Saturday, March 31, 2007


Environment Minister Rob Renner has been the MLA from Medicine Hat for 14 years. He was born in Medicine Hat. He will probably die there. He knows his City well and where it is on the map. He operated a family florist business there - which probably qualified him to be green enough for Fast Eddie to appoint him as his Environment Minister.

Renner's Legislative Assembly biography tells us that during the Dark Ages of the Klein years, he served as a Member of the Government's Agenda and Priorities Committee. Time has shown us, sadly enough, that the Agenda and Priorities Committee during that empty era had neither an agenda nor priorities.

The biography also states that during those Klein years, Renner served as Chair of both the Government's Health Professions Act Implementation Steering Committee and the Health Workforce Rebalancing Committee. His success in those jobs can be guaged by the acute shortage of Doctors, Nurses, and other trained medical staff that has plagued the Province now for at least a decade with no respite in sight.

The effectiveness of these Committees may be found in graveyards across the Province. It may also be observed in incubation treatment centers in Saskatoon caring for Calgary babies who can not be treated at home because of lack of facilities. So too it can be observed upon seeing expectant mothers miscarry in emergency wards while awaiting treatment, or being forced to carry dead foetuses in their bodies for days because of lack of space and service to treat such cases on a timely basis. Good work, indeed.

But there's more. Renner was Chair of the Standing Policy Committee on Community Services. Its success in resolving issues such as homelessness, the availability of affordable housing or adequate funding for AISHE recipients, and the like is - well, to put it kindly - massively underwhelming.

And there's more. Renner was Co-Chair of the Automobile Insurance Implementation Team. In that capacity, he championed the cause of taking away the rights of citizens to receive reasonable damage awards for certain personal injuries by limiting awards to $4000 for pain and suffering, arguing that this would reduce automobile insurance premiums. The result: premiums have gone up and insurance companies have earned increased profits. The insurance companies got the mine. The little guy - as always during the Klein years - got the shaft.

So Fast Eddie, being obviously impressed with Renner's great record of success, made him Environment Minister.

This week in a speech given to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Renner was the Government's messenger respecting Alberta's growing contribution to Global Warming. As might have been expected, he stated what everyone - except the few remaining deniers, who in another lifetime would have argued that the earth was flat - already knew: that Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions are multiplying to the extent that by 2020 they could be 64% above the Kyoto benchmark, even taking into account expected technologically driven rate reductions. Therefore, intoned the Minister, government, industry and ordinary Albertans all have a role to play in reducing emmissions.

To further drive home his point Renner, obviously struggling for an analogy that his audience could grasp, resorted to something he knew something about - Medicine Hat and its hot summer climate. By 2080, said Renner, because of Alberta's continued belching of emissions, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray would have similar temperatures as Medicine Hat. And so, because of that fact, the emissions problem could no longer be ignored. Ah yes, it was a meaty speech indeed.

The only response from Fast Eddie's Government to the growing emissions problem is the reduction of intensity levels. Renner would explain it this way to his constituents in Medicine Hat: if one barrel of oil produces 10 units of emissions, then we are making headway if we can reduce that to one barrel producing say 8 units of emissions.

But if production is tripled to 3 barrels of oil from one, those 3 barrels produce 24 units of emissions instead of 8. Production increases by multiples are what is expected to happen in the oilsands over the next several years. In the Green Age, intensity level reductions as a solution to the emissions problem is not acceptable either to most Canadians or most of the rest of the enlightened world.

Now, just what are the chances of this Minister of the Environment spearheading a solution to the emissions problem?

About the chances of the survival of a snowball in Medicine Hat on a hot July day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Bad news. Its all bad news. That's what Premier Fast Eddie must have thought last night as the Quebec polls rolled in announcing big changes in the offing for La Belle Province.

At least part of Bush's pal Steve Harper's Nation of Quebecois spoke pretty clearly. They wanted change. As a result, Mario Dumont's Action Democratique du Quebec came out of nowhere to vault to second place, the PQ dropped to a dismal third, and Jean Charest squeaked to a slender minority victory.

Fast Eddie must be asking himself and his other paid flaks that loiter about his office - Olsen and Stanway come to mind - Is the desire for change in the Provinces catchy? Will it catch on in Alberta?

If they are honest they will say, 'dern right!' or 'dern tootin!' consistent with the hayseed lingo of Eddie's new Government. Why? Because first of all, Alberta has profound problems that are affecting everyone. Lack of Hospitals, dirty Hospitals, inadequate health care, lack of schools, crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded universities - you name it. It would be surprising if they did not want change, given how the chickens have come home to roost as a result of the do-nothing boys of the Klein years - one of those boys being Fast Eddie himself. Fast Eddie was a Big Stick for Ralph during those dark ages (See Darryl Raymaker Blog, January 27, 2007).

In addition, the new Premier's record since he blew Dinning and Morton away has been less than stellar. His Ministers are not singing from the same song book, he's been seen as graspy respecting fund-raising, and is now widely regarded as being slow to respond to the Province's woes.

Furthermore, he seems to have no clout with his fellow-traveler, Bush's pal Steve Harper, who
in his recent Budget included resource revenues for the purpose of calculating equalization payments - an idea long considered to be heresy in the Tory establishment in these parts.

The upset in Quebec follows closely upon an ominous poll taken recently by CTVglobemedia. The results were announced last thursday. In the poll, more than 1200 Calgarians were questioned about Fast Eddie's performance to date. 20% of them thought he was doing a good job, 64.5% said it was too soon to tell, and 15% thought he was doing a poor job. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Edmonton, a Liberal stronghold, was a little kinder to Eddie. 34% said he was doing a good job, 56% said it was too soon to tell, and 10% thought he was doing a poor job. The poll is considered accurate to within 2.5% 19 times out of 20.

The Grits are gearing up for two by-elections, one in Calgary Elbow - the Riding vacated by Klein - and one in Drumheller-Stettler. In Calgary, even Ralph's bosom buddies are predicting the Tories will lose the seat. In Drumheller, all reports indicate that farmers and ranchers are on the warpath against the Tories respecting water supply and other long-standing issues, and are for the first time taking a long long at the Grits.

All of which is bad news for Fast Eddie. The good old days when a Tory didn't even have to campaign to win are gone.

Is change catchy? Dern Tootin!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Brian Mulroney was a pretty good politician. He had charm. He had the gift of the gab. He spoke the official languages with equal facility. He had the pizzazz and tools to keep his caucus loyal. He was Prime Minister for nine years.

Oh, he wasn't perfect. He was misguided and rash on some issues - i.e. Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord come to mind. He had some sleazy friends who to this day haunt him still. He pandered to Quebec.

And he talked too much. According to Mulroney, Canada was not only in debt. It was 'bankrupt.' If the rest of Canada rejected Meech Lake, they would 'humiliate' Quebec. On the verge of getting Meech Lake approved by the Provinces, he bragged about knowing when to 'roll the dice' to win the day. Holdouts in Newfoundland and Manitoba read about the braggadocio, and promptly scuttled Meech Lake. For further proof of this unfortunate penchant, one need only quickly skim Peter Newman's 'The Secret Mulroney Tapes.' As a result, Mulroney blew his cherished but (probably) misguided dream of being a constitutional giant as was his idol and bete noire at the same time, Pierre Trudeau. Quebec never did get 'a distinct society' designation in a Constitution finally containing its signature.

Mulroney's tongue got him into more trouble than enough. Most certainly it helped shorten his political days in the sun.

By 1993, Canadians were sick of him. They threw out the Tories leaving them with an embarrassing 2 measly seats. Thirteen years later, they edged back into power almost by default but this time with the Party changed and leaning decidedly far more towards the lunatic fringe right.

Bush's pal Steve Harper, the current Prime Minister, is certainly not a clone of Mulroney. Where Mulroney was charming and witty. Harper is brittle and humorless. Mulroney wanted to govern for everybody. Harper, in his heart of hearts, wants to govern for an economic elite.
Whereas Mulroney could usually exercise enough discretion so as to avoid being attacked for bribing Canadians with their own money, Bush's pal Steve, has no such fetters and just last week bribed the people of Quebec with new Equalization funding which supposedly addressed a 'fiscal imbalance.' In fact, it was a gift of Canadian taxpayers' money which Quebec Premier Jean Charest promptly used to give his people a 700 million dollar tax cut, designed to improve his fortunes in next week's Provincial Election.

Neither was Mulroney mean-spirited. He could debate with the best of them. He could make his points forcefully and with humor. Never in a public forum was he mean-spirited or nasty. With Mulroney it was Marquis of Queensbury rules all the way.

Yes, Steve Harper is no Brian Mulroney. The current Prime Minister is not only witless and humorless. He also has a very nasty side. In Steve's world, it's alright to accuse Paul Martin of supporting child pornography, or to accuse leading Liberals as being anti-Israeli. Its also OK for him to accuse, with the protection of privilege in the House of Commons, a Sikh Liberal MP of voting against the extension of Anti-Terror legislation to protect his father-in-law who was on a supposedly secret RCMP list of potential witnesses respecting the Air India Inquiry. And just last week Stevie found it fitful to accuse the Liberals of being more supportive of Taliban prisoners than Canadian soldiers.

Nasty, indeed. But it also shows the Mulroneyesque fault of both rashness, and not being able to keep his mouth shut.

What all this is leading up to is this. Stephen Harper has most, if not all, of Mulroney's negative attributes, but few if any, of his positive ones. While Mulroney had wit and charm. Harper has neither. While Mulroney was civilized and fair, Harper has a McCarthyesque penchant for character assassination. While Mulroney had a good relationship with the press most of the time, Harper's press relations are poisonous. While Mulroney handled the public finances with considerable discretion, Harper has no compunction of blatant vote buying beyond a scale seldom witnessed in Canada. While Mulroney actually tried to keep promises, Harper casts them aside with undue haste and little concern (Income trusts, resource revenues not to be included in Equalization). Whereas Mulroney appeared to be human, Harper appears as a highly partisan and nasty robot.

On the negative side, they were both reckless - Mulroney with Meech and Charlottetown and over-the top rhetoric, and Harper with his 'Quebecois as a Nation.' And both talked too much - Mulroney with his personal aggrandizement and 'roll of the dice' type bragging, and Harper with his reckless accusations against his competitors.

And so, I like the chances of Stephane Dion being the next Prime Minister of Canada after the next election. Bush's pal Steve Harper has had a pretty easy ride of it for the past few months. But any day now, the press and the Canadian people are going to wake up to the fact that he can't even be positively compared to an un-laundered Brian Mulroney - let alone to a man of impeccable character, honesty and brains. Then, they will reject him.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I had occasion to meet Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor just before the the calling of the last Federal Election. The circumstances were pleasant enough. We sat beside each other on a Toronto to Calgary Air Canada Business Class Flight and had a couple of drinks together during a congenial conversation.

Even though he wasted no time after introducing ourselves to take the Feds to task on a host of issues, he was certainly not an unpleasant man. Although he was and looked to be in his mid sixties, with his full head of neatly combed straight white hair, angular and alert face, and lean body, he obviously was a man who had taken care of himself, as might be expected from the retired General that he was.

Early in our conversation he disclosed to me that he was the Tory Defence critic, and made no bones about his view that the Canadian Government had for too long ignored its Armed Forces
and that if he was elected, which he quite confidently predicted, Canadians were going to see a far more aggressive Defence policy.

His partisanship and enthusiasm for his job and future plans struck me that he would be shaking things up should he be made Defence Minister. It also left me with the impression that he was so steeped in the view that our Armed Forces had for too long been ignored and that Canada had not done its fair share of international heavy lifting in military actions, that he lacked objectivity and would probably proceed with wild-assed determination quite recklessly.

His performance on the job has proved that my initial impressions were correct.

When it comes to soldiering O'Connor, like Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier, is one tough hombre. As Minister, he has pursued his objectives, fearlessly and showing absolutely no doubt as to their correctness. This can be a great quality for a General in a theatre of war, as well as a Government Minister pursuing his policy objectives. Provided that they are right. Because if one is not right, disaster looms over the next hill.

It is evident that O'Connor has demonstated both a lack of thoughtfulness as well as a lack of historical perspective, in respect to what will likely be the biggest military issue for Canada over a period of at least a decade: Canada's role in Afghanistan.

He and the Harper Government have allowed the Canadian contingent of 2200 or so men and women to fight it out in the toughest part of the country - the Kandahar Region - which has been known for centuries to contain the most warlike of tribes as well as the greatest number of religious extremists in the whole country.

The Government of Canada has so far spent something approaching 6 billion dollars on the operation. 44 Canadian personnel have died. The Taliban, who are supposed to be the forces of darkness that are out to oust President Karzai (who is supposed to be the good guy) are gaining strength, the poppy fields are rife with the raw materials to serve the heroin market the world over, and NATO forces number only about 36,000 to impact on the whole country.

Contrast this to the Russian experience, the last major effort to tame that wild Central Asian Republic. They were there for a little over 9 years, ending in February 1989. A total of 620,000 Russian military personnel served - between 80 and 120,000 at any one time. 14,500 died. In addition, the Russians lost 150 tanks, more than 300 helicopters and 118 jet planes before they hightailed out of the country. When they left, the civil war got rolling in earnest.

Add to that sorry history, the fact that Afghanistan has never been subdued by a foreign invader or occupier for very long, whether it be England, Russia, or Alexander the Great, and that there is a tradition of both ferocity and independence amongst its people.

The fact is that the NATO participants, and particularly the United States, are not interested in shedding too much blood in this battle. By all reports our allies, the forces of the existing Afghanistan Government under President Karzai, are fighting at best, a stalemate with the Taliban. Indeed, many observers report that the Taliban are winning.

Soon, the Canadian people are going to twig to this. At the moment, out of support for our troops, questions have been muted. But just as the Iraq experience in the United States little by little finally entered the consciousness of the American people, so to will Afghanistan amongst Canadians. At that point, questions will be raised respecting the futility of it all, and many will pay a political price. At the top of the list will be Gordon O'Connor - clearly a Rumsfeldian, who in his blood thirsty impulsive sabre rattling, did not think through our involvement in Afghanistan. Neither does it seem that he bothered to read much, if any, of its violent history.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Sometimes it is easy to feel sorry for Fast Eddie. I mean, he has plenty of self-inflicted wounds already, what with the alienation of the cities, campaign funding issues, shortage of hospitals, a boom that the government can't keep up with, yada, yada, yada.

But the rot is much deeper than incompetent Progressive Conservative legislators, past and present.

Take for instance the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. A couple of days ago the geniuses who sit on the Commission made the enlightened decision to change its policy so that bars and nightclubs could hire children between the ages of 12 and 17 to work in their kitchens, washrooms, loading facilities and any other place in the establishment that is not serving alcohol. The decision was made at the request of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association as a way of dealing with a pressing labour shortage.

So not only does the Progressive Conservative Government love any business group that comes a-calling asking for changes to make it easy to screw over the little guy in our society in order to increase their profits (e.g. capping the insurance awards for soft tissue damages, privatizing liquor outlets, selling hospitals to their pals for a song). So to does its Commissions such as the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.

Of course this should come as no surprise. After all, the Commissions and Boards of the Provincial Government are merely extensions of the Premier and his Cabinet. The members selected are almost without exception of pure Progressive Conservative pedigree who owe their position to the laying on of hands of Progressive Conservative politicians.

In the case of the Gaming and Liquor Commission, the Board is made up of people who have been appointed between 2001 and 2005, by of course the Klein Government. None of them appear to have any experience with Liquor, except maybe drinking their share at Tory Conventions. A couple have sat on Lottery Boards. The Chairman himself has a background primarily in Lands and Forests and the Environment. One of the members - a former P.C. candidate - has been on the gravy train for a while having worked on Appeal panels of AISHE and the Health Professionals Act.

Fast Eddie found out about the changes after the Restaurant Association Emailed its member businesses telling them of the good news. According to Tom Olsen, Eddie's loyal and faithful man-servant communications officer going back to his days as a columnist with the Calgary Herald, neither Eddie, Employment Minister Iris Evans, nor Solicitor General Fred Lindsay (under whom the Commission operates) knew anything about it. It would have been interesting to observe any growth in the size of their noses as Olsen was making that statement.

Existing regulations prior to the Commission's end run for the Restaurant Association's new demands, allowed kids to work in restaurants only and not in Bars and nightclubs.

The whole issue was brought to the Premier's attention by the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is naturally on the warpath about the issue, since the policy changes obviously were designed to get cheap labour for the businesses, and in the process take employment away from adult Albertans who would be asking for more money than the kids.

As things stand now, the Government has suspended the changes for further discussion. Evans, the Employment Minister, seems to be adamant that they will not be implemented on her watch.

Quite apart from the issue of having kids do adult jobs for less money to screw higher priced adults, there is a Dickensian quality to the whole thing. Why would the Commission or the Government even think about putting kids into that kind of work environment? Unless it was for more money for their business pals, of course. Its always the money. And its always their pals.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Lyle Oberg began letting it all hang out in the twilight of the Klein Dark Ages, when he warned the worst Premier in the history of the Province that he knew where the skeletons were. Although the statement didn't help him to become the new PC Leader and Premier, it did give him enough ink and airtime to make him a serious candidate. Although a lacklustre campaign precluded him from being among the three top finishers prior to the runoff, Oberg's salvation came in supporting Eddie in the runoff contest against Dinning and Morton which Eddie of course won. Thereby, for better or worse, the new Preem became beholden to Oberg, and made him Finance Minister.

Oberg, not unlike Treasury Board Head and Eddie henchman Lloyd Snelgrove, obviously likes his power and the trappings thereof and has continued his loose cannon ways that catapulted him into the public consciousness.

The most recent example is his stand on Equalization. He is saying very publicly one thing. Eddie, supposedly his boss, is saying quite another. The Preem wants Bush's pal Steve Harper not to include non-renewable resource cash in the Federal Equalization Program. Oberg says its of no concern to him as to whether Harper does or doesn't. In his opinion, a more important issue is that Federal per capita transfers to Alberta should be increased.

Given that Stelmach and Klein have invested so much political capital in the non-inclusion of non-renewable resource revenue in Equalization, Oberg's position looks very much like a challenge to the Premier's authority. It smacks of insolence and insubordination and he appears to be getting away with it. Obviously, as a result, Eddie looks weak and indecisive. If he can't get his Finance Minister to sing on the same page, how long will it be before other Ministers test the limits.

The Premier appears to be facing the same issue from at least one back-bencher. Gene Zwozdesky, one of the few Tory MLA's from Edmonton, and one of the urban Ministers dumped by Fast Eddie and his rural revival, had the gall to ask Seniors Minister Greg Melchin in the Legislature to abolish or reduce the provincial education property tax for seniors. The total divied up by Alberta senior citizens pursuant to that tax is about $147 million a year. Melchin, so far, has said no.

Zwozdesky is noted for his shaky party loyalty. He was once a famous former Liberal turncoat, who, upon the departure of Laurence Decore as Party Leader, vaulted over to the Klein Tories who treated him very well indeed, having him serve as Minister of Community Development and Minister of Education. Now that he has been defrocked by Fast Eddie and his rural posse, it is not beyond comprehension that Zwozdesky could stick a dagger here and there between you know who's shoulder blades.

Who needs enemies with pals like Oberg and Zwozdesky.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


The new Premier is shaking his head. He has to be asking himself why it is his every move is under such critical scrutiny, even by longstanding Tory cheerleaders. Ralph could blow up hospitals, preside over the deterioration of health care, refuse to build schools or upgrade roads, let our universities become over-crowded, play endless games respecting private medicine, fight with the homeless at Christmas, belittle people on AISH, reduce welfare payments, boorishly abandon a Premier's Health Care Conference and head to a Casino, yada, yada, yada, and the Tory media pals would soft peddle it all or in some cases refuse to print it at all, and people would forget about it, and Ralph remained King Ralph, the teflon Premier.

No such luxury for Ed though. Whether it be his fund-raising (the $5000 intimacy sessions with would be P3 profiteers), his refusal to disclose the donors of $160,000 to his campaign, his neanderthal vision on the development of the oilsands, his chintzy offer of $400,000,000 to relieve some of the oilsands development pressures in the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, his letting of a P3 contract to build a Calgary ring-road and his promise to allow more, the shortfall of funding for the new hospital in south Calgary, the continued deterioration of health care and Calgary growing pains, yada, yada, yada, and he is being lambasted by everyone including the editorial pages of the big daily newspapers - - the Sun organizations, the Herald and the Edmonton Journal. And if he is not getting it in the ear from the editorial pages or columnists, he's getting it with lurid headlines implying Provincial Government culpability for a host of problems affecting the body politic.

He must be thinking that its all so unfair. Why him, the new kid on the block? What about a honeymoon? Why didn't they treat Ralph the same way?

As Ralph and his pals used to say, "Ah, but that was then and this is now." Then, it had not registered in the minds of the media, or much of the citizenry that there was a major deterioration of services going on. There were enough Albertans saying, "I'm all right, Jack. What's your problem?" But little by little the problems and issues either caused by the Government or not dealt with by the Government begin to affect more people - a neighbor here, an aunt there, a child here, and a fellow-worker there. The process goes on until there is a breaking point. That is now.

In Alberta, that breaking point has been reached. Even the best friends of the Government acknowledge that it has not dealt with a host of problems and should be punished. And it so happens that this comes in the early days of Eddie's watch. In politics as in everything else in life, timing may not be everything, but it sure as hell is important. Eddie's timing is not too good. Not only may his days as Premier be numbered. They may not be happy ones either.