Four by-elections are a risky mid-term test for Alberta Tories

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and Jim Prentice on June 10, 2014.

Albertans in four provincial constituencies will go to the polls on October 27, 2014. Half-way through the  PC Government’s current four year term in office, the by-elections will be our own version of the mid-term elections.

Ken Hughes
Ken Hughes

Yesterday morning three anticipated provincial by-elections turned into four when first-term Ken Hughes announced his resignation as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West. Earlier in the morning, Independent MLA Len Webber, fresh from securing the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation, declared that he would vacate his Calgary-Foothills seat.

Combined with vacancies in Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud, Alberta’s political parties will face off in four constituencies in 28 days.

Premier Jim Prentice wants these by-elections to be a referendum on the past two weeks, during which time he has made daily announcements trying to undo unpopular decisions made by the Alison Redford-led PC Government. The opposition wants to make sure these by-elections are a referendum on the past two years of broken promises and misdeeds by the PC Government.

Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Despite the unpopularity of the PC Party in recent polls, the four by-elections are not taking place in constituencies that were decided by small margins of victory in the last election. These four are some of the stronger PC-voting constituencies in Alberta. In the 2012 election, the PCs earned 60.4% in Edmonton-Whitemud, 58% in Calgary-Elbow, 53.5% in Calgary-Foothills and 49.9% in Calgary-West.

After 43-years in power, will Albertans buy Mr. Prentice’s argument that the PC Party is “under new management” and has entered “a new era?” The PC Party prides itself with the ability to rebrand itself under pressure. Long-time Tories boast of the “Miracle on the Prairies,” the tale of Ralph Klein’s reinvention of the PC Party before its expected defeat in the 1993 election.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

But fresh in the minds of many Albertans is the hope and opportunity that seemed real when Ms. Redford became Premier in 2011. We were promised a new era reminiscent of the days when Peter Lougheed led our province. Instead, we received two years of arrogance, broken promises, budget cuts and endless political spending scandals. And despite attempts to blame it all on Ms. Redford, it is hard to forget the 60 PC MLAs who stood behind her during those two years.

The appointment of two cabinet ministers from outside of the Legislature certainly helps the argument that the PC Government is “under new management.” But however credible the two men are, and despite their records as successful politicians, their age and notable careers in politics certainly undermines the argument that we have entered “a new era” in Alberta politics (Gordon Dirks is 67-years old and Stephen Mandel is 69-years old).

Danielle Smith Highwood
Danielle Smith

The four PC candidates in these by-elections could easily all be elected, but some of them could just as easily be defeated. By-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Running in Calgary-Foothills, Mr. Prentice will soon face voters for the first time since he was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is expected to announce her party’s challenger in Foothills today.

The lack of interest in the recent PC Party leadership race suggests that many Albertans have put our Natural Governing Party on probation. It will be a test of Mr. Prentice, Mr. Dirks, Mr. Mandel and Calgary-West candidate Mike Ellis, to prove themselves worthy. And it will be a test of the opposition parties to remind Albertans why the PCs do not deserve another chance.

By-Election candidates (as of September 29, 2014)

Calgary-Elbow
AP Greg Clark [FacebookTwitter]
LIB Susan Wright [FacebookTwitter]
NDP Stephanie McLean [Twitter]
PC Gordon Dirks [Twitter]
WR John Fletcher [Twitter]

Calgary-Foothills
AP Michelle Glavine [FacebookTwitter]
GRN Polly Knowlton Cockett
NDP Jennifer Burgess [Facebook, Twitter]
PC Jim Prentice [Facebook, Twitter]

Calgary-West
AP Troy Millington [Twitter]
NDP Brian Malkinson
PC Mike Ellis

Edmonton-Whitemud
AP William Munsey [Twitter]
NDP Bob Turner [Twitter]
PC Stephen Mandel [Twitter]
WR Tim Grover [Twitter]

For an updated list of by-election candidates, visit the Alberta Election 2016 page.

France honours Canadian D-Day veteran

Lancaster Bomber. Photo © SNappa2006, via flickr Creative Commons
Lancaster Bomber. Photo © SNappa2006, via flickr Creative Commons

Having a large extended family with deep roots in Canada means I have heard many stories about my family’s history, including many tales of those who fought for King and Country overseas.

My great-great-uncle Charles Moreau served in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse during the First World War and another great-great uncle fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Both my grandfathers served in the Second World War and returned to raise large families. More recently, my father-in-law served with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

My great-uncle, Marcel Croteau, 91, is a Second World War veteran of the Royal Canadian Airforce. As a rear-gunner, he flew 39 bomber missions during the war and in 1944 was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal by King George VI. This past weekend he was honoured by the French Republic by being inducted as a knight in France’s Order of the Legion of Honour.

My first cousin once-removed, Monique Keiran, wrote this column in the Victoria Times-Colonist to honour her uncle’s role in WWII:

More than 70 years ago, Marcel Croteau, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 425 Alouettes Squadron and my uncle, was flying nightly bombing raids over France.

Because of his role in those long-ago missions, Croteau is being inducted as a knight (chevalier) in France’s Order of the Legion of Honour today. It is the highest honour the French government confers.

It is one of many ceremonies taking place this year in which the French government is paying tribute to Canadian veterans who participated in the 1944 D-Day invasion to liberate France from Nazi Germany.

This event is taking place in Sechelt, where 91-year-old Croteau, a former Victoria-area resident, now lives.

The smiles and congratulations of the 100 friends and family who will gather today will provide a marked contrast to the nighttime tensions experienced during the D-Day-related raids.

Read the rest of Monique’s column here.

It is an honour to know about my family’s history and the role they played in these major world events. Canada is the peaceful country it is today because of the selfless and brave actions of the men and women who stepped up when needed.

As we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it is more important than ever to recognize and remember the sacrifices paid by our elder generations.

Where will Jim Prentice run in a by-election?

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race
Alberta’s new Premier Jim Prentice, does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Three weeks after being selected as leader of the governing Progressive Conservative Party, Premier Jim Prentice still does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

Although his party has already nominated candidates to run in the impending Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections, Mr. Prentice remains coy about where, and when, a third by-election will be held.

On August 26, Mr. Prentice told the Edmonton Journal he would call a by-election immediately after he became PC Party leader. He was elected PC Party leader on September 6 and sworn-in as premier on September 15.

It appears likely that Mr. Prentice might announce which constituency he will run in on the day the writ of by-election is signed by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Using all the advantages of an incumbent government, it appears he is trying to give the opposition parties the least time possible to prepare candidates to run against him.

Neil Brown
Neil Brown

The “announcement-a-day keeps the memory of Alison Redford away” strategy has kept Mr. Prentice’s name in the news headlines, and has allowed him to create a two-week long list of talking points with which to campaign.

It is widely believed that Mr. Prentice will run in Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, where current PC MLA Neil Brown has publicly offered to resign.

There is also speculation that he could also choose to run in another north Calgary constituency – like Calgary-Foothills – currently represented by Independent MLA Len Webber. Mr. Webber is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation (he left the PC caucus in May 2014, after describing Ms. Redford as a “bully”).

Update: Len Webber has won the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confedertation. 

The tight-lipped preparations have led many political watchers to believe that the Tories remain worried that Albertans may choose to punish the new Premier for the misdeeds and broken promises of Ms. Redford and the PC caucus over the past two years.

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Prentice would easily be elected, but by-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Jennifer Burgess Calgary-Prentice NDP by-election
Jennifer Burgess, the NDP candidate in the “Calgary-Prentice” by-election.

But whichever constituency he decides to run in, one party is ready  with a candidate in the wings. Calgary writer Jennifer Burgess has said she will run for the New Democratic Party in any by-election Mr. Prentice chooses to run in. Her website cleverly describes herself as the NDP candidate in the Calgary-Prentice constituency.

Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

The NDP and Wildrose Party announced their candidates in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. Dr. Bob Turner, a well-spoken doctor from Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, has decided to run against former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel.

Flanked by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and a handful of supporters and Wildrose MLAs, Tim Grover announced his plans to challenge Mr. Mandel. Mr. Grover was already nominated to run for the Wildrose Party in the Edmonton-South West constituency. He was also the ‘Get Out the Vote’ chairman for Karen Leibovici‘s 2013 mayoral campaign.

Alberta Party President William Munsey is running under his party’s banner.

Coming Soon: Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections

Calgary Elbow Map By-Election
The Wildrose Party has described the Calgary-Elbow by-election as “ground zero.”

With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.

Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.

Calgary-Elbow

Calgary-Elbow Alberta MLA Map By-Election
The results of election and by-elections held in Calgary-Elbow since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 and 2007 votes).

Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.

Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.

Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.

Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.

The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.

This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.

The NDP have nominated lawyer Stephanie McLean as their candidate. Both of the MLAs in the NDP leadership contest – Rachel Notley and David Eggen – have said that expanding their party’s support in Calgary is key to success. Here is their opportunity to start earning votes.

Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.

I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013
Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97
Wildrose: $72,625.47
Liberals: $540.79
NDP – $0
Alberta Party: $2,465.16

Edmonton-Whitemud

Edmonton Whitemud Map By-Election
A map of the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency.

The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.

Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.

So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.

Edmonton-Whitemud By-Election
The results of election and by-elections held in Edmonton-Whitemud since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 vote).

The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.

As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.

UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013
PC = $32,366.72
Wildrose: $4,486.82
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76

Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).

Grown-up conversations key to solving Alberta’s crowded schools problem.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote
Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech on September 6, 2014.

The de-Redfordization process continues this week, as Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice tries to sweep the memory of Alison Redford from of the minds of Alberta voters.

On Monday, Mr. Prentice promised the construction of four mini “starter-schools” in Calgary to provide relief to overflowing suburban schools. While the new mini-schools are a good temporary solution, it was almost comical to hear another government promise to build schools. During Ms. Redford’s time as premier, promises of new schools were announced, renounced and then renounced again.

And despite delays even then, Education Minister Jeff Johnson offered a “Rock of Gibraltar solid guarantee that 50 new schools and 70 building renovations would be ready by 2016. Mr. Johnson’s “rock,” which had a been a key promise in the 2012 PC Party election platform, has since crumbled (and Mr. Johnson is now the Minister of Seniors).

The starter-schools are a good short-term solution, but they will not solve the larger issue: the provincial government’s relationship with school boards and municipal governments.

The root of the crowded school problem is that municipalities, school boards and the provincial government do a poor job communicating and coordinating growth. As zoning has allowed for suburban sprawl in our cities, cash-strapped school boards have scrambled to respond to a massive spike in student population on the outskirts of our municipalities.

Dependent on provincial funding, schools boards have abandoned already existing (and now underused) infrastructure in central neighbourhoods to focus on building, staffing and maintaining new schools around the city’s edge.

Long-term infrastructure planning in our education system was severely lacking for many years as the provincial leadership recklessly focused on the ideological goal of debt-repayment at any cost (it turns out, it actually cost more in the long-term).

But this is unlikely to change, because provincial politicians enjoy the political cover that schools board trustees provide.

When unpopular decisions need to be made, like closing schools or cancelling programs, then the provincial politicians are more than happy to let the school board trustees take the blame. And when new schools are opened, MLAs and cabinet ministers are eager to cut ribbons and pose for photos.

In a well-articulated blog post, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson explained why it is time for a grown-up conversation between the provincial government and Alberta’s big cities.

“We need to have a grown-up conversation that acknowledges the complex and sophisticated work we are already doing as a local government, and then we need to be crystal clear about the work local governments do on behalf of the province and the country,” Mr. Iveson wrote.

While Mr. Iveson’s comments refer specifically to municipalities, the need for these grown-up conversations also applies to the school boards responsible for administering our education system (I will have more to say about municipalities and Big City Charters in an upcoming column).

If Mr. Prentice is serious about truly breaking from the past and proving his party is better than Mr. Redford, he should start by having some meaningful grown-up conversations with municipal and school board leaders in our province.

Dear Rob Anders, Take a Hint and Take a Hike.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Rob Anders.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Rob Anders.

Many Canadians hoped to have bade a final farewell to offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders when he lost the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill to Ron Liepert earlier this year. But perhaps it was wishful thinking to believe a stunning rebuke in the area of the city he represented for 17 years was enough to end his political career.

Hoping for a second chance, Mr. Anders attempted to win his party’s nomination in the rural Bow River riding, an area in which he does not live nor have any personal connection to. He told the media that Bow River was, unlike the suburbs of west Calgary, a place with “more trucks” and closer to the Alberta he “moved to in the 1980s.” [note: Mr. Anders was born in 1972].

But as all Albertans know, owning a pickup truck and holding offensive social conservative views are not mutually inclusive. So we all breathed a sign of relief when Mr. Anders was defeated in the Conservative’s Bow River nomination contest this weekend by Martin Shields, mayor of the City of Brooks.

It is hard to imagine Bow River Conservative members appreciating an outsider like Mr. Anders wading into their local nomination, and his track record in Ottawa probably did little to enamour them. Mr. Anders is well-known for having called Nelson Mandela a terroristinsulting Canadian veteranscalling for war against Russia, and blaming Thomas Mulcair for hastening the death of former NDP leader Jack Layton.

Licking his wounds after a second defeat, what can we expect Mr. Anders do next? Without a political party to support him in the next election, what is Mr. Anders next move?

Here are a few of the options available to him:

1) Take a hint and take a hike: Mr. Anders should probably take a break from politics, but he probably will not. He might end up working as a commenter with Sun News talk show host Ezra Levant, as a political advisor for some right-wing lobby group, or as an advisor to another socially conservative MP in Ottawa.

By the time the next federal election is called in October 2015, Mr. Anders will have spent 18 of his 42 years on Earth as a Member of Parliament (he was first elected when he was 24 years old). He knows nothing but life in politics.

2) Run for another Conservative Party nomination. By my count, there are at least a dozen Conservative Party nomination contests still open in Alberta (and an imminent by-election in Yellowhead). Looking abroad, he could also decide to run for a nomination in another province, like British Columbia or Saskatchewan.

If I were the Conservative Party, I would sternly warn him that he would be severely unwelcome to run in another riding. If I were the opposition New Democrats or Liberals, I would encourage him to keep on running.

3) Run as an Independent or for another party. His own party has rejected him twice, so he could decide to mobilize his social conservative followers to inflict revenge and damage on a party that no longer wants him in Ottawa.

Mr. Anders would not likely win if he ran as an Independent, or even as another party’s candidate (perhaps, the Christian Heritage Party),  but he could exert revenge by becoming a major nuisance for Mr. Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill.

4) Go back to the USA. With the 2016 presidential elections around the corner, maybe Mr. Anders could pull out his old Pinocchio nose and start applying for jobs south of the border.

Three years before Mr. Anders was elected as the MP for Calgary-West, he worked as a political agitator for the Republican Party in the United States. In the video below, he demonstrates his political talents while trying to embarrass Oklahoma Democratic Party Senate candidate Dave McCurdy.

Nomination update: Yellowhead by-election, Bow River Tories vote, and Anybody but Xiao

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC
Former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s new representative in Washington D.C.

Premier Jim Prentice announced this week that five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield would be appointed as Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Mr. Merrifield’s resignation from the House of Commons means that a federal by-election will need to be called in the Yellowhead riding by March 17, 2015. This would be the fourth federal by-election in Alberta since the 2011 general election.

Yellowhead County mayor Gerald Soroka is the first to announce he will seek the Conservative nomination in this riding. Mr. Soroka was first elected mayor in 2007. Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the vote in the 2011 election, so this is widely considered a safe riding for the Conseravtives.

Rob Anders Bow River Conservative MP
Rob Anders

Bow River
Conservative Party members in southern Alberta’s new Bow River riding are voting today to choose their next candidate.

UPDATE: Rob Anders has lost the Conservative nomination in Bow River. Brooks mayor Martin Shields will be the Conservative candidate in the next election.

On July 31, 2014, this website was the first to report that controversial Calgary MP Rob Anders would seek the nomination in this riding following his defeat in Calgary-Signal Hill. Outsider Mr. Anders is facing challenges from local municipal politicians Martin Shields and Rolly Ashdown, and Mount Royal University economics lecturer Gerard Lucyshyn.

Media have been banned from attending the forums of the Conservative nomination forums in the Bow River riding. This is no doubt to spare the Conservative Party of the embarrassment of having Mr. Anders on their ballot in that riding.

Last week, the Medicine Hat News reported an embarrassing exchange at a forum in that riding’s nomination contest which saw two social conservative candidates debating gay-rights and women’s access to abortion.

Local Conservative member Brian De Jon told the Brooks Bulletin that there has been “no substance” at the Bow River forums anyway.

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

Edmonton-West
An “Anybody But Xiao” (ABX) campaign is heating up in this new west Edmonton riding. With candidate Brad Rutherford dropping out and throwing his support behind Kelly McCauley, a group of local Conservatives are trying to prevent Edmonton-McClung Progressive Conservative MLA David Xiao from winning the nomination.

Mr. McCauley, a local innkeeper, has the support of most Conservative MPs and the party establishment and is seen as having the best chance of defeating the local MLA. Mr. Xiao’s hefty public expenses and history in a past federal nomination campaign against Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn are said to have left a bad memories in the minds of local Tories.

But Mr. Xiao has his supporters. Former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed provincial health minister Stephen Mandel, former Premier Ed Stelmach, Justice minister Jonathan Denis and Infrastructure minister Manmeet Bhullar have all pledged their endorsements to Mr. Xiao.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Calgary-Centre
Conservative candidate Joan Crockett sent a shot across the bow of popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign last week. In a column in the Calgary Herald, Ms. Crockatt claimed that Mr. Hehr has done little as an MLA to help with flood recovery in Calgary’s central neighbourhoods (also naming him in the same sentence as disgraced former Premier Alison Redford).

Mr. Hehr, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding told the told Herald reporter James Wood that “it’s politics.” “Joan and I are going to have a lot of time to discuss the issues and she’s just getting an early jump on it,” Mr. Hehr said.

Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner
On the topic of controversial debates, Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer defeated Dan Hein to become the Consevative candidate in this new southern Alberta riding. The Cardston Temple City Star reported that just under 1,400 votes were cast over the three day selection period.

Janis Irwin Megan Leslie NDP Edmonton Griesbach Halifax
NDP MP Megan Leslie (L) with local candidate Janis Irwin (R)

Edmonton-Griesbach
Most Edmontonians probably would not have noticed when Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and 96 New Democratic Party MPs descended on the city for their caucus meeting earlier this month. But while the NDP MPs did appear to spend most of their time behind closed doors, they did take a notable break to help out a local candidate in east Edmonton’s new Griesbach riding.

NDP MPs Libby Davies, Megan Leslie , Dany Morin and Ruth Ellen Brosseau hit the doors with candidate Janis Irwin and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason. The NDP are hoping they can turn their 37% showing in 2011 into a win in 2015.

Confirming what many believed to be inevitable, six-term Conservative MP Peter Goldring announced that he will not seek re-election. Mr. Goldring has endorsed Omar Tarchichi over former mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte in the nomination contest to replace him. Curiously, for a governing party’s candidate, Mr. Tarchichi’s campaign has chosen “Rise Up” as its slogan. It is unclear what Mr. Tarchichi plans to rise up against.

Shannon Stubbs Lakeland Conservative Nomination
Shannon Stubbs

Lakeland
Two candidates have stepped forward to run for the Conservative nomination in the new Lakeland riding after three-term backbencher Brian Storseth announced he was retiring from federal politics.

Shannon Stubbs is a former Wildrose caucus staffer and ran for the party in the 2012 provincial election (collecting 5,800 votes in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville riding). She is also the wife of popular Lac La Biche-Two Hills-St. Paul Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw (they were married today – congratulations!)

Ms. Stubbs will face Lewis Semashkewich, an Aspen View Public School Board trustee. The Athabasca Advocate reported that Mr. Semashkewich is calling for the construction of a new oil refinery in that corner of the province.

Edmonton-Riverbend
Lawyer Tom O’Leary is seeking the Liberal nomination in the new Edmonton-Riverbend riding.

Edmonton-Strathcona
Len Thom will carry the Conservative banner against NDP MP Linda Duncan in the next election. The lawyer of and provincial PC Party constituency president was acclaimed at a nomination meeting this week.

An updated list of federal candidate nominations in Alberta can be found here.

Tories impose a strict policy of de-Redfordization

Alison Redford Jim Prentice De Redfordization
If Alberta’s 7th PC Party Premier is successful, the record of Alberta’s 5th PC Party Premier will be far from the minds of voters when the next election is called.

The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.

Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.

The process of de-Redfordization started with a cabinet shuffle that purged PC MLAs seen as being too closely tied to the previous leader. Finance minister Doug Horner, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Health minister Fred Horne, Service Alberta minister Doug Griffiths, former Energy minister Ken Hughes and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen all found themselves sitting in the backbenches.

Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.

Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.

Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.

Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.

On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.

But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”

Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.

The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.

Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.

Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.

And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.

White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.

Will Gordon Dirks become the latest inter-provincial political jumper?

Gordon Dirks Alberta Education Minister MLA
Gordon Dirks

The controversial appointment of unelected Gordon Dirks as Education minister caught many Albertans by surprised this week. As the former chairman of the Calgary Board of Education, he is well-known to educators in that city, but not to the rest of Alberta. Before moving to Calgary, he served as a Progressive Conservative MLA in the Saskatchewan Legislature from 1980 to 1986 (during that time he was a minister in Premier Grant Devine’s cabinet).

In a the comment section of a previous column, a reader asked whether I knew of any other examples of politicians who have served in more than one provincial legislature, or in more than one province’s cabinet. It is not uncommon for politicians to serve as MLA or municipal politician in one province and then jump into a different level of politics in another (i.e.: Tommy DouglasStockwell Day, Val Meredith and Glen Murray, to name a few), but the jump from provincial politics in one jurisdiction to provincial politics in another is much less common.

Alexander Grant MacKay Alberta
Alexander MacKay

Gulzar Cheema served as a Liberal MLA in Manitoba from 1988 to 1993 and later was elected to serve in the British Columbia Legislature from 2001 to 2004. Clive Tanner was a Yukon MLA in 1970s and was later elected as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Saanich North and the Islands in the 1991 election.

While I am sure there may be more, in Alberta’s political history, I found two examples.

Duncan Marshall was an MLA in Alberta from 1909 to 1921 (where he served as Minister of Agriculture) and an MPP in Ontario from 1934 to 1937 (where he also served as Minister of Agriculture). He was appointed to the Senate by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1938.

Michelle Mungall BC NDP MLA Nelson Creston
Michelle Mungall

Alexander Mackay served in Ontario’s Legislature from 1902 to 1913 and in Alberta’s Legislature from 1913 to 1920. He was leader of the Official Opposition Liberals in Ontario from 1907 to 1911 and later served as Alberta’s first Health Minister.

There are a few more recent examples of individuals who have tried to be elected in provincial legislatures in different provinces, but have been unsuccessful. For example, Michelle Mungall was the NDP candidate in St. Albert in the 2001 provincial election and, in 2009, she was elected as the NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston in B.C. And Roger Coles was a Yukon MLA and leader of the territorial Liberal Party in the 1980s. He later ran as a Liberal in Drayton Valley-Calmar in Alberta’s 2001 election.

If Mr. Dirks is successfully elected to the Alberta Legislature in an upcoming by-election, his name will be added to the small group of inter-provincial political jumpers in Canadian history.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will either run in a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, until recently represented by former Premier Alison Redford, or in another, safer constituency, for the PC Party. Some political watchers have predicted that Calgary-West MLA Ken Hughes may resign to allow Mr. Dirks to run in a by-election in that constituency.

(Thank you to all the daveberta.ca readers who helped me compile this list)

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands
Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.

Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.

Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.

Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA
Teresa Woo-Paw

How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.

During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.

Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein
Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.

The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.

On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.

Unelected Cabinet Ministers

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.

Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skin when he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.

Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.

Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership
Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).

Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.

The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.