By Colby Cosh - Sunday, November 11, 2012 - 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 Colby Cosh - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 11:47 AM - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail, by means of outstanding spadework, has accounted for the particulars of all of the $430,000 donated to the Alberta Progressive Conservative party in its hour of electoral need by Edmonton Oilers owner and pharmacy magnate Daryl Katz. Actually, David Ebner and Dawn Walton traced the $430,000 and then some—others with close business relationships to Katz, it turns out, contributed to the PC kitty. But even the $430,000 donated this spring, supposedly in the form of a single cheque, represents more than a quarter of the cash raised by the Tories during the 2012 election period. The party managed to raise just $1.6 million—while spending almost $4.7 million protecting its flanks from the upstart Wildrose Party.
Alberta’s chief electoral officer has promised an investigation into the splitting up of Katz’s hefty donation. (And the opposition parties are calling for Katz to step down from the board of AIMCo, the corporation that manages investment funds for the province, its public pension plans, and some institutional endowments.) But there might be another problem. Step into the time machine with me as we travel back to September 13, 2011 and open the Edmonton Journal:
Has Oilers owner Daryl Katz quietly shifted his home base to Vancouver? That’s the rumour that has circulated in local business circles for months. And while several sources tell The Journal the reclusive drugstore tycoon now spends most of his time on the West Coast, where his children attend school, it’s unclear how much time he still spends in Edmonton.
…Several sources told The Journal that Katz purchased the penthouse condo at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver, and has lived there for much of this year.
“What I’ve been able to confirm from several sources is that Katz has moved to Vancouver and he’s been there since the beginning of April,” said one well-connected Edmonton businessman.
One city councillor interviewed by the Journal’s Gary Lamphier was not troubled to hear that Katz had moved:
Coun. Bryan Anderson sees the location of Katz’s primary residence as a non-issue, however.
“It doesn’t concern me. There’s a lot of big players in the world who have homes in several places,” he said.
There is one person, however, who might care a little about the location of Daryl Katz’s primary residence: Alberta’s chief electoral officer. A couple of entertaining morsels from the province’s Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act:
16. No prohibited corporation, person ordinarily resident outside Alberta or trade union or employee organization other than a trade union or employee organization as defined in this Act shall make any contributions to a registered party, registered constituency association or registered candidate.
…35(1). No registered party, registered constituency association or registered candidate shall, directly or indirectly, (a) knowingly solicit or accept contributions from any person ordinarily resident outside Alberta…
Despite the Journal’s revelations from last fall, I imagine that, all things being equal, Daryl Katz would arrange his affairs so as to qualify as an Alberta resident for tax purposes. It’s hard to say whether those are relevant here, however. The election law doesn’t offer an explicit definition of “ordinarily resident”. (“The place where you send your kids to school” would seem to provide a pretty decent first approximation.) And in the event the definition needs to be explicitly made now, I’m afraid I expect it to be exactly as generous as necessary to prevent an embarrassing refund here.
Nonetheless, the investigation into Katz’s personal $30,000 donation—and perhaps the entire $430,000 he is said to have actually presented—will obviously require a close study of his comings and goings.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 8:22 PM - 0 Comments
Leave aside for a moment the Baptist Church Teen Talk quality of this viral third-party plea for strategic voting that is circulating around Alberta today in advance of the Apr. 23 vote. (Have you ever seen a mass-market political ad that wasn’t fundamentally cheesy and unintelligent?) Let’s ask a more interesting question: what does it tell us about the state of the campaign? It doesn’t seem to have been bought and paid for by the Progressive Conservatives; it may, for example, have merely been made and shot pro bono, in their interest and with their blessing. But it is hard to believe they didn’t have some hand in it. I am hearing a lot of conspiracy theories about “Wildrose black ops” and “rogue teenagers” and whatnot, but—hello? The message of the ad is “Vote for the PCs, even if you don’t really want to”. (Or, to take a literal direct quote: “F—k it, I’m voting PC”.)
It’s a risky move. The ad will alienate old-fashioned, loyalist blue Tories who happen to see it. It is not just old fogies in Alberta who like guns and vote for Stephen Harper. And it is not just young people who watch YouTube videos. At the same time, the sentiment that the ad is trying to appeal to is real; I have already talked to strategic voters who are going to cast their first PC ballot out of fear of the Wildrose Party. I’m actually kind of sorry to see them caricatured so brutally.
This ad—or this political tract in video form, pending its use as an ad—is both a wager and a frame-change. The wager is that an appeal to strategic-voting Liberal and NDP sympathizers will attract more marginal voting power than is given up in the form of horrified Tory loyalists, or in the form of people who aren’t especially partisan but are horrified anyway. Certainly the core idea here is strategically sound: if the Tories want to pull out some of their formerly close-run ridings in northern Alberta and even Calgary, it will help to appeal to the atavistic fears that have been raised about the Wildrose slate. This ad/tract/viral vid suggests that the PCs have given up on the hinterland and most of Calgary; the trouble is that to work even in the places where it might implicitly do some good, it must succeed in making viewers identify with the people onscreen. I have some trouble imagining a likely voter watching it and saying “Damn, the ‘I’m not like dat’ guy and the super-angry ‘Danielle Smith doesn’t believe in gravity’ chick are ME!”
The attempted frame-change is this: the 2012 election very quickly turned into a “Roust the crooks” bonfire-type occasion, with voters of all stripes sharing their disgust at the Progressive Conservative government’s bullying and corruption. Albertans will get the kind of behaviour from their next government that they choose to honour: if they reward the overwhelming sense of entitlement that the PCs have developed after 41 years in power, they will be sending a signal that anything short of murder will go unpunished. “Roust the crooks” is a recipe for electoral annihilation. The PCs need to move voters into a “Defend the status quo” mode, and that’s what this ad is about. Forget the PC kickbacks; forget decades of PC ad-hockery in healthcare; forget even that any PC caucus will probably contain dozens of people who believe that the gays are going to hell. The question—the hidden inner challenge of the ad—is: after 41 years, years which have seen plenty of liberal social progress and fairly impressive relative prosperity, do we really dare change? Things could be worse!
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 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 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 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.