Crude Observations

Did anyone miss me?

Yay! I’m back baby and fully refreshed and full of thoughts about things and stuff and I’m ready to share them with you in this overly long blog. Couple of tips as you’re reading. The first part is some pithy observations that come out of my recent trip across the pond as they say. Main observation? Europe is crowded and there are lots of stray cats. Everywhere.


The second part of the blog, which is long and boring, represents my unorganized stream of consciousness thoughts on the race to be the next leader of the UCP. So, if you don’t care about Alberta politics or don’t care who I like and dislike in this race, feel free to stop reading after point number 14 below. I won’t be offended.


This race is polarizing enough so I fully expect my take will not be that popular. But I don’t get paid to write this blog to be popular. In fact, I don’t get paid at all.


European Observations – So Many Cats

  1. My travels took me to various and sundry European capitals. I spent time on the ground in Paris, Athens and London. These are large, vibrant and sophisticated cities. They are also very crowded. They also have an obscene number of cars and trucks on the road – ALL THE TIME. The vast majority of them (pretty much all) were straight up ICE, some hybrids. Not a lot of Teslas. I saw more Bentleys in fact than Teslas. Observation: If you think that the transition to electric vehicles is going to be some magical and instantaneous smooth ride over the next five years you need to get out of your bubble. Cars are everywhere. Infrastructure is not. The only obvious charging station I saw was in front of my hotel in London and for the 3 days I was there, the only vehicle hooked up to it was a BMW i8. Not exactly BEV’s for the masses happening across the pond. My rental in Greece was a super-efficient 4 cylinder mini-car that cost me as much to fill as my Tahoe. The rental place insisted I use 95 octane to refill it. Everyone else was renting emissions belching quads.
  2. Lack of knowledge about energy and where it comes from is not a uniquely Canadian or American thing. None of the “regular people” I spoke to knew that Canada was a major exporter of anything aside from maple syrup and hockey. Certainly, energy (oil and gas) wasn’t on the radar. But when I explained it, the reaction was universally in favour of us sending as much as possible to Europe. Preferably yesterday.
  3. Europeans as a rule despise Donald Trump and Vlad (the Impaler) Putin. They are very engaged in the politics of Eastern Europe, Ukraine and are only vaguely aware of the issues that we treat as life and death. Knowledge of Canada is in fact quite limited, although more than one person I spoke to actually referred to or asked if it were true that Justin Trudeau was a “great man”. As a patriotic Canadian first and foremost, I changed the subject.
  4. No one knows where Calgary is. When I mentioned Banff, people asked about Vancouver. When I showed them a map, they nodded in sympathy. Everyone in Greece has a relative in Montreal, Toronto or Regina.
  5. So many cats.
  6. A lot of the American tourists I ran into were from Florida. I don’t know what that means, but speaking with some, I guess it means that you can be an unhinged conspiracy theorist and still get vaccinated ahead of your family vacation to some Greek islands.
  7. So many cats. Especially in Greece.
  8. We took the Eurostar from London to Paris. The train holds close to 1000 people and leaves basically every hour connecting two metro areas with a combined population of close to 25 million, 340 km apart. This high speed rail link makes complete and total sense. A high speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary is just a really dumb idea. Toronto-Montreal? Maybe. Two small western Canadian cities? Why does this keep coming up?
  9. Europe is big. But it’s also small. We went to Paris, Athens, Naxos, London, Paris and Amsterdam. Our longest travel was from Athens to Naxos on a 4 hour fast ferry ride. Then our flight from Athens to London. We immersed ourselves in 4 distinct cultures, 3 time zones all no more than 3 hours apart. We could have done even more.
  10. As mentioned earlier, the only place I saw any electrical charging infrastructure of significance was in front of our unapologetically expensive hotel in London.
  11. So many cats.
  12. Prices in London are eye-wateringly high. My ears popped when I converted our first dinner bill to Canadian dollars. A chicken wrap, sweet and sour chicken with rice, club sandwich, plate of fries, two cokes, a pint and an old fashioned. $185 before tip. Good lord. But London is busy. It’s on fire. Everything is full. People are out. If you need a crane, get in line behind London because chances are any spare one is there. The crowds in London make Stampede look like a Sunday picnic. The energy was uplifting.
  13. As Canadians we live in the most ridiculously cushy bubble of comfort and security. We are energy independent. We have glorious and copious amounts of cheap food. Our defense is provided by a militaristic behemoth superpower to the south and our politics are petty, parochial and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Our products cost less, we have no specific threats to our well-being and yet we still manage to be a flaming dumpster fire. Our energy and resource production dwarfs that of most countries. Our climate is relatively moderate. Our water is plentiful. We have fresh fruit and world class cities. Our currency is stable. We can heat and cool our homes at will. We are the envy of a world that, when you get past the technocrats, bureaucrats and performative leaderships, is looking to us to supply them with energy, food and other resources produced in a faceless, benign and friendly country that neither holds them hostage to energy blackmail or subjects them to the “absolute rudest and worst tourists I have ever met” as Russians were described to me by our Greek hotelier and host. We need to get out more to see what is possible.
  14. So. Many. Cats.


The Race to the Bottom


OK, here comes the politics. I apologize in advance and avoided it as long as possible. But it needs to be addressed.


And yes, I am referring to the race to be the next leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, with the word “united” being used very loosely.


The actual vote doesn’t happen until October 3 for mail in and October 6 for in person, but the deadline to become a party member is today, August 12 so this is when it all locks in.


Coles Notes Version – I really don’t like the three top candidates.


For those of you living under a rock (ironically cohabitating with some of the candidates), some months ago we had a leadership review here in Alberta upon conclusion of which Jason Kenney, having secured barely over 50% of the vote said “screw this shit, I’m out” and announced he was stepping down, triggering a leadership race, which is what everyone wanted, right?


Maybe. Except as it is shaping up, maybe not. Why? Well in the world of unintended consequences, I don’t think it is going the way a lot of people expected with a candidate slate that is at times … Bizarre? Terrible? Abominable? Absurd? Terrifying? Embarrassing? Unhinged?


Yeah – all of those. And more!


It’s worse than a municipal election in Calgary.


I confess. I am a party member. So, I care what happens. I wanted Kenney gone. Because he was a bad and divisive leader who ran the party in a top-down dictatorial fashion that rewarded his sycophants and pandered to the fringes of the party. He also lacked the backbone to tell the nuts when to sit down and abandoned his grass-roots guarantees, threw health care and post secondary education under the bus and generally stumbled from crisis to crisis due to a unique inability to read the room on either side of the political continuum. The end result was that he got tossed not just by the anti-vax, anti-lockdown WEF and Trudeau hating hard right fringe but also by the quieter but more numerous YYC progressive conservative core.


As we all should know by now, these two groups are strange bedfellows, who barely got along under the Progressive Conservative banner and eyed each other angrily when the Wild Rose party had its day in the sun and finally did a deal with the devil to become the United (in name only) CP under the aforementioned Jason Kenney.


And now? Now we have this abomination of a leadership race, the unfolding of which is demonstrating in full view of the country that the Progressive Conservative part of the Alberta political landscape, while likely massively outnumbering the Wild Rose supporters has lost much of its mojo is likely to end up spending considerably more time in the wilderness if it doesn’t fracture off entirely.


Why do I say this? Because the top 3 candidates are all Wild Rose party incarnations. And they have all the momentum, because they are the loudest and angriest.


Then trailing behind this rogue’s gallery of fun we have three strong urban, thoughtful and true blue progressive conservative candidates in Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Leela Aheer, none of whom is likely to win or factor much into the end results, in my opinion.


Which is a tragedy. Because as candidates go, they aren’t potentially unmitigated disasters like the three front runners:


  • Danielle Smith and her Wild Rose opportunism and constitution fire-bombing “Alberta Soveignty Act” nonsense, a policy proposal so inane it should be immediately disqualifying
  • Brian Jean and his Canada/Quebec bashing promises
  • Travis Toews and and his quiet “won’t say Lake of Fire out loud” social and fiscal conservatism plus whatever nonsense he has latched onto in the moment to go toe-to-toe with the firewall craziness.


As it regards Smith, I know a lot of you like her and her fire and desire to take on Trudeau and fight, fight, fight but to me it’s all performative bullshit. It played well in 2012 before she got sunk by the Lake of Fire and in 2015 before she blew up the Wild Rose and facilitated Rachel Notley’s NDP victory, but we have just had 4 years of fighting the federal government and what did it get us? Nothing. Embarrassment. Political instability and infighting. Kooks. An ascendant movement of charlatans and anti-vax, anti-science wannabe despots who think that grievance-driven populism is some magical path to victory. But I do not think this represents what the majority is looking for.


But I get it. It resonates. It’s fun to pretend that the Federal government and Trudeau especially have it in for poor old Alberta. It’s easy to point fingers at others rather than look in the mirror.


I dislike Trudeau as much as the next guy. He is annoying as hell and many of his policies feel like they are deliberately sticking it to Alberta. But it’s more complicated than that.


And it’s easy to ignore the federally owned Transmountain Expansion and instead blame Trudeau for Biden cancelling Keystone XL. It’s easy to rage at Quebec for pulling the plug on the Saguenay LNG long shot development or the uneconomic Energy East while glossing over the federally supported Coastal Gas Link pipeline and LNG Canada – the single largest private infrastructure project in Canadian history that will be supplied by Alberta and BC gas for decades to come.


I mean why give the government credit when you can whine about equalization and fair deals and pretend that a super narrow majority in a poorly worded and evasive referendum question gives you a mandate to try to fundamentally remake a relationship with the Canadian confederation that polls consistently show is working and that large majorities of Albertans don’t want tampered with?


But what do I know, right?  I’m just a ranty blogger.


Alberta needs to assert its independence, its sovereignty, right? What could possibly go wrong if we flexed a little bit of muscle at those eastern bastards in Quebec and Ottawa?


Well, to be completely honest, maybe nothing but more likely a shit-ton. It’s that law of unintended consequences again. Political uncertainty and instability creates adverse outcomes in the investment and business community. Businesses make decisions on different time scales and for different reasons than politicians think. Trust me. None of these wannabe “leaders” has given a second of thought to the consequences of their proposals.


Opening up an even bigger battle with Ottawa and pandering to the whackadoodle separatists will create a climate of uncertainty that will take decades to fix. You think the National Energy Program was bad? Wait until the Alberta Sovereignty Act becomes the plaything of power hungry grifters. I don’t say this lightly – the ideas espoused by the three frontrunners in this leadership race have the potential to be economically calamitous for this province for years to come.


I know – I grew up in Quebec from 1965 to 1992. I experienced firsthand what separatist attitudes do to investment, business and the social fabric of a province. It’s not good! The exodus of investment and wealth out of what once was the financial and cultural centre of Canada was epically devastating for the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec. It is now 2022 – 30 years after I moved and a full 46 years after the separatist Parti Quebecois first formed government and it is only within the last several years that I could confidently say that the Quebec and Montreal economies have fully recovered.


If I look at the top 3 candidates, I see nothing but trouble. Whether its Danielle Smith and her batshit crazy ideas about sovereignty and entertaining of whacky anti-vax, anti-lockdown rhetoric to promote herself, going so far as to enlist the eternally nutty Theoren Fleury for a campaign rally. Or maybe it’s Brian Jean, doing more of the same, wanting to ostracize Quebec based companies from doing business in Alberta (or was that Toews? I’ve lost track) and proclaiming he loves Alberta more than Canada (OK, maybe he does, but does anyone actually care or need to know?). Or Travis Toews, pump and dumping school choice, an Alberta Pension Plan, and Alberta Police Force, repatriation of tax collection into the province.


It is a politics driven by grievance and has been the order of the day for the PC’s, the Wild Rose and the UCP for at least the past 10 years as they have flailed around and failed to grasp the obvious – the electorate is leaving them and their anger behind, that’s why the NDP won and is likely to win again. They aren’t mad all the time.


Here’s what really worries me.


Jason Kenney and the UCP won a majority on a platform of not being the NDP and restoring Alberta’s economy. That term isn’t over for a while, but the new guys have new ideas. The next election will be around May 2023.


This means the new UCP leader will have 9 months to implement their vision for Alberta without having to put that vision forward to the Alberta electorate for approval.


In the case of Danielle Smith, she isn’t even an elected MLA! Do we really want an UNELECTED PREMIER calling the shots?


Think about it. The new leader of the UCP will likely be selected by an “electorate” that represents less than 2% of the province’s population (actual UCP members), in what is typically a remarkably partisan process where the loudest and nuttiest show up first and stay the longest.


It’s time to think about what you want in your premier. And what you want for the next four years after the next election. Because the first choice sets the stage for the second.


My gut tells me that barring some great mellowing out, a Danielle Smith led UCP and province is a disaster in waiting that will be eviscerated by the NDP in the next election. Same thing for Brian Jean. Maybe less so for Toews.


If you would like to see the NDP form the next government, then feel free to sit this one out or cast a vote for Smith or Jean and let the next 9 months unfold as they will.


If you’re like me and don’t particularly need or want to see the NDP back in office, your vote is essential.


As a “business” dude, I want to stability not strife, I want time to allow spending cuts to take effect, the economy to stabilize and saner minds to prevail. I want to ride high commodity prices to more royalties and revenue than any government can come close to wasting.


But most of all I want things to calm down. Enough is enough. We need an adult in the room and a steady hand on the tiller.


So who to choose?


I have no idea!!!!!!!!!


The way the ranked ballot works is that unless someone cracks 50% in the first round, there will be multiple ballots. So, the second and third choice on the ballot matters as much as the first.


It is highly unlikely that Smith supporters will have Jean ranked second and vice-versa. I think they likely end up negating each other that way. Which as it stands leaves Toews as the dude who can come up the middle.


Toews concerns me. His time as Finance Minister includes some pretty major gaffes, and he is as inner circle Kenney as they come. The social conservative side of him really bothers me, but as much as the shear nonsense coming out of the Smith and Jean camps? Too close to call. If anyone can be considered a “mainstream” candidate in this bouquet of front-runners, it’s him.


Except of course within minutes of me writing the preceding paragraph, I saw on Twitter the Toews campaign’s pro-life position and proposed “conscience” policies designed to undermine a woman’s right to choose. WTF. This isn’t even remotely an issue people in Alberta are talking about. Read the room. Does he NOT want to win?


And which candidate among the front-runners is the only publicly pro-choice one? You guessed it – Danielle Smith. We are truly in the upside-down.


With all of this, it is beyond me how any of these candidates expects to contest a general election against the INCREASINGLY MODERATE AND REASONABLE looking Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP.


It’s an impossible choice. On social conservative issues, Travis Toews would not even merit consideration. But he’s probably the least worst of the three.


In a normal election, likely only one of them would be on the ballot, or there would be a stronger mainstream alternative.


This is the fundamental conservative dichotomy of Alberta playing itself out in a very public leadership race of a party that feels anything but united.


It is a difficult choice, and I really don’t want to rank any of them that high on my ballot. That vote has already been allocated to one of Rajan Sawhney or Leela Aheer, mainly because each seems to be the most reflective of my own personal conservative and progressive leanings. I’ll make the final call on one or two closer to vote mailing time. Sawhney has the urban cred, Aheer is a bad-ass who challenged Kenney and stood up to a crazed steer at a rodeo. Plus I think either could beat Rachel Notley in a general.


But neither is likely to win, barring some up the middle miracle “everyone’s third choice” a la Ed Stelmach. Miracles aside, the second or third choice on the ballot is likely to determine the winner. And in this, as it stands now, I have to plug my nose and pick Travis Toews. He’s not the best choice of the front-runners, he’s the least worst. And in this ridiculous leadership race and toxic environment, that will have to do.


And I fully expect things to change in the next 24 hours and two months to change my vote yet again.


It’s entirely likely that if Danielle Smith came out strongly pro-choice and toned down her crazy by 15% that I could be expected to swap one of my higher rankings to her over Toews. Will she? Who knows.


But at least I’m voting, right?


You should too.


Memberships can be purchased up until the end of day today. It’s not too late to get one and have your say.


It matters.

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