Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Let's look at them one at a time.

1. Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot.

In the last General Election January 23, 2006, the results were (in round numbers):

Bloc - 28,000 (56%)
Conservatives - 12,000 (24%)
Liberal - 5000 (10%)
NDP - 2700 (5.4%)
Total votes cast - 50,000 (67% - based on 76000 eligible voters in 2007 by-election).

In the by-election September 17, 2007, the results were (in round numbers):
Bloc - 13,500 (42%)
Conservatives - 12,000 (37.5%)
Liberal - 2400 (7.4%)
NDP - 2500 (7.9%)
Total votes cast - 32,500 (43% based on 76000 eligible voters)

1. Bloc lose 14%
2. Conservatives gain 13.5%
3. Liberals lose 2.6%
4. NDP gains 2.5%
5. Turnout down by 24%

Conservatives make big gain on the Bloc. NDP gains a little on the
Grits. Turnout very low.

2. Roberval - Lac-Saint-Jean

In the General Election, January 23, 2006, the results were (in round numbers):

Bloc - 18,000 - 45%
Conservatives - 15,000 - 38%
Liberal - 3000 - 8.5%
NDP - 2000 - 5%

Total Votes cast - 40,000 (63% of 63,000 eligible voters in the 2007 by-election).

In the byelection the numbers were:

Bloc - 8000 - 26.8%
Conservatives - 17,500 - (59.7%)
Liberal - 2,800 - 9.6%
NDP - 700 - 2.3%
Total Votes Cast 29,527 (46% based on 63,000 eligible voters).

1. Bloc loses 18%.
2. Conservatives gain 20 %.
3. Liberals gain a little - 1.1%.
4. NDP lose 2.7%.
3. Turnout down by 17%.

Conclusion: Conservatives win big over the Bloc. The rest is a wash. Turnout very low.

3. Outremont

In the last General Election, the results were (in round numbers):

Bloc: 12,000 (29%)
Conservative: 5000 (12%)
Liberals: 14,000 (34%)
NDP: 7000 (17%)
Total votes cast 41000 (65% of by-election eligible voters)

In the by-election, the numbers were:

Bloc: 2600 (10.9%)
Conservative: 2100 (8.6%)
Liberals: 7000 (29%)
NDP: 11,400 (47.5%)
Total votes cast: 24000 (37.5%)

1. Bloc lose 18.1%
2. Conservatives lose 3.4%
3. Liberals lose 5%
4. NDP gain 30.5%
5. Turnout down by 27.5%

NDP win big over the Bloc, and picks up a few points from the Conservatives and Liberals. Conservatives go nowhere in the big city riding. Turnout very low.

So who took it on the chin?

I say the Bloc. Its losses were the greatest in terms of popular support - 14%, 18%, and 18.1%. It also lost a seat. It bodes ill for the Bloc and by extension, Pauline Marois' PQ.

Who was the big winner? Why the NDP of course. They haven't had a seat in Quebec since Phil Edmonston fluked one in 1990 in a by-election in the Riding of Chambly. Edmonston, a contrary sort who continues to be a superb consumer advocate fingering 'lemon' autos, was also a Quebec nationalist. He was never at home in the NDP and packed it up without running again in the next General Election in 1993. That, so far as I know, is the only time the NDers ever took one in Je me souviens land. So, why did they win in Outremont? Apart from the qualities of the candidates, which I am not in a position to comment on, one could easily conclude that Layton's robust attack on the government's Afghanistan policy must have had an impact - and therefore a bright Amber light for Steve Harper.

For the Grits, it must have been a disappointment to lose Outremont. And for the Conservatives, the win in Roberval and the gain in Saint-Hyacinthe must have felt good. But their dismal performance in Outremont will give them pause.

The two leading parties - Grits and Conservatives - have more work to do in Quebec before they roll the dice and plummet the country into another General Election.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Exxon is a big, big oil company. The biggest. Its roots go back to the kerosene days of the 19th century and the baby steps of the Rockefeller fortune. It is rich too. In 2006, it made in profit almost 4 and a half million bucks an hour. Its profit for the same year was a cool 40 billion. The government of the Province of Alberta - supposedly rich - made about 12 billion from oil and gas revenues this past year. This is about 30% of Exxon's profits. Exxon also owns 70% of Canada's largest oil company, Imperial Oil.

The new CEO of Exxon is a fellow with the rakish but fitting name of 'Rex.' Rex Tillerson. 'Rex' means a King, a Sovereign, a male king. He's a Texan. Rex is big in the oil biz and will become bigger in the years ahead. His predecessor was a fellow with a more modest and plebian moniker. His name was Lee Raymond. But don't let the name fool you. When Lee walked out the Exxon door for the last time a year or so ago, his golden parachute was, when it all added up, a cool 400 million. What is 400 million anyway? Its half the cost of the big new hospital to be built down in the southern extremities of Calgary. Its about 70% of all of the money spent to date on the 42 kilometres of existing LRT track in Calgary. That's the kind of retirement money Lee took from Exxon. Approved by the Board of Directors, naturally. All going into one man's pocket.

But Rex needn't worry. There will be plenty more where Lee's rainy day fund came from. And he's off to a great start. On the job for only a year, Rexy already had a pay raise of 17% to almost 2 million a year, and his bonus has gone up more than two-fold to about 3 million a year. When he bites the dust, you can rest assured there will be no tag days to pay his funeral expenses.

Yes, Lee Raymond did well alright. Not that his career was unblemished. It was on Raymond's watch - in 1989 - that the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in the environmentally sensitive Prince William Sound in Alaska. It was one of the worst environmental catastrophes of all times. 240,000 barrels of oil - and some say much more - was dumped into the sea, killing wildlife and polluting shores. A half million seabirds perished. So did 5000 sea otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles and 22 orcas. The spill continues to affect the environment and will continue to do so for generations. The captain of the vessel, a relapsed alcoholic, was drunk when it struck the reef that caused the spill. The owner of the vessel: Exxon. Cleanup cost was about 2 billion dollars, and Exxon remains in litigation over the debacle to this day.

It is interesting to follow the litigation. I think it says something about Exxon. In a class action brought in 1994 by thousands of fishermen and landowners, native groups and so forth, an Anchorage jury awarded the actual damages for clean-up plus 5 billion dollars as punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded when the offence giving rise to the lawsuit together with the aftermath is egregious. In this case, the short-term and long-term environmental impact caused by the spill was so extreme, that the jury deemed that a punitive penalty should be paid. The purpose is to teach the perpetrator and all other potential perpetrators of such a disaster that such irresponsible actions will not be tolerated. The 5 billion was one year's profit for Exxon at the time. It is now 13% of its current profit.

Exxon was not happy with the result. It carried on with the fight over punitive damages. The various stages of litigation had the award reduced to 4 billion, increased to 4.5 billion plus interest, reduced to 2.5 billion, and upheld at 2.5 billion. Not happy with the results so far, Exxon has decided to appeal to the Bush-heavy Supreme Court. The company has still not paid a dime towards the punitive damage award. For the record, its position is that since the mishap was caused by an accident, then the punitive damage award should be limited by law to 25 million. Besides, its lawyers say, the company has already spent 2 billion in clean-up costs and 1 billion in settling suits.

Well, the other day Rex was in Calgary to speak at the annual Spruce Meadows Round Table, a genteel gathering of 70 or so business notables who pass the day discussing and pontificating weighty issues while watching equestrian show jumping. It was a timely visit. The Alberta government-appointed panel on what to do with oil and gas royalties in Alberta is about to report its conclusions. And Rex was there to have his say, perhaps - with luck - even to have the last word. In a message tailored for the ears of the Stelmach government and the people it governs, Rex warned, "I say be very careful and recognize that none of us know what oil prices are going to be - none of us." He also urged caution in amending the 1 % sweetheart royalty deal in the oil sands, saying, ". . . you need to be very careful about dealing with ongoing projects . . . because all of that risk is still out in front of us." Of course Exxon is big in the oil sands - 'big' as in high double digit billions.

And, naturally, he resorted to that tried and true bludgeon that big oil and little oil in these parts always dig up for doing battle with governments that want them to cough up a little more for the people - the National Energy Program. He urged the policy makers to 'look at the past,' and remarked, "We have a history in Canada of failed energy policies and fortunately sensible people came in and fixed that."

As could be expected, many industry executives oohed and aahed over Rex's warning with pursed lips and furrowed brows, vigorously nodding their collective heads in approval.

Despite putting all that money into Exxon's coffers, its executives', and the retirement accounts of senior officers, Exxon still pursues government handouts like a smitten young man pursues his first young sweetheart. Back in June at the Exxon Annual Meeting Rex said that the Canadian taxpayer must kick in with part of the 16 billion necessary to build the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project. Otherwise, said Rex, it should be scrapped. Exxon, Shell and Conoco Phillips are partners in the project.

Whether he is working hard enough to earn his current generous salary and bonus take, or to receive retirement stipends of $400,000,000 (yes, count the zeros!) plus is highly problematic. But give Rexy his due. He's a company man through and through.

And that is something that Stelmach, his government and the royalty panel should remember. Rex is a company man. That company is Exxon. It is not the people of Alberta.

Let's hope Eddie gets it right.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I had been suffering from writer's block for several days. Feeling guilty. About disappointing my legions of readers. Hemingway used to call it 'black ass.' I was suffering from 'black ass.'

What to write about? Stelmach? Harper? Borrrrrrrrring! Afghanistan? Not boring, but God, if people don't get it about Afghanistan by now, they probably never will. What to write about?

Muldoon to the rescue! I might have continued staring at my computer screen in a state of suspended animation indefinitely were it not for Muldoon (as Canada's 18th Prime Minister is referred to by that splendid rag 'Frank Magazine').

We found out this morning that - oh, hell, let's call him by his real name -Mulroney mustered up the courage to really let the seven year deceased Trudeau have it. According to Mulroney, Trudeau wasn't morally fit to lead because he failed to support the war against Hitler and that he [Trudeau] opposed the draft during the war.

Mulroney was obviously smarting from Trudeau having called those who supported Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord names. For those who must be reminded or who have forgotten about what Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord were, these were basically constitutional bribes of power advanced by Mulroney and his Federal government to the Quebec separatist government to sign the constitution. Trudeau had called Mulroney and his ilk 'weaklings,' 'cowards,' 'snivellers,' and 'eunuchs.' Trudeau had said this in the inimitable understated way he said such things when he became pissed at weaklings, cowards, snivellers and eunuchs, who for their own aggrandizement, personal and otherwise, tried to turn Quebec into a province quite unlike the others.

As always, whenever Muldoon speaks, two things happen. First, you remember what a basket case he was and is, and secondly, you learn something new.

As to the basket case Mulroney, his outburst reminded us of his penchant for self-destructive over statement and exaggeration, his unrelenting passion for a glowing place in history that he believes is owed to him, and his holding his bete noir Trudeau responsible for the death of his pet constitutional proposals which, in his mind, would have stopped the separatists in their tracks and led him to time immemorial fame and glory.

The facts are these.

Mulroney's big mouth - his penchant for self-destructive over statement and exaggeration - consistently got him into trouble while he was in office (recall him telling the reporter that a good politician had to know when to 'roll the dice,' to win, and he had won Meech Lake by 'rolling the dice' at the right time - saying this, when he hadn't yet won Meech Lake, which he went on to lose).

Mulroney's unrelenting passion for a glowing place in history led to his constant preening and mugging before the cameras, and more blarney than the Canadian people could ultimately stomach, all of which was instrumental in the destruction of the Progressive Conservative Party.

And finally, there is no doubt that Trudeau fought effectively against Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accords. But to credit Trudeau alone for their defeat - when they were rejected by every region of the country, is to give the great man far too much political credit. In fact, the Canadian people had figured out for themselves that Meech and Charlottetown were power bribes to Quebec that would make that province different and more powerful than the others. And so Canadians rejected them. By the way, Stephen Harper seems to have learned something from the Mulroney experience with Quebec. He is not bribing Quebec with power. He's doing it in the old-fashioned way - with money - as witness his last Budget.

So much for the basket case. Now what have we learned? We learned or at least were reminded that Mulroney still believes - and probably others of the now-defunct Progressive Conservatives - that Trudeau brought down Meech and Charlottetown.

If this is so, then by implication Trudeau's attack also led to the Tories defeat at the polls in 1993, because clearly, the nation's revulsion at Meech and Charlottetown was a major reason for the Tory debacle. And it was this debacle - the grotesque Tory defeat in 1993 that left them with two seats - that destroyed the Tory Party. And so it follows, if it was Trudeau who defeated Meech and Charlottetown, then it was he who destroyed the Tory party. Thus, according to this school of thought, Pierre Trudeau's effectiveness as a national leader did not end in 1984 when he left office. No, it carried on through 1993 and therefore, not only were Stanfield and Clark his victims. So were Mulroney and Kim Campbell.

Like Samson, Trudeau slew them all. If I may carry the biblical analogy a bit further, it can be fairly said that he slew Mulroney and Campbell with the jaw bone of an ass!

Wow! What a career! Of biblical proportions! 25 years of beating up and finally destroying the Tories! Longer than Mackenzie King!

One final comment. Mulroney says that Trudeau wasn't morally fit to lead, because as a young man in his very early twenties he did not support the war against Hitler nor the draft. Well, what about the moral fitness of a leader who accepts $300,000 is cash delivered to him in 3 instalments in quiet hotel rooms by an unsavoury businessman who for years has been fawning over him in order to get contracts for his clients?