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.

RIP

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.

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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.)

 

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?

 

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.

The PCs scorched earth policy on Alison Redford

When Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, his right hand man was Leon Trotsky. When Lenin and Trotsky had a falling out — never a good thing in the old Soviet Union — the Communists altered photos of Lenin and Trotsky together, effectively erasing Trotsky from the historical record.

You can’t really do that kind of thing these days, but you can try. The Progressive Conservatives can’t erase the record of Alison Redford, but they’re doing their best to purge the party of the Redford “era”.

On Friday, the government released hundreds of pages of documents detailing more and more shocking abuses of the public payroll by Redford, the self-deposed premier.

After the CBC broke the story of the premier’s planned penthouse suite atop the Federal Building — directed by the premier’s office, bypassing all normal channels — the government unleashed a massive data dump revealing the extent of Redford’s profligate spending. Airfare and accommodation for premier’s bloated staff, more than a million dollars in severance packages for that same staff (almost all of whom were Calgary based, showing that her support network was very limited), callous disregard for the cost of flying her to her disastrous trip to South Africa — it’s all there. Cabinet ministers are lining up to piously pronounce just how horrible she was. Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver (coincidentally, a possible leadership contender) says he called off the premier’s suite program as soon as he took over the portfolio. The greasy Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk (another possible leadership challenger who, if successful, would ensure the end of the Tory dynasty) called the suite “unacceptable”, saying it “broke all the rules of protocol.”

And I guarantee you there will be more to come. I’m sure that government staffers are going through every email, every memo, and every travel bill in its scorched earth strategy. If there’s a $13 glass of orange juice on a hotel bill somewhere with Redford’s name on it, we’ll hear it.

The PC strategy is clear — destroy Alison Redford. It’s not enough that she’s gone. They want her gone gone. Her imperial premiership has dealt the party a severe — perhaps fatal — blow, and the party wants its revenge.

I didn’t recognize the party’s hatred towards Redford until she resigned. Nobody said a good word about her. There were no tears shed. When she gave her resignation speech, one lone yahoo attempted to start an “Al-i-son!” chant, and got no takers.

Redford was an interloper, an outsider despite being a cabinet minister. Her support was a kilometre wide and a centimetre deep. Redford has announced that she will stay on as MLA. I don’t think she’ll be attending too many caucus meetings, or legislative sessions.

Friendly tips on cabinet making for Redford.

Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall in the office of new premier Alison Redford?

I imagine a steady stream of supplicants parading into her office to offer congratulations. There will be plenty of “I knew you could do it” and “You’re just what this party needs now”, and the occasional “You go, girl!” from clueless backbenchers who still think “You go, girl!” is hip.

What she won’t be hearing is “So, where’s my cabinet post?” Redford enters the premier’s office with zero support from anyone in cabinet, meaning every last one of them is feeling a little tight around the collar right now. Redford is going to announce her cabinet next Wednesday, and since it’s such a difficult decision, I’d like to offer a suggestion.

Don’t go for a wholesale change. Just fine tune and tinker, but don’t start over. Seriously.

Let’s take a look at this situation. We are going to have an election next year, probably in the spring.  That’s six months, maybe a few more if the price of oil tanks. Now, let’s assume she makes wholesale changes in her cabinet, exchanging someone like Luke Ouellette with someone with an ability to put together an English sentence. It takes months for an MLA to get a grasp on his or her portfolio, longer if they’re an Edmonton MLA with their diminished mental capacity. It takes a long time for the bureaucracy to train a new minister. It’s not unlike training a puppy; you’ve got to whack them across the nose with a newspaper a few times before they stop messing the carpet. So the new guys and gals will just barely get themselves used to the new job then it’s time to go to the polls. What purpose has been served? (As well, now that she has agreed to a fall session that starts on Oct. 21, her new cabinet will have zero time to get a handle on their portfolios before they face the house.)

But doesn’t keeping essentially the same cabinet spell status quo to the public, you ask? Maybe, but if she changes everyone, she sends a signal that the government has been terrible and needs to be changed. And she can also make the point that keeping most of the same people in place will save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in business cards and stationary alone.

But if she doesn’t put her people in place, isn’t there the chance that some ministers will work against her? I don’t think so. As long as she controls the levers of power, any minister who wants to keep his or her job post-election will do as they are told. There are exceptions, of course. Snarling Ron Liepert has restated his opposition to a public inquiry into health care abuse allegations from Raj Sherman (could it be that he’s afraid of what they might find?), so Liepert should probably get the heave-ho just to make a point.

Then there’s the question of Parson Ted Morton. Does she bring the reputed leader of the right wing back into cabinet? I say no. Morton, by his poor performance in the leadership campaign, has shown that he’s a spent force. My guess is that at his age, and after two failed leadership runs, he’ll probably not run next time or join the Wildrose to cause trouble. Morton is very smart and a tough performer in the legislature, but his day is done.

So here’s what I’d do. Make a few select changes just to send a bit of a message — maybe turf Liepert to show ‘em who’s boss, turf a couple of the weaker performers and bring in a few select Calgarians like the smart and long-overlooked Neil Brown (sorry, Edmonton, but there is no one to promote amongst the backbench lapdogs this city elected last election), give Doug Griffith and Doug Horner front bench seats to show how magnanimous you are — and leave it at that.

With only a fall session likely before a spring election, this is no time to make massive changes. Just tinker with the cabinet, and soon enough everyone but political junkies and the media will have forgotten who’s in charge of what.

 

Gary Mar knows his porn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PC race from one Liberal’s view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Tory race: the early line

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

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

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

Gary Mar 

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

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

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

Alison Redford

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

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

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

Ted Morton

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

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

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

Doug Horner

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

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

Chances: Decent, certainly in the top three.

Doug Griffiths

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

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

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

Rick Orman

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

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

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

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

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