Stuff Still Happens, week 41: America gone wild

The American election campaign, which was already the worst in history, imploded this week.

The week began with a presidential debate widely seen as the worst in history. Donald Trump, knowing full well that his White House dream (if he ever really had one) is now a smoking ruin, went for broke. Stalking the stage like a mugger ready to pounce on a little old lady in a back alley, Trump said he thought Hillary Clinton should be in jail, claimed his disgusting bragging about forcing himself upon women was just “locker room talk”, sniffled and snorted incessantly, complained that the moderators were ganging up on him, admitted that he hadn’t talked to his running mate, and strung together so many falsehoods it was impossible for the fact checkers to keep up with him.

After the debate, when the predicted stories of his many groping incidents came to light, Trump proclaimed that the shackles were off (when was he EVER shackled?) and went wild against his opponents, including much of his party. Multiple women came forward to relate stories of his groping and sexual assaults, and Trump’s response was to call them liars and gold diggers and, worse, not up to his standards. (“Believe me, she wouldn’t be my first choice,” Trump said of one of his accusers.) His poll numbers are tanking, his party supporters are quitting, his fundraising is drying up, and the only big names still supporting him are the apparently brain damaged brain doctor Ben Carson, and the once revered, now discredited Rudy Guilliani. There are no issues being debated in this election, no campaign promises being dissected. It’s just madness, pure and simple. When the history of this election is written, it will go down in history as a pivotal moment in American history, when the party of the “late, great” Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and even Ronald Reagan chose an unhinged megalomaniac as its standard bearer, and the Republican Party imploded. God help the United States after this election. Trump has unleashed the dogs of hell – misogyny, racism, and xenophobia –  and they are running rampant throughout the land.

There is another debate this week, and it could make the last debate look like a high school debating class. It’s gonna get ugly. Or should I say, uglier.

The ballad of Ken Bone

On debate night, a chubby, shlubby, mustachioed, lisping, red-sweater-wearing guy named Ken Bone rose to ask a question. The Internet exploded. Websites went crazy. Everybody wanted a piece of Ken Bone, and Ken Bone obliged. He sold T-shirts with his image. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and CNN. He did a Q and A on the website Reddit, which backfired. It was revealed that he made some comments under a different name. He said the 2012 fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin was justified but also expressed contempt for the shooter, George Zimmerman. That prompted the usual howls of outrage, and almost as soon as the Ken Bone phenomenon began, it was over. Welcome to the 21st century, Ken Bone.

RIP

Jim Prentice, 60, briefly premier of Alberta. Prentice was a decent, honourable man by all accounts who made one fatal mistake, calling an election a year ahead of time. Prentice gave the election to the NDP … Matti Hagman, 61, former Edmonton Oiler and the first Finn to play in the NHL.

 

 

Coming to grips with the ungrippable.

Sometimes, there are events that are so huge, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around all of the elements involved, and try to come up with some sort of reason as to why it happened.

The Alberta election of 2015 is one of those events. For 43 years, we’ve had one-party rule in this province. Going into this election, it looked as if the Progressive Conservative party would be (a little less) large and in charge for another four years. But on Monday, Albertans enthusiastically went to the polls and turfed out the PCs in favour of the New Democratic Party, an organization that the province had rarely shown any real affection for or interest in. And they not only won, they won huge, often by massive majorities, going from four seats to 54. The PCs fell to third place with just 11 seats; they’re not even the official opposition, that position going to the Wildrose party, which rose from the ashes of the worst political betrayal in Canadian history to score an impressive 20 seats.

So, what to make of all this? It’s almost too much for my aging brain to wrap around. But what the hell, let’s try by apportioning the blame/credit mathematically. Needless to say, this is unscientific.

First, let’s give a solid 45 per cent of the blame to the Progressive Conservative party, and within that 50 per cent, give 80 per cent to Jim Prentice.

The PCs, previously the most surefooted, ruthless, diabolical machine in Canadian politics, made a miscalculation of epic proportions. Why did Prentice call an election a year ahead of time, just months into his term as premier, as oil prices fell and deficits rose, and after presenting a budget with tax hikes for so many while leaving big business unscathed? I can only surmise that the PCs, complacent in their arrogance and thinking that their chief rival would be the Wildrose, cynically called an election in the hopes of further crushing the opposition. Or, they anticipated the economy would be even worse in a year. What they clearly did not take into account was the fact that the NDP was building a powerful election machine with the help of the federal party, and war chest bulging with money. Oh, and they had a telegenic, trustworthy-looking new leader in Rachel Notley. The PCs clearly missed all of the warning signs, and I can’t say that I blame them. Prentice knew that he was going to lose some MLAs, but with a caucus packed with nobodies and do-nothing career MLAs, he probably felt the party could trim some fat and emerge OK. Good call, Jim!

The PCs ran a terrible, listless, uninspiring campaign, led by their frontman. Prentice certainly looked the part of a premier, or a CEO. But if there was anything to Prentice other than an impressive resume and nice suits, it remained hidden. Prentice resigned as leader on Tuesday as expected. But he also resigned his seat hours after winning it, surely the most churlish reaction to a loss we’ve ever seen. If this is the way this guy operates, we are well and truly rid of him, just as we are happily rid of the likes of the International Man of Mystery David Xiao, and the scheming vulgarian Thomas Lukaszuk. (Sidenote: during the fall session of the Legislature, Lukaszuk leaked damaging information about fellow PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar in an attempt to get revenge on him for leaking information about Lukaszuk’s phone bill when he was running for leader. Ironic footnote: Bhullar won his seat.)

Returning to my formula, I’d assign 25% to the NDP. Seems low, perhaps, but bear with me.

To the surprise of just about everyone, the socialists ran a perfect campaign. They went all in on Notley, and their number came up. Even when they stumbled — their costing numbers were hilariously out of whack, like they were created using Yahtzee dice — it didn’t matter because the PCs and the other parties failed to pounce, and the media didn’t do its job. In fact, the media fell hard for Notley, in a teenage crush sort of way. Nobody even noticed that the NDP, while trumping the fact that they had candidates in every riding, had multiple paper candidates who were just names on the ballot. They also avoided any bonehead eruptions from candidates and played down their most unpalatable socialist instincts. (Whether Notley can keep the diehard socialists within her party happy will be one of her biggest challenges, but that’s a blog for another day.) Whatever they did worked, and worked in ways I’m sure they never expected.

And finally, a solid 30% goes to kick-out-the-bastards, anybody-but rage.

The PCs have been insufferably arrogant for years. In the dying days of the Klein regime, they were perhaps at their all-time worst. Prentice actually didn’t seem like a bad guy, and given time go get to know him, the result might have been different. So why now did the public choose this election to rise up in indignation?

There are lots of reasons. The early, unnecessary election call. The budget that dinged the average Joe with dozens of service charge hikes, and left big business untouched. Years of accumulated anger over inept management of health care and education. A smiling, unthreatening opponent. Oh, and a big shout out to the Liberal party.

The NDP won many of its ridings by giant margins. Oddly, that doesn’t indicate deep support. The NDP benefited greatly from the collapse of the Liberals. In the past, disgruntled anti-PC voters were split between the NDP and the Liberals, giving the PCs plenty of split-vote wins. With the Liberals having collapsed completely (another blog for another day), the anger vote had only one place to go (you’re welcome, Rachel). As my son told me yesterday, a lot of his friends told him they voted NDP, but didn’t feel good about it. How else do you explain 20-year-old students winning?

The NDP benefited from a unique set of circumstances. An angry public, an inept, exhausted, cynical governing party, a brilliant campaign, and the coalition of anti-government voters around one party. Overall, I see it as more of an anti-PC vote than a pro-NDP vote.

The NDP has four years to prove that this win was more than just a one-off. This will be interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff Happens, week 16: Nepal crumbles, Mayweather rumbles, Prentice stumbles

The provincial election is mercifully into its dying days, and the PCs are finally awakening to the fact that they just might actually lose this thing. Jim Prentice has failed miserably to get the public excited about him or his party, as all of the attention has gone to the golden girl, Rachel Notley. On Friday, members of the well-heeled business community in Edmonton weighed in with an unusual press conference, decrying any tax hikes for corporations. Not surprisingly, they are all big Tory supporters, as the Edmonton Journal gleefully wrote in one of its more one-sided stories. If members of the business elite think that a whining press conference about how hard done by they are will divert votes away from the NDP, they are sadly mistaken. Meanwhile, the NDP’s union supporters, who have poured hundreds of thousands into the party for years, have stayed very, very quiet. An NDP win would be a huge win for the public sector unions; if an NDP government sits down across the table to negotiate with a union that kept it alive with massive cash infusions over the years, you’ve got to know that they will be expecting something in return.

The story of the week, and one that is destined to be one of the stories of the year, is the tragedy in Nepal. No mere disaster, the earthquake that struck last week is now a catastrophe of historic proportions, with at least 6,500 dead and counting, countless numbers homeless, and whole towns and cities in ruins.

It must be getting close to the federal election — the Conservatives are ramping up their advertising campaigns. Mind you, there won’t be any overt mentions of the Conservative party, because the new $13 million in TV ads will focus on the federal budget. Mind you again, the budget is a political document, and all of the ads (which, if you watch hockey, will soon drive you crazy) will focus on tax cuts “for hard working Canadians”, etc. No government in our history has been as brazen as the Harper government at spending public money for political purposes. The ads have done the impossible: I now hate the first four notes of the national anthem, which are tagged onto the end of every commercial.

Two fading fighters, good guy Manny Pacquiao and bad guy Floyd Mayweather Jr. faced off in the biggest fight in boxing history (financially, anyway). There hasn’t been this much excitement about boxing since Mike Tyson was in his destructive prime. Mayweather won in a unanimous decision, although Pacquiao — with a payday of some $100 million or so — did pretty well for the loser.

One of my favourite Randy Newman songs is called Baltimore. The refrain goes, “Oh, Baltimore, man it’s hard, just to live.” Baltimore is so bad, it makes the Baltimore portrayed in The Wire look like bucolic small-town America. The city went nuts this week over yet another death of a young black man in police custody. It seems America can’t go a week without another video of yet another black man dying at the hands, or in the custody of, the police. The highlight (if I can use that word) of the Baltimore troubles was this clip of a mother hauling her son out of the riot scene, and vigorously slapping him upside the head. Never before has child abuse been so widely praised.

In England, a woman had a baby girl. For some reason, this is big news.

In First World troubles, the heart rate monitor on the Apple watch apparently doesn’t work if you have a tattoo on your wrist. This is a problem because chances are about 90 per cent that anyone buying an Apple watch also has a wrist tattoo.

RIP: Ben E. King, 76, soul singer best known the all-time classic Stand By Me; he had other hits like Spanish Harlem, There Goes My Baby and This Magic Moment … Jean Nidetch, 91, founder of Weight Watchers … Suzanne Crough, 52, the youngest member (Tracy) of The Partridge Family … Jack Ely, 71, vocalist for the famously indecipherable song Louie Louie … Marcel Pronovost, 84, Hockey Hall of Fame member … Jim Fanning, 87, former manager of the Montreal Expos.

Stuff happens, week 13: Election? What election?; this week in atrocities.

There was plenty of speculation amongst the political class about when Premier Grim Jim Prentice would call his (illegal) election. Monday came and went with no word. Then came the polls — suddenly the Wildrose was on the rise, and the polls were giving the budget the thumbs down. So Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday, then Thursday… then it was Good Friday, and Prentice would have been crucified for calling an election then. So, at earliest on Monday, but that’s Easter Monday, so Tuesday it is. Or is it? What a great way to run a democracy.

Gas prices took another inexplicable leap forward in Edmonton this week, jumping almost 10 cents, rising to almost a dollar a litre. Now if this sounds like a broken record from me, maybe it is. This is the fourth time I’ve mentioned rising gasoline prices in Edmonton in the 13 weeks since I started writing this blog. Meanwhile, the price of oil remains basically unchanged. How does this happen? I don’t know; wouldn’t it be nice if a politician, somewhere, asked that question?

Still on the provincial non-election front, the PCs continue their ugly infighting. The Edmonton-Meadowlark candidate was mysteriously disqualified in favour of a more sellable (i.e. female, TV-ready) candidate. Then Tony Caterina, who the last time I checked was a city councillor, announced that he was going to run in an Edmonton riding after getting a call from the PCs. Apparently, being a mere city councillor just isn’t enough for Caterina.

Another week, another atrocity. This time, the site was Kenya, the target Christian students at a university, the killers Boko Harum, and the death toll 148. No, the world isn’t getting worse, it only seems that way.

RIP: Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon, at 75. She was remembered as a “lovely lady” who was badly treated by Lennon … Gary Dahl, 78, came up with a nutty idea called the Pet Rock, which was a rock packaged in a little cage-like box and sold as a pet that you didn’t need to care for. Stupid? Sure. But in 1975, he sold more than a million pet rocks at $3.95, and became a millionaire. He tried again later with the Original Sand Breeding Kit (grow your own sand), but lightning didn’t strike twice … Robert Shuller, 88, one of the most successful of TV evangelists. His program, the Hour of Power from his spectacular glass Crystal Cathedral, was enormously successful. When he retired, however, the whole thing fell apart and the church fell into bankruptcy.

The Montreal Canadiens 'Punch Line' of Maurice Richard (bottom left) Elmer Lach (centre) and Toe Blake.
The Montreal Canadiens ‘Punch Line’ of Maurice Richard (bottom left) Elmer Lach (centre) and Toe Blake.

Elmer Lach, 97, the oldest surviving ex-NHLer, was a member of the legendary Punch Line of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940s-50s which included Maurice Richard and Toe Blake. League MVP once, he won three Stanley Cups, and when he retired, he was the highest scoring player in the NHL … Character actor Gregory Walcott, 87, made dozens of appearances in films and TV from the 1950s to the 1970s. He would have been pretty much unknown, except for the fact he had a lead role in Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely regarded as the worst film of all time. “I don’t want to be remembered for that,” Walcott said in an interview. “But it’s better to be remembered for something than nothing, don’t you think?” Words to live by.

A provincial election would be cynical and foolish, but ….

The Alberta Legislature press gallery, the most chronically underworked legislature press gallery in the country, is all abuzz with election gossip.

The Progressive Conservatives have kicked their candidate selection process into high gear, leading to speculation that Premier Jim Prentice might call a spring election. Gossip mongers are also suggesting that the PC party’s decision to offer free memberships to Wildrose members is another sign that Prentice is going to the polls when the snow melts.

Is Prentice weighing his options?
Is Prentice weighing his options?

At first glance, there would seem to be no chance of an election. We actually have a semi-set date for the next election. By law, it must be held sometime March and May 2016. Ah, but there’s a loophole — it can be called at anytime at the discretion of the Lieutenant-Governor, a vestige of our colonial past. Of course, no Lieutenant Governor (as useless a position as exists in a democracy) would call an election unless asked by the government, so it’s possible that Prentice could go to the Lt.-Gov. and ask for a vote.

Even though no Lt.-Gov. would send a premier packing when requesting an election, Prentice would need some justification, however feeble, for calling a vote a full year ahead of time. Even in our system, Prentice would need a better reason than, “Cause I feel like it”.

If Prentice and the PC brain trust are actually thinking of calling a vote, they’re going to need several reasons so they don’t appear to be shamelessly cynical and power hungry. No amount of Eau du Excuse will hide the stink from calling an unnecessary election, but they will have to try. Possible excuses are:

• We are heading into a period of economic uncertainty with falling oil prices, and the PCs need a mandate from the people for the tough economic decisions that have to be made;

• Prentice, as an unelected premier, wants a mandate from the people;

• The defection of the Wildrose MLAs has changed the landscape so much, an election is needed to clear the table.

OK, they all suck. There is no way Prentice can call an election without looking like a shameless, cynical, power-hungry politician, essentially Ralph Klein without the ‘charm’.

So there’s no reason to call an election. But that doesn’t mean he won’t.

A spring election would be a guaranteed win for the Tories. What other possible options are there? In the midst of rocky economic times, voters will not be willing to turn over power to whomever might be the leader of the Wildrose, or to the Liberals, or the NDP. They would hold their noses and vote PCs.

But at what cost? Prentice already has a massive majority in the legislature. If he really needs to make tough economic choices, which he will, he already has the go-ahead based on the previous election results. With emotions still raw following the mass defection of Wildrosers, the public could easily turn against his newly-minted MLAs, giving the Wildrose a life-saving boost in popularity. In Edmonton, where the Wildrose is a non-factor, angry voters will turn to the Liberals or NDs, perhaps with enough force to cost some of the less-inspired Edmonton MLAs (that would be most of them) their jobs.

So yes, the PCs would win a spring election. But it would permanently damage Prentice’s so-far sterling reputation for fairness, brand the PCs as shameless opportunists, and result in the party having fewer seats in the legislature.

Prentice should rid himself of any notion of holding a spring election. The smart, honest thing to do would be to make the tough decisions the party has been chosen to make, get accustomed to the new reality of $50 oil, and show the public they can govern in bad times as well as good.  Unless, of course, they don’t think they CAN govern in bad times as well as good.

Prentice’s choices are clear. He can call an election, win it, but be branded a shameless, cynical, old-school political hack. Or he can show us what he can do by governing for the next year, then letting the public vote on the job he’s done.

Not a tough call. But this is politics, after all.

 

 

Stuff Happens. Week 1

Welcome to Stuff Happens, a weekly wrap up of the news that you know, or may have missed.

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Not quite true. Outside of France, nobody had ever heard of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French newspaper that mercilessly skewed everyone, from the Pope to a certain long dead prophet (photo unavailable). Now, the whole world knows of Charlie Hebdo, thanks to the first (no doubt of many) terrorist outrage of 2015. Gunmen killed 12 people at the satirical French newspaper, leading to a week of chaos in Paris and the eventual, well-deserved deaths of the terrorists. I hope the 72 virgins awaiting the ‘martyrs’ told these a-holes ‘Hey, it was only a cartoon’. While the world was obsessed with events in Paris, buried on the back pages was a story that the notorious Boko Haram, extremists opposed to western-style education and secular governance in Nigeria, carried out a multi-day attack in the northeast of Nigeria, focusing on the town of Baga, virtually wiping it out at a cost of thousands of lives.  And you thought 2014 was a lousy year.

Bubbling to the surface in the first week of the year is a maybe/maybe not scandal involving Prince Andrew, second son of Queen Elizabeth. A woman named Virginia Roberts claims that Bonny Prince Andrew had sex with her three times while she

The couple in happier times.
The couple in happier times.

was a “sex slave” to the prince’s former friend, a disgraced tycoon named Jeffrey Epstein. Worse yet, not only is Ms. Roberts, now 30, a commoner, but an American commoner, the most common of commoners. While Buckingham Palace has “emphatically denied” the story, the prince flew home from a skiing holiday in Switzerland to talk to mummy about this unpleasant bother. This begs the question: what exactly is Prince Andrew taking a holiday from? According to a Monday report, the Queen was “grim-faced” as she left church on Sunday, which begs another question: how can you tell when the Queen is grim-faced, or just normal-faced? Since Roberts is taking the prince and the lowlife tycoon to court, and weighing offers to write a book, and this kind of story is red meat to Fleet Street, this story could have legs. Photos like the one above of the prince and Roberts, showing the two looking quite, shall we say, chummy, won’t help the prince’s case. Stay tuned …

The numbers are in, and the rich guys win. Again. According to Politico, the 100 largest donors in the U.S. 2014 election cycle gave almost as much money to candidates as the 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less. In other words, Democrats and Republicans owe their well-being to just 100 wealthy Americans. And here’s a surprise — a slim majority of the 100 wealthiest donors gave to the Democrats. As the saying goes, money doesn’t buy everything.

Canada ended a five-year gold medal drought with a thrilling 5-4 win over Russia to take the World Junior Hockey championship. This would be a really big deal if anyone outside of Canada cared about the World Junior Hockey championship.

It was revealed that Jim Prentice spent $2.6 million on winning the PC leadership race. That means Prentice spent about $128 per vote. And we expect this guy to spend our money wisely?

Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg

RIPs in the first 10 days of the year: Swedish actress and former bombshell Anita Ekberg (seen right in her bombshell days); J.P. Parise, a member Team Canada of the legendary Canada-Russia series of 1972; Donna Douglas, who played costume-challenged Elly May Clampett on the old Beverly Hillbillies show; Little Jimmy Dickens of the Grand Ole Opry; and called to the Lord, as he might have said it, gospel singer Andrea Crouch.

 

Why are the PCs so afraid of gay teenagers?

Premier Jim Prentice has gotten off to a pretty impressive start as the latest star of the longest running series in Canadian political history, Alberta Dynasty. He did a lot of little things right, like cancelling the ill-conceived plan to change our license plates and grounding the provincial fleet of airplanes. He did the usual big picture announcements, promising 1,487 new schools, or something like that. The voting public gave him a robust vote of confidence by going four-for-four in byelections, and just for fun he picked up a couple of Wildrose members, practically by accident. The Wildrose seems to be collapsing before our eyes, and the polls put the Tories back in front. All is well in Prentice Province.

So why is he so terrified of gay teenagers?

Prentice’s first misstep as premier has been in dealing with Liberal Laurie Blakeman’s fairly innocuous private member’s bill.

Blakeman, the best friend the gay community has in Alberta politics, proposed a bill that would require Alberta schools to institute something called a gay-straight alliance in high schools upon request from students. Sounds innocent enough, right? When I was in high school, I always felt like an outsider, and I’m straight; I can’t imagine how miserable life can be for a gay teen, particularly in this age when you can be hounded and bullied 24/7 via social media. You would think that something called a gay-straight alliance, which would create a more welcoming environment for gay teens, would be a slam-dunk for the government to support.

But no. Blakeman’s bill forced the Prentice government to cobble together a hodge-podge bill to supersede the Liberal bill. Titled “An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children” (Prentice has learned well while in the Stephen Harper cabinet; giving a bill a preposterous feel good title is straight from the Harper playbook), the bill doesn’t outlaw gay-straight alliances, but it gives the school boards the power to say no to the request to form such a group. But if a school board took such a measure, the kids would have a legal recourse — they could go to court! *

Seriously.

This is beyond preposterous. Does the province really believe that a bunch of high school kids have the know-how or the desire to take their school board to court?

Why would the Prentice government haul out a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito?

My guess is that Christian schools — and Catholic schools** — still have a tremendous amount of sway with the government. Presented with the choice of pissing off the gay voters, or doing the same to the evangelical Christian voter, the Tories sided with God.

What is especially surprising about this needless snafu is just how easy it would have been to avoid it. In fact, supporting Blakeman’s bill would have served the government’s political purposes.

If the Tories supported the bill, and the Wildrose didn’t, the Wildrose would have been pushed into the deep end of the lake of fire. But if the Wildrose voted in support of it as well, the issue would have died. If all parties supported the bill, those opposed would have no one to vote against.

But what of those MLAs who are opposed to the bill, for whatever reason? If the PCs or the Wildrose genuinely had MLAs opposed to the bill on ‘moral’ grounds or whatever, the smart strategy would have been to let them say a few carefully chosen words against it, then make sure they were absent on the day the bill came up for a vote. The MLAs could then go back to the voters, and in the unlikely event the issue came up, they could say, ‘Hey, I was opposed, and spoke against it. But I lost. That’s the way democracy works.’

But they didn’t do that. The PCs could have let the bill slide quietly through the legislature, taken a few minor hits from opponents, and wrapped themselves in the warm fuzzy embrace of inclusiveness and general niceness. But instead of voting for a bill that is designed to prevent bullying, they came out looking like bullies themselves.

* Early Thursday, the bill was amended to eliminate the court option in favour of going to the minister of education. The GSAs would then hold their meetings off-site from the schools. How this is any great improvement is beyond me.

** According to the Journal, the Catholic system doesn’t allow GSAs because the group is too narrow in its reach. What a crock. Catholic schools have football teams even though they exclude people who don’t play football, right? And if students wanted to form a support group for, say, native students, or new immigrants, there is no way the school board would say no to those groups despite being too narrow.

Winners and losers on byelection night

Now that the mini-referendum for Jim Prentice is over, let’s study the entrails (disgusting image, I know) to discern the winners and losers of the night.

WINNER: The PCs and Jim Prentice

The other parties will find all sorts of good things to say about how they fared, but this was objectively a bad news night for almost everyone. They will say it was no surprise that Prentice won in a safe Tory seat, and that Stephen Mandel won in Edmonton’s only safe Tory seat. But if voters really want to send a message to a government, they do it via byelection, where you can give the government a firm slap on the wrist and a stern rebuke. For example, when Ralph Klein retired, his old seat went to a Liberal. So, it can happen, and the PC opponents did everything they could to make it happen. While the failures to defeat the Tories in Edmonton-Whitemud and Calgary-Foothills were not entirely unexpected, the margins of victory for the PCs were impressive. The real wins for the PCs were in the toss-up ridings, where Tories were returned. If there was going to be a message sent anywhere, it would have been in those two constituencies. But they won both. So, message sent: all is forgiven, keep up the good work. Sheesh.

LOSER: Danielle Smith and the Wildrose

Is the bloom off the Wildrose? Signs point to yes.

The Wildrose failed to win the toss-up ridings of Calgary-West and Calgary-Elbow. Although they came close in Calgary-West, they came in THIRD in Calgary-Elbow, behind the Alberta Party party candidate. (This is where you may ask: there’s an Alberta Party?) In Edmonton-Whitemud, they trailed the NDP; not a surprise, to be sure, but a disappointment. The Wildrose is having a very hard time making any headway in Edmonton, which does not bode well for their future.

They came close, but at the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Wildrosers may start to privately discuss whether Danielle Smith, who has been the golden girl of Alberta politics, has lost her glow. If you can’t win a byelection against a supposedly unpopular, supposedly out of touch, unquestionably ancient government, when will you win? Maybe Albertans are getting tired of Smith and her attack dog mentality, and her permanently snarling MLAs. At some point, the public starts to wonder if you’re government material, or if you’re better suited to opposition status. The Wildrose is beginning to have that permanent opposition look.

WINNER/LOSER: The New Democrats

The New Democrats, with the always willing participation of the media, will paint Monday night as a triumph. Sure, they didn’t win (didn’t really expect to, they’ll say), but look at the result in Edmonton-Whitemud, where they finished second! Clearly, the NDP dearly wanted to win Whitemud, and a solid second place makes them optimistic for the future. But look elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean anywhere other than Edmonton. In Calgary, the party remains a joke. Pathetic fourth place finishes in two ridings, and a humiliating FIFTH place in the other. Overall, they garnered a mere 9% of the popular vote. There are positive signs for the NDs in Edmonton, but no pulse at all outside of it. That’s OK with the NDs, really. They are quite content to shore up their Edmonton base and ignore everywhere else.

LOSER: The Alberta Liberals
While the NDs can find reason for optimism, there are no positives for the Liberals. Once upon a time (10 years ago next month, to be exact), the Liberals were the government-in-waiting, the party with the best chance of unseating the Tories. But after unexpected Stelmach tsunami of 2008, and the near-death experience of 2012, the party has become an afterthought. Monday night, they finished third in two ridings, and fourth in the other two.

WINNER/LOSER The Alberta Party

An impressive second place showing by the party leader in Calgary-Elbow (that’s good), and nothing at all elsewhere (that’s bad). But does anybody really care about yet another political party?

There is still plenty of time before the next election, but this mini-referendum on the state of Alberta politics gives a boost to the Tories. The commentators who were writing political obituaries for the PCs may have to revise their narrative. Go figure.

Worst. Leadership race. Ever.

Somewhere in my collection of flotsam and jetsam of old newspaper clippings from my youth, I have the famous Edmonton Journal paper from the day after the Progressive Conservatives, under Peter Lougheed, finally toppled the Social Credit dynasty. The headline, written in massive type in true Tory blue, read: “Now! It’s Lougheed!”

Now, as the longest reigning Canadian provincial government in Canadian history staggers to the finish line of its third leadership race in eight years, the most likely headline should be “Finally … it’s Prentice.” 

On Saturday, the PCs will announce the winner of their leadership race, and if all goes according to plans (and polls), the new man will be Jim Prentice, another Calgarian with extensive ties to The Industry. (Calgary, it seems, produces leaders or would-be leaders; Edmonton produces opponents. Good thing somebody does.)  As everyone knows, the PCs are in disarray. After 43 years in power, the party seems to be suffering from the political equivalent of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. If you were to lay a bet right now, it would seem the wise choice to put your money on the odds-on favourite in the 2016 election, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

But wait! The PC party obit has been written more often than Mark Twain’s. (Twain, after a premature obit appeared, famously said: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”) In some ways, when Prentice takes over the party, he will be in a better position than Alison Redford.

Redford, you may recall (and it seems almost impossible to believe, considering how far she had fallen), took over with sky-high hopes. Finally, the progressives cheered, a truly progressive Progressive Conservative. A worldly, big-city lawyer — and a woman! (I had a feeling the Liberals were in trouble when a long-time Liberal operative I know greeted the election of Redford not with dread, but with unbridled joy.)

Redford was, shall we say, a bit of a disappointment. The party Prentice inherits is in disarray, bedevilled by a series of puny, travel-related scandals and a general sense of exhaustion. While Redford started on a high with great expectations, Prentice starts with the party at a low ebb. In other words, nowhere to go but up.

(I write this based on my assumption that Prentice wins. If either of the two lame-duck candidates — professional dunderhead Ric McIver, or the slithering Thomas Lukaszuk — somehow wins, you can dust off that PC obit and run it today. If Prentice wins, we can happily write the long overdue obit of Lukaszuk.)

Prentice actually has some potential. After the feckless farmer Ed Stelmach, and the patrician Redford, all Prentice has to do is play the hard-nosed businessman type and ground the government’s silly fleet of airplanes. (By the way, this ‘scandal’ of Finance Minister Doug Horner taking his wife on the occasional plane ride is a whole lot of nothing. If there was an empty seat on the plane, as I assume there was on the times she went along, the actual cost to the taxpayer is nil. This is small change.) Alberta, after all, is in pretty good financial shape, and to most voters, that’s all that matters. Once Prentice realizes that he had billions of dollars to throw at any problem — health care, education, whatever the problem du jour is — he will make these problems go away in time for the next election. 

Once this dreadful, uneventful, petty leadership ‘”race” is officially over, Prentice can get down to business. His first order of business will be, of course, business. Get to work, avoid trivial scandals, and the Tories can easily extend their record setting longevity streak. The Wildrose is always just one dip into the lake of fire away from reminding the public of their extremist roots, as we saw in the last election. 

(By the way, the New Democrats are also holding a leadership vote, pitting the earnest Rachel Notley against the earnest David Eggen, and somebody else who is, I assume, earnest. Just thought I should mention it.)

 

By the way, the PCs are electing our new premier. Just thought you should know.

As a respected member of the blogosphere (or at least a member of the blogosphere), I feel it is my obligation to comment on the ‘race’ to be the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, who will also become our next premier. You will be forgiven if you say to yourself, ‘This is the first I’ve heard of this’.

Alberta politics is always sleepy during the summer; the legislature doesn’t sit in the summer months (and hardly at all in the fall, winter and spring months for that matter). But this summer should have been different, with the ruling PC party (again) electing a new leader.  So much excitement was guaranteed as a political dynasty attempts to reinvent itself and stave off an upstart enemy. What a saga! But like many a would-be summer Hollywood blockbuster, this race is a The Lone Ranger-sized bomb.

Just to refresh your memory, there are three candidates in the running. One of them is credible, and the guaranteed, first-ballot, overwhelming, lead-pipe cinch winner. The other two are jokes, cannon fodder, good-but-not-very-bright soldiers in the race so the party doesn’t entirely embarrass itself with a coronation.

The winner, in case you’ve forgotten, is Jim Prentice. When Prentice wins the PC leadership on Sept. 6, he will become premier despite never having held a seat in the Alberta legislature. Owing to the perverse nature of this leadership race, Prentice’s complete unfamiliarity with the Alberta legislature and the PC party is his greatest strength. The PCs are so crippled by their own reputation that the party is desperate to elect someone who hasn’t been tainted by the stink of hanging around with, well, them. Prentice fits the bill in other areas near and dear to PC hearts: he’s big in the oil community, he’s a Harper Tory, and he’s from Calgary. That’s the trifecta right there. (The little problem of not having a seat in the legislature will be solved when a certain ex-premier resigns her Calgary seat, and a byelection is quickly called. You heard it hear first, perhaps.)

The other candidates are two of the sorriest would-be leaders offered up by a major political party, anywhere, anytime.

There’s Ric McIver, known in Calgary and nowhere else. In his first term in the legislature, McIver managed to make virtually no impact on the public consciousness, but still felt compelled to run for the leadership. The biggest splash McIver made was when it was revealed that he attended a March for Jesus (which is not a bad thing, in that a lot of people like this Jesus guy), organized by a virulently anti-gay organization. When the only thing people know about you is that you’re a supporter of an organization that even the Wildrose party would distance itself from, you’re in trouble.

And then there’s Thomas Lukaszuk, the resident attack dog of the PC party. Oily and crass, with a creepy Euro-trash vibe about him, Lukaszuk is famous for picking a fight with a senior citizen while campaigning. Lukaszuk has benefited from the lack of passable PC MLAs from the Edmonton area, landing in cabinet several times. He was even the deputy premier for Alison Redford, (his primary job was fielding opposition questions in the most insulting manner possible) which tells you everything you need to know about Alison Redford. Lukaszuk is the token Edmonton candidate, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was encouraged by the party to run, just so that there would be somebody — anybody — from Edmonton.

The best this aging party could offer up is two non-entities and somebody who has no connection to the party. Prentice is clearly the party’s best hope — only hope — of extending the dynasty. Chosing McIver or Lukaszuk spells certain defeat in the next election. Which is not a bad thing at all.