Category Archives: Gene Zwozdesky

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.

foster care fiasco.

For many reasons, so much about politics in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reminds me of the above scene from The West Wing.

I used to believe that the toughest job in the Alberta cabinet was held by Health & Wellness Gene Zwozdesky, but lately I am starting to believe that it is actually held by Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz. Following this week’s shenanigans and resignation over foster care funding, it is clear that something is not functioning properly in our government.

On Monday morning, NDP leader Rachel Notley held a media conference leaking a public document that outlined changes to foster care funding in the Edmonton region. Ms. Notley claimed that the plan was to cut foster funding, and called on Minister Fritz to rescuing the new funding formula. She did and insisted that she told department officials not to cut support. Paula Simons raised the issue in her Tuesday column: Was Minister Fritz sabotaged? Does the Minister actually have a handle on the decisions being made inside the Minister of Children & Youth Services?

Minister Fritz was appointed to the portfolio in January 2010, replacing Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, who had not excelled when faced with challenges in that Department.

Yesterday, Premier Ed Stelmach undoubtably breathed new life into the foster care issue by accusing the NDP of playing politics with the issue. While he may have been trying to save face, his point is somewhat well taken. Should Ms. Notley have brought the issue directly to Minister Fritz? Ms. Notley claims that if she had brought the issue directly to the Minister, it would have been buried (not an unjust assumption). At what point does this kind of political gamesmanship become irresponsible? Like so many issues raised in the Assembly, what was really accomplished when they devolve into this kind of weekly round-robin?

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 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.

upside-down week.

Shuffling the deck.

Long-time Government spokesperson Jerry Bellikka replaces Tom Olsen as spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach (Olsen now becomes Alberta’s Olympic Spokesperson in Vancouver). Former MLA Jim Gurnett replaces Jerry Toews as Chief of Staff at the NDP caucus. Instead of laughing at satire, PAB blogger David Sands leaves Twitter altogether. Taking a more open approach to the media than his predecessor, Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdeskys cell phone number is now showing up on Government media releases.

Not your father’s NEP

With new Energy Minister Ron Liepert‘s mandate to reclaim PC dominance over energy sector support from Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals do not want to be left out. Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is leading his party’s 180-degree policy change from their previous position that resource royalties are too low. On the policy change, Mount Royal University Professor Bruce Foster told FFWD:

“It seems as if the Liberals didn’t take the lead on this or didn’t distinguish themselves and now they’re playing catch-up,” he says.

Calgary Grit has more.

Alberta Party of Alberta

Former deputy leader of the now-defunct Alberta Green Party Edwin Erickson is now leader of the Alberta Party. In the last election, Erickson placed second with 19% of the vote against Tory Diana McQueen in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Erickson and Joe Anglin led the fight against Bill 50 and Erickson had publicly mused about creating the Progress Party of Alberta. The Alberta Party has existed in a number of forms since 1986, but has never been competitive (highest support: leader Mark Waters earned 1,200 votes in Calgary-Currie in 1993).

Ralph University

Olds College has re-named their Community Learning Centre after former Premier Ralph Klein and not everyone in Olds is enamoured with the decision.

alberta, this is your cabinet.

Finance Minister Ted Morton has compared Alberta to a buffet.

Health & Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky wants a family unit (think: it’s a family affair…)

Housing & Urban Affairs Minister Jonathan Denis wants to send a message to people who use social housing.

He remains Minister of Education, and Dave Hancock faced brutal criticism from +500 of his constituents this week.

Former Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld admits (tongue and cheek) that he was getting “a little long in the tooth.”

Energy Minister Ron Liepert wants to limit growth in the oil sands.

Calls to Janis Tarchuk‘s office were not returned.

Premier Ed Stelmach is already eying the next cabinet shuffle and also talking about sending funds to Haiti… or not? Wait, yes, they are.

Opposition leaders thought the shuffle was akin to shuffle lounge chairs on the Hindenburg, re-shuffling of deck chairs, and re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Creativity points all around.

alberta cabinet shuffle: a lot of hype.

I am not going to write a lot about today’s cabinet shuffle, as there really is not much substance to write about. While three new MLAs have been appointed to the cabinet, the problems facing Premier Ed Stelmach are much larger than anything a minor cabinet shuffle can solve. Today’s cabinet change was hardly the dramatic change that it was hyped to be.

Going political and trying to head off the insurgent Wildrose Alliance at the hard-conservative pass was one goal of today’s shuffle. This explains the appointment of Ted Morton as Finance Minister. If he can survive in Finance, Premier Stelmach may have just anointed Morton as his unofficial successor. Minister Morton will have a high-profile new role, but much of the Government’s financial levers will remain held by Stelmach-loyalist and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove.

Newly appointed Housing and Urban Affairs & Housing Minister Jonathan Denis is known as nice guy, but also as a pretty comfortable hyper-partisan. Some people I have spoken with expect him to fulfil a political role similar to his former business partner, Pierre Poilievre.

Loyalty was big. Stelmach confidants Luke Ouellette, Ray Danyluk, Iris Evans, and Mel Knight all remain in cabinet. George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay were rightfully bumped out of the cabinet. Not surprisingly, Ron Liepert‘s departed Health & Wellness to Energy. Where, as Paula Simons suggested that “he’ll use his unique brand of charm to win new friends and influence more people.” His successor, Gene Zwozdesky will likely bring a more easy going face to one of the more heavy-lifting portfolios in government.

Look for more substantive content in the Ministerial Mandate Letters later this week and the February 9 Provincial Budget.

from one rentier state to another.

“Under the Patronage of H.H. H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forced,” Premier Ed Stelmach will be attending the World Future Energy Summit, thus delaying an expected cabinet shuffle. What had previously been speculation has now been confirmed as delayed by two weeks according to the Premier’s spokesperson Tom Olsen.

Premier Stelmach did not attend the recent COP15 conference in Copenhagen, but will be speaking, along with Carbon Capture Czar Jim Carter in Abu Dhabi. If he has the chance, the Premier should take a look at how Rentier States like the UAE (more specifically Dubai) have dealt with hyper-boom situations familiar to Albertans.

No more crossing: Following last week’s floor-crossings, Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk has announced that while he may be hypocritical, he will introduce a private members’ bill forbidding MLAs to cross the floor. I expect Independent MLA Guy Boutilier to ask if this Bill will also stop party leaders from kicking out MLAs from the party caucus they were elected into. Since 1993, five opposition MLAs have crossed the floor to join the governing PCs (New Democrat Stan Woloshyn, and Liberals Julius Yankowski, Paul Langevin, Andrew Beniuk, and Gene Zwozdesky). In 2008, MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus, failed in his attempt to win the PC nomination in Edmonton-Manning.

Newly floor-crossed Wildrose Alliance MLA Rob Anderson received 62% of the vote as a PC candidate in 2008, but past elections show a more diverse electoral history in the region. In a 1992 by-election following the resignation of Airdrie-Three Hills PC MLA Connie Osterman, voters in that riding elected Liberal Don MacDonald by a 24% margin. MacDonald was defeated in the 1993 election by PC candidate Carol Haley. (and later ran as a Social Credit candidate in Old-Didsbury-Three Hills in the 1997 election). While now considered strong PC territory, the neighbouring riding of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hill did not begin electing PC MLAs until 1982. After the resignation of long-time Social Credit MLA Bob Clark, voters in the riding elected Gordon Kesler of the Western Canadian Concept. Kesler was defeated when he ran for re-election in the Highwood riding.

recap: citytv town hall on alberta politics.

I was pleased to join a panel of distinguished Edmontonians, including Avenue Magazine Editor Colin McGarrigle and University of Alberta Dean of Business Mike Percy, and elected officials this morning for a CityTV live-broadcast town hall meeting at Enterprise Square. The town hall was hosted by Ryan Jespersen and Bridget Ryan reported live from a classroom at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert.

Wildrose Alliance Leadership ForumWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Representing the Progressive Conservative Association, Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a friendly ambassador. As the long-time MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek (he sat as a Liberal from 1993 to 1998 and as a PC from 1998 to the present), these kind of town halls are old hat for the political veteran. Zwozdesky presented a largely scripted pro-government message in his response to questions from Jespersen and the Paul Kane students. His interactions with the other MLAs on the panel were similar.

Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley is always well-spoken and at every opportunity she took control of the discussion with ease, including taking jabs at Zwozdesky over a recently leaked report from Alberta Health Services that the NDP claim include plans to close over 9,000 long-term care beds.

After the forum, I had a really good discussion with Notley about the challenges in reinvigorating politics and civic engagement in Alberta. While she thought I may have been a little hard with my criticisms of politicians, we both agreed that what exists now in terms of political infrastructure isn’t resulting with a politically engaging population. From the perspective of an opposition MLA, I can understand how it quickly becomes a chicken and egg scenario. In our parliamentary democracy, can an already existing political movement invigorate citizens to engage in politics, or will citizens need to already be engaged before a political movement can begin to succeed? I believe that it comes down to values and the mechanisms that citizens feel they can join to express them.

Wildrose Alliance Leadership ForumWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Since becoming leader of the Alberta Liberals and the Official Opposition last December, I have noticed a marked improvement in David Swann‘s public speaking skills. One of the things I like about Swann is his sincerity, and while in a public speaking engagement one year ago it could have been mistaken as awkwardness, it’s now starting shine through. As the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, Swann is much lesser known in Edmonton than previous Liberal leaders (four of the six Liberal leaders over the past 25 years have been from the Edmonton area), so this forum provided a good opportunity for him to speak to Edmontonians.

Fresh from what he described as a “jet ride” victory in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election, Wildrose Alliance MLA-elect Paul Hinman relied heavily on memorized talking points, but was the second most articulate speaker after Notley. On-air, Hinman presented a reasonable message of conservatism that likely would not have scared away many voters, and he addressed the issue of the politics of scaremongering while on-air.

My more interesting reflections on Hinman are generated from our discussion afterward, when he spoke in the tone of a much harder version of anti-government conservatism. I believe that government can play a positive role in society, but it was clear that Hinman didn’t as we conversed about the roles of individuals, community, and government in irradiating poverty and homelessness (it eventually culminated with Hinman very calmly accusing me of being a socialist).

During the sixth segment of the town hall, I made a point that had been similarly expressed after a recent Globe & Mail column blamed young people for the inspiration deficit in Canadian politics. I believe that it is naive of us to simply expect that young people will automatically buy-in to a political system that is dominated by a previous generation who held different priorities and values. There are young people who are passionate about any kind of issue you could imagine, but that doesn’t mean that they will see value in participating in the currently existing political structure. Young people care about their future and they have valid opinions – and you can watch that passion in the final segment when Paul Kane students questioned the MLAs about Bill 44.

Overall, the town hall was a positive experience. I really believe that there is a lack of solid political discussion happening in Alberta and I hope that CityTV and other television stations host more live-discussions and debates in the future.

(Thanks to Kevin Kuchinski for the photos)

Video Segments:
Part 1: Introducing the BT Townhall
Part 2: Out Political History
Part 3: On Health Care
Part 4: The Real Questions
Part 5: The Wake-up Call
Part 6: Apathy & the Next Generation
Part 7: Bill 44 & Closing Remarks

talking politics on citytv.

On Thursday morning from 8:30am to 10:00am, I will be taking part in a political discussion hosted and televised on CityTV Edmonton. Students from St. Albert’s Paul Kane High School will be spending their morning in the audience at the Enterprise Square Atrium discussion. This event is open to the public!

Panelists: University of Alberta Dean and former MLA Mike Percy, Ken Chapman, Dave Cournoyer, Colin McGarrigle (Editor, Avenue Edmonton)

Political Representatives: Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Official Opposition leader David Swann, NDP MLA Rachel Notley, and Calgary-Glenmore MLA-elect Paul Hinman.

Discussion topics:
– Have these decades long dynasties served the people of Alberta well?
– What’s left of the left? Is Alberta so far to the right there’s little chance for the left?
– Forget the left, is Calgary Glenmore a serious sign that the right is splitting? Or is it simply an isolated protest vote?
– Forget politics all together. Let’s review the abysmal voter turn-out!
– How do we foster sense of community, duty and political interest in our youth?

no debate on public debate amendment [re: bill 18 & tilma].

They stood up to vote against it, but no PC MLA spoke up to explain why they opposed Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor‘s March 18 amendment to remove Section 5 of Bill 18: Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Statutes Amendment Act, 2009. In its current form, Section 5 will allow Cabinet Ministers to suspend or modify sections of the TILMA Act without seeking the approval of or having to deal with public debate in the elected Legislature.

Six opposition MLAs rose to speak in support of the amendment, while thirty-one PC MLAs, including Cabinet Ministers Iris Evans, Dave Hancock, Jack Hayden, Doug Horner, Heather Klimchuk, Fred Lindsay, Luke Ouellette, Alison Redford, Rob Renner, Lloyd Snelgrove, Ron Stevens, and Gene Zwozdesky didn’t make a peep before defeating the amendment 31 to 6.

UPDATE: MLA Laurie Blakeman raised concerns about this section of Bill 18 earlier in the week: