The Return of Stuff Happens, week 41: Now the hard part begins for the UCP

The United Conservative Party – somehow fresh-faced and old at the same time – has chosen its first leader.


Jason Kenney, a career politician who has spent his entire life has been devoted to right-

UCP Leader - Jason Kenney
Someone has a lousy poker face.

wing politics and causes, is the first leader of the shotgun marriage party. He defeated the much more likeable and quite inoffensive Brian Jean, to assume the leadership of the UCP. As you can see from the picture here, he was absolutely delighted with the result.

Kenney is one of those increasingly common people whose only career is “public service”, as they call it. Checking out his bio on his website, Kenney seems to have never held down a job other than leading the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which he founded. He was a Conservative MP and cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, having been elected as an MP for the Reform Party at age 29. He is unmarried and has no children, a bit of a disadvantage in the photo-op department.

A lot of conservatives see Kenney as their saviour, the man who can deliver Alberta from the reign of error of Rachael Notley, leader of the Peoples’ Republic of Alberta (For Now). While there is no doubt that a single conservative party will have a much better chance of relegating the NDP government to the one-hit wonder status, it’s far from a sure bet. Kenney is very conservative, to a degree that may make ‘progressive’ Albertans uncomfortable. On the economic front, Kenney and the UCP will appeal to many Albertans who are disgusted by the ‘let’s worry about this tomorrow’ spending of the NDP, and who are angry about the whole carbon tax thing. (I’m not; I’ve actually made money thanks to the program, although I’m still waiting for the free lightbulbs the province has promised.) But hot button social issues are likely to cause the UCP trouble, and the NDP knows it. One of the first bills the NDP will present in the fall session of the legislature concerns tightening up the rules surrounding gay-straight alliances in schools, ensuring the privacy of students in a gay-straight alliance. It’s no coincidence that the government has decided that this ludicrously overwrought issue – one of those culture wars things parties like the Wildrose/PCs often get tripped up on – will be one of the first to face Kenney and his new party.

A bigger problem facing the UCP is that it is a party without policy. The UCP website doesn’t have a menu for policy; I couldn’t even find the word policy on its website. Right now, it appears the party’s only policy is the defeat of the NDP. That’s OK for now, but come election time the party will have to show voters something much more than just one policy. In any event, this should be interesting.

The Catalonia crisis explained … sort of

Spain was plunged into a literally existential crisis this week.

The Catalan region of the country, following a controversial referendum, declared its independence this week. The Spanish government immediately said “Not so fast,” or whatever the equivalent is in Spanish, and took over the Catalan government, firing the government and its police force. (While this seems rather ham-fisted for a democracy, it’s worth remembering that Spain was a dictatorship under Francisco Franco until 1975 when Franco died, and its transition to democracy has been fraught with challenges.)

Before Madrid took over the Catalan government, the region had one of the greatest levels of self-government in Spain. It has its own parliament, police force and public broadcaster, as well as a government and president. Catalans had a range of powers in many policy areas from culture and environment to communications, transportation, commerce and public safety. And Catalonia is rich. With just 16% of the population, it produces 19% of its Gross Domestic Product and more than a quarter of Spain’s foreign exports. And it has Barcelona, which is a tourist magnet; Catalonia is easily the most visited area in Spain. And it is home to Barcelona FC, one of the world’s premiere soccer teams (which is probably the biggest reason Spain wants to hold on to Catalonia.)

We faced – and on a simmering level, still face – the same threat in Canada. However, we did it right.

Quebec held two referenda on separation, and both times the public voted to stay in Canada (although not in the kind of numbers that anyone would call a ringing endorsement). We have reached a kind of détente between Quebec and the Rest of Canada that works for us. But then, we’re level-headed, pragmatic Canadians. We may not be entirely happy, but why rock the boat, eh? Something tells me that Spaniards are not quite so inclined towards calm discussion about shared values.

The last word (almost) on JFK

Thousands of pages of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 were released this week. Media and assassination fans poured over the documents, hoping to find a smoking gun that pointed away from Lee Harvey Oswald and pointed towards the Russians/CIA/Cubans/Mafia, pick your conspirator. Turns out, the information didn’t point towards anything other than confusion and a certain amount of ass-covering by the FBI. The Russians, in particular, appeared worried that they would take the blame, precipitating a nuclear war. While they showed that Oswald was certainly on the radar of the FBI, there is still nothing that points to anything other than one lone crackpot. But there is hope for conspiracy theorists – there are still some documents to be released. Hope springs eternal.


Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘. Fats joins an all-star roster of music stars this year who are now singing in the heavenly choir, including Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Gord Downie, Walter Becker of Steely Dan, Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Greg Allman  … Robert Guillaume, 89, star of the 1970s sitcom Benson.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 9: Jason does Alberta

As expected, Jason Kenney easily won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta at a convention in Calgary on Saturday, with about 75% of the vote. Kenney was a steamroller who flattened his two remaining challengers, an inconspicuous MLA named Richard Starke, and an even less conspicuous guy named Byron Nelson. The other challengers, most notably two female candidates, dropped out when the elbows got a little too high for their liking.

So now Kenney has to try to make good on his promise to destroy the party he has just taken over, which was an interesting tactic.I don’t know if anyone ever ran on a policy of “Vote for me if you want to destroy your party!” Can he do it? I have little doubt that he will succeed in uniting the Wildrose and the PCs because, without unity, they’re probably doomed to years in the opposition wilderness.

Alberta history proves this out. During the PC decades, and particularly during the Ralph Klein years, the government benefited mightily by a split vote on the left/centre. The Liberals were strong back then, but could never defeat the Tories in large part because the NDP siphoned off just enough of the so-called progressive (or anti-PC, if you wish) votes to ensure PC victory. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, that being the right one. If the Wildrose and the PCs go into the next election scrambling for the still very strong right wing vote, they are doomed to repeat the same scenario. The Wildrose is popular in the rural areas, the PCs still powerful in Calgary. One single, united right wing party has a much better chance of defeating the NDP than do two right wing parties splitting the vote. The Wildrose and the PC have no option but to unite if they want to win. The question is what kind of new party will emerge – will it be a hard right, socially conservative party, or a right-wing but still relatively progressive party, in other words, a progressive conservative party. Hey, wait, what an idea …

Deficits, schmeficit

Here in the People’s Republic of Albertastan, the NDP government of Rachael Notley released its 2017-18 budget, and it follows the template set by the previous budgets by the Notley Crew – just keep spending, and let the future take care of itself.

The government will double its debt (sorry, that should be our debt) over the next three years, and run deficits for the next six years. The government will run a $10.34 billion deficit, bringing our debt up to $45 billion. By 2019-20, that total should rise to $71 billion.

The New Democrats will borrow $6 billion for capital projects (building stuff), and another $6.4 billion for operations (keeping the lights on and the government spokesmen fed). I don’t disagree with spending money to build stuff in a down economy; the government will get the best bang for the buck when corporations are itching for work. The decision by the Ralph Klein PCs to pay down the debt at the expense of roads, schools, hospitals, etc. resulted in a huge infrastructure deficit that we’re still trying to catch up to. But when you’re borrowing $6.4 billion just to keep the doors open is bad policy. Notley and her crew have been coached to offer apocalyptic visions of fired nurses and shuttered schools if the government doesn’t spend, spend, spend, as if that’s the only option. There are, of course, vital services that we need to operate at peak efficiency. But this government has made no effort to cut back on the non-essentials — hundreds of government flacks, millions on government propaganda, bloated civil service salaries, etc. This policy of insulating government from the worst effects of the oil price crash explains why the NDP is still so popular in Edmonton, where so many government jobs can be found, and widely despised in the rest of the province.

And finally, more PC hilarity in Canada

This week, NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton posed a graphic on Twitter and Facebook making use of the lyric from a Beyonce song. From a song called Irreplaceable, she wrote “Like Beyonce says, to the left. Time for an unapologetic left turn for the NDP…” Well, that riled up a group called Black Lives Matter Vancouver, which replied to the tweet by saying “appropriating Black culture is not intersectional feminism.” I have no idea what that means, but it was enough for Ashton to take down the tweet.

This week’s madness from the Land of Trump

So, what sort of lunacy did we get from the Donald this week?

Well, the public finally got a look at a Donald Trump tax return, courtesy of a mystery envelope sent to a reporter, and revealed on the Rachael Maddow MSNBC show. The trouble is, the return was from 2005, making it relatively irrelevant. Who leaked the document? Well, the reporter who received the mystery package said it could easily have been Trump himself, a typical misdirection play. A 2005 tax form means nothing; when you get to 2016, let us know.

Trump released his budget proposals that called for a massive increase in military spending and dramatic cuts to lots of other stuff, like PBS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even (much to the glee of the late night talk show guys) the agency that runs Meals on Wheels. One suspects that Trump is getting his financial advice from Montgomery Burns. The budget is so draconian, that even some Republicans are saying it’s dead on arrival.

And speaking of dead, Trump’s unfounded claim that Barack Obama had wire tapped Trump Tower proved to be exactly that – unfounded. A committee made up of Democrats and Republicans found zero evidence of bugging or anything remotely like that. Trump, of course, is standing by his slur.


Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll music, and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Elvis to The Beatles to The Rolling Stones and most everyone after him owe a debt to Chuck Berry  … Richard, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, 82. I’m only including this because I think it’s hilariousthat there are is still ‘royalty’ in Germany. He was also a Knight of the Order of the Elephant if you’re keeping track.

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 4: Trump’s rule by fiat

We all know how powerful the President of the United States is. But I don’t know if we ever recognized just how powerful. Almost … dictatorial?

Don’t agree? Well, what other kind of leader can decide, with the stroke of an expensive pen, to ban immigrants from 14 countries, on the basis that they belong to a religion that he doesn’t care for. A dictator? Not too far from the truth, I say.

This week, Donald Trump was so busy signing “executive orders” that he must have had writer’s cramp. Literally with the stroke of a pen, he re-started the Keystone XL pipeline, started work on his nutty Mexican wall, and put a temporary halt to immigration from 14 countries. No discussion, no debate. He just puts pen to paper, and presto! It’s the law.

Trump has spent the better part of is first week as president sitting behind a desk and making executive orders about just about anything that pops into his head. I know this whole executive order thing has been around for a long time – since the beginning of the republic, apparently – but I don’t recall any president being so brazen, so cavalier about it. It’s shocking.

Trump wasn’t just signing executive orders. He spent much of the week having his flunkies claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in the election, and that none of them went to him. This is a sign of a mentally ill person, a narcissist so obsessed with how people feel about him that he is concocting fanciful “facts” to explain why he didn’t win the popular vote. There is not one shred of evidence, not one, that illegal voting is a problem in the U.S. But in the alternative fact universe that Donald Trump resides in, anything is possible if you just believe it to be true.

Real news about fake news

“Fake news” is back in the news this week, with the real news that the Facebook and Google are working on ways to crack down on fake news. Too bad they didn’t think about this, oh, about three months ago.

Incredibly, the campaign manager of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch admitted to Maclean’s magazine that he deliberately posted fake news in an effort to draw the ire of “left leaning” voters. Nick Kouvalis tweeted a list of “billions” of dollars Justin Trudeau’s government had supposedly given to international aid organizations, including $350 million to the designated terrorist group Hamas. Kouvalis admitted the information was false, and he posted it to “make the left go nuts”.

So we have the campaign manger of a supposedly legitimate Conservative campaign manager who has admitted in aiding and abetting lies. He seems almost proud of trying to make the “left go nuts”. How is the respectable, honest behaviour by a Conservative leadership candidate’s campaign manager? It’s not, of course. Spreading lies is essentially the same as lying, and if Kellie Leitch thinks its OK to spread lies, then she has no legitimacy as a candidate. Not that she has a lot right now, anyway; this week, she vowed to “drain the canal”, a steal from Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” promise.

In other leadership news

Wildrose leader Brian Jean dropped a bombshell on the PC leadership race this week. In an effort to undermine the campaign of Jason Kenney, who wants to merge the two conservative parties, Jean announced that if the Wildrose wants to merge with the PCs, he’s OK with that, and that’s he’ll run for the leadership of the new party. Meanwhile the PC field got even smaller with the resignation of Stephen Khan, an inconsequential ex-MLA who somehow convinced himself he could lead the party. Khan cited “vitriol, anger and division” for this quitting the race, avoiding the obvious problem that he has no chance of defeating the Kenney juggernaut. That leaves just Kenney, Richard Starke and some guy named Byron Nelson in the race; there were six candidates to begin. As bad as the PC leadership race has been, it still beats the federal NDP race, which as of this writing has exactly zero candidates, with their convention in October.


imagesMary Tyler Moore, 80, star of two of classic TV comedies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and her own legendary comedy, Mary Tyler Moore. On the Van Dyke show, she was approaching the modern female role model – she was no kitchen frump, and often wore form fitting capri pants. On her own show, she was a single (gasp!) career woman, the first in TV history, and she stayed that way for the duration of the series. Mary Tyler Moore was a brilliant show, one of TV’s best ever comedies. But there seems to be no room for it on TV today, and a whole generation (or two) of TV viewers know only that it was supposedly a good show. Take if from me, TV fans unfamiliar with Mary Tyler Moore … it was a great show, funny and humane at the same time. But with ceaseless reruns of the singularly disgusting Two Broke Girls and the exhausted The Big Bang Theory sucking up all the TV time, we may never see Mary again … Mike Conners, 91, star of the 1967-75 cop show Mannix … John Hurt, 77, the British actor Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man. He also appeared in Alien as Kane (the first actor to have an alien explode from his stomach), and was the wand maker in three of the Harry Potter films, among many other roles … HMV stores, the once-mighty chain of music and video stores, a victim of downloading. They will all be shut down in the next few months.

Stuff Still Happens, week 27: Black Days in July

Back in 1968, singer Gordon Lightfoot released one of his greatest songs, Black Day in July, about the race riots that left “Motor City burning” as he sang. That song flashed in my head on Thursday when America — and the world — looked on in horror as five Dallas police officers were shot dead by a sniper during a protest march.

The Dallas killings added an exclamation mark to a horrible week in July for the United States, which saw two black men shot dead by white cops, both in circumstances where the use of a firearm seemed entirely unjustified, and both captured on video and distributed through social media (the aftermath of one of the shootings was shown as it happened on Facebook). America clearly has a serious problem in its relations between its white police and its black citizens. But nothing justifies the unthinkable attack on the Dallas police, who are, by all accounts, a model of how relations between police and black citizens should be conducted.

It seems that we’re always watching the U.S. as it walks up to the precipice of anarchy, looks over the edge, and takes one tiny step back. And nothing is done. Ever. With one of the country’s two political parties offering up a racist xenophobe as its presidential candidate, with police killing citizens with little or no provocation, and with cops being slaughtered in the streets, every day the United States of America becomes more disunited and disturbed than ever. And the worst thing is … nothing is going to be done about anything. The Dallas horror will be forgotten about in time, overtaken by the public’s short attention span and whatever new atrocity grabs our attention next.

After all that bleak news, here’s something positive. An Edmonton guy named Kurt Thomas was pulled over by a city cop for speeding. He began to tape the encounter just in case he became a “hashtag”. What happens? The cop has a conversation with Thomas about the pros and cons of Range Rovers (these guys clearly know their cars), and the cop gives him a ticket because he “doesn’t want him to get hurt”. Later, Thomas posts another video praising the police. It’s heartening, and very, very Canadian. Watch it here. 

And then there’s England

While violence wracks the US, in jolly old England there is chaos of a different kind.

First there was the Brexit vote which shook the United KIngdom to its core. That led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, and then the leader the Leave vote and potential leadership candidate Boris Johnson announced he would not run for the leadership, and then came the resignation of the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Frothingatthemouth, or something like that. And if that wasn’t bad enough, England lost to Iceland – bloody Iceland – in the European soccer championship. This was arguably even worse news for Britain than the Brexit vote. And this week came the report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, a report that took seven years to write and produced 12 volumes and 2.6 million words. The verdict? Prime Minister Tony Blair was indeed, as the British called him, George Bush’s poodle. Eight months before the invasion, Blair wrote Bush saying  that he would support military action in Iraq. “I will be with you whatever,” he wrote. The report does not say it he ended the letter with XXXX. You’ve got to give the Brits credit, though. They looked into their role in Iraq in exhaustive detail. The U.S. has never done such a thing, and never would. The British report gives us another reason to be thankful that Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Bush to shove his invitation to go to war.

The Great Conservative Hope emerges

Jason Kenney, one of Stephen Harper’s (remember him?) strongest cabinet ministers, has entered the race for the PC leadership in Alberta. Kenney, a Calgary MP, is already tagged as the frontrunner, and he is vowing to unite the right to obliterate the scourge of the NDP. Kenney is a force. He’s a relentless political animal, like Harper, but with an actual personality which Harper lacked. He has already mused that if he wins, he will push to wipe out the Progressive Conservative name, opting for just Conservative. This will play out over the coming months (they don’t choose a leader until March), but will be interesting to watch. By the next election, the PCs (or whatever they call themselves), and what’s left of the Liberals (anyone interested in being the leader?) will have new leaders, and Brian Jean will look like old news, if he’s around.


Jimmy Arthur Ordge, 81, Canadian country singer who had hits with songs called “Irena Cheyenne” and “The Ballad of Muk-Tuk Annie”. I put this in at my wife’s request … Leonard Lee, 77, founder of Lee Valley Tools … Lou Fontinato, NHL tough guy with the Rangers and Canadians from 1954-63. One of the most penalized players in league history, Fontinato was most famous for having his face rearranged in a legendary fight with Gordie Howe.

Loose lips sink Locke.

You have to feel badly for Harvey Locke.

Locke is a Liberal candidate in Monday’s federal byelection in Calgary Centre. Normally, being a federal Liberal candidate anywhere in Alberta generates sympathy, but not enough to win any pity votes. Liberals here are sacrificial lambs, names on the ballot, road kill.

But Locke, against all odds, appears to be mounting a good enough campaign to actually challenge the Conservative candidate, Joan Crockatt.

Crockatt is running such a safe campaign (refusing to attend an all-candidates forum, a sure sign that you’re the frontrunner, and you suck) that polls show Locke and even the Green Party candidate not that far behind and rising fast.

Could it be that Calgary, the most Conservative of conservative cities, might actually send a LIBERAL to Ottawa, something that hasn’t happened in 44 years.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, Locke’s campaign was blown up by one of his own, Liberal energy critic David McGuinty. McGuinty, who incredibly gave an interview to a Sun media reporter (this is like a Democratic being interviewed by Fox News) in which he said that if Alberta MPs don’t take a broader national view on energy issues, they should “go back to Alberta”. At least that was the way it was reported (more on that later).

Well, the excrement hit the oscillating device immediately. Conservative attack dog Jason Kenney denounced the comment as “deeply offensive” (I know I wept when I read it). Stephen Harper exhumed the corpse of the National Energy Program and hung it in Calgary Centre, essentially saying ‘see, this is what happens when you vote Liberal’. McGuinty was immediately labeled a leper within his own party, and forced to apologize in the most groveling manner possible. You’d have thought McGuinty had said he prefers Starbucks to Tim Hortons.

What exactly did McGuinty say?

Yes, he did say “go back to Alberta”, which sounds bad taken on its own. But take a look at exactly what he said:

“They (Alberta MPs) are national legislators with a national responsibility, but the come across as very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil-fuel business and the oil-sands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.

“They really should go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’d deeply affected by the oil-sands business, or go run for the Alberta legislature.”

McGuinty was saying that as a national politician, you have to take into account the entire country, not just your little corner of it. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. MPs should be, must be, more aware of the national implications of what they do, rather than just the local issues. That’s their job, isn’t it?

And consider his supposedly offensive “go back to Alberta” line. Read in context, it’s hardly noticeable. Extracted, it’s inflammatory.

Was it stupid to say? Certainly? Was it “deeply offensive”? Get real.  Has it sunk any chance of Calgary sending something other than another dead-eyed Harperite to Ottawa? Absolutely.