Goodbye Rick Miller, one of the good ones.

It was a few days after the disastrous provincial election of 2008, when the entire Class of Edmonton Alberta Liberals 2004 went down to unexpected (and unwarranted) defeat at the hands of the inexplicable Ed Stelmach juggernaut. We were gathered for an ill-timed leader’s dinner, the big fundraiser for the ALP. I opted to leave politics before the public made the choice for me (retiring undefeated, as I like to say), so I was in marginally better spirits than everyone else. But I could feel the pain in the room.

I went up to shake Rick Miller’s hand to commiserate, but he would have none of it: he insisted on a hug.

“Brothers don’t shake hands,” he said as we embraced. And he was serious, too. The crew of Edmonton newbies elected in 2004 — Bharat Agnihotri, Bill Bonko, Mo Elsalhy, Bruce Miller, Weslyn Mather, Jack Flaherty, Rick and yours truly — were a brotherhood (no offense, Weslyn). We had less than four years together, but we really did form an unbreakable bond, the kind of lifelong friendships that you normally develop in high school.

Now we’ve lost one of our brotherhood … and not just any member, but the heart and soul of our little group. Rick Miller, the former honorable member of the Alberta Legislature for Edmonton-Rutherford, died on Saturday of prostate cancer, criminally young at only 53 years.

If you drew up a list of everything you want in a politician, Rick would have had every attribute. He was in it for all the right reasons. While I was at best ambivalent about being in politics, Rick Miller loved it, every minute of it. He loved the meetings, he loved the constituents, he even — God help me — loved being in the Legislature.

On the occasions when we opposition tried to stop the unstoppable government with marathon, all-night-and-into-the-morning sessions, Rick was always there. Personally, I thought the whole thing was foolish, and I did my best to avoid them. Rick, being our whip (the guy in charge of the caucus) insisted that everyone be involved in the marathons, even guys like me who preferred to be home in bed at 4 a.m. rather than ‘debating’ whatever the issue of the day was. He wasn’t afraid to phone in reinforcements (that would be me) at 4 a.m. to get my sorry butt into work.

But I would never hold it against him, because you couldn’t get mad at Rick Miller. He was really one of those one-in-a-million people that everybody liked, because he genuinely liked people in return.

And he was fun. He loved to bend the elbow with the brotherhood in Bonko’s office/bar. He liked a good cigar (an oxymoron in my view), and he loved going to Cuba, which may be where he got his cigar habit. Even in the Legislature, which I saw as The Unhappiest Place on Earth, there were a few Rick inspired laughs. One day, another MLA (I believe it was Raj Pannu, the longtime NDPer who could go on at length about anything) had just finished a long and impassioned speech about something. When Raj was done, it was Rick’s turn. Quickly assessing the situation, Rick rose to his feet, and said “What he said”, and sat down. It brought the house down, and was the best speech I heard in the Legislature.

Another time, Rick was going on and on about something, and I was kind of listening. After a while, I noticed Rick was wandering, and not really making any sense (rare for him, common for others). In mid-speech, he turned around and said to me, “I have no idea what I’m talking about”.

While I was miserable in politics and fairly miserable at it, Rick loved it, and was great at it. He was pretty damn good at life, too. He was the kind of guy who just enjoyed living, and made the most of his far-too limited time on earth. I’m richer for having known him, and the world is poorer for having lost him.

For a photographic look back at Rick’s days as an MLA and friend, check out Earl Woods’ blog.

Now is the time for all good Liberals to come to the aid of their party.

Important note: The following blog is intended only for people who usually vote Liberal, but who are thinking of switching their vote to either the PCs (to stop the Wildrose) or to the Wildrose (to defeat the PCs). Unwavering PC supporters, bedrock Wildrose supporters and compulsive NDP backers, please leave the virtual room. This blog is only for members of the immediate family, however distant they may be. Thank you.

Dear Friends:

There are dark clouds on the horizon for the Alberta Liberal party. I am afraid that your party is headed for the perfect electoral storm.

If you’ve voted Liberal in the past (and consistently there are about 250,000 to 270,000 of you), you’ve no doubt done so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you like the party, or the platform, or the leader. Maybe you just hate the PCs, or you’ve always voted Liberal. Or, most likely, you like the candidate. For a variety of reasons, the Liberals have enjoyed the second-highest vote total in every election since 1989. It’s a sign that the Liberals, despite the widespread view that the Liberal name is “toxic”, have a solid core of support.

But going into this pivotal election, the polls show the Liberal vote is collapsing. From a traditional base of support of anywhere from 25-30 per cent, Liberal support is now in the low 10s. This is potentially catastrophic.

Why has it fallen so low? The party policies are sound, the leader is dynamic (yes, he carries some baggage, but you can’t deny the guy has charisma), and many of the candidates are outstanding. So, why is the party that you’ve supported in the past teetering on the brink?

Clearly, the Liberals are caught in a squeeze. The Wildrose has staked out the right, and the New Democrats are in their customary slot on the soft-left.  But now, in the customary Liberal position in the progressive middle, along come the PCs, trying hard to reinvent themselves as truly ‘progressive’ Conservatives.  The Liberals find themselves vying for the affections of the electorate against an old trollop who thinks plastic surgery and implants have made her more appealing. And it seems to be working.

But that’s only half the problem. Clearly, thousands of traditional Liberal voters are taking the “strategic voting” route.  Eager to finally end the PC reign of error, some Liberal faithful are parking their votes — just this once — with the Wildrose. And with the Wildrose surging in the polls, thousands of traditional Liberal voters are voting — just this once — for the PCs to stop our slide into the 19th century.

Well, if you are one of those people, let me just say … DON’T DO IT.

This is NOT the time to abandon ship. If anything, the Liberals need your vote now more than ever.

In several Edmonton and Calgary ridings, the Liberals are still in a position to win. For years, Liberals have dreamt of the day when a vote split on the right would allow Liberals to sneak up the middle. Well, despite the poll numbers, that possibility still exists in several ridings — but only if the traditional Liberal vote holds. If thousands of Liberal voters decide to vote for a party they fundamentally disagree with, in an attempt to stop another party they fundamentally disagree with, then thousands of Liberal votes will be lost. And with it, some very fine public servants may be sent to the sidelines.

Now some of you are certainly saying, “Maurice, you’re too personally invested in this.” I don’t deny this. I was a Liberal MLA, and I got to know a lot of outstanding people in the political field. So, yes, it’s personal. But I wouldn’t urge you to vote for a candidate I know to be a dud. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

So, Liberal voters, stay the course and please vote for the following:

• Raj Sherman, Edmonton-Meadowlark. I don’t know Raj very well, but it is vital that the leader of the party, the strongest voice for health care in the Legislature, be returned to the Legislature.

Weslyn Mather, Edmonton-Mill Woods. A genuinely inspiring person, and as dedicated a public servant as you will ever find.

Mo Elsalhy, Edmonton-McClung. Tremendous work ethic and a guy who genuinely cares about his constituents.

Rick Miller, Edmonton-Rutherford. Just the kind of person you want representing you in the legislature and in your neighbourhood.

Bruce Miller, Edmonton-Glenora. Another former MLA of unfailing integrity, and an all-round great guy.

Laurie Blakeman, Edmonton-Centre. Relentless thorn in the side of whatever party that will be in power, Blakeman is also the ultimate constituency person. A champion of the arts community as well.

David Swann, Calgary-Mountain View.  I doubt if I’ve ever met a man who cares more deeply for humanity than David Swann. A legislature without him would be badly diminished.

Kent Hehr, Calgary-Buffalo. Again I only know Kent fleetingly, but he is an extraordinary person and an excellent representative.

I don’t know Josipa Petrunic in Edmonton-Gold Bar, or Arif Khan in Edmonton- Riverview, but from what I’ve heard about them, you can’t go wrong. And in Red Deer, I hope the Liberal voters in Red Deer North realize that Michael Dawe, one of Red Deer’s best-known citizens, has a chance to benefit from the Wildrose/PC vote split.

I’m not going to recommend every Liberal running, because a) I don’t know them all, and b) I honestly don’t know how many of them deserve your support. But for those of you reading in any of the above-mentioned constituencies, now is not the time to abandon the party in the faint hope of “stopping” a candidate, or trying to alter the outcome of the election. Vote for someone, not against.

Stand your ground, Liberals, or you may not have any ground left to stand on by Monday.

When good people get fired.

As you might expect if you’ve read this blog before, I’m not too thrilled with the results of Monday’s election. Or, as I’m calling it, Our Darkest Day.

Just kidding. I find Stephen Harper fairly loathsome, and I don’t like much of what he proposes for Canada. But the people have spoken, and I’m of the opinion that in a country like Canada, nobody can push us to go somewhere we don’t want to go. In other words, if Harper goes all Republican on us, the public will punish him. I think. But what do I know? I thought the Liberals would finish second!

But you know what really bothers me? What ticks me off in an election is when good people are defeated. It bothers me when people who are good at their jobs, care about their constituents, care about the country, are, essentially fired.

Maybe this bothers me more than it bothers most people because I have personal experience with it. In the last Alberta election, a lot of excellent people — most of them friends of mine — were fired by the voters. Why? Because they ran for the wrong party.

You wouldn’t have found a  more dedicated group of MLAs than people like Weslyn Mather, Bill Bonko, Mo Elsalhy, Rick Miller, Bruce Miller and Bharat Agnihotri, all MLAs for various Edmonton ridings. I know how hard they worked, how dedicated they were to their jobs, what long (and sometimes pointless) hours they put into their jobs. And they were all turfed, for reasons that had nothing to do with their job performance.

A lot of MPs were fired on Monday. I can’t speak about any of the Bloc Quebecois MPs, or any of the few Conservatives who lost. Maybe there were a lot of loafers in that lot, I dunno.

But can anyone tell me why Michael Ignatieff would lose his seat? Say what you like about his party, but does a man of his quality and stature deserve to be defeated? Maybe I’m naive, or idealistic (I can honestly say I’ve never been described that way), but isn’t he exactly the kind of you want in Ottawa?

And what about Ken Dryden, another defeated Liberal. Here’s another quality person. I had the privilege of meeting him when he was in Edmonton during the Liberal leadership race, and I was tremendously impressed (OK, maybe a little awed, too … it was KEN DRYDEN, for God’s sake!). We should be lucky that a guy like Dryden entered politics, instead of making his money selling his autograph to suckers for $20 a pop.

Saddest of all was the defeat of Gerard Kennedy, another former leadership candidate. I had lunch with him during the Liberal leadership, and I was amazed by his breadth of knowledge, his easy rapport with people, and his genuine concern for society (he founded the Edmonton Food Bank). He was, and maybe still is, a potential leader for the party, and I hope that despite the loss, he stays in the game.

So why would Gerard Kennedy be defeated? Beats me. Only in politics do really good people lose their jobs.

The last word on this goes to an MP named Glen Pearson. I’ve never heard of him until I was directed to his blog, which tells of his shock at being defeated. Read it, and tell me if it doesn’t make you genuinely sad. I don’t know him, don’t know if he was a good MP or a dud. But read it and tell me if this guy doesn’t sound like the real deal, who was defeated thanks to some skullduggery by the Tories.

Read his blog at  http://glenpearson.wordpress.com. It will tell you, much better than I can, why so many good people never go into politics.

Maybe the people who defeated Ignatieff, Dryden, Kennedy and Pearson are quality, A-1 folks who played fair and square and won. But I doubt it.