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.

Katz donation assures one thing — no money for arena.

You’d think at some point I’d get tired of writing about Daryl Katz, but no. The guy just keeps doing the most amazing, mind-boggling things. I swear, Katz is an Edmonton version of Mitt Romney.

When last we left the klutz that is Katz, out local Monty Burns had managed to take a sure bet, multi-million dollar deal for a new arena and foul it up, possibly beyond repair. All the guy had to do was appear before city council (his partners in this deal, after all) and clear up some misunderstandings. But Katz told council he was too busy being a total jerk to appear before council, and council returned his kindness by telling him to get lost.  Katz is apparently quite reclusive, but even Howard Hughes made a few public appearances when he needed to be seen.

Now, the amazing, disappearing Katz has become a provincial figure. Word came out last week (courtesy, it appears, from the Katz people themselves) that Katz, his family, his companies and his chief lieutenants had made a donation to the provincial PC party during last year’s election of something like $300,000 to $400,000.  In U.S politics, that’s called ‘a nice start’, but here, it’s big money. That kind of money would have paid for the entire Liberal campaign — hell, it would have paid for three provincial Liberal campaigns.

Whether the money made any difference to the outcome of the election is impossible to tell, but I’m sure the PCs put it to good use. As you may recall, it wasn’t a brilliant advertising campaign that turned the floundering PC campaign around, but a series of dumbass statements from Wildrose candidates, combined with a wave of panic voting from Liberal and undecided voters.  But still, for the Tories, the money must have seemed like manna from heaven.

As expected, the opposition is in full howl. Katz and the city of Edmonton were banking on $100 million or so from some level of government (hello, province!) for the arena, so of course the ‘optics’ of a $300,000 donation to a party you were counting on for a $100 million contribution are not good. You can always count on the bombastic Brian Mason to come up with the perfect sound bite for TV; in the legislature, Mason put on his best sorrowful face to say that it looks like our local billionaire has bought himself a political party. This is rich coming from the leader of a party that has been bought and paid for by the province’s labor unions, but no matter.

According to other reports, unnamed friends of Katz say that Daryl was just so panicked by the prospect of a Wildrose government that he decided to donate all that he could to prevent this calamity. He was just being a good citizen, after all.

As always, Katz’s actions continue to baffle. Surely, if he did donate the money in the hopes of some future quid pro quo, even a guy with his shocking lack of public relations smarts would know that the donation would come to light. Even more incredibly, the donation pretty much insures that the province will never give the arena any direct money. The ‘optics’ of that kind of arrangement — billionaire donates thousands to political party that in turn gives millions to his pet project — would quite simply destroy the PCs.

Could there be money coming from provincial funds for the arena? Maybe. But it will only be money that is given to the city of Edmonton to use as it sees fit. In the legislature on Monday, Doug Horner said repeatedly that there were no promises made in return for the money. Of course there weren’t. The PCs aren’t stupid, nor are they flagrantly corrupt. They should not have taken so much money from one source, but there is zero chance that Katz or the city of Edmonton will get $100 million for an arena thanks to that donation.

 

Original draft of Katz apology letter revealed.

On Saturday, Daryl Katz paid for full-page ads in the Edmonton newspapers to apologize for his handling of the arena controversy. My sources deep within the Katz Group (a pharmacist I know at a Rexall Drugs) had access to the first draft of the apology letter, written by Katz himself. Boldface portions were removed before the ad went to press, on the advice of his new public relations firm, McMann and Tate. Here it is:

The people of Edmonton, Northern Alberta, half of Red Deer, and Oiler Fans Everywhere, Except The Ones Who Only Watch the Oilers on TV and Never Go to Games,

I owe you an explanation.

I was upset when certain confidential information was leaked and by comments that I thought were unfair and called in integrity into question. When I told city council that I wanted access to lottery money, it was supposed to be just between me and the members of city council. I thought there was no way that a bunch of politicians would leak confidential information to the media! Boy, was I wrong.

I reacted by trying to send a message to City leaders that they should not take my support for a new arena for granted. I was really pisssed. My buddies Bob and Steve and Pat all said, “Hey, let’s go to Seattle and walk around that rotting old arena they have and pretend we’re interested in moving the Oilers there! And make sure someone in the Seattle media knows about it, so it will get maximum exposure. “ So I thought, well, these guys are smart, they understand the community. Sounds like a great idea. So, I booked a flight to Seattle with the guys (why do I always pay?) and the media took the bait. That’ll learn ‘em, I thought.

Well, I got roasted. In doing this, I took for granted your support and love for the Oilers.Turns out, people are not quite as stupid as I was led to believe.

That was wrong, and I apologize. OK, happy now, everyone? I SAID I was sorry.

The best I can say is that I did it because I’m fighting for a deal that will enable the team to stay in Edmonton — and not because I want them anywhere else. And, or course, I want to make lots and lots of money, on top of the pile of money I already make on the Oilers. How do you think I became a billionaire?

That’s why I bought the Oilers in the first place. That, and because I can, because I’m rich, rich RICH! Because I want the NHL to be sustainable in Edmonton for the long-term, and because I saw the city’s need for a new arena as an opportunity to transform our city, and my bank balance, for the better.

In hindsight, I have underestimated the degree to which it would be up to us to make the case for public funding. I thought, c’mon, it’s the Oilers here. We do whatever we like all the time. Why should this be any different?

As I think you all know by now, public communications is not in my nature. Chalk that up as a personal shortcoming. That, and I was too cheap to hire a half-way decent public relations firm.

We are continuing to work with the City Administration to forge a win-win partnership that will benefit our city and that we can all be proud of.  I just want to win a little more, that’s all. Is that so bad?

Sincerely,

Daryl Katz

What does Katz want? Try everything.

Mayor Stephen Mandel professes to be baffled by what Oilers owner Daryl Katz wants in the ongoing agony that is the arena negotiations.

“I can no longer define what Mr. Katz is asking for or what he’s not asking for,” a deeply frustrated mayor said on Tuesday, after Katz gobsmacked city council with a new list of demands, including a $6 million a year subsidy which Katz apparently believes he can get through casino money. (Ignore for a moment that the allocation of casino money is a provincial matter, not a civic matter. Let’s not concern ourselves with legalities here.)

Well, let me help, if I may.

In answer to the question, ‘what does Daryl Katz want?’, the answer is quite simple.

Everything.

He wants everything, because he needs everything to make this crazy venture work.

There, Mr. Mayor, is that so hard to understand?

Here’s what Mandel doesn’t understand. Despite appearances, Katz is not a billionaire with enough money to spare that he bought an expensive bauble called the Edmonton Oilers. No, he’s a philanthropist, a good hearted son of Edmonton who, by golly, saw his hometown team was in trouble, and put everything he had into rescuing the team, all for the good of Good Ol’ Our Town. His wife thinks he’s crazy, he told the Edmonton Journal, his personal Pravda. Gosh, he told 630 CHED (Katz being interviewed by CHED, on a show devoted to all-things Oilers, is like Mitt Romney going on Fox News) he’s just trying to make a go of this crazy venture, and he just can’t do it without a little help from his friends. After all, Edmonton is a “small” market in the NHL, unlike metropolises like Winnipeg and Ottawa and Nashville and wherever the Carolina Hurricanes play. All poor Daryl has is a hockey mad city that sells out every game at top dollar to watch a crappy team play crappy hockey. How is he supposed to make a go of it when he’s been dealt such a lousy hand?

Mandel, clearly bewildered and angry, wants Katz to appear before an open council meeting to answer questions himself about what he wants. So far, Katz’s strategy has been to send representatives to talk to council. But Mandel is tired of hearing from bishops — he wants to hear from the pope. It might be easier to get the real pope to drop by for a chat than to get Katz to talk to an open council meeting.

Now, let’s get serious: Katz has screwed the pooch. Every ounce of goodwill he had — and he had gallons of it — is gone.  He had handled this so poorly, you have to wonder if he’s getting advice from Mitt Romney’s brain trust. My guess it that there are dozens of public relations people in Edmonton who are pulling their hair out, dying to get their hands on this fiasco. Katz, by his high-handed actions and secretive dealings, may have permanently scuttled what was a great deal for his hockey team.

There is no hope now that the arena will be built before the lease expires at Rexall, forcing Katz to negotiate a new deal with Northlands. You’ve got to know that they’re rubbing their hands together with glee at Northlands.

If the arena deal goes sideways, Katz has no one to blame but himself. He’s been arrogant and secretive. Nobody believes his ‘poor me’ whine. Personally, I think the majority of Edmontonians want a new arena, and believe that some sort of public-private partnership is needed – but not at any cost. If Katz has to wait a few more years to get his new pleasure palace so be it.

 

 

We’re shocked, shocked that Katz wants more.

I’m shocked, shocked to hear that Daryl Katz wants more money for the new arena, just the way Major Renault was “shocked, shocked” to find that gambling was going on in Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

Back in July, when word came down that the “iconic” project (it can’t really be an icon until it’s built and established itself as an icon, so can we all please stop using that overused word?) was $35 million over budget, Mayor Stephen Mandel seemed sanguine about the whole thing. After yesterday’s meeting behind-closed-doors meeting with the Katz group extortionists (sorry, that should be ‘representatives’), Mandel — who would be a terrible poker player — looked morose about the whole thing. He admitted to going from “optimistic” to “frustrated”, all the while looking like a guy who just saw a puppy get run over by a steamroller.

City council members are staying tight-lipped about what Katz wants (sure, it’s only our money they’re talking about), but apparently it’s not about increasing funding for the arena itself, but some sort of mysterious “additional funding requests”. City councilors, with one eye on the budget and the other eye on their re-election prospects, politely told Katz no.

What exactly was Katz looking for? If you read between the lines of the letter the Katz group sent to council, it looks like they want a larger chunk of the revenue from the building, which seems impossible in that they’re basically getting the whole pie. The letter rather boldly says, “We believe the city has significant capacity beyond its commitment of $45 million to help fund the arena”. Put more bluntly, he’s saying you’ve got more money in your piggy bank than you’re letting on, so shake it loose.

The letter also criticizes the city for the slow pace of negotiations over the project. This makes me laugh. Surely Katz knew what he was dealing with the City of Edmonton, an organization that can take years to make the simplest decision, or build the most elementary project. Nothing, absolutely nothing, gets done quickly in civic government. And seriously, Mr. Katz, if you wanted an arena built quickly, you should have done it yourself. You can design and build a dozen Rexall drug stores in the time it takes for city council to decide on what it wants for lunch.

So where are we now?

Well, we know that the arena cannot be built for $450 million, but that’s hardly news; we knew that back in July. (At that time, I wrote that the Winter Garden would be the first piece of the arena project to be jettisoned for cost considerations, and I think that is more likely now than ever.) What we don’t know, thanks to the cone of silence city council is hiding under, exactly what Katz wants.

What we do know (or at least I think we know) is that the public has run out of patience with Katz. He’s coming off as a bully, a penny-ante operator who is trying to squeeze every last nickel out of Edmonton under the unstated threat of moving the beloved but incompetent Edmonton Oilers. Katz still holds all the cards — he’s got the Oilers, he’s got public expectations, he’s got politicians who want to get re-elected — but he’s playing his cards badly.

In my view, this is going to end poorly. We’ll get an arena, but forget all those gorgeous images you’ve seen. It will be a pared back building, attractive and functional, but no “icon”. You know that old expression, a camel is a horse designed by a committee? Well, we’re going to have a camel for an area.

Oh, and once again, I’d just like to ask one more thing — how’s the hunt for that missing $100 million coming?