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“What fresh hell,” the PM said, channeling us all as we stare down the threat of this omicron variant interrupting another holiday season.

“What fresh hell,” say I, as I prepare to write my annual year-end “hot or not” and prediction columns.

Here’s the first: my little annual tradition (defined, from my collegiate days, as “anything two men of college recall happening more than twice”) of who’s up, who’s down, and who really bothered me this year.

Justin Trudeau: Hot

The PM’s act might be wearing thin on a significant segment of the population, but his gamble to call an unnecessary election paid off, giving him his third straight win, and second straight almost-a-majority-but-not-quite mandate. He seems a bit disengaged, but his handling of COVID-19 has been a solid “good enough”, and whether he tries to keep governing for the long term or is into legacy mode, no one can deny he might be a bit greyer, but it’s still working for him.

Erin O’Toole: Not

He lost, when his job was to win. He also seems blithely unaware that he lost. I heard him speak, introducing former PM Brian Mulroney at the Churchill Society. It was unfair — the Tory grandee outclassed him in a way that was almost, inadvertently, mean.

Chrystia Freeland: Not

Count me as one Liberal not sold on her as heir apparent. She is losing the opening round of her tussle with Conservative rabble rouser Pierre Polievre. He might be over the top, and generally wrong on the economics, but he has a message about the cost of living most normal people can relate to, and even cheer on. Freeland, meanwhile, seems kind of annoyed that she has to explain why she is right, and others are wrong. Lecturing isn’t leading.

Pierre Polievre: Hot

See above.

Doug Ford: Hot

Love him or hate him or really hate him, the vast majority of Ontarians think he’s done OK this past year. It’s been far from perfect, but his heart is seemingly in the right place, and he gets things right, even if it’s on the third try. He also has a real message about housing affordability and traffic congestion. If he could fix his government’s seeming disdain for kids’ education and future, he’d be cruising to reelection. As it stands, he likely will win reelection next June, thanks in no small part to the utter lack of any spark in his two main opposition parties (see below).

Andrea Horwath & Steven Del Duca: Not

The two opposition leaders in Ontario are either invisible and being outflanked by the Tories on labour rights and housing affordability, or unexciting and without a seat. Rather than taking the fight to the Tories, the NDP and Liberal leaders seem to be shadow boxing each other for who comes in second, fighting over a downtown progressive vote at the expense of the suburbs, and trailing a Premier they despise in all key leadership metrics, from caring to competence. It’s not good. Neither oppo leader seems to have a message other than reacting to what Ford does. If they split the vote, as seems likely today, Ford will run up the middle. His opponents may be the best assets he has.

Rachel Notley: Hot

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the former Premier shows all opposition leaders how it’s done. She’s kicking Jason Kenney’s butt, and has a clear contrast message, clear leadership qualities and seems ready to govern if given the chance. Her only problem? The election isn’t tomorrow.

The Curse of Politics: Hot

The best political podcast in Canada — David Herle, Jenni Byrne, Scott Reid and a lot of swearing, Marvel comics references and old war stories — continues to delight, inform and make jogging or car drives more enjoyable. If you’re not listening, you should be.

John Tory: Hot

Calm, competent, kind, shows up to everything, cheerleads the city — the guy has grown on me, and the majority of his voters. If he runs for a third term, he’d win, and cement a legacy as Toronto’s longest-serving mayor. If he doesn’t, there’s no real heir apparent to step into the big shoes he’d leave. I hope he runs again.

Anita Anand: Hot

She’s the cabinet MVP, and the woman who got us all vaxxed, and she’s already righting the ship at DND.

Agree, disagree? Let me know…after the holidays.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Alberta’s economy rose from the doldrums this week and shuffled into interesting new directions.

The announcement of a big investment by Amazon Web Services in the Calgary region and Silicon Valley tech accelerator Plug and Play establishing a beach head in the province were good news for the UCP government, which has been endlessly criticized for its inability to get off the slowing energy industry train.

The number of news conferences with Premier Jason Kenney suddenly escalated with the unpopular premier happy to finally have good news for skeptical Alberta voters.

But there’s a fly in this healing ointment.

Brian Jean, Kenney’s longtime political rival, is back with a vengeance, aggressively seeking the UCP nomination for an upcoming by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.

If he wins the by-election, Jean vows, he will work to dislodge Kenney from the party leadership and seek to take his place.

The grudge between these two is positively Shakespearean.

Kenney and Jean worked together to unite the limping Progressive Conservative and Wildrose Parties into the United Conservative Party.

They wrestled each other and a couple of other wannabes for leadership of the new party. One of the alternate candidates in the race has since been seen as a paper rival designed to push Jean out in Kenney’s favour. Hard feelings over campaign irregularities still linger.

Within four months of Kenney’s leadership victory, Jean stepped down as a UCP MLA. He now claims Kenney ghosted him, making it clear he was no longer welcome. Kenney disputes that, saying he offered Jean just about any role he wanted, but Jean withdrew to take care of family matters.

For the past three years, Jean has been sitting back in his Fort McMurray home, occasionally penning a political column on his webpage about how he would tackle the political challenges of the day.

Gradually those missives became increasingly critical of Kenney until Jean openly called for the premier to step down.

The looming by-election in his home constituency gave Jean an opening to create an enormous amount of mischief for Kenney in the coming months.

Jean has already filed nomination papers with Elections Alberta for the by-election, which must be held by mid February. He is pushing hard for his fans in Fort Mac to buy UCP memberships and support his bid to run for the party.

If he is prohibited from running for the nomination (presumably by Kenney) Jean vows to run as an independent.

The tactic has Kenney backed into a corner. If UCP members in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche want Jean as their candidate Kenney is pretty well bound to accept that. Jean, who has deep Fort McMurray family roots, would have a good chance of winning the by-election even if he runs as an independent.

Kenney, who is known for his talent as a political brawler, is gearing up for the coming battle. He’s questioning Jean’s reliability, given his resignation from government in 2018 and apparent flirtations with other political partners in recent months.

“I’m not going to be distracted by somebody trying to settle scores with internal political games,” says the dismissive premier.

Jean’s campaign is very much centred on ousting Kenney before the next provincial election which must take place by spring 2023.

“Something must be done,” Jean told a news radio reporter.

“If there isn’t change, Rachel Notley will win an overwhelming majority and her second term will be much worse for Alberta than her first term.”

“Something must be done” is the catchphrase Jean is putting on all his social media appeals to UCP members. No doubt, he’ll be repeating it often right up until Kenney has to face a leadership review in the spring.

Pundits have predicted for years that the sour leadership contest that put Kenney in his current position would come back to haunt the UCP.

Alberta may be on an upswing as investment starts returning to its Covid weary economy, but its governing party is still mired in a past it just can’t seem to shake.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.