The Return of Stuff Happens, week 18: Will the right unite; the ‘I’ word is spoken.

There was a seismic shift in Alberta politics this week. Only time will tell if it’s a real earthquake that brings down two (or maybe three) parties, or whether it just grunts and groans and nothing happens.

On Wednesday, Wildrose party leader Brian Jean and new Progressive Conservative party leader Jason Kenny officially signed a deal to unite the two right-of-centre parties into one entity, tentatively titled the United Conservative Party. If confirmed, it would shut down the Wildrose party, created by disgruntled PCers who thought the party had done too soft, as well as the PC party, which dominated the provincial landscape for more than 40 years. Having one united conservative party, the thinking goes, is the best bet to overthrow the Bolshevicks who fluked their way into power in the last election, sending those accidental NDP MLAs back behind their counters at Starbucks.

Of course, there is no guarantee a United Conservative Party will sweep to power in two years, but it has a lot better chance that either the Wildrose or the PCs would have has separate parties. The NDP won’t admit it, but their election was one of those periodic Alberta voter revolts, where the voters grab at any reasonable alternative to get rid of a government that is past its best-before date. There are hundreds of thousands of Albertans who would choose an hour-long colonoscopy over voting NDP who will flock to a united conservative party.

First, though, the deal has to be ratified by the memberships, and that is not a slam dunk. While the PCs only require a simple majority to approve the deal, the Wildrose has set a much higher mark — 75% approval. That could be tough. The Wildrose is the official opposition, with money in the bank and a likable leader in Jean, even if he has all the charisma of a carp. The PCs are massively in debt, a distant third in the Legislature, still widely hated in many circles, and led by by a ruthless political animal, the deeply unlikable Kenny.

So what’s in it for the Wildrose? Power. Two conservative parties going into the next election is a near guarantee of defeat for both of them; one conservative party has a solid chance at victory.

Assuming the deal goes through, then there will be another leadership contest, certainly pitting Kenny and Jean, and perhaps some others, like wildcard Wildroser Derek Fildebrandt. Some conservatives are drooling over the prospect of Rona Ambrose (the interim federal Conservative leader who stepped away from politics this week) joining the race. It seems unlikely, as she has just taken a job with a U.S. think tank. But if the deal goes through, there will be pressure on Ambrose to join the race. Ambrose leading a united conservative party is Rachel Notley’s worst nightmare.

They’re already talking impeachment

It was inevitable, wasn’t it? We knew it was coming, but maybe not quite this quickly.

I’m talking, of course, of the impeachment of the President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump.

It’s not a certainty, of course. And he can be impeached, and carry on as president. Sounds like something he’d do. But the chances of full impeachment hearings against Trump — who has been president only since January — gets more likely every day.

Last week, following on the heels of his shocking firing of FBI chief James Comey, a memo Comey wrote after talking to Trump was leaked to the Washington Post. The memo quotes Comey as saying that Trump has asked him to end an investigation into former national security advisor (and perjurer) Michael Flynn. If true, this could be construed as obstruction of justice, which is an impeachable offence. (Another report said Trump — who leaked confidential information to the Russians — told the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job”.) Unless there are tape recordings of their conversation — which Trump hinted at darkly in one of his more threatening, Bond-villainesque Tweets — this will be a matter of whom do you believe. Do you believe Comey, a career FBI man with an unblemished record (OK, maybe ONE blemish), or chronic liar and egomaniac Trump? Not a tough call. A special counsel, a former FBI director, has been appointed to oversee the investigation into allegations that the Trump campaign and Russia collaborated to influence the 2016 campaign.

Even Republicans are getting antsy about this ugly mess. John McCain said the scandal is “of Watergate size and scale”. With support for Trump at historic lows (he never even had a post-election honeymoon), other Republicans are likely to distance themselves from the Orange Menace, particularly those facing re-election next year.

Trump is defiant, of course. The told U.S. Coast Guard cadets that he had been “treated worse than any politician in history”. Visitors to the Lincoln memorial in Washington said they were quite sure they heard a voice say, “Um, seriously?”

The not-so great cultural appropriation debate

Are you familiar with the term cultural appropriation? It’s all the rage in elite circles these days.

Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines cultural appropriation as follows: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

This could be a guy wearing dreadlocks, or hipsters at a music festival wearing a native headdress.

In certain circles (writers of books few people read, and writers of poetry that nobody reads) taking a contrary stand on cultural appropriation will cost you your job. Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of Write, the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada (there’s such a thing?) wrote “anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” and jokingly suggested there should be a “cultural expropriation prize” for literature. Cue the uproar! The union immediately issued a grovelling apology, and Niedzviecki resigned.

Later, Jonathan Kay, the editor of The Walrus (there’s such a thing?) wrote an opinion piece in the National Post that defended the right to debate cultural appropriation. Cue the uproar! Kay stepped down as Walrus editor.

And finally, the managing editor of CBC’s The National was reassigned for making “an inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable tweet” about the appropriation uproar. What did he say that was inappropriate, insensitive and frankly unacceptable? He volunteered to donate $100 to establishing the cultural expropriation prize. Cue the uproar! The ever-PC CBC immediately begged forgiveness.

If cultural appropriate a thing? Sure. Is it something that we can discuss? Apparently not. Deviating from the agreed upon orthodoxy in Canada is now a firing offence.

RIP

Roger Ailes, 77, the villainous genius behind Fox News, a organization that rejected objectivity in favour of rabid pro-Republican conservatism. Without Fox, there would never have been a Donald Trump presidency … Chris Cornell, 52, one of the most respected contemporary lead singers in rock music with his bands Soundgarden and Audioslave …  Brad Grey, 59, chairman of Paramount Pictures for a dozen years who played a pivotal role in the creation of seminal television hits such as The Sopranos .. .

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Powers Boothe

Powers Boothe, 68, actor known for playing bad guys in dozens of films and TV shows.

 

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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.)

 

Note to Alberta Liberals: find a new bone to chew on.

I have a dog, Bam Bam (no, we did not name him) who loves to gnaw on bones. The bone begins with a little meat on it (not much, really, once I get through with it), and as the dog gnaws away at it, it becomes progressively smaller and smoother. After a day or so of this treatment, the bone is bare and not very interesting, except to my dog. Even my OTHER dog, Bailey, has lost interest in it, except when he decides it would be fun to hide it from Bam Bam, which is hilarious.

The Alberta Liberals, in their role of Official Opposition, are a lot like my dog Bam Bam. The Liberals get a bone with some meat on it, and just keep gnawing away on it until there’s nothing left of it. Basically — and this was my experience as an MLA — they just don’t know when to quit.

This is exactly what we’re seeing in the Legislature right now, for those of you who pay any attention to what is happening under the dome. The Liberals have been gnawing on the issue of how much money the PC party gives in supplementary pay to the premier. The PCs, who are flush with cash, give their leader extra pay on top of the $200,000 or so the government pays the premier (the highest paid in the land, we are told). The Liberals seem to think there is something nefarious in all of this, and have asked question after question in the past week. There have also been much better questions about an organization called True Blue, the legal vehicle for fundraising for the Tories, that is run by well-connected lawyer who gets incredibly lucrative contracts from the government. The uptake from the media — which, ultimately, is the point of modern question period — has been at best minimal.

I’m sure the Liberals are frustrated by the lack of coverage and attendant outrage over their questions. But I know why the questions are getting so little traction — NOBODY CARES!

Frankly, I don’t care if the PC party gives the premier top up money. How does this impact me in any way? The PC party is free to do whatever they like with the money they’ve raised. If they want to give it to the premier, fine. I don’t care, and I haven’t read any reason why I should care. If there is a reason why this is worthy of days of questions from the official opposition — which the government has easily batted away, since it’s not really public business — I haven’t seen it.  Perhaps there is something here, but the Liberals have done a bad job of relating whatever it is.

As for the True Blue story, yes, that stinks. But it’s not surprising. This government — hell, any government — repays its friends. That’s the Alberta way, or at least the PC way. And while it is a legitimate question, asking it any more than once is a waste of a precious Question Period space.

So, if I may, a little advice to my friends in the official opposition. Bury this bone, and forget about it. The public already has. I hope when the Legislature returns, the Liberals have found a new bone to chew on, preferably something with some meat on it.

Did Smith blow it with her airport stand?

Public opinion polls taken when an election is about 18 months away are more fun than informative.  As John Diefenbaker said, “Dogs know what best to do with polls.” And, just like dogs, it’s best to just sniff around for a minute, then do on to something more important.

But what they heck; let’s look at the most recent poll on political preferences, from the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College. A telephone survey of 1,067 Alberta voters, held Oct. 2-3, found the PCs still out in front with 30 per cent of the vote, with Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party (that should be their official name; without her, they’re like the Heartbreakers without Tom Petty) at 20 per cent, the Alberta Liberals at 17 per cent, and NDs at nine. A healthy 18 per cent was undecided. .

While the PCs and Danielle Smith are duking it out in Calgary, Edmonton is a much different story. Here, the PCs still lead with 33 per cent support of decided voters, with the Liberals second at 24, NDP at 20 and Wildrose at 16.

Whoa. The supposedly surging Wildrose at a puny 16 per cent in Edmonton? And behind the Few Democrats? Those are the kind of numbers that must give the supremely confident Smith pause.

I’ve been saying for a long time (mostly to myself) that the Wildrose is much more of a southern and rural Alberta party. Their MLAs are all from well outside Edmonton, and unless they’ve got somebody hiding out somewhere, they haven’t come up with any high profile (or even mid-high profile) Edmonton candidates.  As far as I can tell, they have two candidates  so far in Edmonton. Of course, there’s no election on the horizon (Stelmach again reiterated the March 2012 date earlier this week), so you might think that there was no rush. But when you’re a new party, with no presence in the community, you can’t have enough candidates too early.

Here’s another thought. The poll was taken Oct. 2-3, well after Smith stuck her nose in Edmonton’s business by signing the Envision Edmonton petition to keep the airport open. Could it be that Edmonton voters reacted negatively to Smith’s ill-advised grandstand play? Smith hasn’t done much wrong so far, but choosing a side in an entirely local issue may have cost her dearly.

But of course, the election is a long ways away. Voters will have forgotten Smith’s gaffe by the time March 2012 rolls around. But the Danielle Smith party, if it wants to make any inroads in Edmonton, should probably start paying attention to the capital they want so badly to take over.