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The Battle of Castle Downs: an Alberta election sideshow

Elections are made up of a lot of little things—and this one is pretty amusing


 

Elections are made up of a lot of little things, and this controversy from Alberta’s election is perhaps a very little thing for me to belabour you with, but it is amusing. On Saturday, Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA and provincial education minister Thomas Lukaszuk was doorknocking in his riding when he had a surprising confrontation with Al Michalchuk, a grouchy 67-year-old homeowner who lives on the city’s 97th Street. The news broke in the form of an alarming tweet from Stephen Carter, a senior communications strategist for the Conservatives:

BREAKING: While door knocking, PC Candidate and Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk was assaulted. Police on scene. #abvote #pcaa

Election-watchers were concerned about Lukaszuk’s fate; I suppose many of us feared he had been brutalized by some angry young meth dealer, as opposed to a rotund senior citizen with a bum liver. Mercifully, Carter reported 27 minutes later that the minister was “shaken but not injured”. There followed clashing accounts from assailant and alleged victim. Lukaszuk said he did not expect an attack of any kind, and has never met Michalchuk. Here’s an early account he gave to local radio station iNews 880:

“…I encountered a house that happened to have Wildrose signs on the front lawn,” remarked Lukaszuk. “Rang the doorbell, and the moment I opened the door a fellow—older gentleman—opened the door and he looked at my face. He instantly realized who I was and started pushing and punching me in the chest, saying ‘get off my property’. He was fixated on his property rights. Kept telling me how he has the right to his property and how he can use any force he wants to just to get me off of his property.”

Michalchuk, for his part, says he asked Lukaszuk to leave several times before physically escorting him off the premises. Lukaszuk’s account of the assault has varied a tad, but he has settled on having been punched in the chest and shoulder. There is security-camera footage, which Michalchuk played for Global Edmonton, but the cameras didn’t capture the blows, and the footage is otherwise pretty inconclusive.

An important way in which the men’s stories conflict is that Michalchuk says the two have, in fact, met. Lukaszuk visited his house in 2008, the homeowner says, and after an argument he gave Lukaszuk verbal notice that he should not return. Jen Gerson broke down the disagreement for the National Post Tuesday:

When he left, the Edmonton resident said Mr. Lukaszuk pointed to the Wildrose sign on his lawn and said: “‘We kicked your ass three times in a row now and we’re going to do it again.’”

Mr. Michalchuk said he believes the Minister remembered his house from 2008.

“When he was leaving my property, he said to his campaign helper, ‘That’s the guy I told you about, that’s the guy I told you about’ that he had problems with last time.”

The Minister denies he said anything of the sort to the senior.

“We randomly stumbled on his house. If I had had problems with this house, why waste my time and imperil myself?” he asked, adding he had no memory of any previous problems with the man.

An excellent question. But in 2008, when asked for a “funny story” about electoral doorknocking, Lukaszuk did not seem so worried about dangerous constituents. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he gave the Edmonton Journal’s Scott McKeen in February of that year.

There was this guy in 2001 who literally wanted to shoot me at the door. We had to call the police and everything. So I remembered where his house was and always avoided it. This time I forgot.

I rang the doorbell. He opens the door. We make eye contact. He recognizes me. I recognize him. And he says, “[Blank] off” and just closes the door. Next time, I’m going to remember his house.

The homeowner in this story sounds an awful lot like Michalchuk. Edmonton-Castle Downs covers a lot of ground, but could there be two guys that irascible living in it? I asked Lukaszuk on Tuesday night—asked him specifically if he is very certain that the person who told him to “[blank] off” was not Michalchuk. He insists that the person in the 2008 fish tale is definitely not the same one that attacked him on Saturday.

As I told you, I don’t believe that I have ever met this man. I would recall this kind of greeting at a door…

That is where the story would ordinarily lie down and die, but someone else does recall that greeting.

In 2008, Brent Rathgeber, the (successful) Conservative candidate for the federal riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, joined Lukaszuk for doorknocking in Michalchuk’s neighbourhood. The federal riding covers much of same north-Edmonton territory as Lukaszuk’s provincial riding. Rathgeber was reluctant to give Maclean’s an account of his 2008 jaunt with Lukaszuk, but his memory is distinct, and it does not agree with Lukaszuk’s.

The MP knows the neighbourhood well, since a friend lives very close to Michalchuk. They visited that friend, Rathgeber says, and on their way out, Lukaszuk piped up:

TL says to me “Remember that incident in ’01 when that guy pulled the gun on me? It’s right around here somewhere.” I didn’t really know much about the ’01 incident but I had heard about it.

We proceed to a house almost directly across from [the friend’s place], an old man answers the door in his undershirt, takes one look at TL and says “[Eff] off”. We immediately leave the property but TL exclaims “That’s the house!”

We kind of laughed about the incident, and the irony of him still being that angry, and then went on to the next house.

Rathgeber adds that he recognized both Michalchuk and Michalchuk’s house immediately when he saw them on television Saturday night. His story not only suggests that Lukaszuk had (in 2008) a pretty clear memory of Michalchuk that he has now unaccountably lost; you’ll notice it actually features Lukaszuk showing off for an acquaintance by deliberately provoking the local Grumpy Old Bear.

Michalchuk hasn’t said anything about threatening a political candidate with hot lead in 2001, but then, that’s not really surprising. Thomas Lukaszuk, as Edmontonians will know, has an excellent sense of humour. Prudence, however, is not his strong suit. On balance, I do suspect that at some point prior to this weekend’s incident, he probably uttered words very much like “Hey, I know this house. Wanna see something funny?” I have talked to friends who agree that the temptation to do this—especially while doorknocking as a political candidate, which must be the most tedious activity this side of Hell—would be almost irresistibly powerful. But it would also be terribly irresponsible.

I don’t think it would be right to ascribe any wider significance to the incident, whatever the real background. But I’m not sure Lukaszuk agrees. He has emphasized the presence of a Wildrose lawn sign on the premises of his assailant, and he suggested to the Journal that his trouble might have arisen because “the campaign has been a little bit different…much more emotional. Some people have been scared into believing things that are not happening.” Which, come to think of it, actually seems like an odd thing for Lukaszuk to say if he was threatened with a firearm two elections ago.


 

The Battle of Castle Downs: an Alberta election sideshow

  1. Albertans are a fascinating sub-culture. I understand they are sitting on a lot of oil?

    • Violent sub-culture, according to historical crime stats. 

      • Yeah, we’re always killing ministers, kidnapping diplomats, blowing up mailboxes, that sort of thing…
        Wait a minute!

      • Yes, Loraine, everyone I know in Alberta has been shot dead.

        I’m not making this up.

        • Gee, how does one ‘un-know’ you?

    • Likewise, our neighbours to the west, whom I understand to simply be sitting on their a$$es.

    •  The reports of their politics can make it seem like the blind leading the stupid, leading the violent, leading the stupid again.

      • Given our stupidity and violence, It’s truly a wonder how we’ve managed to generate that enormous financial largess that benefits the rest of the country. Perhaps the answer lies in the depth of gratitude expressed by the ROC.

      • Go see my post at the bottom of the blog. #21

  2. Well researched and presented article – seems now we wait for the police to act…. before the voters do.  I’m no lawyer, but isn’t there enough evidence here to prompt a charge of filing a false report to the police?

  3. “Michalchuk hasn’t said anything about threatening a political candidate with hot lead in 2001, but then, that’s not really surprising.”

    But I think it would be pretty surprising for Michalchuk to not mention “this guy has been hassling me for eleven years despite being given literally the most clear ‘get off my property’ notice it is possible to give.” Instead Gerson’s article seems to have him saying that they met in 2008, Michalchuk found Lukaszuk arrogant, and then this year he came back.

    • That’s an entirely plausible scenario. Given the bland character of the neighbourhood, and Rathgeber actually being from St. Albert, Brent just might have mistaken it for the mass of post-WWII housing in mid-central Edmonton.

      Of course, that means that Lukaszuk’s defense has to be “no no, this is a totally different guy who is violently opposed to my candidacy.” That may not prove to be his greatest ally.

  4. Any truth to the rumour that “Al Michalchuk, a grouchy 67-year-old homeowner who lives on the city’s 97th Street” was visiting New York and riding on the subway back in the 90’s as captured in this video clip?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzLtF_PxbYw

  5. Thank you for this detailed analysis, original research. A rare gem. 

  6. Colby,

    I have never commented here at Macleans or on any of your articles I have read elsewhere from you but I just wanted to say something. Your article is very well laid out and the linked “proofs” add validity and value to your premise.

    Investigative journalism at it’s finest.

    Well done old chap. 

  7. This is the only article in regards to this incident that I’ve read that actually looks like journalism.
     
    Good job.
     
    Now, will Lukaszu retract his original statements and admit he purposely confronted Al Michalchuk with the hope of creating an incident?

  8. Based on the evidence, I’d say Thomas Lukaszuk is the one in the wrong here, and I’d like to see Wild Rose dump him and the rest of the PCs.

  9. Thanks Brent. Thanks Colby.

  10. You should have seen how I was treated when I tried to cast an early ballot here In Edmonton Wednesday afternoon. I wasn’t given a list of candidates until I complained about it, I was threatened by the Supervisor, and literally assaulted by an old biddy who was “manning” the front desk, who even looked at how I marked my ballot. I guess they did’nt like the fact that I’m a Liberal. I will be taking it up with Elections Alberta tomorrow.

  11. Seems I recall that Lukaszuk got in last time with a recount and with a bare minimum of support. Could be he is grasping any anything?

    He is pushing the Conservative campaign for a privatized school system in Alberta. The Government continues to build schools too small opening the door for a private school next door. All are financed on P3 programs and as such can be leased or rented to anyone.

    It’s my personal view more people should take a swing at him!

     
    http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2012/04/albert-public-school-system-is-on-ropes.html

    • Nice going Thomas Lukaszuk. Run to the media with your scraps and make Aberta proud !

  12. Lukaszuk should be charged for filing a false charge. Since Redford has done nothing to discpline Lukaszuk, it really pulls the P.C’.s down in public opinion.  

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