Category Archives: Alberta Politics

Linda Johnson Dave Quest Don Scott

Former Tory MLAs jumping into municipal politics

As the October 16, 2017 municipal elections approach, we are starting to see a number of candidates from the 2015 provincial and federal elections putting their names forward to run for municipal office. At least three former Progressive Conservative MLAs who were defeated in the 2015 election have put their names forward to run:

A few other recent provincial and federal candidates are running as well:

  • Jim Black is running for city council in Medicine Hat. He was an Alberta Party candidate in the 2015 provincial election.
  • Rod Frank is running for mayor of Strathcona County. He earned 20 percent of the vote as the 2015 federal Liberal candidate in the Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan riding.
Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

My submission to the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission

Earlier this year I submitted a series of recommendations to Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission, the appointed body tasked with redrawing Alberta’s provincial electoral districts for the next election. I initially meant to share this after I submitted it, but for no particular reason I never got around to posting them. The commission will scheduled to submit its interim report to the Legislative Assembly on May 31, 2017 and, after another round of public hearings, it will submit its final report on October 31, 2017.

Here are the recommendations I submitted to the commission in February 2017:

Population in each district

The previous Commission did a good job keeping the population of most electoral districts within ten percent of the provincial average population per electoral district. But some districts have become outliers as populations grow or decline, which creates a system of unequal representation in the Legislative Assembly.

According to Statistics Canada 2016 Census data made available on Feb. 8, 2017, there has been tremendous growth in Alberta’s urban areas, including the Edmonton region, Calgary region and the Red Deer corridor which spans the length between the province’s two largest cities. Communities like Airdrie and Cochrane have seen significant growth of more than 40 percent since the last census. Because of this, it would be appropriate to redistribute new districts into these regions of the province.

The census data also shows a decline in population in areas west of the Red Deer corridor and in east central Alberta. It would be appropriate to redistribute the boundaries of these districts to reflect this population decline.

I recommend that the commission attempt to keep districts within ten percent, but ideally within five percent, above or below the provincial average population per electoral district.

Special districts

I would prefer that no district fall below twenty-five percent of the average, as increased funding should be allocated to MLAs in geographically larger rural ridings for additional offices, staff and travel costs. But political necessity will likely lead to the existence of one or two of these special exceptions.

I recommend that if special districts are required, that be created only in extreme circumstances and be kept to a minimum number.

Naming districts

In the past there has been little or no guidelines for the Commission to name electoral districts. Some districts are named after geographical locations and some after prominent figures from Alberta’s political history.

I recommend that the Commission or the Legislative Assembly create a protocol for naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions and legislatures.

Noncontiguous districts

The Wetaskiwin-Camrose electoral district.

The Wetaskiwin-Camrose electoral district.

There is currently one district that is noncontiguous, meaning that a portion of the district is completely surrounded by another district. A portion of the Samson Indian Reserve #13 located in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose district is currently completely surrounded by the Drayton Valley-Devon and Lacombe-Ponoka districts.

I recommend that all districts be contiguous.

On this topic, it appears that the communities of Maskwacis are divided between two districts – Drayton Valley-Devon and Wetaskiwin-Camrose. This appears to be an anomaly as all other First Nations communities in Alberta which are adjacent to each other are kept in the same district. If the commission is seeking draw district boundaries around communities of interest, it would make sense for Maskwacis to be included in the one district.

Rural/urban perspectives

As the provincial population increases in urban communities and decreases in many rural communities, it seems inevitable that outlying districts may be fewer and larger in the future. As stated by the previous commission which existed in 2009/2010, this raises a question about how large a division can be before it involves so many non-common interests that it is impractical for the disparate issues of the electors to be represented, and for the MLA to represent them.

As was recommended by the previous commission, I agree that the Legislative Assembly needs to seriously consider how the urban/rural perspectives will be addressed in the future.

 

 

Alberta author and publisher top list of Edmonton’s bestselling books

An Alberta author and publisher top this week’s list of bestselling books. Ranking first in the fiction category is Nuala: A Fable, written by award winning Red Deer poet and author Kimmy Beach and published by University of Alberta Press. In the non-fiction category,  Margaret Atwood’s The Burgess Shale: The Canadian Writing Landscape of the 1960s is also published by University of Alberta Press as part of the Canadian Literature Centre’s Kreisel Lecture Series.

Here is the list of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton for the week ended March 19, 2017, compiled on March 22, 2017, by Audreys Books and provided by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

Edmonton Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Nuala: A Fable – Kimmy Beach  *  †
  2. The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill
  3. Fifteen Dogs – André Alexis
  4. If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You – Adele Barclay
  5. The Break – Katherena Vermette
  6. Encountering Riel – David D. Orr *  †
  7. Company Town – Madeline Ashby
  8. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  9. Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
  10. Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers

  1. The Burgess Shale: The Canadian Writing Landscape of the 1960s – Margaret Atwood  †
  2. Medicine Unbundled: A Journey Through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care – Gary Geddes
  3. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly
  4. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss  –  Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt
  5. I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama – Eric Braeden
  6. The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet – Sheila Watt-Cloutier
  7. Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip – Lindsay Anderson, Dana VanVeller
  8. This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence – Terry O’Reilly
  9. The Happiness Equation – Neil Pasricha
  10. Lion – Saroo Brierley

*   Alberta Author
†  Alberta Publisher

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Kenney shifts into Phase Two of Uniting the Right

Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.

Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.

An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.

Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.

Wason Resigns

Troy Wason

Troy Wason

PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.

It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.

Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.

The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.

I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.

Gotfried and the Red Menace

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?

Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.

Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs“bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”

There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.

Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

What Edmonton City Hall is expected to look like on Feb. 22, 2016.

210 days until Election Day in Edmonton

Alison Poste Edmonton City Council Ward 4

Alison Poste

With Edmonton’s 2017 municipal elections now 210 days away, we are starting to see more candidates file their intentions to run for city council. I have updated the list of declared candidates, which now includes Alison Poste in Ward 4, Svetlana Pavlenko and Michael Oshry (presumably) in Ward 5, Payman Parseyan and Sandy Pon in Ward 9 and Brandy Burdeniuk in Ward 11.

Oshry, the current councillor for Ward 5, announced earlier this month that he would like to see stricter rules around who can run in Edmonton’s municipal elections.

CBC reported that for the next election in 2021, Oshry would like to see candidates putting their names forward be required to collect 100 signatures and provide a $1,000 deposit. This would be an increase from the current requirement of 25 signatures and $100 deposit.

Michael Oshry Edmonton

Michael Oshry

I am supportive of a change that would require potential candidates to collect 100 signatures, which I think is fair and probably good practice, but I am reluctant to support such a drastic increase to the financial deposit. For many first-time candidates, especially those without support from private sector developers, $1,000 is no small amount of money in a campaign budget.

We should not seek to limit the number of individuals seeking election by creating unnecessary financial hurdles but we can gauge their seriousness and commitment by increasing in the number of signatures required on their nomination forms.

Tracking Calgary election candidates

I have been asked by a number of readers whether I will also be tracking candidates running in Calgary’s municipal elections. The answer is no, but thankfully, Sarah Elder-Chamanara has launched a new website tracking candidates in Calgary. I will definitely write about any interesting races that develop in other municipalities during the campaign but my focus on municipal politics remains in Edmonton.

Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover of Alberta’s PC Party is complete

Former federal politician Jason Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta today, as was widely expected. Kenney received the support of 75 percent of the delegates attending the party’s voting meeting today at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.

Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.

Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.

Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

But even with such a commanding lead, Kenney’s campaign couldn’t stop itself from getting into trouble. His campaign was fined $5,000 for breaking party rules and the party executive was faced with complaints from former MLAs and calls for Kenney to be disqualified from the race. One of his key organizers, Alan Hallman, was expelled from the party and was reportedly charged with assault last night at the convention hotel.

Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said this week that Kenney-ally Preston Manning is eyeing his party’s name, even going so far as to offer Clark a cabinet spot in a future government. It was only one year ago that the Kenney-front group Alberta Can’t Wait attempted a takeover of the Alberta Party.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.

What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.

In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.

When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.

Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

David Orr’s ‘Encountering Riel’ on Edmonton’s best-selling book list for third straight week

Here is the list of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton for the week ended March 12, 2017, compiled on March 14, 2017, by Audreys Books and provided by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.

Alberta author David Orr’s new book Encountering Riel is on the bestseller list for the third straight week. The book is published by Edmonton-based Stonehouse Publishing.

Edmonton Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
  2. Encountering Riel – David D. Orr * †
  3. Fifteen Dogs – Andre Alexis
  4. Nostalgia – M.G. Vassanji
  5. The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill
  6. The Break – Katerena Vermette
  7. The German Girl – Armando Correa
  8. The Naturalist – Alissa York
  9. Company Town – Madeline Ashby
  10. A Dog’s Purpose – Bruce W. Cameron

Edmonton Non-Fiction Bestsellers

  1. Open Hear, Open Mind – Clara Hughes
  2. Medicine Unbundled: A Journey Through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care – Gary Geddes
  3. Fur Trade in the West (Children’s Nonfiction) – Phyllis Arnold *
  4. This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence – Terry O’Reilly
  5. Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip – Lindsay Anderson, Dana VanVeller
  6. Edmonton Cooks: Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Chefs – Leanne Brown, * Tina Faiz *
  7. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly
  8. The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet – Sheila Watt-Cloutier
  9. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
  10. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

*    ALBERTA AUTHOR

†   ALBERTA PUBLISHER

Richard Starke’s last push – what happens to the Renew PCers after March 18?

With five days left until Jason Kenney wins the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in a landslide vote, his main rival is marshalling his forces.

Representing PC supporters who want to renew the party, rather than dissolve it, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke has announced a string of endorsements from former PC cabinet ministers and MLAs over the past few days, including former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former leadership candidate Stephen Khan.

Khan dropped out of the leadership race earlier this year and claimed Kenney’s plans to dissolve the PC Party and form a new party would lead to the creation of a party dominated by Wildrose Party supporters – “Wildrose 2.0.”

Starke’s list of endorsers include former MLAs Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths, Thomas Lukaszuk, Mike Allen, Rob Lougheed, Hector Goudreau, LeRoy Johnson, Jack Hayden, Ron Casey, Cal Dallas, Arno Doerksen, Bridget Pastoor, Dave Quest, Teresa Woo-Paw, Ron Ghitter, Verlyn Olson, Genia Leskiw, Iris Evans, Cathy Olesen, Heather Klimchuk, Pearl Calahasen, Ray Danyluk, Jim Horsman, Peter Elzinga, Linda Johnson, and Jacquie Fenske.

It seems like an odd strategy to pull out a list of prominent endorsers after the delegate selection meetings have been held but it could be the last card that Starke’s team had to play. Kenney is an impressive campaigner and his organization solidified a solid lead in the elected delegate count.

Jason Kenney Wildrose Conservative Alberta

Jason Kenney

After party delegates vote to elect Kenney as their leader on Saturday, March 18, 2017, the PC Party will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party. His campaign against Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean has essentially already begun.

Starke’s campaign to renew the PC Party released a “Common Sense Plan” in January 2017 which laid out a vague plan to work with the Wildrose Party without merging with them, but even at the time it felt like a last ditch attempt to ward off Kenney’s juggernaut.

It is unclear what Starke and his supporters will do when Kenney wins the leadership in a landslide on March 18, 2017. He and his only supporter in the PC caucus, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, will have to decide whether they want to remain in a Kenney-led PC Party which could potentially cross over to the Wildrose caucus before the 2019 election.

Maybe they will start a new moderate conservative party, or join another party? Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen left the PC leadership race and joined the NDP caucus in November 2016. Perhaps hoping to gain a caucus-mate, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark has been pushing his ‘Centre Together’ message targeted at centrist Tories unimpressed with Kenney’s Wildrose merger plans.

What comes after a bozo-eruption? A bozo-aftershock. 

Last week I wrote about the “Feminism is Cancer” email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the screening of a Men’s Rights film on International Women’s Day. The Gauntlet, the campus newspaper, reports that the student who the club claimed to have fired as communications director after the incident may have not actually existed. The newspaper was unable to find any student with the name “Robert McDavid” listed with the university’s registrar or the party membership list.

If The Gauntlet report is correct, either the club did not actually fire their director or they fired someone who did not want their name to be publicly associated with the “Feminism is Cancer” email.

Live Taping of the Let’s Find Out Podcast

I’ll be joining Edmonton’s historian-laureate Chris Chang-Yen Phillips and guests for a live recording of the Let’s Find Out podcast at the Needle Vinyl Tavern on Saturday, March 11, 2017.

Also joining the discussion are Dr. Kisha Supernant (Métis Anthropology Professor & Archaeologist) Sarah Hoyles (Producer behind the ECAMP podcast on Edmonton history). We will be discussing how we approach truth when doing historical research. I plan to talk a lot about the research I have done into the crazy Social Credit  era of Alberta politics in the 1930s.

Doors will open at 2:00 p.m. and tickets are $15 in advance, available on yeglive.ca.

Alberta taxpayers are subsidizing Calgary’s elite and exclusive private schools

Alberta taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund posh private schools for Calgary’s elites.

According to data released by Progress Alberta, 15 private schools which charge more than $10,000 in annual tuition fees received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies in 2015-2016.

One of those private schools, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, charges $21,660 in annual tuition fees per student, the highest of any private school in Alberta. The school has received $20.5 million in government funding since 2010 and in 2016 it raised $25 million through fundraising. At the end of 2016 the school’s two charitable foundations had $4.7 million remaining, according to Progress Alberta.

Public funding for private schools has become a hot political topic in recent weeks, with some groups calling for the Alberta government to stop public funding of private schools. I remain undecided about whether funds should be available for some private education, but I was shocked to learn that some of Alberta’s most elite and exclusive private schools are receiving public subsidies.

Conservatives politicians have stepped up to defend private schools. Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer and Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney argued that private schools provide Albertans with choice in education. Aheer said in a written statement that the private system saves Albertans money because they receive 70 per cent of the per-student funding of public schools.

Both those arguments are flimsy to begin with and completely fall apart when we start focusing on private schools that charge significantly high tuition fees while also being able to fundraise large amounts of money. Most Albertans can’t afford the “choice” of enrolling their children in exclusive schools, and private schools which can generate large amounts of funding on their own can probably survive without government subsidies.

Funding exclusive private schools with admission fees that are out of reach of most Albertans only perpetuates a system of education based on economic class. Equality of opportunity should be the driving force behind public funding for education, whether it be public or private.

The speed at which Education Minister David Eggen swiftly denied any allegations that the NDP government would be defunding private schools was surprising considering the criticism his party levelled toward the old PC government on the same issue. The NDP should do what should have been done a long time ago – let Alberta taxpayers off the hook for funding these expensive, exclusive and elite private schools.

Bozo-Eruption Alert: Wildrose campus club email declares “Feminism is Cancer”

Feminism is Cancer” was the subject line of an email sent out by the Wildrose Party campus club at the University of Calgary promoting the showing of the film “Red Pill.” The Wildrose club planned to screen the film, which online reviews describe as exploring Men’s Rights issues, on the U of C campus on International Women’s Day.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” and I will assume that the Young Wildrosers who wrote the email were not referring to cancer by its purely medical definition.

The email and the event are offensive and after a swift backlash online, the club responded on twitter that it had fired its director of communications and was no longer co-sponsoring the event.

The federal Conservative Party club also announced it would no long co-sponsor the film screening but the event is still being held by another co-sponsor, a group calling itself the “Canadian Advocates for Freedom and Liberty.” It is bizarre that even a campus political club would be so tone-deaf and insensitive, especially with talk of creating a new conservative party before the next election.

Last month the same Wildrose campus club announced it had endorsed Jason Kenney‘s bid to dissolve the Progressive Conservative Party and lead a new conservative party.

It would be easy to chalk up the “Feminism is Cancer” email to student tomfoolery or immaturity if it were not already part of a trend of Wildrose Party bozo-eruptions that go all the way back to the 2012 election.

The blog post predicting an ‘eternity in the lake of fire’ for gays and lesbians and claims of a caucasian advantage by mostly unknown candidates in that election likely cost the Wildrose Party its chance of forming government in 2012.

Wildrose Feminism is Cancer

A screenshot of the email (click to enlarge)

More recently, nine Wildrose MLAs were called out for signing an op-ed sent to rural newspapers that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. And there was the incident surrounding Derek Fildebrandt’s “suspension” from the Wildrose caucus, which ended up lasting around 72 hours in total. Weird tirades against the threat of communism and denial of climate change by Wildrose MLAs just add more flames to the [lake of] fire.

Back in 2012, before the Lake of Fire became part of the province’s political lingo, then-party leader Danielle Smith confirmed the existence of a good conduct bonds of $1,000 to be paid by anyone who ran for a Wildrose Party nomination.

Maybe it will be time for Brian Jean and Jason Kenney to increase the good conduct bond to $10,000?

David Eggen goes back to the NDP basics with bill to cut school fees

A flagship bill to cut school fees by 25 percent is familiar and friendly territory for the Alberta’s New Democratic Party. Introduced  in the Legislative Assembly today by Education Minister David Eggen, Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees, eliminates fees for textbooks, workbooks, photocopying, printing and busing transporting.

Last year’s Bill 1, which established a series of job creation and economic diversification committees, was much more technocratic than this year’s first bill. Eggen’s bill returns to retail politics and goes back to the NDP basics. It moves the NDP closer to fulfilling one of their campaign promises from the 2015 election, to “reduce school fees for essential services such as lunch supervision and busing.”

As an opposition party, the NDP railed against growing out of pocket fees that Alberta parents were forced to pay under the old Progressive Conservative government. Eliminating these types of school fees, which cost Albertans an average of $50 million each year, is a change that will have a positive impact in the lives of a lot of Albertans.

The elimination of fees is likely to be a popular move, and it is also shrewd politics. Like the NDP government’s increases to the minimum wage and introduction of $25 per day child care, it will be politically difficult for the conservative opposition parties to campaign against cuts to school fees in the next election.

Who wants to be leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party? Nolan Crouse does.

Nolan Crouse

Nolan Crouse

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse announced this week that he will run for the leadership of Alberta’s Liberal Party, becoming the first and so far the only candidate to announce plans to run for the job. The party is holding a leadership vote in June 2017 to fill the position being vacated by Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann, a former leader who has been the party’s interim leader since 2015.

Crouse has served three-terms as mayor of the suburban city of St. Albert, located northwest of Edmonton, and is currently the chair of the Capital Region Board.

With the exception of Swann’s re-election, the Liberal Party was wiped off the electoral map during the NDP’s Orange wave of 2015.

Whoever is chosen to lead the Liberals later this year will have a big challenge ahead of them. How does a tiny party differentiate itself from a New Democratic Party government that has swallowed much of what used to be a fairly reliably Liberal vote in Edmonton? And faced with the prospect of a united/merged/rebranded Jason Kenney/Brian Jean/Derek Fildebrandt-led conservative party, why would moderates and progressives choose to vote for a tiny Liberal Party instead of the NDP?

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Whoever wins the Liberal Party leadership will face some of the same challenges faced by Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who is also the party’s lone MLA. Clark has been fairly effective at generating media attention since he was elected in 2015 and generated some controversy this week when he launched a new discussion on Alberta’s fiscal future, including a Provincial Sales Tax.

Without the built in podiums that come with being government or official opposition, both Clark and, potentially, Crouse will have to step outside of the regularly comfortable political narrative to generate attention for themselves and their parties.

A huge irony is that the political split after the 2008 election that led to the the current incarnation of the Alberta Party was part of a plan to replace the Liberals as the progressive and centrist alternative to the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties. In the end, the split may have actually benefited the other opposition party which was noticeably and purposely absent from those discussions – the NDP.

Former Liberal Leader on St. Albert City Council

Crouse serves on St. Albert City Council with another politician who once led the provincial Liberals in the wilderness. Councillor Bob Russell led the Liberals from 1969 until 1974. He was a candidate in the 1971 election in St. Albert and in a 1973 by-election in Calgary-Foothills but was unsuccessful in his bids for election.

Russell resigned as leader in 1974 and was succeeded by Calgary oilman and geologist Nick Taylor. Taylor would lead the party out of obscurity and serve as an MLA for Westlock-Sturgeon from 1986 to 1993 and Redwater from 1993 to 1996.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?