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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Lukaszuk, world’s most expensive relationship counsellor.

OK, I have about a million questions about the Thomas Lukaszuk $20,000 phone bill scandal. Or maybe about seven. 

First, the background. It was revealed this week that Lukaszuk, the soon-to-be third place finisher in the anemic PC leadership race, rang up a $20,000 phone bill while on a personal trip to Poland. Lukaszuk first said it was because of ‘government business’, which at least had a ring of truth to it. But later it was revealed that the ‘government business’ was a call from a frantic cabinet minister who was involved in a family crisis. The police were called, and the minister felt unsafe, so the story goes. Lukaszuk, ever the hero, worked for about an hour on the file, helped the minister obtain a lawyer, exchanged a bunch of legal documents, then went back to his vacation. One hour of work, he says, and a $20,000 phone bill. 

The mind reels with questions. Such as:

1. Who is the cabinet minister? Lukaszuk says the matter in question is covered by a publication ban, which sounds like hiding behind legal mumbo-jumbo. Lukaszuk could safely say he got a call from Minister X about an urgent family matter without violating any publication ban. I guarantee you that everybody in the legislature press gallery knows who the minister is. 

2. Why Lukaszuk? Lukaszuk says he didn’t have a personal relationship with the minister, so why would he/she phone him? Lukaszuk was the deputy premier, and he says the call was referred to him after being pawned off on him by the premier’s office. Why in God’s name would anyone turn to Thomas Lukaszuk for advice? Remember, this is a guy who got into an argument with a senior citizen at the man’s home, and called the cops on him. Asking Thomas Lukaszuk for help is like turning to Charlie Sheen for personal advice.

3. Why didn’t Lukaszuk tell the minister to get lost? If I was in the same situation, and I got a call like that while on vacation, my response would be: “Are you kidding me? I’m on holidays! You’re a grown adult, take care of it. Call the cops or something, but why the hell are you bothering me about this?”

4. What kind of people did Alison Redford appoint to her cabinet? It’s frightening to think that there was someone in charge of a provincial government department and its multi-million dollar budget who was so baffled about how to handle a personal domestic problem that he/she felt the need to call in a stranger for advice. Good lord. 

5. Who leaked the info? Personally, I don’t care. Clearly it was somebody who wanted to discredit Lukaszuk , which seems pointless since Lukaszuk already does a great job of discrediting himself. But this is where the story gets even weirder. Reports today in almost identical stories in both papers say an opposition MLA and a researcher say Service Alberta minister Manmeet Bhullar approached them and told them to look into Lukaszuk’s phone records for some juicy dirt. Bhullar denies the story, but I believe it. 

6. What kind of name is Manmeet?

7. Why is the MLA making the accusations allowed to remain anonymous? If you’re going to make a charge like this, you should be required to put your name and face to it. Frankly, I’m surprised that the Journal and the Sun allowed the MLA to remain unnamed. If you’re an elected official, and you make a charge against another elected official, you should man up (or woman up) and allow your name to be used. What is the MLA afraid of? He/she can’t be fired or reprimanded. Making the claim anonymously is gutless and discredits the story, and the Journal and the Sun should have had the balls to tell the MLA that they needed a name, or no story. It’s unfair that Bhullar isn’t allowed to directly confront his accuser. 

After the endless stream of scandals large and small, and the unmistakable stench of decay wafting over the PC party, the final question is one that I imagine Jim Prentice must be asking himself: Why the hell did I ever want to be involved with this collection of idiots?

 

How to ask a question, government MLA edition.

Legislature, day 4:

Hello, would-be politicos. Today, for those of you considering becoming a Progressive Conservative MLA, I present two examples of PC MLAs in “action” from the Leg on Wednesday. One is the right way to be a government MLA, the other is the wrong way.

First, the right way. This happens so rarely, I thought it should go first.

George VanderBurg is the long-time MLA for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne. VanderBurg sets an example for his spineless seatmates in how to ask your own government worthwhile questions. Here are parts of an exchange between VanderBurg and Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner.

“Within Whitecourt-Ste. Anne my constituents are concerned about the challenges facing home-schooled students as they seek admittance to Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. While government approves and even regulates home-schooling, my constituents find that postsecondary institutions are less open to the idea and lack consistent policies for accepting home-schooled students. My questions are to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. Minister, it’s easy for every foreign student across the world to come to Alberta; there are policies. When are you going to create a policy for our own Alberta students, for our own home-schooled students?”

See how it’s done, future MLAs? Raise a legitimate issue of concern to your constituents, and ask with some authority.

After Horner’s typical non-answer, VanderBurg came back with this zinger:

“Well, I think, Minister, that you’ve missed my point. You’re the big wheel here, and the home-schooled students are watching you. What are you going to do to help them prepare for postsecondary institutions?”

Good one, George. After Horner again tap danced around the answer, VanderBurg redirected his last question to the Minister of Education, because he said Horner was “passing the buck”.

See, future MLAs? That’s the way it’s done. Now, here’s how you don’t do it.

The MLA for Calgary-Montrose, Manmeet Bhullar, participated in a shameless display of ass-kissing with buffoonish Infrastructure Minister Luc Ouelette.

After praising himself for “two years of lobbying”, Bhullar asked when an access road from 84th Street to 100th Street  in Calgary would be completed.

Ouellette lumbered to his feet, and said: “I’ve got to say that those constituents in that area should be very, very thankful for having an MLA that just gets out there. I still have the scars from all the lobbying he does. I have to tell you that I have very good news for this member. The road is under construction as we speak …”

Bhullar, who of course knew the road was under construction, called it  “wonderful news, Mr. Speaker. Wonderful news.” He later referred to Ouellette as a “wonderful minister”.

Sheesh, boys. Get a room.

See what I mean, future MLAs? VanderBurg asked a real question, going to bat for his constituents, and refused to accept a non-answer. Bhullar asked a non-question designed only to promote himself as a great hero to his constituents, someone who almost single-handedly got a road built. Basically, he wasted the Legislature’s time, and wasted an opportunity to ask a real question.

That’s how it’s not done.

And finally, once again the amazing Wildrose Alliance MLA Guy Boutilier caught my attention with a truly Donald Rumsfeldesque question. Rumsfeld, you may recall, was the former Secretary of Defence for George W. Bush, who once said:  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Here’s Boutilier’s Rumsfeld moment from Wednesday. He was asking Stelmach about a letter sent two years ago warning about the emergency room crisis. Stelmach was trying to say that it didn’t go to the current minister, or something like that. It all got very confusing, resulting in Boutilier asking this poser:

“He refers to the minister. Is that the minister who really wasn’t the minister or the minister who wasn’t the minister then? We need to know. Given that and the non-answer that he just provided – and all the folks in emergency rooms watching Access television are watching for the answer – do you know, do you not know, or do you not know what you don’t know?”

Does anybody know what this means?