Stuff Happens, week 15: Oilers clean house, Notley cleans up

The Edmonton Oilers, the widely-despised local hockey squadron, continue to make a lot of news for a team that missed the playoffs. After lucking into the No. 1 draft pick, on Friday the Oilers named former Boston Bruin GM Peter Chiarelli as their major domo of hockey operations. With Bob Nicholson taking over as CEO of the Oiler Entertainment (?) Group, the Oilers have effectively shunted the much maligned Craig McTavish and the even more maligned Kevin Lowe to the sidelines. Disgruntled Oiler fans who threw their jerseys on the ice at especially bad Oiler loses are now flooding Jersey City locations looking to buy new jerseys. The optimism should last well into the first week of the next season.

The big story in Alberta was the provincial leaders’ debate. With the election apparently an actual horserace instead of a foregone conclusion like a Harlem Globetrotters game (sorry for mixing sports cliches), much was expected. There was no knockout punch that can turn an election around, but there is no doubt that NDP leader Rachel Notley staked her claim as a potential premier. She was slick and well rehearsed, clearly the best performer of the bunch, right down to the well-practiced smile. PC leader Jim Prentice (whose future as PC leader is on the line thanks to his ill-conceived election call) failed to land a punch. Prentice devoting so much of his attention on Notley was a godsend to the socialist leader; obsessing on Notley simply gave her the stage, and she seized the opportunity by rudely talking over top of everyone else. The PCs are in a real bind now; they have to defend their right flank from attacks from the resilient Wildrose, and their left flank by the surging NDP. With the polls so close and the undecided so high, it’s still anyone’s ballgame, to end with another sports reference.

Hundreds upon hundreds of migrants died Sunday in the Mediterranean, victims of Libya’s human traffickers preying on people desperate to flee the war-wracked country. It is the worst mass drowning since the Second World War. You may not have heard this story, because they’re just a bunch of poor immigrants fleeing a war zone, after all, not something important like Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman. Now, THAT’S a news story.

Here’s one of those stories that just drives right-wing, anti-environmentalists crazy. In eastern Ontario, a mammoth, 324-hectare, nine-turbine wind farm has been kiboshed because of the Blanding’s turtle. The turtle apparently lives in the area, and because of fears that the turtle might get run over by the roads that will be built to accommodate the wind farm, the Ontario Court of Appeal has put a stop to the project. Nobody knows how many Blandings turtles live in the area, but the court said it doesn’t really matter. One crushed Blanding’s turtle is apparently one too many.

The Mike Duffy trial continues in Ottawa, with the revelation that the rapacious expense hog claimed $81,332.54 for living expenses …. for his own house in Ottawa. Seems the senator “from” PEI (where he has a cottage, not a home) claimed for expenses senators are entitled to while doing their duties in Ottawa, even though he had a home there for years. Also this week, it was revealed he fought like a very fat tiger to have expenses for his make-up artist to be covered by his senate budget. When the Senate said no, he simply paid for the make-up artist through a phoney-baloney company he had a friend set up.

In non-news, some Native Americans walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie because they found it demeaning to their culture. A better reason to walk off the set of an Adam Sandler movie? It’s an Adam Sandler movie.

RIP: Here’s a passing to make you feel old: Lois Lilienstein has died at 78. The name Lilienstein means nothing to you, but if you just use her first name, and add her partners Sharon and Bram, you’ve got beloved Canadian children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois and Bram … Sawyer Sweeten committed suicide this week, just short of his 20th birthday. Sawyer was one of the boys who played Ray Romano’s twins on Everybody Loves Raymond.

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.

Sherman deserved the win. But does he know what he’s in for?

The doctor is in. Does he has the prescription for the ailing party?

Final thoughts on the Liberal leadership race:

Yesterday, I pondered going to the U of A to attend the coronation announcement for the new leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to wander around looking for a parking spot, then pay through the nose for it, and attend an event that seemed to have no agenda.

Apparently, judging from the pathetic ‘crowd’ of 150 people, I wasn’t alone. Holding the event at the university, in a cavernous hall with terrible acoustics, is just the kind of thing that makes voters think that the ALP is not ready for prime time. Or even late-night infomercial time.

I’m no event organizer, but even I know that a crowd of 150 people looks a lot bigger when crowded into a smaller room than dispersed inside a much too big room. Better to turn people away at the door because there is no room than to have too much room. Why did the ALP hold this event at a huge gymnasium? I can just imaging the conversation: “We’re signing up thousands of supporters, and we’re going to get a HUGE crowd! Let’s get the biggest room possible!”

Sigh.

The choice of venue was just one of many miscalculations surrounding this leadership race that makes me just roll my eyes about the party. I tried to watch the event (such as it was) online. The feed consisted of one wide shot (as they say in the movies) that was frequently obscured by the backs of photographers. Worse yet was the sound, which bounced back and reverbed to the point of being incomprehensible. I would have liked to have heard David Swann’s swan song, but I could barely make out a word.

The announcement itself was botched as well. Executive director Corey Hogan made the announcement, which is odd; I would have thought the party president or a member of the executive would have made it. He raced up the stage, and with no fanfare or dramatics, announced the first ballot results of the victory for Raj Sherman. I really wasn’t sure it this was the final result, or the first ballot, or what the hell it was. Again, I tried to listen to Sherman’s speech, but gave up.

And what of the great experiment, opening up the leadership vote to “supporters”? This is a mixed bag. The fact only about 8,600 of 29,000 supporters and party members bothered to go online to vote points to an epic fail. I’m sure the online voting system cost the party plenty, and it forfeited thousands of dollars in real memberships that would have been sold in the traditional way. If this bold or foolhardy move is to be judged a success or failure, well, only time will tell. The party now has 29,000 names in its database — what it will do with them remains to be seen.

And what of Raj Sherman, the new leader? Why did he win?

Well, for starters, he wanted it more, as they say in sports circles. Say what you like about demon dialers and the other tricks of the political trade, but the fact is that you have to use these kinds of things to succeed in politics these days. Sherman wasn’t without the personal touch; I got a call from a volunteer wanting to know if I voted, and then another call on Friday, (And props to Hugh MacDonald; I wasn’t home, but I got a call from Hughie himself wanting to know if I had voted on Saturday). I was disappointed by Laurie Blakeman’s campaign. She clearly knows how to win and she’s a survivor, but her campaign seemed to me to be tepid and perfunctory. (This is surely the last we’ve heard from the Bill Harvey. Let’s hope this petulant putz severs ties with the party for good.)

But no matter how much Sherman may have wanted it, he wouldn’t have gotten it if the party members didn’t want him. Sherman is the biggest gamble as a leader the party has ever taken, and that is exactly the point. The last two leaders, Kevin Taft and David Swann, are fine, intelligent, thoughtful men for whom I have the utmost respect. And it’s no insult to them to say that they are not what you would call charismatic; few people have it (I know I don’t). Sherman has it. He has a forceful personality, full of confidence bordering on arrogance. He’s a wildcard, though. With Taft and Swann, you knew what you were getting. Sherman is an all-in gamble. He will be tough to work for, and rough around the edges. And he won’t do things the Liberal way. Which is another reason why he won.