David Swann

Perhaps it’s just as well that Dr. David Swann, former leader of the Alberta Liberals still toiling away as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, isn’t going to run for the New Democratic Party in the federal riding of Calgary Centre.

It was speculated in this space not so long ago that there had been some thought of that happening, especially after the Calgary physician and Abraham Lincoln look-alike showed up on a picket line bearing a case of Orange Crush for the strikers. But that suggestion was soon scotched.

Swann is a fine man — intelligent, courageous and with his heart located in precisely the right place for a heart to be, which is to say, on his sleeve.

But he can be, let us say, quixotic, and that perhaps is not quite the briskly correct tone our federal New Democrats hope to get across under their businesslike leader Thomas Mulcair, who as we shall see is about to be demonized by the Harper Conservatives as insufficiently slavish to the desires of Big Business on such issues as the environment and foreign trade.

So it is with a mild sense of wonderment, touched by a degree of genuine empathy, that we turn to the latest windmill at which Swann has chosen to tilt: child labour in the Alberta potato patch.

Last month, Swann wrote the president of PepsiCo American Foods in the delightfully named hamlet of Purchase, N.Y., to urge him to address an “outstanding ethical issue rather unique to Alberta, in Canada,” a lack of regulation of child labour on the province’s farms.

“Your Responsible Sourcing Commitment that all suppliers must adhere to explicitly forbids suppliers from using child labour for products that Pepsico manufactures,” Swann reminded Brian Cornell in his July 17 letter. “Producers of many agricultural products in Alberta, including potatoes, are exempt from regulations including Workplace Health and Safety and child labour standards placing children in jeopardy.” (Emphasis added.)

Ergo, the good doctor (and I do mean that), concluded, “I would ask you to cease purchasing potatoes in Alberta until the government complies with the international norm and institutes clear and binding child labour standards on agricultural operations.” Swann added that he would be pursing this matter publicly in the coming months, so your blogger assumes he won’t object to this letter being noted here.

Now, Swann has a good point about this genuine legislative need for regulation in Alberta, although one can only imagine the keening that will soon rise from those beleaguered quarters of the farm community that support the political party I like to think of as the Party of the American Theocratic Oligarchy (POTATO).

Nevertheless, one suspects the provincial government would respond by arguing that sufficient measures are in place in other areas such as the province’s general child welfare legislation to prevent the sorts of abuses we associate with the phrase child labour elsewhere in the world, especially where carpets are made by hand.

There is no word yet on whether Pepsico will look south to Idaho to replenish the supplies of spuds needed for its Fritolay division now that it has received Swann’s epistle.

Issues involving spuds continue to be a hot potato on the Alberta political scene, obviously, especially when served as extras to meals billed to the former Capital Health Region. But even before they have been plucked from the earth, this controversy is never far from the surface.

It wasn’t more than two months ago that Calgary Alderman John Mar — for a time the Red Tory candidate in the Conservative nomination race for the same Calgary Centre riding — was in hot water for the way he responded to a group of anarchistic root-vegetable enthusiasts in his Calgary neighbourhood.

Indeed, so forceful was Ald. Mar’s intervention with the guerrilla gardeners plotting the overthrow of Alberta’s spud cartel by planting tubers in a garden they didn’t own, that the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association is now complaining about the way he showed up in a city police vehicle on May 21.

Now Swann, another politician with a vanishing connection to the Calgary Centre riding, has opened a new front in this War on Spuds by liberally minded Albertans — alert the Wildrose agriculture critic! (That would be Ian Donovan, MLA for Little Bow, farmer of Vulcan County.)

Meanwhile, speaking of root vegetables, if you’ve been wondering what the Harper Conservative strategy in the lead-up to next Canadian federal election would be, well, wonder no more — it’s just as you suspected from the get-go.

A senior executive for the Alberta branch of the mighty Hill & Knowlton Strategies PR agency has been doing the rounds explaining to sympathetically minded right-leaning audiences how Prime Minister Stephen Harper will kick ass and take names to get another majority government in 2016, or whenever.

Mike Storeshaw, Communications VP for H&K, is a former director of communications to both Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Paraguayan-born Public Security Minister Victor Toews, plus a top spinner in Harper’s office back in opposition days, his slide show boasts.

The Conservative strategy, he tells his listeners, will be to isolate the NDP, “squeeze out” the Liberals (hoping “blue Liberals” will go Tory), and polarize the electorate into a left-right battle. And thus, he promises, the Conservatives will “paint the NDP into a corner” and “mow the Liberal lawn.”

The NDP must be “inextricably tied to big labour unions,” Storeshaw explains to his audiences. (Mulcair!? Inextricably? I think not!) But not so inextricably, apparently, that they can’t pull some votes away from liberally minded Liberals.

“‘Bad guys’ are one and the same — NDP and ‘big union bosses,'” another slide explains, adding that the “bad guys” in question should never be framed as “workers” – that’s NDP language!

Yadda-yadda. You get the idea. In fact, you already had the idea for months. One only hopes that Storeshaw adds a little more value when he fills in the blanks in with commentary, because this alone isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Still, it’s nice to see, I guess, that the Conservative forces are planning pretty much the assault we thought the Conservative forces were planning.

The only thing is, now they’ll have to use all their War on Potatoes rhetoric against the Liberals instead of the NDP, which seems like such a waste. It’s still 2012 and the wheels are already coming off their strategy turnip truck! (Enough root vegetables – Ed.)

Speaking of the Calgary Centre Conservative nomination race, as we were, a full week has passed since nominations closed, and there’s still no word on who has been given the prime ministerial imprimatur to run.

Rumour had it that the time, place and candidate list of the Tory nomination vote was to be announced yesterday. As of “press” time … nada.

Whatever can the matter be? Still checking the candidates’ positions on the Canadian Rutabaga Board?

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...