Category Archives: Alberta Politics

Wildrose leader faces Rocky [Mountain House] challenges and leadership review

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith at the launch of Edmonton-Whitemud candidate Tim Grover’s by-election campaign in October 2014.

Reacting to her party’s poor results in four provincial by-elections held this week, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced that she will face a leadership review at her party’s annual convention on November 14 and 15, 2014 in Red Deer.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

This is a smart move by the official opposition leader, as a solid approval rating could silence her detractors inside the party and mute Progressive Conservative activists who have been using social media to vocally call for her resignation after this week’s by-election votes.

It is not hard to imagine Ms. Smith doing well in the review. She earned 90% support in a leadership review following the 2012 election.

Ms. Smith has also publicly recognized that her party’s strategy of attack in the by-elections fell flat. And on a conference call with constituency presidents last night, Ms. Smith said she would not accept party strategist Vitor Marciano‘s resignation offer in wake of the by-election results. Mr. Marciano also serves as Ms. Smith’s press secretary and is a former member of the Conservative Party of Canada National Council.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

But the move to reaffirm her leadership in advance of the 2016 election also comes with risks if her opponents inside the party do decide to strike.

And as we know from recent PC Party leadership reviews, who is able to vote is highly controlled and the results have limited meaning. In 2009 and 2013, PC leaders Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford earned 77% approval from party loyalists. But within months of the both votes, the leaders were drummed out of office by caucus and party revolts (a real revolt in Ms. Redford’s case and a threatened one in Mr. Stelmach’s case).

Wildrose Party members would be foolish to remove Ms. Smith as their leader before the next election. She is smart, media savvy and has grown into her role as official opposition leader since taking over the party in 2009. Removing her as leader would be a death knell for the party.

Trouble in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

Aside from a leadership review, Ms. Smith may have to deal with growing unrest in one of her party’s rural constituency associations. The Wildrose Party executive committee has appointed a special subcommittee to investigate an ongoing dispute within the party’s Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association.

The controversy centres around a heated vote for a  new board of directors at an October 15, 2014 annual general meeting. A new board of directors is believed to have been elected, but is disputed by the previous board of directors, who claim that the meeting had officially adjourned before the new board could be elected.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Jason Nixon

The President of the new board of directors is Edwin Erickson, a former leader of the Alberta Party and former deputy leader of the Alberta Greens during Mr. Anglin’s time as that party’s leader from 2008 to 2009.

These allegations have led the new board, which is operating as the official board, to retain the services of Toronto lawyer Donald Bur to represent them in any legal disputes.

According to the Rimbey Review, Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin did not attend the meeting and claims he heard a tape recording that proves the motion to adjourn was “soundly defeated.”

Much of the tension appears to stem from a recent nomination contest that was wrought with controversy and accusations. During the July 2014 contest, Mr. Anglin, an outspoken property rights activist, publicly accused the Wildrose Party executive committee of failing to enforce the party’s own nomination rules. When the votes were counted, Mr. Anglin was defeated by Jason Nixon.

Following Mr. Anglin’s nomination loss, Ms. Smith suggested that he might consider running in an Edmonton constituency in the next election.

Wildrose needs to be more than the Anti-Redford Party

PCs sweep four by-elections, NDP and Alberta Party make gains
Jim Prentice Gordon Dirks Calgary Elbow By-Election Alberta
Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Premier Jim Prentice during the by-election campaign.

Disgraced former premier Alison Redford gave Albertans a convincing reason to vote Wildrose, but Danielle Smith‘s official opposition needs to find a new strategy to defeat Premier Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservative.

This appears to be the case as Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives celebrate their candidates victories in four Alberta by-elections held yesterday.

Kathy Macdonald Wildrose Calgary-Foothills by-election
Kathy Macdonald

The wins in the four strong-PC voting constituencies are a signal that the long-governing party should not be underestimated. And despite two years of spending scandals, embarrassment and misdeeds, the PC Party remains a competitive political force in this province.

It appears that despite the scandals, many Albertans wan to give Mr. Prentice a chance. And the PC’s smooth ‘be boring‘ and ‘de-Redfordization‘ strategy appears to have paid off with voters, at least in the short-term, and helped the party hold onto Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. Chosen as PC Party leader in September 2014, Mr. Prentice was personally elected last night in Calgary-Foothills, with a commanding lead ahead of Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald.

Mike Ellis PC Alberta calgary-west MLA
Mike Ellis

In Calgary-West, a constituency the Wildrose had targeted to win, candidate Sheila Taylor was narrowly defeated by Tory Mike Ellis. The Wildrose hoped that Ms. Taylor’s high-profile role as a public school board trustee would take her to victory, but the PCs Mr. Ellis narrowly held on to the constituency first won by former premier Peter Lougheed in 1967.

The by-elections gave Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party an opportunity to test campaign tactics, strategies and messages in preparation for the next election, and it is obvious they fell flat.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

While PC Party supporters on social media have vocally called on their opponent to step down, the Wildrose would be foolish to part with the leader, who is one of their greatest assets. Ms. Smith is media savvy and has grown into her role as Premier-in-Waiting. Despite missing an opportunity to steal a by-election away from the PCs, the Wildrose is still strong in other areas of Alberta (and in other constituencies in Calgary and Edmonton).

One recent poll  shared with this blogger showed the Wildrose with 51% support in rural Alberta and 47% in the province’s small cities, which represent a significant number of constituencies in Alberta. Despite tonight’s losses, the 2016 election could still be hotly contested between the two conservative parties.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

But worrying to both the Wildrose and the PCs should be the other opposition parties that made significant electoral gains in these by-elections. In Edmonton-Whitemud, PC Health Minister Stephen Mandel saw his party’s vote drop by nearly 20% from the 2012 election, but still collected enough votes to defeat New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner. Wildrose candidate Tim Grover was relegated to third place.

Dr. Turner’s 21% finish marks the first time the NDP has placed second in this constituency since the 1986 election, an impressive feat for the tiny Edmonton-based party.

Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party
Greg Clark

And in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark exceeded expectations, placing a close second behind PC Education Minister Gordon Dirks. Mr. Dirks’ was elected with the help of a convenient opposition vote-split between Mr. Clark and talented Liberal Susan Wright. But despite the narrow defeat, this second place finish gives Mr. Clark a solid foundation to run as a candidate in the next election.

Before the next election, can any of those tiny opposition parties garner enough strength on their own to take advantage of a split within Alberta’s conservative movement? And as Wildrose strategists analyze the results of yesterdays vote, can they come up with a plan to defeat the Tories? In spite of yesterday’s wins by the 43-year governing PC Party, will Albertans still be willing to give Mr. Prentice a chance in 2016?

One this is for sure, the political landscape in Alberta looks more interesting than ever.

 October 27, 2014 By-election Results

Calgary-Elbow
Gordon Dirks, PC: 4,207 (33.2%)
Greg Clark, AP: 3,412 (26.9%)
John Fletcher, WR: 3,056 (24.1%)
Susan Wright, LIB: 1,519 (11.9%)
Stephanie Mclean, NDP: 472 (3.7%)

Calgary-Foothills
Jim Prentice, PC: 6,898 (58.2%)
Kathy Macdonald, WR: 3,545 (29.9%)
Robert Prcic, LIB: 458 (3.8%)
Jennifer Burgess, NDP: 444 (3.7%)
Polly Knowlton Cockett, GRN: 261 (2.2%)
Michelle Glavine, AP: 212 (1.7%)
Dave Woody Phillips, IND: 23 (0.1%)

Calgary-West
Mike Ellis, PC: 4,843 (44.4%)
Sheila Taylor, WR: 4,528 (41.5%)
David Khan, LIB: 926 (8.5%)
Brian Malkinson, NDP: 336 (3.0%)
Troy Millington, AP: 265 (2.4%)

Edmonton-Whitemud
Stephen Mandel, PC: 6,003 (42.3%)
Bob Turner, NDP: 3,150 (22.2%)
Tim Grover, WR: 2,679 (18.9%)
Donna Wilson, LIB: 2,043 (14.4%)
William Munsey, AP: 202 (1.4%)
Rene Malenfant, GRN: 95 (0.6%)

Will by-election losses teach Alberta’s progressive parties basic math?

Alberta Progressive Party
Alberta’s non-conservative opposition is represented by the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Alberta Party.

Fast forward to 10:00 p.m. on  October 27, 2014. The ballots have been counted in Alberta’s four provincial by-elections and the two main conservative parties – the governing Progressive Conservatives and official opposition Wildrose Party – have taken the largest share of the votes.

Once again the handful of “progressive” opposition political parties were  left sitting on the sidelines when the ballots were counted.

It is an easy scenario to imagine. As voters head to the polls in the Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections today, it appears that the Alberta Party, New Democratic Party and Liberal Party will largely be relegated to third, fourth or fifth place in most races.

Susan Wright LIberal Calgary-Elbow
Susan Wright

While I recognize the argument against vote splitting is not perfect, it has created a convenient “divide and conquer” situation for the PC Party for decades. But with the conservative vote is now split between the PCs and Wildrose, none of the progressive parties on their own appear strong enough to take advantage of this division.

In Calgary-Elbow, the constituency formerly represented by Alison Redford, a progressive candidate should have a shot of winning. The Liberals won Elbow in a 2007 by-election when they were the main opposition to the PCs and held onto it until 2008.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow
Greg Clark

But seven years later, the progressive opposition is represented by two excellent candidates in Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal Susan Wright. Both who are likely to draw votes away from each other, allowing Education Minister Gordon Dirks to win.

In Edmonton-Whitemud, a traditionally strong PC voting constituency, the NDP and Liberals have both put forward strong candidates in Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson. While it is unlikely that either candidate would defeat PC candidate and former mayor Stephen Mandel on their own, the presence of the two progressive candidates on the ballot further divides the opposition.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

On Saturday evening, the Liberal Party published a press release claiming an Alberta Party supporter tried to broker some sort of deal with the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberal claims are flimsy and it is unclear what sort of electoral deal could be arranged in the few days before an election (it would be too late to remove a candidate’s name from a paper ballot).

The four by-elections are being held in urban constituencies where the PC Party has enjoyed strong support for decades. And the argument could be made that there are a handful of constituencies in Alberta where the non-conservative opposition parties would be more competitive in a by-election.

But in the end, it comes down to basic math.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr penned a thoughtful guest post for this blog in December 2012, in which he expressed his concerns about vote-splitting:

As a provincial politician committed to many of the same progressive principles as the three above-noted candidates, what did I learn from this? Well, I think I’ve learned basic math. The center/center-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party. At this moment in time, and objectively looking at the provincial platforms of the progressive parties, we are for all intents and purposes also a distinction without a difference.

In the last election the NDP, Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party agreed on policy 95% of the time. We should all be together in one big tent; there is less difference between all of our political parties than there is between the different wings of the PC government.

What keeps us apart is rugged tribalism that leads to infighting between us and keeps our guns pointed squarely at each other instead of focusing our fire on the right-wing in this province. We tend to identify with our brands and not necessarily the values that we share. Let me be the first to say, I’m putting down my gun, and am open to all conversations with no preconditions. We need to figure out how we can come together in a big tent party. Otherwise, we are wasting our time. It’s math.

What’s at stake in the four Oct. 27 by-elections?

With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?

Progressive Conservatives

In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.

My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.

Wildrose Party

From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.

The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.

The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.

As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.

The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.

Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.

Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.

New Democratic Party

Alberta NDP Ad Edmonton-Whitemud Dr. Bob Turner by-election
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.

While the NDP have risen in the polls in Edmonton, Whitemud is not a traditional NDP voting area. The NDP earned 9% in Whitemud in the last election and last placed second in the riding in the 1986 election.

A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.

Also running for the NDP are Stephanie McLean in Calgary-Elbow, Jennifer Burgess in Calgary-Foothills, and Brian Malkinson in Calgary-West.

Alberta Party

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.

With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.

Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.

Mr. Clark has earned the endorsements of popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim, former Green Party candidate Chris Turner, former city councillor Gael Macleod and former mayoral candidate Wayne Stewart.

A win for Mr. Clark would be a huge victory for the Alberta Party and add a twist to the dominant PC-Wildrose narratives that has dominated Alberta politics since before the last election.

Mr. Clark is the son of Gilbert Clark, a Liberal candidate who came within 900 votes of defeating rookie PC candidate Ralph Klein in 1989.

Also running for the Alberta Party are William Munsey in Edmonton-Whitemud, Michelle Glavine in Calgary-Foothills, Troy Millington in Calgary-West.

Liberal Party

Susan Wright Calgary Elbow by-election
Liberal Susan Wright and her campaign supporters.

Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.

The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.

Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.

These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.

Also running for he Liberals are David Khan in Calgary-West and Robert Prcic in Calgary-Foothills.

Green Party

The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and  Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.

Where to vote?

Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.

Politics gets NIMBY in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 3
Edmonton-Whitemud Wildrose candidate Tim Grover, with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, MLAs Kerry Towle, Jeff Wilson, Bruce Rowe and other nominated Wildrose candidates.

The phrase “all politics is local” has been used many times to describe voters who might shy away from trying to restructure health care or environmental policy but are passionate about potholes or saving the park down their street.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

This phrase appears to be particularily reflective of the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election, where former Edmonton mayor and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is campaigning for election to the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive Conservative candidate.

While his opponents from the New Democrat and Liberal parties – Dr. Bob Turner and Dr. Donna Wilson – have made health care issues the focus of their campaigns – including the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital –  Mr. Mandel’s Wildrose opponent is looking to other local wedge issues to attack the former mayor.

As volunteers canvass door-to-door in the constituency, the campaign of Wildrose candidate Tim Grover is circulating a letter from a local resident who opposed a controversial Terwilligar Housing First development.

[Read the letter here]

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

The letter alleges that at an August 2013 town-hall meeting about the proposed housing development, then-mayor Mr. Mandel loudly shouted at a group of residents about the project. While the tensions were high at the meeting, community members I have spoken with who attended the town hall meeting dispute the allegation that Mr. Mandel actually shouted at anyone at the meeting.

As part of the City of Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the development would have provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless Edmontonians. And because of the outcry of a small and vocal group of community members, the development was cancelled.

While the proposal was not perfect, the debate around the Terwilligar Housing First development had all the hallmark characteristics of NIMBYism (“Not In My Backyard”).

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

When he launched his campaign, Mr. Mandel said that he would run on his nine-year record as Mayor of Edmonton. And while he has a lot to be proud of, after three terms in office Mr. Mandel did collect a certain amount of political baggage. Because of this, it is not surprising that his political opponents would try to exploit these wedge issues during an election campaign.

Last week, two articulate members from the Haddow neighbourhood spoke to the CBC about their opposition to the development of a surplus school site that Mr. Mandel supported. I am told that “Save Haddow Park” signs have now been spotted in Mr. Grover’s campaign office.

NDP army campaigns for Dr. Bob

Fresh from her victory in the NDP leadership contest, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley led an army of volunteers on to the streets of Edmonton-Whitemud. The NDP took a break from their weekend leadership convention to bus as many volunteers as possible from downtown’s Sutton Place Hotel to the southwest to help candidate Dr. Bob Turner.

Voters in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-West will vote on October 27, 2014. Advance Polls are: being held on October 22, 23, 24 and, 25, 2014.

The NDP are Ready for Rachel… are Albertans?

Rachel Notley NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta
Rachel Notley

With 70% of the 3,589 votes cast, Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley was selected as the next leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party. Ms. Notley defeated Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen, who earned 28% of the vote, and union activist Rod Loyola, with 2%.

David Eggen
David Eggen

Ms. Notley is an articulate and passionate advocate for social issues in Alberta and I have little doubt that the NDP will continue punching above their weight as an opposition party with her at the helm.

There are no shortage of challenges facing Ms. Notley’s NDP, and perhaps the largest is the task of convincing Albertans that the NDP is a viable alternative to the two dominant conservative parties.

The NDP needs to build the case that they are the more viable progressive alternative to not only the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose, but also the Liberal Party. The NDP has already surpassed the Liberals in total votes and seats in Edmonton. And with two Calgary Liberal MLAs running in the next federal election, the NDP will soon become the third largest party in the Assembly.

But can the NDP translate their latest bump in the polls in Edmonton into actual elected candidates in the next election? The NDP currently have four MLAs in the Assembly and a handful of candidates performed well in the last election in constituencies such as Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Riveriew, and Edmonton-Glenora.

A photo of Shannon Phillips Alberta NDP Candidate in Lethbridge-East.
Shannon Phillips

Moribund in Calgary, the NDP has not elected a candidate in Alberta’s largest city since the 1989 election, which is the equivalent of eons in politics. The party has tried hard to shed any “anti-oilsands” baggage, calling for in-province refining and distancing itself from some positions taken by the Ottawa NDP.

To become a convincing province-wide political force, the NDP needs to break its reputation as an Edmonton-only focused party and recruit candidates who can win in Calgary and Alberta’s medium-sized cities. With the vast majority of rural Alberta a write-off for the tiny social democratic party, I have argued they should focus on an urban agenda.

The NDP has a star candidate in Shannon Phillips, who is campaigning for a second time in Lethbridge-West. Ms. Phillips came very close to winning in the last election, placing only 1,115 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick. A win in Lethbridge in the next election would be a significant beachhead for the NDP outside of Edmonton.

With the conservative PCs and Wildrose dominating the political narrative heading into the next election, Ms. Notley’s NDP could play kingmaker and spoiler in close races in cities like Edmonton and Lethbridge.

Even though it is almost impossible to imagine the NDP forming government in Alberta, there could be a real chance they could hold the balance of power in a minority government scenario after the next election. And if that did happen, Albertans would be lucky to have an intelligent and thoughtful leader like Rachel Notley holding the balance of power.

Alberta NDP use strange voting system to select new leader

Rachel Notley David Eggen Alberta NDP Leadership Race 2014
NDP MLAs David Eggen and Rachel Notley at a recent rally calling for the construction of a new Misericordia Hospital in south west Edmonton. Both MLAs are running for the leadership of the Alberta NDP.

On October 18, 2014 Alberta’s New Democratic Party will choose a replacement for retiring leader Brian Mason, who has held the position since 2004. The three candidates seeking the leadership are Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and Edmonton-Ellerslie candidate Rod Loyola.

Brian Mason
Brian Mason

This is the Alberta NDP’s first foray into a one-member, one-vote system preferential ballot system of selecting their leader, at least partially. While 75% of the total votes cast to choose the next leader are allocated to individual members, 25% of the total votes are allocated to organizations affiliated with the NDP.

This hybrid system was adopted after a vote by NDP members at a recent policy convention. The 25% affiliate organization vote is a recognition of the party’s historical ties to labour unions, who are suspected to make up most of the affiliates.

How the votes will actually be counted is also a source of confusion among NDP members I have spoken with. The Edmonton Journal’s Karen Kleiss did an admirable job trying to explain the system, but even after an explanation it remains needlessly complicated:

The affiliate status gives the eight unions a 25 per cent weighted vote in the leadership election.

This means that if each of the eight unions cast one ballot, each of those ballots would count for 3.12 per cent of the total votes. In a hypothetical race with 10,000 ballots cast, each union ballot would count for 312 votes.

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP
Rod Loyola

Simply put, the votes of indivdiual organizations will be weighed heavier than votes of individual NDP members in this leadership vote. But even though NDP members may be told how those votes are weighed within the 25%, there is still no public listing of the affiliated organizations.

I am told there are at most ten organizations eligible to cast votes in the leadership contest, but privacy rules restrict the NDP from releasing the names of the organizations without their approval.

Not shy about their affiliation with the NDP, one of the affiliates is certainly the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401. UFCW 401 President Doug O’Halloran announced earlier this month that his union has endorsed Ms. Notley’s candidacy.

There are limited rules around how provincial political parties conduct leadership contests. Unlike the United States, where open primary votes feel like general elections and are highly structured, leadership votes in Alberta feel like the Wild West.

Raj Sherman MLA Edmonton-Meadowlark
Raj Sherman

Leadership candidates and their Chief Financial Officers must register with Elections Alberta, but aside from that, party’s set their own rules around entry fees, spending limits, debates, and how the leader is selected. This has led to some odd voting schemes and irregularities during recent leadership contests.

The Progressive Conservatives used a simple one-member, one-vote system and still faced numerous allegations of irregularities and online voting systems glitches in the leadership contest that selected Jim Prentice. One PC volunteer accused MLA Sohail Quadri of improperly accessing PIN numbers of PC members and Mr. Prentice’s campaign was caught handing out free memberships at public events.

In their 2011 leadership contest, the Liberal Party introduced a “supporter” category of voter, who could vote in their leadership contest by signing up for free. The “supporters” did little to boost the active membership of the party and the category was dissolved shortly after Raj Sherman was selected as leader.

Our political leaders should be encouraged to develop new and innovative ways of engaging voters in leadership races, but Albertans need to know the processes being used are fair and transparent.

By-Election Round-up: 11 days until the mini-election

There are now eleven days left until voters cast their ballots in four provincial by-elections on October 27.

Prentice a no-show in Calgary-Foothills

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta Calgary Foothills by-election pumpkin
Jim Prentice (photo from @wmcbeath on Twitter)

He is the Premier of Alberta and he does not have a seat in the Legislature, but Jim Prentice skipped last night’s all-candidates forum in the Calgary-Foothills by-election. The event was organized by the Edgemont Community Association.

Noting the high-profile candidate’s absence, forum organizers placed a halloween pumpkin at Mr. Prentice’ empty spot at the table.

He has held almost daily media events since becoming Premier, but they have all taken place at planned and highly-controlled events. An all-candidates forum is an uncontrolled environment where Mr. Prentice would be forced to engage with his opponents, which could cause potential embarrassment to the new Premier.

The other candidates running in Calgary-Foothills are Jennifer Burgess (NDP), Polly Knowlton Cockett (Green Party),  Michelle Glavine (Alberta Party), Kathy Macdonald (Wildrose),  Robert Prcic (Liberal) and Dave Woody Phillips (Independent). Mr. Phillips was also absent from the forum.

Health care big issue in Edmonton-Whitemud

Donna Wilson Liberal Edmonton Whitemud By-Election
Donna Wilson

In an press conference designed to keep Health Minister Stephen Mandel in the news, Mr. Prentice joined his party’s Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate to make a vague announcement about the opening of more “continuing care” spaces.

The announcement provided no detail about how the province plans to address the shortage of long-term care beds, which provide a higher level of care to Albertans in need of longer-term medical assistance.

Despite a growing population, the number of long-term care beds across the province has actually decreased over the past decade.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice used the press conference as an opportunity to repeatedly explain to reporters that Mr. Mandel is a “hands-on minister” (a description he used at least three times during the press conference).

Although the former mayor is widely expected to win the Whitemud by-election, Mr. Mandel has faced pressure from Liberal Dr. Donna Wilson and New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner to address the province’s lack of long-term care beds and to replace the aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital.

The other candidates running the Edmonton-Whitemud are Tim Grover (Wildrose), Rene Malenfant (Green Party), William Munsey (Alberta Party),

Moving targets in Calgary-Elbow

It’s not just about electing Dirks, it’s about beating Carter too,” a PC Party insider told me this week. Fighting to elect appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, the PCs are also gunning to defeat Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, whose campaign is being run by former Tory strategist Stephen Carter.

A sort of political mercenary, Mr. Carter was a key strategist in Alison Redford‘s 2011 leadership campaign and Naheed Nenshi‘s 2010 mayoral election.

While the Wildrose Party poses a threat to the Tories province-wide, recent moves suggest they recognize Mr. Clark as a threat in this by-election. For example, Mr. Dirks’ campaign trotted out an endorsement last week from former Alberta Party leadership candidate Randy Royer.

Drawing on the experience of Mr. Carter and a band of local political organizers, Mr. Clark’s supporters say his campaign is showing signs of momentum on the ground. Whether they can translate any momentum, real or perceived, into votes is an unanswered question.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dirks’ campaign manager Alan Hallman, apologized for referring to Wildrose Party candidate John Fletcher as the fictional TV Nazi “Colonel Klink” on Twitter. Mr. Fletcher is a retired Colonel of the Canadian Forces Reserves.

The other candidates in the Calgary-Elbow by-election are  Stephanie McLean (NDP) and Susan Wright (Liberal).

Sources: MLA David Xiao disqualified from federal Conservative nomination

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

A Progressive Conservative MLA is appealing a decision by a Conservative Party of Canada committee to disqualify him as a nomination candidate in the newly created Edmonton-West federal riding, according to reliable sources.

(see updates below)

It remains unclear why the committee chose to disqualify Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao, who announced his entry into the contest in March 2014.

If Mr. Xiao’s disqualification is upheld by the Conservative Party National Council, it is expected that Edmonton hotel manager Kelly McCauley will be acclaimed as the party’s candidate for the next federal election.

Kelly McCauley Edmonton-West Conservative
Kelly McCauley

Mr. Xiao’s candidacy has been endorsed by provincial Health Minister and Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate Stephen Mandel, former premier Ed Stelmach and provincial cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.

Since his election in 2008, Mr. Xiao has served as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Employment and Immigration. He faced public criticism after claiming travel expenses of nearly $35,000 in 2012, even though his constituency is located in Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.

The Conservative Party is expected to respond to Mr. Xiao’s appeal this week.


Contributing to more potential controversy, a lawyer representing Mr. Xiao recently informed Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle that he planned to issue notices under Alberta’s Defamation Act.

Potentially connected to the legal threats, Mr. Xiao publicly denied statements made by the Wildrose opposition about his relationship with the McClung Family Association.

UPDATE (October 15, 2014): Mr. Xiao has released a statement confirming he is appealing his disqualification as a nomination candidate by the Conservative Party in Edmonton-West.

UPDATE (October 16, 2014): According to reliable sources, Mr. Xiao’s appeal has been rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada National Council. Mr. McCauley is expected to be acclaimed as the candidate in Edmonton-West.

Yellowhead federal by-election called for November 17

Alberta_Yellowhead_Highway
The Yellowhead Highway is a major east-west highway connecting the four western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Providing a distraction from the four provincial by-elections currently being held in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that federal by-elections will be held in Ontario’s Whitby-Oshawa riding and Alberta’s Yellowhead riding.

The Yellowhead by-election is triggered by the resignation of five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield, who was appointed by Premier Jim Prentice as Alberta’s envoy in Washington D.C.

Covering a huge swath of west central Alberta, the Yellowhead riding sprawls from Jasper National Park in the west to Drayton Valley, Onoway and Barrhead in the east.

The Hinton Voice reported on September 25 that two candidates were seeking the federal Conservative nomination in this riding. Former Yellowhead Conservatives President Jim Eglinski served as Mayor of Fort St. John from 2005 to 2008 and Gerald Soroka has has served as the Mayor of Yellowhead County since 2007.

According to the Voice, Hinton Town Councillor and local social studies teacher Ryan Maguhn filed his papers to become the Liberal Party candidate.

Yellowhead voted solidly Conservative riding in the 2011 election. Conservative candidate Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the total vote in Yellowhead, with NDP candidate Mark Wells earning 13%. Green candidate Monika Shaeffer placed third with 5.1% and Liberal Zack Siezmagraff placed fourth with 2.8%.

The riding was represented by former Prime Minister Joe Clark from 1979 to 1993. In the 1988 election, Mr. Clark faced Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who he defeated 44% to 27%. Five years later, in the 1993 election, Reform Party candidate Cliff Breitkreuz was elected with 55% of the vote. He represented the riding in Ottawa until Mr. Merrifield was first elected in 2000.