Category Archives: Mel Knight

the rural alberta advantage.

While speaking to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties this week, Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed the obvious when defending his government’s decision to increase the number of constituencies in the next election: it was in order to preserve the existing number of rural constituencies in the Legislative Assembly. This decision continued the over-represention of rural Alberta ridings in the Assembly, despite rapid growth in the urban centres.

With a few exceptions, the PCs have been able to rely on non-competitive electoral districts in rural Alberta since wiping out the Social Credit rump in 1975. Over the past 39-years, the PCs have relied heavily on rural politicians as a “farm team” to replenish their ranks of rural MLAs (some now include Premier Stelmach, and Ministers Jack HaydenIris EvansRay DanylukLloyd SnelgroveMel Knight, and MLAs Wayne DrysdaleBroyce JacobsRichard Marz, and Len Mitzel).

The PCs have dealt with competitive elections in the two major urban areas (Edmonton and Calgary), but the threat of a Wildrose insurgency across Alberta would be cause for great concern and is likely the reason behind Premier Stelmach’s posturing over rural over-representation.

electoral boundaries mashup.

Earlier this week, I posted the poll-by-poll results from the 2008 provincial election for Calgary and Edmonton, and (once again thanks to reader Alan Hall) posted below are the 2008 results superimposed over the proposed boundaries from the interim report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission. A listing of the interim ridings with the 2008 results and margins are also posted below. If the political environment continues to change before the expected 2012 election, the past electoral results could mean very little, but until that time, these maps provide an interesting view of the previous election and what could be in 2012:

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.

alberta cabinet shuffle.

With a cabinet shuffled expected in the near future (possibly as early as tomorrow), there is no shortage of speculation about who will be shuffled in, out, and around. A cabinet shuffle will put a new face on the tiring PC cabinet that has weathered a brutal public beating on issues ranging from unpopular health care restructuring, Bill 44, resource royalty tinkering, international attention on the oilsands, a by-election defeat, a seismic drop in the polls, and MLA defections.

As I wrote in December 2009, It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. One of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s greatest challenges is that his government doesn’t have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

Iris EvansRon Liepert

Finance Minister Iris Evans may keep her job, but there are strong rumors about a comfy patronage appointment as Alberta’s Representative in London, UK. With a strong political pedigree, Doug Horner is a key candidate for promotion – to Finance, or more likely, Health & Wellness. His father, Hugh Horner, served as an MP, MLA, and cabinet minister between 1958 and 1979, including as Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture of Alberta.

The rumor mill appears to have come to an unlikely consensus that Minister Ron Liepert will relieve Minister Mel Knight of his position in Energy. Delicate as a wrecking ball, Minister Liepert oversaw the haphazard dissolution of Alberta’s regional health authorities and centralization under the Alberta Health Services ‘Superboard.’ I am sure that the energy sector will love him.

Iris EvansLindsay Blackett

As the Godfather of Edmonton PC MLAs, Dave Hancock is expected to remain Education Minister, not interrupting the ongoing School Act review. Also expected to remain in their job is Environment Minister Rob Renner, who has proved his ability to deliver a respectful media performance on dirty files like climate change and the oilsands. 

First-term MLA Diana McQueen wooed PC delegates in her introduction of Premier Stelmach at their 2009 leadership review convention. McQueen could be a strong addition to a weak cabinet. After playing interference for Premier Stelmach on the Alberta Hospital Edmonton bed closures, another rookie MLA, Fred Horne, has been rumored to be a candidate for Minister of Health, but more recently has been rumoured to replace Minister Horner in Advanced Education. Horne served as Executive Assistant to Minister Hancock, who also he served in the portfolio.

Long-time Stelmach confidants Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk, and Lloyd Snelgrove will likely stay rewarded for their loyalty, but may be shuffled. Ted Morton is clearly enjoying his current role as Sustainable Resource Development Minister, but columnist Don Braid has suggested that he may be moved to the Treasury Board position. Weak Ministerial performers Lindsay BlackettJanis Tarchuk, Heather Klimchuk, and George Groenveld are also prime targets for being shuffled.

After taking another look at the rumoured shuffle, it does not appear to be much of a change after all. We shall wait and see.

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.

dunn’s done. now… more than ever.

Dunn’s done. Auditor General Fred Dunn has announced that he will be stepping down in February 2010.

In 2007, Dunn singled out Energy Minister Mel Knight and the Department of Energy for failing to collect billions of dollars in resource revenues over the past 15 years. In 2009, Dunn’s office announced the delay or cancellation of 27 out of 80 planned system and financial audits due to lack of financial resources. At the time, Calgary-Egmont MLA Jonathan Denis was quoted as justifing the lack of funding to the Auditor General by defending the one-year MLA pay freeze:

“Realistically everybody would like more money, I would like more money, but the reality is we froze our pay cheques this year. This is the first time in 15 years we froze our pay cheques. And similarly we don’t want to be giving extra money to departments where that’s not required.”

Now… more than ever. His ideas may now be marginalized within the party he led to office 38 years ago, but the now Stelmach-led PC Party is seeking to revive fond memories of Peter Lougheed‘s victory over Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party. The slogan for the November 6-7, 2009 PC leadership review, ‘Now… more than ever,’ appears to be an attempt to remind older supporters of their party’s exciting 1971 slogan: ‘Now!‘ Or maybe I’m wrong and the PCs are actually trying to channel Richard Nixon….


Who’s ready for a federal election? With the exception voters in a couple of ridings, Albertans are going to be far off the political radar in any upcoming federal election. While the Conservatives have already nominated candidates in all 28 ridings, the Liberals and NDP have only officially nominated a couple candidates each (Liberals: Jennifer Pollock in Calgary-West, Mary MacDonald in Edmonton-Centre, Rick Szostak in Edmonton-Sherwood Park. NDP: Lewis Cardinal in Edmonton-Centre and Ray Martin in Edmonton-East). With an election seemingly imminent, expect to hear a lot from the New Obama Party when they hold their caucus retreat in Edmonton in a couple of weeks.

alberta budget 2009: tough economic times.

These tough economic times have presented the Government of Alberta with a tougher fiscal reality from which to draw the 2009 provincial budget than what has become usual. Our new $25-million provincial slogan may be “Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve,” but I felt there was little evidence of the new slogan in this status-quo budget. Some funding cuts, some funding increases, no substantial tax-cuts or increases (with the exception of increases in property-tax and alcohol tax…).

Tailor made to avoid attracting sensational headlines, Alberta’s first deficit budget in 15-years included a deficit in creativity and achievement (if you exclude amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act to allow for deficits). While I don’t believe this was an awful budget, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the current government does not have a serious long-term vision to guide Alberta through these tough economic times.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Diversification. In these tough economic times, government resource revenues have dropped from $12 billion in 2008 to $6 billion in this budget. As a province that has decades worth of dependence on collecting resource revenues, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Surprisingly, I actually believe that Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Iris Evans somewhat understand this (which is probably one of the reasons we aren’t seeing across the board massive spending cuts in this budget). The Alberta Ingenuity Fund was a good start, but I would like to see the government focus on and put serious funds behind the development of new Research & Development and Innovation strategies in areas like renewable energy (if you’re looking for ideas, check out the Pickens Plan).

Educate. Educate. Educate. Funding levels remain constant in post-secondary education, including the continuation of the promised 6% annual increase, which will continue to allow annual tuition increase to be indexed to CPI. One of the keys to finding our way out of tough economic times is education. As our unemployment rates rises due to slowing economic growth, one of the smartest moves our political leaders could make is to invest more in education. Since the beginning of the year, there are many un-skilled workers who have been laid off, and by giving them the resources to earn an education, whether it be in a skilled trade or University degree program, the province with be better off with a more skilled and educated workforce.

Carbon Capture & Storage (aka, the Environment). During her speech to the Legislature, Minister Evans compared the Government of Alberta to a family, who, when facing tough economic times, needs to tighten the household budget. If Evans’ metaphor actually applies, I guess it includes a $2 billion fund for trips to the casino. This year, the PC government plans to gamble $100 million on Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) research, and $800 million over the next two years (and a remaining $1 billion over the next 12 years) on the technologically and economically unproven CCS. In recent statements to the media, both Stelmach and Energy Minister Mel Knight may have admitted that CCS would be more effective in capturing carbon from coal-burning power plants than capturing carbon from the oil sands. Other than promised future funds for CCS research, this budget does very little to address many of the larger environmental issues facing us in these tough economic times.

Public Transit. Will these tough economic times lead more Albertans to park their Dodge 4×4 (with a Hemi) and wait at the corner for the bus? The Green Trip Fund will distribute $10 million this year, and $520 million over the next three years into public transit initiatives. Investing in Alberta’s urban centers, but this a far cry from the originally promised $2 billion fund. Paired with a decrease in the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (from $450 million in 2008 to $100 million in 2009), and it becomes increasingly apparent that serious investment in municipal development is needed to get municipal infrastructure in our cities where it needs to be.

Perspective on Economic Growth. Alberta’s economy has depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for decades and has seen much worse economic times. After years of unsustainable growth, no one should be surprised that Alberta’s economy has slowed down and now is facing a 1.8% contraction. With +$50 barrels of oil and 2% projected economic growth next year, Alberta is in a much better position than it was during previous economic recession. Let’s please try to keep some historical perspective in mind when we’re talking about these tough economic times.

ed stelmach compromises albertans on the royalty review.

I have three main thoughts on Ed Stelmach‘s royalty position and the past couple of days:

1)Please don’t say it’s a compromise,” were Ed Stelmach’s words after announcing the Tory position on royalties. The quarter-page ad in today’s Edmonton Journal didn’t convince me.

Sorry, Premier. You compromised.

Rather than taking a truly historical position, Ed Stelmach’s Tories have clearly compromised with the oil sector at the expense of Albertans. By taking a slow (a perhaps “dithering“) approach by only adopting certain portions of the already moderate and tame “Our Fair Share” report Stelmach has compromised the interests of Albertans in favour of oil companies that are posting record profits.

Ed Stelmach’s compromise with the oil companies includes increasing royalty rates by only $1.4 Billion across the sector starting in January 1, 2009 and not reaching this amount until 2010. This gives oil companies over a year to reap the rewards of current royalty system, which was created when oil was $11 a barrel. This compromise includes only moderate increases in royalties for companies such as EnCana, who have posted the largest annual profits in Canadian history. I have no problem with these companies making a profit, but these natural resources do not belong to the oil companies, they belong to Albertans.

Stelmach’s $1.4 billion will be $500,000,000 less than the amount recommended by the “Our Fair Share” report – which again was seen as a moderate and tame report to begin with (the $1.4 billion was also supported by Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft) . Other reports, such as this report released by the Parkland Institute, recommended a more aggressive approach to royalty revenues.

A Premier should stand up for the interests of the citizens of his/her province. Stelmach didn’t do that. Instead, he compromised with the oil companies and made it clear that he is willing to hand over the potential of Albertans natural resources to the oil companies, rather than allow Albertans to directly benefit from the resources that they own in the first place.

2) Where’s the accountability? Mel Knight remains Minister of Energy even after Auditor General Fred Dunn singled out Knight and the Department of Energy for failing to collect billions of dollars in resource revenues over the past 15 years.

Here is what Dunn said of Knight’s Department of Energy:

“The principals of transparency and accountability, I believe, were not followed. I’m not impressed.”

“The department should demonstrate its stewardship of Alberta’s royalty regime and provide analysis to support that stewardship and this was not done.”

“The department’s monitoring and technical review findings were communicated to decision-makers. The question is: Did they hear or were they listening? At the end of the day, I don’t know, but they chose not to act.”

Former Auditor General Peter Valentine has been appointed to investigate, but don’t expect any heads to roll in this scandal.

3) There is very little talk about why Stelmach decided it was a good idea to spend $145,000 of public dollars to hold a prime-time infomercial on Wednesday night which only offered vague platitudes and sweeping visuals of Alberta’s foothills. Maybe the Public Affairs Bureau is bored?

There is much debate over this issue, here are some opinions and responses floating around the blogosphere:

The 5 R’s – Calgary Grit
A Half Billion Short – Le Revue Gauche
Royalty Check – Andrew Coyne
Stelmach’s Choice – The EcoLibertarian
Premier Stelmach Brought Progressive Conservative Politics Back to Alberta Tonight – Ken Chapman
Alright, everybody exhale now – albertatory
National “Eddie” Program – The Black Kettle

what does it take to get fired around here?

Ed Stelmach is refusing to take action against current-Energy Minister Mel Knight and former-Energy Minister Greg Melchin after the Department of Energy was singled out by Auditor General Fred Dunn for failing to collect BILLIONS of dollars in resource revenues owed to Albertans over the past 15 years.

After noting that he recieved the ‘run-around’ from officials within the Ministry of Energy, Dunn slammed the Stelmach Tories management of Alberta’s resource royalties:

The principals of transparency and accountability, I believe, were not followed. I’m not impressed.”

“The department should demonstrate its stewardship of Alberta’s royalty regime and provide analysis to support that stewardship and this was not done.”

“The department’s monitoring and technical review findings were communicated to decision-makers. The question is: Did they hear or were they listening? At the end of the day, I don’t know, but they chose not to act.”

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft is calling for Stelmach to fire Mel Knight and Greg Melchin.

“The public record clearly shows Albertans have been lied to,” Taft said. “The auditor general tells the truth about the government’s record of handling Albertans’ resources; government ministers, on the other hand, have been misleading the legislature and the public.”

Stelmach responded by saying that he’s “not interested in a witch hunt.

It’s clear that Stelmach is protecting his long-time Tory friends. Mel Knight supported Ed Stelmach’s campaign during the 2006 Alberta PC Leadership Selection and Stelmach, Knight, and Greg Melchin were all full-members of Ralph Klein’s cabinet at the same time that the Tories failed to collect the BILLIONS of dollars in resource royalties owed to Albertans.

With the damning results of the Auditor General’s report coupled with Knight’s defence of the AEUB‘s using public funds to hire private investagators to spy on ordinary Albertans, one really has to wonder, what does it take to get fired in Ed Stelmach’s Tory Government?

ed stelmach and mel knight continue to fumble the aeub scandal.

Long title. Big deal.

Tory Premier Ed Stelmach and his Energy Minister Mel Knight continue to fumble in the face of the growing AEUB scandal. It looks as if Stelmach and Knight are pulling out every tool in the Tory tool chest in order to not deal with the scandal of the public AEUB hiring private investigators to spy on ordinary Albertans.

For the highlights, I’ll defer to the brutal eloquence of Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson

Energy Minister Mel Knight did two things exceptionally well in his news conference at the legislature on Monday afternoon: he arrived on time and he didn’t fall off the stage.

He did everything else remarkably badly.

At times Knight looked like he didn’t know how to answer questions or was doing his best to avoid them. Sometimes he grew so testy with reporters it looked like he wanted to kick them. I suspect the reason he didn’t was because at any given time he had a least one foot stuck firmly in his mouth.

Monday was supposed to be the day the Alberta government would demonstrate leadership on the EUB spying controversy that has plagued the government since news broke in June the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board hired a private investigator who had spied on landowners.

For weeks, the government has been hinting it was about to take decisive action to recover the EUB’s reputation that has sunk so low you’d need a drilling rig to find it.

Instead, we had a minister of energy doing his best to downplay the biggest scandal to hit the government since Ed Stelmach became premier.