Music Monday: The Gaslight Anthem in Concert

I had never heard of The Gaslight Anthem until Christmas morning last year. My brother bought me their CDs for Christmas, telling me “they’re a mix of punk and Bruce Springsteen, so I figured you’d like them”. Sometimes, I am a very easy person to figure out.

The Gaslight Anthem have released two albums – their debut album ‘Sink or Swim’ is edgier, with more of a punk feel. Their follow up, ‘The ’59 Sound’, moves into a more melodic sound, incorporating a greater diversity of sounds. Both are awesome. (Their EP ‘Senor and the Queen’ is pretty good too).

I saw them perform at the Starlite Room in Edmonton earlier this year, and this Saturday caught them at the Edmonton Event Centre on their second time through this year.

Anticipating an early set (doors were at 6, show at 7), we showed up shortly after 8. The second of three opening acts, The Loved Ones, were on stage.

The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones, a punk band from Philadelphia, aren’t high on originality – they sound similar to any number of punk acts that might have been on a Tony Hawk video game soundtrack ten years ago – but are definitely worth checking out if you like that sound. I enjoyed them a lot; it took me back to my teen years when I listened to more punk music and would go to Warped Tour. They put on a fun set, playing with a lot of energy and interacting well with the crowd. At one point, the lead singer took away someone’s phone in the front row, telling him/her “you’re in rock and roll class right now!” Though they don’t look like a punk band, the Loved Ones acquitted themselves well, both as musicians and performers, and I think they won over a lot of fans besides myself.

Murder By Death

The final opening act was Murder By Death, a rock band from Indiana. With a name like theirs, I was expecting a hardcore/thrash act, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were nothing like that. Unlike The Loved Ones, their sound is hard to classify. A 4-piece band with a guitarist/singer, bass player, drummer, and keyboard player/cellist, Murder By Death is part Johnny Cash, part punk, part rockabilly, part Doors. Or something like that, they’re tough to categorize. They acquitted themselves well, playing a songs in a number of different styles and putting on an entertaining set. I’m keen to check out their albums in the next few days.

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem came out and broke right into “High & Lonesome”. They played most of the songs off of ‘The ’59 Sound’, a number off of ‘Sink or Swim’ and a couple off of ‘Senor and the Queen’, including a great version of “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” during the encore. Other highlights included a version of “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”, which was preceded by part of “The Wanderer” by Dion (they used to play “Stand By Me” as the intro).

Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem

Gaslight are a great live show. The thing that stands out is just how much they seem to be enjoying themselves, Brian Fallon especially. This interview gives you a good feel for Fallon’s appreciation for music. You can hear it in the lyrics, which reference (and in some cases directly quote) artists such as Counting Crows and Bruce Springsteen.

After the show, Andy and I were talking about this – it’s refreshing to see someone who seems to enjoy being a rock star. It’s become trendy (probably starting with Kurt Cobain) to either pretend you resent or are indifferent to being a rock star, or in the case someone like Adam Duritz, to actually resent the accompaniments of fame and success. Seeing Brian Fallon’s enthusiasm is refreshing and totally invigorating. He has fun, and has a great time interacting with the crowd. Makes for an even better live show.

Brian Fallon

Also, besides being a great live show, their music kicks ass. It makes me want to quit my job and start a band.

Check them out; they’re my second Music Monday pick.

Here’s a video clip of them playing “Great Expectations” at the Edmonton show.


Music Monday: Matthew Barber in Concert

You might not have heard of Matthew Barber, a singer-songwriter from Toronto. You might have heard of his more famous sister Jill; if you haven’t given her brother a listen, you are missing out.

I first heard Matthew Barber about 2 1/2 years ago. I saw him open for Chris Isaak at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. Appearing solo on stage, just him and an acoustic guitar, he played a killer short set. I saw him at the Myer Horowitz Theatre last spring (while on tour with Jill) and he played another amazing show. He came to Edmonton on Friday, and I couldn’t miss another opportunity to see him.

Matthew Barber

Barber played the Haven Social Club on Stony Plain Road, an intimate venue with great acoustics. Playing solo, just him on electric guitar or keyboard, Barber delivered another great set.

He went through a number of songs from his most recent album, ‘Ghost Notes’, and mixed in a few of his older songs as well as covers of Hank Williams and Jill Barber. He’s also in the process of recording a new album, and played 2-3 songs off of the upcoming work, including one about hitting the open road that Andy and I agree will sound amazing with a full band.

Matthew Barber

Barber, a talented lyricist and musician, should be playing bigger venues than Haven, which must seat only 100-200 people. In time, he probably will. If you like the singer-songwriter style, give Matthew Barber a listen, especially his album ‘Ghost Notes’, and you won’t be disappointed. He’s the first of two music monday recommendations today.

I’ll be adding a few more photos from the show here.

Weekend Reading and Entertainment: 09/26/09

A few stories to have a look at over the weekend:

– In case you missed it, I blogged more than usual this week. I previewed the fall concert schedule in Edmonton, posted a photo essay of summer in Edmonton, reviewed Rich Vivone’s new book about the Klein years, delved into the numbers to look at next fall’s Edmonton civic election, and covered the possibility of Tory MLAs crossing the floor should Danielle Smith become Wildrose Alliance leader.

– A good Wall Street Journal piece titled ‘Making Suburbia More Livable for Retirees’

– On my reading list for tomorrow is this lengthy series from Pittsblog: The Story Behind Pittsburgh’s Revitalization.

– On Counterpunch, David Michael Green asks ‘Can America Be Salvaged?’

– My friend Jeff Porten writes a piece outlining the challenges and opportunities for President Obama titled ‘The History of the Next Three Years’.

Ken Chapman has an new blog titled Reboot Alberta. One of his first posts details a conversation with John Ibbitson of The Globe & Mail. I read Ibbitson’s book last week after reading this post, and will be writing a review in the coming days.

– Daveberta was part of a CityTV town hall on politics in Alberta this past Thursday. He writes about the experience, and within the piece you can find links to the video clips of the town hall.

– An amazing photo essay by Scott Houston: Life in Small Town America – East Liverpool, Ohio. A declining manufacturing town.

– Finally, the always entertaining Jonah Keri has advice on how to choose a favorite baseball player.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Quick Hit: Are MLAs Wild About Danielle Smith?

This could be nothing more than a rumour, this could be a moot point if Wildrose Alliance Party members endorse Mark Dyrholm for leader, or this could be the story of the year in Alberta politics.

The Edmonton Journal’s Capital Notebook relays this tidbit from government insider Paul McLaughlin, publisher of the newsletter Alberta Scan. According to Capital Notebook, McLaughlin, relying on credible sources, is reporting that as many as 10 Tory MLAs could cross the floor and sit as Wildrose Alliance members if Danielle Smith is elected leader. (h/t to Jenn Prosser for posting this story).

Is there any truth behind this? It’s impossible to say at this point, but let’s consider a couple of things. First, the recent by-election in Calgary-Glenmore could have many MLAs worried about their future come general election time. Second, the Stelmach government hasn’t been very tolerant of dissent from within (here’s a recent example of an MLA paying for speaking out in public). You would think the last thing an MLA would want is to be caught thinking about crossing the floor if he wasn’t serious about it. Would this be idle speculation then? I tend to think not.

If this does happen, the ramifications could be huge. First, if all ten cross the floor, that would make the Wildrose Alliance the second largest caucus in the legislature, and the official opposition. It would guarantee them official party status, giving them greater resources to support their MLAs. Second, heading into the PC Party convention in November, this would be a huge, possibly fatal blow to the leadership of Premier Stelmach. At the very least, it could plunge the party into a divisive fight over his leadership and the future direction of the party.

It’s also worth noting that if this happens, a lot of the impact depends on which MLAs cross the floor. A cabinet minister or high-profile MLA would create a much bigger stir than a relatively unknown first-term backbencher. Whether the MLAs were all on the far right of the PC Party or if some were moderates would also affect perception. How and when floor-crossing would occur also matters. A group splintering at once would create a news story. If they begin to trickle out after the PC convention, it’s still news, but the impact might be dulled.

In any case, this is something worth keeping an eye on. It might be nothing, or if it’s Danielle Smith giving a victory speech in three weeks time, it might be the start of a big story.

Edmonton’s 12 Ward System: Who Wins and Who Loses?

Starting with next year’s election, Edmonton is switching from a system of 6 Wards with 2 representatives each on City Council to one with 12 Wards and a single rep. Earlier this month, Scott McKeen wrote a piece in the Edmonton Journal on the impending switch, and some of the challenges it portends for Councillors. Within that piece, he makes some assumptions about what certain incumbents might be facing. Reading it, I started thinking, ‘what might the 2007 results tell us about the 2010 election’? So, while I’m not a wizard with numbers, I had an inkling that the past election results might tell us something about 2010. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a few hours going through the poll-by-poll results from 2007. I have since sorted them into the relevant ward under the 12 ward system. In undertaking this, I hoped to find if the 2007 vote pointed us towards any trend, and in particular if it gave us any indication how the incumbents and challengers might fare next time around.

A few things to know:
1. The percentages listed in the spreadsheets and this post are percentages of eligible votes, not votes cast. I count undervotes to get a better idea of what percentage of voters actually supported a given candidate. I think it’s important to count undervotes since they come from people who took the time to vote, but didn’t see fit to vote for a second (or in some cases a first) candidate for Council. Abstaining here while voting for Mayor and/or School Trustee could indicate a level of dissatisfaction with the candidates from last election.
2. Anything written here is not meant as an endorsement of (or against) anyone. I’m simply relaying the numbers and what I interpret them to mean. Consider it a public service, and free advice for anyone considering a run in 2010.
3. An obvious limitation is the absence of preferential balloting. Without it, you can’t say whether, for example, someone who voted for Krushell and Hayter in Ward 2 would rank them 1-2 or vice-versa. The best we can do is look at who got the larger share of votes overall.
4. Any candidate(s) who earned less than 10% of the vote were put into the category of other (with the number of candidates in the category in brackets), for sake of tallying vote shares. This was done largely to make the numbers easier to follow, and I stuck with the 10% rule for consistency’s sake even when only one candidate in a ward fell into that category.

You can see the breakdowns sorted in two formats. The polls are sorted by which ward they are a part of in the 6 ward system here, and by which ward they’ll be a part of in the 12 ward system here.

When I have more time, I would like to try to go more in-depth with the numbers, and try to account for things like an ‘incumbent bump’ from first to subsequent election wins, and how voter turnout affects things, but for the time being lets look at the results from 2007. Going ward-by-ward, let’s see what they tell us.

A map of the new 12 Ward System

A map of the new 12 Ward System

Current Ward 1
This ward will be split into new wards 1 and 5. Ward 1 encompasses the most of the area north of the Whitemud, and 5 encompasses the area south, with a few communities north of the Whitemud included.

Ward 1
Karen Leibovici 35.75%
Linda Sloan 29.38%
Andrew Knack 12.89%
Betty Kennedy 11.54%
Undervote 10.45%

Wherever she runs, Karen Leibovici is a good bet to be re-elected. In Ward 1, Leibovici beats out her wardmate Linda Sloan, earning 35.75% of eligible votes compared to 29.38% for Sloan. In Ward 5, where Leibovici lives and is likely to run, she enjoys a similar lead, earning 36.87% to 30.31%. Sloan performed well enough to give her confidence that as long as she’s not running head-to-head against Leibovici, she starts the election in a strong position to win.

Ward 5
Karen Leibovici 36.87%
Linda Sloan 30.31%
Andrew Knack 12.56%
Betty Kennedy 9.64%
Undervote 10.65%

2007’s third-place finisher Andrew Knack doesn’t have an easy decision about where to run next year. His vote share is nearly identical in the two new wards, 12.89% in Ward 1 and 12.56% in Ward 5.

Current Ward 2
In 2004, veteran Councillor Ron Hayter bested the 2nd place finisher, newly-elected Kim Krushell, earning just over 40% more votes than her. In 2007, Krushell wiped out that margin and then some, finishing ahead of Hayter by 4% across the board.

Ward 2
Kim Krushell 28.93%
Ron Hayter 24.02%
Dave Loken 16.89%
Shelly Tupper 11.54%
Other (2) 9.56%
Undervote 9.06%

Krushell lives in the new Ward 2 and is almost certain to run there if she seeks another term. If Hayter chooses to challenge her there, he’ll have to make up the nearly 5% in the returns that he lagged by.

Ward 3
Kim Krushell 30.52%
Ron Hayter 24.61%
Dave Loken 15.44%
Shelly Tupper 7.64%
Other (2) 11.68%
Undervote 10.12%

In the new Ward 3, both Krushell and Hayter have a slightly higher percentage, and third-place finisher Dave Loken loses about 1.5% compared to Ward 2. New Ward 3 also takes in part of old Ward 3, making it a possibility for incumbents and past candidates from that ward as well.

There are also about 3 polls that move over to the new Ward 7. Krushell and Hayter are in a virtual tie there, but it’s doubtful either one would run there.

Current Ward 3
This ward splits into three. As mentioned, some of the north-central ridings go to new Ward 3. The Northeast part goes to new Ward 4, and the southern polls go to new Ward 7.

Ward 3
Ed Gibbons 26.36%
Tony Caterina 23.18%
Harvey Voogd 17.64%
Other (5) 20.40%
Undervote 12.41%

First-term Councillor Tony Caterina does his best in new Ward 3, coming in just 3% behind incumbent Councillor Ed Gibbons. The vote for Harvey Voogd, the third-place finisher, falls back here compared to other polls. This could be Caterina’s best shot, though he’d be in tough if he faced Hayter or Dave Loken, who will run again and would be a contender in the new Ward 3.

Ward 4
Ed Gibbons 27.24%
Tony Caterina 21.56%
Harvey Voogd 18.19%
Other (5) 21.99%
Undervote 11.01%

Gibbons and Caterina both live here. Gibbons does a bit better and Caterina does a bit worse compared to Ward 3. This would be Gibbons’ best place to run. From what I understand, Caterina is out in the community a lot (especially in this part), which might help him close the gap some. This would be one of those instances where knowing the first place preference of voters would be helpful. My gut says Gibbons, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If he runs here, Caterina could at the very least make it closer than many pundits would think. This or new Ward 3 look like his best chances to retain a seat on Council.

Ward 7
Ed Gibbons 23.75%
Harvey Voogd 20.91%
Tony Caterina 19.71%
Other (5) 24.88%
Undervote 10.75%

New Ward 7 is the most interesting of the three. Scott McKeen surmises that Caterina would be in tough here, and he’s correct. Caterina earns just under 20% of the vote in new Ward 7, slightly down from the other new Wards. I think the broader point is that, no matter where he runs, Councillor Caterina has his work cut out for him.

Ed Gibbons likely won’t run here, which is good since his vote drops compared to that in new Wards 3 and 4. He earns less than 24% of the vote, just ahead of Voogd, and behind the cumulative total of the 5 other candidates. This is not a strong performance for an incumbent. With the high share of votes going to candidates besides the incumbent and overall second place finisher, I think the indication is that Ward 7 could be wide open, regardless of who’s on the ballot.

Current Ward 4
This ward largely splits into two – new Wards 6 and 8, though 4 of the 41 polls (from the southeast part) move to new Ward 11.

Ward 6
Jane Batty 20.50%
Ben Henderson 17.90%
Lewis Cardinal 17.87%
Debbie Yeung 14.30%
Other (11) 21.34%
Undervote 8.10%

Both incumbent Councillors live in the new Ward 6. If they choose to go head-to-head, it will be an interesting battle. Batty came in first, besting Henderson by 2.6%, a small margin and certainly one that could be made up with the advantage of also being an incumbent. But, there are two other factors worth considering.

First, Batty was a two-term incumbent entering this election. Despite this advantage, she only got 20.5% of eligible votes, meaning that 59 of every 100 voters in these polls did not cast a vote for her. For reasons I can’t understand, since she is a good Councillor, Batty hasn’t really grown her vote since first getting elected in 2001. She would be vulnerable, particularly against a strong opponent.

The second thing is that Ward 4 was a close three-way race. Lewis Cardinal came close to besting Henderson. In the polls moving to new Ward 6, Cardinal finished a mere 7 votes behind Henderson. Both earned close to 18% of the vote. Both are fairly close in terms of policy. Their strong performances indicate a strong block of votes for progressive/left-wing candidates.

Who would win a matchup between Batty and Henderson? My money is on the latter. He would have momentum behind him as the newer councillor, and has strong ties in areas like the arts community. But the numbers tell us it could be close either way.

Ward 8
Ben Henderson 19.14%
Jane Batty 18.29%
Lewis Cardinal 16.88%
Debbie Yeung 14.85%
Other (11) 23.27%
Undervote 7.56%

In new Ward 8, Henderson comes in first, Batty a close second, and Cardinal third, the vote share for the latter two less than in new Ward 6.

As McKeen mentioned, Henderson could run here, but there’s also a good chance that rookie Ward 5 Councillor Don Iveson will run here. Not only are the two closely aligned in terms of policy, but it would be a tough matchup for Henderson to win.

Current Ward 5
Three polls from current Ward 5 move to new Ward 8. One of them happens to be the community where Iveson now lives.

Ward 8
Don Iveson 37.91%
Bryan Anderson 27.00%
Mike Nickel 14.53%
Other (1) 6.42%
Undervote 14.26%

He performed very well in these there polls in 2007, and would likely do very well across new Ward 8, as much of the riding is similar in character to the areas that gave him the best returns in ’07. If it’s not Iveson (or Henderson) on the ballot in Ward 8, someone like them is in a good position to do well. Iveson could also run in Ward 10, but we’ll come back to that in a second.

Ward 9
Bryan Anderson 30.36%
Mike Nickel 28.10%
Don Iveson 25.15%
Other (1) 5.80%
Undervote 10.70%

New Ward 9 is likely to be an open seat. Neither of the current Ward 5 incumbent live here. Anderson did the best here of any candidate on the ballot in ’07, but his home base is in the new Ward 10. Mike Nickel, who was bested by Iveson, did his best here. What this tells us is that a candidate selling a more fiscal conservative agenda might do well here. Nickel does nearly 5% better here than in Ward 10, and doubles his support compared to the northernmost polls in current Ward 5 (those headed to new Ward 8). Iveson’s vote is down a similar amount here compared to Ward 10, meaning that it might be tough going for a candidate pushing a message like his. Keep in mind that Iveson ran a superb campaign, and though Nickel was more popular here than elsewhere, he still had his share of critics in this area. A candidate like, say, Lewis Cardinal (who lives in Ward 10) won’t have the latter conditions, and if 2007 is an indication, will probably run a good, but not great campaign. In terms of other candidates, Brent Michalyk, who ran in 2007, lives in the southern part of this ward, but he earned less than 6% of the vote. Donna Finucane has run a couple of times, most recently in 2004. She may run again, but given the turnover in this area, 6 years is a long time, and she’s not guaranteed to begin the campaign with the name recognition one might expect.

Because of these factors, I would say that the Ward 9 seat is the most wide-open one by far heading into the election.

Ward 10
Bryan Anderson 30.17%
Don Iveson 29.92%
Mike Nickel 23.16%
Other (1) 6.16%
Undervote 10.60%

Ward 10 is where Anderson lives, and Iveson lived as well at the time of the ’07 election. This is likely where Anderson will run if he seeks another term, and most would expect him to be in a strong position to hold off any challengers. And they might be right, but if Iveson also wants this seat, he’s well-poised to win.

As the numbers show, Iveson battled Anderson to a near draw, trailing him by 66 votes out of a possible 27,306. This is a riding where knowing the voters’ first place preference would be helpful. But in the absence of that, all we can do is speculate. If the two were on the ballot, my guess is that voters would go for the younger incumbent, rationalizing that Anderson has served them for four terms, but Iveson is the one likely to serve them for four more. Iveson’s campaign volunteers would likely be more motivated as well. But if only one of them is on the ballot in Ward 10, that one is likely to win big; both earned 30% of votes here.

Current Ward 6
Aside from a few polls that go to new Ward 8, the polls here split into new Wards 11 and 12.

The Ward 8 polls are interesting. Lori Heaney, the overall 5th place finisher, actually comes in first here, nearly 4% ahead of Thiele. I’m assuming she lives in this area, and should she wish to run in the future this might be her best spot.

Ward 11
Dave Thiele 22.35%
Chinwe Okelu 18.99%
Chuck McKenna 18.47%
Amarjeet Sohi 15.34%
Lori Heaney 12.22%
Other (1) 2.40%
Undervote 10.23%

If Amarjeet Sohi runs in Ward 11, he might face an uphill battle to stay on Council. Sohi, who finished 2nd overall, finished 4th in these polls. Thiele does his best here, but still only earns the vote of about 45% of those who showed up. Third place finisher Chinwe Okelu’s vote is pretty consistent across the board, good but far enough off the leader’s pace to show that he has work to do if he plans to run again. Chuck McKenna does his best here. Of note, Debbie Yeung also did the best in the 4 polls from current Ward 4 that move to new Ward 11, indicating a potential fiscal conservative streak amongst voters here. This would, of course, be bad news for Councillor Thiele, widely perceived as one of the most liberal spenders on Council. Between that and his relatively low vote share, Thiele is vulnerable here. And this ward is probably his best shot at a win; Ward 12 would be a tougher battle.

Ward 12
Dave Thiele 20.86%
Amarjeet Sohi 20.78%
Chinwe Okelu 18.80%
Chuck McKenna 16.10%
Lori Heaney 8.98%
Other (1) 2.79%
Undervote 11.70%

Thiele did finish first here, a mere 15 votes ahead of Sohi in polls that cast 19,920 votes. It would stand to reason that with a term of experience and exposure under his belt, Sohi would be ready to surpass his elder on Council. Except that he probably already did in ’07.

This is the one instance where advance polls are informative. Sohi got his vote out and then some. In the other wards, the advance poll results deviated little from the overall result. Here, Sohi takes 32% of votes, almost double that of Thiele. It’s safe to project that the bulk of those votes came from Ward 12 polls, meaning Sohi almost certainly got more votes from people who live in the Ward 12 polls. His advance poll vote is a sign of a well-organized campaign. With a term of experience behind him, Sohi is likely to cruise to victory in Ward 12 – with or without Thiele on the ballot.

The numbers do tell a story. It shows us that some incumbents look to be in good shape, others might have a fight on their hands regardless of where they run, which is what we might have expected to find.

Of course, a lot can still change. If Mayor Mandel decides not to seek another term, one or more Councillors could step up and run for his job (Leibovici and Sloan thought to be the most likely, Iveson and Krushell the next most, anyone else on Council would be a surprise), thus opening up any number of seats. Similarly, I think at least one or two incumbents will end up retiring; they may not be tipping their hand yet, but why do so and risk becoming a lame duck when you still have 1/3 of your term remaining?

In any case, I think before anyone makes assumptions or plans for 2010, it’s important to look at what the numbers are telling us. I hope this is informative for anyone interested in or engaged in Edmonton civic politics.

Books I Read: Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar

Since first hearing about it earlier this summer, I have been looking forward to reading Rich Vivone‘s book “Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar“. There has yet to be much of a post-mortem in print on the Klein years in Alberta, and as an insider to government I anticipated that Vivone would have much to say on the topic.

Rich Vivone spent 25 years in Alberta politics, from 1980-2005. For the first five he was the executive assistant to David King, MLA and Minister of Education. For the next twenty, he published the newsletter “Insight into Government”, reporting on activities in the Legislature and government.

His book is part memoirs and history of his years in politics, and parts a critique of the players past and present, along with recommendations on how to make things better.

I picked up the book at his book launch in Edmonton last Wednesday, and read it over the past few days.

Rich Vivone speaks at his book launch for "Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar".

The book launch itself was an interesting event. Rather than reading from the book, Vivone talked about how he got involved in politics (David King was a university friend, and convinced him to come work for him at the Leg), his impressions of the Wildrose Alliance win in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election (might be a flash in the pan), his thoughts on apathy in the province (the Tories encourage it, the opposition parties will merge, and once there is a one-on-one battle with the Tories, and people think the result could go either way, they’ll turn out), among other things. While I don’t agree with all of his arguments, they are certainly interesting and thought-provoking.

The Q&A was the most interesting part. People asked more about apathy and disengagement, and about what made politics in Alberta competitive for that brief window in the late 1980s and early 1990s (okay, the latter was my question). It also became a forum for people to talk about why they were frustrated with politics, and why they had given up after years of investing time and energy in the political system. This all culminated in David Carter, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, taking the floor and saying that while Lougheed and Getty came down on any MLA who talked about “power” or using it to their advantage, that went out the window with Premier Klein. In his words, and he said we can quote him, “Ralph was a dictator”.

Rich Vivone signs copies of his book and speaks with attendees at his book launch for "Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar".

As the Q&A/discussion was happening, I found myself thinking ‘is this the road to improving democracy in Alberta?’ By that, I don’t mean holding a series of book readings, but getting citizens together and giving them the opportunity to voice their concerns and frustrations. One of the drivers of apathy, in my opinion, is isolation, the instance where one isn’t connecting with others. Another is the feeling that nobody shares your concerns, and that your concerns won’t be listened to or given any thought. If we have more forums where people who are frustrated with politics in this province (and this country), can come together, it would be a positive thing. The dialogue coming out of them might lead to the ideas and actions that will change politics for the better.

Anyway, I promised a book review, so I should get to that. I have no reservations about adding this to my short list of ‘must-read’ books about Alberta politics. Mark Lisac‘s “Alberta Politics Uncovered” is the other one I definitely recommend. Vivone’s book is a series of essays which can be read as stand-alone pieces. They include a piece on his impressions of Premier Klein, an overview of the Getty years, topical pieces on the Oil Sands, Health Care, Scandals, the plight of the Alberta Liberal Party, Education and Children’s Services, and the issue of apathy. He closes with a piece on the failed Jim Dinning leadership campaign, and finally with an open letter to Premier Stelmach.

The book is worth reading for the anecdotes and historical value alone. It’s impossible to condense 25 years of experience into 250 pages, but Vivone does a good job of covering the major issues of his time. He also considers the causes of some of the dominant issues and events in Alberta politics, and in some cases prescribes solutions to them. I don’t agree with his analysis, but he makes an argument and attempts to justify it.

There are two themes I take umbrage with. First, I think he too easily lets the general public off the hook. He correctly surmises that the media and the powers that be have taken actions (intentional or not) that discourage participation, but doesn’t focus enough on the general population’s willingness to ignore politics, or to not engage and scrutinize the actions of the government and opposition parties. Second, his concept that “Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar” is somewhat undermined by his analysis of Ralph’s character and tenure as Premier. I agree with him that Ralph’s first term was his most successful (in terms of accomplishing his agenda, regardless of whether you agree with the aims or not) and he increasingly lost drift afterwards. However, he also describes this as a trait in Ralph’s personality – he needed a clear, concise goal to pursue. This, and an unwillingness to pursue largely controversial measures, held him back from pursuing and achieving greater things. (Note: Don Martin‘s book “King Ralph” also talks about Klein’s struggles with confrontation). Similar depictions colour the chapters regarding Jim Dinning’s loss in the 2006 leadership race, and the (so-far) unfulfilled potential of Premier Stelmach’s tenure. In a nutshell, what I feel Vivone is arguing is not that Ralph (or Ed) Could Have Been a Superstar, but that someone leading a government with tons of political capital and no serious opposition should be able to achieve more. It’s a story not so much about Ralph or Ed (or Jim), but our collective unfulfilled potential as a province.

Whether you agree with Vivone’s take on politics or not, this book, as I said, is a must-read if you’re interested in Alberta politics. Albertan or not, you will gain insight into where Alberta has come from politically in the past thirty years. Understanding our politics and where we’ve come from is key. If we want to make politics in the future better, we need to understand the history and circumstances that have led to where we are.

Photo Essay: Summer in Edmonton

I bought a new camera in May. I’d spent about 3 years debating whether or not to buy a good camera. On the pro side, I thought ‘I always had fun with photography when I was younger’. On the con side, I thought ‘I rarely use the camera I have now’, an older Digital Camera model. I finally decided to bite the bullet, and I’ve barely put my camera down for the past four months. You can check out my Flickr page to see my photos from the summer; there’s no doubt I’ll keep adding to it as well.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the weather in Edmonton (thank you weather gods! Please keep it up), yesterday was the first day of Fall. I always consider summer in Edmonton to be between the Victoria Day and Labour Day long weekends, but since summer officially ended this week, I’m posting some of my favourite shots of Edmonton this past summer to commemorate it.

The waterfall in Churchill Square. In my opinion, one of the best sights in Edmonton. It’s always a little sad to see them turn it off and drain the pool. You know summer is over when that happens.

Waterfall in Churchill Square

There are few better ways to pass a nice summer evening (or afternoon) than watching baseball. Here, the Edmonton Capitals host the Long Beach Armada at Telus Field in late June.

The Pitch

Many different communities in Edmonton host Canada Day celebrations. Terwillegar Towne hosts a Canada Day parade and get together, which involves a walk around the neighbourhood.

Canada Day

One of the marquee events in Edmonton is the Folk Music Festival. Gallagher Park is a great venue, in part because of the great view you get of downtown Edmonton from the hill.

Downtown Edmonton Skyline

Here’s another shot from Folk Fest. The crowd rises to applaud Joel Plaskett after his Saturday afternoon concert.

Standing Ovation

I love nature and wildlife. We get to see our fair share in Edmonton, in large part due to the river valley and ravine system that attracts them. Here is a picture of a robin perched in a tree, not far from the Whitemud Ravine.


Edmontonians take advantage of the outdoors in summer. Here is a family riding their bikes as the sun sets in the distance.


One of my favourite things about summer in Edmonton – the beautiful, colourful sky at sunset.

I had a dream that I…..stood beneath a purple sky.

Purple Sky

I used to live up the street here on 87th Ave. It’s rarely quiet, but it was at this moment, with most of the north side demolished to make way for new development, and an absence of cars and pedestrians.

Empty Street

Dusk in Edmonton. The park is largely empty, but it still makes for a great picture.


I love the way cities look at night, with the combination of street lights, signs, and lights from vehicles lighting up the scenery.


A fireworks display lights up the Edmonton sky.


So long summer. ‘Til next time.

Music Monday: Fall Shows in Edmonton

On Twitter, there is a common thread every Monday. Using the #musicmonday hashtag, people recommend songs or bands they’re listening to right now. I’m going to start a similar recurring feature on this site.

I go to a fair number of concerts, and I listen to a lot of music. I like sharing new music and hearing recommendations from other people. Music Monday posts will focus on new bands I’m into, shows I go to, or other recommendations along those lines.

To kick it off, here is an overview of some of the shows I’m looking to catch in Edmonton over the next two months, or in some cases, would if I was available (note: I still need to buy tix for most of these shows, so I may miss out on some if they sell out). I encourage you to check out these artists, and if you have the opportunity, to see them in person.

September 25: Matthew Barber (Haven Social Club)
Barber, the sibling of better-known artist Jill Barber, is a talented Canadian singer-songwriter who is currently recording his fourth album. I discovered Barber two years ago when I saw him open for Chris Isaak, and saw him perform last spring while on tour with Jill. He’s a talented live performer, and will no doubt put on a heck of a show in a small venue.

September 25: Two Hours Traffic (Pawn Shop)
I loved their album ‘Little Jabs’, and hear they are a great live show. Unfortunately, I already bought tickets for another show that night so I’ll have to catch them on their next visit.

September 26: The Gaslight Anthem (Edmonton Events Centre)
I love this band. After buying me their albums for Christmas last year, my brother described them to me as a mix between Bruce Springsteen and a punk band, which is pretty accurate. Brian Fallon is a talented songwriter, and the band as a whole plays with a lot of energy and emotion. Their show at the Starlite Room in April was fantastic, and I’m excited to see them again.

October 2: Library Voices (Flow Lounge & Grill)
I saw this band at The Hydeaway All-Ages Space earlier this year, and they were a revealation. A 10-piece band that plays with energy and writes well-constructed songs. I won’t be able to make this show, but I recommend you give them a listen and check out their show if you can.

October 3: Elliott Brood (Starlite Lounge)/Jason Mraz (Jubilee Auditorium)
I like both of these artists, but haven’t decided if I’ll go to the shows. I like each successive Mraz album less than the previous one – ‘Waiting for My Rocket to Come’ is great, ‘Mr. A-Z’ is pretty good, and ‘We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things’ is decent, but not spectacular. But, I have heard he’s a good live show.

I liked Elliott Brood’s 2008 album ‘Mountain Meadows’, and have heard they’re a really good live show. I could be persuaded to go to either one.

October 13: Jay-Z (Rexall Place)
H-O-V-A! I’ve been a Jay-Z fan since I first heard his stuff in the late ’90s. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does as a live performer. I also hope he plays more of his older stuff. Or he could just play The Black Album from start to finish and I’d be very happy.

October 14: Chris Isaak (Jubilee Auditorium)
I won’t be attending this show, but having seen him two years ago in the same venue, I can attest to the fact that he’s a great live performer. If you even remotely like his music, he’s a must-see show. He even wears a suit made out of mirrors.

October 16: Sarah Cole (Haven Social Club)
I plugged Sarah in my Friday post. Her and her band are talented musicians, and have always put on a good show when I’ve seen them live. This is Sarah’s CD release party too.

October 21: Amy Millan (Myer Horowitz Theatre)
I’m a big fan of Stars (Amy’s band), and liked Amy’s first solo album too. I haven’t listened to the entire new album yet, but I dig her cover of Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. My co-worker Marilyn, who generally has good taste in music, also recommends the opening act, Bahamas.

October 31: Metric (The Jubilee Auditorium)
Keyboad/Synth-rock at its best. I love this band, especially their latest album, ‘Fantasies’. I’ve never seen them live, but I’m looking forward to hearing them in a fairly intimate setting. I picked up tickets about 10 rows back – one of the first couple of rows on the right terrace. Should be awesome.

November 2: Marianas Trench (Edmonton Events Centre)
I love pop-punk music. It’s true. It’s fun to listen to, and I find it makes for a good live show as well. Marianas Trench is an energetic band, and will no doubt put on a good show.

November 18: Justin Rutledge (McDougall United Church)
With three albums under his belt, Justin is starting to develop a following. I caught him at a session at Calgary Folk Fest, and he put on a good show. The acoustics at McDougall are really good, and this should be a great venue for him.

There are a number of other shows I might end up going to see. The above are my ‘would really like to see’ list. On my ‘maybe’ list are the following shows:
September 22 – Cuff the Duke (Pawn Shop)
September 27 – Final Fantasy (McDougall)
October 30 – Dan Mangan (Haven Social Club)
October 30 – Young Galaxy (Flow Lounge & Grill)

If you’re going to any of the above shows, let me know and we can connect. You could also buy me a ticket, so I don’t go broke attending concerts.

Election 41: When It Happens, Let’s Make It Count

Friday’s vote in the House of Commons means that we Canadians are spared for the time being from going to the polls. Maybe for 10 days, maybe for 10 months. My guess is that the between the support of the NDP and the Bloc, the Conservatives will be able to marshal Parliament through a fall sitting. Following the Vancouver olympics, they will bring forward a motion that neither party can support, sending Canadians to the polls in March or April of 2010.

Canadians don’t seem eager to go to the polls. Which is funny, because if you believe the polls from the last couple of months, a majority of them also want to see someone besides Prime Minister Harper lead the country. Which is even funnier, because polls indicated that Canadians (outside of Quebec) overwhelmingly opposed the idea of a coalition government between the Liberals and NDP (supported by the Bloc Quebecois) when it was proposed several months ago. I’m at a loss for options that will therefore please the majority of people (at least those responding to these polls).

In any case, it looks we’re headed for another election soon – certainly before the 40th Parliament’s mandate expires in 2012, and likely before 2010 is finished. I think the combination of a lack of enthusiasm for an election as well as for the status quo indicates one thing – voters don’t believe the election will change anything. You can’t blame someone for thinking that – polls indicate the next parliament will look like the current one, and if recent elections are an indication, the campaign will be more about fearmongering and name-calling than serious policy considerations.

Most Canadians seem to be unsatisfied not just with government, but with the level of discourse and debate in politics. The next election is an opportunity for voters – to ask tough questions, demand to see policy and discussion surrounding it, and to reward those party leaders and candidates who do so. Done right, another early election can be a good thing.

Which is why I was encouraged to read Michael Igatieff’s speech to the Toronto Board of Trade.

Ignatieff Speaks

Almost three months ago, I blogged about Michael Ignatieff’s town hall in Edmonton. He outlined a vision for Canada, and with speeches such as today’s on the economy and last week’s about Canada’s place in the world, he’s starting to articulate how he would move the country towards that vision. We need more of this. There is certainly a place in political speeches to critique the actions and views of other parties, but when that becomes the prime focus of your speeches, and you move away from informed critique to ad hominen attacks and misinformed generalizations, everyone loses out.

While you may not know it if you just tune in during elections, especially the leadership debates, our four national party leaders are all smart, accomplished people – as is BQ leader Gilles Duceppe. Between the five of them we should be able to have a real debate about the values and future direction of our country.

Michael Ignatieff is an accomplished author and public intellectual. He has written extensively about nationalism, national identity, and foreign policy. He has studied and lectured at some of the world’s leading universities. Let’s hold him to account, and make sure he spends his time talking about issues like foreign policy, the economy, and nationalism, rather than demonizing the Conservative government.

Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper addresses the worlds media

Stephen Harper was the Policy Director of the fledgling Reform Party, and one of the more active minds of his generation. He challenged the status quo and helped present a coherent vision of a more conservative Canada. As Prime Minister, he has abandoned selling a vision, choosing instead to advance causes like Senate reform by stealth, and to woo voters with piecemeal measures one microtargeted group at a time. Mr. Harper has been Prime Minister for 3 1/2 years, and there’s a good chance he’ll continue to be Prime Minister after the next election as well. With this office, what is he trying to accomplish? What is his ultimate vision for Canada, and how does he see us getting there? The Prime Minister would be well-served by laying his cards on the table. We can judge for ourselves if someone is not a leader, or just visiting Canada. So let’s hear less of that and more of where you want to take our country.

Jack Layton in Edmonton I

Prior to his election as leader of the NDP, Jack Layton was a respected Toronto City Councillor, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and author on the issue of homelessness. Since then, he has spent more time on the campaign trail spouting platitudes about “working families”, demonizing the Liberals and Conservatives, and railing against big corporations. Aside from the “NDP Budget” he extracted from the Liberal Party in 2005, we haven’t seen or heard much about what the NDP stands for. Our cities face significant financial challenges, both in raising revenue and addressing the need for infrastructure and services. Homelessness remains a significant problem. Let’s hear you talk about how you would address those.

Elizabeth May, Green Party leadership candidate

And wither Elizabeth May? For all the talk that Michael Ignatieff was invisible all summer, what has Elizabeth May been up to? Besides turning up to announce she was running for, then contest and win, the nomination in Saanich-Gulf Island, Ms. May has been conspicuously absent in recent months. You would think the leader of a party on the outside of parliament would be making a compelling case that her party would be different than the dysfunctional caucuses inside the House. It would, you know, try to make parliament work.

More importantly, where is May, the lifelong environmental leader, to speak out as we head towards the next round of climate change talks in Copenhagen. Isn’t this precisely the type of issue she got into politics to address?

It’s important we don’t place all the burden or blame on our public officials. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport. As citizens, we have a responsibility to hold public officials and candidates for office to account. As we head towards another election, we have an opportunity to demand more of party leaders and candidates for office. We can demand that they discuss issues seriously. We can reward the ones who do, and punish the ones who don’t. These things take time and effort – to vote, to analyse and discuss party platforms and policy issues, to volunteer our time in support of people and causes we support – but good government and serious debate don’t magically happen. It takes the time and effort of citizens and officials at all levels.

If our citizens and our public officials are up for it, Election 41 can be a good thing. We should all do our part to make it happen.

Weekend Reading and Entertainment: 09/18/09

Some things to read/watch/listen to this weekend:

To Read:
– Busy week on the blog. I wrote about the Wildrose Alliance Party leadership forum, as well as their by-election win. I also wrote a post marking the 25th anniversary of Brian Mulroney becoming Prime Minister.
– From the blog Intempestif, a great piece about the problems with negative campaigning. (note: it’s in French)
– From, a good piece arguing in favour of an immediate election in Canada.
– Also making an argument for an election now is Danielle Takacs. She made arguments both for the election and for why it makes sense for the NDP right now.
– If you missed Paula Simons’ piece in the Edmonton Journal about the idea of a downtown arena, make sure you give it a read.
– The latest issue of The Walrus is out. My issue arrived late last week, but I haven’t had time to read it yet. I will be reading Chris Turner’s cover story for sure.
– Also arriving in the mail and on my to-read list this weekend: Maisonneuve magazine. Check it out online or get the full thing on newsstands.
– Dr. Eric Hoskins won the by-election in the Ontario provincial riding of St. Paul. As the co-founder of War Child Canada, he has a fascinating life story, and is worth reading about. As Calgary Grit said, we need more people like him involved in politics.

To Watch:
– I enjoy a self-depricating Jack Layton than I do most of the other Jack Laytons I’ve seen.

To Listen To:
– I’m really liking the Pete Yorn/Scarlet Johansson album ‘Break-Up’, which was released on Tuesday.
– Julian Casablancas of The Strokes has an upcoming solo album. From that album, you can listen to his song “11th Dimension“.
– My friend Sarah is gearing up to release her debut album. You can listen to a few tracks at Sarah Cole Music.

Enjoy the weekend.