Monday, June 21, 2010


Travers: Changing Canada, one backward step at a time

Published On Sat Jun 19 2010

By James Travers National Affairs Columnist

Imagine a country where Parliament is padlocked twice in 13 months to frustrate the democratic will of the elected majority. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that slyly relaxes environmental regulations even as its neighbour reels from a catastrophic oil leak blamed on slack controls. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that boasts about prudent financial management while blowing through a $13-billion surplus on the way to a $47-billion deficit. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where a political operative puts fork-tongued words in a top general’s mouth. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that refuses to fund the same safe abortions to poor women abroad as it provides at home. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where the national police commissioner skews a federal election and is never forced to explain. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that writes a covert manual on sabotaging Commons committees. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country dragging its climate change feet as the true north melts. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that silences political debate on the sale of a publicly owned, crown jewel corporation. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that puts higher priority on building super-prisons than keeping people out of them. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where parties that win the most federal seats are dismissed as “losers”. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that twists its foreign policy around the interests of another nation. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that argues that barricading its largest city promotes tourism. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that promises Senate reform only to continue stuffing it with political hacks. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that avoids answers about a controversial war by accusing questioners of supporting the enemy. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where party apparatchiks decide who in a nominally free press is allowed to ask the Prime Minister questions. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where donut shop wisdom is more prized than expert analysis. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that builds a fake lake for a tough-times summit. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that preaches law and order while killing a long-gun registry police chiefs insist makes citizens safer. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where serving the Prime Minister as chief propagandist is job preparation for running a national news network. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where charities mute constructive criticism of public policy for fear of losing federal funding. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that can spend $1.2 billion for summit security but can’t find the petty cash needed to invest in the status of women. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that promises accountability only to impose secrecy. That country is now this country.

Every example is familiar, all are documented. Only the cumulative effect is surprising.

Conservatives came to power knowing reluctant Canadians could only be shifted to the political right incrementally. That movement is now advancing according to the plan Conservative thinker, strategist and Stephen Harper mentor Tom Flanagan infuriated the Prime Minister by making public.

Imagine that.

Saturday, June 12, 2010



On the whole I have always enjoyed the writings of Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson. To me he has always been – dare I say - a fair and balanced observer of Alberta politics. When he graces the pages of the Calgary Herald I read him with great appreciation because for that one fleeting moment in time he gives the editorial page some class. Upon finishing reading his piece the paper then for days on end sinks to its usual low level diatribes from lunatic neocon think tanks and single-issue loud mouths.

So Thomson is different and the people of Edmonton are lucky to have him.

But even Thomson gets it wrong sometimes as he did in his column today entitled, ‘Alberta Liberals split by bid to co-operate.’ Read:

He opens with a line surely to capture the affections of the Herald’s editorial page editor: “One of the truisms of Alberta politics: No matter how bad things get for the Liberal Party, they can always get worse.”

He then goes on to list he party’s recent woes as he sees them - the departure from the caucus of Dave Taylor and the decision of Kent Hehr to run for Mayor. Let me assure Thomson as well as others who may think along the same lines that I have talked to a host of Alberta Liberals about Taylor’s grumbling exit, and I have heard very little in the way of regrets or misgivings of any kind - even from people like me who supported Taylor in the leadership race. The consensus is simply that if Taylor was that unhappy, it is better that he left. For David Swann and the remaining caucus it was one less hassle to deal with.

As far as Hehr’s quest for the mayor’s chair is concerned the Grits that I speak to only wish him the best of luck and if he wins they would regard his victory as a feather in every Alberta Liberal’s hat. I mean, he is one of us and he is running for arguably one of the most exciting political offices in the country. How does that reflect badly on the Alberta Liberal Party?

Thomson then moves to the dust-up in Kevin Taft’s riding of Edmonton-Riverview. Three members of the riding association executive have resigned from their positions because of the passing of a resolution at the recent convention of the Alberta Liberal Party. The resolution in question reads:

“be it resolved that the Alberta Liberal Party supports making every reasonable effort to persuade other progressive parties in Alberta to work together during general elections.”

The resolution was controversial and the final tally on the vote was close. I confess that I had something more than a little to do with its content as I had moved it in the workshop as an amendment and spoke for it on the convention floor just before it was passed.

My take on the resolution is simply this. Alberta Liberals, like any political party that aspires to govern, must create a big tent and fill it up with diverse thinking individuals who can set aside some of their differences to support the greater cause. Otherwise, power will forever elude them.

This approach is not new. It has been followed by most progressive parties that have attained power in the Western democracies. The best example in my memory in Alberta is the Progressive Conservative party under Peter Lougheed. Lougheed brilliantly put together a diverse team that represented all elements of Alberta society - business, labour, progressive thinkers, even right-wingers, and so on - who worked together for good government and it delivered for Albertans the best government in the province’s history.

Thus, the resolution meant to me and most others at that convention that Alberta Liberals were extending an invitation to a diverse group of people, many of whom had not supported us before, to work together with them in order to bring about an era of good government for the people of Alberta.

Oh, the wording of the resolution could have been spiffed up somewhat, but the idea was there, and it was clear: All you NDs, Greens, frustrated Tories, Wild Rose Alliancers and anybody else out there who believe in progressive policies that help ordinary people and who are sick and tired of lousy leadership, marginal support, or narrow ideology, come and talk to us . . . or let us talk to you. We want as many of you as possible who believe in progressive policies to come inside of our big tent so we can throw the rascals out in the next election.

Thomson complains that the resolution didn’t explain what “work together” meant, that it didn’t mention parties by name, and that it couldn’t have been aimed at the Tories or the Wildrose Alliance. If Thomson doesn’t know what “work together” means in a political setting he should choose another profession. Just to be sure Thomson understands, “working together” means “working together” to win elections!

As to the party names, why should they be listed in the resolution? Why wouldn’t the Liberals want to welcome disaffected Tories or Wildrose Alliancers along with NDs and Greens who wish to join them in common cause to promote progressive policies on the environment, health care, education, and so on? Do disgruntled Tories and Wildrose Alliancers have some contagious disease?

Thomson says he and others are puzzled about what the Liberals will do with the resolution. C’mon. The resolution is nothing more than a codification and a reminder of what political parties should be doing at all times – generating support for their cause – particularly from others who have not supported them before. This is not rocket science.

So, from the standpoint of someone - namely me - who had as much to do with the resolution being passed as anyone, there is no mystery to it. There are no hidden agendas; there is no intent on weakening the Liberals resolve to win the next election. The resolution simply means that Alberta Liberals should get out there and work towards inviting voters who share our values and who have never voted for us before to give us their support.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


attacked unfairly says reader

CORBELLA (above)
Irate reader accuses Herald
editor of showing"icy blue right wing colours"
in her recent mean-spirited attack on
David Swann

I have received a note from one of my many loyal and faithful readers who has asked me to post the following open letter to the editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald, Ms Licia Corbella. Of course, I try to accomodate all such reasonable requests.

It reads as follows:

Dear Ms. Corbella:

Like Darryl Raymaker, I too thought you more than over-stepped the boundaries of good journalism in your recent political editorial-—you went beyond journalistic decency.

I’m trying to be as objective as possible here—am even willing to cut you a little slack in the objectivity call because none of us is totally impartial, even journalists who have specialized training in this regard.

But Licia, your icy blue right-wing colours are now glowing in the dark. You need a warm bath, with soft candlelight. Try soaking in a couple of these thoughts...How about covering a story or two right out there on the front lines of the poor, the starving, and the dying in Africa? Or, maybe you could do something to improve public health conditions in the Phillipines, or pen a few thoughts on the plight of babies who’ve been made pawns in a war game somewhere.

You could visit our own native people whose pleas with big oil and the government to clean the tailing ponds have largely been ignored.

I've got it Licia--a hunger strike! Please make it for something that matters more than a politician’s one mistake out of 72 speaking points.

Maybe you’d like to objectively cover two sides of a controversial story—one that could get you fired because it jangles a conscientious nerve or two (for pointers, see Swann and Kyoto story, 2002).

As Darryl Raymaker notes, David Swann has the “competence, experience, and courage” to lead the way on many fronts, including those just mentioned. He has worked the front lines in Africa, the Philippines, Iraq, Fort Chipewyan, in southern Alberta as the Public Health Officer for Palliser (the Conservatives fired Swann from this position for his public support of Kyoto—he hopes to return the favour).

Dr. Swann also went to Ottawa to pressure the feds to intervene in the genocide in Darfur.

David Swann is now working hard for the public's interest—today and well beyond tomorrow. We need to give him all the support we can.

Our democracy (that’d be yours too Ms. Corbella) is imperilled. And democracy and good journalism matter.

Keep writing Darryl! Onwards David!

Judy J. Johnson

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


A relevant and qualified leader of competence, experience and courage

A pipsqueak

Yesterday on June 1 Licia Corbella, editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald, wrote a column about Premier Ed Stelmach’s new communications strategy of hiding from Alberta voters letting his ministers assume the task of getting out into the hinterland to talk to them. See:

In her column Corbella ridiculed Stelmach’s invisibility even when his government was able to wallow in the success of having finally come up with a satisfactory royalty program. Naturally, being the spear carrier for the extreme right that she is, Corbella attributed the new royalty program exclusively to the wisdom of the new darling of the lunatic fringe of the fractured Tory Party - Danielle Smith, the leader of the Palinesque Wildrose Alliance.

In the course of her nonsense, Corbella naturally takes a shot at the Alberta Liberal Party. I doubt that she could write a column about the bathroom habits of bumble bees without her obligatory false malignments against Liberals. She writes that Liberal leader David Swann and some of his caucus attended a Herald editorial board session a week or so ago, and that given Swann’s performance there she predicts “Liberals will remain largely irrelevant.”

She bases her conclusion on 18 simple handouts containing 72 Alberta Liberal Party policy points that the Grit contingent gave to the editorial board during the course of the meeting. Handing out condensed material on policy is standard practice for all political parties who visit editorial boards. As you might expect, this type of simplification is especially important when visiting the Herald editorial board who understand only the simplest of one syllable words.

One of the 72 points contained a reference to a name the significance of which none of the assembled Liberal visitors could remember. I repeat, 1 out of 72! That was enough for Corbella. As a result, her column accuses Swann of putting out policies that he does not know anything about, and that the party was suffering from a lack of professionalism. I repeat - one small mistake out of 72 points. A serious leader, she says, would know them all - 72 out of 72!

When one thinks of the bullshit and factual errors one reads in the Calgary Herald on a daily basis – particularly on the editorial pages over which Corbella presides – her condemnation of the Liberals is – to say the least - galling.

David Swann is a medical doctor, who has practiced family medicine, taught at universities for which he received teaching awards, worked in the public health system, consulted internationally, and has made major contributions towards the betterment of his community. His stature makes Corbella and her ink-stained right-wing pals look like pipsqueaks! For those interested in Dr. Swann’s impressive career see:

Corbella concludes by writing that the Tories aren’t worried about the Liberals because, “They view the Liberals, under Swann, as irrelevant.” I have two observations about that statement. First of all, Corbella fails to remember the results of the by-election in Calgary Glenmore in September - which for an editorial page editor is far worse than missing one out of 72 points. The Tories came third - behind the Wild Rose and the Liberals.

Secondly, in referring to the Liberals under Swann as irrelevant twice in the same flimsy column she repeats a big lie - expressed recently by a publicity seeking, malcontented former Liberal. I am sure Corbella knows from her prior reading - meager as it may be - that if you repeat the ‘big lie’ often enough, people will believe it. See:

How indeed can the Alberta Liberals under Swann be ‘irrelevant?’ He is a qualified leader of competence, experience and courage who leads the strongest party in Alberta by far, that advances progressive policies and ideas. For a better look at some of the policies he is promoting see:

In fact, the Alberta Liberal Party is arguably the most relevant party in the province because it is the only party which is not a conservative party of the right or far right that can come within striking distance of victory.

Is Corbella only interested in right wing parties being on the Alberta ballot, and if so, what does that say about her?

Monday, May 31, 2010



I have had little sympathy for the plight of Peter Pocklington (known unaffectionately in these parts as Peter Puck) since his magnificent fall from grace. My opinion of this rogue can be readily gleaned by reading my following blogs:

Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009

In recent days it has been revealed that among the many words that define this world class twit – words such as blowhard, snob, bullshit artiste, deadbeat, rogue (to put it benignly), liar, and so on - we can now by his own admission add one more - perjurer!


Last week the former Edmonton Oiler owner, Ford dealer, federal Tory leadership candidate, Fraser Institute director and renowned scam artist, copped out before a California Judge with a guilty plea to a charge of perjury, admitting that he had hid assets from creditors in his bankruptcy proceedings.

True to the scoundrel’s nature however, once he got outside of the courtroom after his guilty plea he tried to weasel out of his criminal responsibility by – surprise, surprise - blaming somebody else for his misdeed. In this case, he fingered his former lawyer. Pocklington said, “Obviously, I made the error,” but that he did it “with the prompting of my then bankruptcy lawyer. After I signed it I believe I erred in signing because I don’t believe it was correct.”

Calling it an “error” makes it sound as though what he did was a mere bagatelle, a romp, a lark - shurely not a crime for which he could go to the slammer for ten long years in the notorious prison system of the U.S.A. In fact, his “error” was to fail to disclose a couple of bank accounts and two storage lockers of valuable possessions.

After the proceedings were over and outside of the courtroom, Pocklington continued his shameful analysis of his situation to an Edmonton reporter, saying that he “was not guilty of anything” and again heaped blame on his lawyer saying “Unfortunately, the lawyer I hired to do the original case is what caused all the problems. He said, ‘Sign here,’ and I did, and unfortunately he left a multitude of things out. And I was certainly not trying to mislead anyone in that regard.” This was the explanation of a man who had a 50 year career in business during which he built up what was once one of the largest fortunes in Western Canada. It was all his lawyer’s fault!

But it wasn’t enough for the deadbeat to merely dump on his bankruptcy lawyer as the cause of his misfortune. He continued to try to duck responsibility for his criminal actions during the same interview by delivering a civics lecture. He said,

“I didn’t ask for the plea. (The U.S. Attorney’s office) did because they don’t have anything. Unfortunately, in this country they have a system that they use called the grand jury system. They go to a grand jury, which are basically 23 people off the street, and say, ‘Here’s what we have.’ And if they get 17 to vote and agree with the attorney, they say, ‘Sure, indict him.’ So all of a sudden you’re indicted. You have no input, no nothing.”

Not content to merely blame his lawyer and the grand jury system for his woes, he then turned his sights on other blameworthy subjects – the lowly grand jury itself and the mean spirited press. About them he said, “The jury pool is not a jury of your peers, it’s a jury where some of them are unemployed and some of them aren’t particularly bright. And of course with the press and so on in this country and Canada, they seem to hate anyone that has been successful.”

The blame game is something that Pocklington has indulged in before when caught doing something red-handed. In 1984 when the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup, he included his father Basil Pocklington – who had nothing to do with the hockey club - on the list of people from the team who would have their names engraved on the Cup. After it had been so engraved it was noticed by NHL officials who then instructed the engraver to cover the wrongfully engraved name with a series of engraved Xs. When Pocklington was confronted about the error, guess what - he blamed the engraver. See:

Pocklington gets to know his fate on August 9 when the judge decides what to do with him. So far predictions are that he will be under house arrest with an electronic bracelet for six months followed by a period of probation.

But it could get worse for him. If he continues to point his finger at others as being the real culprits for his misdeeds and not show any remorse, the judge may very well throw the book at him - which would be much to the delight of many Albertans and people with whom he has done business.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


CONRAD BLACK (on the right) with LADY BLACK before his fall from grace

Canada's inhumane prison plan
Conrad Black, National Post Published: Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the past two years, as regular readers in this space would know, thanks to my gracious hosts in the U.S. government, I have had what could be called extensive hands-on experience of the American correctional system. I have been tutoring and teaching fellow prisoners in English, and in U.S. history. And some of them have taught me how to read music, play the piano, keep fit, diet sensibly and assimilate some local folkways, while I have been fighting my way through the courts toward a just disposition of the few remaining (unfounded) charges that bedevil me.

The fact that all my life any definition of Canada's virtue and distinctiveness has prominently included references to civility and decency explains my alarm and outrage at finally reading the three-year-old report on the Correctional Service of Canada, misleadingly titled "A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety."

As so often in other fields, this document seeks to import to Canada much of the worst of American practice, and none of the best, unless Canada now idealizes gratuitous official severity.
I have not succumbed to an inverse Stockholm Syndrome, and become an apologist for the convicted community. But I disbelieve even more fervently than I did before my sojourn among them, in the Manichaean process of baiting, dehumanization and stigmatization promoted by the Roadmap, and similarly inspired correctional nostrums.

In my present abode, I have met many rather dodgy people, but none whose ethics I consider inferior to some prosecutors and judges I have encountered in the last few years. And I have met many fine, as well as some mediocre and poor correctional officers, but few who rise above the level of benign non-skilled labour, profoundly under qualified to practise untrammeled social engineering on those entrusted to them.

I believe, civilly and theologically, in the confession and repentance of wrongdoing; in the prosecution and punishment of crime, and in a maximum reasonable effort by the state to protect the public, especially from threats to person and property. But I also believe that everyone has rights, including the unborn, demented, incurably ill, military adversaries and the criminal, and that the rights of those whose entitlements are for any reason circumscribed, are not inferior for being narrower, and should be as great as they practically can be, without violating the rights of others.

This Roadmap--which was released in 2007, and which the Harper government began officially responding to in its budget in 2008, setting out a five-year plan -- turns the humane traditions of Canada upside down. It implicitly assumes that all who are convicted are guilty and have no remaining claim to decency from the state, and that treating confinees accordingly is in the interest of the legally unexceptionable majority.

The Roadmap does not mention prisoners' rights, beyond basic food, shelter, clothing and medical care, and assumes that they are probably not recoverable for society and that the longer they are imprisoned, the better it is for society. Almost no distinction is made between violent and non-violent offenders.

Of course, great caution must be shown in the reintegration into society of violent criminals. But the objective of the penal system must be to return those capable of functioning licitly in society as quickly as practical, allowing also for straight punitive or retributive penalties, but not for mindless vengeance. The whole system must be guided by the fact that the treatment of the accused and confined has been recognized by ethicists and cultural historians for centuries as one of the hallmarks of civilized society.

The Roadmap holds that anything beyond the necessities for physical survival must be "earned." Traditionally, the punishment is supposed to be the imprisonment itself, not the additional oppressions of that regime, and the proverbial debt to society is paid when the sentence has been served; it does not continue as a permanent Sisyphean burden. In the interests of eliminating illegal drugs in prison, the authors of the Roadmap want all visits to be glass-segregated, no physical contact. This is just a pretext to assist in the destruction of families and friendships.

The importation of contraband by prisoners' visitors can be stopped by strip-searching the prisoners before they leave the visitors centre, as happens to us here, unless the prison staff, who have the unfathomable delight of inspecting us au naturel, are on the take, which is, of course, the problem, as correctional officers in many prisons are frequently caught smuggling, and aren't well enough trained to command higher salaries to make them more resistant to temptation. It is a problem, but it will not be solved by targeting unoffending relatives of inmates. The Roadmap also has naively exaggerated confidence in certain types of scanning devices.

It also recommends unspecified concentration on generating employment skills, which is sensible, except that it is specifically foreseen that they will shoulder aside other programs of more general education, substance abuse avoidance and behavioural adaptation.
I am no hemophiliac bleeding heart, but non-violent people can sometimes be helped to abandon illicit practices by some of these programs. No useful purposes will be served by cranking back into the world unreconstructed sociopaths who can fix an air conditioner or unclog a drain. The Roadmap even asks for research to be undertaken that will support this recommendation, an inversion of the usual sequence in the determination of policy.

There is a demand for investment of over $1-billion in new and larger prisons, (an insane extravagance), and for sharply longer sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and "earned parole" in place of supervised release after two-thirds of the sentence, in the absence of misconduct that would militate against such comparative liberality. In practice, this means imprisonment at the pleasure of the carceral establishment for the maximum time possible. (Prisoners cost $40,000 per year to keep.) All of these draconian measures have been tried and have failed in the United States.

As Michael Jackson and Graham Stewart point out in their excellent essay in the current Literary Review of Canada, "Fear-Driven Policy," this plan would fall especially heavily on native people, who already comprise nearly seven times the percentage of imprisoned Canadians than they do of the whole population.

The Roadmap is the self-serving work of reactionary, authoritarian palookas, what we might have expected 40 years ago from a committee of southern U.S. police chiefs. It is counter-intuitive and contra-historical: The crime rate has been declining for years, and there is no evidence cited to support any of the repression that is requested. It appears to defy a number of Supreme Court decisions, and is an affront, at least to the spirit of the Charter of Rights.
The Canada I remember and look forward to returning to should do exactly the opposite. Prison is an antiquarian and absurd treatment of nonviolent law-breakers. It only continues because it has.

The whole concept of prison should be terminated, except for violent criminals and chronic non-violent recidivists, and replaced by closely supervised pro bono or subsistence-paid work by bonded convicts in the fields of their specialty. Swindlers and embezzlers, hackers and sleazy telemarketers are capable people and they should serve their sentences by contributing honest work to government-insured employers.

Canada would save a billion dollars annually in prison costs and the employers of the penitent-workers would save $2-billion annually, a tremendous shot in the arm to national productivity. Many of the prisons could be recon-figured as assisted housing for the homeless and slum-dwellers. Canada would again be a model of the innovative public policy pursuit of institutionalized decency and social reform.

The principle that the rape of the rights of the least is an assault on the rights of all is attributed to Jesus Christ and is at the core of Judeo-Christian civilization and the rule of law in both common and civil law jurisdictions. And it is not just a tradition; there are several million Canadians in families that have bitter memories of personal or close relatives' encounters with the vagaries of justice. They aren't a visible bloc, but this is not a political free lunch.

It is painful for me to write that with this garrote of a blueprint, the government I generally support is flirting with moral and political catastrophe. My respect for the Prime Minister prevents me from being any more explicit here about the implications of failure to reconsider the government's course on this issue.

The Roadmap is a bad plan to take Canada to a destination it should not wish to reach.

Monday, May 17, 2010


You will recall my blog on Ron Wood’s first literary endeavour ‘And God Created Manyberries,’ 2010 Frontenac House Ltd.

I spoke of Wood as being a civilized gentleman living in an age of incivility - a throwback to when this country was kinder and gentler and an ‘old school’ type of guy in the very best traditions of that term. Those qualities together with his charm, wit, and experience makes Ron the kind of guy that you enjoy sitting down with to share a bottle or two of oaky merlot (along with some good pasta) while engaging in weighty discussion of the world and its many problems. Wood is as much a Conservative as I am a Liberal - but no matter - he is a very easy man to connect with. Hell, it was such a great blog that I urge you to read it again: See
Thursday, February 12, 2009

But now for the really good news. My spies in the literary world tell me that Wood is about to have published his second book, appropriately titled ‘All Roads lead to Manyberries’ once again through the good offices of Frontenac House Ltd. I have also heard some literary scuttlebutt that – like his first book - it will deal with the exquisite delights and attractions of his beloved Manyberries and its colourful townfolk.

But there’s more. I am further advised by someone who should know – and in this regard I have been sworn to absolute secrecy - that Wood’s new work will not be on Premier Stelmach’s favourite recommended reading list. Furthermore, my impeccable sources have disclosed to me, that the Ottawa Press Gallery, indeed the news media throughout this great country, will be shocked to read what is on even the back cover of the book . . . and that it gets worse for them on the pages inside.

The release of Wood’s new tome is imminent. Of course, I have ordered my copy in advance which I would urge you to do as well. Just click on: and tell them you want a copy of Ron's new book!