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Friday, December 10, 2004

The Aftergood Scandal triggers an Alberta revolution

Revolutions never go backward
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884)

For the Tory nomination in East Calgary's Montrose constituency, last summer, one Gus Barron challenged seldom-heard-about-seldom-heard-from MLA Hung ("missing-in-action") Pham. Political fixer Dave Aftergood and Hung Pham simply threw Barron out of the contest and appointed Pham the November 22 Tory candidate. Barron hauled the two before no-nonsense federal Judge Peter Martin. On July 30 Martin found that:

... it was fundamentally unfair to have one of the parties to such a dispute empowered to disqualify the other without the possibility of an effective review. I find that ... the failure to have a hearing by an impartial person or tribunal who would provide both sides an opportunity to be heard, raised serious questions of fairness.
and forced Pham and Aftergood to rehold the nomination (Pham won the new nomination contest). Did East Calgary show Pham the door on November 22nd? No, even after police had raided Pham's house and seized his computer and former Ward 10 alderman Dianne Danielson had subpoenaed Pham to testify in the Aftergood vote fraud scandal. Even after all that, over half of Montrose's voters voted for Pham.

Last summer police charged Calgary East Tory MLA, Moe Amery, with involvement in a passport scam. Did voters give Amery the bum's rush? On November 22 over 55% of Calgary East voters voted for Amery.

"When I die I want to go in East Calgary," said one-time East Calgary MLA, one-time East Calgary MP John Kushner, "that way I can stay active in politics." Albertans laughed knowingly.

Over the years the Tories have appointed many a loyal Tory to sit on the Alberta Provincial Court at $197,000 a year. Over the years, not one Albertan has raised a peep.

Albertans didn't seem to care. As an issue that seriously upset Albertans, newspapers, TV and radio all over Canada wrote corruption off. As long as Albertans made a good buck, the media said, Albertans held their noses and voted Tory. Up until two weeks ago.

About two weeks ago, from out of nowhere blew in a totally unpredictable 100 mile-an-hour chinook. Our article of October 22 ("Tory fixer's moll stirs up stink in Ward 10") describes how Dave Aftergood and the Tory establishment fixed the October 18 election in Ward 10 with mail-in ballots. Later investigations pinpointed individuals who voted more than once. By hook and by crook the Tories and the Aftergoods got Dave's wife Margo elected as Ward 10's alderman. On October 22, we also described how city returning officer Barb Clifford caught the Aftergoods and the Tory machine with their hands in the cookie jar. Slowly at first, speeding up as time went on, the Aftergood Affair festered. In late October, former alderman and election loser Diane Danielson applied for a "judicial review" of the election. Druh Farrel, Ray Jones and five other aldermen helped finance Danielson's $100,000 legal costs. They got Judge Peter Martin involved again. The straight-shooting Martin, appointed a judge not for his politics but for his ability and experience in criminal law ordered a Judicial Review of Ward 10 under the Alberta Local Authorities Elections Act. Judge Martin set two goals for the Judicial Review:

  1. to decide if Margo Aftergood should be thrown out as Ward 10's Alderman, and
  2. to help the city improve the election process -
those, officially, were the Review's two purposes. Officially the review was not intended to support the public's right to know what was going on.

Over fall and early winter, the Aftergood scandal festered and festered more. Separately the police investigated the Aftergoods. Danielson and Liberal lawyer Darryl Friedhandler collected evidence of vote fraud. Last Monday Danielson and Friedhandler were ready and able to haul the Aftergoods before Judge Martin's Judicial Review - and to lay bare all kinds of juicy facts. That morning, on the courthouse steps, the desperate Tories and the desperate Aftergoods corralled City Hall bureaucrats. Dave Aftergood talked the bureaucrats into agreeing to a deal (even though City Council hadn't given the bureaucrats permission to deal with the Aftergoods or the Tories). Under the deal, Margo Aftergood agreed to resign, the City agreed to shut down the judicial review. The bureaucrats and the Aftergoods applied to Judge Martin to quit his Review. Since Margo had resigned and the city wanted to quit, the Judicial Review served no official purpose and Judge Martin had to find on November 30 that he had no choice - he had to stop the judicial review. But what about the public's right to know? Martin protested on November 29:

Does the community not have the right to know? ... Why would the city want to bring closure [to the Aftergood Judicial Review]. I am very, very uncomfortable with the steps the city has taken.
Martin reminded the Eye Opener of Judge John Sirica the gutsy judge who stuck his neck out in the Watergate scandal in 1973 - were it not for Sirica Richard Nixon would have got away with Watergate. Judge Martin took the extra step of writing directly to Alberta Justice Minister Ron Stevens. Using the strongest language, Martin asked for a public inquiry under the Alberta Public Inquiries Act:
[I have heard] allegations of serious attempts to corrupt the electoral process ... It is only these matters which concern me now and which, in my opinion, cannot simply be left to smoulder on the court file without further inquiry.

Last week long-time Aftergood enemy Alderman Druh Farrell demanded that City Council also ask Ron Stevens to call a public inquiry. All Farrell's fellow aldermen except Dale Hodges, Gord Lowe, Craig Burrows and Mayor Dave Bronconnier supported her. City Hall bureaucrats talked Bronconnier into strongly and loudly opposing Farrell. Many Calgarians suspected Bronconnier of plotting with Aftergood.

Farrell has never received more emails and phone calls from Calgarians than she has over "Aftergate". Almost all demanded a public inquiry. And angry Albertans phoned and emailed Hodges, Lowe, Burrows and Bronconnier too. On Monday the always political Bronconnier had to tell the bureaucrats he had to retreat. He would support Druh Farrel's resolution. On Monday morning City Council passed the resolution and sent it off to Stevens.

Justice Minister Stevens and Municipal Affairs Minister Rob Renner of Medicine Hat are both highly skilled, honest trial lawyers. Both favour a public inquiry. To protect Pham from whatever demons haunt him, Rod Love, who controls Premier Ralph Klein, is hedging. Revolution, though, is in the air. Love will soon have to go along with a public inquiry.

Now public cynicism has lapped over Tory patronage and Tory political excess. After Rod Love returned to government in late October, he quickly appointed former energy minister Murray Smith to a plush $450,000 a year trade commissioner's job in Washington D.C. Love recreated the job specially for Smith - Smith had shut down the Washington trade commission in 1993 - because it made no economic sense, Smith said. And Love appointed former MLA Marlene Graham as a $193,000 a year provincial court judge. Angry emails and phone calls poured in. The Calgary Herald accused Smith and Graham of "double-dipping" on their severance pay packages (Smith for $360,000, Graham for $170,000). The ruckus persuaded Smith to back off for the time being. At press time Graham is refusing to back off. Probably Love will talk her into it.

The virus of revolutionary anti-Tory cynicism is spreading. This week Klein blurted out that Love wanted to pay Alberta's "senators in waiting" (all Tories or extreme right-wingers) a political style salary - for nothing more than sitting on their hands and waiting for Prime Minister Paul Martin to appoint them real senators. "It'll never happen," said Martin. More angry emails and phone calls started flooding in. Love and the wannabe senators backed off.

Why, in three short weeks, have Albertans turned on the Klein government? During the election campaign, Liberal Leader Kevin Taft trotted out a Heinz 57 of anti-government and small-l liberal promises. Albertans have notoriously short attention spans and Taft never focused on just one or two issues - for example, corruption and the benefits of a strong opposition (see "The Alberta Election - It's all about Opposition, Stupid") . The Alliance Party hired U.S. spin-doctors. The spin-doctors quickly hit and hit again on the corruption issue on the Alberta Alliance website, in advertising and through a word-of-mouth whisper campaign. The whisper campaign didn't really spread until after the election. Then it didn't stop spreading. More and more, in bars and churches and service clubs from Peace River to Fort McLeod, the Old Timer from Pincher Creek hears rural rednecks railing against Tory corruption - "So and so got an untendered contract ... such and such an MLA or cabinet minister stacked his or her nomination meeting with Hutterites or Natives ... the meat packers and the insurance companies have the Tories in their back pockets". If the November 22 election was held today, the Tories would lose 10 seats in rural Alberta.

And, after the Nov 22 election, Liberal leader Taft started focusing his attacks effectively. When Rod Love came back to work as Klein's Chief of Staff, Taft (and the Alliance-friendly Calgary Herald) laid into Love's conflicts of interest. Albertans listened.

The Eye Opener predicts that this revolutionary malaise will fester and fester and fester throughout the land. The man from TransAlta, Jim Dinning, will take over the Tory Party but the malaise will continue. It will boil over just about the time of Alberta's next election. The malaise will consume the Tories. The Liberals will not benefit - five generations of Albertans must live and die before most of their descendents vote for a party called "Liberal" - because give-um-the-finger, Edmonton-hating Pierre Trudeau, the father of the National Energy Program, was a "Liberal" (see the Liberal Party needs a new name). The Alliance will not benefit - Alberta's city folk want nothing to do with the Alliance and its busybody-back-to-the-Biblism. The Eye Opener predicts a new party, fuelled by politicians in local government, fuelled by democracy wafting over the mountains from B.C. (through B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly) with visions of fixed election dates and multiple-choice ballots (single transferable votes or STVs). The Liberals and the Alliance will have prepared the way but like 1921 and 1935, like a prairie fire, a new party will spring up and throw the rascals (Tories, Liberals and Alliance) out.

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