Alberta politics today: Caribou, Cell Phone Bills, and backing down on Term-Limits

Canada Alberta Caribou Habitat
The caribou was first featured on Canada’s 25-cent piece in 1936. Today, the habitat populated by Alberta’s caribou herds has been devastated.

Another news report this week focused on the devastation of caribou habitat in northwestern Alberta. The CBC story reported that deforestation caused by seismic cutlines and snowmobile traffic has caused irreparable damage to habitat critical to the survival of Alberta’s caribou herds. “About five per cent of range for the Little Smoky and a la Peche caribou herds remains undisturbed — a long way from the federal government’s 65% target,” the CBC report stated.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership was left reeling yesterday when it was reported that he racked up a $20,000 cell phone bill on his government cell phone while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012. Although Mr. Lukaszuk was on a personal trip, he told the media that he conducted business by downloading large-sized files of legal documents onto his phone.

PC leadership front-runner Jim Prentice changed his tune on plans to legislate term-limits for MLAs and Premiers in Alberta. Following his announcement last week, the legal and constitutional academic community was unanimous in their belief that it would be unconstitutional and contravene Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Prentice, a lawyer by trade, now says he would not legislate the term-limits, but implement them as an internal PC Party policy.

An important endorsement was made in the less-talked about campaign to lead the Alberta NDP. NDP MLA Deron Bilous has endorsed his caucus colleague Rachel Notley in her bid to become that party’s next leader. Mr. Bilous, who has represented Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012, is one of four NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Notley is facing Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union activist Rod Loyola in the leadership race. The vote to chose the new leader is schedule for October 18, 2014 at Edmonton’s Sutton Place.

Marlin Schmidt NDP Edmonton
Marlin Schmidt

The NDP will hold a nomination meeting in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 8. Past candidate Marlin Schmidt is expected to be acclaimed in that contest. In 2012, Mr. Schmidt placed 880 votes behind PC candidate David Dorward, making this a target constituency for the NDP in the next election.  The meeting will feature guest speaker Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg-Centre.

The Liberals will be nominating their candidate for the upcoming Calgary-Elbow by-election on September 18, 2014. Susan Wright, lawyer and author of the witty Susan On The Soapbox blog  has put her name forward for the nomination. Although the Liberals fared poorly in this constituency in 2012, the party surprised many political watchers by winning the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election that replaced former Premier Ralph Klein.

For a complete list, check out the list of 2015/2016 Alberta Provincial Election candidates and nominees.

Prentice term-limit idea is gimmicky and probably unconstitutional

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Jim Prentice with former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel on June 10, 2014 in Edmonton.

You are Jim Prentice. You have the podium and the attention of Alberta’s media. You are the next Premier of Alberta. You can dream big. You could promise to replace all of Alberta’s aging hospitals by 2020, to build a high-speed railway from Calgary to Edmonton, to forge a new relationship with municipalities through Big City Charters, or reinvent the way Alberta is governed. Heck, you could even promise to implement your party’s long-list of unfulfilled promises from the last election.

But what is your big promise? Term-limits for MLAs.

Today, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Mr. Prentice pledged to limit future Premiers to two-terms and  MLAs to three-terms in office. It was a strange announcement. And it is gimmicky.

As someone who practices the law, Mr. Prentice should understand that term-limits are likely unconstitutional and, unlike a presidential republic like the United States of America, the concept of term limits does not fit in Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy.

While many Albertans will probably support the idea of term-limits for their elected officials, from a practical standpoint it does not appear that a lack of term-limits are a real problem in Alberta politics. By my count, 80% of Alberta’s 86 current MLAs were elected within the last ten years and the last two Premiers – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – did not survive two terms in office.

The most recent notable exception was Ken Kowalski, who retired before the last election after 33 years as a PC MLA (and his three decade long political career in provincial politics is very uncommon). The current longest serving MLA is Pearl Calahasen, who has represented Lesser Slave Lake since 1989.

Promises of term-limits are also not a new issue in Alberta politics. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in 2012 that, if elected, she would only serve two-terms as Premier (her party constitution had it enshrined until it was removed in 2013). And, in 2011, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton proposed term-limits for Premiers.

Despite Mr. Prentice’s announcement, not long ago, the PC Party mocked and demonized their opponents for proposing term-limits for MLAs and the Premier. In a 2010 newsletter, the party he wants to lead compared MLA term-limits to “the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.”

The timing of this announcement is notable. On August 23, 2014, Alberta’s PC Party will become Canada’s longest-serving governing party ever (beating the record of the Nova Scotia Liberals, who governed that province from 1882 to 1925).  And August 30, 2014 will mark 43 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971. Perhaps term-limits for parties in government is a more worthwhile idea (but probably just as hard to implement).

It is hard to see Mr. Prentice’s term-limit pledge as anything but an attempt to distract Albertans from lacklustre leadership contest and the ongoing government spending and airplane scandals (and the PC government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions).

Mr. Prentice’s front-runner campaign is appearing less dynamic and more vulnerable each day and rumours continue to circulate that less than 30,000 PC Party memberships have been sold, compared to more than 100,000 that were sold in that party’s 2011 contest.

With two weeks left before PC members vote to chose their next leader, Mr. Prentice’s campaign is desperately trying to spark some excitement in the minds of its supporters. With today’s term-limit announcement, they appear to have missed the mark, by a long-shot.

PC Party compared MLA term-limits to whims of an Ayatollah or a general

Alberta Politics Term LimitsToday, Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate Jim Prentice proposed term-limits for Premiers and MLAs.

The following is an excerpt from an editorial on term-limits for MLAs that was printed in the Progressive Conservative Party’s “PC People” magazine, published in September 2010:

Another concept being promoted in some quarters is the idea of term limits. These laws restrict the number of times an office holder can seek re-election.

On the surface this may seem like noble enough sentiment until you take a closer look. Voters pick their favoured candidate and the individual with the greatest support becomes the community’s representative.

For all intents and purposes, term limits bar voters from selecting the candidate of their choice.

Voters whose favoured candidate is prohibited from seeking re-election are disadvantaged as much as voters whose candidate is barred by the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.

Thoughts?

Advice for the next Premier of Alberta: Be Bold by being Boring

daveberta.ca

Guest post by: Anonymous

So you’re a new Premier, looking for a way to make a splash – to make the public forget about the previous regime. You could do something simple like reduce Cabinet to 20, which is essentially the size of Cabinet (Associate Ministers are not actually Cabinet ministers). But that’s not really bold. Bold would be to end the whole idea of creating ministries to fulfill or establish a political debt.

An issue rarely talked about is how cabinet shuffles increase costs, create inefficiency, and general serve little operational strategies, but political ones. Thomas Lukaszuk has alluded to it with the Jobs, Skills, etc ministry that was created to keep him happy about being demoted from Deputy Premier. But for the bureaucracy, the effect is real. There are divisions that have been shuffled 5 times in 6 years; needing to learn a new ministry, new corporate culture, rebuild networks and adjust to new processes. Why? So a ‘leader’ can fulfill a political debt, not to make for a more efficient or effective government.

To do something bold would be to reduce the number of ministries to 10 or 12, codify the departments in the Government Organization Act, and have any enactment past or future be tied to a specific department. The structure of government should be far more permanent than it is. This enables for more streamlined decision-making, and creates consistency for stakeholders and the public when interacting with government. It also reduces the number of senior appointments, reduces ‘make work” projects that come from a cabinet shuffle, like creating new websites, new letterhead, etc and it can consolidate internal services like finance, HR, policy, FOIPP and communications.

To me, the structure of government and ministries and any proposed changes to them should always receive the scrutiny of the House. Government structure is fundamental and yet its structure is set to the whim of the Premier and not the will of the House.

As a political benefit, this reduces the size of Cabinet, which inevitably improves the timeliness of decision-making. But what about paying back all those political debts? How does the Premier make sure Cabinet doesn’t run amok of what MLAs are hearing on the ground?

Committees can be a real answer. Being a committee chairman should have the same status as being a Cabinet minister. Some politicians are better in the executive and others are better in the law making. Effective committees can hold Ministers accountable, add more voices to the policy development process and ensures that the Legislature and not the bureaucracy is driving policy. Moreover, they give caucus a real means to engage in policy and keeping Ministers accountable.

Speaking of holding Ministers accountable, why is that a Minister rarely executes the powers conferred on him or her without checking in with Cabinet or the Premier? A leader allows others to lead, to succeed and to screw up. If a screw up is that bad, fire the Minister. And since you have a stock of experienced legislators, you have plenty of options to choose a replacement. Allowing your Ministers to use their powers frees the Premier to focus on the broad policy objectives, building relationships and to build the political machine.

Be bold by being boring. You’d be surprised how far it may take you in governing.


This guest post was submitted, on the condition of anonymity, by a hardworking member of Alberta’s public service.

Photos: Justin Trudeau rally in Edmonton

Justin Trudeau Liberal Edmonton
Justin Trudeau speaks to the crowd at his party’s “Team Trudeau” rally at Louise McKinney Park in Edmonton.
Edmonton Liberal candidates Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton-Centre), Daniol Coles (Edmonton-Griesbach), Sukhdev Aujla (Edmonton-Manning) and Eleanor Olszewski (Edmonton-Strathcona).
Edmonton Liberal candidates Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton-Centre), Daniol Coles (Edmonton-Griesbach), Sukhdev Aujla (Edmonton-Manning) and Eleanor Olszewski (Edmonton-Strathcona).
Justin Trudeau Edmonton Liberal
Justin Trudeau with Liberal candidates and MPs on stage at the “Team Trudeau” rally at Louise McKinney Park in Edmonton.
Justin Trudeau Edmonton Liberal
Justin Trudeau in the crowd of supporters at his “Team Trudeau” rally in Edmonton’s Louise McKinney Park.

See more photos of the “Team Trudeau” rally on Flickr.

Federal Liberal Summer Caucus in Edmonton

Justin Trudeau Edmoton Alberta
Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau surrounded by supporters at an Edmonton rally on January 23, 2014.

Twenty-one years ago, in a federal election that reshaped the Canadian political landscape, the Liberals swept Edmonton, electing Members of Parliament in four of the city’s six federal ridings. That year was a high-water mark for the federal party, which last elected an MP in Edmonton in 2004 and has not come close to electing a candidate since.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals
Randy Boissonnault

For the next week, the federal Liberals will be holding their annual “Summer Caucus” in Edmonton and the party’s 37 Members of Parliament be criss-crossing the Canadian West, hosting events, promoting local candidates and knocking on doors.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the federal Liberals nominated a handful of candidates in Edmonton ridings over the past week who will be on the receiving end of this help - Daniol Coles in Edmonton-GriesbachEleanor Olszewski in Edmonton-Strathcona, Sukhdev Aujla in Edmonton-Manning and Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton-Centre.

In case you want to catch up with any Liberal MPs while they are in our province, here are a listing of public events that some of them will be attending with candidates in Edmonton and Calgary:

Monday, August 18
Westmount-Ville Marie MP Marc Garneau will host a Pints & Politics event at Chop Steakhouse & Bar (17635 Stony Plain Rd NW) in west Edmonton at 8:00 p.m. 

Tuesday, August 19
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will speak to a rally of supporters in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park overlooking the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. The rally begins at 6:00 p.m.

Wednesday, August 20
Halifax-West MP Geoff Regan will be canvassing the Highlands neighbourhood with candidate Daniol Coles in the new Edmonton-Griesbach riding. Afterward, at 8:00 p.m., the Liberals will host a Pints & Politics night at Creole Envie (6509-112 Avenue).

The Edmonton-Strathcona Liberals will host Toronto-Centre Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who will speak at an event at University of Alberta Faculty Club starting at 7:30 p.m.

In Calgary, Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison will spend an evening door knocking with Calgary-Confederation candidate Matt Grant. Mr. Garneau and Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu will host a free evening event at the Falconridge/Castleridge Community Association (95 Falshire Drive NE) in northeast Calgary starting at 6:00 p.m.

Later that evening in Calgary, Mr. Grant, Mr. Brison and St. Leonard – St. Michel MP Massimo Pacetti will host a pub night at Sam’s Bar & Grill (1167 Kensington Road NW) starting at 8:00 p.m.

Bourassa MP Emmanuel Dubourg and Edmonton-Centre candidate Randy Boissonnault will co-host a roundtable discussion with Edmonton’s Francophone community. Mr. Dubourg will speak at a fundraiser for the Edmonton-Centre Liberals at Normand’s Bistro (10177-99 Street) starting at 7:00 p.m.

August 21, 2014
Ms. Freeland, Mr. Dubourg, Mr. Regan will join Mr. Boissonnault and his campaign volunteers for an evening of door-to-door canvassing in Edmonton-Centre’s Queen Mary Park.

The federal New Democratic Party caucus will also be holding their Summer Caucus in Edmonton in September 2014.

PC Party: Oh Albertans, give us one more chance (we want you back)

Jim Prentice Ric McIver Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta PoliticsIn 1971, The Jackson 5 were topping the billboard charts and Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives were just starting what has become an uninterrupted 43-year reign as Alberta’s governing party. Recent messaging from the PC Party have certainly drawn inspiration from the band’s famous song – I Want You Back – as the PC Party tries to convince its former members, and former supporters, that all they need is one more chance.

Kelley-Charlebois-Alberta-PC-Party
Kelley Charlebois

Under the subject line “We want you back!,” an email sent to PC Party supporters over the weekend from party executive director Kelley Charlebois begged former members to renew their memberships to vote in the September 6 leadership vote.

“We’ve seen some upsetting revelations over the past weeks, and we are just as disappointed as you are,” Mr. Charlebois wrote. The email smelled desperate and gave a peek into how much the recent scandals and fiascos have rocked the long-governing party.

With frontrunner Jim Prentice giving away free memberships (after first denying it), the PC Party is rumoured to be scrambling to increase low membership sales. According to David Climenhaga‘s AlbertaDiary.ca, the party is rumoured to have only sold 23,700 memberships (though close to 5,000 were rumoured to be submitted to the party office by MLAs last week). Still, those would represent historically low numbers in a leadership race for this party and is a far cry from the 144,289 members who voted in the 2006 leadership race.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

Asking for a second chance, former PC candidate Brian Henninger does not believe that voters should take out their frustration on the new premier in an upcoming by-election. “I don’t care what message you want to send to the premier, don’t do it with your vote,” Mr. Henninger told the Calgary Herald. Mr. Henninger was the PC candidate in the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election. With former Premier Alison Redford‘s resignation two weeks ago, there will be another by-election held in the same constituency. Voters may not be so kind to the next PC candidate in the upcoming by-election.

Hoping that they will forget what happened and let his political career live again, Finance Minister Doug Horner wrote a long-winded and typo-ridden letter to his PC caucus colleagues, claiming that he is not responsible for the gross misuse of government planes.

While the fleet of government planes is managed by the Finance Department, Mr. Horner claims he was blind to Ms. Redford’s extensive and allegedly personal use of the planes.

Ric McIver Alberta PC leadership candidate Calgary MLA
Ric McIver

A large group of disgruntled backbench PC MLAs are said to be furious with Mr. Horner and on the verge of forcing him to resign from the Finance Ministry.

Mr. Horner’s letter reminded me of the hastily written letter sent by then-junior health minister Raj Sherman to his PC caucus colleagues in 2009 (he was kicked out of the PC caucus shortly afterward). Meanwhile Dr. Sherman, now leading the opposition Liberals, has launched a petition calling on Mr. Horner to resign from cabinet.

The Tories gave themselves a second chance after secret plans were revealed in March 2014 to build a private penthouse residence for Ms. Redford were revealed days after she resigned as premier in March 2014. But Auditor General Merwan Saher says plans for the Premier’s Skypalace in the Federal Building are still in place.

When the “Skypalace” scandal was uncovered through a CBC investigation, Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale told the media he cancelled the project in late 2012. Former Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver said he stopped the Skypalace in January 2014. And Deputy Minister Marcia Nelson confirmed to the Public Accounts Committee in May 2014 that Mr. McIver issued the cancellation of the residential suite. It is unclear who in the PC Government ordered the secret construction on the penthouse to continue.

It is yet to be seen how many second chances Albertans will give the PCs, but the opposition parties may be starting to feel optimistic about their chances in the next election.


 

And for those of you with the lyrics stuck in your head, you’re very welcome…

#pcldr Flashback: Alison Redford 2011: Why I want to be Premier of Alberta

Alison Redford Alberta POlitics
Former Premier Alison Redford, during the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race.

With today’s release of Auditor General Merwan Saher‘s report on Alison Redford‘s travel habits, and as Premier Dave Hancock, leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice and Progressive Conservative MLAs desperately try to distance themselves from their former leader, it is important that we look back to a more optimistic time. During the 2011 PC leadership race, and the provincial election that followed, the former premier (and now former MLA for Calgary-Elbow) seemed to be full of potential and represented a hopeful future for her party and the province.

But, as we are now all aware, promises were broken and “mistakes were made” by Ms. Redford and her government.

Here is a look back to a happier time, in 2011, when then-leadership candidate Ms. Redford was asked why she wanted to become Premier of Alberta:

Editor’s Note: I will be taking a short break from the world of political blogging for the next week to enjoy the limited summer weather that our great country has to offer. To fill your need for daily Alberta politics news in my absence, keep an eye on AlbertaDiary.ca and the always prolific #ableg and #pcldr hashtags on Twitter.

Alison Redford resigns as MLA for Calgary-Elbow

Alberta Progressive Conservative Election Jim Prentice Alison Redford
All PC Party leadership candidates are taking aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

One-hundred and thirty-six days after Alison Redford was forced to resign as Premier of Alberta, she has announced that she will resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alison Redford Alberta
During happier times: Alison Redford and Thomas Lukaszuk

Through an opinion-editorial published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, the former premier defended her record as premier and  refused to apologize for the misdeeds and scandals that occurred during her time as Premier of Alberta.

“I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Ms. Redford had been facing intense pressure to resign as MLA after months of controversy, including a leaked draft of a damning Auditor General report criticizing her expensive travel habits on the government dime.

The full report from Auditor General Merwan Saher is scheduled to be released on tomorrow. Ms. Redford resigned today.

This week, her former deputy premier called on Progressive Conservative MLAs to hold an emergency meeting to remove her from the governing caucus. PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, the front man for Ms. Redford’s brutal funding cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, continues to take advantage of any opportunity to attack the former premier.

And he was not alone. All PC Party leadership candidates have taken aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

Mr. Lukaszuk’s main opponent, bank executive Jim Prentice, has tried his best to avoid connecting himself in anyway to his party’s former leader. The front-runner refuses to even mention Ms. Redford by name when speaking to the media.

But while Mr. Prentice is aiming for a complete public divorce from his predecessor, he cannot escape the fact that the majority of his supporters in the PC caucus also supported Ms. Redford.

Ric McIver, the arch-conservative dark horse of the PC leadership race, did not ask Ms. Redford to resign, but was also critical of his former leader.

Ms. Redford’s resignation means that a by-election will need to be called in the Calgary-Elbow constituency within the next six months (by February 5, 2015). This will be the second by-election in Calgary-Elbow since 2007, when former Premier Ralph Klein retired from politics. The Liberals won that by-election.

Kennedy-Glans requests a return

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity
Donna Kennedy-Glans

In a strange move that will now be buried under the news of Ms. Redford’s most recent resignation, Independent MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans chose the middle of the summer to distribute a media release declaring that she wants to rejoin the PC caucus. Ms. Kennedy-Glans infamously left the PC caucus days before Ms. Redford’s resignation, saying that she was “increasingly convinced that elements of this 43-year old government are simply unable to make the changes needed to achieve that dream of a better Alberta.” It is unclear what has changed in the past five months to make her change her mind. 

As Stephen Carter penned on his Calgary Herald blog, Ms. Kennedy-Glans, a) wants a spot in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet, and b) does not want to chance being challenged by a ‘star’ PC candidate in the next election. All the respect that Ms. Kennedy-Glans earned when she left the government on principle on appears to have been lost with this seemingly politically opportunistic move.

Next leader of the Alberta NDP should embrace an Urban Agenda

Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.
Alberta NDP leadership candidates David Eggen, Rod Loyola and Rachel Notley.

Today is the deadline to enter the Alberta New Democratic Party leadership race. With 3 candidates having already entered the race, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley and labour activist Rod Loyola, the Alberta NDP are having their first contested leadership race since 1996.

Advice I would offer to the next leader of the NDP (and the current leaders of the Liberal Party and Alberta Party) is to focus on where you can make gains – in the big cities.

Electoral support for the social democratic party in Alberta is largely exists within the Edmonton and Lethbridge city limits, has very limited support in rural Alberta and is almost non-existent in Calgary, the province’s largest city. In 2012, NDP candidates earned more than 10% of the vote in less than 20 constituencies and less than 5% of the vote in 27 constituencies across Alberta.

While far away from being a premier-in-waiting, the next NDP leader is in a position to lead a distinct opposition to the two conservative parties that dominate the political landscape in Alberta.

Alberta’s cities are fast growing and, in many cases, decisions made by city councils and school boards are tied to approval by provincial politicians who do not understand the reality of the growth pressures faced by municipalities.

Our province is the one jurisdiction in Canada that can afford to have the best quality roads, transit systems and public schools, but much of the authority remains in the hands of our provincial politicians.

A provincial party with a platform focused on urban issues - smart growth and public transit - and how these growth pressures impact our public school, health  care, social service and transportation systems could provide a much needed voice in the Alberta Legislature.

Note: I am not the first person to offer this advice.