The year in political bloopers.

Ah, politics. It has the potential to inspire, and an even greater potential to inspire derisive laughter or fits of rage. Here, for your reading and enraging enjoyment, are my choices for the top 10 political blunders of 2012, local edition.

1. Allan Hunsperger and the ‘lake of fire’

In the April provincial election, the upstart (they were always called ‘upstart’) Wildrose party appeared to be on the verge of doing the impossible — toppling the PC dynasty. The public seemed ready to put aside its concerns about the far-right bent of the party to finally turf the exhausted 41-year Tory dynasty. But just before the election, a year-old blog posting by a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton, preacher Allan Hunsperger, resurfaced. In it, playing on the Lady Gaga song ‘Born this Way’, Hunsperger wrote in reference to gays: “You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”

The comments caused uproar, affirming for many that the Wildrose was harboring lunatics in the fold, and trying to keep them hidden until after the election. In keeping with her libertarian views, leader Danielle Smith rebuked Hunsperger for his remarks, but only mildly, saying he was entitled to his opinions. She let his nomination stand, but certainly the ‘lake of fire’ remark caused many soft Wildrose voters to revert back to form and vote en masse for the PCs. (I spoke to one young person, who had no intention of even voting, but the ‘lake of fire’ line encouraged her and her friends to vote — and they voted PC.) Which brings us to the no. 2 political blooper of the year …

2. Provincial election polls

With a week to go before the April 23 vote, all polls put the Wildrose within range of not just winning the election, but winning with a majority. One vote-projection model, with took all released polls and crunched the numbers, put support for the Wildrose at 41.9 per cent, in range of a majority government. The polls gave the New Democrats hope for a possible balance of power role in a potential minority government, and also predicted the Liberals would be wiped out. Come election day, however, panicked voters — including many who usually voted Liberal or New Democrat — took the lesser of two evils route and voted Conservative. In the end, Alison Redford’s Tories took 44 per cent of the vote and 61 seats, the Wildrose 34 per cent and 17 seats, the Liberals 9.89 per cent and 5 seats, and the NDs 9.82 per cent and 4 seats. How did the polls get it so wrong? See blooper no. 1.

3. Justin Trudeau opens his mouth

Justin Trudeau, one of Pierre’s two Christmas Day birthday sons (the Second and Third comings?) entered the federal Liberal leadership race, and immediately became the frontrunner, and remained that way even after others entered the race.  But Trudeau, who posses some of this father’s charisma and none of his father’s intellectual heft, unwillingly himself in the middle of a federal byelection in Calgary in November that polls showed the Liberals had a chance of winning. A two-year-old interview emerged where Trudeau, speaking to a French reporter, said: ““Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.” Trudeau, and all Liberals by extension, was immediately labeled as being anti-Alberta. Trudeau was forced to apologize for his remarks, saying he was actually thinking of Stephen Harper when he said “Albertans”. Too late; the damage was done. What little chance of the Liberals winning a seat in Calgary evaporated, no doubt helped along by blooper no. 4 ….

4. David McGuinty opens his mouth

David McGuinty, the little known Ontario Liberal MP who was the party’s natural resources critic, unleashed a broadside at Alberta Conservative MPs, when he told the House of Commons that Harper’s Alberta sheep are “very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil fuel business and the oilsands business specifically, as one that they’re going to fight to the death for.” That could have gone without notice, but he went on to say that the Alberta MPs should “go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that’s deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature.”

Not surprisingly, his comments were reduced to “go back to Alberta”, leading to howls of outrage and giving the Conservatives an opportunity to dredge up the National Energy Program. Combined with Justin Trudeau’s remarks, McGuinty’s broadside sunk the Liberal candidate in Calgary.

5. “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision”

Premier Alison Redford’s government came under fierce attack when it was revealed (by the Wildrose and its research arm, CBC News) that a potentially lucrative contract to sue Big Tobacco to recoup health care dollars was awarded to a firm that included Redford’s ex-husband. Redford denied any wrongdoing, saying “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision.” Well, that was sort of true, and sort of not true. When Redford was justice minister, she recommended her ex-husband’s firm, but the actual awarding of the contract was done when Verlyn Olson took over as justice minister while Redford ran for the PC party leadership. Redford was using oily legalese to try to defuse the situation, but only made the matter worse. The opposition howled for weeks, trying very hard to get the public to call the “scandal” Tobacco-gate. ND leader Brian Mason piously called for her resignation, getting the front-page Journal coverage he so craves. Turns out there are no conflict of interest rules against dealings with ex-spouses, and the whole thing just kind of fizzled out. But Redford took a hit to her credibility by trying to dodge the issue, rather than facing it head on.

6,7,8. Daryl Katz’s blooper hat-trick

Oilers owner and resident Montgomery Burns impersonator Daryl Katz singlehandedly scuttled the sweetheart deal he made with city council to build a new area for his wretched Oilers. His first mistake was to give $300,000 to the PCs during the provincial election (a donation that may, or may not, be ruled illegal) on behalf of himself, members of the Katz group, and his family dog for all we know. News of the donation ensured that the provincial government would not give the arena a dime, because it would like they were in his velvet-lined back pocket. Katz made a pair of other colossal miscues in 2012. When the arena deal was going sour, he made a trip to Seattle, clearly an attempt to panic the public into thinking he was shopping the team around. The tactic backfired horribly, nobody bought it, and he was forced to run an apology in the daily papers. His final, and worst, mistake, was to snub city council when they request Katz or someone from his organization appear before council to explain why he wanted more money than agreed upon in a deal reached earlier. Katz lost all support he had on council, and the arena deal went into deep hibernation. At year’s end, Katz tried to make amends, and the arena appears to have some life again. That is, until Katz’s next blooper.

9. Vic Toews and Peter McKay

Here’s why Stephen Harper’s ministers are not allowed to speak very often. First, Vic Toews, Harper’s Neanderthal public safety minister, said that anyone opposed to his bill that allows police easier access to snoop into personal Internet information is on the side of pedophiles. Then there’s Peter McKay, the increasingly clownish defence minister. McKay was caught using search-and-rescue helicopters for his personal use (under the guise of a “training mission”). When he was caught red-handed, he simply lied about it, while having the armed forces look into trips opposition MPs might have taken. Since both are stars in Stephen Harper’s eyes, neither was reprimanded.

10. Danielle Smith’s boob wagon

The funniest blooper of 2012 was a sight gag. When the Wildrose rolled out Danielle Smith’s election bus, the media immediately started to titter. Apparently nobody noticed that the juxtaposition of Smith’s face and the wheels of the bus made Smith look like Pamela Anderson. The gaffe even made Jay Leno’s Headlines segment.

And that wraps up the year in bloopers. Join us again next year in this space, where I’m confident we will have a whole new batch of idiocy to look back upon.

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Stephen Harper’s Canada is not my Canada.

Stephen Harper once told an American right-wing think tank, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.”

I used to think that was just a rare unguarded, boastful moment from Harper. He was in a comfortable environment (American right wingers, whom he has been emulating for years), and who knows, he might have had a sip of low-alcohol beer that loosened his tongue. But now, with Harper in a majority and nearly unstoppable, I’m beginning to think that he wasn’t just boasting, but prophetic.

Consider Stephen Harper’s Canada. It’s not my Canada.

In Stephen Harper’s Canada, we’re building more prisons in anticipation of putting more and more people in jail. Harper has made law and order, raw meat for his followers, the cornerstone of this government. His government has added multiple provisions of mandatory minimum sentences on a wider range of crimes than ever before, which removes the power of judges to make rational, intelligent decisions. Yes, sometimes judges are soft, but I’d rather have a judge make a decision based on what he or she has heard rather than arbitrary rules laid down by a power hungry, vengeful government.

Failed U.S. style justice is Stephen Harper’s Canada. Not my Canada.

Then we have the actions of Harper’s Untouchables — his diabolical cabinet. There’s Vic Toews, the public safety minister, who said anyone opposed to his bill that allows the police easier access to personal Internet information is on the side of pedophiles. Or how about Peter McKay, the defense minister? McKay was caught using search and rescue helicopters as a private taxi service. When he was caught in the act, he lied a bout it. Then, the army was asked to look into previous trips by Liberal MPs. McKay, or someone in his office, clearly ordered the armed forces to dig up ammunition against his enemy.

Smearing opponents with the worst kind of unfounded allegations. Using a powerful bureaucracy to dig up information against your enemies. That’s Stephen Harper’s Canada. Not my Canada.

And now we have then burgeoning scandal of dirty tricks against Liberal and perhaps NDP candidates in the last election. First up was the robocall scandal, where upwards of 34 ridings were targeted for automated phone calls that were purported to be from Elections Canada, telling voters that their poll locations had changed. Then we got reports that harassing phone calls to Liberal supporters, supposedly from the Liberal candidate’s team, that were designed to make the supporter angry enough to turn on their party. These are dirty tricks that we haven’t seen in Canada before. And there is no doubt that this scumbag activity came directly from the win-at-all-costs playbook of the Conservative party. Remember, this is the party that, for the first time in Canadian history, ran vicious attack ads against Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff before an election that went a long way towards destroying their leadership careers.

Did Stephen Harper know about the robocalls? Highly unlikely. The guy is an anal-retentive control freak of the first order, but he’s also smart enough to stay clear of overly illegal acts. But Harper has to take the blame for fostering a culture within his party that would lead to his followers coming up with such disgusting tactics.

Cheating and lying to win elections. That’s Stephen Harper’s Canada. Not my Canada.

Stephen Harper’s Canada is, indeed, becoming more and more unrecognizable. Even with a majority government, this charmless thug is governing like a man with a 50 kg chip on his shoulder. He wants nothing more than to destroy the Liberals (the New Democrats will take care of themselves, now that Jack Layton is gone), no matter what the method. He is pushing Canada further and further to the right, and will continue to do so as long as Canadians sit on their collective cans and yawn. There are more important things to worry about, like the NHL trade deadline, right.

That’s Stephen Harper’s Canada. Not my Canada.

 

 

Peter MacKay flys and lies. But that’s OK in Harperland.

So, what does it take to get fired by Stephen Harper?

Would lying to the House of Commons be enough? Used to be that if an MP outright lied to the commons, that would be the end of his or her career.

Not so in Harperland. If you’re in Harper’s good books, lying to the House of Commons becomes a non-issue, a trifle to be ridden out until the opposition/media storm passes.

Peter MacKay lied to the House of Commons. Flat out lied. He will not be punished, not even sent to his room without any dessert.

You may have heard that MacKay, the defence minister, used an Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter to return from a 2010 fishing trip in rural Newfoundland. McKay had to get back to the mainland to make some sort of announcement (in Harperland, funding announcements are reason enough to commandeer expensive search-and-rescue helicopters). MacKay, who was enjoying a fishing holiday, figured it would be a lot easier just to hop an Air Force helicopter rather than the hours-long overland route.

The trouble was, there was no search-and-rescue exercise planned for the area. But, since THE MINISTER wanted a helicopter, the big shots in the Air Force decided to send the helicopter “under the guise” of a search-and-rescue demonstration. The military folks were apparently a lot more media savvy than the minister, as documents about the flight have shown. Emailed comments sent by Colonel Bruce Ploughman, director of Canada Combined Aerospace Operations Centre at 1 Canadian Air Division, contained this quite astute analysis of the situation: “So, when the guy who’s fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cell phone to video the minister getting on board and post it on YouTube, who will be answering the mail”, Ploughman wrote. “If we are tasked to do this we of course will comply – given the potential for negative press though, I would likely recommend against it, especially in view of the fact that the Air Force receives (or at least used to) regular [access to information requests] specifically targeting travel on [military] aircraft by ministers.”

Kudos to Col. Ploughman. He knew the risks, and advised against the trip. MacKay, who has been in politics forever, should have known the risk, but didn’t care. He knows he’s golden.

The trip itself was bad enough, but when it became known that he took a helicopter to deliver him from a holiday, MacKay told the commons it was a scheduled search-and-rescue demonstration, which he wanted to see anyway. So, since they were in the neighbourhood, why not hop a ride, right?

Wrong. It was a lie. It was not scheduled. It was arranged for the express purpose of picking up a minister who can’t budget his time correctly. Clearly, MacKay sees the billions of dollars of high-tech equipment as his private plaything, like the biggest and best Meccano set in the world. Such arrogance. And such a liar.

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, imagine if something terrible happened. Suppose the helicopter crashed on the way to pick up MacKay, and people were killed. Or, imagine there was a real emergency somewhere, but the ‘chopper couldn’t get there because it was ferrying the minister away from the dangers of Newfoundland. Thankfully, it didn’t happen. But if it had, it would have been a scandal of epic proportions. In fact, it would have been so bad, it would have forced MacKay to resign. At least, I think it would. Who knows with Harper.

MacKay is getting a bit of a free pass from the media because he is considered such a good minister of defense. (I don’t know what qualifies him as a good minister — the Conservatives have poured billions into the military, which makes his job a whole hell of a lot easier.) Whether he’s a super minister of a typical Harper dud, he should resign, both for using the helicopter, then lying about it.  Better politicians than MacKay have been forced to resign for a whole lot less.

He won’t resign, of course. Harper likes him, and in Harperland, where ethics are elastic, his actions are called an appropriate use of government aircraft.

It’s shameful. But Harper and MacKay know no shame.