Thoughts on a terrible week

Like most other Canadians, I’ve had a hard time processing everything that has happened in Canada this past week. It seemed that the peaceable kingdom had been turned upside down, with soldiers being killed on our streets for the crime of being, well, soldiers. The best I can do today is go over a few points; there’s almost too much to absorb.

• Canadian TV coverage was both very good, and very bad.

Some American commentators have heaped praised on the CBC’s permanent anchor, Peter Mansbridge, for his rock solid anchoring of the emerging tragedy. I never thought of it, but they’re right. Mansbridge is a total pro, keeping things in perspective and very smartly letting the public know that even the professional reporters had a hard time getting things straight. But the other networks acquitted themselves well. CTV had muscular Kevin Newman at the anchor desk, and he was cool and calm. Global was fine as well. All of them could have gone off on panicky tangents, but they didn’t. I can’t say the same for the B team that populates the morning news shows on CTV News Network and CBC Newsworld. In the early going of the crisis, the Newsworld anchor, a woman whose name escapes me, was in so far over her head it was almost embarrassing to watch. At one point, she said something like “Not to be too dramatic here, but Parliament is under attack!” Seriously.

• Another low point in the coverage came not from the media, but from the police. When the Ottawa police and the RCMP finally held a press conference, no doubt seen live around the world, they conspired to say absolutely nothing. Not one shred of new information came out of the press conference, as the cops held fast to their talking points. It was embarrassing to watch.

• High praise must go to Josh Wingrove of the Globe and Mail. When gunshots rang out and people were running for cover, he tagged along with the security people and captured the images of the gunfight that ended the crisis. Nobody has given him credit for guts, but he deserves it. He willingly went into a dangerous situation, and recorded the whole incident. Perhaps no piece of Canadian news footage in history has been seen and replayed more than Wingrove’s clip.

• Still with the media, the next day’s Edmonton Sun front page was the greatest missed opportunity I’ve ever seen by a newspaper. In place of an actual news photo — and God knows there were dozens of arresting images — the Sun chose to display a huge maple leaf, with the headline “We will not be intimidated: PM Harper’s vow after hears of Canadian democracy attached.” While even politicians were putting politics aside, the Sun couldn’t resist giving their hero Harper the Winston Churchill treatment. The next day, one of their stable of hacks devoted a column praising Harper to the skies for his utterly uninspiring post-shooting speech.

• Now to the use of the H word, as in hero. Was Corp. Nathan Cirillo a hero? Sadly, no. He was an innocent victim of a scumbag, and his loss is utterly heartbreaking and enraging at the same time. But hero? No, sorry. He was a guy doing a sacred duty who was in the right place (guarding the war memorial) at the wrong time. But the remarkable collection of people who attended to him until the ambulance came, tending to his wounds, giving him CPR, giving him comfort? Yes, those are heroes. And needless to say, the true hero of the piece is Kevin Vickers, the seargeant-at-arms who calmly dispatched the shooter with a few remarkably well placed shots, then let cowering MPs know it was safe to leave. Now, that is a hero.

• As terrible as this week has been, it at the very least gave us profoundly Canadian, lump-in-the-throat moments. When Vickers entered the House of Commons the next day to a roaring ovation from MPs, you couldn’t help but feel deep pride in the Canadian way. As silly as the whole ceremony looks, it represents the way our democracy works, and returning to work after such a traumatic day sent a profound message. And then there were the thousands who saluted the funeral procession of Cpl. Cirillo on the ‘Highway of Heroes’, a spontaneous display of solidarity and determination. Ya gotta love this country.

• And finally, the big questions. Was this our 9-11? Of course not. Did we ‘lose our innocence’ on that day? No; only the most naive Canadian thought this couldn’t happen in Canada. Will Canada ‘never be the same again’? No; it will change a little, in that it will be harder to get into public buildings and we’ll be more alert to questionable characters. But I don’t think one creep with a gun can change an entire country. Canada was a great and open country before October 22, 2014, and it will remain a great and open country after October 22, 2014. We’re blessed to live in this great nation, even if there are some who don’t feel the same way.

• Finally, this magnificent editorial cartoon, by Bruce MacKinnon of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, deserves to be seen by every Canadian.

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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.

A perfectly cromulent day in the Legislature.

My old reporter’s heart, which bleeds ink, feels a certain empathy for the poor sods who have to cover the Alberta Legislature on a daily basis. All that sound and fury, and hardly a story to report.

I found a few things that were amusing over the past couple of days, if you really stretch the definition of the word ‘amusing’.

For example, Lindsay Blackett, the minister of Culture and Community Spirit (surely the silliest name for a ministry ever) must have been feeling like a forgotten man lately, and felt compelled to do something about it. On Monday, a backbencher tossed him a couple of puffballs about the arts and culture industry to get him back in the game, to wit:

“Can the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit please tell me what he is doing to help this critically important sector during these tough economic times?”, followed up by Can the minister please tell me what he is doing to ensure that this sector remains healthy after the economy has recovered?”

That should have been enough to keep the guy happy, but no. In Tuesday’s QP, another Tory seat warmer asked these questions: “Can the minister offer that assurance and tell us specifically what he’s doing to support the arts?”, followed by  “Can the minister tell us how we’re comparing with other jurisdictions?” and finishing withCan the minister tell us anything about planning for the future in terms of budgeting?”

If you look at the first question from the two days, you’ll see that they are essentially the same question. The other questions are simply variations on the theme.  Let’s hope that keeps the nearly forgotten Minister Blackett happy for a couple of weeks.

Elsewhere, it was a typically non-productive day in the Legislature. Of note, however, was the debate on Bill 12, the supposedly historic, landmark, etc. Alberta Health Act. For most of Tuesday afternoon, members debated the merits of the bill, quite accurately described as a “Seinfeld bill” — a bill about nothing. Nothing or not, that didn’t stop opposition members from entering in a vigourous debate about the bill. The trouble was, they were debating themselves — not one single government member rose to debate the bill on Tuesday. The Scrap Metal Dealers act was important enough for 11 of them to rise on Monday, but on the Alberta Health Act, they remained almost universally silent. Maybe it really is a bill about nothing….

And finally, one amusing moment from Twitter.

The Globe and Mail’s Edmonton correspondent, Josh Wingrove, Twittered about Premier Ed Stelmach’s use of the word “ironical” in the legislature.  “Hey, ABPremierComms, please tell Stelmach that ironical isn’t a word” he Tweeted. Moments later, some wag in the premier’s communication office offered “Ironical is a perfectly cromulent word.”

Wow! An obscure reference from The Simpsons from someone in the premier’s communications staff, and used properly! Kudos to the writer. Too bad the premier’s communication people don’t display that kind of with-it wit a little more often. Might make Stelmach look almost human.