Everything you need to know about 2015 right here.

As a dues paying member of the blogosphere, I feel compelled to do at least one of the annual blogs: the year in review, or the predictions column. Since the year in review blog takes lots of work, guess which way I’m going? Besides, it’s really easy to write a predictions blog, because you can predict only what you want to talk about, and by the end of the year, nobody remembers any of what you’ve said.

Prediction no. 1: RIP Keystone XL

The Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 1922 to transport kerosene from Alberta’s vast kerosene fields, or something like that. It has taken this long to get to a decision, and I can say without a doubt that it will not be approved. President Barack Obama, freed from worrying about how his decisions will impact the mid-term elections (he lost), will certainly say no to the plan, regardless of what congress and the senate says. He has repeatedly signalled his disdain for the project, saying that it will only benefit Canada (not true). With the price of oil falling through the floor, and America awash in the stuff, there is no chance Keystone will get the presidential seal of approval. If I ran TransCanada, the pipeline proponents, I would withdraw the bid now. Then, in 10 years when the U.S. is begging for Canadian oil, no matter how ‘dirty’, I’d build a three-storey-high extended middle finger and put it right at the border.

Prediction no. 2: The federal election will be decided by the TV debates

Justin working on his thoughtful pose.
Justin working on his thoughtful pose.

It’s an election year here in Canada, and the situation is fluid (the only thing that is fluid in his frozen landscape). While support for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party remains high, nothing has shaken Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bedrock of support. Poor Thomas Mulcair of the NDP has found that being an excellent leader of the opposition gets you grudging admiration and a third-place standing in the polls. I think the election will hinge on the campaign, specifically the debate(s). We all know Harper will remain as unflappable as unyielding as a sphinx; in 10 years as prime minister, the guy has made maybe one verbal pratfall

Mulcair looking at the latest poll numbers.
Mulcair looking at the latest poll numbers.

(he called the Keystone pipeline “a no-brainer”). Mulcair is very quick on his feet and smart as hell. All eyes will be on Trudeau and whether he can play ball with the big boys. Canadians worried about Trudeau’s intellectual capacity — and that would be pretty much everyone — will be judging Trudeau on this performance. It could decide the election.

Prediction no. 3: Harper will win a minority

I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Prediction no. 4: Jim Prentice will win a majority for the PCs.

This is like predicting the sun will rise tomorrow, or that the PCs will win the Alberta election.

Prediction no. 5: Danielle Smith’s political career will end

Floor crossers sometimes win and sometimes lose. But there has never been a floor-crossing LEADER, and I’m certain the good people of Danielle Smith’s riding will let her know, loudly and clearly, what they thought of her actions. Most of the ex-Wildrose weasels will face the same fate.

Prediction no. 6: Winter will be cold, and sometimes not so cold.

Sorry, but I had to end on a sure bet.

(Finally, WordPress, the program I use for this blog, reports 18,300,771 new blogs were produced in 2014. Thank you for choosing this blog to read with all that competition.)

Dear New Zealand: A few thoughts on your future flag flap.

Dear New Zealand:

G’day, mates!

Oh, wait. That’s an Australian thing, isn’t it? I’ll bet you found that just a little insulting. So, as we say in Canada, sorry. What do you say down there? The Internet tells me that the Maori have three different ways of saying hello depending on how many people you are addressing — kia ora, tena koe, tena korua, and tena koutou — but that seems awfully complicated. So let’s just use the universal greeting, of ‘hey’.

Let’s get down to the subject of this letter. Our prime minister Stephen Harper has been visiting your wonderful country. He’s in the neighbourhood to attend the G8 summit in Australia, and he figured since he was in the neighbourhood, he might as well drop by. Thanks to his visit, New Zealand has been in the news here, which is nice. News from New Zealand is about as rare here as news from Canada is in New Zealand.

I’ve been reading that you’re talking about designing a new flag. Well, bob’s your uncle (again, the Internet says that’s a New Zealand expression, which seems unlikely, but the Internet never lies, right?). Good on ya. I hear you’re having binding referendums on the matter in 2015 and 2016. I’m not quite sure why it takes two votes over two years; New Zealand is not a big country (it’s actually smaller than my home province of Alberta —268,000 sq. km vs. 661,000 sq. km) so why it would take two votes to decide on a flag is beyond me. Canadians are famously reticent people, but even we can decide things in one election. But, I guess you have your reasons.

Your prime minister, John Key, is the man behind the flag proposal, and he even used our flag debate in a major speech on the proposal.

“Fifty years on, I can’t imagine many Canadians would, if asked, choose to go back to the old flag,” he said, as you probably know.

As a Canadian, let me assure you that the prime minister speaks the truth. Not only would precious few Canadians want to go back to the old flag, even fewer Canadians know that we used to HAVE an old flag. Seriously, we do NOT know our history.

The old flag.
The old flag.

For the record, here’s what it looked like. Not particularly inspiring, is it? But at the time of the flag debate — or “flag flap” if you prefer alliteration — Canada was still very much of a white, anglo-saxon country with strong ties to Great Britain. But our prime minister, Lester Pearson, knew that Canada was changing. He also recognized that the old flag had pretty much zero significance to the French speaking population of Canada.

I won’t go into the details, but despite uncompromising opposition from Pearson’s nemesis, former prime minister John Diefenbaker, the flag was adopted and flown for the first time on Feb. 15, 1965. And I can say, with uncharacteristically Canadian certainty, that it has been a hit. If you look at a flag as your country’s corporate logo, it’s perfect; it’s like the apple of Apple. There is no question when you see our flag that it’s the Canadian flag, and we love it for that. It has become such a symbol of Canada, that innumerable American tourists have slapped it on their backpacks so that people would think they were beloved Canadians rather than less-beloved Americans.

That’s why you should change your flag, friends. Your current flag is rather, shall we say, nondescript. Kind of like our old one. And, as you know, it looks an awful like the Australian flag, which much really irk you. I know it would tick me off.

So I say, go for it.I encourage you to shuck the symbols of your colonial past and join the 20th century, even if you’re about a century late. If we can put a leaf on our flag and fall in love with it, there’s no reason why you can’t put a fern on your flag and fall in love with it.

Cheers, mate. Say hello to the Flight of the Conchords. I love those guys.

Your friend

Maurice

PS: It’s -15C here today, and snowing. Do you accept applications for citizenship?

 

 

Trudeau’s the rubber, Harper the glue.

“I’m rubber, you’re glue. Your words bounce off me and stick to you.”

That juvenile little axiom popped into my head today as I contemplated the amazing Rubber Man, Justin Trudeau, and the clumsy attempts by Stephen Harper — the Darth Vader of Canadian politics — to ruin him.

Harper and his Conservative attack machine successfully ruined the careers of previous Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff even before they really got started. The Conservatives used non-election attack ads (unheard of until then) to paint Dion as a not-ready-for-primetime bumbler, and Ignatieff as ‘just visiting’ Canada. We don’t know just how much the attack ads impacted the public’s perception of the two leaders — Dion was barely able to speak English, and Ignatieff was kinda scary — but they certainly had an impact.

So it was only natural that Harper and his gang of thugs would go back to the old tried and true playbook to try to destroy Trudeau. But the first negative ads bounced off Trudeau (the rubber, see above) and landed on Harper (the glue). Trudeau was painted as not being experienced enough to be prime minister, and subtly mocked for being a mere teacher. For graphics, they used a clip of Trudeau doing a mild, mock striptease, which was intended to make him look foolish.

It all backfired. Harper was minimally experienced with he took over the Conservative party, as the media gleefully pointed out, so that charge didn’t stick. Sneering at teachers is a bad idea, in that there are thousands of teachers in Canada, and they enjoy a rarified reputation. But the real miscue was the strip clip. It turns out that Trudeau was having a little fun at a charity event, so basically the Cons were mocking Trudeau for having fun for a charitable cause. The only thing the ad did was emphasize that Stephen Harper would never, ever, in a million years, do anything fun. And that nobody wants to see him shirtless.

Having failed with the ads, the most recent line of attack was to blast Trudeau for making money as a public speaker while an MP. It’s all true; Trudeau made big bucks as a public speaker, in the range of $20,000 for an appearance. That’s big money, and a questionable (but not illegal) thing for an MP to do. But the Cons went too far. They leaked information that one charity was asking for its money back because the fundraiser Trudeau attended was a flop. Trudeau — under no obligation to do so — offered to repay the $20,000 fee, and promised other to return the money to other unsatisfied groups. So far, no takers, apparently.

Things just got worst for the PM. Turns out the leak came directly from the prime minister’s office, which is supposed to be non-partisan. Highly paid public servants are not supposed to spend their time digging up dirt on opposition politicians. The media, clearly in Trudeau’s corner, let everyone know where the information came from. Worse, it turns out the request to get money back came not from the organization, but one person in the organization, who had strong Conservative ties. So, instead of making Trudeau look like a grasping, greedy celebrity taking money from hard-done-by charities, Harper ends up looking like a devious, scheming creep who used public funds to damage a political rival. Which is what he is.

Harper is now zero-for-two in his attempts to discredit Trudeau. Why are they not working? First, the charges don’t stick very well. Even when they are true, like the public speaking controversy, Trudeau has found a way to counter the accusations by swiftly taking action. Bu more importantly, people seem to like this Trudeau kid, and every attempt by Harper to discredit him only makes Harper look like a churlish old grump. Again, which is what he is.

It’s way too soon to say that Harper is circling the drain as a leader. He’s a master strategist who may just be in a slump. But clearly, the old rules don’t apply to Trudeau. After all, he’s rubber, and Harper is glue.

Stephen Harper, stay just the way you are.

Brent Rathgeber … hero?

I never thought that an MP once called a “carbon blob” by a blogger  (that would be me) would ever be hailed as a hero, but there are strange times in Canadian politics. Wonderful times, too. For the first time since Canada became an autocracy under the vile Stephen Harper, there are signs that Harper’s iron grip on his party, and the country, have weakened. Perhaps forever.

Rathgeber, the lugubrious MP from Edmonton-St.Albert, became a household word this past week (at least in the few households that pay attention to politics) by quitting the Conservative caucus. On the surface, it looks like he quit in a fit of pique; he had a private member’s bill that was watered down by his own government, apparently on orders from the PM’s office. Actually, watered down is an understatement. Rathgeber wanted all government salaries over $188,000 published, in the spirit of the most overused phrase in politics today, transparency. The word came down from the PMO that the bill would be changed — only salaries over the quite astonishing limit of $444,000 would be published, effectively eliminating almost everyone except Don Cherry, Ron McLean, Peter Mansbridge and various other CBC ‘stars’. That’s as transparent as a brick wall.

This was the final straw for Rathgeber, who doesn’t even recognize the band of economic crusaders he signed up with. He quit the caucus, and in a province where the surest route to becoming an MP is to win the local nomination for the Conservative party, Rathgeber is risking his political career.

As I wrote earlier, not having Rathgeber around be no loss at all. I interviewed him during the 2001 provincial election, and was completely unimpressed. (I dunno, maybe he was just having a bad day.) He won in 2001, but the voters of Edmonton-Calder found him unimpressive enough that he was defeated in his bid for re-election in 2004 as a provincial PC. Seeing something even safer, he sought and won the Conservative nod federally, and has been an MP since 2008.

Now, with his rejection of Stephen Harper’s ham-fisted leadership — which could be described as an iron fist wrapped in another iron fist — Rathgeber is a hero to some. I still can’t get over the terrible impression he made on me when I interviewed him about a dozen years ago, but I will give him his props. So, two cheers for Bret Rathgeber.

So what will come of the defection? Maybe, just maybe, Rathgeber’s departure will force Harper to rethink his style and change his method of governing. If that is the case, Rathgeber will have a lot to answer for. You see, I don’t want Harper to change. The best way to get rid of this cunning, scheming control freak is if he STAYS a cunning, scheming control freak. Canadians have never loved Harper; I think we can say most of us wouldn’t even admit to liking him. But with the long, slow destruction of the Liberal party, and the fact that the New Democrats will never form government in Canada, the Cons were the only viable option. With the Mike Duffy senate scandal, the Rathgeber defection, and any number of other problems small and large, Harper is riding for a fall. But, there is still time to right the ship. The election is not until 2015, Harper has time to right the ship. He can clear out his cabinet deadwood, devise a plan to make it appear he may be human, soften some of his increasingly reactionary policies, stop his negative campaigning against Justin Trudeau … there is so much to do, and lots of time to do it.

Frankly, I doubt that Harper can change. The man’s personality is set in stone, and there is no way he will change. And if he doesn’t, his reign of terror will end. So please, Stephen Harper, I’m begging you. Stay just the way you are.

 

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.

 

 

Newman’s autopsy on the Liberals is required reading.

I’ve just finished reading Peter C. Newman’s latest book, When The Gods Changed, a worrisome journalistic autopsy on the death of Liberal Canada. It’s a typical Newman effort, full of insider stuff that nobody else seems to know (or tell) and astute observations. I recommend it for anyone interested, and concerned, about the state of Canadian politics today.

(Now, a lengthy aside. Mr. Newman takes some of the credit — or it may be blame — for my lifelong interest in Canadian politics. When I was a teenager, I bought a used paperback edition of Renegade in Power, The Diefenbaker Years, Newman’s 1963 dissection of Dief the Chief. It was Newman’s first inside politics book and it made his reputation. If I can find my old copy, I’d read it again. On the same subject, another significant moment in my political education was a documentary series from 1971 called The Tenth Decade, about the Diefenbaker-Pearson battles of the 1960s. You can see the first episode at http://www.cbc.ca/75/2011/09/the-tenth-decade.html. To my 15-year-old eyes, it was great, and I would love to see it again. And now, back to our blog.)

Newman began the research into what would ultimately end up as When The Gods Changed by presuming to follow Michael Ignatieff towards his certain march towards 24 Sussex Drive. (I’m not sure why Newman thought Ignatieff was a shoe in; I can only assume he has a more optimistic view of the Canadian electorate than I do.)

If I may insert a spoiler here, Newman does not hold out much hope for the federal Liberals. He makes a convincing case that the party is bloated, cumbersome, and splintered by fiefdoms. While the collapse of the Liberal vote may seem like a bit of a one off, and much of the blame has been heaped upon Michael Ignatieff, consider their record in the last four elections — from 135 seats to 103 to 77 (under the Stephane Dion, previously seen as the worst Liberal leader ever) to 34. That is a dispiriting trend.

While When the Gods Changed should be required reading for every Liberal stalwart in the land (and good reading for provincial Liberals as well), one part not written by Newman jumped off the page at me.

Newman devotes a considerable amount of space to failed Liberal candidate Dan Veniez, who Newman sees as just about a perfect Liberal candidate. In the chapter How the Grits Lost Their Mojo, Newman includes this quote from Veniez, which I will duplicate in full here. I include it because it is just about the best description of the Conservatives and Stephen Harper I have ever read. Here it is:

“Whether Harper stays or goes, the base of the Conservative party will remain the small-tent western and rural populist base, and its Christian fundamentalist core. And that’s anathema to my essential DNA. The Conservative party and its leader are viscerally angry. That is an ingrained part of who they are and what they represent. They remain a protest party, even in power, and have turned themselves into a protest government. They manage by negatives and are genetically incapable of inspiring hope or thinking big. They attack, assassinate character, tell lies, lower the bar on public discourse, and engage in tactical and divisive wedge politics and governance. They tap into people’s anxieties, fears, and prejudices, then seek to exploit them to the hilt for electoral advantage. The tone, strategy, and culture for this government are established by Stephen Harper, a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order.”

You may disagree, but to my mind this is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The rest of When the Gods Changed is all about what’s wrong with what’s left of the Liberals, but this one section tells you everything that’s wrong with the Conservatives.

The obligatory review of 2011. With videos!

Well, here we are at the end of another arbitrary span of 365 days that we call a year. And what a year it was! Things happened! Famous people died! Future famous people were born (how come nobody talks about that?)! Movies and TV shows were produced, some of them good, and some of them bad! The earth moved, literally in some cases, figuratively in others. It was a year of bests and worsts, mosts and leasts. Here’s my entirely personal list, which has no scientific basis.

Canada, Alberta and Edmonton

Least surprising political event: Stephen Harper gets his cherished majority, and  immediately sets about cranking Canada so far to the right that even American Republicans are saying: “Slow down, Steven.”

Most surprising political event: The NDP becomes the Official Opposition as Quebec voters elect 20-year-old barmaids who don’t even live in their ridings. Quebecers apparently mistook election for one of those terrible Just for Laughs gags shows.

Most surprising political development: Alison Redford comes out of nowhere (Calgary) to win the PC leadership, using a canny mix of populist promises and a guarantee to spend $100 million on teachers, putting her over the top as teachers flock to the polls.

Least surprising political development: Alison Redford reneges on her promise of fixed election date. Calling it a fixed date when there is a three-month window is like saying your dog is fixed if he’s only had one nut removed.

Most welcomed political retirements, Alberta edition: No more Ron Liepert, no more Lloyd Snelgrove, and especially no more King Ken Kowalski, who leaves the speaker’s chair with $1.3 million in his pocket. But he earned every penny of it. Just ask him.

Least welcomed political retirements (Alberta edition): Hugh MacDonald and Kevin Taft from the Alberta Liberals, neither of whom is running next year. The legislature will be a lesser place without them, if that’s even possible.

Most protracted debate: the Edmonton arena debate. Hey, we all knew Darrel Katz was going to get his way. What took so long?

Least welcomed retirement: Rod Phillips calls his last Edmonton Oilers game. I’m pretty sure you can still hear “HE SCOOOOOOOOOOORES” in the rafters of Rexall.

Most welcomed retirement (permanent): Serial killer Clifford Olson croaks. He won’t be meeting his child victims where he’s gone.

Worst season: The winter of 2011-12. Too much snow, too much cold, too much everything.

The World

Least effective protest: The Occupy Anywhere Movement. Remember those guys, hanging out in public squares, banging on drums and their old ladies (I assume that’s what they did to keep warm, anyway)? Now that they’re gone, the world has changed … how?

Most effective protests: Egyptians and Libyans and everyone else for overthrowing regimes by taking to the streets. See, Occupy people? THAT’S how it’s done.

Most hilarious political scandal: New York Congressman is ruined for emailing photos of his Little Congressman to women. His name? Anthony Weiner. And he doesn’t even pronounce it ‘Whiner’. It’s Weiner! This is like a sex scandal written by the staff of Family Guy.

Most recorded disaster: Japan earthquake and tsunami. Astonishing footage, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kOpVUTXqS0&feature=related and this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceym2c18OQM&feature=related and this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTeQt3KmpNA&feature=related. Unreal.

Most welcomed political retirements (permanent edition): Hosni ‘The Modern Pharaoh’ Mubarek of Egypt, Muammar ‘Multiple Spellings’ Gaddafi of Libya, Kim (I Once Got 18 Holes-In-One The First Time I Went Golfing) Jung Il of North Korea, Osama (Honey, There’s Someone At the Door) bin Laden of 9/11 infamy, Silvio ‘Bunga Bunga ‘ Berlusconi of  Italy. It was a really great year for taking out the trash.

Most overwrought media coverage: The death of Jack Layton. The untimely departure of the NDP leader was given the full ‘great man has passed away, nation grieves’ splash. The cane he used only briefly was raised to iconic status, like Charlie Chaplin’s.

Most overwrought media coverage, international edition: Marriage of Prince Prematurely Balding to Princess Way Too Hot for Him. Honorable mention: death of Steve Jobs.

Least surprising riot: Let’s see now… cram 100,000 young and privileged people into a public square to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, add liberal doses of alcohol and drugs, stir in a hometown defeat. What could possibly go wrong?

Most baffling riots: Youths run wild in London. Still don’t know why.

Most hilarious commercial: Herman Cain’s utterly bizarre Smoking Man ad. No Saturday Night Live parody was funnier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6VnTqpTqvQ

“Arts” and entertainment:

Most overrated TV show of the year: Two Broke Girls. Routine CBS style sitcom. But it stars two chicks, so that’s supposed to make it groundbreaking. I’d settle for funny. Also seriously overrated: Louie.

Best new TV comedy: New Girl. The only positive in a brutal year for TV comedy.

Best TV comedy: Parks and Recreation. By the way, the spinoff book, Pawnee, is hilarious. If you like the show, you’ll love the book.

Best new TV drama: Homeland, a genuinely gripping drama of post 9/11 America (and as an added bonus, with gratuitous nudity). Well worth downloading the first season.

Best TV drama: Breaking Bad. I hate to use a term like ‘pulse pounding’, but it made my pulse pound. One of the best seasons of any TV show. Ever. Honorable mentions: Garrow’s Law (a BBC series seen on PBS set in very, very, very olden times English courts; superb acting and writing), Boardwalk Empire (top notch HBO series about bootleggers and general criminal types in the 1920s; no character was safe), and Justified (crackling good lawman drama set in Kentucky).New season starts soon. Check it out.

Most disappointing TV finale: The Killing, which promised a resolution to a season-long murder mystery, then didn’t deliver. Producers actually apologized. Too late for that, pal.

Best books of the year (at least of the ones that I read): Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean; Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore; Life Itself by Roger Ebert; Fire and Rain, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

Most promising musical newcomer: OK, this is more of a prediction, since her album doesn’t come out until next year, but Lana Del Rey will be the talk of 2012 based on this song from this year alone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HO1OV5B_JDw&context=C35e71a7ADOEgsToPDskJqAaWUF6ojl0Vka21fUVFJ

Worst song. Ever: “Friiiiday, Friiiday…” You hate me for putting that song back into your head, don’t you? Fifteen million views and counting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0&ob=av3e

Best film I saw this year: Hugo, Martin Scorcese’s thrilling, awesome, touching 3D tribute to the early days of movies. Spend the extra to see it in 3D.

Most overrated movie: Bridesmaids. Yes, it was funny, and yes, it was entertaining. But one of the best of the year? C’mon.

Most confounding but strangely captivating movie: The Tree of Life. Have no idea what the hell was going on, but couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Worst movie by good people: Larry Crowne, a total turkey from Tom Hanks. And Julia Roberts!

Sporting stuff

Best sporting event: Canucks do not win Stanley Cup. There, I said it.

Most overhyped sporting event: World Junior Hockey Championship. Seriously, until the gold medal game, who cares?

Worst sporting event: Canadian women’s soccer team crashes and burns in women’s World Cup. Who did they think they were, Canadian men?

Most disturbing sports trend: Half of the NHL is out with a concussion. NHL baffled as to why young men who are hit at high speeds by other 250 pound men suited up likes knights of yore are suffering concussions. Must be today’s softer skulls.

Most surprising sporting event: Eskimos trade proven winner Ricky Ray for unproven non-winner Stephen Jyles.  But the trade must be good, because Esk GM Eric Tillman is a genius. Right? Please, somebody tell me I’m right.

Most surprisingly entertaining sports event: The rugby World Cup from New Zealand. Now that’s a man’s game.

Agree? Disagree? Want to add your picks. Always happy to hear from my reader(s).

Happy new year to you all, and thanks for reading.

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.

Harper to Edmonton: Drop dead

Alison Redford is enjoying an extended honeymoon with the media, still swooning over the fact a supposedly progressive female has made it to the province’s top job.

But Redford’s short time as premier — what has it been now, about a month? — has been riddled with snafus, foul-ups and flip flops.

In her first weeks, Redford has appointed a cabinet made up of cranky old men in top positions, called a legislative “session” that lasted two days, opened up the pork barrel for Gary Mar, and has begun to back away on her promise of a full judicial inquiry into health care allegations.

And now we have the Royal Alberta Museum fiasco.

You know the details of this foul-up. Ed Stelmach’s legacy, his gift to the city that gave him unexpected support in the 2008 election, was a $350 million provincial museum for downtown. This was announced when Unsteady Eddie was well into his lame-duck phase, which gave it a bit of a rushed feel to it, in my view. The design was mediocre at best, but Edmonton was getting another piece of its downtown revitalization puzzle put into place, so everyone was happy.

This week, a $92 million fly appeared in the ointment. Turns out the federal government has decided not to chip in the $92 million the province was counting on for the project, bringing the whole thing to a screeching halt. The feds, in the person of the useless to Edmonton Rona Ambrose, said they never promised the money. The Harper government made the utterly preposterous excuse that the province had told Ottawa that they didn’t want any federal money, because the province was just so darned proud of the project. (This is like a kid turning down tuition money from his parents because he was just so proud of his studies.) The province, in the form of a brand new and clueless infrastructure minister Jeff Johnson, says he was under the impression the money was coming. So now, with the mystery $92 million missing, the whole project is on hold.

Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman thinks it’s all a set up, that the new premier doesn’t want to go through with the project, so they conjured up this whole scenario. I think that’s too Machiavellian, even for the Tories. Personally, I think this is a genuine communications foul up. As far as I can see, there was no mention in public of the $92 million. I think the province just assumed that their conservative brethren would come through with the money. The PCs have learned a hard lesson — you can’t trust the Harper government to come through on a verbal promise, or a written promise, for that matter.

The voters of Edmonton have learned another hard lesson as well — the Harper government takes Edmonton support for granted. They pulled the rug out from the Expo project, and now they’ve done the same with the museum. So, Tory voters, how does your golden boy look now?

(This is one positive from this mess. The province can dust off the plans to expand the existing site and save a bundle. Not everything in Edmonton has to be built downtown. The west end location is excellent, with plenty of room to grow. Keep it there.)

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.