David J. Climenhaga
Has former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach’s bad luck rubbed off on newly installed Premier Alison Redford?
She’s been premier for, what? … two days now, and the Calgary Sun reports that a company owned by her new chief of staff, the political operator credited with her come-from-behind Progressive Conservative leadership victory over Gary Mar, “owes more than $600,000, most of it to the University of Calgary, and hasn’t coughed up a cent in court-ordered judgments.”
The daily tabloid ran the story under a brutal headline: “Chief of Stiff!” It was accompanied by a smiling studio portrait of Stephen Carter and a story by columnist Rick Bell about the financial woes of Mr. Carter’s defunct company, Carter McRae Events.
The Sun went to town with the story and the effect was ugly. Interestingly, the Calgary Herald – recipient of that 22,000-name PC Party membership list back in September that helped the Redford campaign – is so far ignoring it.
Now, the cast of characters involved in this brouhaha may provide some insight into what is still a developing situation.
The Sun is a tabloid newspaper that in recent years, apparently on the orders of its parent company in Quebec, has taken a hard turn to the right. During the last federal election campaign, it would be fair to say that the Sun moved from the mild rightward bias typical of all Canadian mainstream media to the use of its news columns to campaign openly for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives.
The Sun is now clearly lining itself up with the far-right Wildrose Party led by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith, and it would be reasonable to expect the same heavy bias in its news stories about the upcoming Alberta provincial election, expected next spring. While absurd, it’s likely the Sun will try to label Ms. Redford as a left-winger, or at least a “progressive.”
It would be fair to say that any Sun story on a Canadian political topic needs to be handled with a long set of tongs, lest it emit radioactive isotopes.
At the same time, Mr. Bell is a columnist with a history of breaking good stories and getting his facts right. He writes and speaks in a highly colourful fashion with a strong point of view, which it would be fair to say is not dissimilar from that of his employer. But he dots his i’s and crosses his t’s and, as we used to say in the newspaper business, “he knows how to spell cat.” So the chances are good that, whatever you may think of their interpretation, in this case the Sun’s facts are right.
If Mr. Bell likes to be called “The Dinger,” well, Alberta Diary has nothing to say about that.
Mr. Carter, meanwhile, has a reputation as a political gun for hire. Not only did he work for Ms. Redford, he is credited with the unexpected mayoral victory of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary last October. The cerebral, personable and small-l liberal Mr. Nenshi, Canada’s first big-city Muslim mayor, is now said to be polling better than any major-city mayor in Canada – at 86 per cent – and is therefore likely to remain the Chief Magistrate of Cowtown for a long time.
But, more importantly to this story, Mr. Carter also worked for a spell for Ms. Smith and the Wildrose Party, where the financial troubles of his company were known.
Mr. Carter told the Sun Ms. Smith knew about his money troubles. Ms. Smith also indicated to the paper she was aware of them. With its support withering in the polls, the Wildrose Party is clearly prepared to play hard and dirty to win, as the creepy U.S.-style video ads it released last Thursday and its cynical on-line advertising illustrate.
Only Mr. Bell, of course, can say who told him about this story, and when. And even he may not know his source’s motivations.
All this said, any attempt to blow this off as insignificant or to stall is not going to wash.
According to another Sun report, published on the paper’s website this evening, a spokesperson for the new premier’s office said Mr. Carter had made an appointment with Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner to discuss the situation before the story broke. The premier’s office will wait on the commissioner’s report before it decides what to do, said Jay O’Neill.
Alas, the author of this story is an excellent reporter trained by the very best in the field – that is to say, he was once one of my own journalism students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. So I have to tell you, I trust this story too.
If there’s an axiom about political staff, it’s that they must never embarrass the politician they work for.
Unfortunately for Mr. Carter, as unfair as this all may turn out to be, if he doesn’t resign, his presence will continue to be a festering political problem for his boss.
Wasn’t everything supposed to change when Alberta’s unlucky 13th premier left office and No. 14 took over?
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