Stuff Happens, week 39: Big (yawn) trade deal; Harper plays niqab card; Notley bombs

The big story this week was a trade deal. Wait, wait! Please don’t stop reading.

Canada has joined 11 other countries in something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a collection of countries including big dogs (the U.S., Japan), middle-sized dogs (Canada, Mexico, Australia) and some pups (Vietnam, Brunei). The combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries is $27.5 trillion US, and it took eight years to put it together. So, yes, it’s kind of a big deal, but not as big as you might think. We already have free trade agreements with the four of the countries which account for 96 per cent of our exports, so this is in some ways small potatoes. The deal has not been released yet, and even when it is there is no doubt it will be total gibberish to all but a handful of Canadians. The only real question is: what does this mean to me? And by me, I mean you, the consumer. Apparently, not much. The biggest impact may be on Canada’s coddled dairy industry, which has been protected from most foreign competition. We pay through the nose for dairy products here thanks to the government, which pretty much guarantees dairy farms are profitable (they are concentrated mostly in voter-rich Ontario and Quebec). But as a concession to the TPP, Canada will allow more duty-free imports of dairy and poultry products, equivalent to 3.25% of of our current dairy production. To compensate the dairy farmers, the Conservatives have promised the dairy industry $4.3 billion for 15 years to further protect an already overly-protected industry. So, we might pay a little less for dairy or get more variety. That’s small cheese. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has said he feels no obligation to sign the deal if he becomes prime minister, making the totally unsubstantiated claim that it will cost 20,000 jobs (pick a number, any number). Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have taken the most sensible stand — let’s take a look at it first. Expert opinion on the deal is split: I read an article in Maclean’s that said consumers were left out to dry, and another in the National Post which said consumers are the winners. In a case like this, it’s just best to forget the whole damn thing. Which is pretty much exactly what the media did: two days after the TPP was signed, it vanished from the airwaves and print media. There are much more important things to talk about, like….

… the niqab. Yes, the non-issue that won’t go away. The matter of a handful of Muslim women who choose to wear full facial covering has become a hot-button topic in the Canadian election, thanks entirely to Stephen Harper. It is the Conservatives who inserted this non-issue into the campaign, a shameless, cynical — and successful — attempt to insert a wedge issue into the campaign. Harper is painting his anti-niqab policies as protecting women from being exploited by men. You see, he’s not anti-Muslim, he’s pro-women! Harper, master of cynical politics, is giving the ol’ ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ to anti-Muslim feelings, which are particularly strong in xenophobic Quebec. Harper, as we know, tried to ban a niqab-wearing woman from attending a citizenship ceremony; his attempt has been shot down in court after court. Now he’s musing niqab-wearing women should not be allowed to work in the civil service. This is a cure for which there is no known disease; the major unions representing federal public servants across Canada say they are unaware of a single incident involving an employee donning a niqab on the job, according to Global news. The niqab question is a sideshow, a puny non-issue that the Harper Conservatives has inserted into the campaign to divide Canadians between right-leaning ‘real’ Canadians and soft lefties who have no respect for Canadian ‘values’.

Something Harper said this week that got little publicity was this gem: the Conservative leader said marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco. I’m no expert on this, but I have never seen a single report of pot killing anyone. If that was the case, Willie Nelson would have been dead years ago. Here’s what a real scientist, Steven Laviolette from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, had to say about Harper’s statement: “In terms of the statement that marijuana is infinitely more harmful than tobacco, there’s simply no evidence at all to suggest that’s true either in terms of health care costs, or in terms of relative health dangers. The cancers and other source of pulmonary diseases associated with smoking — to use the word infinitely — are infinitely more serious than what we would ever encounter with smoking marijuana and that’s well-established.”

Speaking so stupid comments, last week I wrote about Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, and his callous “stuff happens” comment about America’s most recent mass killing. This week, Dr. Ben Carson — who is second to Donald Trump and rising in the polls — had this to say abut the Colorado killings: “There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking,” Carson wrote, “but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Yep, that’s right. A bullet riddled child is not as offensive as restricting the sale of guns. I didn’t think it was possible, but Donald Trump is suddenly looking like the voice of reason. (On a related matter, an 11-year-old boy killed his 8-year-old neighbour with a shotgun in an argument over a puppy, according to authorities in Jefferson County, Tenn. The 11-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder in the girl’s death. But at least the constitution is safe.)

I swear this is true: the first item on the Global News noon edition on Wednesday was the breathtaking, shocking, extraordinary news that Andrew Ferrence is no longer the captain of the Oilers.  The 5 pm newscast on CTV also made the Oilers captaincy story as their top pick. Yes, that’s what passes for major news in Edmonton. And still in sports, Canada’s team (cough, cough), the Toronto Blew Jays are in danger of being swept in their series against whoever they’re playing, having lost the first two games of their best-of-five series — and in Toronto, to make matters worse. Or, in my case, better.

Premier Rachel Notley has had a pretty easy time of it since winning election, thanks in large part to a doting media. But the premier stepped in it, big time, in Calgary on Friday. Giving a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the premier told a crowd of worried oil executives that what Canada needs right now is the “grit, determination and intellect of Thomas Mulcair”. You can imagine how well that went over with a right-wing crowd of Calgary oil types. Crickets chirped, tumbleweeds rolled. There was dead silence, and justifiably so. Making a brazenly partisan statement like that, in front of that crowd, was either courageous or foolhardy. I vote for foolhardy. Nobody wants to hear a partisan rant from a premier during an election.

And finally, what would Stuff Happens be without This Week In Atrocity. In Turkey on Saturday, two suicide bombs went off, with bitter irony, at a peace rally in Ankara. The death toll is 95, and so far no one has taken responsibility.

RIP: Long-time (and old) Edmonton Eskimo fans will remember running back Jim ‘Long Gone’ Thomas, who died this week at at age 76. Thomas spent nine years with the Green and Gold from 1963 to 1971, racking up 6,161 career yards (third on the Eskimos all-time list) on 1,111 carries with 37 touchdowns. He still holds the record for the three longest rushing touchdowns in Eskimos history — a 104-yard TD run on Oct. 9, 1965 against BC, a 100-yard TD run on Aug. 2, 1966 against Winnipeg and a 97-yard TD run on Sept. 4, 1964 against Ottawa. He also recorded 221 receptions for 2,642 yards and 14 touchdowns. Thomas was pretty much the lone bright spot during the darkest days in Eskimo history …  Paul Prudhomme, 75, American celebrity chef, cookbook writer and restaurateur … Billy Joe Royal, 73, American pop and country singer (Down in the Boondocks, Cherry Hill Park, Burned Like a Rocket).

Rachel Notley skilled at the art of the non-answer answer.

So, I’ve been watching Question Period in the Alberta Legislature since the bright orange dawn of the NDP government began. People sometimes ask me why I watch ‘QP’, as those in the know call it. The political answer would be that I watch it as my civic duty as a citizen, or that I want to be as informed about Alberta politics as possible for my 12 regular blog readers. The real answer is probably closer to the fact that I usually have my days open, and I’m a bit of a political nerd.

But I like the first answer, so that’s the one I’m sticking with.

Which brings us to the question of answers, specifically answers in Question Period.

I’ve been watching Premier Rachel Notley, and I have a grudging admiration for her ability to not answer questions, and her skill at torquing questions to fit the answer she wants to give. She’s clearly got the lawyer’s gift of listening to questions carefully, and saying whatever she wants in return.

Take, for example, this recent exchange between the premier and Mr. Nice, Brian Jean, the leader of the opposite position

The question of the NDP’s minimum wage hike up to $15 is hotly debated. The Wildrose and some economists say it hurts job creation; the NDP and some economists say it creates job. I won’t get into that debate here; suffice to say it has been a frequent line of attack by the Wildrose.

But in these two exchanges, you will see how good Notley is at the dark arts of not answering a question.

On Tuesday, Jean asked this question:

Mr. Jean: The labour minister and the Premier have both
said that increasing the minimum wage by 50 per cent will result in
more jobs. Every employer of minimum wage employees say
exactly the opposite. They point out that they will either have to
shut down or they will have to reduce staff or they will have to find
labour-saving ways to absorb a 50 per cent increase in labour costs.
Can the Premier please clarify: does she know one single employer
who will hire more . . .

Now, this is where the question was cut off by the speaker. There are time limits on questions, and if the question goes over, the speaker can cut off the microphone and the rest of the question is not recorded in Hansard, the official record of what is said in the legislature. Notley began her response by ragging the puck, lecturing Jean (and the speaker) about supplemental questions (I won’t bore you with the details). Then, with her time running out, she said this:

Ms Notley: Nonetheless, in answer to your question, yes, I do know
many employers who are going to create more jobs.

Interesting, I thought. She knows of “many employers” who are going to create jobs despite the 50 per cent rise in the minimum wage. I immediately thought that someone from the Wildrose would ask her to name the businesses. It wasn’t until the next day, but Jean took the bait.

On Wednesday, they had this exchange:

Mr. Jean: Yesterday I asked the Premier if she knew of any businesses
which plan to hire more employees because of this government’s
plan to increase the minimum wage by 50 per cent. She said that
she did, but when asked, she didn’t name names. I’m surprised the
media, actually, didn’t pester her about this for more details.
Exactly which employers have told the Premier that they plan to
increase the size of their workforce because she is raising minimum
wages by 50 per cent? Could she give us some names and table a
list, please?

OK, this should be good. But Notley, listening to every word, came up with this answer:

Ms Notley: Again, Mr. Speaker, I must say that the notion of a
supplemental question is quite broadly interpreted right now. That
being said, what the question asked yesterday was: in the current
environment do we know of any employers that are going to hire
new employees? And I answered that yes, I did, and as I said previously
and yesterday, for instance, just on Friday I was at a press
conference where Telus announced that it would be investing a
billion dollars in the city of Edmonton, notwithstanding that they
knew about our plan about minimum wage, and that there would
be . . .

See how clever that answer is? Jean’s inelegantly worded question was clearly related to the minimum wage hike, but Notley simply answered it based on the last part of the question, “does she know one single employer who will hire more …” So, she used the Telus announcement (which has no connection to minimum wage) as her one example, which is a far cry from the “many” employers she bragged about. Brilliant, in a political way.

Immediately after, Notley tore another page from the How to Answer a Question Without Answer the Question guidebook.

Mr. Jean: It’s all about hooey. The labour minister and the Premier
have both said more than once that increasing the minimum wage
by 50 per cent will result in more jobs in Alberta. They say that the
consequences of this policy are all good, all wonderful, and no harm
will come to Alberta. So let me ask a policy question. Since the
Premier says that there is no harm and only positives from boosting
the minimum wage by 50 per cent in three years, why isn’t she
actually calling for a 100 per cent boost? If this policy increases
employment, why don’t you set the minimum wage at $20 or $25
or $30 since we’re going to get more jobs?

Interesting question. Since you can pretty much guess that the $15 an hour wage was a number the NDP pulled out of their asses when they didn’t think they could win, it challenges Notley to support the $15 total. And why not $20, if indeed increasing the minimum wage boosts the economy?

Here, Notley gave a complete non-answer.

Ms Notley: You know, Mr. Speaker, it comes down to this. The
folks over there think it’s totally appropriate for a single mother of
two or three to have to work 70 hours a week in order to earn a
living wage. I say to you that they’re just wrong, and that’s why we
are changing the minimum wage in Alberta.

Wow! A total non-answer, one of the best. She could have said it was the result of careful calculations, or some sort of consultation with stakeholders, or some such rot. Nope, she just turned it around, feigned outrage, and sat down.

Gotta hand it to Notley. She may have the veneer of a shiny new-era politician, but beneath the surface she’s just as crafty as any old political hack.



Stuff Happens, week 23: And you wonder why the PCs lost; The Donald enters the race; atrocity of the week

Aside from a few staffing hiccups, things continue to go reasonably well for the New Democratic government. The Speech from the Throne, although limited to just two real bills, was almost universally well received. And the ‘almost’ part of that came from the stunningly clueless Ric McIver, the interim leader of what’s left of the Progressive Conservatives. The government’s Bill 1 will reform the election contribution laws, banning contributions from big business and big unions. The NDP has been asking for this for years, and it’s the right thing to do (although the NDP stands the most to gain, as I outlined yesterday). But McIver voiced his displeasure with the law saying it was a “naked attempt to tilt the political scale in the current government’s balance.” He also said the conservative parties have done well with the system that allowed massive donations. No kidding, pal. Nobody knows more about tilting the political scales in the government’s balance than a PC.

The first day of the new session of the legislature got off to what would charitably be called a rocky start. The new speaker, NDP MLA Bob Wanner, was just a little nervous. I know he’s new at the job, and it’s challenging, but I got the impression he had never seen a moment of the legislature. But Wanner was a star compared to some of the MLAs. A potential concern for Rachel Notley is her choice for energy minister, the completely clueless Margaret McCuiad-Boyd. She was so befuddled by the first question lobbed her way that Notley had to ride to the rescue. I can only imagine the gnashing of teeth going on in the boardrooms of downtown Calgary; McCuiad-Boyd seems completely out of her depth, and it looks like Notley has made her first major blunder by appointing McCuiad-Boyd to a vital portfolio. Almost as bad were questions from NDP backbenchers. The PCs had a long tradition of giving their MLAs “puffball” questions for the ministers to bat out of the park. The shameful tradition continued with Dippers asking insipid questions that the new MLAs seemed strangely proud to ask. I’m hoping that the newbies will come to realize something the PCs never did — that they are there to serve the interests of the people who elected them, not just the party.

Still in the legislature, and still clueless, we return again to McIver. Asking some moderately pertinent questions about how much tax revenue the government expects to raise by its tax increases (incredibly, the NDP had no answers), he said he has lots of friends who make more than $125,000 a year, and many of them are having trouble making ends meet. And you wonder how the Tories became so out-of-touch with the general public.

The hacker group Anonymous launched a cyberattack on federal government websites on Wednesday, crashing the system for nearly two hours, bringing federal government work to a standstill. Being that the attack involved federal government workers, no one noticed.

The National Hockey League season came to an end this week, with the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup again. Here in Edmonton, of course, the NHL season officially ended last October when the Oilers played their first game of the season.

Deranged billionaire Donald Trump entered the Republican presidential nomination race this week with an apparently unscripted, unintelligible, incoherent speech that set him apart from the rest of the pack of Republican challengers — he’s even crazier than the rest. Also entering the race, the immediate frontrunner Jeb Bush, son of George I and brother of George II. The odds are pretty good of the continuation of the Bush-Clinton political feud. You’d think that a country of 300-plus million people could at least expect a little variety in their politics.

And finally, this week’s atrocity involved a white supremacist loner with easy access to guns who went into a famous black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people in a Bible study group.  America is, once again, convulsed by issues of race and violence. The end result will be …. nothing. By this time next week, the horror will be forgotten, as the world awaits the next atrocity.

RIP: Kirk Kerkorian, billionaire developer who built the MGM Grand and other Las Vegas mega-hotels, at 98.

Here’s why the NDP doesn’t need union money anymore.

The NDP government’s first bill is designed to renew democracy in Alberta. It must, right, because it says so right there in the title — An Act To Renew Democracy in Alberta. Essentially, it imposes a ban on corporate and union donations, which pretty much everyone (except PC interim leader, Reactionary Ric MacIver) agrees with. This will hurt parties that have depended upon corporate donations, but it also hurts the NDP, which has relied on the generosity of unions to stay alive for years.I’m in agreement with the idea of removing big money from political campaigns. All you have to do is look south, to the U.S., to see the corrosive effects of big money on politics. In many ways, Bill 1 has levelled the playing field.

But not quite.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 1.16.20 PMAt left is a copy of an email that was send out to some Edmonton public teachers union members regarding the Sara Hoffman campaign in Edmonton-Glenora. The email says the campaign is hiring — at $20 an hour! — and includes a ‘Donate’ button. The address at the bottom of the email is that of Lou Arab, who is a longtime NDP loyalist, a communications staffer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Mr. Rachel Notley.

So, the CUPE sent out an email to teachers’ union members letting them know there were jobs available with an NDP campaign, while giving them the opportunity to donate. Now it is becoming more clear why the NDP was so willing to cut off funding from unions — they don’t need the money.

The NDP and unions have been bedfellows forever. For many years, unions have given the NDP tens of thousands of dollars. You could make the argument that the union dollars were needed to counteract the massive corporate donations that went to the PCs, and that’s a valid point. The playing field, financially, was tipped big-time in the PCs favour, so the fact that the unions supported the NDP was only fair … sort of.

Now the NDP is living up to its campaign pledge to ban union and corporate donations. No more big business money. No more big union money. And the NDP is fine with that, because they don’t really need union money. When you’ve got the entire apparatus powerful union(s) at your disposal, with their vast email contacts and employees only too willing to work for the party, you don’t need the money. When you’ve got the data, the people, and the time, who needs money?


How to build a cabinet using mismatched pieces: pointers for Rachel Notley

Now that the euphoria of the election has worn off, I wonder if Rachel Notley is waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, wondering, “What the hell do I do now?”

If she isn’t, she should. She has a big, big job ahead of her, and the first thing she has to do is put a cabinet together. Compared to that job, winning the election was a snap. Forming a cabinet from mismatched pieces is like trying to, well, put together a real cabinet with mismatched pieces.

How do you build a cabinet with a government that is made up almost entirely of people who are not only inexperienced in government, but inexperienced in running anything more complicated than a paper route? Hell, a lot of them are inexperienced at life, period.

Luckily for Notley, there are a couple of natural fits for two vital positions. Dr. Bob Turner from Edmonton-Whitemud is the natural — perhaps only — choice for health minister. I mean, c’mon, the guy is a doctor; that’s got to count for something. And Sarah Hoffman, the former Edmonton school trustee, would be a nice fit for education. (If you follow this logic, however, you might be inclined to appoint a college student as advanced education minister, but this would be a mistake.)

After that, well, it gets a little more complicated.

First, what to do about the veterans?

David Eggen will have to be given a cabinet post, and Deron Bilous will have to get a seat at the table, too. But what to do with Brian Mason? Clearly, the long-time MLA an party leader has to be rewarded, but he would be another Edmontonian in a cabinet that is shaping up to be too Edmonton-centric, if you take into account the four existing NDP MLAs all get seats, and if Turner and Hoffman get seats as well. The natural choice for Mason is to be the Speaker of the House. He’s one of the few who knows the rules, he would love to have all the attention, and my guess is he would love even more to get some revenge.

After that, cabinet is a bit of a crapshoot. Clearly, Calgary needs a lot of seats, but outside of Joe Ceci, a former alderman and the most well-known of the new Calgary MLAs, who do you turn to? Anybody over age 30 and with any experience outside of being a flight attendant or a yoga instructor can probably punch their ticket into cabinet. The energy minister pretty much has to come from Calgary, but who qualifies? I’m not saying they need to find an oil executive, but it might help to have someone who knows a little more about the oil industry than just how to use the self-serve at the gas station.

Outside of the big cities, the NDP will need rural ministers to ensure representation from the different parts of the province. The MLA for either Peace River or Lesser Slave Lake (representing northern Alberta) could get a seat. (Have you seen those ridings? Either one is bigger than Prince Edward Island.) Both Red Deer and Lethbridge went NDP, so at least one or two of the new MLAs from those cities will be rewarded.

Now, if I may quote Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t someone please think of the children?”

Notley cannot just toss all of the children’s army to the back of the bus. Somewhere in that group of losing student union candidates there has to be a gem. I expect we’ll see a lot of ‘associate ministers’ — basically a minister on training wheels — appointed to get some young ‘uns involved. Associated ministers can also step in after the inevitable crash-and-burn of a minister(s). The NDP has also promised to create a women’s ministry, a nice 1980s idea that is paternalistic and kind of ridiculous today, that would be a nice starting point for one of the younger, female members.

Luckily for Notley, long-time veterans who believe they deserve their reward will not trouble her. And she won’t be forced to find positions for people who supported her. I suspect she’ll have a fairly small cabinet to start with, not because of ideology, but because she just doesn’t have enough cabinet material.

Perhaps the biggest break for the Notley government? They won’t have to face questions from Rachel Notley.

Stuff Happens, week 17: Freedom for Omar; a Facebook face plant; pollsters get it wrong (again)

At long last, a bit of justice for Omar Khadr. The so-called war criminal was finally released on bail in Edmonton this week, despite the best efforts of the despicable Harper government to portray him as an unrepentant terrorist who committed “heinous” crimes. Just to recap: Khadr was 15 years old — a juvenile in Canadian law — who was taken to Afghanistan by his radical parents. His home came under attack from American soldiers in 2002, and in the resulting fight, one American soldier was killed and another wounded. Khadr suffered terrible injuries, but the worst was yet to come. He was taken to Guantanamo, where he was tortured and abused. The Americans finally returned him to Canada despite the best efforts of the Harper government to make them keep him. The government continues to portray Khadr as a terrorist, despite all evidence to the contrary. Finally allowed to speak for himself on Thursday, Khadr came across as anything but the wild-eyed killer the Tories make him out to be. He was respectful, smiling, remorseful, just a little stunned that he was free. Hey, I’m not saying that what Khadr did was right, but at its most elemental he was a kid in a war zone who threw a grenade when he came under attack. War criminal? If trying to kill the guy trying to kill you makes you a war criminal, then there are hundreds of millions of war criminals free today. The treatment of Khadr by the Canadian and American governments is a black eye to both governments.

The honorable Deborah Drever (left)
The honorable Deborah Drever (left)

Well, that didn’t take long. One of the upstanding citizens the New Democrats recruited to run in the provincial election has proven to be — shock! — somewhat lacking in the gravitas was expect from our elected representatives. Her name is Deborah Drever, and she is the duly elected MLA for Calgary-Bow. Her Facebook page pictures her with a case of beer on her head, posing with a pro-marijuana t-shirt, and includes a photo of a single raised middle finger against a Canadian flag. Clearly, the NDP vetting process went something like this:

Candidate: Hey, I’d like to run for you guys.

NDP: You’re on!

When challenged about the images, Drever blamed the haters. “They’re attacking some candidates — it’s unfortunate,” she said. “(Those sharing the pics) are scared because we’re younger … They’re attacking the young candidates … but we have to start somewhere, we’re fresh new candidates who have a lot to offer … We’re the voice of tomorrow.”

God help us all.

In other news from the People’s Republic of Alberta, Rachel Notley was crowing about the diversity of her caucus on Saturday, which reflects the real Alberta. Let’s see now: there are lots of inexperienced, unskilled 20-somethings making six-figure salaries. Sounds about right.

Still with elections, while the pollsters finally got it right in Alberta, they got it horribly wrong on a larger stage. The UK general election was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested ever; a “hung” parliament (what we call a minority) seemed a certainty. Oops! Prime Minister David Cameron won with ease. This was the latest in a string of polls that got it wrong, wrong, wrong. Something has gone horribly wrong with polling, and at least 50% of people know that.

images-2And finally, McDonald’s has reintroduced the Hamburgler. No longer the cartoon character of old, the new Hamburgler is a real human being, supposedly a “hip, urban dad”. Judging from the photo here, he seems to be telling children, “Shhh, kids, if you don’t tell your dad what you saw me doing with your mommy, I’ll give you this burger.” I don’t know who this poor guy is, but I’m guessing his parents aren’t bragging about their son’s new job.

RIP: Ruth Rendall, 85, British mystery writer.

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.







Election roulette: picking winners in the impossible election

There is only one thing I can say with absolute certainty about the provincial election of 2015.

Jim Prentice has made a terrible, terrible mistake. After that, all bets are off.

Even if Prentice wins Tuesday’s election (and I think they will; more on that later), Prentice is a loser. Even if he squeaks out a minority victory, or wins outright, he will still end up with a vastly reduced majority, an emboldened and stronger Wildrose and NDP parties, and a pissed off party apparatus. The only reason I can offer as to why he would go to the polls a year ahead of time (saddling himself with a terrible budget that raises taxes and fees for most of us but not at all for industry) is that the PCs anticipated an even worse economy a year from now. I’ve always thought these guys were the saviest political operators, but not anymore. This election has epic gaffe written all over it.

Unquestionably, the PCs are riding for a spectacular fall, but I don’t think they’ll bottom out. The divided loyalties of Albertans — Edmonton voters going one way, Calgary voters going another, non-urban voters yet another way — makes a PC win still the most likely scenario.

Edmonton looks prepared to go NDP in a big way, but I don’t think it will be as big as the polls, the NDs, and the media-loving NDP believe. The polls show support for the NDP (actually, support for Rachel Notley) incredibly high. But each riding has its own very specific ebb and flow, and the supposedly massive support for the NDP may not translate into the sweep so many are predicting.

There are two really interesting numbers in the polls that often go unreported: the number of undecided is very high; and some polls put the number of voters who may change their minds as high at 50 per cent. The undecided could go any number of ways. There could be a fear that the NDP isn’t ready (which it isn’t), that could result in votes for the stability of the PCs. Or fears of the socialist hoards attacking the gates could swing Wildrose voters to the PCs. Or, all this NDP talk could get uninspired Tory voters off their duffs and into the ballot booths. There are any number of equations.

I would enjoy seeing the likes of Thomas Lukaszuk, Heather Klimchuk, Stephen Mandel, Steve Young, David Dorward and David Xiao go down to defeat. My preference, of course, would have been to see them fall to Liberals, but that’s not going to happen. Cleaning house of the various PC seat warmers would be a good thing. And if the PCs actually lose the election, having PCs sit on opposition benches would be glorious. Nobody deserves a stay on the opposition benches than PCs.

So, let’s assume that Edmonton goes solidly NDP. In order for the NDP to gain power, they will have to go from their current four seats to 40 or so. Outside of Edmonton, where will they gain?

They might pick up one or two in Calgary, and they might fluke off a win in rural Alberta, but I doubt it, not with the usual motley collection of U of A students running in rural ridings to fill out the roster. In order for the NDP to win the election, they will have to score big time in Calgary and Edmonton, and I just don’t see that happening.

Can the Wildrose win? Nope. There is still solid support for the party in the rural areas and some in Calgary, but (pardon the pun) the bloom is off the (wild)rose. You have to wonder how Danielle Smith feels right about now. If she hadn’t abandoned her principles, she could be on the verge of becoming premier. Oh, well.

So, despite the polls, I still think the Tories will win. A minority PC government would actually be the best outcome of this election. The NDP, despite what Notley says, is not prepared for government. Put it this way: imagine Alberta is a giant, multi-billion dollar corporation (which is basically is). One day, that giant corporation fires all of its top managers, and installs people who have never been in charge of anything more substantial than a paper route. That’s the situation we would face with an NDP government. My guess is that even the NDP quietly hopes it doesn’t win this time, because a minority NDP government would likely be a disaster. I’ll bet, in their heart of hearts, the NDP hopes for a PC minority with a powerful NDP opposition. That would give them time to find the Legislature washrooms and get some idea how government works. Then, after a couple of years, the minority would collapse and the NDP would be ready for power.

Mind you, my prediction abilities suck. Anything could happen on Tuesday; a Tory majority, a Tory minority, a Wildrose minority, an NDP minority or an NDP majority. I can safely say, however, that a Liberal minority seems, shall we say, unlikely.

Why good polls may be bad for the Rachel Notley Party

In the first week of the Unnecessary Election of 2015, the big story has been the polling numbers. The media, desperate to find something to report on in the early going, has fixated on the numbers which show the Rachel Notley Party with shockingly high numbers. The stats are so out of whack, even the pollsters are advising to take them with a grain of salt.

Pollsters have taken a beating lately due to a long string of wildly wrong results pretty much everywhere. That is in part due to the down-and-dirty method of polling, which is cheap and not very accurate compared to old school, talk-to-a-human-being kind of polling. The polls you’re reading about these days are free, and as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

But clearly, something is afoot: the NDP is showing very well. And this may not be all good news for the Dippers. Let me explain.

First, I’ve got to hand it to the NDP. They’ve got a strategy, and it’s working, so far.

New face of the NDP, Rachel Notley.
New face of the NDP, Rachel Notley.

Obviously, the strategy is to play up Rachel Notley. Check out the website of the Rachel Notley Party (formerly known as the New Democratic Party); it starts with a video of Rachel, followed by a clip of rabid supporters chanting ‘Rachel, Rachel’, then there’s a sign up request the headline ‘I want to build a better Alberta with Rachel’, then there’s a profile of Rachel, then a picture of Rachel with some dude behind a sign that says ‘Rally with Rachel’. There are at least a half-dozen mentions of Rachel Notley, with only three small NDP logos. Almost all of the press release headlines have Rachel Notley in the lead. Clearly, the NDP is building a cult of leadership around Notley, which seems politically savvy, if a little anti-NDP. It helps that the media is absolutely in love with Rachel, providing the party with millions of dollars of unearned media.

So far, so good. The public seems to be responding to her, and the Dippers hope they will ride this horse all the way to official opposition status. But good poll numbers are not always good news.

Candidate Shaye Anderson, traditional face of the NDP.
Candidate Shaye Anderson, traditional face of the NDP.

As the polling numbers show support, it will draw more and more scrutiny to the party. And with increased scrutiny, curious voters will eventually want to know what the NDP stands for. Right now, however, you won’t find out on their website. As of April 11th, you won’t find one word on actual NDP policy. I’m sure in time they will release a complete policy document, but now they seem to be a Seinfeld party: the party about nothing. Eventually, the NDP will have to issue a full policy document for the interested public to study. It will have to be a carefully crafted document, with just enough red left-wing meat to keep the party’s lefties happy, without alienating the average voter. So far, we know they would raise corporate taxes, but so would the Liberals and anyone with a brain. The RNP is playing it very smart this year, and I’m sure when they come out with a policy doc, it will be as wishy-washy as possible.

A bigger problem is the ‘S’ word.

The New Democrats are a socialist party. That’s not a slur or an untruth, but a simple fact. I’m surprised that Jim Prentice has so far opted to call the RNP/NDP “far left”, which is silly. You’d think he’d be calling the RNP the socialist party at every opportunity. Socialism is anathema to Albertans, and just the way the Liberals had to wear the liberal label, the NDP will have to wear the socialist label. It’s just a matter of time, too, before the PCs link the NDP to federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and his previous references to “dirty oil”.

Life is good for the NDP right now. But if the polls, rightly or wrongly, continue to show the NDP staying strong, their strategy will be put to the test as the heat is turned up … way up.

Stuff happens, week 9: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the dumbest of them all?

The halo over Jim Prentice is getting more and more tarnished. Prentice, who has been on a PR offensive over his upcoming budget and unnecessary and illegal election, put his foot in it on CBC Radio on Thursday. Prentice told listeners that when it comes to Alberta’s economic woes, everyone is to blame; or, as he put it, “In terms of who is responsible, we all need only look in the mirror, right?” It’s partly true, of course, but by far the biggest share of the blame belongs to the PC party. But that’s a subtlety lost on the Twitterverse, which went bonkers (no doubt assisted by organized efforts by special interests).  NDP leader Rachel Notley, who is so often on her high horse she should just stay there, was so affronted she demanded an apology, the poor thing. Prentice only made matters worse with the lame defence that he was quoted out of context, which is the last refuge of a politician caught saying something stupid. With public sector unions in control of massive war chests of advertising dollars, Prentice is going to be under fire unlike anything he has experienced in his political career. With the legislature resuming next week, Prentice will have no choice but to keep talking. But outside the Leg, methinks Diamond Jim will opt to keep his mouth shut for a while.

Speaker of Twitter, TSN learned a hard lesson that letting a Twitter feed crawl along a broadcast may not be a good idea. During TSN’s marathon broadcast on NHL trade deadline day, a Tweet that appeared suggested that the wife of a Toronto Maple Leaf player has slept with a teammate. I won’t repeat the names, because I don’t like scurrilous gossip, and I don’t really care. Understandably, the slandered parties are a little PO’d, and are suing TSN and the blogger. TSN has mercifully decided to end the practice of airing Twitter blather on the screen, so some good has come from this.

Forbes magazine released its annual Filthy Rich list this week, and Bill Gates is back on top, bless ’em. Gates is worth $79 billion, the leading member of the Tech Billionaires club, which includes Larry Ellison of Oracle (whatever that is) at $54 billion, Jeff Bezos of Amazon at $35 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame at $34 billion. Forbes says the 15 richest people in tech are collectively worth $426 billion, or about six times Alberta’s expected budget deficit.

Things just keep getting worse in Ferguson, Missouri. You may remember Ferguson as the city that erupted when an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by the police, and the state declined to lay charges against the cop. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report on Ferguson that found cops there were brutally racist, routinely violated black residents’ constitutional rights, and used excessive force and unjustified traffic stops that were basically a way to scam blacks out of money. Cops made racist jokes about blacks via their official email accounts, like this knee-slapper: Obama wouldn’t be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” And it gets worse. Investigators reviewed 35,000 pages of police records and analyzed data on every police stop. They found blacks made up 93 percent of arrests, 88 percent of cases where force was used, 90 percent of citations, and 85 percent of traffic stops. The city’s population is about 66 per cent black.

RIP: The Grim Reaper must have been on vacation this week, because the only passing of note I could find was that of character actor Daniel von Bargen, 65. He wasn’t exactly a household name, but von Bargen did have two memorable minor roles on successful TV series. He was Commandant Spanger for 15 episodes of Malcolm in the Middle, and more famously he was George Costanza’s inept boss, Mr. Kruger, when George worked at the industrial smoothing company on Seinfeld for four episodes.