonton. Of course, there’s no election on the horizon (Stelmach again reiterated the March 2012 date earlier this week), so you might think that there was no rush. But when you’re a new party, with no presence in the community, you can’t have enough candidates too early.

Here’s another thought. The poll was taken Oct. 2-3, well after Smith stuck her nose in Edmonton’s business by signing the Envision Edmonton petition to keep the airport open. Could it be that Edmonton voters reacted negatively to Smith’s ill-advised grandstand play? Smith hasn’t done much wrong so far, but choosing a side in an entirely local issue may have cost her dearly.

But of course, the election is a long ways away. Voters will have forgotten Smith’s gaffe by the time March 2012 rolls around. But the Danielle Smith party, if it wants to make any inroads in Edmonton, should probably start paying attention to the capital they want so badly to take over.