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HMS Alberta Tory: All hands to damage control! Is Commodore Mar aboard?

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Gary Mar

I suppose the question has to be asked: Is it too late for the Tories bring back Gary Mar?

Mar had his flaws. Give me a minute and I'll see if I can remember what some of them were. Oh yeah, there was that payment to a former aide for doing nothing, or not much anyway, back when Mar was a member of Ralph Klein's cabinet. Plus there was something about the way his fundraising letter to pay off his Tory leadership campaign last year mentioned his current job as Alberta's trade "envoy" to Asia. However, an investigation by Alberta's ethics commissioner cleared him of any problems connected to that one and Mar returned to Hong Kong after a brief suspension.

Mar didn't sign no stinkin' bazillion-dollar contract with his ex-spouse, that's for sure! Of course, not having an ex-spouse was probably handy in that regard.

Well, neither did Alberta Premier Alison Redford, according to the stout defence she put up in the Alberta Legislature, but opposition parties of all stripes kept up the pressure on Redford yesterday. Everyone piled on and accused her of trying to lie her way out of the imbroglio caused by the CBC revelation Wednesday that she, or someone, had hired her ex-husband's law firm for some litigation against Big Tobacco that could run up some pretty significant bills over the next few years.

The NDP called the Progressive Conservative argument that Redford was no longer justice minister when the decision was made nothing more than hair-splitting. Yesterday party leader Brian Mason demanded that the premier temporarily step down until an investigation by the ethics commissioner can be arranged.

Wildrose Opposition House Leader Rob Anderson called the affair "the biggest scandal in the premier's office in history, period. Certainly in my lifetime."

Alberta Diary respectfully disagrees. It is said here the business of what happened between Premier John Brownlee and Vivian MacMillan, his family friend and secretary, still holds that title. But in fairness to Anderson, he most certainly wasn't born in 1934, when the action was begun against Premier Brownlee under the Alberta Seduction Act. (I'm not making that up.)

Brownlee, by the way, was found not to be liable for damages under the act, but his political career was in tatters by that time and he resigned in July 1934.

Alberta law doesn't define doing deals with an ex-spouse as a conflict, and it's far from clear from this vantage point whether the current premier did anything wrong at all. But count on it that no amount of damage control is likely to fix her reputation with Alberta voters any time soon.

And surely a lot of Mar's plentiful former supporters -- of whom there were many more than Redford had at the start of her leadership bid -- must be muttering, "I told you so!" It's hard to believe, at any rate, that an old hand like Mar could have been more inept in handling a revelation of this nature than Redford and her party insiders have been.

Alas for Mar's well-known ambitions, it seems unlikely that the PC Party could ask him nicely to come back from Hong Kong now and get the ship of state back on course. No, expect this ship to continue drifting, trailing smoke and jetsam.

The opposition parties will persist in their demands for Redford’s resignation, of course, or at least for an investigation by the ethics commissioner. But they will be fervently praying nothing of the sort will happen.

No, they very much want the smell of this mess to be clinging to her and her party when the next Alberta general election rolls around in 2016, which suddenly looks a lot closer than it did even a week ago.

+ + +

The Calgary Herald started out in a tent at the junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers, but when I first worked there in the 1970s it was in a fine, marble-clad building at the corner of First Street and Seventh Avenue.

The Herald's newsroom had a low ceiling, but was big enough to feel as if it belonged in a big city, which is what Cowtown strove to be and what the management of the Herald encouraged with evangelical fervour.

We all smoked at our desks, so the ceiling tiles were stained an unattractive yellow. Legend has it that when a crew was hired to clean them, one member was injured when he lifted out a ceiling tile over the News Desk and was hit on the head by the empty whisky bottle that slid out. Further investigation revealed hundreds of such dead soldiers scattered across the ceiling tiles above the more populous parts of the newsroom.

As I recall, there was a mild brouhaha about a year ago when it was announced that building was soon to be pulled down. Last time I was in Calgary, though, the old place was still standing.

In 1981, the Herald moved to a brick bunker in a depressing industrial section of the city’s east side. But the new newsroom there was a sight. The place was equipped with the latest in soon-to-be-obsolete technology, including a complex new vacuum tube system for moving paper stories from the newsroom to the pressroom. The ceilings were too high to store our empties, but the room was big enough to house the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Now I hear the Herald has leased that massive newsroom to a payroll company and the staff must move into the old editorial library, which back in the day, appropriately enough, we knew as "the morgue." Staff didn't find out about it until someone saw a classified advert -- on the Internet. 

The move to the morgue is said to be only temporary. Next year they will move on again. One wonders if it will be to a tent. Alas, the old spot at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow is no longer available, since it was long ago zoned as a park.

How the mighty have fallen!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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