Winners & Losers Of The Year (2006) – Part Five

For this next installment in my year-in-review series, a twist.  This time, instead of deciding outright whether an individual, group or artistic endeavour had a good year or a bad year, I will be highlighting those who I felt were both winners and losers in 2006.  Keep reading and you’ll understand what I’m driving at here.
 
Winner:  Stephen Harper
 
Of all his lifelong political accomplishments, these two stand out the most:  uniting the two right-wing national political parties in Canada – The Progressive Conservatives and The Canadian Alliance (aka The Reform Party) – and ending 13 straight years of Liberal rule.
 
The Toronto-born but now Calgary-based Canadian Alliance MP, who was then-Leader of the Opposition, accomplished the former in December 2003, thanks to a deal he made with Peter McKay, the then-leader of the PCs.  It was one of the smartest decisions he ever made.  After losing the 2004 Federal election to Paul Martin and The Liberals, his first under the new, united Conservative Party of Canada, he learned from his mistakes for their second head-to-head in January 2006 and ran a very good campaign, which led to the latter.
 
No matter how outrageous, and, let’s face it, silly the Liberal TV attack ads got during the 55-day election build-up, the Canadian electorate, for the most part, saw through it.  Harper’s strategy was straightforward:  announce a new policy initiative every day and hammer The Liberals on their record.  It worked wonders, even though Canada only gave him a minority government to work with.  Despite that, he was able to make some good things happen.
 
After decades of silence, Chinese Canadians finally received their long-awaited apology from the Canadian federal government for the racist Head Tax that extorted money from them during the period between 1885 and 1925, and for being refused at the border from 1925 til 1947.  Harper’s words of contrition were warmly received and he promised the survivors who had to pay the dreaded tax, or their surviving families in the case of deceased immigrants, would receive a one-time payment of $20,000.  It was the first time any Prime Minister decided to put this issue to bed.  It was long overdue. 
 
But the biggest accomplishment during his first term in office so far, without question, was resolving the softwood lumber dispute between Canadian and American lumber.  Although the deal has been criticized (and it remains to be seen how good the deal actually is), Harper was able to do fairly quickly what his Liberal predecessors could not:  reach a compromise between his government, the Americans and the three largest Canadian softwood lumber companies.  The deal passed easily in the House of Commons by a vote of 172 to 116.  Time will tell if this will benefit Canada.  Regardless, Harper deserves credit for ending the dispute.
 
Meanwhile, on a personal note, Harper did something few politicians have the guts to do these days:  reach out to someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum during a time of grieving.  Prime Minister Harper did that for former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella during the summer.  Kinsella’s teenage nephew had died tragically on July 22nd while driving back to his family’s cottage late that Saturday evening.  According to a July 24th report in The Ottawa Citizen, “his car went off the road and hit a small brick building that is part of a church.”  His life ended at the scene of the accident.  He was only 17.
 
On his excellent website, Kinsella praised Harper for his kind actions.  Interestingly, as far as I know, the Prime Minister hasn’t said anything publicly about this.  Regardlesss, his classy gesture deserves praise for its sincerity.
 
Loser:  Stephen Harper
 
Unfortunately, Harper’s first year in the top job has been rife with problems.  First, despite knowing full well he would be correctly accused of hypocrisy, he welcomed a former Liberal into the Conservative fold.  That would be David Emerson who shocked everybody by switching parties in order to get these plum cabinet assignments:  Minister Of International Trade and Minister for The Pacific Gateway and the 2010 Winter Olympics.  After all his public grumbling over former Conservative leadership contender Belinda Stronach’s decision to join The Liberals in order to receive her own cabinet appointments (Minister of Human Resources & Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal), this decision was curious to say the least.
 
Also hypocritical was the appointment of Conservative operative Michael Fortier to The Senate.  Harper and The Conservatives have long wanted to see an elected Senate so personally placing a political ally into a well-paying, unaccountable job also baffled many.
 
Although he kept his promise to cut the GST (the Goods and Services Tax) from 7% to 6%, it hasn’t provided that much tax relief.  Two cases in point:  If you bought a muffin at Tim Horton’s before the tax cut, it cost you $1.06.  After the tax cut?  Try $1.05.  Before the cut was implemented, it cost me $21.35 to use the internet every month.  Today, it’s $21.15.  I think it’s time to remove the tax entirely.  How ’bout it, Prime Minister?
 
The Federal Accountability Act has been widely criticized for not achieving what The Conservatives had promised it would do, which is to make government more open and accountable to public taxpayers.  In fact, it’s been argued that if implemented in its current form, it would lead to more government secrecy and if another AdScam or like-minded scandal were to occur, we would never hear about it thanks to this proposed bill.  Here’s hoping they fix it before voting it into law.
 
His crime proposals were very popular during the election but as we all know from looking to our neighbours to the south with regard to the evil drug war, “mandatory minimums” is not a good public policy.  It will lead to overcrowded prisons which will lead to more prisons and furthermore, not all cases are the same.  As Bill Maher as said, “Zero tolerance means zero thinking.”  Besides, what are the chances any of these convicted felons, upon serving their time, will actually become law-abiding citizens after their release? 
 
Is Harper serious about the environment?  He opposes Kyoto which no one in Canadian politics has ever truly tried to implement and his “Made In Canada” proposal is not likely to be a better solution.  (When revealed, it was widely criticized.) Considering the fact that this issue is the most important one to Canadians, as revealed in a recent poll, Harper’s lack of interest on combatting dangerous global warming has got to change.  His Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose, desperately needs some guidance here.  I think she’s been embarrassed enough.
 
But Harper has four other big problem areas to deal with:  Afghanistan, his feud with the National Press Gallery, the fallout from the Maher Arar screw-up and Quebec.  To be fair, it was The Liberals who initiated our doomed mission in the Middle East and it was during their reign that Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen, was wrongly sent to Syria to be tortured for a year, thanks to the incompetence of the RCMP.  Instead of asking for the immediate resignation of RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli after a thorough report by Justice Dennis O’Connor cleared Arar of any wrongdoing, Paul Martin’s problem has become Stephen Harper’s problem.  His lack of appropriate action on this matter is deeply distressing.
 
Harper’s overenthusiasm for the foolish misadventure of Afghanistan lead to a transparent and ridiculous photo-op (which The Toronto Sun dutifully placed on their cover) and appropriated rhetoric from the feckless and incompetent American Republicans.  (“Stay the course.”  “We won’t cut and run,” etc.)  With more bad news coming out of that desert country every day, it will only get worse for Harper and, ultimately, Canada.  It also doesn’t help that NATO is losing interest in fighting the war.
 
The Prime Minister’s decision to recognize Quebec as a “nation” within the borders of Canada surprised many.  However, it has unwittingly given the Bloc Quebecois, the separatist party, the opportunity to take Harper’s controversial gesture to the next level.  As former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella has noted, we’ve seen this movie before (Quebec referendums, Meech Lake, Charlottetown) and we all know how it ends.  However long his term in office lasts, this poor political decision has opened a Pandora’s Box of endlessly annoying and fruitless constitutional talks.  The snowball is rolling down the hill and it’s getting bigger by the second.
 
In the end, the stand-off with the NPG might be Harper’s undoing.  His ill-considered idea of not allowing free questions from the press is another bad policy inherited by Paul Martin’s Liberals who also wanted to control who asked the questions.  With the next Federal election due to occur at any time within the next year or so, his actions may come back to haunt him.
 
Winner:  Artie Lange
 
In Part One of my series on the Winners & Losers of 2006, I selected Howard Stern as my first winner for all his success on Sirius Satellite Radio this year.  (As an aside, I forgot to mention that he has his own cable channel, Howard TV, which is also doing very well.)  But I also want to single out sidekick Artie Lange who remains a popular fixture on the program since he signed on full-time in 2001.  His running feud this year with Crazy Alice, a frequent caller to the show, is hilarious.  Both are participating in a Football Pool where the winner receives $25,000 for having the best win-loss record at the end of the regular season.  (Elegant Elliot Offen and newest Wack Packer, Big Foot Mark, are the other participants.)  Besides the back and forth insults, what’s also funny is the fact that Alice is winning so far and Artie is in last place.  (Artie is an enormous sports fan and helplessly addicted gambler.)
 
Without the stupid restrictions of terrestrial radio, Artie is free to be himself on the air and just reading about his on-air conduct on howardstern.com and marksfriggin.com is very entertaining.  In January, when George Takei spent the entire first week on Sirius with the gang, many listeners called in and wrote in to remark on the surprising chemistry between Takei and Lange, a true odd couple if there ever was one.  Both are remarkably good-natured, especially the eternally youthful Takei, and can take as much as they can give comedically.  Takei has returned on occasion throughout the year, thankfully, and it’s too bad he isn’t on more often.  No one seems to have anything negative to say about the now-openly gay actor.  He’s a great addition to the program and Lange’s best moments come from interacting with the former Mr. Sulu.
 
Lange is also remarkably generous.  Recent guest Tina Fey mentioned that in order to make a cameo appearance in the movie Artie Lange’s Beer League (which she did as a personal favour), she had to first pay a thousand bucks to join the acting union.  Feeling terrible about that, Artie reached into his pocket and pulled out a thousand dollars, all the while insisting that Tina accept the money she sacrificed for doing his movie.  It remains his best personal quality.
 
Professionally, Lange’s biggest success was his recent sold-out show at Carnegie Hall.  People who attended that night, which included Howard Stern and other work colleagues, had plenty of positive things to say about the headliner.
 
Lange also scored during his numerous appearances on late night talk shows.  How bout that somersault on Conan O’Brien and Lange’s remarks about Desperate Housewife Eva Langoria being too stuck-up to stick around for his segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live?  Another funny Lange appearance occurred during an episode of The Best Damn Sports Show Period.  People like to talk about Martin Short being a terrific talk show guest.  They should add Artie Lange to that short list.
 
Loser:  Artie Lange
 
On the other hand, it’s been a terrible year for Artie despite the shining of his comedic talent.  His movie, Artie Lange’s Beer League, got hammered by critics.  (It received a rotten rating of 27% from rottentomatoes.com.  Only 11 reviews are posted because the film wasn’t screened for the critics.)  The movie never received a wide release and therefore, never got a chance to make as much money as it could’ve.  (Budgeted at a million, the film barely made half of that.  Look for it on DVD on January 2nd, 2007.)  On the bright side, the film did get a good review out of Richard Roeper, a Stern fan.  (Stern, himself, said he enjoyed the film.)
 
Lange’s personal problems have become legendary, thanks to his association with Stern.  His weight peaked at nearly 300 pounds (he’s much thinner in Beer League) and as a result, he can’t wear pants to work at the moment.  (He’s been wearing loose-fitting pyjama bottoms.)  He also can’t take his socks off like a normal person.  Why?  Because he can’t reach!
 
Last year, while making his flop film, he was a mysterious no-show for some Stern broadcasts.  This year, we found out why.  He temporarily went back on heroin.  And, if that weren’t bad enough, his longterm relationship with Dana, the school teacher, was on and off so many times, I lost track.  Apparently, it’s over for good.  Again.  The sticking point?  Artie’s stubborn refusal to seek professional help for all his awful addictions.  And her dog. 
 
Ending that relationship was the biggest mistake he made this year, bigger than any underperforming movie or dramatic weight gain could ever hope to be.  Why?  Because he’ll probably never find another woman as devoted and considerate of him as Dana.  And the best part about that relationship despite its problems?  Artie didn’t have to pay her to love him.  He should remember that the next time he’s in Vegas.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 4, 2006
9:44 p.m.
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Published in: on December 4, 2006 at 9:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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