Monday, February 19, 2007


I have been traveling far from home over these past 10 days. As a result, thoughts of Fast Eddie or Bush's pal Steve Harper have happily subsided. They have been replaced by thoughts and observations of one of the most interesting locales of my journey.

I'm writing in my hotel room in Sana'a, the capital of the Republic of Yemen. It is Tuesday, 9 AM (or Monday, 10 PM Mountain Standard Time in Calgary). This is my third visit to Yemen since 1998. I am staying at the 'Movenpick' Hotel, a modern concrete and marble, supposedly 5-star establishment, operated by the Swiss food, restaurant and hotel chain conglomerate. The hotel is a couple of years old and situated on a dramatic rise overlooking the entire spread-out city of 2 million. It boasts a spa, a few restaurants, large out-door pool area, etc. and could be found anywhere in the world. Its staff that serves the public at the front line are largely European or Philippino, with a smattering from East Africa and Yemen. Despite the City's Arabian and Islamic history, and the country's location at the bottom of the Saudi Peninsula, a visitor can have a scotch in the basement disco bar or his room. Non-alcoholic beverages only are served in the public areas.

The Movenpick is symbolic of the new Yemen. The expanisive, gaudy and elaborate Qatari embassy across the street from my hotel is also a part of the new Yemen, as are the villa palaces closer to the center of town which are owned and operated by wealthy Sheikhs. So too are the Porsche and Audi car dealerships.

But there is also still plenty of the old Yemen to be seen and savored. Sana'a is an ancient city with a thousand minarets and at least one mosque that almost dates back to the days of Mohammed. The old walled city in the center of town - a UNESCO heritage site - is now part of a sprawling urban mass stretching for miles in all directions.

The inhabitants of the old walled city used to lock themselves up within its walls at night not more than 50 or so years ago. It contains thousands of traditional Yemeni, flat-roofed, earth toned, Arabic-style homes of two, three or four levels, built side-by-side over the last several hundred years. Its streets are narrow and winding and the population dense.

In the city throughout the day, we see Arab men who wear traditional headbands, smocks and sandals and women wearing pitch-black shrouds and veils with narrow, horizontal eye-slits in their veils. Poorer women, and there are plenty of them, are generally completely covered and clad in untailored and multicolored fabric remnants. With sky-high birthrates, kids are running around everywhere. There are also plenty of refugees throughout the city eking out a living by seeking alms. Usually the ones seen are women who have fled from the tribulations of East Africa directly across the Red Sea.

The old Suq, also in the center of town, with its vast and complex maze of narrow lanes and streets, is a scene right out of an old Warner Brothers adventure yarn. There are stalls hawking everything from cell phones to frankensense. The jimbaya, the traditional sheathed curved dagger, encased in brightly colored Islamic design belts, is a favorite buy for tourists. Even today, ordinary Yemeni men wear the jimbaya together with the rest of their Arab garb of smocks, sandals and head-dresses in the towns and cities. The jimbaya worn by Yemeni men is as ubiquitous as the tie worn by men in North America.

People are largely friendly, with quick smiles and happy demeanors.

But there is third world, grinding poverty as well. North American orderliness and cleanliness on the streets and roads are invariably absent. But the colours, architecture, Islamic calls to prayer, and the Arab style are not to be missed. Sana'a is an exotic city. It is changing, and the changes have been significant in 10 years. But it retains its unique charm. This is a place to visit and enjoy.

On the political front, Yemen is a tolerant and struggling democracy, that holds general and local elections. There are tribal confrontations from time to time, as well as a Shia revolutionary movement in the north that from time to time is costly in terms of lives lost. So far, the Government continues to prevail. The memory of the Civil War in the early nineties however, lingers in the minds of its people.

One last point. We see in Sana'a a multitude of pictures of Sadam Hussein and Moqtada Al Sadr, side-by-side, in store and car windows. Sadam and Moqtada Al Sadr were mortal enemies - one secular and Sunni and the other religious and Shia. Yet together, in Yemen, they are elevated to hero status. What is the westerner to make of that?

Sadam was always more-or-less well regarded in Sunni-dominated Yemen. Yemen did not support the coaltion organized by Bush I in the first Gulf war. Moqtada Al Sadr, the firebrand clergyman and the Iraqi Shia leader of the Shia militia in Baghdad, and Sadam were mortal enemies. Indeed, Sadam was responsible for the hanging of Moqtada's father, and Moqtada's friends (some people even say Moqtada was there in person) presided over Sadam's execution. So how could it be that these mortal enemies are widely regarded together as heroes to the Yemeni people?

The Arab proverb states that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Historically, Sadam was a minor friend of Yemen, and Moqtada, neither friend nor foe of Yemen, but certainly an enemy of Sadam's. So how do they both become friends of Yemen such that Yemenis rank them as heroes? Because they have an enemy who from the Yemeni perspective is an enemy of Yemen. And who might that be?

The public display of the plethora of photographs of those mortal enemies together as heroes in the streets of Yemen, points to the dismal failure of the policy of the United States Government in the Middle East. To most of the 25 or so million Yemenis, George W. Bush's America is no friend of Yemen.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Neil Waugh has been a columnist for the Edmonton Sun for many years. His message is always the same: Tories are great; Grits are vermin - much like the scribblings of his Edmonton Sun colleague Paul Stanway and Herald hackster Tom Olsen. Stanway and Olsen were finally put on the Tory payroll full time. How is it Waugh didn't make the cut? He probably will, the next time the Premier wants to reward his pals in the media with cushy jobs paid for by the tax-payer in his Communications office.

Waugh is representative of virtually all of the right-wing scribes and loud-mouth conservative talk radio hosts who ply their less than awesome talents in Alberta and elsewhere. They are not above exploiting the Goebbels truism of the BIG LIE: Tell the BIG LIE often enough, and the masses will sure to believe it.

An example is the BIG LIE of the National Energy Policy (you remember, shurely, the 'NEP'). It was the proposition that it was the NEP alone that devastated the Alberta economy when it was launched in the fall of 1980, and that it was a punitive measure imposed on the oil industry, deliberately and with malice, by the Trudeau Government of the day, to destroy Alberta prosperity. Perhaps it has been expressed with differences here and there, but that is the essence of it.

It is a BIG LIE because the NEP was not a malicious and punitive measure. It was a response - albeit, probably a bad one - to sky high oil prices that were crippling world economies, including Canada's. Furthermore, there were other far more significant factors that plundered the economies of all oil producing regions of the day - whether it was in Alberta, Texas or the Sultanate of Brunei. Interest rates, led by the U. S. Federal Reserve Board during the reign of conservative poster-boy Ronnie Reagan, went through the roof for an extended time, exceeding 20% and thus bringing construction and industrial expansion to a crashing halt. In addition, oil prices did not continue to rise, as predicted by the economic gurus of the day. Oil prices went south, which combined with the high interest rates, resulted in the cataclysmic collapse of the oil and gas economies.

But the BIG LIE has been told ad nauseum by the likes of Waugh and his pals in the conservative media and politics, and so a great proportion of Albertans have come to believe it.

Waugh is at it again. His target again this time is of course the Liberal Party. His recent column of Thursday February 15, entitled 'Scary and Really Scary' beats up on Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland. Never one to understate when it comes to an attack on the Grits, Waugh states that 'the greatest threat to the Alberta oil patch is not Al Qaida terrorists . . . but Ottawa Liberals ' such as ' M.P. Mark Holland.

Now here comes the BIG LIE. Waugh goes on to say, 'Holland, apparently, let the cat out of the bag when he blabbed on open-line talk shows recently that Stephane Dion and the Libs would seize the oilsands if companies didn't conform to the Kyoto agreements impossible green house gas emission targets.'

Holland said no such thing, 'apparently' (a weasel word if there ever was one) or otherwise. Furthermore, no Liberal - from the Leader on down, has said such a thing. Nor could any Liberal's words be interpreted as saying any such thing. And neither did Mr. Holland try to 'wriggle out' of what he said - as alleged by Waugh - when Holland later claimed that the Liberals still support oilsands development 'in a reasonable and sustainable manner.' That is what Holland and the Liberals, and indeed, former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, have said all along.

What Waugh has done is introduce another BIG LIE to once again scare the people of Alberta into voting Conservative. He and his ilk have done it before and they will try to do it again. They will repeat the BIG LIE over and over again, so as to maintain the depressing, monolithic presence of the Federal Conservative Party representing Albertans in Ottawa.

Let's hope the people of Alberta finally recognize that they have been manipulated by twits like Waugh long enough. Good bye to the BIG LIE.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


So far, the Premier has been able to capture the attention of the Alberta public once. He resorted to the trite bashing of the Federal Liberals for an innocuous statement by a neophyte Ontario MP that, according to Eddie, meant the the Fed Libs would 'take over the oilsands.' The MP, Mark Holland, from Ajax-Pickering, was merely reiterating the sane preaching of former Tory icon and Premier of Alberta Peter Lougheed about adopting a go-slower approach in the development of the oil sands, to maximize benefits to Albertans and to protect the environment. I say 'former Tory icon' Peter Lougheed because since the 'Dumb and Dumber' crowd took over the Tory Party during the Klein and now Stelmach years, Lougheed has been widely regarded by the new Tory power group as a big spender, Fed Lib appeaser, and God forbid, a liberal.

The rest of the public's attention towards the Stelmach Government has been generated by bickering Ministers (Snelgrove and Hancock, with Eddie's big stick Snelgrove saying that Hancock the Health Minister should not talk about more anti-smoking legislation without caucus approval), poor judgment calls (Eddie and the $5000 intimacy payments, and Harvey Cenaiko's feeble attempt at currying Eddie's favour), conflicted policy statements (Energy Minister Mel Knight wanting to export bitumin, and Eddie saying 'wait and see'), embarrassing actions of the deposed King Ralph (taking the cushy lobbying job with a blue-chip law firm with unseemly haste after pocketing a $600,000 severance payment).

The weekend has produced more very dark clouds on Eddie's horizon. His big-stick, big-mouth Treasury Board head, Lloyd Snelgrove wants the oilsands to go nucleur to reduce green-house gas emissions. According to Snelgrove, nuke energy was a natural fit and the only way to keep the oilsands development going and reduce CO2 emissions. Happily, he assured his audience that he wasn't an expert on the subject. Polling indicates that in Northern Alberta, more than half of the population opposes the nuke option. Bruce Cameron, the energetic and smart pollster who conducted the poll said, "This could be the hill on which the Stelmach Government is defined." That metaphor doesn't make sense. 'The hill that the Stelmach Government may die on,' I think is what Bruce - usually a fuss-pot with the English language - meant.

More stormy weather can be expected as a result of the Education Minister Ron Liepert's indefatigable promotion of the P3 policy for schools construction. P3 programs bring in developers to own the land on which new schools are built. They also build the buildings and lease them back to the school boards on long-term, sweetheart deal leases. The developers of course are croneys of the Government. They will have triple A tenants for the duration of the leases, line their pockets for years, and in the end wind up owning the very valuable land on which the schools sit. P3 can be defined as 'Pork, Pork, and More Pork.' The people are beginning to see the program for what it is.

To further complicate Eddie's future, we heard this week that long-time Calgary Herald columnist, Don Braid, is taking over the task of Alberta Legislature columnist, now that Tom Olsen is officially married to the Tory Party as a communications advisor to the Premier. Braid has been in the business for a very long time. He is no fool and will never be a fawning sycophant to any Government, including Eddie's.

And there's worse news for Notsofast. Health Care, botched by Klein time and again, has been in a crisis situation in Calgary for years. Premature babies sent to Saskatoon for treatment, patients dying for lack of fast emergency care, accident victims having to wait for hours for emergency treatment, negligence of overworked medical staffs causing unnecessary deaths, deliveries of premature babies in Calgary having to be transported to Great Falls, Montana hospitals for treatment, very ill-patients cared for in Ward hallways, and other Dickensian true stories have been growing exponentially for years. But there has always been the promise of a major new hospital to be built in the far-south of the City. Well, the Government has dawdled, delayed, obfuscated, and procrastinated to the point that, because of the boom, the costs are now $350,000,000 or so over what was originally anticipated. The 'Dumb and Dumber' crowd in the Legislature are giving pause. Reportedly, they may decide not to cover any shortfall. Defrocked Ministers and other MLA's from Calgary are starting to raise hell. City Aldermen are going ballistic. Columnists are finally coming out swinging. And in a most unnerving signal, for Eddie and his Tories, the editors of the Calgary Sun are finally lambasting the Government in lead editorials, to shape up or be shipped out.

Add to that Grit Leader Kevin Taft's newly released book 'Democracy Derailed,' a tale of the Tories' sense of entitlement and arrogance, acts of petty tyranny and their refusal to be accountable. The book is a must-read, true story. It will make you very angry. It is enjoying brisk sales in Alberta books stores.

The future looks bleak indeed for the Premier.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Calgary lost another good man this past week. His name was Roddy Mah and he made a difference.

Born in Calgary in 1929, he returned to China at age 5 to attend school and learn Chinese. While in China, World War II intervened thus keeping him there until after it was over. He returned to Calgary, learned English, married Lillian, and went into the restaurant business. An outstanding businessman, he operated several restaurants, including the Jade Palace, a first-rate Chinese food restaurant on Center Street and 3rd Avenue, for twenty-five years. Over the years, he supported many causes. One of the most significant was the redevelopment of Chinatown, making that area one of the unique places in the City and one of the most dynamic downtown Chinese districts in the country. He was one of the first to start business relations between Canada and China, and whenever in China, tirelessly promoted Calgary and Alberta as great places to do business. He was involved in many enterprises and had many business partners, all of whom thought highly of him.

Roddy also loved politics. He was one of the first to encourage Ralph Klein to run for Mayor, and loyally supported Ralph in all of his political endeavors throughout his career. Ralph was his friend, and Roddy helped his friends. He also helped his Liberal friends, one of which was me.

In January 1980, Roddy owned a large banquet Hall on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 1st St SE called, as I recall, the Golden Nugget, or some such name. It was during the Federal Election campaign that brought an end to the brief Joe Clark Tory Government and returned Pierre Trudeau and his Liberals to power. The Liberals rented Roddy's place for a campaign luncheon. The hall had a capacity of about 500, and following the political principle of always renting a room smaller than the crowd one expected, Roddy and the Grits crowded about 750 into the place to hear Pierre. I was the Liberal candidate for Calgary North in that election and introduced Trudeau at the luncheon, where he was warmly received by the over flow crowd. So much over flow, that Roddy was charged under the Fire Ordinance for overcrowding. He gladly paid the twenty-five dollar fine. Roddy said that Trudeau, who loved Chinese food, soon made it up to him. While on his way to or from Asia, while Trudeau's plane was stopped in Calgary for refuelling, he called Roddy and ordered some Chinese food from the Restaurant, thus evening the score.

I enlisted Roddy's assistance in the first Chretien-Martin leadership race in 1990. Roddy was only too happy to help get out the Chinese vote in the delegate selection hunt for the Riding of Calgary Center. He recruited several from the Chinese community to sell the memberships, primarily to the older, retired people who lived in Chinatown Apartments. He recommended the strategy of meeting with them for a social evening prior to the delegate selection meeting so that I could address them on why they should vote for the Chretien slate. On the night of the meeting, a light luncheon was held for the new members at the Jade Palace, at which there were more speeches - all translated into Chinese. Buses waited outside to transport them to the polls. The Chretien slate, thanks to Roddy and his friends, handily won the contest. It was a revealing exercise of democracy.

A very colorful, rotund, affable, jolly but modest man, Roddy enjoyed a good martini and fine wine. He loved talking politics, both Canadian and Chinese. To have dinner with Roddy and his friends, was an event not to be missed. Great conversation, food, spirits and plenty of laughter.

He left a devoted family, and many admiring friends located in the four corners of the globe. And many fond and happy memories.


Calgary lost a good man this past week. His name was Art Dixon, and he made a difference.

Arthur J. (Art) Dixon began his life in Windleston, County Durham, England just over 87 years ago. He immigrated to Canada with his family as a young boy, and spent most of his early years growing up in Okotoks. After the war began he joined the RCAF and fought for his country. He was married during the war. When the war was over, Art returned to Alberta, started a couple of small businesses, and in 1950 entered the real estate field. He started his own real estate company which carries on business still today as Dixon Real Estate Services. As a businessman his word was his bond. He was an active member of the Calgary Real Estate Board and for his services to the Board he was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership.

It was Public Service for which Art is most well-known. Growing up in the depression, Art knew hard times. The Social Credit movement in Alberta began as a political force to ease the extreme want and destitution endemic throughout the Province during the early years of the depression. Art liked that part about Social Credit - the part that was supposed to help people. In 1952, with his war years behind him, and a business to sustain his family, he went into politics. He was elected that year as a Social Credit Member of the Alberta Legislature for Calgary, and served as an MLA for the next 23 years. In 1963, his natural fairness and obvious intelligence landed him in the Speaker's Chair of the Legislature, a post he held for 12 years. Art was not cut from the same cloth as many of his colleagues in Social Credit. He was tolerant and flexible. He would never attempt to impose his standards of morality on others. He represented the progressive side of the movement, and there weren't many of them during the reign of Premier E.C. Manning.

I knew Art Dixon and liked him very much. My most memorable encounter with Art was to have its beginnings in late 1964. As a very young lawyer, I was retained by members of the Calgary Italian Community to fight expected charges under the Criminal Code and Liquor Control Act we anticipated were to be laid against members of several Italian new-immigrant families. This situation arose as a result of a rather violent RCMP raid on the Brdgeland homes of families suspected of making wine at home - a long and honorable Italian tradition. These families were making wine, as it was part of their culture, and many of them did not know it was illegal to do so. I wrote a heartfelt letter to the RCMP asking for compassion for these families, and whether due to it or not, charges were not laid.

My clients and I decided to take the next step - to convince the straight-laced Social Credit Government of Premier Manning to amend the Liquor Control Act so that people could make wine at home for their families. In 1965 prior to the beginning of the spring session of the Legislature, we tried lobbying the Premier and a few of his Members. Those efforts were fruitless. For the next spring session in 1966, we gave the 3-member Liberal Opposition a brief of our position, and they introduced a Private Members Bill to amend the Act so as to allow home wine-making. The Government tabled the bill and it died on the Order paper. For the 1967 spring session of the Legislature we had acquired our secret weapon - the Honorable Art Dixon, Member of the Social Credit caucus. Art had gladly accepted the important task of trying to convince his colleagues in the Social Credit caucus that our cause was just - even if it did involve the Social Credit Government approving home brew. Due in large part to Art's efforts behind the scenes, the Manning Government amended the Liquor Control Act to allow people to make their own wine and beer for their home consumption - an Act that has stood the test of time and remains on the books to this day.

Art was defeated in 1975 with the election of the Lougheed Government. He returned to his business and his many volunteer activities. One of his pursuits was as the founder and President of the William Aberhart Historical Society.

Art was a life-long supporter of the Salvation Army, from which he received its highest civilian honour, an International Distinguished Service Award. He was a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to the Province. He also received an Alberta Achievement Award in recognition of his community service, including his efforts on behalf of the Salvation Army, as an active member of Kiwanis International, as a volunteer Citizenship Court Judge, and as a driving force behind the development of the Dream Haven Senior's residence. He left behind a loving family and countless friends and admirers.

Art Dixon was a good man.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


"Alberta," according to the Premier yesterday, "is the only province on record that has actually reduced CO2 Emissions by 16 per cent."

Ah, correction. An Alberta Environment official later set the record straight. In fact, Emissions have increased by 40% since 1990. It is Emissions Intensity that is down by 16%.

Emissions Intensity measures against the growth in industrial production, so that if the rate of increase of emissions is slower than the rate of increase of production, Emissions Intensity is reduced. All the while, the bad stuff - Emissions - coming out of the chimneys is still galloping along and increasing. Such is the case in Alberta.

Did the Premier merely mispeak? Or did he know the difference between Emissions and Emission Intensity? Or did he know the difference, but try to pass off the Emissions Intensity number to make the Emissions problem appear as not so much of a problem?

What do you think?


If anyone was thinking that something original would be forthcoming from Premier Eddie, they better think again.

Yesterday, in another weaselish display, the Premier pounced on statements made by an Ontario MP about the orderly development of the oilsands, and the issue of greenhouse gases. The MP in question was the youthful and exuberant Mark Holland MP for Ajax-Pickering, who is turning out to be a useful antidote to the piranha-like attacks by the Tory hatchet-man and born-again environmentalist, John Baird.

Holland's benign comments to a great extent parroted what Peter Lougheed former Alberta Premier and Statesman (unlike Eddie) had said about oilsands development a couple of weeks ago. The venerable Lougheed, who makes the current and previous Alberta Premiers look like a couple of bush-leaguers, had said that Alberta should take a go-slower approach to development of the oilsands. He opined that development should be orderly and planned, so that Albertans be better assured that they would receive maximum benefits, including a healthy environment.

However, to the usual question as to whether the Federal Grits would 'nationalize' the oilsands, if Alberta did not go along with such a program, Holland replied that the Feds would try to work 'collaboratively' with Alberta, but if Alberta refused 'there will be consequences.' Granted, the response could have been gentler. With the first media reports of Holland's statments, the rumblings and grumblings began.

No doubt criticized for the intemperate choice of phrasing by Grits more loftily placed within the Party apparatus, Holland quickly and quite rightly, on Friday stated: "The Liberal Party will continue to support the development and expansion of the oilsands in a reasonable and sustainable manner," and that "Any other characterization of our position is nothing more than an attempt to fear-monger."

But did Eddie act like a statesman in the process? No. Even though Holland had already explained what he really meant, before one had time to say the word 'Kyoto,' Eddie - on amber alert mode - jumped on the tried and tired bandwagon of western alienation. He warned of 'dire economic consequences' if Alberta was ever forced to slow oilsands development to curb global warming emissions. He said that Holland's remarks were 'reprehensible' and that the Grits were threatening to grab control of the oilsands. Ho, hum.

Holland, a young man in his early thirties and a neophyte politician later lamented that he could not understand why the Premier and others (such as columnists and talk-show hosts of the far-right) "were twisting" his comments. He added that "Perhaps by creating fear and distorting not only what I said, but the position of our party, that they think they can extract some political gain from it." Bingo. He got the message. Poor Mark recognized that he was a pawn in classic Alberta politics. Alberta Tory politicians, at the least opportunity, will always bring out their favorite bete noires - welfare or AISHE recipients or the Feds - for a few points in the polls. And this time, Mark was their boy.

So, don't expect Notsofast Eddie to do anything different from the old playbook of his predecessor. As they might say down at the Municipal Offices of his home county of Lamont, "An original thinker, he ain't."

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Its about time, really. The Love Affair between the Provincial Tories and columnists Tom Olsen and Paul Stanway, has been an open secret to discerning readers for years. It has been as passionate as it has been long-lasting. Finally, it is sanctified.

Oh, perhaps not in a religious sense. That could have happened maybe in the old Social Credit Days, when Parson E. C. Manning was Premier. He could have performed the ceremony during one of his 'Back to the Bible Hour' Sunday broadcasts. No, in these more secular times, the more worldly Tories and their illicit love companions Olsen and Stanway, have sanctified their relationship legally. They have signed a contract to join 'Notsofast' Eddie's communications staff. Longtime Sun columnist and Tory cheerleader and apologist, Stanway, is the new Director of Communications. Olsen, longtime Klein insider, stroker, coddler, brother to Gordon who for years was on Klein's office payroll, and Herald hack columnist, is Notsofast's Director of Media Relations.

The Tories have finally made Olsen and Stanway, an honest woman. No longer will they be forced to deny the obvious. No more darkened, smoky bars, cheap hotel rooms, ducking around corners. No. The two Tory hacks can come right out and admit it now. They can honestly say, "Yes, we work for the Tories." No more shameless denials. No more dissembling. No more masquerading objectivity. No, its finally truth-time. They're working for the Tories, and proud of it.

In fact, they've been working for the Tories for years. Not paid by them, although their hiring after years of unflinching Tory loyalty in their columns, causes the raising of more than one set of eyebrows, and more than a whiff of whatever it was Marcellus thought was rotten in Denmark.