By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 0 Comments
The aftereffects in Alberta of the Nov. 26 Calgary-Centre federal byelection, carried off by Conservative Joan Crockatt with just 37 per cent of the vote, have officially become super hilarious. The reader will recall that the two main challengers for a Conservative seat in a relatively liberal-friendly part of Calgary were the capital-L Liberal Harvey Locke, who has spent decades as a top wilderness preservation advocate and all-around Nature Boy, and the Green Party’s Chris Turner, an urbanist author and magazine writer who uses the word “sustainable” with a frequency best characterized as “intolerable”. In short, the two parties both nominated professional environmentalists, neither of whom have done a whole lot else with their lives. We could all probably have anticipated a problem here.
How does a Green candidate run against a Harvey Locke? Turner was shrewd and cynical enough to find an answer: berate the older guy as an out-of-touch Seventies green who, as Locke had admitted in an interview, didn’t even move to Calgary from Banff until it looked like there might be a Commons seat available amid Cowtown’s dark Sanatic mills. (Asked by your correspondent if she approved of this campaigning style, Elizabeth May observed that the GPC is not one of those old-fashioned “top-down parties” in which the leader orders candidates about.) Locke, for his part, spluttered that his young rival was a “twerp”. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
The Oilers’ owner faces a probe over his gift to the Alberta Tories
The public-relations problems continue to pile up for Daryl Katz, the drugstore magnate who wants a new downtown arena in Edmonton for his NHL Oilers to play in. It has been more than a year since Katz Group and the city’s council arrived at a “framework” for an arena funding deal, with Katz relenting on his insistence that the existing Rexall Place be pushed out of the concert business. That framework fell apart Oct. 18 after Katz made new demands and a previously sympathetic council ran out of patience, calling off negotiations and flinging the arena into limbo.
The city had made major concessions to get Katz to back off on the demand for a non-compete agreement with Northlands, the powerful non-profit that operates Rexall Place (i.e., the old Northlands Coliseum, which now bears the name of Katz’s main pharmaceutical brand). But the two sides remained $100 million short of the full amount for the new building—money that both insisted, despite an endless series of fairly strident refusals from the province and Ottawa, would eventually arrive courtesy of “another level of government.” Continue…
By Tamsin McMahon - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
Why the premiers of B.C. and Alberta just can’t learn to get along
On the night roughly a year ago when Alison Redford became the first female leader in Alberta’s history, she fielded a call from someone whom many at the time predicted would become one of her greatest political allies. Along with well wishes from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Redford spoke with Christy Clark, if not B.C.’s first female premier, certainly the woman who has done the most to shake up her province’s political scene.
The conversation was friendly. Clark offered her congratulations and the two joked about just how wrong the pundits had been about both women’s chances of winning the premiership of their respective provinces. “I said, ‘Alison, how did the pollsters get it so wrong?’ ” Clark recalled in an interview with Maclean’s earlier this year. “And she said, ‘Christy, of all the people in the country I can’t believe you’re the one asking me that.’ ”
For many, Redford’s election was considered a win for B.C. After all, the two premiers, part of a growing powerhouse of women in Canadian politics, have some remarkable parallels.
Both are the same age—46—and born in B.C. (Clark in Burnaby, Redford in Kitimat). Both are mothers to preteens—Clark’s son Hamish is 11, Redford’s daughter Sarah is 10. Both were long-time party loyalists who spent time in federal government, Clark working for Chrétien-era transportation minister Doug Young and Redford for Joe Clark. What’s more, both were once married to party stalwarts and maintain close ties with their ex-husbands. So close, in fact, that both recruited their former spouses to work on their campaigns.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
Alberta premier fought for a more equitable Constitution for all Canadians
The leadership of the federal Progressive Conservatives was Peter Lougheed’s for the asking from about 1973 onwards. Bob Stanfield approached him almost immediately after his 1974 election defeat, and Joe Clark, who had started political life as a gopher for Lougheed’s election team, made sure to get his all-clear before launching his own campaign. Later, after Clark’s vote-counting powers failed him at a 1983 leadership review, Lougheed was drafted again. That time, he thought about it a little longer.
He concluded—and notice how little self-delusion the man exhibited, compared to many who came after him—that his lack of French was a deal-breaker. Even a man who had once been well-organized enough to combine professional football with law school was unlikely to remedy that in his ’50s.
In truth, he could sincerely see no more satisfying use of his abilities than to be premier of Alberta. That probably still sounds ridiculous to some. It sounded half-crazy to everybody, when Lougheed was a young man. But his political comrades remember him talking about it when he was still nothing but a bundle of ambition—before he had even decided what the particular vehicle for his political ascendancy was going to be.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:57 AM - 0 Comments
What the embattled premier might have learned from Ralph Klein
Political campaigns aren’t what they used to be in Alberta. In 2012, the press is raising hell because the Wildrose party, which has a stranglehold on the polls halfway through the election race, has occasionally been rebutting individual newspaper columnists by means of terse little press releases. Not cricket, say the media old-timers. Yet most of these people are old enough to remember the unpredictable premier Ralph Klein and his consigliere Rod Love, whose interactions with critics were sometimes more like headbuttals than rebuttals.
Take one famous scene that preceded the 1993 provincial election, when the Conservative government of Alberta was in the deepest doo-doo it has known until now. An upstart lobby group, the Association of Alberta Taxpayers (AAT), was successfully spreading word of the crazy defined-benefit pensions MLAs had voted themselves—plans which, after repeated increases, often gave members twice the value of what they had kicked in. With dozens of caucus members jumping ship, Klein had stood behind the pensions, saying it would be “immoral” to change them. But the voters were in a lynching mood, and Klein’s campaign bagmen were freaking out.
With the election about four weeks away, the AAT held an impromptu afternoon press conference under the dome in Edmonton. The group had just unveiled a 30,000-word petition calling for reform of the odious pension plan. Unexpectedly, Klein tottered into view on his way back from lunch. Seeing the AAT’s man, the premier charged like a buffalo and, with the legislature bureau looking on in horror, began to berate the AAT at top volume over its direct-marketing tactics. The group was “robbing” feeble seniors, bellowed a crimson-faced Klein. (This was a rare failure of Kleinian instinct; AAT contributors mostly just loved its newsletter full of baroque tales of government waste.)
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 4:50 AM - 0 Comments
To kick off the Alberta election, here’s Danielle Smith with some sheep, as featured on Wildrose.ca. This should not be taken as some sort of sly joke about voters, either on her part or on mine. It’s an excellent photo-op, and will be all over the news this morning; it is literally irresistible. In general, the early days of the campaign have me formidably impressed with the Wildrose tacticians. I imagine, if only because I’m used to pretty slapstick Alberta oppositions, that some snickering comic-book brain-thing in a jar is using servomotor arms to thrust and slam the levers of a great machine. But it’s probably nothing as romantic as all that; just Tom Flanagan dashing off a few memos.
Why is Danielle Smith messing about with mutton? Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 9:39 AM - 0 Comments
When Alison Redford suspended Gary Mar as head of the Alberta Hong Kong Office and summoned him home last week, it looked a little like a settling of scores between the premier and the man she narrowly edged out in October’s PC leadership battle. Mar had enjoyed the support of a crushing majority of the PC caucus, amidst whose ranks Redford found exactly one (1) backer not named Alison Redford. Giving Mar the Hong Kong job looked like a graceful and generously-compensated way of ushering him out of the drama of Alberta politics. And when he presented a pretext for genuine retaliation, she was not slow to seize upon it.
Except I have a question: what exactly was the pretext? Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 4:36 PM - 0 Comments
Behold: the first-ever extramural attack ad from an Alberta Conservative government. Don Braid says it’s the first, anyway, and if I didn’t know whether it was the first, he might be the person I’d ask.
Maybe it goes without saying, but the dearth of attack ads in recent Alberta politics is not special testimony to the politeness of those politics. It’s testimony to Alberta’s one-party nature. The Conservatives took over from Social Credit in 1971, in a youth-driven power shift: Peter Lougheed, in pushing aside a government that had delivered prosperity but was increasingly behind the times socially, was so civil and restrained and all-around decent about it that the whupped Socreds practically said “Please, sir, may I have another?” The federal Liberals and the radical ’70s NDP obligingly kept Lougheed in power for another decade and a half, and as Braid notes, the premier never so much as referred to the existence of other parties. Why would it have been in his interest to do so? Continue…
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 12:36 PM - 0 Comments
Appointment signals deepening rift among Alberta’s right wing
Tom Flanagan, once among Stephen Harper’s most influential advisors, will chair the election campaign for Alberta’s Wildrose Party, an upstart hard-right movement aiming to unseat Alberta’s 40-year-old Progressive Conservative regime. Flanagan, a professor at the University of Calgary, has deep ties to the federal Conservative Party. Many view his prominent role with the Wildrose as a sign that federal party heavyweights are divided over who to support in the upcoming campaign. The PCs elected Alison Redford, a centrist lawyer from Calgary, as their new leader earlier this year. An election call is expected this spring. A poll released on Monday showed the Tories leading the Wildrose 39 per cent to 28 per cent among expected voters.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 7:33 AM - 2 Comments
The CBC has done some good work on northern Alberta politics today, unearthing, among other things, a $500 payment from the Town of St. Paul to a golf tournament in support of the constituency association of cabinet minister Ray Danyluk.
“It’s been going on forever,” Andersen said of the town’s paid participation in the annual PC golf tournament fundraiser. “We’ve been doing it since before we had this administration.”
Danyluk also said he had no knowledge of St. Paul using public money for his fundraiser.
“It’s not acceptable,” he said. “It’s against the [Elections] Act.”
Only one of these answers is the right one, and it’s the one from the former minister of municipal affairs. I guess the minister also had no idea his Cormorant Classic (cheques payable to the Lac la Biche-St. Paul PC Constituency, please) may have been partly underwritten by the Town of Smoky Lake in 2009 [PDF]:
Or by the County of St. Paul, not to be confused with the town of that name, in 2007 [PDF]:
Or, apparently, by the County of Athabasca the same year [PDF]; it’s hard to see, at any rate, why a county Administrator would have to “register” golfers unless an entry fee or travel costs were being covered at municipal expense. Google up “ray danyluk golf tournament” and you’ll see that he seems to have notified virtually every county in the province of the date and location of the various Cormorant Classics. And if a few of them unwisely sent barbecue equipment in reply, could that be Danyluk’s fault?
Still, one is relieved to note that stormin’, reformin’, clean-up-the-frat-house Premier Alison Redford has moved minister Danyluk to a portfolio where he could not possibly exercise any undue influence on rural life in Alberta: namely, transport.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 6:31 AM - 76 Comments
When Ed Stelmach shocked Alberta and won the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2006, he took the podium in the wee hours at Edmonton’s Aviation Museum and gave a speech so deliriously garbled, some PC attendees were thinking “Can we have a do-over?” Tonight, when Alison Redford stunned the province in much the same way and at a similarly obscene hour, she read her victory address from notes, moving on to scrum expertly with exhausted reporters and even to field, and answer, a question in French. Good French.
Not that French is an important qualification to be Premier of Alberta, mind you: but Albertans uneasy with the province’s slightly savage, anti-egghead image will sleep a little easier tonight, now that a leader who was most comfortable picking rocks in rubber boots has been replaced at the head of affairs by an honest-to-God intellectual. As so often happens, the appearance of a coronation undid the front-runner in the race to lead Alberta’s Perpetual Governing Party. Gary Mar, the prodigal son who was criticized for being a little too prodigal with the public treasury, was beaten by a razor-thin margin as “temporary Conservatives” rushed to the second phase of the party’s open primary to stop him.
The defeat was not regional, though Alberta politics are often interpreted through a north-south lens. Redford gained thousands of net votes in Calgary, in Edmonton, and in hinterland Alberta between the Sept. 17 first ballot (which eliminated three of the original six candidates for the leadership) and this evening’s runoff. After the ballots were counted for Mar, Redford, and Doug Horner, Redford trailed Mar by 33,233 to 28,993. Mar needed to be the second choice on just 5,856 of the 15,950 Horner ballots to finish the job. He fought bitterly for them, demanding recounts behind the scenes as results trickled in from the last of the province’s 85 polls (83 ridings plus advance polls in Calgary and Edmonton).
But ‘twas not to be for the returnee. Redford won the decisive showdown by an overall margin of just 1,613 votes—votes that Alberta taxpayers will be paying for in the form of a quick $100-million injection into the education budget. (Though it must be said that this is a cheap bribe compared to the $2.1 billion Stelmach delivered shortly before the last election.) Redford wooed public-sector unions overtly in the days between the first ballot and the final runoff, but she would have gained progressive “Anybody But Mar” votes anyway after Mar’s explosive comments contemplating private delivery of healthcare. There was also increasing excitement, as the days ticked by and Redford’s surprise second-place standing sunk in, over the prospect of Alberta’s first female premier.
And, of course, there was the attention Redford received four days ago for a reason nobody would ever choose: her mother Helen died Tuesday, short hours after the candidate had suspended campaign activity and raced to be at her side in High River. Redford was back on the trail in a trice, delivering a gutsy performance in a televised Wednesday night debate. Her unflappability persisted into the moments after her win: when a reporter asked her whether her mother was on her mind as she celebrated, she uttered an almost impatient-sounding “Oh, my mother,” before recalling, with no hint of tears, that it was Helen who had first set her on the path to political involvement. It will still be the case for a long time that women in politics need to be ten times as tough and invulnerable as the men. Redford passed that test, and unquestionably picked up votes because of it.
It’s worth remembering that Redford’s most important challenger in the next election—which she says will be held next spring, after a Throne Speech and another budget—will probably also be female. Wildrose boss Danielle Smith surely wanted a Red Tory to win this vote, and Redford was the Reddest of the possible PC leaders on offer. Redford’s win represents a belated triumph for the Joe Clark/Ron Ghitter tendency within the PC party, the segment of PC-dom that can talk about “social justice” without snickering. In his short farewell message to Albertans this morning, Stelmach underlined with relish that the PC party is a “PROGRESSIVE Conservative party.” It has always, at any rate, been a party that yokes together progressives and conservatives, usually pretty clumsily. With each open leadership contest in a fast-growing province, it’s the former, not the latter, that seems to gain in power.
Mar, who served the Klein government and has more of a family-values persona, had the cabinet, the caucus, and the organizational old guard of the party in his pocket two weeks ago. As in 2006, their votes, in the open-primary system, turned out to be worth exactly the same as those of any other schmuck. But this time, instead of being humbled by an agrarian challenger from the North, the machine lost by a whisker to an accomplished lawyer from Calgary—one who has been careful to keep the oil industry on her good side, as Stelmach wasn’t.
Redford, in budgeting and in social policy, will probably give Smith plenty of red meat to gnaw in an election fight. There may be more defections, and certainly some despair amongst those who invested in Mar. (Many of those rank-and-file PCs had also invested in Jim Dinning, the centrist/machine fave, last time.) Turnout on the final ballot was barely half the 2006 total. (Conservatives will tell you this merely reflects the strength of the field: who cares who won, they’re all terrif!) But as a woman Premier-Designate, Redford has also stolen a march on Smith and the Wildrose. That Joan of Arc storyline that has had editors across the country captivated for the last couple years isn’t going to play so convincingly now.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 12:06 PM - 5 Comments
Former health minister criticized for lofty “transition” payout
Alberta Tory frontrunner and Gary Mar came under heavy fire from his two opponents, Alison Redford and Doug Horner, on Wednesday during an hour-long televised debate ahead of Saturday’s party leadership vote. Mar, Alberta’s former health minister, faced criticism for accepting a $478,499 MLA transition allowance after leaving office in 2007. Mar had promised to defer that payment, but accepted it in 2008. Both Redford and Horner face long odds if they hope to topple Mar, who captured 41 per cent of party members’ votes in the first ballot on September 17.
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 12:45 PM - 0 Comments
Investigation reveals second government account
Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ted Morton is under fire after the CBC revealed his use of a dummy email account while he was the Minister of Sustainable Resources. Morton communicated with his staff under the name Frederick Lee, his real first and middle names, in what some believe was an attempt to dodge future freedom of information requests. Adding fuel to the fire were revelations Morton’s staff shredded documents and erased emails after the former professor left his portfolio to run for the leadership.
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 10:41 AM - 1 Comment
Facing the music…
Justice Richard Boivin of the Federal Court got it right when
Facing the music
Justice Richard Boivin of the Federal Court got it right when he ruled that multi-millionaire Han Lin Zeng must answer non-capital charges of fraud back in China—notwithstanding claims he might face other indictments punishable by death. Canada’s policy against deporting people who face execution is proper, but Ottawa is hardly in a position to assess potential future cases against an accused. And as Maclean’s recent piece on the convicted Bangladeshi assassin Nur Chowdhury illustrates, this country is playing host to more than its share of miscreants and murderers ducking punishment in their homelands. Han Lin Zeng must go.
Something about provincial politics is drawing women back toward public life. In Alberta, Progressive Conservative Alison Redford and veteran Liberal Laurie Blakeman are seeking their parties’ respective leadership nominations—and the chance to take on Danielle Smith of the upstart Wildrose Alliance. In B.C., Christy Clark is considered the front-runner to replace Gordon Campbell, while all three party leaders in Newfoundland are women. Canada could soon witness a first ministers’ conference featuring a trio of female premiers. It won’t come a moment too soon.
A better way
It wasn’t the new provincial party media predicted, but the launch of a conservative-leaning political movement in Quebec offers a beacon to those who reject visions of the place as a sovereignist, taxpayer-funded utopia. The Coalition for the Future of Quebec wants to bring probity to a province it says is crippled from endless debates over secession and rife with public sector graft—to wit, the latest round of corruption allegations within Montreal city council. If Quebecers can’t vote for the “CFQ” now, they might soon want to.
Waste not, want not
India has found a solution to soaring food prices: simpler weddings. The government says 15 per cent of all grains and vegetables are tossed in the trash after “extravagant and luxurious” receptions, and is proposing a new law that will “curb profligacy” and ensure extra food stocks for the poor. We propose a toast.
Buy now, pay later
Canadian families are swimming in debt—and the pool is getting deeper and deeper. Not only has the average household deficit surpassed $100,000 for the first time, but debt-to-income ratio has also reached a record high (150 per cent, which means that for every $1,000 in after-tax income, families owe $1,500). At the same time, annual savings have plummeted, from 13 per cent in 1990 to just 4.2 per cent last year. With so many unpaid bills piling up, it’s no wonder Canadians are flocking to booze like never before. According to a separate report, our wine consumption over the past decade has grown six times faster than the rest of the world.
Still trust your doctor?
If you’re reading this magazine while sitting in a physician’s waiting room, beware. In British Columbia, a radiologist with three decades of experience is under investigation after misreading seven CT scans in one weekend. In Montreal, a lung specialist was suspended and fined for using a hidden camera to film more than a dozen naked patients. And in Toronto, two doctors are behind bars after allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at a downtown hotel.
It was another fatal week for folks who strayed from the beaten path while enjoying the mountains. Three snowmobilers died in the backcountry near Golden, B.C.—buried by an avalanche they likely triggered—while a skier was killed after he went out of bounds at Lake Louise, Alta. We understand that danger is all part of the thrill, but there are endless warnings about the risk of going outside the ropes. When will the fun-seekers take them to heart?
Sick with anticipation
The royal wedding invitations are in the mail—and if the early reports are any indication, the guest list is not exactly majestic. In are David Beckham, Posh Spice, and the owner of Kate Middleton’s favourite pub. Out are Barack Obama, the first lady, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Said a royal aide: “Prince William has led a fairly ordinary life in the military and the couple’s guests reflect this.” Those “sick” over not making the cut can always purchase the latest in royal wedding souvenirs: William and Kate barf bags.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 7:35 PM - 103 Comments
Some of you will be reading my column on the resignation of Ed Stelmach as Alberta premier as early as today; some of you will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I’ll give you some principles you can use to filter the hypotheses of other observers.
First of all, don’t believe anyone who tells you that Alberta politics is governed by some mystical tidal pattern of stagnation punctuated by revolution. Anybody who’s been here for the past 20 or 30 years should have learned to tune out the “massive change is just around the corner!” refrain by now, if only because advancing age has made him half-deaf. Preston Manning alone has been guilty of a dozen or so end-times prophecies of this sort (though, in fairness, prophecy is sort of a family tradition with him). News flash: pretty much everybody who voted here in 1935 is underground, and not because a basement suite was all they could afford. The Alberta electorate of 2011 in no way resembles that even of 1981; not ethnically, not culturally, not spiritually, not ideologically.
And the political spectrum itself has changed. As much as there might be a casual longing for a revival of “Peter Lougheed Conservatism”, Lougheed’s style of state corporatism, which led to budget disaster in the 1980s after his suspiciously timely exit, would probably now put any candidate who embraced it on the left wing of the federal NDP. Don’t believe anyone who tells you there is some unexploited, powerful hidden welter of Red Toryism in Alberta, waiting to spew forth into an appropriate channel. Even the reds aren’t that Red anymore.
There is no particular reason for Alberta politics to seek the same equilibrium in which our federal government is trapped, so don’t believe anyone who argues for realignment as some kind of cosmic axiom. Yes, I’m looking at Jeffrey Simpson here. Simpson is described endearingly by his employer as “a regular visitor to Alberta”, which seems like a deliberate invitation to scorn, but the man obviously is well-informed about the place. His characterization of the Alberta Liberal Party can only have come from someone familiar with it.
Simpson, however, believes Alberta politics is reverting to a “normal” shape (one it has never had) because the province no longer has any reason for hostility and suspicion toward a federal government led by a Calgarian. (With the bonus, one presumes, of a chief justice from Pincher Creek.) I think our visitor underestimates the ease of Ottawa-bashing in a world where Alberta farmers can still be jailed for defying the Wheat Board; where Alberta still pays toll upon toll for its presence in Confederation, layering pension and employment-insurance outflows on top of explicit fiscal equalization; where, as finance minister Ted Morton recently pointed out, Albertans are being billed specifically for the provincial sales tax liabilities of Ontarians and British Columbians. Morton’s a smart guy! He can find reasons to be upset with Ottawa almost as fast as Ottawa can come up with ways to screw Alberta!
I would tell you not to believe anyone who sees no difference between Ted Morton and Danielle Smith, but then, you barely have any choice aside from me. My column anticipating a personal tilt between Morton and Smith in the Calgary exurbs has been superseded with embarrassing speed by events, but at least it was written by somebody who can distinguish between various species of “right-winger” if given a pair of field glasses and sent out into the bush. The Morton-Smith personal combat, which already started when Smith announced a candidacy smack-dab in the middle of Morton Country, is more than superficial. Morton, by trifling with property rights as resource minister, has attacked the very principles Smith built her career around. She is physically moving to the rural south because Morton painted a target on himself; his core organizers and financial backers are gone, many directly to her, and they are not coming back. The Globe‘s Josh Wingrove is all over this, and understands it better than most writers for Alberta organs do; he, at least, is no mere visitor.
But, really, is there any realistic doubt that Morton and Smith could stage a pretty interesting political battle? Forget even the intriguing stylistic contrast: one of them has been a rights advocate for her entire career and the other is the country’s leading intellectual opponent of liberal “rights” rhetoric. One of them is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage; the other made his reputation blowing raspberries at the Morgentaler and Vriend decisions. It’s literally not possible that any reasonable person could be equally comfortable with either of the two as premier.
Other myths to be wary of? Don’t believe anybody who talks up the Alberta Party, at least until it has a leader, some policies, and a history of contesting elections. The idea that an Alberta political movement can go from zero to government in 6.8 seconds, just because Social Credit did it 76 years ago, is just a variant of the “every X years Y happens” myth. (Hasn’t anybody in this province read The Poverty of Historicism?) Don’t believe anything you are told about low Alberta voter turnout unless the province’s young-skewing demographics are factored in; young people don’t vote anywhere in the Western world, and we have more of them than you do.
And don’t put too much stock in the election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary. What he accomplished was remarkable, but it also required less than 40% of the vote in a race where the establishment favourite, Barb Higgins, turned out to have a bad case of China Syndrome. The people who got giddy over big bad Calgary electing a relatively liberal mayor apparently haven’t heard that the last time Calgary elected a non-Liberal was 1977.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM - 0 Comments
The Ontario Superior Court’s Charter finding against prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code has unexpectedly cast light on the new Alberta politics. The hard-charging Wildrose Alliance talks a good game when it comes to defending provincial rights; the logical corollary, one might suppose, would be for it to observe a dignified silence about matters reserved to the federal government. This is never how things work, of course, and the Alliance couldn’t move fast enough to issue a joint statement in the names of its two turncoat MLAs, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson.
Just as the mind of Newton was instantly discernible by contemporaries from his anonymous solution to the brachistochrone problem, so the corresponding organ inside Heather Forsyth is recognizable from the language of the press release. Forsyth never heard an idea for “protecting children” she didn’t like, and certainly never, as an Alberta cabinet minister, implemented one she would recognize as a failure.
“No little girl,” reads the statement, “ever dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute, and no parent wants to see their child become a sex worker.” As an argument in favour of the existing prostitution laws, this immediately raises the question whether the parents of Robert Pickton’s victims dreamed fondly of their fate, complete with a soundtrack of swine gnawing bone. No little girl does foresee becoming a sex worker, any more than little boys imagine becoming garbagemen or sheet-metal cutters. (Hands up, all those of you who do have the job of their dreams! I’ll admit I’m relatively blessed in that regard, but then again I am not writing this note from the deck of the space shuttle.)
It is precisely the unpleasantness of such professions that demands we attend carefully to their occupational safety. That is the ground, for better or worse, on which Justice Susan Himel acted. The Wildrose statement does not object that Himel’s decision will fail to make prostitution safer; it concedes the point, and specifically rejects the idea that prostitution should be made safer for women. Why, one wonders, is Robert Pickton in prison at all? By the Forsyth standard, surely he should be freed, perhaps even subsidized as a public benefactor.
The fact is, Alberta already has a governing party that was happy to implement Forsythian ideas of justice and child welfare, dozens of them, before Forsyth became the victim of a geographic squeeze and left the PCs in a snit. The party’s statement thus leaves one wondering whether a vote for the Wildrose is a vote for ideological change, or just the same old formula with a different gang of ministers. It suggests tentatively that Danielle Smith’s “big tent” is going to fly the Oriflamme of social conservatism rather than the Gadsden flag of libertarianism.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 9:05 AM - 54 Comments
The Alberta Liberals will certainly boycott the province’s fall Senate election, as they have done on similar occasions in the past. They do this in the name of the principle that… oh, lord, I don’t know. I suppose they do it in the name of the principle that at every opportunity, they must display their deference to the federal Liberal party, even as they assert their independence from it, and must never miss a chance to insult Alberta voters gratuitously. Alberta Liberals are always quick to pose as victims of geographically fine-grained first-past-the-post elections, but given a chance to make some use of their province-wide support, in the only province-wide elections of any kind that occur anywhere in the country, they invariably back off and complain that Alberta is just going to vote for a bunch of right-wing nutcases anyway. Honestly, they don’t really act as though they like elections very much, and maybe losing 23 of them in a row will do that to you.
The stated principle upon which they refuse to participate is that incremental Senate reform is the enemy of the wholesale, constitutional Senate reform they supposedly support. Voting for a Senator, you see, merely entrenches the inequities of the current system. This doesn’t stop superannuated Alberta Liberal leaders from snatching Senate seats from Liberal federal governments as rewards for noble failure; somehow, doing that doesn’t entrench any inequities. The Alberta Liberals are not the only players of the old “support a categorically impossible major reform against a modest, feasible minor one” game, but they have certainly attained master-class certification at it.
As a practical matter, nobody can stop the Prime Minister from appointing whatever qualified person he likes to the Senate, whether that person has won an election or not. Alberta’s Liberals can go on sitting on the sidelines and repeating the federal opposition’s argument that the appointment of such a person is only unconstitutional if that person has won a procedurally fair election. This claim has always struck me as the kind of thing that Harvey Richards, Lawyer for Children would cook up, but I guess they think it’s working for them.
If I were in charge of the party, mind you, I’d take a different view. I’d want to make a show of welcoming electoral tests, even low-stakes ones. Low stakes are good for parties that have issues building trust with the electorate! The party badly needs to exercise its organizational capacity, the way armies occasionally test their ability to manoeuvre and coordinate, and the Senate election is a very low-cost occasion. Moreover, the Alberta right is split. Not that it matters much, since the PCs don’t endorse candidates in Senate elections. If the Liberals got behind a single Senator-in-waiting candidate—is Kevin Taft particularly busy?—and said “Let’s all vote for X and put Stephen Harper’s sincerity to the test,” they could conceivably win.
And maybe it’s a mere side benefit, but such a victory really might offer a possible chance to test the prime minister’s sincerity. Alberta’s Liberal Senator Tommy Banks has a date with destiny on December 17, 2011. He has done good work in the actually existing Senate. That body can only benefit from having more of his kind, and fewer people like Pamela Wallin—people driven so insane or inane by feelings of partisan obligation that after a quarter-century in electronic journalism they can firmly, even angrily, attest to the high heavens that video monitoring doesn’t keep people honest.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:41 AM - 15 Comments
Preston Manning holds a two-day beauty contest for Alberta’s governing Progressive Conservatives and the surging right-wing alternative, the Wildrose Alliance. PC minister Thomas Lukaszuk agrees to attend, but suddenly discovers a “family commitment” and “other work” that make it impossible for him to show up either day. Calgary backbench MLA Kyle Fawcett is sent in his place, but is stricken with illness after the Friday session. By all accounts, the root cause of the illness may well have been the beating he received in his head-to-head debate with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 9:23 AM - 18 Comments
When I saw that Preston Manning had written an op-ed about Alberta for the Globe, I started a little stopwatch in my skull. Ah, let’s see how long it takes him this time to get to it. One paragraph, two paragraphs…
Is the pattern of Alberta politics about to reassert itself – a pattern characterized by long periods of one-party governance during which the governing party remakes itself several times, periods of political upheaval as Albertans become seized with a new idea and/or the need for change, and periodic replacement of the governing party (if it fails to renew itself), not by its traditional opposition but by something and someone new?
Yup, there it is. When it comes to Alberta, Manning always says the same thing in the same way. We may, in fact, be coming up on the 20th anniversary of his use of this evergreen. Here’s how it looked in an unsigned Reform Party commentary on/warning to Alberta’s Getty government, circulated in February 1990 and described in the Calgary Herald:
The document briefly outlines the history of politics in Alberta noting that it has been characterized by “long periods of one-party government” and “periodic replacement of the governing party, not by its traditional opposition, but by a new party. The governing party in Alberta must periodically renew itself from within if it hopes to continue in office,” it says.
So I guess we know who wrote that. The comic aspect of this, of course, is that lots of Albertans believe in the Explosive Change Hypothesis, and have spent those two decades looking to none other than Mr. E.P. Manning to either coach or quarterback the replacement squad.
The ECH is indisputably true—in retrospect. Every change of party identity in Alberta government, ever, has been brutally thorough in a Long Knives sort of way, has followed a long period of governing-party dominance, and has been executed by a party that never governed Alberta before. (One could add that Alberta governments have all seen their destruction coming in advance and tried to negotiate behind the scenes with the approaching revolutionaries, as Preston’s father is said to have done.) Things have reached the point at which the ECH may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Wildrose Alliance, the new right-wing alternative party led by Danielle Smith, was organized by malcontent ideologues and regime victims because everybody believes that an all-new brand is, on historicist grounds, the only possible means of putting the fear of God into an Alberta government.
The question is whether the ECH really has any predictive value. The last explosive change happened in 1971, and that Alberta doesn’t resemble the existing one very closely. (Just for starters, the Athabasca tar sands were still what engineers call vaporware.) Since then the province has occasionally had strong oppositions in the Legislative Assembly, and it almost witnessed a Liberal takeover in 1993. Show of hands: who knew that the Liberals got 40% of the vote in an Alberta election not all that long ago?
History doesn’t follow inexorable laws, although it has a rhythm. The ECH–an inherently unfalsifiable claim right up until the moment it is falsified–is starting to take on the character of the evangelical Christian’s wait for the Rapture. But then, come to think of it, Preston probably believes in that too.
By selley - Friday, October 17, 2008 at 2:49 PM - 10 Comments
Must-reads: …Chantal Hébert, Josée Legault and John Robson on the battle for the political
Battle of the centrists
Three absolutely excellent columns about the state of the Liberals and of Canadian centrism, and some mercifully interesting (if misguided) post-election roundups.
The Canadian left “is inhabited by parties which do not or cannot aspire to replace the Conservatives,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star, and the Tories have no choice but to move further towards the political centre—either strategically under Stephen Harper or naturally under his successor, who “could well be more progressive.” As such, she argues, the political centre “is where the action … will be in the next election,” just as it was on Tuesday night—in Quebec as well as the Rest of Canada—and so the Liberals need to correct their leftward drift immediately. And, crucially, they need to realize they can be a legitimate threat in Quebec again, but only if they “set their watch to 21st-century-Quebec time and stop looking for a separatist bogeyman behind every tree.” We suggest the Liberal brainboxes print this column out, frame it, and fit Justin Trudeau for a muzzle.
The Montreal Gazette‘s Josée Legault agrees entirely with Hébert, arguing “it was mind-boggling to see how Dion gave up on the Grits’ traditional centrist branding and let Harper claim falsely that the Tories were now the more pragmatic, mainstream option.” Practically speaking, however, the Grits are cash-poor and have, shall we say, a penchant for internecine bickering. As such, Legault says if they are “to have any shot at rebuilding, unity will be a must, even if they have to take it intravenously.” Paul Martin’s “Chrétien-bashing memoirs” couldn’t have come at a worse time, as she says, but he could use his book tour, if he so chose, “to band together rather than lashing out at his predecessor.” And Jean Chrétien could, if he so chose, shut his gob.