Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Taliban to Target Canadian Cities?

No light-hearted banter in this blog today, Nation.

Reports today are suggesting that the Taliban and other extreme elements in Afghanistan are sending so-called "suicide bombers" to target cities in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and the U.S.

Not coincidentally, each of the countries in question is doing some serious and public soul-searching within their parliaments about whether or not they should be engaged in the Middle-Eastern theatre. Taliban and al-Qaida leadership no doubt believes that, if threatened, these countries will lose their nerve and withdraw their troops from the region.

I'm not American. I'm mainly ethnically Germanic, but can't speak on the political climate there. I'm not British, although my beard betrays some of my Scots heritage. I can't speak for the effect that homeland attacks would have on those countries. I am, however, Canadian. And I can say, beyond a SHADOW of a doubt, that if the Taliban or al-Qaida believes that targeting Canadian cities will result in fewer troops wearing Maple Leafs in Afghanistan, they are dead wrong.

This country is a collection of many races and creeds, many regions and points of view, all held together by a dream, a highway, a railway line, and a tenuous hold to the much-debated "Canadian Identity". Only 3 things truly galvanize this country, and her people, into a solid and unified purpose: Hockey, the Olympics, and External Threats.

If a "suicide bomber" blows up a bus in downtown Toronto, or Montreal, or Winnipeg tomorrow, let me tell you exactly what will happen. There will be a National Day of Mourning. The NDP will do a complete 180, and throw their unwavering support behind the mission in Afghanistan. And thousands of able-bodied men and women will report to their local recruiting office. Because once the Taliban takes the fight to Canada's streets, this mission stops being one of nation-building, and becomes one of national defence. An attack on Canada won't result in FEWER troops in Afghanistan, it will result in MORE troops. Kids who normally would be pondering their summer plans and their hockey pool picks will be standing in line to be issued boots and rifles, and go over to Afghanistan with the safety of thier families in mind. They will hit the desert, and make it their personal goal in life to find Osama, crush the Taliban and al-Qaida, and make their homes safe again.

Can they do it? Maybe. Will they try? Ask the Germans who were stationed in Holland about 63 years ago. I can guarantee this, though: An attack on Canada won't make life for the Taliban leadership, or al-Qaida, any easier. It won't have the effect they intend. It won't get Canadian troops out of the Middle-East, and it won't result in the fall of the Federal Government. All it will do is galvanize this nation behind the troops and the mission in Afghanistan, and add thousands of motivated soldiers to the fight.

Ask the peoples of Western Europe what motivated Canadian soldiers can do. And notice that most of them won't be answering in German.

- ES

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By-Election Hang-Over - the Mourning After

Predictably, last night's results are being painted as a harbinger of doom for the Tory dynasty in Alberta.

Some pundits are predicting that both Calgary and Edmonton will elect a full slate of Liberals in the next election... based on what? The result of a Calgary by-election. A by-election that saw 3,000 voters fewer than the last general election. Interestingly, the Liberal candidate won the riding with FEWER votes than the losing Liberal received in the last general election. Let's see some numbers:

2004 (13,517 votes cast)
Ralph Klein (PC) - 6,958
Stephen Brown (Lib) - 4,938
2007 (10,532 votes cast)
Brian Heninger (PC) - 4,017
Craig Cheffins (Lib) - 4,801

With almost every other party receiving within a hundred votes of its total from the last general election, it's pretty clear that had those 3,000 people come out and voted, the results may have been quite different last night.

Were they punishing Ed Stelmach? Were they just disinclined to go out of their way to vote in a mere by-election? Nobody knows, but everyone with a keyboard seems to want to convince us that they have the answers. Had there been a different candidate in Elbow for the PC's, or had Stelmach rolled over and given Bronconnier what he wanted, or had the emergency relief announcement come a few days BEFORE the by-election instead of the day after, 800 more people inclined to vote Tory might have stopped by the poll on their way home from work yesterday, and we'd be having a different conversation entirely.

Look, Nation, the reality here is that everyone is looking at these results in full "spin" mode, and they have been preparing for every eventuality for weeks now. Whether Cheffins won or lost, all of the "anti-Ed" crowd was ready to go to print with their stories about the "stunning turn-around" for Liberal fortunes, the "thousands of votes that stayed home" due to Stelmach's "lack of vision"... funny how today the Cheffins win is being painted as a HUGE upset, yet for the past month we've been hearing about how close a race this was going to be. I'm sorry, I know I'm a bit slow, but can someone explain to me how, if a contest is universally regarded as a toss-up, EITHER competitor can be suggested to be a huge underdog? Also, we're being treated to the usual tripe about how the Rural folks like Ed, while the cities are in open revolt over the "Hillbilly Cabinet".

Likewise, the "Ed's doing fine" crowd is pointing to the Drumheller-Stettler result as a sign that everything is fine, and claiming that if Heninger and Morton hadn't stuck their feet in their mouths, everything would have come up roses. The truth is, everything is NOT fine. Increasingly, Albertans are viewing the PC Party as "yesterday's party"... this is a dangerous road, as a similar sentiment was growing in the rest of Canada about the Chretien/Martin Liberals before their fall. Only with new faces, a new leader, a new platform, and new ideas can the federal Liberals shake their image of days-gone-by.
This is an opportunity for Stelmach to take a page out of the Klein playbook. To sit down in front of the cameras, look them dead in the lens, and say "Albertans sent us a message, and we got it. Mea Culpa. Here's what I'm doing, in the next six months, to make your life better. And we're going to the polls on March 10, 2008, no matter WHAT my numbers are at." Albertans would reward such an approach.

The suggestion is being made that the Liberals are within striking distance of taking the cities, and that the rural communities would follow suit to stay on the inside of the halls of power.

Not. In. A. Million. Years.

Nation, the Liberals could very well split Calgary. They might sweep Edmonton. Heck, if the Perfect Storm hits, politically, they could even form the government in this province. But the countryside is full of 50+ years olds who proudly call themselves "Rednecks", and have been voting right-of-centre since Christ was a Corporal. They will vote for Kevin Taft, or a party with "Liberal" in the name, around the same time that the Greater Toronto Area gets swept by the federal Conservatives. If the Liberals take the cities, get ready for a political polarization in this province like never before... if you think the "Urban/Rural Disconnect" is bad NOW - let the Liberals take the cities, and you ain't seen NOTHIN' yet.

If Premier Stelmach and his advisors seize this opportunity and re-shape the party into a socially progressive, fiscally conservative and environmentally sensitive "face of change", much like Klein did after succeeding Getty, then "country bumpkins" in cabinet or not, this result could be a harbinger of doom all right... for the Liberals. It's just the "red alert" that Ed needs to re-shape the party, and re-brand it as something new and fresh, instead of the tailor-made-for-defeat vision of the "35-year monolith of power and inertia, relic of a bygone era" that Taft has been trying to paint the Tories as being. Should be an interesting few weeks ahead.

- E.S.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

By-Election Update #5 - Final (Unofficial) Results

Total Votes Cast: 10,532 (35.6% of eligible voters)

Craig Cheffins (Liberal) - 4,801 votes (46%)
Brian Heninger (PC) - 4,017 (38%)
George Read (Green) - 611 (6%)
Jane Greydanus (AA) - 456 (4%)
Al Brown (NDP) - 348 (3%)
Trevor Grover (SC) - 175 (2%)
Jeff Willerton (Ind.) - 124 (1%)

Total Votes Cast: 7,249 (33.3% of eligible voters)

Jack Hayden (PC) - 4,180 votes (58%)
Tom Dooley (Liberal) - 993 (14%)
Larry Davidson (SC) - 849 (12%)
John Rew (Ind.) - 519 (7%)
Dave France (AA) - 355 (5%)
Jennifer Wigmore (Green) - 249 (3%)
Richard Bough (NDP) - 104 (1%)

By-Election Update 4

Calgary-Elbow is going to come down to who got out the vote, and barring a last-second miracle that's going to be Craig Cheffins of the Liberals. Drumheller-Stettler is over, as the Tories will hold the seat.

Here, mainstream media, I'll take care of your headlines for you: "Calgary rebukes Country Cabinet, while Boonies are a Boon for Ed". Now that THAT nonsense is out of the way...

Calgary-Elbow, as I've stated previously, wasn't held for years because of its "True Blue" conservative values - it was held by Ralph Klein's personal charisma. Whichever candidate wins the day in Elbow - it looks at this point like it will be Craig Cheffins, with a safe lead and only 5 polls left to report - it will be because he convinced the voters that he would do a good job of representing them and their interests in Edmonton. Heninger can NOT have helped his case that way when he referred to Dave Bronconnier as "whining" on behalf of Calgarian interests a few weeks back - an ill-advised slip that might, when all was said and done, have cost Brian this race. This close result and apparent Liberal pick-up isn't a reflection of Calgary's disdain for Ed Stelmach or his government, it's a reflection of the fact that Elbow is, at the best of times, a centrist riding that can be won by either "centrist-ish" party, depending on the candidate. If Cheffins wins, it will be because of Craig Cheffins and his campaign (or the aforementioned "whining" remark), not because of anything Ed Stelmach did or didn't do.

As for Drumheller-Stettler, the big story here isn't the Tory win, but rather the devastatingly poor showing of the Alberta Alliance. Southern, Rural Alberta, long considered a hotbed of Alliance-style discontent with the Red Tory government in Edmonton, has given the Alliance only slightly more votes in this by-election than it gave the Green Party. Whatever the Alliance is doing wrong, they'd better figure it out, quickly, if they intend to be the next party of the Right to ride a wave of public discontent to a decades-long reign.

Calgary Elbow
With 72 polls reporting:
Brian Heninger, PC 3,589 votes (38%)
Craig Cheffins, LIB 4,267 votes (45%)

With 53 polls reporting:
Jack Hayden, PC 3,266votes (61%)
Dave France, AA 252 votes (5%)
Tom Dooley, LIB 569 votes (11%)

By-Election Update 3

It's still an early analysis, but with 13 of 71 reporting in Drumheller-Stettler, it looks like the good ship Tory is sailing to a quick victory. The tides could still turn, but don't bet the farm on it.

Meanwhile, it may be a LONG night in Calgary Elbow. 14 of 77 polls have reported, and there's only 91 votes separating front-runner Craig Cheffins and Tory Brian Heninger.

By-Election Update 2

Calgary Elbow
With 5 polls reporting:
Brian Heninger, PC 84 votes (33%)
Craig Cheffins, LIB 128 votes (50%)

With 6 polls reporting:
Jack Hayden, PC 235 votes (72%)
Dave France, AA 17 votes (5%)
Tom Dooley, LIB 24 votes (7%)

Early By-Election Results

And I mean VERY early...

Drumheller-Stettler, with ONE poll reporting, has PC candidate Jack Hayden off to a DOMINATING 17-vote lead over Alliance candidate Dave France.

Stay tuned to E.S. for all the breaking results, Nation. :)

- E.S.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rent Controls & Presumption

Nation, don't for a second think that I've consciously switched to a "once weekly, on Wednesday" writing schedule. As my righteous dander gets raised, more will be coming, with higher frequency. :)

I wanted to talk today about the Rent Control debate that has been raging across the province for the past month. In the past week or 2 it has been supplanted, to some degree, by the spat between Bronco and Ed over funding for municipalities. But, if you listen very carefully, you can still hear the opposition parties crying foul over the lack of Rent Controls in this province.

The only voices crying out louder than the opposition parties themselves are the self-righteous hounds of the main-stream media... self-appointed "defenders of the people", these columnists write about how Ed is stupid, Ray Danyluk is a clueless bumpkin, and how the entire cabinet looks like it was plucked off the streets of Mayberry.

THIS is the level to which the debate of ideas has been debased in today's media?

Look, full disclosure here: I'm a renter. In Calgary. I don't WANT to be a renter - I want to be a home-owner. But, unless I start getting 3 or 4 thousand hits per day on the Google Ads to the right of this column, that's not going to happen anytime soon, in Calgary. Maybe not in Alberta, for that matter. So I rent. From a "mega-landlord". I'm in an apartment slightly under 900 square feet. It's okay - it has it's problems, but so does every home - and I pay a shade over $1000 per month for the place. It JUST fits into my budget. If the landlord decides to raise the rent by $500 per month next year, will I have to move? Absolutely. Am I worried about it? Sure I am.

But, Henry and Martha Albertan don't hear my story. They don't hear it, because the same columnists who think Ray Danyluk's beard is a valid point of discussion on the housing issue are repeating the same mantra over and over again, like a Hari Krishna with OCD - "Tory's don't care about rent controls, because Tory's aren't renters."

At least 40 of the people I spoke with at the PC AGM in May were Tory party members, and renters. There goes that theory. But, god forbid that the media or opposition actually research their assertions!

"Tories are Tories because they have lots of money. And since it's a trueism that all Tories are well-off, it must stand to reason that no Tories are renters. In fact, a lot of them are probably land-lords."

"Makes sense to me... run with it. Those are all 100% fact, no need to check the figures."

I think some level of rent regulation would be a good thing. To be honest, I think we'll see it brought in, by a Stelmach government, within the next year. The market just isn't sustainable as it is, without some pressure to cool it off in a controlled fashion. The fact that it's not being brought in RIGHT THIS SECOND, as the NDP and Liberals want, is what people are seeing. They think that nothing's happening, because they SEE nothing happening. But this is a different government, and a different Premier. You're not going to see big, flashy presentations of thin, drawn-up-on-the-back-of-a-cocktail-napkin policies. You're going to see methodical, controlled and responsible governance. It's not sexy, but it's what we need. There's enough hype in Alberta as-is - we don't need more from our government.

A lot of these self-important media "personalities" are rubbing their hands together, eagerly anticipating the death of the PC Association of Alberta under Ed Stelmach. What they forget, though, is that the Alberta PC's have been one of the most impressive political machines in the world for over 30 years... a few pretentious writers and some precocious, spiteful children (Yes, YAPCA, that would be you) aren't going to bring all that down without a TONNE of help.

Does the Enlightened Savage support Rent Controls? Yes, he does. But he also supports the building of affordable housing. And since it takes longer to build a home than it does to sign an executive order capping rent increases, I say let's use the plans the government has put in place, get those living spaces on the drawing board, and THEN we can squabble about how much Boardwalk, Morguard, and Joe Smith who rents out his basement are allowed to "gouge" us renters. Because once those spaces are built, if Boardwalk tries to raise rent by 75%, guess where their renters will go? That's right - the newly-finished, affordable housing. And Boardwalk will just be out the rent on those spaces completely. Now THAT is the best cap of all - the one that businesses have to put on themselves because of market forces and common sense. Because no tax dollars go to enforcing it.

- ES