By John Geddes - Monday, August 29, 2011 - 13 Comments
Canadians apparently. Far from being under siege (except in Toronto), they’re thriving—and experimenting.
To hear the uproar in Toronto, an avid book borrower might be forgiven for imagining that Canadian libraries are coming under financial siege. The administration of the city’s right-leaning, populist mayor, Rob Ford, is taking a hard look at closing branches of the Toronto Public Library to cut costs. That prospect has drawn fire from novelist Margaret Atwood and director Norman Jewison, and sparked petitions and angry public meetings. The debate will continue as the city’s budget deliberations stretch into the fall. News from abroad gives Toronto library enthusiasts ample reason to be worried—state and local spending squeezes have led to closures or curtailed hours in the U.S., and British libraries are also struggling.
Yet top Canadian librarians do not see the Toronto scrap as a sign that the international malaise has arrived here. They point to upbeat developments in other Canadian cities. Just when Atwood was launching her Twitter war with Ford in late July, Calgary’s city council voted to earmark $135 million for a new central library, along with $40 million it had already set aside for the ambitious project. The oil field capital will have to build a spectacular temple to books to outshine Surrey, B.C., which is slated to open its curvaceous, Bing Thom-designed, $36-million City Centre Library later this month, or Halifax, which is spending $55 million on a European-inspired, architecturally adventurous downtown library, slated to open in early 2014.
These and other gleaming new libraries are only the most obvious indicators of seemingly solid political support for free reading. “The economic situation in the U.S. has seen some serious library casualties,” says Karen Adams, president of the Canadian Library Association and the University of Manitoba’s director of libraries. “But Canada has been spared most of those kinds of stresses.” One reason is the comparative health of public finances in Canada, where government deficits are generally less crushing than in other rich countries. As well, aversion among Canadian politicians to taxation to fund services is far less fervid than in the U.S.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 12:27 PM - 3 Comments
It’s been a banner year for homicides, especially in the northern fringe of downtown
The 2011 homicide counter started clicking early in Edmonton, and it has not stopped. Just three hours past midnight on New Year’s, police were called to an Ethiopian restaurant on Edmonton’s 107th Avenue—the “Avenue of Nations,” where East African immigrants are following the earlier footsteps of the Vietnamese boat people. On reaching the scene, investigators found 23-year-old Somali man Mohamud Mohamed Jama dead from a gunshot to the head.
A wounded witness refused to co-operate, and other patrons clammed up too. Fellow Somalis declared the victim a “typical Canadian young man” who “wasn’t involved with gangs or drugs.” But Jama died nine days shy of his sentencing for a 2007 aggravated assault; he had pleaded guilty of stabbing another Somali man eight times.
Jama’s unsolved murder struck a wearisome chord for Edmontonians, from the north-central crime scene to the frustrations of the cops trying to pry loose information from clannish Somali-Canadians reluctant to trust police. Yet the bloody big picture of Edmonton in 2011 defies neat categories or models. For reasons that remain obscure, a working-class city has exploded this year into unrelenting, record-breaking levels of violence.
By Nancy MacDonald, Alex Ballingall, Emma Teitel and Cigdem Iltan - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 8:50 AM - 0 Comments
Prince Harry has a new gal, Thailand elects a woman, and at least one Canadian mayor will march at Pride
They love you, you big hairy ape
A French couple has spent the last 13 years raising a 120-kg gorilla in their home. Zookeepers Pierre and Elianne Thivillon adopted Digit after her mother refused to breastfeed her. Digit spends her days with other animals at the Saint Martin la Plaine Zoo near Lyon, but returns to her adoptive home at night where she sleeps in the Thivillon bed, according to a new BBC documentary. Digit’s brother Ginko used to live there too, but had to return to the zoo after becoming too aggressive. Life with Digit, however, is much more pleasant: she is reportedly gentle with the couple, and has been photographed hugging and kissing them. “We have a very strong bond,” Pierre told Sky News.
Meaghan Blanchard blew every rule of etiquette at once when she seemed to combine “duke” and “duchess” and accidentally called Prince William a “douche,” moments before performing for William and his new wife Kate in Charlottetown. “I can’t believe that just happened,” the red-faced, 22-year-old singer exclaimed. But the royal couple saw the funny side of the gaffe, sharing a hearty laugh, and Blanchard recovered quickly, delivering a flawless performance of the self-penned Waltzing With You. “I felt awful,” Blanchard later said, “but sometimes that’s just life, you gotta roll with the punches.”
By Anthony Davis - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
The Awesome Calgary Foundation is bring great ideas to life
Calgary’s Higher Ground Café was especially busy one Thursday evening last month, but it wasn’t caffeine alone that had the crowd buzzing. Ideas were brewing too—one of which earned its originator $1,000 from the recently founded Awesome Calgary Foundation.
A small group of trustees—brought together by former eBay executive Lori Stewart—put up $100 a month each to fund the no-strings-attached grants. Among the four people who got 90 seconds to pitch their “awesome idea” on this night was a comedian in search of funding for his documentary, and an inventor seeking cash to build “Second Wind,” a device that could extend the usable time for the breathing apparatuses used by firefighters. But the winner of the ACF’s second event was Kiran Somanchi. The 27-year-old fast-talking petroleum engineer’s idea—“a mix of decentralized dance party, flash mob, vote mob”—is to use social media to amass a crowd of Calgarians in one location on Aug. 21, before sending them on an attention-grabbing march through Calgary’s more interesting neighbourhoods—all in the hope of spurring some civic pride.
Stewart, a technology business consultant, started Awesome Calgary because ever since moving there from Silicon Valley seven years ago, she’s found the city’s conservative, petroleum-oriented mindset stifling. “I felt like I’d been in a bad relationship with Calgary,” she says, “that I didn’t fit here.” But by working on Naheed Nenshi’s mayoral campaign last fall, she discovered others wanting something different for her city, too.
There are 89 chapters of the Awesome Foundation worldwide, including ones in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. “We just want to believe in people’s ideas,” says Stewart. And the power of belief, she’s sure, will turn ideas into action.
By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Bats are flocking to urban areas
In flat and treeless Alberta, little brown bats flock to the big city—Calgary—where tall buildings and bridges provide ample space to roost, says Joanna Coleman, who recently completed her Ph.D. in biological sciences at the University of Calgary. But that doesn’t necessarily mean city bats are in good health, in spite of Coleman’s expectation that, if urbanization were to beneﬁt bats anywhere, it would be in the Prairies. In a new study—the first to look at the urban life of Prairie bats—she actually found that city life might not benefit bats after all.
Coleman looked at 1,600 little brown bats, working in three different zones in and around Calgary: urban, rural, and a “transition zone.” Bats were captured in fine nets, weighed, measured—in the case of females, researchers checked whether the bat was lactating—and then released. “I was very uncomfortable with them at first,” says Coleman. In her previous work as a veterinary technician, “I’d handled all kinds of critters, but bats are very fragile,” she says. Up close, she adds, they’re also “extremely cute.”
Coleman caught the most bats in the city, but found these bats weren’t actually healthier than their country counterparts (those in the “transition zone,” she says, appeared to be in the best shape). Why bats don’t flourish in the city isn’t clear, but it could be because they’re facing more competition for food, or even urban annoyances like street lights. Even so, “I wouldn’t necessarily try to improve the urban habitat for bats,” she says, “until we understand why the city isn’t so great for them.” Now teaching biology at the University of Calgary’s campus in Doha, Qatar, Coleman admits she’s been scouring the desert city for any sign of bats—with no luck. “I walk around with my head up.”
By Nicholas Kohler and Cathy Gulli - Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
A tiny Wolfe at the bathroom door, a flirty old Castro in Cuba and the Times’ new editor needs her red pen
Happy birthday, Mr. President
Turning 80 usually warrants a birthday party. But Cuban President Raúl Castro was hardly celebrated at all. It seems his advanced age is an uncomfortable reminder to many Cubans that their country’s leaders are old—and old-guard. With no young successors in place (the next in line for the job are 79 and 80), Cubans worry that economic reforms now under way will be jeopardized if either Castro or his brother Fidel, 84, take ill. Still, Castro was positively spry on his birthday, asking female reporters: “How do I look, ladies, how do I look at 80? How many old men of 60 are there who aren’t in my shape?”
Three decades after losing her son Terry to cancer, Betty Fox is ﬁghting to stay alive. The Fox family, in the spotlight ever since Terry’s Marathon of Hope across Canada in 1980, released a statement that the matriarch is “seriously ill,” but stressed she does not have cancer. Though details are scarce, she reportedly spent time at a hospice in Chilliwack, B.C. Her last major public appearance was carrying the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies in Vancouver last year.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:26 PM - 7 Comments
Airports rank right up there with potholes and property taxes
When it comes to municipal headaches, airports rank right up there with potholes and property taxes. The complaints usually stem from expansion efforts, and the aircraft noise and car traffic that inevitably comes along with it. In Toronto, for example, waterfront condo owners are vowing to shut down five-year-old Porter Airlines, which has turned the once-sleepy island airport into a bustling regional hub.
In Calgary, the problem is road access. The local airport authority is building a new runway at Calgary International Airport that will require the closure of a key artery leading to the terminal from the city’s northeast. The solution that’s been on the books for years is to build a traffic underpass below the proposed runway, but it was only last month that city council, after much coaxing from new Mayor Naheed Nenshi, finally approved the controversial $295-million project. In general, opposition to the proposal has focused on cost and the fact the tunnel will serve a relatively small, albeit growing, part of the city.
Now the airlines are complaining. The tunnel is scheduled to open at the same time as the new runway in 2014, but WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky has said he’s concerned the underpass may raise unforeseen safety and security issues, bogging down the airport’s badly needed expansion, which WestJet is depending on to accommodate its own growth. While other airports have roadways that pass underneath runways and taxiways, most were built prior to 9/11. Saretsky has also cited potential safety risks, including the threat that planes landing in icy conditions will be in close proximity to traffic. It sounds alarmist, but airline spokesperson Robert Palmer said WestJet can’t afford any delays. The airport is operating at capacity and WestJet continues to grow, he said. “The runway is critical to both organizations.”
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 macleans.ca - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Calgary put on a new face this week
The city elected Naheed Nenshi, a visible-minority Muslim academic, as its new mayor. Elsewhere in the country, Nenshi’s victory has been greeted with a combination of puzzlement and surprise. Not so in town. Calgary has always seen itself as a young, cosmopolitan, confident city attractive to migrants and eager entrepreneurs. And by this standard, Nenshi is just a typical Calgarian who proved smart enough to get himself elected mayor.
Nenshi was a relative unknown when he entered the race to replace long-time mayor David Bronconnier. His profile was largely limited to his work in the volunteer sector and arts community and a regular column he wrote in the Calgary Herald. But his strongest assets proved to be those same attributes that define Calgary: youth, work ethic, intelligence, business acumen and a passion for making life better.
The son of immigrants, Nenshi moved to Calgary when he was one. As an outstanding student he earned a scholarship to Harvard following an undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary. He returned home in 2001 after working for the prestigious McKinsey & Company. Currently he runs his own consultancy and teaches non-profit management at the Bissett School of Business in Calgary. The 38-year old is a bachelor who looks after his elderly parents at home.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 5:31 PM - 0 Comments
Whatever’s about to happen in Quebec City, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach says his government won’t be providing funding for NHL arenas in that province.
“As I said before, there won’t be any public money going to the arenas. We’re trying to catch up with badly needed infrastructure in health and schools…
“Maybe we’re getting close to an election federally, I don’t know,” he said. “Our teams are doing well. I know the pressures in terms of the need for refurbish or get new arenas. We are prepared to provide the infrastructure to the buildings, whether it be LRT or any of the other supporting infrastructure. But the building itself will be private sector.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 12, 2010 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
To those who oppose the government’s changes to the census you can now add the Statistical Society of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian Marketing Association, the Canadian Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities, the Executive Council of the Canadian Economics Association, the director of the Prentice Institute at the University of Lethbridge, the senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Association for Business Economics, and the editorial boards of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Calgary Herald, Winnipeg Free Press and Globe and Mail.
They join the co-chairman of the Canada Census Committee, Ancestry.ca, city planners in Calgary and Red Deer, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the former head of Statistics Canada, and the editorial boards of the Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal and Victoria Times-Colonist.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 9, 2010 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
The research and social planner for Calgary—that bastion of nanny statists—voices his objection to the census changes. Stephen Gordon wonders if the government will do away with the coercive and intrusive Labour Force Survey (source of those job growth numbers that Conservatives are only too happy to celebrate). And now Dan Gardner gets his kicks in.
Yes, the staunch libertarian principles of the government. The Harper government. The government that thinks marijuana decriminalization is a Marxist plot, an adult who agrees to consensual sex in exchange for money should be imprisoned, the police did a fine job at the G20, and Omar Khadr can rot in a tropical gulag.
But requiring citizens to fill out a form which is absolutely essential to sound public policy and social science? An outrageous violation of individual liberty.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, March 26, 2010 at 2:00 AM - 375 Comments
At the Red and White Club on the grounds of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium tonight, more than 900 attendees gave Ann Coulter a remarkable, thunderous ovation. But they cheered, I would almost swear, with even greater volume for Ezra Levant, co-organizer of Coulter’s tour. I’m a friend of Ezra’s, but I had never seen him speak on home turf before. The love was palpable and astonishing. I suppose he is part of the city’s image, the legend it tells of itself, at this point.
And—chalk this up to bias if you like—he gives a heck of a speech. The stubbornest Stalinist alive would have been stirred by his fierce defence of strong free-speech norms as a social truce in which all have a stake. He made a particular point of noting that women, ethnic minorities, and gays and lesbians would never have attained civil rights if they had waited around for the Establishment to endow them out of the goodness of its heart. They could not have won an open power struggle; they had to engage in persuasive speech that, at first, offended contemporary sensibilities. Is it cynical and manipulative for Ezra to go into that territory? Maybe a little. But is what he says true and relevant? Indubitably.
The component of Ezra’s introduction for Coulter that rang a little false was the civic self-congratulation. “This is Calgary, not Ottawa,” he bellowed, inducing positively demented applause. “We’re interested in a diversity of ideas, debated vigorously and freely. Places like the University of Ottawa talk about diversity, but they don’t actually mean it, do they?” The fact is, Calgary’s anti-everything left managed a pretty good turnout, perhaps fifty strong, and they did no less to try to interrupt and drown out Coulter’s talk, and perhaps more on the whole, than the U of Ottawa students. But they faced a much tougher tactical situation: a free-standing, isolated venue on a hillside, virtually a fortress; crowd-control gates and wooden barricades on the exterior; and a whole squadron of bicycle and foot police, perhaps upwards of a dozen.
Uncowed, the antis attempted to rush the main doors of the building as Ezra was winding up his intro, spiderwebbing the glass with boot damage, and they battered the exterior windows of the club throughout Coulter’s main talk. Tomorrow morning’s news story may be “Calgary gets right what Ottawa could not”; I wonder, however, how things would have looked if Coulter had visited Calgary first and caught the Cowtown police less well-prepared.
(Incidentally, a pro-tip for the two guys who tried to dress as Klansmen: real KKK outfits have separate hoods. If you go for the one-piece look, you are not a scary symbol of race hatred: you are a scary symbol of the laziness of six-year-olds at Halloween.)
Eventually She came out. I paid little attention (and some of you will be relieved to hear it) to Coulter’s litany of familiar one-liners; I’m not sure anyone paid the words much heed, including Ann Coulter herself. As the thrumming of the protest outside grew louder and began to be punctuated with blows and crashes, she made sure to keep one eye in the direction of the stairway, doubtless ready to make a hasty exit behind the curtain at any moment. The atmosphere of danger, and her consciousness of it, made her seem curiously vulnerable, even as she vaporized hostile interlocutors in the Q&A session. Coulter, if you’re wondering, and you are, is more attractive in person than on camera. She is thus something of a contrast, in this regard, to Sarah Palin. (Meow!) Dame’s not my type, but you find out the second you write about Ann Coulter that she has many open admirers, and a LOT more haters who are unadmitted admirers―unadmitted perhaps even to themselves.
She really is a gifted comic. It was unfortunate that she didn’t bring Calgary new material, but this was a case where the medium truly was the message. During the Q&A, a young female U of Calgary student stood to say that there are “Jesus Was a Muslim” signs all over campus and she isn’t sure how she should react. Coulter, with a simple “Huh” and a nonplussed look, had the room in stitches.
Still, the more interesting action was outside all night―and I don’t mean the rioting, but the small-group discussions amongst smokers, latecomers who couldn’t get in, curious U of C campus-dwellers, and stray protesters. Here, on the grass, ordinary people talked sincerely to each other without punchlines or slogans or sneering. They seemed to be a different species altogether from the formidable, mantis-like Coulter and her mesmerizing blonde mane.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 12:38 AM - 145 Comments
Sarah Palin failed to tackle an esoteric problem tonight: how does a natural motormouth keep herself in check in front of a friendly audience? It’s an accepted part of a politician’s work to say what she has already said in other venues a million times. About the only way in which tonight’s Calgary speech varied from Palin’s standard post-gubernatorial drama of media persecution and conservative values was that every time she said the equivalent of “We built a pipeline”, it became “We built a pipeline with our super terrific Canadian partner TCPL, which just goes ta show ya.”
The problem was that Palin clued into the audience’s unconditional agreement with her worldview pretty quickly, and grew impatient; as fast as she was speeding through the statistics and the chuck-on-the-shoulder good-for-yous for Canada, many of us probably would have preferred it ten times faster. To me, the audience in the foyer after the speech seemed to be talking themselves into having had a good time.
It occurs to me that the Calgary mayoralty is up for grabs; maybe someone should see if Palin’s interested? In no other Canadian city of equal size would her denunciation of “snake-oil” climate science have been greeted with such unrestrained, joyous roars by a very elite, very wealthy audience. (The Palomino Room was saturated with old Reformers, including Stockwell Day. At the end of the festivities, Ralph Klein, perhaps eager for refreshment, came blasting down the aisle in my direction at the approximate speed of a maglev train.) I’m not sure there is even an American city where Palin’s climate skepticism and drill-or-be-damned pro-fossil stance would have been so well-received. Certainly there can’t be one where an appearance by Palin would be beset by a grand total of one (1) poor sad-sack anarchist protester. I know in Edmonton there’d be 20. (It’s the same 20 every time no matter what’s being protested.)
At the end of the night, as the attendees were filing out, some elderly contessa saw me typing furiously, leaned over, and said “Be kind to her.” It seems Palin, who will doubtless retain a strong streak of the exuberant bubbleheaded teenager to the end of her days, is as good as appealing to motherly and grandmotherly instincts as she is to male ones. I considered for a moment that it might not be for me to say that Palin was not a success, since I didn’t pay $150 for my seat. On the other hand, for those who did shell out, it was a sunk cost; the poor bastards on professional duty, like me, were the ones who weren’t allowed to leave. Sorry, but it’s hard to like someone who makes you suffer like that.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 8:08 PM - 167 Comments
6:02 pm (all times Mountain!): I’m in the sumptuous Palomino Room at Calgary’s BMO Centre, waiting with an audience of about one thousand to witness Sarah Palin’s first live address outside the United States, depending on which media personage in the back row you ask. Calgary is an obvious choice for a test-run of Palin’s ability to win over a foreign audience; her game-slaying soccer-mom persona does resonate here. We’re so close to Alaska, geographically and spiritually, that Palin almost seems like a caricature. For better and worse. She’s familiar… but it must be said that nobody likes having a distorted effigy of themselves waved at them either.
6:16 pm: Calgary Herald editor Lorne Motley introduces… Cliff Fryers, Preston Manning’s former chief of staff, who is here to introduce the lady herself. Fryers suggests that Palin is on a path parallel to that followed by Reform–outsiders who challenged the status quo and were as “mainstream as apple pie” ten years later.
6:19 pm: “Alaska and Alberta!” Palin’s daughter Piper interrupts the first sentences of her speech, as if on cue, and gets a blazing round of applause. Palin talks about constantly having her accent described as “Canadian”. “You did an amazing job” with the Olympics; Canada’s filled with “tough and talented hockey players.” The pandering works.
6:22 pm: Girlish excitement about meeting Shaun White backstage at the Tonight Show. I didn’t know she’d cast her lot with Leno. Bad move! You’ll lose the youth demographic!
6:26 pm: She’s laying it on a little thick with the pandering and cute gags. Of course she can get away with it, but it occurs to me that I’m not exactly sure what the substantive portion of this speech is supposed to involve. Was there going to be a substantive portion?
6:30 pm: Finally some nuts and bolts. She talks about bringing TransCanada Pipelines in on the Alaska Gas Line project… as part of her goal of helping establish “energy independence” for the United States. She’s kind of bopping back and forth between hitting the independence note and emphasizing what a great business partner and ally Canada is. Which, technically, seems like inTERdependence.
6:33 pm: “I think there’s a little bit of vindication going on for those of us who called for sound science on climate change.” This being Calgary, the applause is enormous. “The all-of-the-above energy policy… is still the one that Americans support, and people are coming back around to our ideas. Our votes didn’t carry the day, and knew that we didn’t get our message across, and it was a tough battle, it really was, but our ideas, people are seemingly more interested today than they were then, and that’s what the Tea Party movement is kind of about…” If I were fast enough to transcribe this with perfect accuracy there would be THOUSANDS of words between the periods.
6:37 pm: “Some leaders in Washington, D.C. aren’t listening to the people.” Some leaders? You got any names for us?
6:39 pm: Fairly extended attack on the Copenhagen climate conference and the IPCC. “We deserve sound science, not data designed to serve political ends.” She rehearses all the recent embarrassments for the Panel for the bedrock-conservative audience.
6:41 pm: Strongest line of the night–most heartfelt–is her description of debt as “immoral”. Her clickety-clack pace of statistics and factoids is held up for a moment as she speaks slowly about the intergenerational unfairness of public insolvency. Soon, however, she returns to her exhausting regular rhythm. It’s a struggle to maintain attention.
6:45 pm: “The hard work of friendship has created an unbreakable bond between Canada and the United States.” Quotes JFK. “I think he would be pleased to see that the bond of friendship does endure. I ask that we continue that, that we preserve it and continue it into the next generation.” Q&A, the fun part, is about to start.
6:48 pm: Here’s Sen. Wallin. With her help. Palin dispenses deftly with the “writing on the hand” thing and the “I can see Russia from my backyard” thing. First things first, I suppose. The former has Biblical warrant (book of Isaiah, people!) and the latter was, or so Palin says, just a Tina Fey quote that got hung on the real candidate. “And she made a lotta money sayin’ it, too,” gripes the Gov.
6:53 pm: More love letter to TCPL. Maybe this should have been held in their boardroom? I really, really want a cigarette. Sen. Wallin is NOT going to be asking the fastball questions this evening.
6:55 pm: Palin says she wanted to go back to being Governor and soccer mom after the campaign but she encountered a “new normal” with a newly hostile press corps. She boasts of finishing her grand ethics reform and goes over familiar ground about how she is “fighting for Alaska in a different way”.
7:07 pm: As you might expect, there are quite a lot of women in the crowd tonight who look vaguely LIKE Sarah Palin. Tall hair with expensive highlights, 20%-more-chic-than-Mrs.-Thatcher jackets, pearls, naughty-librarian wire-frame glasses.
7:08 pm: Wallin getting a little combative, actually inducing a few angry murmurs from the crowd. Pressing Palin a little bit on her “narrow” originalist view of US government, asking her why we should trust her when her paradoxical message is “don’t trust politicians”. Palin says she’s “concentrated on the basics” in every level of government.
7:11 pm: Wallin asks a confused question about Alaska state-government energy rebates; the Q&A suddenly becomes an A for some time as Palin riffs on her battle against corruption and her belief that the citizen is the best judge of his own welfare and the most efficient user of his own earnings. Then she roasts the media for a while. The media responds with, among other things, cranky, impatient liveblogs.
7:21 pm: Q&A ends; Palin vanishes instantly. I’ll cut this off so I can go mingle before the place empties. Will fill in with a proper summation and some actual thoughts a little later. Depending on whether any of my Calgary friends want to go to the bar.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 12:44 PM - 16 Comments
Barring some unnatural disaster of the sort I always regard as certain in the minutes before a trip, I’ll be in Calgary tonight providing live or very-nearly-live weblog coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech and Q&A session at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park. If you’re there, say hi (also, where the heck did you get that kind of money, and can I have some?). If you’re anywhere else in the world, check back here at Macleans.ca for the unfolding details.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
From Prairie boy auctioneer to Canada’s most lovable hero
Is it his name—Jon Montgomery—which sounds ever so slightly old-fashioned, something you’d see etched in a memorial somewhere in the Canadian heartland? Or his clipped no-nonsense speech and compact frame, which are oddly anachronistic, as though he’s stepped from a First World War portrait, sepia and fading? Or is it his beer-drinking? That spontaneous moment when the 30-year-old Montgomery, who’d surprised us all by striking gold in men’s skeleton, stepped from a gondola in Whistler, into a throng of waiting thousands, and lustily accepted a pitcher of brew thrust at him from some anonymous woman—watching him gulp back that liquid the colour of his triumph seemed so perfect, primal and clean.
The Whistler crowds were ecstatic over the mountain resort’s first Canadian medal, and Montgomery, with his red hair and scrub of red beard, was just the man to channel their ferocious Olympic enthusiasms, and those of Canadians everywhere: a delighted everyman who started off the evening’s festivities by striking his ta-dah! pose—after jumping, both feet in the air, atop the podium—then led an impromptu parade through the gabled pedestrian streets of this tourist town. The next day, receiving his medal, Montgomery unabashedly belted out a bad O Canada from the stage, living the dream for armchair competitors across the land.
It was as much a celebration of good times as of heroic athleticism, and a timely balm for a Canadian soul in tatters after some disappointing performances in the first week of the Olympics. That very night, 29-year-old Mellisa Hollingsworth, favoured to win a medal in the women’s skeleton, had clunked in at fifth, while Montgomery’s teammate, 38-year-old Mike Douglas, was disqualified over the technical snafu of failing to remove the covers from his runners.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 26, 2010 at 1:09 AM - 168 Comments
Maxime Bernier considers the reaction to his comments on climate change and rallies his supporters.
This is why it is so important to have an open and balanced public debate. This is the very opposite of the intellectual totalitarianism of those who would like to stamp out every dissident voice.
As I said in my Calgary speech some weeks ago, we should be the lobby of the silent majority, this majority which is not represented by the interest groups that we hear about all the time in public debates, but who will pay for the policies being adopted in the end. I encourage all those who feel concerned by this question to make themselves heard, either by leaving a comment on this blog, writing to your elected officials or to newspapers. Thank you to those who’ve done it. I can assure you that you are having an impact.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 3:31 PM - 38 Comments
Jay Hill asks that you stop expecting so much our Olympic athletes.
I’m disappointed by the number of news stories focused on glitches and tough expectations on our athletes … when Alexandre Bilodeau won his event, the pundits obsessed that “finally” we won our first Gold here at home in Canada. What does his success have to do with what did or did not happen in 1976 in Montreal or 1988 in Calgary? … Personally, one of the most rewarding moments of these Olympics so far was the Men’s 1000m speed skating final featuring our very own Fort St. John native, Denny Morrison. To be in the stands at the fabulous Richmond Oval with thousands of other Canadians hollering and whistling Denny on is an experience I’ll not soon forget. Although Denny didn’t win, I’m sure he’d be one of the first to agree, that just to have qualified to be there, representing Canada … the greatest country on earth … was a victory in itself! Go Canada Go.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 7:52 AM - 112 Comments
British journalists are not the only ones raising awkward questions about the multitudinous stumbles that have characterized the beginning of the Winter Olympics. They merely attract the most attention, for reasons that have nothing much to do with the truth or falsehood of their criticisms. These reasons include:
1. Cultural cringe: the inherent Canadian awareness of inferiority, and suspicion of condescension, provoked by anything British-accented. No beast is feebler than the Canadian journalist who wraps himself in the flag and rushes tearfully to his typewriter or microphone upon the first hint of perceived sneering at the colonials. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good copy. I saw the technique, used cynically, work like a charm at the ’01 Athletics Worlds here in Edmonton when a couple of old Fleet Street soaks spoke unlacquered truth about the city’s broad streak of Soviet shabbiness. But to engage on that level is to perpetuate the cringe, and besides, there’s reason 2:
2. Criticisms naturally hit harder when they’re written with great force. British writers are vigorous, direct, unflinching, entertainment-minded, and, in general, better at their trade than ours. (Rest assured—they’ll be, if anything, much harder on their own 2012 Summer Games.) Their newspapers are more fun than ours, pay good writers much more, and are doing better as businesses. They are also rank with ethical failings and obnoxious practices, to be sure, but almost all of those arise from trying too hard to get the story, intruding too far into private matters, competing too viciously, overreacting to perceived injustice. The failings of Canada’s press are all, as a rule, on the other side—the side of compromise, laziness, and political correctness. For instance, look no further than reason 3:
3. Canadian journalists covering the Games have, virtually to a man, accepted the premise that the Games provide an accurate moral, artistic, and technical reflection on Canada as a whole. I don’t remember signing that contract, and if I were going to sign one with a city and its business and volunteer communities, I wouldn’t have chosen Vancouver. Are you kidding? Place is screwy! As it happens, Alberta already staked its international reputation on a Winter Olympics, thanks, and did fine. The rest of you are quite welcome to let yourselves be judged on the basis of this fiasco, but as far as I can see, you haven’t been asked.
I hasten to add that the relative success of the 1988 Games—painfully emphasized by the Great Calgary Zamboni Airlift—is not entirely to Alberta’s credit. After all, Beijing put on a heck of an Olympics, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It put on an outstanding show partly for the reasons I wouldn’t want to live there: crushing social homogeneity, one-party government, lack of civil liberties, central economic planning. If the Games needed a row of shacks in Beijing knocked down, they got knocked down, without a lot of paperwork or argument. If industrial pollution was a problem, mills and factories could be shut down arbitrarily for as long as needed to render the air breathable by gweilo weaklings. Protesters delaying VIP access to the Opening Ceremonies? In China? Forget about it. (Literally: forget about it or you’ll be sent to the laogai for re-education.)
I don’t mean to equate Calgary to Beijing, but the factors that allowed Calgary to succeed as an Olympic host probably did include weak political opposition on the municipal and provincial levels; a small, dominant social-financial elite; a certain degree of cultural homogeneity; and a borderline-inappropriate degree of coziness between legislators, regulators, and judges. What you want in an ideal Olympic city is that it be quite rich, very conformist, and a teensy bit crooked. Calgary wouldn’t be as good a host in 2010 as it was in 1988; it’s a more interesting place now.
And Vancouver may have bitten off slightly more than it can chew, precisely because it’s about the most interesting place in the country, in good respects and bad. It’s not a well-oiled machine, it’s a self-sufficient permanent riot. I have always understood its disorder to be part of its glory. I would have put an Olympics on the moon before I’d have put one there.
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:50 PM - 5 Comments
‘The Abortion Monologues’ premiered last year in Portland
A new play set to open in Calgary is stirring up controversy before the actors even take the stage. The Abortion Monologues, which will be performed on Feb. 4 at Mount Royal University, features dramatic monologues from 23 fictional female characters “at all ages and stages of reproductive life” speaking about their experiences with abortion, says author Jane Cawthorne.
Cawthorne, who left a job teaching women’s studies at Mount Royal a couple of years ago to pursue writing full-time, spent two decades volunteering with not-for-profit groups in the field of women’s health and reproductive rights; the play was inspired by some of the stories she heard. “I felt that the public discussion on abortion was polarized, and didn’t reflect what goes on in the real lives of women,” says the Calgary-based writer, who describes herself as pro-choice. Last year, The Abortion Monologues premiered in Portland, Ore., to a crowd of almost 400 people; roughly 300 are expected at next week’s performance, with tickets almost sold out.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:30 PM - 74 Comments
Can the West shape the national agenda? A Maclean’s debate.
The rise of Western Canada was the topic of a round table discussion last week in Calgary, broadcast live by CPAC. Joining Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne were Fort McMurray’s Mayor Melissa Blake, Alberta’s Minister of Culture Lindsay Blackett, Saskatchewan’s Environment Minister Nancy Heppner, Lloyd Axworthy, the University of Winnipeg’s president, and the Wildrose Alliance’s Rob Anderson. CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen moderated the event.
Coyne: How do we define the West beyond geography? Is there such a thing as a kind of western agenda, a western political culture?
By Nicholas KÖhler Photograph by Jean-François Bérubé - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
Helen Upperton SPEED demon
Bobsled pilot Helen Upperton has elevated the pre-competition ritual to the standard of high voodoo. Her brakeman, Shelley-Ann Brown, twists her hair into elaborate “speed braids” that Upperton swears make her faster. She paints her fingernails black. And, as she negotiates the vertiginous corners of the bobsled run at high speed, she chews gum—for years it was 7-Eleven blue raspberry Slurpee flavour—like some snowbound Chuck Yeager. Don’t let the hocus-pocus fool you; it all enhances wicked focus. “I could close my eyes right now and picture any track in the world, every corner,” she says. “You have to—it comes at you so fast it has to be automatic.”
She was born to British parents on a Halloween 30 years ago in Kuwait, where her father, Kerry, worked in the oil industry. For a while it looked as though she might have been born under a bad sign: as a kid in Calgary, the middle girl of three, she spent hours in hospital thanks to a penchant for daredevil antics—catapulting off banisters, sticking metal doodads into electric sockets. Her mother, Hilary, has a vivid memory of Helen hanging in her diaper from a tree she’d climbed. “The girl was an ongoing, walking emergency-room case,” says a friend. Always athletic, she played soccer (her dad was her coach) and competed in luge as a tween: “I was like, ‘Sure, it’s like super-fast tobogganing!!!’ ” says Upperton, an avid gesticulator who speaks at bobsleigh speeds—but stopped when, true to form, she crashed, nearly knocking out all her teeth. “We’d spent all these thousands on orthodontics,” says Hilary.