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Alberta Politics

A spectre is haunting the UCP – the spectre of communism

From the columns of Postmedia newspapers to the halls of the United Conservative Party caucus, the the spectre of communism and socialism is striking fear in the minds of political elites who see Bolsheviks breeding in every corner of Alberta, from City Council chambers to voluntary blood donor clinics.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Using the same abrasive approach that got him promoted in cabinet, Justice Minister and Edmonton-South West UCP MLA Kaycee Madu warned against reforms to the Calgary police budget, describing City Councillors in the province’s largest city as “a bunch of socialists who would prefer to have a chaotic world. That is how they win elections and that is how they demonize people they disagree with.”

Last week, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo UCP MLA Tany Yao described labour unions and advocates opposed to his private members’ bill to legalize corporate for-profit blood donation clinics as socialists who want to harvest organs from people without consent.

This was not the first time Yao had warned against the perils of the Red Menace.

Tany Yao UCP MLA Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo
Tany Yao

In July 2020, Yao stood on the floor of the Assembly and claimed that Edmonton-Ellerslie NDP MLA Rod Loyola was the former leader of the Communist Party. Yao was later forced to withdraw his claim because it was not true.

Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson posted on Facebook that there was a “VIP section” in hell awaiting the “Socialist NDP.”

And in a video on Facebook, Getson described the federal Liberal Party as communists.”They think it’s the red they used to vote for twenty years ago. Well, the only red that’s happening there is so akin to that hammer and sickle right now, it’s not a centrist, it’s that slow dance to socialism,” Getson said.

In February 2020, Airdrie-Cochrane UCP MLA Peter Guthrie wrote an entire MLA column warning about the dangers of communism. Guthrie’s column was syndicated on the websites of weekly Postmedia newspapers across Canada.

Red Deer-South UPC MLA Jason Stephan referred to the NDP’s elected term in government as a “socialist occupation” and described other provinces as “hostile, parasitic partners” that depend on Alberta for welfare payments.

Former UCP cabinet minister Tanya Fir has referred to the former NDP government as a “socialist dumpster fire.”

Ron Orr UCP MLA Lacombe Ponoka
Ron Orr

And who could forget the time Lacombe-Ponoka UCP MLA Ron Orr warned that the legalization of marijuana could lead to a communist revolution.

Former Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, who led the votes in Alberta, published an op-ed in the National Post that accused Trudeau of plotting a “Socialist coup” in Canada.

Even Premier Jason Kenney is known to toss around flamboyant warnings about the rise of ‘bohemian Marxism’ or radical European green-left eco-socialists who have undue influence over the international banking system. A fixture on the libertarian think tank symposium circuit, Kenney frequently indulges in attacks on socialism in his responses to the opposition in Question Period.

Peter Guthrie MLA Airdrie-Cochrane UCP Communism
Peter Guthrie

Of course, this kind of rhetoric is nothing new.

It appears that there could be a competition among UCP MLAs about who can sound the most like a paranoid Social Credit MLA from the 1950s.

In Alberta, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Of course, it has been a long time since any major political party in Alberta could have been described as socialist or communist.

UCP claims that Rachel Notley and the NDP are dangerous socialists are meant to marginalize and discredit the opposition or bait their opponents into a debate. But it is increasingly clear that in the minds of some government MLAs, the talking points have become reality.

The anti-communist terminology is from another era and, quite frankly, it is very weird.

As a government and now as official opposition, the Alberta NDP were only slightly to the political left of the Progressive Conservative Party it defeated in 2015.

In reality, the NDP government only moved Alberta to the mainstream of labour laws compared to other provinces and the only industries it ever seriously mused about nationalizing were driver’s road tests and hospital laundry services.

In most other provinces, the Alberta NDP would be considered closer to a centre-leftish Liberal Party than anything resembling anything Karl Marx wrote about.


Secret Public Inquiry delayed again

The final report of the McCarthy-esq Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns has been delayed again. The $3.5 million public inquiry, which was lauded by Kenney as part of his “Fight Back Strategy” against alleged enemies of Alberta’s oil industry, was granted a second extension to submit its final report to Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

The public inquiry that has operated in near-complete secrecy under the leadership of Commissioner Steve Allan will now submit its final report to Savage on Jan. 31, 2021, at least until the deadline is extended again.

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Alberta Politics

A different kind of Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day has always been an important day of reflection for me personally, but this year it was very different. For the past few years, my family has gathered at a Remembrance Day ceremony at La Cité francophone. Due to COVID, the ceremony was not held this year. But even if the ceremony had not been cancelled today, it would have been missing one of its annual speakers.

My grandfather, Daniel Cournoyer, in 1943.

On September 4, 2020, my grandfather, Daniel Cournoyer, passed away at the age of 97. He was a veteran of the Second World War who served in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the war.

His experiences during the the war had a profound impact on him and he made it his mission to tell those stories and ensure that those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice were not forgotten.

Each November 11 at La Cité, he would collect and share the stories of franco-albertains who served and made the ultimate sacrifice during the two World Wars, the Korean War and the war in Afghanistan.

I did not anticipate how difficult it would be today, not being able to hear him share his stories and not being able to thank him for his service. It made me appreciate even more the time I did get to spend with him, hear his stories, and the work he had done to preserve the memories of those who had lost their lives in the service of our country.

A few years ago, he wrote down some reflections on his experience and what Remembrance Day meant to him:

Canada, situated far from war-torn Europe, never did experience the destructive aspects of war. World War II was an historical event taking place far from Canadian shores. What Canadians knew of the war, they learned through the intermediate of the radio and the press. For its sons who participated in the campaigns in Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, they experienced the pain and anguish of war with its devastation and destruction.

With my grandfather, Daniel Cournoyer, at the Remembrance Day ceremony in 2019.
With my grandfather, Daniel Cournoyer, at the Remembrance Day ceremony in 2019.

On my departure for overseas, the local reporter wrote in the Survivance, the provincial French newspaper: “It is needless to say that our hears are mixed with emotions every time we say good-bye to one of our young men leaving on such a perilous and perhaps tragic voyage.” To some of our families, (the Caouette family, the Foment-Allaire family, the McDonald family and the Theberge family), the loss of a beloved son brought to the very heart of their home the tragic reality of war.

Today, as a teacher and a veteran, I’m often called upon to talk to the students at their Remembrance Day ceremonies, Following the singing of “O Canada.” I address them as follows:

Your singing of “O Canada” has brought to mind a touching and vivid memory of my return to Canada as a soldier.

The “Ile de France, one of the oldest ocean liners of that time, entered Halifax Harbour with thousands of Canadian men in their khaki battle dress, viewing the Canadian shores for the first time after many years of war service overseas. All of a sudden, the dock’s public address system blasted these simple words across the harbour “WELCOME HOME” followed by “O CANADA, OUR HOME AND NATIVE LAND.” As we stood there, on the decks, the reality of our homeland overwhelmed us.

We couldn’t sing, we just stood there. Never or ever since, have I experienced with such emotion the singing of our National Anthem. I had learned its words like all the students do at school, but not hat day of my return to Canada, every word and every verse had taken on a new meaning.

“F” Troop Training Wing, Esquimalt, BC. 1943.

We were back home. We had come home alive and safe. We were the fortunate soldiers who had survived the war, but what about those who hadn’t made it back?

Later, during this Remembrance Ceremony, during the 2 minutes of silence in tribute to those fallen Canadians of both World Wars, what will I be thinking about as a veteran? I will be thinking of those thousands of Canadians who lost their lives but to give it more perspective, I’ll be thinking of the former classmates and friends who didn’t make it back and the activities we carried on together – Leo Allaire, classmate at Couvent Notre Dame, killed in Italy; Paul Couette, friend and nephew of my uncle Georges Tellier, killed in Hollard; Richard McDonald, who played hockey against the Main Street Gang every Saturday morning at the old skating rink, killed in Italy; Leon Theberge, who with his brothers worked at the Cournoyer-Trottier-Lamarre mink range, killed in Italy.

Let us now look at their photos and remember them. They were amongst us for a very short period of time, we knew them briefly and they left us in the flower of they youth and most of all let us not forget them. As Governor-General Schreyer once said to a group of veterans, “Not enough is said about them and not enough is remembered. We often lose sight of those who sacrificed their the lives of rate preservation of peace and the highest ideals of civilization.”

Daniel E. Cournoyer
(Veteran 1943-1946)

Categories
Alberta Politics

3 Years of the Daveberta Podcast!

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Rachel Notley Daveberta Podcast
Interviewing Premier Rachel Notley for the Daveberta Podcast in April 2018 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Three years and 63 episodes ago, we launched the Daveberta Podcast and it continues to be a thrill to share the platform with many great guests who continue to bring a wealth of knowledge and riveting discussion and debate about Alberta politics.

And while we were sad to lose our co-host Ryan to the UCP last year, Dave and Adam are still having a lot of fun bringing you the podcast every two weeks.

A big thanks to our friends at the Alberta Podcast Network for their support and a sincerely thank you to everyone who keeps listening!

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Daveberta Podcast Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

In case you’re new to the Daveberta Podcast or need to catch up, listen to a few of our recent episodes:

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Alberta Politics

Make Calgary Great Again, Edmonton!

The right-wing municipal lobby group “Common Sense Calgary” is apparently setting up shop in Edmonton ahead of next year’s municipal elections. But when the lobby group with ties to the United Conservative Party and the Manning Centre launched its “Common Sense Edmonton” website, someone forgot to remove all the big photos of Calgary City Hall and references to how great a city Calgary is.

The main page of the group’s Edmonton website features a counter counting down the days until the municipal election which sits on a giant backdrop of Calgary City Hall and our southern neighbour’s iconic Bow Tower. On the same page of their Edmonton website, the group praises Calgary as a city built on people, built on ideas and built on trust.

Screenshots from the "Common Sense Edmonton" website.
Screenshots from the “Common Sense Edmonton” website.
Screenshots from the "Common Sense Edmonton" website.
Screenshots from the “Common Sense Edmonton” website.

The Calgary group was founded with funding from the conservative Manning Centre (now known as the “Strong and Free Network) and its current executive director is past Wildrose Party candidate and UCP nomination candidate Megan McCaffrey. She is also the Director of Research at the Alberta Institute, a Calgary-based libertarian think tank with an almost identical website.

New legislative changes recently introduced by the UCP government would allow individuals to donate up to $30,000 to these types of political action committees during next year’s municipal election.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 62: Maybe Keystone XL wasn’t a very good investment after all

In this episode of the Daveberta Podcast we discuss:

  • the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States and the future of the Alberta government’s $7 billion investment into the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • the Kenney government’s response to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s plans to lay-off 11,000 health support workers.
  • the Auditor General’s report and what it had to say about the Canadian Energy Centre.

We also take a deeper look at what Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes could be up to after he backed Edmonton-Ellerslie NDP MLA Rod Loyola’s motion to debate Canadian unity in the Alberta Legislature (Dave also nerds out about Alberta’s 1982 election, which took place 38 years to the day that Loyola introduced the motion).

And we dive into the mailbag to answer some great questions from our listeners.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

COVID was supposed to be Jason Kenney’s Battle of Britain. What happened?

When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta many months ago, Premier Jason Kenney was front-and-centre.

Ever the Anglophile, Kenney quoted Winston Churchill and compared the pandemic to the Battle of Britain. Under Kenney’s leadership we were going to fight COVID on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets.

He delivered a bleak televised address to Albertans, presented an awkward to watch 54-minute powerpoint display in an attempt to explain Alberta’s pandemic modelling, and elbowed his way to the front of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s press conferences on a weekly basis. It was clear that he wanted Albertans to know he was their Commander-in-Chief in the war against the pandemic.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney at a March 15 press conference about COVID-19.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney at a March 15 press conference about COVID-19. (Source: Government of Alberta)

In one of his more notable comments, Kenney compared Albertans to a herd of buffalo that “move closely together and go into the storm head on, coming out of it faster, stronger, and united.”

But at some point over the summer, as new cases of COVID dropped into the teens and single digits, Kenney shifted gears. He stopped showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences and his government ostensibly shifted toward an economic recovery message. But in reality the UCP government began a game of catch-up after the pandemic delayed the United Conservative Party‘s political agenda by five-months – a political agenda designed for a pre-pandemic Alberta.

Health support workers on a wildcat strike outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
Health support workers on a wildcat strike outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

The glorious battle was over and it was time for Kenney’s government to resume its multi-front war with nurses, doctors and health care workers.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced plans to privatize large swaths of the public health care system and lay-off more than 11,000 nurses and health support workers. As a result, many physicians have indicated their plans to leave Alberta and health support workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees walked off the job at more than 40 hospitals and health centres in a one-day wildcat strike last week.

A sensible political leader would appreciate that picking a very public fight with health care workers in the middle of a global pandemic is a bad way to run a government. But despite his falling approval ratings, Kenney appears to be moving forward as if everything has returned to normal. It clearly hasn’t.

Now the second wave of COVID-19 has hit Alberta. Dr. Hinshaw reported 800 new cases today, shattering previous records. The public health care system is showing signs of strain as nurses and health care workers are over-worked and understaffed, and COVID outbreaks are being reported at hospitals around the province.

The beaches are being stormed, but, unlike eight months ago, Kenney is no longer showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences, confidently quoting Churchill or comparing Albertans to buffalo stampeding together through a thunder storm.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 61: Don Iveson on being a Mayor during COVID and his plan to end homelessness

“Countries investing in cities are winning.” 

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to talk about being a big city mayor during the COVID-19 global pandemic, municipal relations with the provincial government, and Edmonton’s rapid plan to end homelessness.

Iveson has served as Mayor since 2013 and was previously a City Councillor in southwest Edmonton from 2007 to 2013.

Thanks to Mayor Iveson for setting some time aside to join us on the podcast. And thank you to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the podcast sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

UCP advisors erase Residential Schools and inject Anglophilia into primary grades’ Social Studies curriculum, show leaked documents

Perhaps it should not be a shock that a government initiative ostensibly aimed at “removing political bias” actually includes a whole lot of bias, but the curriculum advisory panel struck by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange appears to be doing just that.

According to draft copies leaked to CBC reporter Janet French, all references to residential schools will be removed from kindergarten to Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum if recommendations from an advisory panel appointed by the United Conservative Party government are accepted.

The authors of the draft copies have deemed residential schools to be “too sad” for younger students, but lighter topics like feudal societies, the Roman Empire and Chinese dynasties were considered appropriate by the panel.

The draft, which appears to be written partially in first-person, is also filled with strange Anglophilia like teaching students to memorize a Gilbert and Sullivan song and recognize the chimes of the Big Ben clock tower in London. It oddly describes Queen Elizabeth II as “Canada’s ruler” and claims that the monarchy represents “unity in diversity,” seemingly sugarcoating the legacy of British colonialism (this does not sound like the model of a modern major education system).

CBC reported the curriculum advisory panel also recommended the removal of all references to “equity” (which was deemed too politically partisan and charged), and that first grade students should learn Bible verses about creation as poetry and fourth grade students should learn that most non-white Albertans are Christians. It is not clear how the injection of a pseudo-religious curriculum would fit into the role of secular public schools, which the vast majority of Alberta students attend.

The handpicked advisory panel includes former political staffer Chris Champion as the Social Studies advisor. Champion was a senior advisor to Jason Kenney during his time in Ottawa from 2007 to 2015 and has been criticized for a 2019 article in which he described First Nations perspectives in school lessons as a fad.

“The Indian Residential School system was created to erase the cultures, histories, languages, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples within Canada, and these recommendations perpetuate that erasure,” said Alberta Teachers’ Association Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a press release this afternoon.

“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said Purcell.

This is not the first time someone with close ties to Kenney has been criticized for comments about residential schools. Paul Bunner, who worked as Kenney’s speechwriter from 2019 until this fall once wrote an article dismissing the “bogus genocide story” of Canada’s residential school system.

Both Bunner and Champion are former employees of the Alberta Report, a now defunct conservative weekly news magazine.

Between the early 1880’s and 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools operated by church organizations and the Government of Canada.

The children were strictly forbidden from practicing their culture and speaking their language and were forced to assimilate into ‘white Canada.’ The number of school-related deaths is estimated to range from 3,200 to more than 6,000.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and held its final hearing in Edmonton in 2015, recommended that provincial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Residential School survivors, Indigenous peoples, and educators create “age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students” and implement “Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools” (Calls to Action 62 and 63).

The TRC final report described the residential school system as cultural genocide, a description that was adopted by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in 2019.

Grande Prairie and District Catholic School Board Chair Michael Ouellette told MyGrandePrairieNow that leaving out residential schools from learning plans is a terrible idea.

“It’s concerning where it’s going, it’s concerning where they’re going with education in this province,” Ouellette said.” “Other provinces are so much further ahead of us with the curriculum.”

Education experts interviewed by CBC described the recommendations included in the draft as “utter nonsense,” “a laughingstock” and out of touch with the past 30 to 40 years of research.


In 2016, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the heart-breaking story of 12-year old Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, whose death sparked the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.


COVID hits UCP cabinet

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

It was announced today that Kenney is in self-isolation after Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard contracted COVID-19. Allard was appointed to cabinet last month. Also self-isolating are Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt, Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie and Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf.

Kenney tested negative for COVID-19 but a statement released by his office says he plans to remain in self-isolation until October 29, 2020.

The total number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced today hit 406, a record daily high since the pandemic began.

Despite the emergence of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced last week that the UCP government plans to lay-0ff 11,000 health support workers and Alberta Health Services reiterated its plans to layoff 650 Registered Nurses.

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Alberta Politics

NDP and UCP nearly tied in 2020 third quarter fundraising

The results of political party fundraising for the third quarter of 2020 have been released by Elections Alberta.

The province’s two major political parties were nearly tied in fundraising between July and September, with the United Conservative Party raising $1,199,941.32 and the New Democratic Party raising $1,126,580.38.

This is a rebound for the UCP, which raised only $642,677 in the second quarter of 2020, compared to $1,032,796.85 for the NDP in that period. The UCP responded to last quarter’s fundraising totals by explaining that they had dialled back their fundraising pitches during the beginning of the pandemic.

The UCP continues to rely more heavily on larger donations, with 80 per cent of this quarter’s contributions coming in sums larger than $250. The NDP continue to collect a large number of donations in smaller sums, with 47 per cent of donations is sums smaller than $250.

These results suggest that Alberta’s two major political parties remain financially viable and competitive.

Here is what the political parties raised during the third quarter of 2020:

  • UCP $1,199,941.32
  • NDP $1,126,580.38
  • Alberta Party $35,654.25
  • Wildrose Independence Party $28,717.00
  • Liberal Party $17,026.78
  • Green Party  $1,505.00
  • Independence Party – $1,215.00
  • Alberta Advantage Party – $907.00

The Communist Party, Pro-Life Alberta Political Association, and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.

Categories
Alberta Politics

So you want to have an emergency debate

With Alberta’s Legislative Assembly back in session until the beginning of December, there is good chance that Albertans will hear the term “emergency debate” used a lot.

With a global pandemic, a struggling economy and the United Conservative Party government implementing drastic overhauls and layoffs, MLAs from the opposition New Democratic Party will likely invoke legislative mechanisms to force emergency debates in the Assembly.

According to the rules that govern how the Assembly operates, the Standing Orders, there are two ways for MLAs to trigger emergency debates in the Legislature:

1. Standing Order 30: After the daily routine and before the Orders of the Day, any MLA can request to delay the scheduled business of the Assembly in order to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. After the MLA is given an opportunity to state their arguments, the Speaker can allow a debate on the question of urgency of debate and decide whether the call for a debate is needed.

If the Speaker agrees that debate is needed and there are any objections, then a standing vote of those in favour takes place. If 15 MLAs rise in favour in the standing vote, then the debate can happen with 10 minutes allocated to any MLA who wishes to speak on the matter.

Under SO 30, the MLA proposing the emergency debate must give the Speaker written notice at least 2 hours ahead of time.

2. Standing Order 42: This standing order allows MLAs to delay the regular business the Assembly to deal with matters of “urgent and pressing necessity” and can be invoked anytime without advance notice having been given to the Speaker.

This order requires unanimous consent of the Assembly to proceed. If no MLA objects then each MLA is given 20 minutes to debate the motion.

The government typically opposes this kind of motion.


Heather Sweet (source: Facebook)

This afternoon, Edmonton-Manning NDP MLA and Opposition House Leader Heather Sweet introduced a motion for emergency debate on the economic crisis under Standing Order 30.

Sweet’s motion was declined by Speaker Nathan Cooper because he determined a motion on a similar topic had already been introduced to the Order Paper by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre UCP MLA and Government House Leader Jason Nixon.

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Alberta Politics

Nick Taylor was a giant in Alberta politics

He was never Premier of Alberta or even Leader of the Official Opposition, but Nick Taylor was a giant in Alberta politics nonetheless. The quick-witted oilman-turned-politican with swept-back silver hair and a droopy moustache was a fixture on the political scene for more than three decades and was probably one of the most persistent and determined politicians in our province’s recent history.

Taylor passed away last Saturday at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary at the age of 92.

The Liberal Party’s voice in the wilderness

Nick Taylor Calgary-Centre Liberal candidate 1968 election Canada
A campaign poster from Nick Taylor’s campaign in Calgary-Centre in 1968.

Beginning his political career as a Liberal Party activist, with a stint as a trustee on the Calgary Separate School Board and a bid for City Council in 1964, Taylor made his first foray into federal electoral politics in 1968, nearly winning a seat in the House of Commons in the original Trudeaumania. He finished 301 votes behind long-time Progressive Conservative Douglas Harkness in Calgary-Centre. He placed further back in a second attempt in the 1972 election, but that was only the start of his political career.

Taylor jumped into provincial politics in 1974, defeating Edmontonian John Borger to win the leadership of the seatless Alberta Liberal Party. The party had been without an MLA in the Legislature since MLA Bill Dickie crossed the floor to join the Lougheed PC’s in 1969 (Taylor was Dickie’s campaign manager when he was first elected to the Assembly in 1963).

Appreciating some of the frustration expressed by some Albertans with the federal government at the time, Taylor told the Globe & Mail that Robert Stanfield‘s Tories might win the 1974 election. “Then,” he said, “I’m rid of the albatross of having to explain every asinine move Ottawa makes.”

Pierre Trudeau‘s Liberal government was narrowly re-elected.

Nick Taylor Trudeaumania Dynamiters Calgary-Centre 1968 Election
Nick Taylor and the Dynamiters (aka TNT – “Try Nick Taylor”) during the 1968 election in Calgary Centre.

But despite this comment, Taylor remained a Liberal Party stalwart and a fiercely pro-Canadian voice during the height of the separatist fervour that hit the Prairies in the 1970s and 1980s.

The new leader ran unsuccessfully in Dickie’s former Calgary-Glenmore riding in 1975 and 1979 before heading north of Edmonton to run in a by-election in the Barrhead stronghold of retiring Deputy Premier Hugh Horner. To the surprised of almost everyone, he finished just 350 votes behind rookie PC candidate Ken Kowalski.

Nick Taylor election campaign committee room Alberta Liberal Party
Nick Taylor, centre, stands with a crowd of supporters at his campaign headquarters.

Similar to his near-win in 1968, Taylor’s second attempt in Barrhead in 1982 was not as successful. Asked what he would have done if he had emerged victorious from beneath the Lougheed juggernaut, Taylor is quoted as saying he would “have demanded a recount.”

His rivalry with Kowalski became legendary in Alberta politics.

One story, whether it is true or not, took place at the grand opening of the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Centre. The local PC MLA proudly sat on the hood of the first truck as it rolled in to the facility. Taylor was in the crowd watching and yelled “here comes the first load!” leading to the crowd to burst into laughter.

His next attempt at elected office four years later in the newly redrawn neighbouring Westlock-Sturgeon riding paid off. Taylor was elected by 474 votes in 1986 and became the rarest of Alberta political species – a Liberal MLA from rural Alberta.

He led the Liberals to reenter the Legislative Assembly in that election, forming a caucus of four with Calgary-Buffalo MLA Sheldon Chumir, Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes, and Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Grant Mitchell. The Liberal Party’s reappearance in the Assembly came just a few years after the National Energy Program mythically destroyed the province’s oil industry. 

Nick Taylor and Pierre Trudeau in Calgary Alberta Liberal Party election
Nick Taylor (right) on stage with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (left).

As an opposition MLA, Taylor brought his quick-witted and clever retorts to the floor of the Assembly.

As columnist Don Martin wrote in 2002, “[h]is most endearing incarnation was as a feisty Alberta MLA whose decade of deadly zingers triggered a no-laugh order from two premiers, forcing many a Conservative MLA to guffaw below their desk to avoid detection from ministers reeling under his verbal fire.”

After describing then-Forestry minister Ty Lund as “one of the finest examples of a Victorian environment minister I’ve ever met,” Taylor stung him with a nickname that stuck for years: Forest Stump.

He also legendarily got the word “cowbell” banned from being used in the Assembly after describing a group of PC backbenchers as having the “longest tongues and emptiest heads” in the building.

Nick Taylor Alberta Liberal Party leader
Nick Taylor poses with the local PC Party candidate.

“His wit made him very engaging and a great deal of fun to work with, but he was so much more than that. The nature of his wit was an indicator of his intelligence,” Mitchell, who served as party leader from 1994 to 1998, told Postmedia this week.

But 29 months after he became the first Liberal leader elected to the Assembly since 1968, he faced a leadership challenge that ended in 1989 with Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore becoming leader.

While trying to fight off his challengers during the bitter leadership race, Taylor described Decore as “Don Getty with glasses,” a clever quip and a gift to Decore’s political opponents that would periodically surface over the coming years.

When the leadership votes were counted, Decore captured 801 votes of the 1,444 cast, eclipsing Mitchell, who placed second with 385. Taylor, who led the party for the previous 14 years, finished a distant third with 259 votes.

Taylor had been usurped from the leadership but he remained an MLA for the next eight years, being re-elected by a similar margin of victory in Westlock-Sturgeon in 1989

But though he was no longer leader, the PC’s still desperately wanted to rid themselves of his quick-witted criticism and uncanny ability to embarrass the government in the Assembly.

Getty kicked off the PC Party’s provincial election campaign in Westlock in 1989, and a committee of PC MLAs drastically redrew his riding in 1993 so that he would have to run for re-election against incumbent PC MLA Steve Zarusky.

Nick Taylor (right) talks with a cowboy.
Nick Taylor (right) talks with a cowboy.

Taylor beat Zarusky by more than 1,500 votes in the new Redwater riding and joined by 31 other Liberals in the Assembly as the party formed Official Opposition for the first time since the 1960s.

As the mid-1990s approached, it was rumoured that Prime Minister Jean Chretien would appoint Taylor to the Lieutenant Governor’s post, but in the end it was a seat in Canada’s Senate that awaited him – a reward for his decades of public service and steadfast loyalty to the Liberal Party in the face of insurmountable opposition.

Nick Taylor and Jean Chretien Alberta Liberal Party
Nick Taylor and Jean Chretien (left).

He served as a Senator for Alberta from 1996 to 2002, choosing Bon Accord and Sturgeon as his Senatorial constituency.

Taylor remained a generous donor to the Alberta Liberal Party and was frequently seen at party fundraising events in Calgary. In his endorsement of current Liberal Party leader David Khan in 2017, he wrote “As a past leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, I learned how important it was to tackle the issue facing Albertans with integrity and compassion. The people of this province depend on you to stand up for their best interests.

Since he left to take up his Senate seat in Ottawa in 1996 there has not been anyone able to match his quick-witted humour and stinging retorts in Alberta politics or in the Assembly.

Nick Taylor Alberta Liberal Party convention
Nick Taylor at the Alberta Liberal Party convention in 1990.
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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 60: BC Election 101 for Albertans with PolitiCoast

There is an election happening on the other side of the Rockies. Ian Bushfield and Scott de Lange Boom from the Politicoast Podcast join Dave in this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to help Albertans understand what is happening in British Columbia’s provincial election.

Thank you to Ian and Scott for joining us and sharing their wealth of knowledge and insight into BC politics.

And thank you to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making this – our 60th episode – sound so great! And thank you to our listeners for continuing to subscribe and download the podcast over the past few years.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

Ministerial staff changes follow UCP mini-cabinet shuffle

The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.

Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

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Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.

Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:

  • Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
  • Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
  • At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
  • Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
  • Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
  • Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
  • Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.
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Alberta Politics

Failing Upwards: Kaycee Madu promoted to Justice after disastrous year in Municipal Affairs

Edmonton’s lone United Conservative Party MLA got a big promotion today in a mini-cabinet shuffle. After a year as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Edmonton-South West MLA Kaycee Madu has been appointed as Solicitor General and Minister of Justice.

Madu replaces Doug Schweitzer, who is the new Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, a rebranded Economic Development, Trade and Tourism department. Current EDTT Minister Tanya Fir moves to the backbenches and Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard is the new Municipal Affairs Minister.

Tracy Allard MLA Grande Prairie United Conservative Party
Tracy Allard (source: Facebook)

The mini-cabinet shuffle, the first since the UCP formed government in April 2019, is a minor readjustment and not nearly what many had expected, with controversial Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange retaining their cabinet posts.

Madu’s promotion will be a surprise to many of Alberta’s municipal leaders, who watched the junior cabinet minister take a paternalistic approach to municipal affairs by interfering in the construction of major infrastructure projects, overhauling municipal election laws to the point where the AUMA publicly described its relationship with the minister as “broken,” and sparking an uprising by traditionally docile rural municipalities over exemptions to oil & gas taxes.

It was the uproar in rural Alberta that most likely lead to Madu being shuffled. Dozens of rural municipalities have spoken out against the government exemptions for municipal oil and gas taxes.

Rural governments that were already having a difficult time collecting taxes from oil and gas companies said the new changes imposed by the UCP government force them to hike property and business taxes in their counties. And rural MLAs, who make up the majority of the UCP caucus, have been receiving an earful from normally supportive local leaders over the tax changes.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Madu may have spent a year burning bridges with municipalities but he is the only UCP from inside Edmonton city limits and a loyal party soldier, a geographic fact and trait that has now earned him a senior cabinet role. Control of the UCP cabinet and caucus is so firmly held by Premier Jason Kenney and his inner circle of political staff that unflinching loyalty is the key to promotion.

Madu is now expected to oversee changes to the Police Act, and provincial election finance laws proposed by the Select Special Democratic Accountability Committee. He will also oversee the implementation of MLA recall legislation and the Fair Deal report recommendations, the government’s never-ending fight against the federal government over the carbon tax, and the expected referendum on equalization in October 2021.

Doug Schweitzer: This appears to be a demotion for Calgary-Elbow MLA Doug Schweitzer, who has recently been bearing the brunt of the criticism about the public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.

The public inquiry, which has been conducted in complete privacy, is over-budget and behind schedule and has had its mandate changed twice since it was formed, suggesting that the one-man commission is having troubling completing its goal of rooting out the alleged global conspiracy against Alberta.

Tanya Fir MLA Calgary Peigan United Conservative Party Alberta
Tanya Fir

Schweitzer’s move signals that the UCP is desperate to recover the “jobs and economy” part of their election slogan that has been sideswiped by the collapse in the international price of oil and economic shutdown in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Schweitzer will be responsible for the new Invest Alberta crown corporation.

Tracy Allard: The first-term MLA from Grande Prairie and owner of Tim Hortons restaurant franchises in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and in Grande Prairie is now the ninth Minister of Municipal Affairs since 2010. Her first order of business will likely be trying to repair some of the many relationships damaged by Madu during his short tenure, and, as Kenney announced in today’s press conference, oversee the creation of a spending report card for municipal governments in Alberta.

Tanya Fir: It is unclear what led to Fir’s demotion to the backbenches. The first-term UCP MLA from Calgary-Peigan appeared to be well-spoken and had not caused much public drama for the government. Fir appears to have avoided controversy but her election campaign manager, long-time conservative activist Craig Chanlder, has never shied from controversy and was recently a featured speaker at a separatist rally.

Who was left out: Not making it into cabinet in this mini-shuffle are a number of UCP MLAs who are rumoured to be cabinet contenders: UCP Caucus chairperson Todd Loewen, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao, Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, and Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo.

Also missing from the shuffle is former UCP finance critic Drew Barnes, now the third-term MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, who was left out of cabinet when the party formed government last year. Barnes recently made comments in support of separation if Alberta fails to get Ottawa’s attention regarding issues brought forward from the Fair Deal Panel.

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Alberta Politics

The Battle of Alberta Politics: How voters in Calgary and Edmonton can sometimes be so different

The Battle of Alberta is a term usually reserved for competitions on the hockey rink or football field, but the rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton probably predates our professional sports clubs. While the animosity felt by some sports fans might not be felt the same way among voters, the politics and political divides between the two cities have helped defined Alberta politics since the province was created in 1905. From the decision of where to place Alberta’s capital city to where the province’s first university should be located, the roles played by the two major cities have been a periodic point of tension in provincial politics.

There are many reasons that explain the current political differences between the two cities, from the backgrounds of the settlers who founded the cities to the most recent round of economic convulsions.

As a friend of mine once put it, Calgary is where business decisions get made, Edmonton is where government decisions get made.

Calgary sees itself as the business capital, heavily influenced by connections to the American oil industry in Texas and the home of the braintrust of the federal Conservative movement. Edmonton is the government capital, heavily influenced by a combination of public servants and University employees as well as a base of blue-collar and trades workers with connections to Fort McMurray and northern Alberta.

Poll by poll results in Edmonton from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)
Poll by poll results in Edmonton from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)

These are obviously big generalizations that don’t reflect the diversity and complexity of the two cities but it does help explain some of the political differences between the two municipalities.

While I think the political differences between two two cities can sometimes be overstated, a troubling political narrative that has developed over the past six years has been that because Calgary is perceived to have felt the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the drop in the international price of oil, it is now Edmonton’s turn to feel the economic pain (translation: public sector wage rollbacks and job cuts).

There is an old saying in Alberta politics that a party has to win most of the seats in two of the three political regions of the province in order to form government – Calgary, Edmonton or rural Alberta. The “rural Alberta” in this calculation includes the small and medium size cities, which, with the exception of Lethbridge, have in the past four decades mostly voted in sync with the rest of rural Alberta – conservative.

But the calculation is generally correct. With a combined 46 seats in the Legislature, the two large cities represent the majority of Alberta voters (I hope to write more about voting patterns in “rural Alberta” in a future article).

This year marks one year since the United Conservative Party won the 2019 election and five years since the New Democratic Party won the 2015 election, undeniably two of the most important elections in Alberta’s recent political history. The two votes marked the first changes in government in Alberta since 1971, and both highlighted the political differences between Calgary and Edmonton.

The Progressive Conservatives had dominated Calgary since 1971 but in 2015 a combination of a surge of votes and the first-past-the-post electoral system allowed the NDP to elect 15 MLAs with 34 percent of the vote. The PCs earned 31 percent and the Wildrose placed third with 23 percent in Alberta’s largest city.

Poll by poll results in Calgary from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)
Poll by poll results in Calgary from the 2019 Alberta provincial general election. (Map by Shane Smith)

The 2015 election marked the first time since 1989 that the NDP had elected an MLA in Calgary and the first time since 1967 that a party other than the PCs won a majority of seats in the city.

While many prominent conservative pundits and politicians claimed the NDP breakthrough in Calgary, and much of the rest of Alberta, was a result of a vote-split on the political right, a closer look at that election would support the argument that the vote split was actually between the NDP and Wildrose among voters unhappy with the 43-year governing PC Party dynasty.

Edmonton has earned the nickname Redmonton for its reputation for electing more Liberals and NDP MLAs than anywhere else in the province. But despite the nickname, the capital city is historically more electorally competitive than it is an opposition bastion. Voters in the capital city have swung between parties more frequently than any other region in Alberta, making it one of the few consistently competitive areas of the province.

Led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the NDP swept the city in 2015, earning 65 percent of the total vote and winning every seat. The PCs earned 20 percent and the Wildrose finished with 8 percent in the capital city.

As one local PC Party campaign manager described to me after the 2015 election, their candidate faced “a giant impenetrable wall of orange.”

Provincial voting results in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.
Provincial voting results in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.

Four years later in 2019, the NDP maintained its vote share in Calgary but were only able to elect three MLAs as the UCP succeeded in consolidating the large base of PC and Wildrose voters, though a number of UCP candidates earned below the combined totals from the previous election. The NDP earned 34 percent of the vote and the UCP, led by Calgary-Lougheed MLA Jason Kenney, amassed 53 percent and elected 23 MLAs.

The seats won by Calgary NDP MLAs in the 2019 election have a tradition of electing non-conservative MLAs. Calgary-Buffalo and Calgary-Mountain View elected Liberals and NDP MLAs in the 1980s and 1990s, and Calgary-McCall swung to the Liberals in the 2000s.

Although the NDP lost all but one of the suburban surrounding the city, the party maintained its dominance in Edmonton in 2019, winning 53 percent of the vote and holding all but one seat. The UCP elected 1 MLA and earned 35 percent of the vote in the capital city.

Provincial voting results in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.
Provincial voting results in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.

The only viable third party in the 2019 election, the Alberta Party, earned 10 percent of the vote in both cities but failed to elect any MLAs. Party leader Stephen Mandel was unsuccessful in his bid for election in Edmonton-McClung and its two Calgary incumbents were defeated.

Past elections in the two cities

The results of these two elections, and how they have shaped Alberta politics in the most recent two election prompted me to take a broader look at voting results in Calgary and Edmonton over the past four decades.

Alberta MLAs elected in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.
Alberta MLAs elected in Edmonton from 1982 to 2019.

1986: The departure of Peter Lougheed as Premier of Alberta in 1985 clearly had a big impact on Alberta politics, as the economic recession that followed allowed NDP led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin breakthrough in the capital city in the 1986 election.

Calgary remained a PC Party stronghold following Lougheed’s departure, with the NDP and Liberals electing a handful of MLAs between 1986 and 1997, and 2004 and 2012.

The election of Liberal Sheldon Chumir in Calgary-Buffalo in 1986 marked the beginning of a long-line of non-conservative MLAs representing that district. Non-conservative candidates would win in Calgary-Buffalo in nine of the next eleven elections (the district is currently represented by NDP MLA Joe Ceci).

Edmonton became the competitive hotbed of Alberta politics and a deep rivalry developed between Liberal Party and NDP partisans in the capital city.

The competition between the Liberals and NDP in Edmonton during this period generated much discussion around a “unite the left” movement to defeat the PCs, though this perennial debate largely became mute when the NDP formed government in 2015.

Alberta MLAs elected in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.
Alberta MLAs elected in Calgary from 1982 to 2019.

1993: In 1993, Premier Ralph Klein further consolidated his party’s electoral grip on Calgary while the Liberals led by former mayor Laurence Decore executed a clean sweep of the capital city. The Liberals were the beneficiaries of a collapsing NDP vote and also a burgeoning group of Reform Party voters wanting change on the provincial and federal levels.

The Liberals would again dominate Edmonton in the 1997 and 2004 elections, though the party began to resemble a group of independents more than the cohesive political organization created by Decore.

Competition between Decore’s Liberals and former Calgary mayor Klein’s PCs led to obvious descriptions of provincial politics as the battle of Alberta.

2001: The 2001 election marked a turn back toward the PC Party in Edmonton, which would then lose most of its seats when the Liberals and NDP rebounded in 2004 before regaining ground in the city in 2008 and 2012. This period marked the beginning of a decline of the Liberal Party in Edmonton after almost two decades as the official opposition party.

The 2001 election also marked the first time since 1982 that the PCs won every seat in Calgary.

2004: The 2004 election marked a breakthrough for the opposition Liberals in Calgary where the party elected three MLAs, the most since 1993. The Liberals would expand its voter base in Calgary and elect four MLAs in 2008 as the party’s fortunes in Edmonton sharply declined after it regained much of its seats in the 2004 election.

2012: The 2012 election marked a significant shift in the political environment in Alberta with the two large cities coalescing behind the PC Party. The opposition Wildrose Party swept much of rural Alberta, forming the first rural based official opposition party since the Social Credit Party in the 1970s. This trend would continue in the 2015 election as the Wildrose Party regained most of its seats following the 2014 floor-crossings.

(Note: Thank you to Shane Smith for sharing the poll level election maps. You can follow Shane on Twitter at @Smith80D).