Tories impose a strict policy of de-Redfordization

Alison Redford Jim Prentice De Redfordization
If Alberta’s 7th PC Party Premier is successful, the record of Alberta’s 5th PC Party Premier will be far from the minds of voters when the next election is called.

The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.

Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.

The process of de-Redfordization started with a cabinet shuffle that purged PC MLAs seen as being too closely tied to the previous leader. Finance minister Doug Horner, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Health minister Fred Horne, Service Alberta minister Doug Griffiths, former Energy minister Ken Hughes and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen all found themselves sitting in the backbenches.

Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.

Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.

Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.

Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.

On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.

But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”

Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.

The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.

Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.

Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.

And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.

White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.

Will Gordon Dirks become the latest inter-provincial political jumper?

Gordon Dirks Alberta Education Minister MLA
Gordon Dirks

The controversial appointment of unelected Gordon Dirks as Education minister caught many Albertans by surprised this week. As the former chairman of the Calgary Board of Education, he is well-known to educators in that city, but not to the rest of Alberta. Before moving to Calgary, he served as a Progressive Conservative MLA in the Saskatchewan Legislature from 1980 to 1986 (during that time he was a minister in Premier Grant Devine’s cabinet).

In a the comment section of a previous column, a reader asked whether I knew of any other examples of politicians who have served in more than one provincial legislature, or in more than one province’s cabinet. It is not uncommon for politicians to serve as MLA or municipal politician in one province and then jump into a different level of politics in another (i.e.: Tommy DouglasStockwell Day, Val Meredith and Glen Murray, to name a few), but the jump from provincial politics in one jurisdiction to provincial politics in another is much less common.

Alexander Grant MacKay Alberta
Alexander MacKay

Gulzar Cheema served as a Liberal MLA in Manitoba from 1988 to 1993 and later was elected to serve in the British Columbia Legislature from 2001 to 2004. Clive Tanner was a Yukon MLA in 1970s and was later elected as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands in the 1991 election.

While I am sure there may be more, in Alberta’s political history, I found two examples.

Duncan Marshall was an MLA in Alberta from 1909 to 1921 (where he served as Minister of Agriculture) and an MPP in Ontario from 1934 to 1937 (where he also served as Minister of Agriculture). He was appointed to the Senate by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1938.

Michelle Mungall BC NDP MLA Nelson Creston
Michelle Mungall

Alexander Mackay served in Ontario’s Legislature from 1902 to 1913 and in Alberta’s Legislature from 1913 to 1920. He was leader of the Official Opposition Liberals in Ontario from 1907 to 1911 and later served as Alberta’s first Health Minister.

There are a few more recent examples of individuals who have tried to be elected in provincial legislatures in different provinces, but have been unsuccessful. For example, Michelle Mungall was the NDP candidate in St. Albert in the 2001 provincial election and, in 2009, she was elected as the NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston in B.C. And Roger Coles was a Yukon MLA and leader of the territorial Liberal Party in the 1980s. He later ran as a Liberal in Drayton Valley-Calmar in Alberta’s 2001 election.

If Mr. Dirks is successfully elected to the Alberta Legislature in an upcoming by-election, his name will be added to the small group of inter-provincial political jumpers in Canadian history.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will either run in a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, until recently represented by former Premier Alison Redford, or in another, safer constituency, for the PC Party. Some political watchers have predicted that Calgary-West MLA Ken Hughes may resign to allow Mr. Dirks to run in a by-election in that constituency.

(Thank you to all the daveberta.ca readers who helped me compile this list)

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands
Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.

Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.

Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.

Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA
Teresa Woo-Paw

How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.

During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.

Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein
Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.

The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.

On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.

Unelected Cabinet Ministers

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.

Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skin when he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.

Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.

Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership
Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).

Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.

The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.

Jim Prentice tells Albertans to strap on their seat belts

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech on September 6, 2014.

“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.

Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.

The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.

If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote and PC MLA David Xiao’s ties to the government-grant funded yet allegedly non-existent “McClung Family Association.”

Cabinet Shuffle next week

Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.

As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party Politics
Progressive Conservative MLAs leaving a morning caucus meeting at Government House in March 2014.

It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.

While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.

New Senior Staff

Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutka will be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.

Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.

Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.

Redford staffer lands pipeline job

It appears that Alison Redford’s former communications director, Stefan Baranski, has landed a new job as Regional Director for Ontario at with TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.

Gay Rights, Abortion big issues at Conservative nomination debate in Medicine Hat

Jim Hillyer MP Lethbridge Medicine Hat
Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer is running for the Conservative nomination in the newly created Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.

The Medicine Hat News reports that women’s health issues and the rights of sexual minorities were the hot topics at a debate between Dan Hein and MP Jim Hillyer, the two candidates running for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in southern Alberta’s newly redistributed Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding.

“…I’m not interested in somebody parading in front of me their sexual preferences, whether hetero or anything else … I don’t believe it is proper form, I don’t believe it benefits anyone to bring this stuff out in garrish fashion and parade it in the public square.”

Hein added he doesn’t believe a restaurant owner should be obliged to serve a person whether it’s the way he cuts his hair or “any reason.”

In response to the same question, Hillyer said, “a lot of the trouble with the social and moral issues is the people who don’t share our views on these issues are very clever and very sly. They hijack our language — it’s like 1984 newspeak or doublespeak.”

The Medicine Hat News also reported that Mr. Hillyer told the crowd he was “wildly and boldly” opposed to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Mr. Hein is the past-president of the local Conservative riding association and was campaign manager to retiring Conservative MP LaVar Payne. Mr. Hillyer is a first-term MP for Lethbridge and is seeking the nomination in the new Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner riding because of boundary changes.

In the 2011 election, Mr. Payne received 71.3% of the total vote in the Medicine Hat riding. His closest challenger, New Democrat Dennis Perrier, placed a distant second with 13%. Mr. Hillyer received 56.5% of the vote in Lethbridge in the 2011 election. His closest challenger, New Democrat Mark Sandilands, earned 27.2%.

Conservative Party members in the riding will begin voting for their next candidate on Thursday.

Alberta NDP still running that other leadership contest

Alberta NDP leadership race Rachel Notley David Eggen
Alberta NDP leadership rivals Rachel Notley and David Eggen (photo from Ms. Notley’s Facebook page).

It is pennies compared to the $1.8 million raised by Jim Prentice during the Progressive Conservative leadership race, but in the world of the Alberta NDP leadership contest, the money is flowing.

The NDP’s monthly contributions report from its leadership candidates shows Edmonton-Strathcona MLA and front-runner Rachel Notley has raised $82,826.99, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen has has raised $32,924 and labour activist Rod Loyola raised $5,310 since the race started.

The largest donations made to the candidate have been from UFCW Local 401, which donated $15,000 each to Ms. Notley and Mr. Eggen, and $5,000 to Mr. Loyola. UFCW Local 401 is a major player in the provincial NDP and is expected to take up a large percentage of reserved NDP union-affiliate votes in this contest. None of the NDP supporters I have spoken with have been able to clearly explain how the union-affiliate vote process will work.

Ms. Notley’s candidacy has received a number of high profile endorsements, including those of fellow NDP MLA Deron Bilous, former NDP MLAs Barrie Chivers, Bob Hawkesworth and Jim Gurnett, former Red Deer mayor Morris Flewwelling (who ran for the PCs in the 1997 federal election), former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger and former Edmonton Public School Board trustee Dave Colburn.

While Ms. Notley appears to have the support of many NDP insiders and luminaries, I am told that Mr. Eggen’s campaign is busy selling memberships across the province. This being the party’s first contested leadership campaign since 1996, it is unclear what the benchmark for membership sales should be.

So far, the contest appears to have been a friendly affair, with no  public clashing between the candidates. Ms. Notley has released a five priority platform, and she and Mr. Eggen have continued in their roles as opposition critics.

Mirroring a larger internal NDP debate on the national level, Mr. Eggen has released a statement calling for peace between Israel and the Palestinians living in Gaza. Mr. Eggen called on the provincial government to review its investments through AIMCo and look to divestment in order to pressure a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

Recent polls have shown NDP support growing in Edmonton, suggesting that the party could expand its four MLA caucus in the next election. Despite being in the midst of a leadership contest, which ends with a vote on October 18, 2014, the NDP continues to nominate candidates for the next election.

This week the NDP nominated Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Gold Bar and, on September 30, AUPE activist Heather Sweet is expected to be nominated in Edmonton-Manning. Those are both constituencies that the NDP are said to be targeting resources toward for the next election.

While current disenchantment with the PC Party has helped the NDP increase its support in Edmonton, the political environment remains unstable. The next leader of the NDP will need to work hard to ensure that progressive voters do not flock to one conservative party in order to block another conservative party from forming government during the next election.


The NDP is hosting a series of forums with the three leadership candidates across Alberta. The follow events all begin at 7:00 p.m.

Lethbridge, GALT Museum (502 1st Street S)- September 16, 2014

Calgary, Barnsworth Theatre (750 – 9th Avenue SE)- September 17, 2014

Edmonton, Campus St. Jean Auditorium (8406 Rue Anne Gaboury)- October 2, 2014

A closer look at 20 years of by-elections in Alberta

Traditionally safe for incumbent parties, the latest by-elections have been risky business for the Tories
Jim Prentice Alberta Premier
Jim Prentice was selected as leader of Alberta’s PC Party and the next Premier of Alberta on September 6, 2014.

As newly selected Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice begins his transition into the Premier’s Office (having just named his transition team), attention will soon turn to a provincial by-election that will allow the new premier an opportunity to be elected as an MLA.

In advance of the impending by-election (or by-elections), I have taken a look at the nine provincial by-elections that have been held over the past twenty-years in Alberta.

Alberta Provincial By-Elections Results 1995 - 2009

Only two of the nine by-elections have resulted in constituencies changing hands between different political parties. Those two by-elections, Calgary-Elbow in 2007 (won by Liberal Craig Cheffins) and Calgary-Glenmore in 2009 (won by the Wildroser Paul Hinman), were followed by general elections which resulted in PC candidates recapturing the seats for their party.

With the exception of Edmonton-Highlands, which elected current NDP leader Brian Mason in a 2000 by-election, PC candidates were elected in each of the other eight constituencies in the following general election.

In the six by-elections where there had previously been a PC MLA, the governing party saw its percentage of the vote decline. This occurred most drastically in the 2009 Calgary-Glenmore by-election, where the PC candidate support dropped by 24.7% compared to the previous general election (the Wildrose saw its share of support increase by 28.8% in that by-election).

Voter turnout ranged from a low of 20.4% in the 2000 Red Deer-North by-election, held to replace PC MLA Stockwell Day who resigned to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, to 45.5% in the 1996 Redwater by-election, held to replace Liberal MLA Nick Taylor who had been appointed to the Canadian Senate.

Mr. Prentice has publicly said that he plans to run in a by-election in his home city of Calgary, but not in former Premier Alison Redford‘s now unrepresented Calgary-Elbow constituency. Third-term PC MLA Neil Brown has said that he would resign to allow the new premier to run in a by-election in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

There has also been some speculation that Calgary-Klein MLA Kyle Fawcett could resign to allow Mr. Prentice to run in a constituency overlapped by his former federal riding of Calgary-Centre North.

Boring Jim Prentice might be what the Tories need

Low turnout, lack of interest overshadows Prentice’s win
Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race
Alberta’s next Premier, Jim Prentice, delivered his victory speech with his wife Karen at his side.

The  atmosphere was noticeably subdued as I walked into the large hall at Northlands Expo Centre that hosted the Progressive Conservative’s leadership event. It was 6:45 pm and there were probably 300 loyal party supporters scattered across the hall, which looked like it could comfortably fit 2,000.

By the time the results were announced  at 7:36 pm by PC Party president Jim McCormick, the crowd appeared to have grown to around 400. Crowded around the stage at the end of the cavernous hall, supporters of former bank executive and retired federal politician Jim Prentice cheered when it was announced that he received 17,963 votes, 77% of the votes cast in the two day online and phone-in vote.

It is a strong mandate from PC Party members, and would have been a landslide if not for the incredibly low voter turnout. Only 23,386 PC Party members bothered to vote in the 43-year governing party’s latest leadership contest, much lower than the 78,176 who voted in the party’s 2011 leadership contest and the 144,289 who voted in 2006. I am told that around a total of 42,000 memberships were sold in this race, resulting in a 54% turnout.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech.

While pundits and politicos predicted for months that there would be a low turnout, 23,386 is shockingly low, especially considering Mr. Prentice publicly set a benchmark to sell 100,000 memberships. Interest in the race to replace former Premier Alison Redford was dismal, and the other candidates – Thomas Lukaszuk with 2,681 votes and Ric McIver with 2,742 votes – were unable to generate much opposition to Mr. Prentice’s well-financed and insider-supported campaign.

Despite the excitement of Mr. Prentice’s supporters in the crowd, there was a weariness in the air and a feeling that even the PC Party’s most loyal activists are tired. Many of them are becoming aware of how hard the next election could be to win. The Wildrose leads in the polls province-wide and support for the New Democrats has grown in Edmonton since the last election. And while support for the long-governing Tories has not completely collapsed, it was hard to walk away from this event without the feeling that the PCs are at their weakest.

Mr. Prentice’s victory speech was not remarkable. In fact, it was boring and forgetful, but maybe a little boring is what the PC Party needs. After two years of endless scandals, backstabbing and controversy, I am sure most PC MLAs are looking for stability. And while Mr. Prentice is nothing close to exciting, he is confident and could be a stable hand who can attract new talent to the party.

The politicos and MLAs I spoke with were glad the leadership contest is over and hope to put the technical irregularities of the PC Party’s contracted online voting system behind them. Although it appears there are PC members who were unable to vote or even able to vote twice because of technical glitches, it is unlikely that Mr. Prentice’s majority would have been drastically altered.

After the celebrations die down, Mr. Prentice and his team of advisors will begin the process of transitioning into the Premier’s Office. The new Premier is expected to seek a by-election soon (it is suspected that more than one by-election could be called) and once he is sworn-in as Premier, a cabinet shuffle will occur.

Aside from term-limits for MLAs, Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign largely stayed away from details or promises, a point that no PC Party supporter I spoke with in the convention hall seemed worried about. In fact, some praised the lack of details and promises as a virtue and a good campaign strategy.

“By not making any promises, he won’t break any promises,” said one PC supporter.

So, as this unexciting summer leadership race comes to an end, it is difficult to say what a new Premier will mean for Alberta. While most Albertans wait and see, I am sure many of the loyal Tories who spent their evening in that large convention hall are hoping this fall will bring calm, stability, and maybe a little boring to their long-governing party.

As lacklustre PC leadership race winds down, by-elections are on the horizon

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

With one day left before the vote, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver’s campaign took to the radio airwaves, attacking frontrunner Jim Prentice for being “an insider.” It was an strange move for Mr. McIver, as the general public appears largely disinterested in the contest and the deadline to purchase memberships has already passed.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

While Mr. McIver said he remains committed to the PC Party and this government, whether he wins or loses, it was not the kind of move made by someone who wants to impress the new boss.

Although he is not an MLA, Mr. Prentice does have the support of 50 PC MLAs and a vast network of party insiders. He has also been active in the PC Party at the federal and provincial levels since the 1980s, including as a candidate in the 1986 election. Despite his large network of supporters inside the PC Party, membership sales are said to be significantly lower than in previous leadership races – some insiders say turnout could be as low as 25,000 votes (compared to more than 144,000 in 2006).

So, as the PC Party leadership race draws to a close, I may not be the only Albertan to ask “What was that all about?

The after-effects of Alison Redford’s resignation and two years of scandal plagued government have overshadowed the summer-time leadership race to chose Albertas next premier. Anti-Gay parades, term-limits, free memberships, misuse of government airplanes, the Skypalace Penthouse and a $20,000 cell phone bill were the most interesting features of this campaign.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud
Dave Hancock

The leadership candidates spoke in platitudes and took little opportunity to actually debate their ideas for Alberta’s future. Comfortable in Alberta’s oil wealth, we did not witness the PC Party have any real debate the future of Alberta’s natural resources, environment, schools, health care system or cities.

Even the short premiership of Edmonton MLA Dave Hancock was overshadowed by the record of his predecessor. Under other circumstances, Mr. Hancock could have excelled as Premier, but he spent most of his short time as premier attempting to provide stability to a damaged government.

The once unstoppable PC Party is still powerful but now aged and antiquated. And while the long-governing PCs deserve to be defeated, it would be foolish to underestimate them. The PC Party may have long forgotten how to win an election but they do know not to lose.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

On Saturday, September 6, if his opponents, Mr. McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, are able to deny Mr. Prentice a first ballot win, a second vote will be held on September 20. While this scenario is not impossible, it feels unlikely. The PC establishment appears to have done everything in its power to ensure Mr. Prentice’s smooth victory.

Soon after Mr. Prentice becomes PC Party leader, he will need to build a new cabinet. It is widely expected that he will promote loyal supporters – like PC MLAs Manmeet Bhullar and former leadership candidate Ken Hughes – into prominent promotions. It is also suspected that current ministers, like Finance minister Doug Horner, Health minister Fred Horne, and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen – all closely associated with Ms. Redford – may find themselves sitting out of cabinet.

Overall, with 25 MLAs now in cabinet, it will be challenging for Mr. Prentice to create a new cabinet seating plan from the current PC caucus.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Rumours have begin to circulate that Mr. Prentice could appoint a group of cabinet ministers from outside the Assembly, and ask them to run in a series of by-elections in the fall. Mr. Prentice will need to become an MLA, and an impressive slate of by-election candidates could help bring some much-needed new talent into the PC caucus.

The idea is not unprecedented. Following the near-disasterous 1995 Quebec Referendum vote, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Stéphane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew to the federal cabinet in advance of two Montreal by-elections.

Calgary MLA Neil Brown already said he would vacate his Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency for Mr. Prentice to run in a by-election. PC MLA David Xiao and Independent MLA Len Webber are seeking federal Conservative Party nominations and may be interested in having the support of the new premier. And Calgary-Elbow, the constituency vacated by Ms. Redford, is in need of a by-election.

Neil Brown MLA Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay
Neil Brown

Retired Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel suggested this week that he would consider running as a PC candidate if Mr. Prentice were premier. It may be stretch to believe that the 69 year old Mr. Mandel would jump back into politics (or be a breath of fresh air), but he would bring name recognition to the PC caucus.

Holding a series of by-elections would be a high-risk and high-reward strategy, because any loses could wound the new premier just as he leaves the starting gate. But if it paid off, it could help breath some new life into a 43-year old PC government that appears intent on defeating itself, or at least give Mr. Prentice a fighting chance before facing the Wildrose Party in the next election.


Calgary-Elbow By-Election

With an impending by-election expected to be called before the end of the year, politics in Calgary-Elbow are heating up.

Days before the PC Party chooses a new leader, Calgary-Elbow PC constituency association president Marina Mason announced her resignation.

Long-time partisan activist Pat Walsh has announced his plans to seek the PC Party nomination in that constituency. On his website, Mr. Walsh declares that he is willing to represent the constituency as a Government MLA “in the interim until the 2016 election is called,” when which he states he “will then step down.” I am not sure what to make of this strategy.

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark announced today that he will once again put his name on the ballot in this constituency. He ran there in the 2012 provincial election.

Retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose Party nomination. And, as noted in a previous post, the Liberals are expected to nominate lawyer Susan Wright at a September 18, 2014 nomination meeting.

Alberta Politics Catch Up: Pipelines, Planes, Cities and Rob Anders

Stop the Pipelines Alberta Oilsands 1Spending a few days in another province can sometimes give you a different perspective on important national issues. Spending the last week in British Columbia served as a good reminder to this political watcher about how emotional the debate around pipelines and the Oilsands are in Alberta’s neighbouring province.

Stop the Pipelines Alberta OilsandsWhile I am sure opinion is divided in B.C., I lost count of how many times I spotted “Stop the Pipelines” spray painted across concrete walls or embankments in Vancouver. And it was not just graffiti, the neighbours in the respectable neighbourhood I called home for the weekend even had anti-pipeline signs planted on their front lawns.

Former bank executive Jim Prentice, who will likely become Alberta’s next premier after this weekend’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote, has pledged to get the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline built. But it will be a more difficult job than most Albertans would imagine, and we better become familiar with this reality.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

There are many legitimate environmental concerns surrounding the construction of oil pipelines (and the Alberta government’s failure to implement a climate change strategy), but at its base, all sides of this great Canadian debate appear to be basing their positions on emotion, rather than facts and solid arguments.

Back to Alberta politics, Mr. Prentice announced that his leadership campaign raised $1.8 million, which should not be too surprising. As favourite son of downtown Calgary and the front-runner in this contest, Mr. Prentice was expected to bring in the corporate dollars.

Earlier this year, Mr. Prentice warmed up his campaign as the committee chair for the PC Party’s Calgary fundraising dinner in May 2014. The PC Party has never really had trouble raising money, their biggest challenge is that the opposition Wildrose Party is raising just as much (and mostly in small donations from individuals, rather than large corporate donations).

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs
Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk has had a rough week. First, he changed his tune on a $20,000 cell phone bill racked up while he was on vacation in Poland and Israel, now saying that he was taking an emergency call from a cabinet minister, who was in the midst of family dispute. Then, it was revealed that Mr. Lukaszuk had quietly reimbursed the government for $1,400 worth of flights on the government planes in which he brought his daughter.

Mr. Lukaszuk was a harsh critic of former Premier Alison Redford when it was revealed she had misused government planes, including taking her daughter on flights.

Manmeet Bhullar
Manmeet Bhullar

Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar denied allegations that he offered “dirt” on Mr. Lukaszuk to the opposition parties and that he was the source of the leak. Mr. Bhullar is co-chairing Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign and is expected to earn a big cabinet promotion if his candidate wins the leadership race on September 6.

The CBC also uncovered that finance minister Doug Horner had taken his wife on 23 separate flights dating back to 2007. Mr. Horner is responsible for the fleet of government planes.

Meanwhile, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says that time is long overdue for the big cities and the provincial government to have a “grown-up conversation” about funding how we build our cities. In Calgary, popular mayor Naheed Nenshi has given Mr. Prentice, Mr. Lukaszuk and Ric McIver low grades on municipal issues, saying that none of the PC leadership candidate have outlined any significant vision for Alberta’s cities.

The Wildrose Party is trying to distance itself from offensive Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders. The party is denying it issued an endorsement after a robocall broadcast to Conservative supporters in the Bow River riding included an endorsement from former Wildrose leader and MLA Paul Hinman.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Jason Hale issued statements late last week denying any connections to Mr. Anders’ campaign. Here is Ms. Smith’s statement:

“While individual Wildrose members may choose to support individual nomination contestants for federal Conservative nominations, Wildrose as a party is neither endorsing nor assisting any nomination contestant in the Bow River electoral district.

No nomination contestant in Bow River can claim the official or unofficial endorsement of the Wildrose Party.

We encourage Albertans who are interested in politics to inform themselves about party nominations and participate in democracy and we wish all the nomination contestants the best of luck.”