Tuesday, 23 April 2019



A full week has passed since Alberta’s provincial election. The sun has risen for seven conservative, erm, consecutive mornings. There are buds on the shrubs and trees. Tulips are up and the grass is greening. Almost half of the legal majority here in Alberta shriek that the tabulated result of 16 April is akin to the designed-to-fail musical in the Broadway farce The Producers: ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ These are the days of hysterical rhetoric.

Premier-elect Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP), was a cabinet minister in a since deposed Tory federal government, one micro-managed by control freak Stephen Harper. Kenney was educated by Jesuits. Ergo, ipso facto, he is a clever man. So clever in fact that the Mounties have opened a docket on him to discern how exactly he unified the right in Alberta utilizing divisive methods that likely prompted Russia’s Internet Research Agency to take notes. The UCP’s pithy campaign slogan was a mildly disturbing, jingoistic riff: Alberta Strong and Free. A Pink Floyd fan might think: ‘Us and Them.’

Alberta’s right is an uneasy alliance of two disparate groups, both of whom were shell-shocked by the unanticipated arrival of the 21st century. Rural voters believe their family values have been victimized by the culture wars. Corporate Alberta is reeling from slumping energy prices and the growing popular perception that the curtain is descending on the fossil fuel era. There was a time when these two shattered groups were represented by different political parties, one right leaning and the other right tipped over.

The loyal opposition-bound New Democratic Party (NDP) has made ignominious provincial history, now forever tainted as the first-ever one-and-done government of Alberta. The right’s rap against the NDP, despite bi-partisan admiration for its leader Rachel Notley who qualifies as a true statesman whatever the pronoun, was that the lefties were too inexperienced and too ineffectual to oversee Canada’s engine room. This sentiment is also the view from here vis-à-vis the Liberal government in Ottawa, minus the respect for the leader.

The main issue of the election was a magic bullet. Both major parties agreed the solution to the latest in a cycle of provincial busts was so simple as to be obvious: another, just one, well, maybe two pipelines. Poof! Hard times be gone. Why not deflect the raisin-dry pain of another hangover with a nice cold beer? The simple choice put to the electorate was mere methodology: NDP diplomacy or UCP belligerence? Of course, Alberta cannot impose her will upon a federal jurisdiction nor can she sway the policies of a global cartel comprised of other oil producing nations. But these are details best avoided on the hustings.

The nature of Canada’s federation, an undercurrent in the Alberta election, is tricky. There’s no actual free trade among its provinces and territories. Some regions are more prosperous than others. Aspersions, Newfie jokes, are easy to cast, conflict easy to sow, eh bien! Some citizens embrace the concept of a strong central government, others don’t. Alberta is no different than her sisters, twitterpated with mixed emotions. Happy to be here but hard done by, a sort of petulant child. Like the other provinces and territories Alberta wants to keep the reap of its good years for itself but expects hand outs when its harvest is thin. The UCP me-first re-imagining of Confederation is oxymoronic although it sure stokes the folks in the skyscrapers, coffee shops and curling rinks.

Here we are now. Some of us got our wish: nothing but skies as blue as the field on Alberta’s provincial flag. A Pink Floyd fan might think: “blue skies and pain.”

Don't you forget about me. There's an e-mail sign up gadget to the right of this post. I may sell your personal information to Internet scammers. Times are hard.

Saturday, 20 April 2019


Slices of Life, Grilled

The late pop music genius Warren Zevon near the end of his life urged viewers of ‘Late Night’ and by extension his fans to “enjoy every sandwich.” I didn’t need to be reminded. I consider myself a fairly well-rounded person, which means I don’t particularly excel at anything but I do construct awesome sandwiches. And the funny thing about sandwiches is that if someone close to you, a friend or family member, makes you one, they taste just that much better even if the ingredients aren’t quite up to snuff to an extended pinkie sandwich snob.

“Oh dear, a sliced gherkin instead of a proper kosher dill for a crunchy accent? Tsk-tsk.”

My Nana Moore made other-worldly toasted cheese sandwiches with white POM Bakery bread, butter and Kraft Deluxe genuine (sort of) cheddar slices; I’ve never been able to replicate that taste. My Auntie Mag, a creative director at a major ad agency during the ‘Mad Men’ era, a painter and a part-time model insisted I eat exotic open-faced sandwiches. My old friend Tim’s mother made the best egg salad; perhaps Tim’s mom would prefer not to be remembered in this way but those delicious sandwiches meant their house was always open to a confused kid from a broken home. Here at the Crooked 9 I derive delight assembling breakfast or lunch sandwiches for Ann.

Beyond the domestic kitchens, the labour of love or affection, are the delicatessens, shops and taverns or pubs. As a traveller a long way from many places while sometimes haunting familiar turf, the available sandwiches have from time to time dictated the course of a day out. As they should. If Ann and I go back to Barbados the attraction might not be the Caribbean beach at Worthing so much as the potato roti further up the road. We have friends and relations in Ottawa but, you know, Nate’s on Rideau Street has closed its doors.

There are some great sandwiches to be had in Edmonton. Shawarma dressed with beet relish in the north end and worthy of a tourist visit in February, calzones or peri-peri drenched pork chops on floury Portuguese rolls along Alberta Avenue, donairs and falafel on Whyte. I’ve even had the cook at the Route 99 diner try to recreate a Montreal-style steak and pepperoni hero. The Steak Out on Parsons Road serves Lester’s smoked meat; the samosas at nearby Punjabi Sweets, a former Dairy Queen outlet judging from the building’s cookie-cutter, sun room design, are the size of baseballs but taste a whole lot better.

I don’t know much but I know sandwiches way beyond the Biblical sense: I eat them; I make them; I buy them. A Montreal high school chum with Edmonton connections was in town last weekend. Tony and I were football teammates but not close. We are Facebook friends and he has contributed a couple of pieces to meGeoff. These days, together, we are filling in a jigsaw puzzle that’s been missing pieces for some 40 years. My friend is a tad eccentric but I can compete and both of us still puff away on cigarettes. I was surprised to learn that he too had spent teenage summers living with his older brother in a downtown Edmonton highrise. I cannot comprehend how our paths never crossed on Jasper Avenue. The provincial capital was not a big city in those days. And so last Saturday afternoon I suggested to Ann and Tony that the three of us cross the river and head downtown for a sandwich.

“Let’s go to Teddy’s!”

Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually been in the core. I figured he might get a kick out of the abounding and disruptive change transforming this place: closed roads, cranes, deep holes surrounded by hoarding, scaffolding, giant tarps snapping like locker room towels on steel skeletons. Should all the work ever be completed, Edmonton, like our hometown following the grandiose delirium of the Expo ’67 and the ’76 Olympics, will be a sparkling new science fiction dream city. Also, I hadn’t eaten a corned beef sandwich at Teddy’s in 25 years.

Teddy’s made local headlines in 2018 when it finally reopened in the wake of a catastrophic flood and a year or so of reclamation. The restaurant is on the west end of Jasper and often in the shadow of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, its massive granite neighbour. Thirty years ago I used to reside nearby, a short-cut alley and a pedestrian crosswalk away. I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment and couldn’t stand the company. I had other hangouts besides Teddy’s but sometimes I had to eat and change the backdrop wall of booze.

Back then Teddy’s corned beef sandwiches were stacked liked the smoked meats back home I missed so much. It was crucial to mainline my annual sodium intake in one sitting. The potato salad was stellar but it had better be in a gussied up deli. The interior lighting was dim, everybody looked a little more attractive, even me; there was a lot of dark wood, the booths, the bar. What I loved about Teddy’s then (and now) was that there was only one. There were no spin off mall kiosks or plastic packaged, branded sliced brisket in grocery stores.

Forgive me while I remember. Tim (not Tony) and I walked down Simpson to Sherbrooke Street. If I recall correctly we were still in high school but seniors, getting on. My mother had remarried and I was now living in downtown Montreal proximate to the Golden Square Mile. I knew places where kids could disappear, nooks and crannies where we couldn’t be seen or heard. Tim and I smoked some hash on the brick plinth of Le Port-Royal, a non-descript grey tower, Ayn Rand’s wet dream of ‘Fountainhead’ architecture and consequently an aesthetic crime perpetuated upon all who ever had the misfortune of gazing upon it – a lot like downtown Edmonton in retrospect. We went into a depanneur to buy some Player’s cigarettes. One of us spotted tins of Tahiti Treat in a cooler with sliding glass doors. Oh boy! Neither of us had enjoyed the red, fruity soda since we’d been nippers taught by nuns.

We found a bench, lit smokes and cracked open our cans. You know, when your mouth gets dry, you’re plenty high. We guzzled our Tahiti Treats. Silence in the company of a good friend has never bothered me. But this particular instance, this vacuum punctuated by many swallows, tooth rotting, tongue smacking, Jell-O saliva, was a life lesson. Tim coined a phrase that afternoon on the bench: “Tahiti Treat Syndrome.” There’s no going back to whatever it was; even if something hasn’t changed it can never match a sepia memory.

The new Teddy’s features a discreet corner of depravity. I’ve read that a fruit machine can be worth as much as $50,000 in additional revenue to the establishment that rents it. I guessed there were about a dozen video lottery terminals within staggering distance of the bar and bank machine, but cordoned off, mind. My despair at this state of affairs was alleviated somewhat by the glistening, sparkling men’s room; I know what really matters to me now. There were a few day drinkers at the bar watching television.

We selected a window table with a Jasper view in the empty dining area. Tony ordered an omelette from the All Day Breakfast menu. Ann chose a Reuben. I ordered a corned beef on rye, I had to. The sandwiches’ fillings did not appear to be as generous as my memory suggested they would be, the bread slices were thicker. Still, more often than not Ann and I remind each other too late that we should’ve shared a meal and eaten the plate charge, but some old habits are so hard to break. My Nana surmised that I packed a dozen toasted cheese triangles into a hollow leg. Auntie Mag learned that four open-face sandwiches merely equated to two proper ones in my book. I remember going into Tim’s house: “Mom? I’ve brought two people home for lunch today, Geoff and Moore.”

Part of the fading, renovated charm of Teddy’s is that there’s just the one, an iota of legacy in what is still a young city. It’s also fair to compare Teddy’s to the last inglorious days of Ben’s Delicatessen in Montreal; it’s not what it was: Tahiti Treat Syndrome. Maybe the fruit machines will keep Teddy’s afloat although that might be a losing bet. Last Saturday afternoon I was the youngest patron in a crowd thinner than Teddy’s corned beef sandwiches. I’m 59.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


A Page Ripped from History

If a province could express its innermost thoughts

Dear Diary,

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I can’t remember the good side though, the left or the right? Definitely not feeling strong and free today. Not exactly at my best what with the election coming up next week.

There’s no weed left in the pot shops. Not that I could afford any since Quebec stole all my money. Maybe I should cut back on the stuff? It makes me feel alienated and paranoid. That’s probably why Baby Trudeau legalized it; weed’s just another Ottawa-led conspiracy. Think there’s a couple of bottles of British Columbia wine in the cellar but I’ll be damned if I even use that swill for drain cleaner. Probably laced with strychnine anyway.

Enemies, shadowy forces, are everywhere. I feel like Julius Caesar or Macbeth or somebody. Maybe not, is the Bard even in the K-12 curriculum anymore? Too many triggers for the namby-pamby socialists, I guess. And don’t start me talking about those foreign-funded climate change activists, a fifth column of agitators. That reminds me: I should open a couple of windows and change the air in here.

Jesus, my Lord and Saviour, I feel like crap. How old am I? That’s right, 114 now. Been doing the same thing over and over for too many years to count and I keep expecting a different result. The definition of insanity, they say. Who are they, I’d like to know? They know who they are though. Watching every move I make, everything I do, casting stones in my passage. Maybe I should see a doctor? Nah, it could take months to get in.

Oh, lordy, I’ve never felt so low. What do I have to do today? Better snap a Klondike Days garter, give ‘er, get ‘er done. Is it too early for a shot of orange juice with my eponymous vodka? Chase it with a craft brew. I better make a list. Got to follow up those quotes for the new refinery; note to self: Do not hire workers from Saskatchewan! Wonder if I was drunk-shopping when I bought all those tanker cars? There’s only so much track capacity. Too late now, as long as they get over the Rockies without derailing, it’s all good.

What else? ‘Lake of fire’ social issues; for God’s sake, it’s century 21, get a grip. First Nations, alas I can’t be as glib about something equally complex but I do know that public and patronizing references to Treaty Six land ain’t getting the job done. Jobs, Diary, I’ve got to diversify the economy, change my routine, ditch the boom and bust cycles that never fail to drag me down when the wheel turns. Got to admit, that rush, wow, those highs are pretty high even if Quebec and lazy Maritimers get all the money. That place, the East, I don’t know, makes me feel like a rube at its poker table, you know? Instead of betting the house on a pipeline, perhaps I should introduce a modest harmonized sales tax? Christ. Maybe I should see a skull doctor about that bogeyman in my closet? It’s possible he’s one of them, works for Trudeau.

I must confess, Diary, sometimes when I play an Ian Tyson album I get nostalgic for the good old days. Sure a depression was sandwiched between two world wars but we all pulled together. We knew who they were back then even if we couldn’t recognize ourselves. Whereas on a day like today I just feel like quitting, packing it in. But you know me, gung-ho, can-do. I’ll power through this blue phase as I’ve done so many times before. Anyway, if you live in the past you just end up coyote carrion.

Thanks for listening, Diary. Time to jump in the shower, clean up, reset my head and get on with things. I can do this. See you tomorrow.


Wednesday, 3 April 2019


All the World (and the Community League Hall) Is a (Political) Stage

Word spread through the neighbourhood like orange sparks leaping a boreal firebreak. Eyebrows were raised at the Crooked 9. Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, was due to speak in an hour’s time at our community league hall on this final day of March, a lazy Sunday. Ann and I decided to stroll over and listen; we were expecting a town hall discussion: questions and on-message answers.

The province’s spring election is slated for the third Tuesday in April, about two weeks from now. This one doesn’t feel like a dutiful exercise, a mere democratic drill. The good old days, whatever they were, will not return and the future, of Alberta and perhaps even Confederation, decades’ hence, does not bode well should the present be mismanaged. Fossil fuels, carbon levies and climate change mix like oil and water. There’s a lot on the line in this province at the moment and the question is which way we will teeter-totter on our buckling sawhorse, regression or progression?

Our community hall because of its ease of accessibility and surrounding landscaping has multiple entrances. Ann and I went in through a rear door, inadvertently circumventing a screening by New Democratic Party (NDP) operatives. Neighbours inside said they’d been quizzed as to whether or not they were “friends of Rachel.” Looking around, I immediately understood why.

The front of the room was occupied by the press, newspapers and networks. Ms Notley’s mark was taped on the floor, a narrow T of green. Teleprompters were positioned to its left and right. The back of the room was the choir the premier was to preach to though she’d be facing the media’s cameras and iPhones. Her backdrop was a diverse and inclusive central casting crowd three or four deep, some of whom held orange campaign signs, just so.

The middle of the room was just a little too precious. Four Friendly Giant tables seated maybe two dozen children. They were hard at work with coloured pencils and felt markers. The 11”x17” sheets they filled in were not pictures but large type: FIGHTING FOR ALBERTANS; FIGHTING FOR OUR SCHOOLS; FIGHTING FOR OUR KIDS. RACHEL NOTLEY FIGHTING FOR YOU. Party minions clad in orange NOTLEY CRUE t-shirts then taped the finished masterpieces to the painted drywall. Beyond the calculated campaign imagery there’s a whiff of Big Tobacco and Big Booze: Get ‘em young.

Considering the often hysterical tone of what passes for political discourse in Alberta, especially on social media, security was surprisingly light. Two uniformed police constables were stationed outside the hall. They easily outnumbered the lone protester. The premier’s personal bodyguard was a stern looking fellow who resembled the actor in those ‘Transporter’ action flicks. His gaze swept over me a few times and he talked into his hand. I felt that irrational and sarcastic panic I get at airports when I’m randomly selected for extra frisking wash over me: “Of course I have Semtex residue on my fingertips. Who doesn’t?”

The event, well-timed for the start of the new week’s news cycle, was the release of the NDP’s complete election platform. Fighting words. When the party obtained power four years ago the NDP was handed four decades’ worth of shredded Tory documents and the devastating wildfire up north in Fort McMurray. Oh, and the House of Saud left the tap running. Contrary to the fears of the lunatic fringe the Notley government has not devolved Alberta into a failed, socialist state. The premier is principled and pragmatic. Ms Notley has always struck Ann and me as person who views public service as a calling rather than a career despite the manipulative trappings of modern politics. We admire her; Ms Notley won’t pick a fight but nor will she back down from one.

In my view, it takes two consecutive majority terms for any one party to put its ideological stamp on its realm. Aside from the global crisis of climate change, Alberta has a major problem: one resource and a single customer whose demand for our resource is rapidly declining. The conundrum is that the exploitation of our main resource, while great for the economy, accelerates climate change.

In its bid for re-election the NDP promises Albertans decency and common sense. Times are hard but spending on daycare, health care, education and infrastructure must continue. The provincial economy desperately needs to diversify in order to extract Alberta from the ever spinning hamster wheel of the boom-and-bust energy industry. Meanwhile, the mixed blessing of the tar sands must be leveraged in a responsible manner. No argument here.

Every detail was orchestrated to feel oh so right in our modest community league hall last Sunday. And why shouldn’t the most capable politician in Alberta control her message and her image? It’s all in the game. Yet public opinion polls suggest the Notley regime is doomed come election day. Catastrophe in its many backward forms looms even as the future hangs in the balance. The kids with their coloured pencils need to gestate for another 10 or 15 years before they can help turn this whole damn thing around.