The Redford Equation.

On Saturday night (or more accurately, Sunday morning), after it became apparent that Alison Redford was going to be our new premier, I went on Facebook to see if any of my ‘friends’ were registering any opinions. There was only one (most of my friends are in bed at that hour, and if not, they sure as hell aren’t looking at Facebook at 1:30 a.m.), and what she said brought home the enormity of the Redford victory.

My friend is a liberal and (or at least, was) a Liberal. I always felt she wouldn’t have voted Tory even if promised a lifetime supply of licorice. But on her Facebook update, she wrote: “Alison! Alison! This is amazing!”

And I thought: “Uh, oh.”

Redford’s stunning victory Sunday puts all the pieces in play. For years, Alberta politics was as predictable as the sunrise and complaints from farmers. Now, all bets are off (although I would take odds on the Tories extending their winning streak for another four years).

What the Tory party has done, at least in my view, is nothing less than paddle against the prevailing political currents. While Stephen Harper goes further and further right, and American politics threatens to fall off the face of the earth, the reigning conservative party in the most conservative province in Canada has taken a leftward turn. Not a hard left, by any means. Alison Redford isn’t going to put out the welcome mat for creeps and bums to return to Alberta. But Redford is the reddest of Red Tories, a former human rights lawyer in a province where human rights have been up for sale for years. Achieving power while being beholden to no one, she is free to shape her cabinet with new faces, without a concern to repaying debts owed to the lame, the halt, and the rural Conservative MLA. (Doug Griffiths, however, might want to take up permanent residence on the backbenches, having backed the wrong horse on the second ballot.)

Redford’s victory has so many potential ramifications, it’s perhaps easiest to just put them in point form, which is an easy dodge for lazy writers:

• Where will angry Gary Mar supporters go?  Will they turn their backs on the party because their guy got stiffed, or was his support more bandwagon jumping than true blue? (Once again, the Tories have allowed a loser to become a winner.  Redford came in second on the first ballot, second on the second ballot. And yet she emerges the winner.)

  • Will Redford push the Tories solidly on the centre-left (by Alberta standards, anyway) setting up a truer leftish vs. right showdown with the Wildrose?
  • I think Wildrose supporters might be dancing in the streets today; the right wing of Alberta politics is now wide open, with only one standard bearer for the right.
  • What will rural Albertans think? Well, the party they have voted for blindly for so many years first conspired to get rid of one of their own (Ed Stelmach), and replaced then with a lefty woman. Now that rural Alberta has been so thoroughly shunned by the Tory party, there may no longer be any valid reason to stick with the PCs. Unless, of course, the Tories appear set to win the next election, in which case the rural vote follow the power.
  • Media darling Brian Mason is now the oldest face in the race. The PCs and Wildrose have dynamic, accomplished young women in charge. The Liberals have a controversial, headline attracting youngish immigrant running the show. That leaves Mason — an old, male, career politician — looking very much like a Chevy Vega in a showroom full of 2012 model sports cars.

So much to think of. So many ramifications. The only thing I know for sure is that the political ground shook, and shook hard, on Sunday. All that’s left to see now is who’s left standing.

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Gary Mar knows his porn.

As the march towards the coronation of Emperor Mar I, fifth in line of the Progressive Conservative Dynasty, continues to its almost certain conclusion, I still find myself wondering: why Gary?

Mar is unquestionably the favorite of the PC masses, but I can’t quite figure out why. Even former premier Don Getty, who has rarely been heard from, chimed in the other day, asking: “What’s he done?” If I read Getty’s comments correctly, he was referring to Mar’s term as wannabe ambassador to Washington. Getty’s complaint, a valid one, is that Alberta seems to be getting nothing but grief for the Keystone pipeline, which would have been Mar’s baby to shepherd through the legislative process. I don’t think you can blame Mar for the pipeline becoming such a hot button issue amongst environmentalists and some of those living along the pipeline route; the greens have been looking for something to complain about for a while, and now they’ve found it. But it does bring up the larger question of Mar’s record.

With his challengers taking some very mild shots at Mar (it appears everyone is being quite civil, as far as I can tell, probably anticipating a Mar victory and hoping for one of those juicy cabinet posts), Mar’s campaign manager said,  “Gary’s record speaks for itself”.

Well, that got me to thinking: what IS Gary Mar’s record? According to his website, he’s done all sorts of wonderful things, and I assume after being in government for such a long time, he was bound to get some things right. Mar was health minister, of course, which will give the Liberals and the NDP dozens of arrows for their critical quivers (like that one?). He notoriously made some pro-privatization comments during the campaign, which he quickly clarified (a.k.a. backed away from) which will no doubt haunt him when he becomes premier. So, of course, will the Kelly Charlebois scandal which derailed his career (scroll down a ways to find my blog about that sorry episode).

In an effort to find out more about Gary Mar’s record, I started poking around old newspaper stories about the Man Who Would Be Ralph. Turns out, there were thousands of stories, and I quickly got bored. If I were being paid to do this, well, I would have spend days researching. But those of us in the blogging community are the skanks of the writing world: we just give it away.

So I poked around for a while, and went back as far as when Mar was minister of Community Development, a catch-all portfolio that included everything from seniors funding to human rights to culture. This was during the Klein Kost Kutting Karavan days, when everything was under the knife, so he regularly caught hell raging grannies and the like. But I found a forgotten nugget from Mar’s past that might be worth brining up again. It involves Gary Mar, Guardian of Public Morality.

In 1994, Mar had decreed that the government will cut funding to any arts group offending “community standards.” Art galleries that displayed controversial material risked losing funding from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Mar warned.

“It would be fair to say that funds for particular types of shows could not be supported by the AFA,” he told reporters. His warning was leveled at theatre groups as well. “To the extent that some plays offend the sensibilities of the community standards, there has been some suggestion that public funds should not be put forward to support such projects,” he said.

Mar wouldn’t say exactly what qualified as being offensive to community standards, but he did offer up this remarkable comment: “Pornography is a hard thing to define, but I know it when I see it.”

I tried to uncover if this issue ever went anywhere, but it seems to have faded. And, to be honest, I have no idea if community standards apply to grants for artists. But maybe somebody can ask Mar if he still feels that he knows porn when he sees it. And, for that matter, how often does he see it?

It’s probably too late in the day to introduce the question of government censorship/community values to the Tory debate, but hey, Mar stands on his record. Whatever that is.

The PC race from one Liberal’s view.

As a Liberal party supporter, I am disappointed — and a little worried — by the results of the first round of balloting to replace Ed Stelmach as captain of the unsinkable Ship Tory.

I was hoping Ted Morton would make a better showing — even winning. This has nothing to do with who I want to see as premier, and everything to do with who I wanted to see lead the Tories into the next election.

From a Liberal point of view, Doug Horner is preferable, Gary Mar troubling, and Allison Redford is a potential neutron bomb that would destroy the party. Let me explain.

The elimination of Terrible Teddy Morton from the race spells the end of Morton as a force in the PC party, and the end of a tantalizing right-wing faceoff.

Morton barely waited for Ed Stelmach’s political corpse to cool before he quit his cabinet post to run.  He was in the race for the longest, raised $1 million, and garnered only 6,962 votes, and a sad fourth place finish.

What happened to Morton? Perhaps he was seen as too old in a young field. Perhaps the party faithful was still holding it against him for not working well with Ed Stelmach. Maybe it was that hilariously ill informed Globe and Mail editorial that supported him. Or, most likely, the party just wasn’t buying what Morton was selling.

The end of Morton as a force in the party is significant. Morton represented the very conservative wing of the Progressive Conservative party, and was seen as the answer to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance. A Morton v. Smith election would have been a right v. righter battle, leaving the progressive or less-conservative field wide open for the Liberals, NDP, and the Alberta Party. But the party rank and file (and the tens of thousands of Tories For A Day) has signified they don’t want the party to go hard right to counter the Wildrose. Perhaps the Tories, riding higher in the polls lately, just don’t see the Wildrose as the threat it was once seen.

Now it’s down to three: two right of centre (but not crazy right) candidates, and one with a definite Red Tory hue.

Mar represents the city (read: Calgary) moderate right of the party. Alison Redford represents the city (read: Calgary) moderate left of the party. If Redford wins, as one longtime Liberal told the Globe’s Josh Wingrove, the Liberals might as well fold their tent and call it quits. Redford’s background is more liberal than most Liberals, and would provide a lot of progressive voters an excuse to abandon the Liberals (or the NDP, or the Alberta Party) with the hope of putting in place a more progressive government.

Horner, I think, is the most beatable from an opposition standpoint. Uncharismatic, not really rural and not really city, Horner is the least interesting candidate among the survivors. He is hampered by memories of Ed Stelmach; the party did the same thing with Dreary Eddie, and even though they won Stelmach’s only election by a huge margin, the party (read: Calgary) didn’t take to this small town nice guy. Nobody inside Fortress Tory wants another Stelmach scenario.

Regardless, Mar’s lead is so huge, and his money reserves so vast, I can’t imagine any compromise second or third place candidate overtaking him. But now he has two weeks of walking around with a bull’s eye on his back. And two weeks is an eternity in politics.

PC race fueled by money the other parties can only dream of having.

I haven’t had much to say about the PC leadership race, being preoccupied with the Liberal race. I guess that’s like saying that I’ve been ignoring the Major League Baseball playoff races because I’ve been captivated by the Edmonton Capitals run to the North American League championship. That would be true if I watched baseball, which I don’t.

I also haven’t had much to say about the PC race because I really haven’t got a clue what’s going on inside that organization. The Tories play by a different set of rules, or, as Fitzgerald said, the rich are different from you and me.

For example, in the just completed Liberal race, the five candidates raised just over $100,000 between them.  Hugh MacDonald raised about half that total; winner Raj Sherman’s biggest donor was … Raj Sherman.

On the Tory side, Doug Griffiths is being lauded for running a “shoe string” campaign, spending about $100,000, That’s one guy. A shoe string campaign that raised almost as much as all five Liberal candidates.

Here’s another comparison. PC candidate Doug Horner is reporting that he has raised about $750,000, which is $100,000 more than the Liberals spent on an entire provincial election campaign in 2008.

Horner isn’t even the biggest of the big spenders in the PC race. Ted Morton says he has raised about a million dollars. Gary Mar, the presumed front runner (who had enough money to buy a full-page at in the Journal), and Alison Redford, the possible compromise candidate, are both reporting about half-million bucks raised. We don’t know how much future also-ran Rick Orman has wasted on his doomed campaign, so the totals aren’t in yet. But collectively, the five candidates will raise and spend about $3 million on the race.  And that’s just for the leadership. I don’t know what kind of money the Wildrose will be able to raise in the next election, but it won’t be remotely close to the kind of money Alberta’s businesses and economic elite will lavish on the Tories. The financial imbalance is by far the biggest obstacle opposition parties face in Alberta.

And what of the race itself? If the polls are any indication, Mar will lead after the first ballot. I doubt, with so many candidates, that he will score a first ballot victory. But he could easily score on the second round. Unlike Ed Stelmach’s unexpected win, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the polarization of the party between camps as there was in the Jim Dinning v. Ted Morton slugfest. I don’t see any room for a compromise candidate, a la Stelmach. If Mar doesn’t win it on the first ballot, I think he’ll win it on the second.

But what do I know? When Ed Stelmach announced that he was going to run for the PC leadership, I honestly didn’t know what he looked like — and I was an MLA at the time. So nothing outside of a Rick Orman victory would surprise me on Saturday.

Raj Sherman tells all about the rumours: an interview.

Raj Sherman

Raj Sherman is not crazy.

OK, maybe anybody who wants to lead the Alberta Liberals has to be just a little bit crazy, but I’m talking about real, certifiable, lock-‘em-up loony. Raj Sherman is not a candidate for the rubber room, despite what you might have heard if you’ve been around Alberta politics for any length of time. Rumours are mother’s milk to politics, and Sherman has been the subject of more than his fair share.

If you’re reading this blog, you know Raj Sherman: Renegade MD story. He was elected in 2008 as a PC MLA in Meadowlark (no, he did not run against me; I didn’t run for re-election) on a mandate of fixing the health care system from the inside. He had a spectacular falling out with the ruling party (among other concerns, he is convinced that the PCs are planning to privatize the health care system) that dominated the political agenda for weeks, and turned Sherman into a political star. He sat as an independent while every party from the Wildrose to the NDP to the Socreds wooed him, before choosing to join the Liberals. He is now one of five in the running for the leadership.

As a member of the Liberal party, I’ve been pondering who to vote for in the leadership race. To be honest, Sherman was not on my radar because of the stories I heard about him, and his rather late conversion to the ALP cause. Last Friday, I was having coffee with my dad at a McDonald’s (Hey, I’m unemployed. It’s what we do.) when in walked Steve, an old Liberal supporter I know. He waxed enthusiastic about Sherman, but I told him I was skeptical. He told me I had to meet with him to get the full story.

Well, lo and behold, later that night I get a call from Raj Sherman. We set up a coffee date for the next day (Starbucks this time) for a no-holds-barred discussion.

This was my first meeting with Sherman, and I was a little unprepared for the hurricane that is Raj Sherman. ER doctor, politician, athlete, coach, house builder, would-be opposition leader, Raj Sherman is not the type of guy to do things in half-measures. I had expected to chat for about an hour; he was still going strong after two-and-a-half hours. I had to take a pee break at the 90-minute mark.

We talked about a lot of stuff — his Liberal credentials (solid federally, weaker provincially), his plans for the party (he wants a candidate in every riding and has big election plans), his campaign (signing up lots of new members), his interactions with the other Liberal MLAs (solid, he says) — but what I really wanted to ask about were the rumours, specifically one that goes that he snapped in the ER at the Royal Alex, and had to be restrained by security.

According to Sherman, here’s the real story.

In 1999, fed up with a deteriorating system at the Royal Alex, Sherman became a persistent thorn in the side of the administration. That year, based on what he says was an unfounded complaint from a patient (which he says he was never shown) he was told to leave the hospital because he was incapable of performing his duties as a doctor. He’s convinced it was just a way to get rid of a troublesome doc.

Shortly after being told not to come into work, in October 1999, Sherman found himself suffering the classic signs of a heart attack. He went to ER at the Royal Alex, and was found to have sky-high blood pressure. He was convinced he was on the verge of a heart attack, but the attending doctor disagreed. Angry that he wasn’t getting the care he desperately needed, he told the doctor that he was going to voluntarily discharge himself and go to the University Hospital. But the doctor “made the presumption that I was crazy”, he says, and filled out a mental health certificate, which gives the doctor the right to restrain a patient for their own good. Sherman says security guards tied him to his bed to keep him from leaving. Forty-five minutes later, a psychiatrist showed up and revoked the certificate because he did not find Sherman to be either manic or psychotic. If the psychiatrist had also signed the form, Sherman would have been held for 72 hours, and his career as a doctor would most certainly have been over.

After being released, Sherman went home, thinking “I can’t even get medical care in my own province.” In December, while in Quebec, he ended up in the cardiac ward for three days. He took a voluntary leave of absence from the hospital to get his health back.

And so, the legend of Raj Sherman wigging out in emergency was born.

Sherman says has all the paperwork to prove his story (and was prepared to launch a $5 million suit against the province until he was talked out of it), and the mere fact that he was allowed to continue to practice medicine certainly corroborates his story. He says there are no complaints filed against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he has been given a clean bill of health by the same organization. He still works every Sunday in ER, and says that after 100,000 patients, there isn’t a single complaint against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

And finally, as Sherman points out, if he really did have a psychotic episode and mental health skeletons in his closet, would the provincial Tories have wooed him to join the party, and run in Meadowlark? Good point.

The health scare has a happy ending. Realizing that his life was out of whack, Sherman cut out nights in ER, took up yoga and vegetarianism, got back into sports, and basically turned his health around. But it’s clear in conversation with Sherman that the whole incident, which goes back a dozen years now, still angers him enough that it almost brings his blood pressure back up.

Raj Sherman has felt the wrath of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and not only lived to tell about it, but thrived. The Tories tried to destroy his reputation by launching a whisper campaign about his mental health, which only served, ironically, to bolster his public image.

So is Raj Sherman the right person to run the Liberal party today? I still don’t know.

You’ve heard of Type A personalities? Raj  Sherman is a Type AAA. He is the type of person who would attract and alienate people in equal numbers. But with his knowledge of how the Tories work and where the health care skeletons are buried, he could be the PCs’ worst nightmare. (He promises a knockout punch in an election debate if former health minister Gary Mar is the PC leader.) And he certainly breaks the mold of the two most recent Liberal leaders, David Swann and Kevin Taft, who were both cerebral, soft-spoken men essentially devoid of ego. Sherman is sharp, but he’s not the retiring type and his ego is, shall we say, robust.

I can’t say if Raj Sherman is the right person for the job right now (I admire both Hugh MacDonald and Laurie Blakeman), but I’m convinced that he’s not crazy, and has never been crazy … running for the Liberal leadership to the contrary.

Ranking the Tory race: the early line

So the field is set for the semi-annual running of the PC Leadership Derby. And what a field it is! Up and comers, and people who think they are up and comers. Former stars and has beens, the too young and the too old. It’s an interesting (although not exactly inspiring) group.

With a couple of months to go before the PCs pick their new leader, and by extension our new leader, it’s still too soon to tell who’s leading the pack. All of the pundits who made their predictions the last time the Tories went through this exercise are staying rather silent this time, partly because it is a wide open race, and party because nobody has any real idea who’s ahead. And everybody’s looking for the next Ed Stelmach.

Ah, but what the hell. Let’s do some handicapping anyway.

Gary Mar 

Pros: Smart, personable, experienced at a high government level, including five cabinet posts. The only non-Caucasian in the race could give him an appeal to ethnic voters. Untainted by the stumbling Stelmach regime. From Calgary, and we all know that Calgarians think it’s their turn. Has strong caucus support, in numbers if not in quality.

Cons: His fall from grace, the Kelly Charlebois scandal, hurts his image. For those who need a refresher, Charlebois was Mar’s former executive assistant who got more than $400,000 in untendered consulting contracts from Alberta Health when Mar was minister. Mar was demoted from the health portfolio, and took the first train out of town when the Washington position opened up. Presumed front-runner status not necessarily a good thing.  Remember Jim Dinning, everyone’s favourite future leader? Big city guy like Mar has limited appeal to rural Alberta.

Chances: Aside from the Charlebois fiasco, not many Xs on the negative ledger. Likely the guy to beat.

Alison Redford

Pros: The least conservative Conservative in the race, Redford will certainly appeal to the Progressive side of the Progressive Conservative party, if such a side still exists. Defuses one of Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith’s most powerful weapons (lone female in a male dominated political scene), and could provide the starkest contrast to Smith’s brand of conservatism. Genuine Conservative bona fides, and a legit up and comer.

Cons: Again, the least conservative Conservative in the race, Redford will likely be anathema to red meat Conservatives. (She’s a human rights lawyer type, for crying out loud! What would Ezra Levant think?) Zero appeal to rural Alberta, a side of the party which still holds great sway. Minimal government experience may give some the impression she is trying too early for the brass ring, or, put more bluntly, she could come off as a pushy dame. (Hey, we’re talking Conservatives here.)

Chances: Pretty long, unless she really impresses the big city types. If I were a Tory voter, however, I’d give her serious consideration.

Ted Morton

Pros: If the provincial election comes down to who can out-conservative the other conservative leader, Morton has the edge. Morton makes Danielle Smith look like Janeane Garofalo. Only holdover from last PC leadership vote, Morton probably had his election campaign idling for the past few years. First to quit cabinet and announce his intention to run for the leadership, and when the winner is the person who sells the most memberships, that could be decisive. Certainly has the greatest appeal to rural Alberta.

Cons: Pretty old, with all the personality of a small town United Church minister. May be too conservative for many, and likely will alienate those who see Alberta as being a lot more (pardon my language) liberal than we’re made out to be. Has support from the likes of Carl Benito, Doug Elniski, and David Xiao. With friends like that …

Chances: Still pretty good, but fading. Best position to cash in on rural vote.

Doug Horner

Pros: Solid, reliable, steady. Closest thing to an Edmonton candidate in the race.  Lots of MLA support. Has solid main street cred with rural Albertans. Stands a good chance of being a compromise candidate.

Cons: Not exactly inspiring as a speaker. PCs will no doubt recall the last time the party opted for a solid, reliable, steady, compromise candidate. Nobody wants a Dependable Doug after the Steady Eddie era. Not exactly the face of change the party may need to present to fend off the Wildrosies.

Chances: Decent, certainly in the top three.

Doug Griffiths

Pros: Youngest guy in the race. Rural Alberta (and by that, I mean neither Edmonton or Calgary) candidate. Might appeal to younger Tory voters. Lots of MLA experience. Might be a good counter to Smith.

Cons: An MLA since he was 29, Griffiths doesn’t exactly have the world experience or gravitas the Tories might want.  Looks entirely unready for leadership.

Chances: Slim and none. Would finish last, if it were not for …

Rick Orman

Pros: One time major player in the Tory party. And that’s about it.

Cons: Vast majority of Albertans would react with a ‘Rick who?’ response if asked about him. Biggest claim to fame was that he was a Don Getty-era cabinet minister. That’s like saying you were in the Joe Clark government.

Chances: Hey, somebody’s got to come in last.

So, who’s on first? Without actually talking to any actual Conservatives, I’d have to divide the field into three groups: contenders (Mar, Morton, Horner), outside chancers (Redford) and no hopers (Griffiths, Orman).

But remember, I didn’t think Ed Stelmach had a chance either.