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The dark side of politics: Austria's 'Ibiza affair' still sticks – DW (English)

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Twelve months have passed since the “Ibiza-videos” triggered the dramatic end of the coalition government and with it the fall from grace of one of Austria’s most controversial politicians, Heinz-Christian Strache.

It was 6 p.m. on May 17, 2019 when video footage that would change the course of Austrian history hit the internet. Stunned journalists sat mesmerized before their computers that evening, barely able to believe their eyes.

A visibly inebriated and chain-smoking HC Strache — Austrian vice chancellor and head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) — slumped on a couch in a shabby t-shirt, with what appeared to be a line of cocaine on the glass table in front of him. Alongside him Johann Gudenus — member of the Austrian national parliament and former vice mayor of Vienna— waving his arms and translating Russian, replacing missing vocabulary with pistol-shooting gestures, “Glock, boom, boom.” And together with the pair in a holiday villa in Ibiza a “Russian oligarch’s niece,” apparently discussing the purchase of Austria’s most popular daily newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung.

By the following morning, thousands of furious protesters had gathered outside the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, demanding Strache’s resignation. A few hours later, a chastened vice chancellor quit both his posts, apologized to his wife and disappeared to lick his wounds. It heralded the end of the coalition government led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party (ÖVP). 

Austrian politics and society is still shaken by the “ibiza video” scandal

A year on, political consultant Thomas Hofer describes the reaction to the now-infamous “Ibiza videos” as “an expression of how some people think politics works in this country.”

“But you can’t say this is a completely unknown practice in Austria,” he adds, disagreeing with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen’s statement shortly after the footage became public, that “We (Austrians) are not like this.”

The dark side of politics

Never again in Austria will the word “Ibiza” be synonymous with a party island. Since that day, it has come to connote the dark side of politics: an image of two sweaty senior politicians explaining to a supposed Russian businesswoman how one gains power in Austria, spins the news and manipulates the mass media; how to get entrepreneurs on side and how to funnel money past the tax authorities into the party coffers. Strache dropped big names: the millions-of-dollar weapons manufacturer, Glock, Austria’s largest construction company, Strabag, and the international gambling business, Novomatic.

Read moreOpinion: Austria’s far-right show their true colors

Within days, the affair led to a no-confidence vote in Kurz, the implosion of the entire government, and a transitional administration. New elections were finally held in September 2019, in which the Freedom Party suffered significant losses as disillusioned voters turned to the ÖVP.

Despite the indisputable evidence to the contrary, HC Strache doggedly professed his innocence, quickly coming up with a conspiracy theory in which he portrayed himself as the victim. He spoke of a “b’soffene G’schicht” (“a drunken tale”) and swore the encounter with the long-legged blonde was a one-off, a claim later refuted.

It is now known that the video was recorded sometime between June 22-25, 2017, when Strache and Gudenus were firmly in opposition mode. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for that autumn. At the time the recordings were made, it was anything but a forgone conclusion that the People’s Party and Freedom Party would end up agreeing to form a coalition.

Now that coalition is no more — nor is the Freedom Party, minus the almost cult-figure charisma of Strache at its helm, what it once was.

“Yes, it was a turbulent and eventful year,” says Strache, who post-Ibiza affair was subsequently plagued by scandals involving party expense accounts and bags of cash.

New political pastures

The 50-year old has now found himself a new political stage as the head of the “Alliance for Austria” (DAÖ), a splinter party made up of Strache-loyalists from the Freedom Party. He’s currently running for the post of mayor of Vienna in elections to be held this autumn, and very confident of his chances.

Strache blames the current strife of his former party on the new leadership — party head, Norbert Hofer and chairman, Herbert Kickl. He can barely hide his malice towards the two, both for their rejection of his offer to find a “common path” and his and his wife Philippa’s expulsion from the party.

The FPÖ leadership declined to comment for this article.

The party itself appears uncertain of its positions. With the coronavirus lockdown, Kickl initially demanded a complete closure of the country, yet is now seething against “Corona madness.” At the same time, the People’s party has hijacked the FPÖ positions on issues such as asylum, maintaining the hardline policies put in place by Kickl himself during his term as interior minister.

Political consultant Thomas Hofer says the Ibiza video tore a “wound in the FPÖ” and believes the double leadership of Hofer-Kickl is a construct that “cannot work in the long run.”

What is interesting, however, is that despite Norbert Hofer and Herbert Kickl having had nothing to do with the Ibiza video, the affair has nevertheless affected the FPÖ just as much as it has Strache.

The Russian connection

“The FPÖ is catching up with the spin of its own past decades,” says Thomas Hofer, referring to Strache’s use of conspiracy theory and political intrigue to convince his followers that he is the real victim in the case.

Austrian politician Johann Gudenus with his wife at the Vienna Opera Ball

Gudenus, pictured here with his wife, has disappeared from the political limelight

While Strache is making a political comeback, Johann Gudenus has gone underground. And according to a former friend of the two — Levan Pirveli, a Georgian businessman living in Austria — that friendship has now turned into a bitter enmity.

Pirveli was the FPÖ’s main contact with Russia. It was Pirveli who took Strache to Moscow in 2009 to meet members of the Russian Duma.

According to Pirveli, he explicitly told Gudenus that the woman who passed herself off as “Alyona Makarova,” niece of the oligarch Igor Makarov, was not who she said she was. Initial contact between “Makarova” and Gudenus was made by Irena Markovic, a real estate agent friend of Gudenus’s future wife, Tajana, who had told Gudenus that “Makarova” had expressed interest in purchasing a family estate belonging to the Gudenus’s.

“Makarov is an only child and has no niece, and I told Johann that,” says Pirveli of his conversation in May 2017. “But for some reason he did not listen to me.” Pirveli speculates that Gudenus was most likely blackmailed with compromising video material into agreeing to take Strache to the meeting in Ibiza the following month.

Who exactly was behind the Ibiza video remains a mystery. But did the video change anything?

“Not enough,” says Thomas Hofer. “There were concrete effects, but fundamentally nothing has changed.”

Read moreAustria’s political scandal fails to stick in election campaign

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WATCH: For the record, Tim Hudak is not returning to politics – BradfordToday

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Tim Hudak spent more than two decades as a provincial politician at Queen’s Park, including five years as leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. He is now CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA), a position he has held since 2016.

Would the former Opposition Leader ever consider a political comeback?

Hudak was asked that question during a recent appearance on Inside the Village, a news podcast produced by Village Media. His answer was pretty unequivocal. 

You can watch the full interview here, or download the episode wherever you find your favourite podcasts.​

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Marc Garneau on enjoying political life after cabinet ouster, writing his memoirs – The Globe and Mail

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Marc Garneau says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered him an opportunity to be Canada’s ambassador in France, but he turned it down for reasons that he was not going to discuss.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Had things gone as he hoped, Marc Garneau would be foreign affairs minster today, carrying on with a run in the cabinets of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that began when the Liberals won power in 2015.

But the 73-year-old former astronaut – once one of the highest-profile members of Mr. Trudeau’s cabinets for his roles as transport minister for five years and foreign affairs minister for nine months – was left out after the Liberals won a minority government last fall, a turn that caught many by surprise.

In an interview, the MP for the Montreal riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount declined to say whether he would have run for his fifth term had he known he wouldn’t make it back to cabinet.

“Obviously, when I went into the election I was hoping to continue my work in foreign affairs, but I am also grounded in reality and know every new government is a new decision point for the prime minister to decide how he wants to compose his government. I was aware of these things, but I decided that I wanted to run again,” Mr. Garneau said from his Parliament Hill office.

Now, Mr. Garneau says, things are fine, and he is enjoying his roles as a chair, joint chair and member of various Parliament Hill committees.

“I am fully occupied with things that I do care deeply about so you move on in life and you enjoy what you have the chance to do, and as long as you feel the desire to serve you continue to do that.”

His roles include chair of the standing committee on Indigenous and Northern affairs, and joint chair of a Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying.

“For me to have had an opportunity to work, in essence, on reconciliation through this standing committee and to work on a topic that is so important it can affect everybody, which is medical assistance in dying, those are very rewarding new responsibilities I am enjoying tremendously.”

For seven years of his political career, he was asking the questions on committees as a member of the opposition, and then for six years he was taking questions as a cabinet minister. “I was the one, if you would like, in the hot seat,” he said. Being the chair is a new experience. “It does require you to have a certain level of impartiality so the committee can function properly in the way it should and everyone has a voice. That was a bit of a learning curve for me.”

Peter Trent, the former mayor of the Montreal suburb of Westmount, is a long-time friend of Mr. Garneau. He was so taken aback by Mr. Garneau being left out of cabinet that he wrote a column for The Montreal Gazette that ran last October under the headline: “Marc Garneau, the ‘anti-politician,’ deserves better.” It was sharply critical of Mr. Trudeau’s judgment.

But, he says, Mr. Garneau has taken his fate well. “He’s accepted what happened in a very Zen way,” Mr. Trent said. “The rest of us aren’t as Zen and still harbour a strong resentment as to the way he was treated.”

Mr. Garneau is writing his memoirs, drafting a narrative on a life story that saw the Quebec City native serve in the navy and become, in 1984, the first Canadian in space when he served as a payload specialist on the Challenger space shuttle. He returned to space on subsequent missions, and was president of the Canadian Space Agency.

But elected politics beckoned. Mr. Garneau was first elected to Parliament in 2008, while Stephen Harper was prime minister. In 2012, he ran for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party, competing with, among others, his eventual boss at the cabinet table. He eventually left the race and endorsed Mr. Trudeau, who won.

Mr. Garneau stepped up work on his memoirs over a few weeks in December and January while recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

“I got quite a bit done,” he said. “I got the chapters from the beginning of my life up until I entered politics done, and I have had those reviewed by my dear wife and my daughter so those are in pretty good shape.” He does not have an agent or publisher.

When he was left out of cabinet, Mr. Garneau says his constituents and the media reacted more intensely than colleagues on Parliament Hill. “Here in Ottawa, I think people understand the way things go and that these are possible outcomes.”

Mr. Garneau says the Prime Minister offered him an opportunity to be Canada’s ambassador in France, but he turned it down for reasons that he was not going to discuss.

As for seeking another term, he notes the next election is three years away. “My health is good,” he said. “We’ll see.”

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Ex-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith reannounces UCP leadership bid as next step in Alberta politics – Global News

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Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith reannounced that she will run in the upcoming United Conservative Party leadership race on Thursday.

She thanked Kenney for the work he has done for Alberta’s energy industry and added she wouldn’t mind seeing Kenney stay on as premier until a new leader has been elected.

Read more:

UCP begins search for new leader with Jason Kenney stepping down

“I want to start off by thanking Premier Jason Kenney for all the work that he’s done over the last number of years.

“I’ve decided to jump back into politics, seeking the leadership of the UCP. That is just a continuation of my last political life,” Smith said.


Click to play video: 'Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader'



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Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader


Jason Kenney announces intention to step down as UCP leader

Smith spared no time getting into her platform, saying she will fix and restore faith in Alberta politics. She also said she will attempt to unite the UCP and pointed to the large number of people who registered to vote in Kenney’s leadership review.

“If you look at what happened during the UCP leadership contest, there were a lot of people who got brought into the UCP who had never been in politics before and I think that’s what has occurred,” Smith said.

“I think there has been a lot of division that has happened between friends and family, and we need to stop dividing people along identity lines… We are stronger united and that holds for our conservative movement as well.”

Read more:

Kenney’s plan to step down as UCP leader shows how hard merging 2 parties is: political commentator

Smith also said she wants to see more people run in the leadership race and noted she respects the role of individual MLAs in Alberta politics.

“I would love to see Todd Lowen and Drew Barnes throw their name in the race for UCP leadership. We need to start unifying the movement again and that’s going to require all hands on deck over the next couple of years,” Smith said.


Click to play video: 'UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down'



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UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down


UCP caucus meeting to discuss future after Jason Kenney announces plan to step down

But Smith also spent time talking about her own credentials, saying she has a lot of experience as the former party leader for the Wildrose Party, which merged with the UCP in 2017.

She also talked about her time as a former radio host on 770 CHQR as proof she can “take the heat” in Alberta politics.

Read more:

Ex-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith returns to Alberta politics, will vote against Kenney leadership

“I’m not going to enter a contest thinking I’m going to come in second place… This is a real opportunity for the UCP to make sure that we’re selling memberships, that we’re getting people excited again.

“I can handle the heat. I have handled it for a lot of years, and that’s the way I conducted myself on the radio,” Smith said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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