Stuff Happens, week 18: PCs put up the ‘closed’ sign; candidate kerfuffle II; Dave departs

Election fallout continues. On Friday, the formerly unbeatable PCs essentially threw in the towel. In a stunning housecleaning, the ex-dynasty fired all staffers except one and announced plans to close their Calgary and Edmonton offices. Remember, this is a party that raised $825,000 in the first quarter of 2015 (more than the Wildrose and NDP combined), and $5.6 million in 2014. Now, with one bad election, they have virtually shut down.  Seriously, how can a party that raised about $6.5 million in less-than 18 months have no money in the bank to run the operation? One can only assume that the PCs ran their party exactly the same way they ran the province — spending wildly on everything without concern for the future. The Liberal party, which is run not on a shoelace but on an aglet (that little piece of plastic at the end of a shoelace), must be having a chuckle right now.

a2452858109_16Our favourite new NDP MLA, Deborah Drever, is back in the news again. You will remember last week she took heat for her Facebook pictures of her with a beer case on her head, etc. This week, it was discovered that she posed for the cover of a cassette (yes, a cassette) for a Calgary metal band called Gatekrashor. The cassette, titled Fear of Attack, shows Drever sprawled against a fence while a guy appears to be ready to assault her with a bottle. The NDP, desperate to distance itself from its own MLA, issued a statement supposedly from Drever which said: “The photo I appeared in was in poor taste, and I apologize for its offensive content. It is not a photo I would appear in today.” The reaction from some quarters (the director of women’s studies at the U of C called it “a gutwrencher”) is an overreaction, of course. Notice the title is Fear of Attack, not I’m All For Attacking Women. Drever will take the heat for his, but the real criticism should be directed at the NDP. For years, the NDs have put any name on the ballot just to look like a big league party. Clearly, they made no effort to vet this candidate, and probably none of the other paper candidates who won. They’ve been playing this game for years, and now they’re getting burned. Makes me laugh.

The Dippers aren’t the only ones who didn’t look into their candidates carefully enough. The federal Conservative candidate chosen to run against Justin Trudeau, Chris Lloyd, turned out to be an “artist” who was only running to “mess with” the Harper Conservatives. Turns out, Lloyd looked upon his candidacy as an art project, and he really can’t stand the Conservatives. But he still got his picture taken with Harper, both of them doing Harper’s moronic thumbs-up pose. I think Lloyd just blew his chances of getting a Canada Council grant.

In entertainment news, Fox has announced that the next season of American Idol, its 15th, will be its last. In more important entertainment news, actor Harry Shearer is leaving The Simpsons. Shearer is the voice of Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and most importantly Mr. Burns. And still in more entertainment news, CBS has announced that its long-running series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — a show that spawned CSI: Miami, CSI: New York and CSI: Cyber — has been cancelled. In all the years and in all its various forms, I have seen exactly one CSI, and it was so stupid I never watched it again. I don’t feel that I’ve missed anything. What I will miss is David Letterman, who is ending his 30 year run on late night TV this Wednesday. Just how important and oddly beloved is David Letterman? Watch the great, cynical Canadian comic Norm MacDonald give a tearful tribute to Dave, and you’ll see that there is no denying that Dave, the curmudgeon, the crank, the cynic, is genuinely loved.

In sports news, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has been suspended for four games for his role in (sigh) ‘Deflategate’, the pseudo-scandal involving underinflated footballs that has rocked the sports world. With America’s obsession with the National Football League at all-time highs, the suspension of one of its superstars is considered major news.

In the not-at-all surprising news department, a survey by Microsoft has found that the average Canadians’ attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish. Thanks to our connected, smart-phone obsessed world, our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. The average (or maybe above average; they’re goldfish, so who knows?) goldfish attention span is believed to be nine seconds. If this research is accurate, then most of you reading this have already skipped over this sentence and gone on to the next item.

It was a big week for idiots using the f-word. First, ditzy Green Party “leader” Elizabeth May dropped the bomb at the parliamentary press gallery dinner, telling the assembled media and politicos, in a possibly drunken attempt at humour, that Omar Khadr had “more class than the whole fucking cabinet”. Her ‘joke’ did not go over well, and she was gently ushered off the stage by cabinet minister Lisa Raitt. Then there was the certainly drunken idiocy of Toronto FC fans during a live TV hit post-game on CITY TV. One of the boorish boobs used a phrase that is apparently all the rage to shout at female TV reporters amongst yahoos. (I will not repeat it here.) But this time, the reporter turned the tables on the jerks, and asked them why they would do something so crass. One of the idiots defended the hilarious line, even dropping another f-bomb during his brilliant statement, and saying that his mother would think the bon mot was hilarious. (I don’t know his mother, but somehow, I doubt it.) CITY posted the clip online, and the expected outrage was go great, the guy lost his six-figure job with Hydro One. I think the reaction of Hydro One is overkill and barely legal (the idiot was not a public figure, and he was on his own time, so where do we draw the line?) but I’m not too sympathetic. As a card-carrying male, proud member for 59 years, the increasingly boorish, sexist behaviour of my fellow males makes me sometimes think I should hand in my membership card. Men, show a little class, please.

RIP: B.B. King, the King of the Blues and one of the great guitar players of all time, died at 89. The thrill, indeed, is gone.

Stuff Happens, week 17: Freedom for Omar; a Facebook face plant; pollsters get it wrong (again)

At long last, a bit of justice for Omar Khadr. The so-called war criminal was finally released on bail in Edmonton this week, despite the best efforts of the despicable Harper government to portray him as an unrepentant terrorist who committed “heinous” crimes. Just to recap: Khadr was 15 years old — a juvenile in Canadian law — who was taken to Afghanistan by his radical parents. His home came under attack from American soldiers in 2002, and in the resulting fight, one American soldier was killed and another wounded. Khadr suffered terrible injuries, but the worst was yet to come. He was taken to Guantanamo, where he was tortured and abused. The Americans finally returned him to Canada despite the best efforts of the Harper government to make them keep him. The government continues to portray Khadr as a terrorist, despite all evidence to the contrary. Finally allowed to speak for himself on Thursday, Khadr came across as anything but the wild-eyed killer the Tories make him out to be. He was respectful, smiling, remorseful, just a little stunned that he was free. Hey, I’m not saying that what Khadr did was right, but at its most elemental he was a kid in a war zone who threw a grenade when he came under attack. War criminal? If trying to kill the guy trying to kill you makes you a war criminal, then there are hundreds of millions of war criminals free today. The treatment of Khadr by the Canadian and American governments is a black eye to both governments.

The honorable Deborah Drever (left)
The honorable Deborah Drever (left)

Well, that didn’t take long. One of the upstanding citizens the New Democrats recruited to run in the provincial election has proven to be — shock! — somewhat lacking in the gravitas was expect from our elected representatives. Her name is Deborah Drever, and she is the duly elected MLA for Calgary-Bow. Her Facebook page pictures her with a case of beer on her head, posing with a pro-marijuana t-shirt, and includes a photo of a single raised middle finger against a Canadian flag. Clearly, the NDP vetting process went something like this:

Candidate: Hey, I’d like to run for you guys.

NDP: You’re on!

When challenged about the images, Drever blamed the haters. “They’re attacking some candidates — it’s unfortunate,” she said. “(Those sharing the pics) are scared because we’re younger … They’re attacking the young candidates … but we have to start somewhere, we’re fresh new candidates who have a lot to offer … We’re the voice of tomorrow.”

God help us all.

In other news from the People’s Republic of Alberta, Rachel Notley was crowing about the diversity of her caucus on Saturday, which reflects the real Alberta. Let’s see now: there are lots of inexperienced, unskilled 20-somethings making six-figure salaries. Sounds about right.

Still with elections, while the pollsters finally got it right in Alberta, they got it horribly wrong on a larger stage. The UK general election was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested ever; a “hung” parliament (what we call a minority) seemed a certainty. Oops! Prime Minister David Cameron won with ease. This was the latest in a string of polls that got it wrong, wrong, wrong. Something has gone horribly wrong with polling, and at least 50% of people know that.

images-2And finally, McDonald’s has reintroduced the Hamburgler. No longer the cartoon character of old, the new Hamburgler is a real human being, supposedly a “hip, urban dad”. Judging from the photo here, he seems to be telling children, “Shhh, kids, if you don’t tell your dad what you saw me doing with your mommy, I’ll give you this burger.” I don’t know who this poor guy is, but I’m guessing his parents aren’t bragging about their son’s new job.

RIP: Ruth Rendall, 85, British mystery writer.

An open letter to the new NDP MLAs from someone who has been there

Hello, Newbies Democratic Party MLAs!

Welcome to the exciting world of provincial politics. No doubt many of you are still on a high (natural or otherwise) after your exciting and unexpected victories on Tuesday. I’m sure the Dippers who recruited you gave you assurances that you wouldn’t win, so you shouldn’t worry about what might happen next.

Well, welcome to what happens next.

You see, young ‘uns, I was once in your shoes. Back in 2004, I ran as a Liberal at the last minute, and won. I’ve always been quite proud of the fact that I spent less than $5,000 to win my seat, although I suspect that’s probably double or triple what many of you spent. I went into politics blind, and had to learn most everything on the fly. The class of 2004 had some excellent mentors (Laurie Blakeman, Hugh McDonald, Kevin Taft), and since there weren’t a lot of us, we got all the mentorship we needed. Not so much with you kids. You’re joining an existing caucus of four, and my guess is that Rachel Notley won’t have a lot of time to tell you where the washrooms are. (The best one is on the second floor of the Legislature; not very busy, with old school faucets and the like.)

So, let me help. Here now are a few pertinent facts about being an MLA.

1. Your life is no longer your own.

Seriously. No more hanging out on Whyte Avenue on a Saturday night looking for a little, shall we say, evening diversion. People know who you are now, and if you like to go to the bar, chances are everyone will be expecting you to pick up the tab because everyone knows you now make six figures! And they have these things called camera phones now. No, instead of karaoke, you’ll be attending awards ceremonies for your riding high school, or scarfing down a pyrogy supper at the local Ukrainian hall, or reading Dr. Seuss to schoolchildren. You will be invited to a lot of things, and you will not turn down any invitation in your riding. If you want to be re-elected, you will attend every event that is likely to attract more than a half-dozen people. Voters will want to meet you, buttonhole you about trivial matters, size you up, take pictures with you, get 100th birthday certificates for their grandmother from you, etc. etc. This is now your life. Oh, and cancel your Facebook account. It is guaranteed that at some point, one of your will not be able to resist the urge to post something ‘funny’, like: “Attending the Holocaust remembrance ceremony. Couldn’t I just have stayed home and watched Schindler’s List?” See how some people may not find that funny?

2. You may think the next election is four years away, but the campaign starts now. Most of you won by fluke, without really trying. That won’t be the case next time. In 2019, you will have to mount a REAL campaign. You’ll need a constituency organization, and money for the next campaign. And you will have to help raise it! So get started. Now.

3. You’ll need an office, and someone to run your office. I can’t emphasize enough how important it will be to have a solid office.I had a two excellent assistants in my time who always made me look good, and I never worried about anything in my office.People will come to you with problems, and expect you to clear them up. Well, not you, but your executive assistant, or whatever bloated title you want to give them. Resist the temptation to give this job to your sister because she can type fast, or your brother because he really seems lost right now and needs some direction, or anyone you’re friends with. This is no doubt your first hiring experience, so don’t blow it. All it takes is one messed up situation where you EA does a terrible job, and word gets around the community that you’re useless.

4. Your first thoughts upon winning may be about being in the Legislature. It’s a proud moment when you take your seat for the first time, but in reality, being in the Leg is the least of your worries. None of you are (is?) cabinet material (hey, just being honest here). Your job, while the legislature is in session, will be to sit in your cushy chair (very comfortable, by the way) and look attentive if the camera happens to catch you. You will not have to answer questions during Question Period; your role during ‘QP’ will be to thump your desk in support of whatever half-assed answer comes from a minister. You will be allowed to ask questions, but if you follow the PC template (and I hope to God you do not), your question will be a harmless ‘puffball’, as we used to call them, for which the minister will have the answer already prepared. You will be allowed to give a private member’s statement (known as a PMS… I’m serious about this) about a topic of your choice. And if you want to enter into the debate on, say Bill 22, The Pork Producers Organization Reorganization Act, feel free. Otherwise, your job will be to sit down and shut up. During evening sessions, your job will be to fill the seat to maintain a government majority, so feel free to work on your World of Warcraft skills. Just make sure no one is looking down from the gallery at your laptop.

5. You will have to attend committee meetings. And you will find these agonizing. There are umpteen committees that examine bills and government policy before they get to the legislature floor, and you will be assigned to many of them. They are so boring, you’ll be longing for the days when you used to sit stoned in your film studies class, watching Citizen Kane for the fifteenth time. It is during committee meetings when you will rue the day the NDP organizer asked you to run as a paper candidate with no chance of winning. Lying bastard.

6. Guys, you will have to buy some nice suits, and learn how to tie a tie. Judging from what I’ve seen as a suit salesman, this may be your biggest challenge. Come on by and see me.

7. You will put on weight. You’ve heard of the Freshman 15, or its modern equivalent, the Freshman 40? If refers to weight freshman college students put on in their first year. Well, same thing. You will be attending a LOT of dinners, sitting through a LOT of meetings, and being fed a LOT of food. You will find it hard to turn down free food (many of you were, or still are, students, so free food will be as irresistible as free beer). If you don’t believe me, just look at Brian Mason. Oh, by the way, there is an event called the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Christmas event. Do NOT miss this. Best feedbag in the province, guaranteed.

8. You will be coddled by the legislature. There is an organization called the Legislative Assembly Office, the LAO. It is made up of the most professional, patient, expert civil servants you will ever run across. They will set up everything for you, and if you have a problem, just call. They’re great.

9. Also great are the pages in the legislature chamber. They’ll bring you coffee or tea or Coke (but not coke). Always very polite and professional, the cream of the high school/college crop.

10. Always remember that no matter how hard you work, no matter what a great job you do as an MLA, you may be turfed in four years’ time, just the way some of you turfed very good, very hardworking MLAs. And there will be times when you hate, hate, HATE the job, and wonder why you ever got involved. During those times, remember these three little words …. six figure salary!

So, kids, enjoy. If you need any advice, I’m here to help.