Category Archives: David Swann

alberta liberal attrition.

Today’s news that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leaving the Liberal caucus is big news for political watchers, but it is far from the first time that an MLA has left the Alberta Liberal Caucus. Due to many circumstances, ten MLAs have departed the Liberal Caucus before their term has ended over the past 16 years.

2006: One-term Edmonton-Manning MLA Dan Backs was expelled from the Liberal caucus by party leader Kevin Taft due to “ongoing friction” between the MLA and his colleagues. Mr. Back sat an an Independent MLA. After unsuccessfully seeking the PC nomination in 2008, Mr. Backs ran as an Independent and placed third behind Tory Peter Sandhu and New Democrat Rick Murti.

2004: Leader and Lethbridge-East MLA Ken Nicol and Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson both left the Liberal caucus to run as federal Liberal candidates. Dr. Nicol eared 21.5% support against Conservative MP Rick Casson, and Ms. Carlson placed only 5,000 votes behind Edmonton-Strathcona Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

2000: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Sue Olsen left the Liberal caucus to run peruse a career in federal politics. Ms. Olsen was unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Edmonton-Centre East MP Peter Goldring.

1999: One-term Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Pamela Paul left the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MLA after domestic issues made it difficult for her to work with her caucus colleagues. She did not seek re-election in 2001.

1998: Two-term Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky left the Liberals over a dispute with leader Nancy MacBeth. One month later, he joined the Progressive Conservative caucus and is currently the Minister of Health & Wellness.

1996: Former leader and Redwater MLA Nick Taylor left the Liberal caucus when he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

1995: Edmonton-Norwood MLA Andrew Beniuk was expelled from the Liberal caucus and sat as an Independent before joining the PCs in 1996. Mr. Beniuk was defeated by Liberal Sue Olsen in the 1997 election. Mr. Beniuk attempted political comebacks as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Glengarry in 2001 and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood in 2008.

1994: Edmonton-Beverly-Belmont MLA Julius Yankowski and Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Paul Langevin left the Liberals to sit as Independent MLAs before joining the PC caucus in 1995 and were both re-elected in 1997. Mr. Langevin retired in 2001 and Mr. Yankowski was defeated by New Democrat Ray Martin in 2004.

dave taylor leaving the liberals.

Liberal leader David Swann addresses the media this morning. Six Liberal MLAs had his back.

According to Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell, Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor will leave the Official Opposition Liberal Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA this morning.

The Alberta Liberals finally make the news.

Their best guy leaves them.

Dave Taylor, the party’s former deputy leader, the Calgary MLA many Liberals wanted as their top gun 16 months ago, will sit as an independent beginning Monday.

He is fed up with the Liberals as the main opposition on paper but nowhere near that in performance.

“We just don’t have a position that’s obvious to anybody on most things. I’m sorry, but we don’t. For two years now, we haven’t really stood for anything, with a few notable exceptions,” says Taylor, who spearheaded the party’s oilpatch-friendly policy on royalties.

“The Liberals are pretty much off the radar. We’re not talking about or standing for things in a way that translates to Albertans. Most Albertans have passed the Liberals by. People aren’t even politely curious.”

“I don’t think I can serve my constituents or other Albertans in the way they deserved to be served within the Liberals. They’re just too unfocused, too lacking in the ability to connect with the people of Alberta.”

“I just don’t see things happening. I feel I’ve tried.”

Mr. Taylor was first elected in 2004, defeating PC MLA Jon Lord in a high profile race. He served as Deputy Leader during Kevin Taft‘s time as Leader of the Official Opposition and ran for the party leadership following Dr. Taft’s resignation in 2008. Only attracting 1,616 votes, Mr. Taylor placed second to Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann. His defection from the Liberal caucus should not come as a surprise to many, as these rumours have been swirling around since the Liberals lost ground to the PCs in the last election. Liberal sources have told me that over the past year, caucus meetings have become especially heated between Mr. Taylor and other MLAs, leading to a dysfunctional team environment in the Official Opposition caucus. In January 2010, Mr. Taylor was given the opportunity to step into the spotlight when he announced the Liberal Party’s new energy policy, which was supposed to signal “a dramatic shift and tone” for the Liberals. In recent months, it has been rumoured that Mr. Taylor was investigating a run for Mayor of Calgary, though these now appear to be unsubstantiated.

As an Independent, Mr. Taylor would be in a good position to accept woos from both the Progressive Conservatives (who are in desperate need for some personality and could undercut the Liberals further by appointing him to cabinet) or the Wildrose Alliance (who could use a prominent opposition voice like Mr. Taylor’s to moderate their public face).

If Mr. Taylor does indeed announce his departure from the Liberal caucus today, these effects could be devastating to the Liberal Party – both Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta and Executive Director Corey Hogan were heavily involved in Mr. Taylor’s leadership campaign. His departure will also bring the Liberal caucus down to 8 MLAs from the 9 elected in 2008. While this initially does not look good for Dr. Swann, it could lead the Liberal caucus to become a more cohesive unit (strength in the face of destruction) – or it could lead to more internal criticism of his low-key style of leadership.

UPDATE: Both David Swann and Dave Taylor have released statements to the media. I attended Dr. Swann’s media conference at the Legislature this morning and will have some photos up later today. In a display of caucus solidarity, Dr. Swann was joined by 6 of the remaining 8 members of the Liberal caucus (Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang is in India on family matters). Dr. Swann told the media that he knew Mr. Taylor had not been happy inside the Liberal caucus since he was defeated in the 2008 leadership campaign.

alberta politics notes 3/29/2010

Don Braid has all the latest news on the Highwood PC revolt, including the letter sent by Constituency officials to PC Party President Bill Smith.
– Sometime campaign manager Don Lovett is reporting insider rumours about heightened tension between Liberal Party leader David Swann and his party executive committee. As reported in the Alberta Political Notes 3/09/2010, the tension is nothing new and may create some interesting confrontation at the upcoming Liberal Convention in May 2010.
– According to How’d they Vote, since the beginning of the current session of Parliament on March 3, Alberta MPs Ted Menzies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Linda Duncan, Mike Lake, and Rob Merrifield are the Alberta MPs who have spoken the most on the floor of the House of Commons. Alberta MPs Brian Storseth, Peter Goldring, and Rob Anders have not spoken a word since the beginning of the current Session.
Calgary-West MP Rob Anders is the latest Conservative Party convert to the Wildrose Alliance (not to be confused with Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson).
– Via Trish Audette, a new politics magazine has launched in Canada. The first issue features an interview with Danielle Smith and includes a photograph taken by yours truly, which the editors failed to credit under the Creative Commons licensing (#FAIL).

perfesser dave’s five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of “self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power.” I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta’s opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

alberta politics notes 2/16/2010

– As Anarchist Day Camp showed up in Vancouver, opponents of the Winter Olympic Games have claimed victory against Alberta’s tarsands by forcing Premier Ed Stelmach to postpone his opening speech at the Alberta Pavillion.
– Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants your children to learn more about Alberta’s energy beach.
Ken Chapman has some words for Quebec Premier Jean Charest on the oilsands.
Can Alberta redesign its economy?, asks Todd Hirsch, senior economist with the ATB Financial.
– Speaking of redesign, the Left needs to define itself beyond the bottom line, according to Parkland Institute Executive Director Ricardo Acuna.
– Missed by most media outlets, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith hired a new Executive Assistant. Shannon Stubbs, former Progressive Conservative Party VP Outreach and 2004 candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona, joined Smith’s staff two weeks ago.
– The Liberals took exception to CBCs The House ignoring them in their Alberta-focused show on February 6. They have since posted an interview with David Swann on their website.
Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr wants to know what exactly Justice Minister Alison Redford‘s new role as “political minister for Calgary” means for Albertans.

alberta budget 2010: striking a balance?

Alberta’s 2010 provincial budget, set to be released in 2 hours, is already making headlines. While Finance Minister Ted Morton has framed it as a “give up a little” budget, an Edmonton blogger almost caught a sneak peak of the budget documents:

Low security gives blogger sneak peek at Alberta budget website (see Mack’s blog for more).

Alberta Budget 2010 (updated at 9:50 p.m.)

For the second year in a row, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s government will run a budget deficit, this time estimated at $4.7 billion and total spending is estimated to be a record $38.7 billion. The PCs are counting on increased oilsands production to boost them out of the cycle of deficits before the 2012 election (I am sure they hope it will boost their party in the polls as well). Compared to the intense cut throat budget that many Albertans expected, this budget dealt a mixture of increases and decreases across the government. Overall, fourteen departments will be on the bitter end of cuts and eight departments will be seeing increases to their budgets in 2010.

Ted Morton Budget 2010Mayor Stephen Mandel & Minister Doug Horner Budget 2010

With a 17% increase to its operating budget, Alberta’s health care system is the biggest beneficiary of this budget. Alberta Health Services will also receive a one-time infusion of $759 million for debt repayment (perhaps to the Royal Bank…). Since the 2008 election, health care has been one of the toughest files for the PCs, who have felt public pressure from across the province after the dissolution of the regional health authorities and bottom-line based system reforms. If replacing the blunt and controversial Minister Ron Liepert with the more gentler Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a first major step in the government’s health care public relations shift, this budget increase and debt repayment could be the second most substantial. The challenge will be to turn these budget increases into positive changes on the ground level.

The Municipal Affairs and Infrastructure budgets were also substantially increased, due to what I imagine to be the result of strong lobbying efforts by the AUMA and AAMDC.

Perhaps a statement on the level of political capital that Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett has left after the Bill 44 controversy, that Ministry will reduce operating expenses by 15%. Among other cuts, Advanced Education & Technology will face a 6% budget decrease to program expenses after being on the better end of budget increases over the past five years. Changes to the student finance section of the Advanced Education budget include decreases to student scholarships by $3 million and grants by $51 million, and increases to student loans by (ie: increased student debt).

Individual department business plans give more detail on income and expenses across the government ministries.

Lindsay Blackett Budget 2010Mary Anne Jablonski Budget 2010

When Liberal leader David Swann criticized the budget and the PCs for not “responsibly managing the public purse,” it may have sounded like a predictable opposition response, but it raises some important points about recent government budgets and the provincial government’s large dependance on natural resource revenues for income. Alberta is a resource-based economy, but the budget turbulence in recent years highlights why Albertans should be concerned about the lack of economic diversification in our province.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith (who will be releasing her party’s alternative budget tomorrow) criticized the budget and Finance & Enterprise Minister Ted Morton‘s credentials as a true fiscal conservative, but this budget is just another step in Minister Morton’s public moderation. Since the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Morton has transformed his public image as the great right-wing fire-wall lighter to a competent and softer governor. This budget includes both cuts and increases, striking a kind of political balance. This was Minister Morton’s first budget and if he is able to survive his tenure in the Finance portfolio, he could be well positioned to be the leading candidate in the next PC leadership race.

does policy matter?

Last week’s posts “Danielle Smith’s Free-ride” and “PC Policy Veep defects to the Wildrose Alliance” generated a lot of heated discussion and responses from at least three other bloggers either supporting (Alberta Altruist and Brian Dell) or criticizing (David Climenhaga) the policy positions of the Wildrose Alliance. These posts and the debate that followed in the comment sections has led me to ask the question: how much does party policy really matter?

The defection of Progressive Conservative Party Vice-President Policy and Resolution Shayne Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance has raised questions about how much influence do PC Party members have on the actual policy that a government implements? According to Saskiw, not much.

“I was able to give their opinions on policy to the government, but the government was not acting on their advice.”

This is not a surprise, nor a new criticism of how responsive governments are to ordinary citizens – engaged or otherwise. Does anyone remember Premier Ed Stelmach campaigning on the PC Party platform of dissolving the regional health authorities and centralizing control into the largest employer in the province? It was not mentioned in the “Change that Works for Albertans” (PDF) document, nor do know of any PC candidates who campaigned on this policy position. Perhaps after nearly 40 years in government, the upper echelons of power at the Legislature feel that the election process is simply a formality. Perhaps the PC Party interpreted the 52% support they received in the election that recorded the lowest voter turnout in Alberta history equal a blank check mandate?

It would be wrong to suggest that policy does not matter, because it does. It is important to recognize that in many cases, the majority of challenges that a government will deal with during a term in office will be reactive. In these cases, it is important to recognize leadership and which elected official or officials will offer the kind of leadership that will be best suited to dealing with reactive situations. For example, mainstream business and economic forecasters were predicting smooth sailing ahead during the 2008 election when politicians were practically promising a jet-pack for every citizen. In 2010, the economic outlook is quite a bit more modest (though we are fairing better than our American neighbors).

During my time working with the Liberal Party until 2007, I remember it being normal for policies to be generated from the Official Opposition Caucus offices, rather than the party policy committees. Perhaps this is one of the problems with the traditional political parties in Alberta. They do consult with stakeholders and rely on well-educated researchers and analyst, but in the end, new policies became more about marketing and messaging instead of listening and generating a party membership driven policy apparatus.

This leads me back to Ms. Smith and a statement she made about Wildrose Alliance policy:

“Our party does not take a position on divisive social issues. We prefer to focus on those areas where we agree.”

This statement reflects a smart (and so far successful) strategy of positioning the Wildrose Alliance as the moderate conservative/conservatively moderate anti-establishment party in Alberta politics. I have been told that many of Ms. Smith’s financial backers in Calgary’s oil and gas sector would like to turn the page on the more hard social conservative views that the party has advocated in the past. Refusing to talk about divisive social issues is a smart political tactic, given the positions that her party has taken in the past.

During the 2004 election, the Alliance led by Randy Thorsteinson called for province-wide votes on abortion and same-sex marriage. There have also been questions about the influence that conservative members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had on the development of Alliance policies.

This said, an elected official’s personal or religious views on social issues do not necessarily result in major government policy changes. During the 2001 election, Vegreville-Viking MLA Ed Stelmach responded to a questionnaire from LifeSiteNews in which he declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances (his response to the 2004 election questionnaire is not published online). This was his position nine years ago and may continue to be his position today, but since becoming Premier three years ago, Stelmach has hardly been a champion in the fight against allowing women the choice to access abortions. Like Premier Stelmach’s, it would be extremely difficult for Ms. Smith’s party to enter a divisive debate on social issues and continue to hold their current mainstream support in the polls.

Tempering the more extreme elements in her party is going to be one of Ms. Smith’s largest challenges. In 2009, nearly 2,000 Wildrose Alliance members voted for social conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm. What happens if these “grassroots” dispute Ms. Smith’s position? Is Ms. Smith willing to cut them loose in order to avoid the damage of being labeled as the “scary conservative party?” If it reaches the point where push comes to shove, maybe policy will matter.

danielle smith’s free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen

Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party’s policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith’s only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party’s upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as “draconian,” but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier’s reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith’s party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as “a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP” and suggested that her “delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best.” I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge’s One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer’s Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga’s list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.

save the date: alberta politics in 2010.

New LG?: On January 20, the traditional 5-year term of Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong will come to an end. With a lower profile than his predecessor, Lois Hole, Kwong brought a different personality to the office of Alberta’s viceroy. All of Alberta’s LGs appointed since Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne have been former attempted or elected politicians (including Helen Huntley, Gordon Towers, and Bud Olsen). If Kwong does not continue in the office I am at a loss to name who the next LG might be, but I can think of someone who might be an interesting pick.

Cabinet shuffle: Premier
Ed Stelmach is expected to shuffle the provincial cabinet early in the new year. I have laid out my thoughts here

Manning Centre: The conservative politics institute formed by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has taken an interest in provincial politics and will be holding a ‘Conference on Alberta’s Future‘ on February 5 in Edmonton.

Speech from the Throne: This year’s Sessional Calendar has
not yet been posted on the Legislative Assembly website, but all indications point to a Speech from the Throne on the week of February 8. If a new LG is appointed in January, this will be their first high profile event.

Provincial Budget: Another tough economic times budget is expected to be tabled during the week of February 15. The Finance Minister at the time will wear this budget, whether it be Minister Iris Evans or a successor (odds are on Minister Doug Horner). Potential deep cuts to pubic health care have led some longtime PC supporters to question the longtime governing party.

Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission: The deadline for release of the interim report (including interim riding maps for the next election) is February 26 and the second round of public hearings are set to begin in April 2010. A final report will be released by July 2010.

Reboot Alberta 2.0: Following a highly successful first meeting in Red Deer in November 2009, a larger gathering of progressive Albertans is being planned for February 26 to 28 in Kananaskis. I reflected on the first Reboot Alberta meeting in early December 2009.

Alberta Liberal convention: Alberta’s Official Opposition Party will be holding their annual policy convention in Edmonton. There is not any information on their website, but I believe that it will be held in March 2010. Expect to hear more from the Liberals in the new year following David Swann‘s recent State of the Party Address.

Alberta Progressive Conservative convention: On April 30 and June 1, members of Alberta’s near 40-year governing party will gather in Edmonton. With low approval ratings and dropping party support in recent polls, expect Premier Stelmach to use the first four months of 2010 in an attempt to boost his political fortunes.

Wildrose Alliance convention: Since selecting
Danielle Smith as their leader, the Wildrose Alliance has conveniently been able to avoid answering questions about social issues under the guise of self-described libertarianism. One of Smith’s largest challenges at their 2010 policy convention will be to moderate some of the more destructive social conservative elements within her party’s membership.

Municipal Elections: Monday October 18. More to come…

premier stelmach’s problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance and David Swann‘s Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today’s Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach’s position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today’s Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach’s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore‘s Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein’s 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.

david swann’s 1st anniversary.

Yesterday marked the first year anniversary of Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann becoming leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. In the race to replace former leader Kevin Taft, Swann was selected on the first ballot with 2,468 votes, compared to 1,616 for Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and 491 votes for former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy.

Swann is one of the most sincere MLAs that I have had the pleasure to meet, but since entering his current role his party has continued to struggle to define itself and has had difficulty creating messages that resonate with Albertans. Although Swann entered his role under the banner of internal party reform, the attempts at reform appear to have stalled. Media releases from the Official Opposition offices sometimes include aggressive quotes that I have a difficult time imaging coming out of gentle Swann’s mouth, leading me to believe that he has yet to fully discover his voice in his role.

The Liberals appeared to have stalled after their narrow defeat in this year’s Calgary-Glenmore by-election, but according to a recent poll, the party is tied with Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs at 25% province-wide and has second place support in Edmonton and Calgary.

wildrose-in-waiting.

At least according to a recent Angus-Reid poll:

An Angus Reid Public Opinion survey of 1,000 decided Alberta voters finds 39 per cent of the electorate would cast a ballot for party leader Danielle Smith and the right-of-centre Wildrose Alliance if they went to the polls today.

The fledgling party is pulling away from Premier Ed Stelmach‘s Progressive Conservatives, who are tied with David Swann‘s Liberals for second place, with the backing of 25 per cent of decided voters provincewide.

Brian Mason and the NDP are in fourth spot with the support of nine per cent of Alberta voters, while two per cent said they would vote for another party.

The Wildrose Alliance still has a long way to go before it has the policy infrastructure, credible candidates, and functionally competitive constituency association in 87 ridings to realize the advantage of these polls, but at the moment these results should send shockwaves through the three institutional parties.

myth-building 101.

PC MLAs Jonathan DenisDoug GriffithsRob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett are coming out of backbenches and labelling themselves as the ‘Fiscal Four.’ In an interview, Anderson told the Calgary Herald:

“There’s a group of people in caucus who are genuinely concerned about the state of our province’s finances,” said Anderson, MLA for Airdrie-Chestermere. “The basic consensus (of the group) is we need to get our spending under control and have a savings strategy. The general direction is that we need to have a strong fiscal framework, and right now that doesn’t exist.”

The group will use question period and members’ statements– as well as their own caucus meetings–to drive home the message. “There are others in caucus who feel as we do,” he added.

It is not difficult to imagine that a significant element of the ‘Fiscal Four’ production is a staged exercise in PC Party myth-building as public criticism from MLAs is not normally welcomed (as former Cabinet Ministers Heather Forsyth and Guy Boutilier discovered). In September 2009, Fawcett publicly apologized and was quietly penalized for pointing out the obvious after his party’s high-profile candidate was thumped in a Calgary by-election. I do not doubt that these four PC MLAs picture themselves as the very models of modern fiscal conservatives, but until now they have either remained largely silent or have risen in the Assembly to praise their party’s fiscal leadershipI have been told that a similar tactic of external criticism only after internal permission was adopted by the Deep-Six, of which Premier Ed Stelmach was a member.

Premier Stelmach told delegates at the recent PC annual general meeting that his biggest challenge was the not the economy, health care, the environment, or the budget, but the media. A lot of recent media attention has been generated around the Wildrose Alliance, who have been the main beneficiary of the PCs recent drop in public support, and this past weekend leader Danielle Smith spoke to a sold out crowd of 200 Calgary oil and gas sector heavyweights at a breakfast organized by FirstEnergy Capital. Last Friday, Liberal leader David Swann hosted a Calgary fundraiser that drew over 530 attendees (note: that is a lot for a Liberal event in Calgary).

With the internal resources available to them, the ‘Fiscal Four’ have the potential to protect Premier Stelmach by shifting media headlines away from criticism by the opposition parties and his more vocal external critics.

setting the tone.

It only took two days into the fall session before the offensive hyperbole started to fly and the rotten culture inside Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is now out in full force. Sixth Grade students visiting the Assembly may easily mistake the men in dark suits as grown ups, but that description is harder to believe when you hear some of the words coming out of their mouths.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has mocked Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, claiming that she doesn’t understand the health care system. Premier Ed Stelmach has referred to the Liberal caucus as “these people” and even ridiculed the attendance at Liberal Party conventions. 

This afternoon, following a question from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason about H1N1 vaccinations, Stelmach responded:

“I’ll take the word of this nurse [Minister Yvonne Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any day”

On April 30, 2009, Stelmach took issue with comments by Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and wrote a letter to Liberal leader David Swann, calling for “civil debate in the Assembly.” Stelmach may have apologized for his comments this afternoon, but that doesn’t excuse the negative tone that the the Premier has already helped set on the floor of our elected Assembly.