Tag Archives: 2014 Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race

Prentice victory lap to leave Redford legacy in the dust at Banff PC AGM

Redford earned 77% approval at 2013 PC AGM

Alison Redford David Dorward

Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs celebrate her 77% vote of approval from PC Party convention delegates in November 2013.

Premier Jim Prentice is warming up for a victory lap as Progressive Conservatives loyalists gather at the posh Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for the party’s annual general meeting on November 14 and 15, 2014. Mr. Prentice will join the convention basking in the glow of an impressive first two months as Premier and four recent by-election wins as party leader.

What a difference one year has made in Alberta politics. It was only twelve months ago that PC Party loyalists gathered at their 2013 annual meeting in Calgary to reward former leader Alison Redford with a 77% seal of approval.

“There’s always going to be people that have different perspectives,” Ms. Redford told CBC News after the vote. “It’s something that we celebrate in our party and we’re going to make sure that we keep working with everyone across the province.”

Less than five months later under a hurricane of controversy, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta and leader of the PC Party.

Adults now back in charge

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

And after two years of what has felt like an endless stream of scandals, it finally feels like the adults might be in charge again at the Legislative Assembly.

But Ms. Redford’s absence does not mean the PC Party is free of problems.

The party saw record low participation in its September 2014 leadership contest. Only 23,386 votes were cast in the one ballot race, down from a record high of 144,289 votes cast in 2006. There were also numerous irregularities in the voting process, accusations that some members were unable to vote and that one PC MLA was given improper access to voting PIN numbers.

Future prospects for the PC Party may look better with Ms. Redford gone, but the party remains connected to a long list of broken promises made during the 2012 election.

Impressed with Mr. Prentice’s calm and commanding swagger, the party faithful seem satisfied with sweeping away the memory of their embarrassing leadership contest and the catastrophe was triggered it.

To the opposition Wildrose Party’s dismay, the by-election results suggest that many Alberta voters are willing to give Mr. Prentice a chance. The new Premier’s quick and efficient de-Redfordization strategy appears to have convinced many Albertans to, at least conditionally, once again warm up to Alberta’s natural governing party.

Mr. Prentice’s real challenge is a long-term one. Ms. Redford’s unpopular legacy left the new Premier with many easy initial wins to begin his tenure. But eventually Mr. Prentice will be forced to make tough choices, some of which may be unpopular. How he fairs when making these decisions, and responding to his critics, might be a more telling indicators of his political longevity as Premier.

What about Term-Limits for PC MLAs?

In a leadership contest devoid of much substance, an odd promise made by Mr. Prentice on August 21, 2014 did stick out.

In the middle of the leadership campaign, the front-runner’s team built up expectations around an important announcement.It was expected to be big. But when Mr. Prentice stepped up to the podium, he was met with confused stares when he proudly announced his second piece of legislation as Premier would be to impose legislated term-limits for MLAs.

When it quickly became clear that a term-limit laws was probably unconstitutional and would likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. Prentice, a lawyer, scrambled to change his tune. He soon downplayed his initial promise, claiming that MLA term-limits would be an internal PC Party policy, rather than law.

It is yet to be seen whether Mr. Prentice will move forward with his term-limit agenda at this weekend’s convention in Banff.

How quickly fortunes change

PC Party loyalists who attended last year’s annual general meeting and leadership review may remember this slick promotional video promoting the visionary leadership of Ms. Redford. This artifact serves as an important reminder of how quickly political fortunes can turn for the worse.

Boring Jim Prentice might be what the Tories need

Low turnout, lack of interest overshadows Prentice’s win
Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Alberta’s next Premier, Jim Prentice, delivered his victory speech with his wife Karen at his side.

The  atmosphere was noticeably subdued as I walked into the large hall at Northlands Expo Centre that hosted the Progressive Conservative’s leadership event. It was 6:45 pm and there were probably 300 loyal party supporters scattered across the hall, which looked like it could comfortably fit 2,000.

By the time the results were announced  at 7:36 pm by PC Party president Jim McCormick, the crowd appeared to have grown to around 400. Crowded around the stage at the end of the cavernous hall, supporters of former bank executive and retired federal politician Jim Prentice cheered when it was announced that he received 17,963 votes, 77% of the votes cast in the two day online and phone-in vote.

It is a strong mandate from PC Party members, and would have been a landslide if not for the incredibly low voter turnout. Only 23,386 PC Party members bothered to vote in the 43-year governing party’s latest leadership contest, much lower than the 78,176 who voted in the party’s 2011 leadership contest and the 144,289 who voted in 2006. I am told that around a total of 42,000 memberships were sold in this race, resulting in a 54% turnout.

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta Leadership Race Vote

Jim Prentice scrums with the media after his victory speech.

While pundits and politicos predicted for months that there would be a low turnout, 23,386 is shockingly low, especially considering Mr. Prentice publicly set a benchmark to sell 100,000 memberships. Interest in the race to replace former Premier Alison Redford was dismal, and the other candidates – Thomas Lukaszuk with 2,681 votes and Ric McIver with 2,742 votes – were unable to generate much opposition to Mr. Prentice’s well-financed and insider-supported campaign.

Despite the excitement of Mr. Prentice’s supporters in the crowd, there was a weariness in the air and a feeling that even the PC Party’s most loyal activists are tired. Many of them are becoming aware of how hard the next election could be to win. The Wildrose leads in the polls province-wide and support for the New Democrats has grown in Edmonton since the last election. And while support for the long-governing Tories has not completely collapsed, it was hard to walk away from this event without the feeling that the PCs are at their weakest.

Mr. Prentice’s victory speech was not remarkable. In fact, it was boring and forgetful, but maybe a little boring is what the PC Party needs. After two years of endless scandals, backstabbing and controversy, I am sure most PC MLAs are looking for stability. And while Mr. Prentice is nothing close to exciting, he is confident and could be a stable hand who can attract new talent to the party.

The politicos and MLAs I spoke with were glad the leadership contest is over and hope to put the technical irregularities of the PC Party’s contracted online voting system behind them. Although it appears there are PC members who were unable to vote or even able to vote twice because of technical glitches, it is unlikely that Mr. Prentice’s majority would have been drastically altered.

After the celebrations die down, Mr. Prentice and his team of advisors will begin the process of transitioning into the Premier’s Office. The new Premier is expected to seek a by-election soon (it is suspected that more than one by-election could be called) and once he is sworn-in as Premier, a cabinet shuffle will occur.

Aside from term-limits for MLAs, Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign largely stayed away from details or promises, a point that no PC Party supporter I spoke with in the convention hall seemed worried about. In fact, some praised the lack of details and promises as a virtue and a good campaign strategy.

“By not making any promises, he won’t break any promises,” said one PC supporter.

So, as this unexciting summer leadership race comes to an end, it is difficult to say what a new Premier will mean for Alberta. While most Albertans wait and see, I am sure many of the loyal Tories who spent their evening in that large convention hall are hoping this fall will bring calm, stability, and maybe a little boring to their long-governing party.

Alberta Politics Catch Up: Pipelines, Planes, Cities and Rob Anders

Stop the Pipelines Alberta Oilsands 1Spending a few days in another province can sometimes give you a different perspective on important national issues. Spending the last week in British Columbia served as a good reminder to this political watcher about how emotional the debate around pipelines and the Oilsands are in Alberta’s neighbouring province.

Stop the Pipelines Alberta OilsandsWhile I am sure opinion is divided in B.C., I lost count of how many times I spotted “Stop the Pipelines” spray painted across concrete walls or embankments in Vancouver. And it was not just graffiti, the neighbours in the respectable neighbourhood I called home for the weekend even had anti-pipeline signs planted on their front lawns.

Former bank executive Jim Prentice, who will likely become Alberta’s next premier after this weekend’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote, has pledged to get the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline built. But it will be a more difficult job than most Albertans would imagine, and we better become familiar with this reality.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

There are many legitimate environmental concerns surrounding the construction of oil pipelines (and the Alberta government’s failure to implement a climate change strategy), but at its base, all sides of this great Canadian debate appear to be basing their positions on emotion, rather than facts and solid arguments.

Back to Alberta politics, Mr. Prentice announced that his leadership campaign raised $1.8 million, which should not be too surprising. As favourite son of downtown Calgary and the front-runner in this contest, Mr. Prentice was expected to bring in the corporate dollars.

Earlier this year, Mr. Prentice warmed up his campaign as the committee chair for the PC Party’s Calgary fundraising dinner in May 2014. The PC Party has never really had trouble raising money, their biggest challenge is that the opposition Wildrose Party is raising just as much (and mostly in small donations from individuals, rather than large corporate donations).

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk has had a rough week. First, he changed his tune on a $20,000 cell phone bill racked up while he was on vacation in Poland and Israel, now saying that he was taking an emergency call from a cabinet minister, who was in the midst of family dispute. Then, it was revealed that Mr. Lukaszuk had quietly reimbursed the government for $1,400 worth of flights on the government planes in which he brought his daughter.

Mr. Lukaszuk was a harsh critic of former Premier Alison Redford when it was revealed she had misused government planes, including taking her daughter on flights.

Manmeet Bhullar

Manmeet Bhullar

Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar denied allegations that he offered “dirt” on Mr. Lukaszuk to the opposition parties and that he was the source of the leak. Mr. Bhullar is co-chairing Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign and is expected to earn a big cabinet promotion if his candidate wins the leadership race on September 6.

The CBC also uncovered that finance minister Doug Horner had taken his wife on 23 separate flights dating back to 2007. Mr. Horner is responsible for the fleet of government planes.

Meanwhile, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says that time is long overdue for the big cities and the provincial government to have a “grown-up conversation” about funding how we build our cities. In Calgary, popular mayor Naheed Nenshi has given Mr. Prentice, Mr. Lukaszuk and Ric McIver low grades on municipal issues, saying that none of the PC leadership candidate have outlined any significant vision for Alberta’s cities.

The Wildrose Party is trying to distance itself from offensive Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders. The party is denying it issued an endorsement after a robocall broadcast to Conservative supporters in the Bow River riding included an endorsement from former Wildrose leader and MLA Paul Hinman.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Jason Hale issued statements late last week denying any connections to Mr. Anders’ campaign. Here is Ms. Smith’s statement:

“While individual Wildrose members may choose to support individual nomination contestants for federal Conservative nominations, Wildrose as a party is neither endorsing nor assisting any nomination contestant in the Bow River electoral district.

No nomination contestant in Bow River can claim the official or unofficial endorsement of the Wildrose Party.

We encourage Albertans who are interested in politics to inform themselves about party nominations and participate in democracy and we wish all the nomination contestants the best of luck.”

Alberta politics today: Caribou, Cell Phone Bills, and backing down on Term-Limits

Canada Alberta Caribou Habitat

The caribou was first featured on Canada’s 25-cent piece in 1936. Today, the habitat populated by Alberta’s caribou herds has been devastated.

Another news report this week focused on the devastation of caribou habitat in northwestern Alberta. The CBC story reported that deforestation caused by seismic cutlines and snowmobile traffic has caused irreparable damage to habitat critical to the survival of Alberta’s caribou herds. “About five per cent of range for the Little Smoky and a la Peche caribou herds remains undisturbed — a long way from the federal government’s 65% target,” the CBC report stated.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk’s campaign for the Progressive Conservative leadership was left reeling yesterday when it was reported that he racked up a $20,000 cell phone bill on his government cell phone while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012. Although Mr. Lukaszuk was on a personal trip, he told the media that he conducted business by downloading large-sized files of legal documents onto his phone.

PC leadership front-runner Jim Prentice changed his tune on plans to legislate term-limits for MLAs and Premiers in Alberta. Following his announcement last week, the legal and constitutional academic community was unanimous in their belief that it would be unconstitutional and contravene Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Prentice, a lawyer by trade, now says he would not legislate the term-limits, but implement them as an internal PC Party policy.

An important endorsement was made in the less-talked about campaign to lead the Alberta NDP. NDP MLA Deron Bilous has endorsed his caucus colleague Rachel Notley in her bid to become that party’s next leader. Mr. Bilous, who has represented Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012, is one of four NDP MLAs in the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Notley is facing Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen and union activist Rod Loyola in the leadership race. The vote to chose the new leader is schedule for October 18, 2014 at Edmonton’s Sutton Place.

Marlin Schmidt NDP Edmonton

Marlin Schmidt

The NDP will hold a nomination meeting in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 8. Past candidate Marlin Schmidt is expected to be acclaimed in that contest. In 2012, Mr. Schmidt placed 880 votes behind PC candidate David Dorward, making this a target constituency for the NDP in the next election.  The meeting will feature guest speaker Pat Martin, NDP MP for Winnipeg-Centre.

The Liberals will be nominating their candidate for the upcoming Calgary-Elbow by-election on September 18, 2014. Susan Wright, lawyer and author of the witty Susan On The Soapbox blog  has put her name forward for the nomination. Although the Liberals fared poorly in this constituency in 2012, the party surprised many political watchers by winning the 2007 Calgary-Elbow by-election that replaced former Premier Ralph Klein.

For a complete list, check out the list of 2015/2016 Alberta Provincial Election candidates and nominees.

Prentice term-limit idea is gimmicky and probably unconstitutional

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership

Jim Prentice with former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel on June 10, 2014 in Edmonton.

You are Jim Prentice. You have the podium and the attention of Alberta’s media. You are the next Premier of Alberta. You can dream big. You could promise to replace all of Alberta’s aging hospitals by 2020, to build a high-speed railway from Calgary to Edmonton, to forge a new relationship with municipalities through Big City Charters, or reinvent the way Alberta is governed. Heck, you could even promise to implement your party’s long-list of unfulfilled promises from the last election.

But what is your big promise? Term-limits for MLAs.

Today, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Mr. Prentice pledged to limit future Premiers to two-terms and  MLAs to three-terms in office. It was a strange announcement. And it is gimmicky.

As someone who practices the law, Mr. Prentice should understand that term-limits are likely unconstitutional and, unlike a presidential republic like the United States of America, the concept of term limits does not fit in Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy.

While many Albertans will probably support the idea of term-limits for their elected officials, from a practical standpoint it does not appear that a lack of term-limits are a real problem in Alberta politics. By my count, 80% of Alberta’s 86 current MLAs were elected within the last ten years and the last two Premiers – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – did not survive two terms in office.

The most recent notable exception was Ken Kowalski, who retired before the last election after 33 years as a PC MLA (and his three decade long political career in provincial politics is very uncommon). The current longest serving MLA is Pearl Calahasen, who has represented Lesser Slave Lake since 1989.

Promises of term-limits are also not a new issue in Alberta politics. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in 2012 that, if elected, she would only serve two-terms as Premier (her party constitution had it enshrined until it was removed in 2013). And, in 2011, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton proposed term-limits for Premiers.

Despite Mr. Prentice’s announcement, not long ago, the PC Party mocked and demonized their opponents for proposing term-limits for MLAs and the Premier. In a 2010 newsletter, the party he wants to lead compared MLA term-limits to “the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.”

The timing of this announcement is notable. On August 23, 2014, Alberta’s PC Party will become Canada’s longest-serving governing party ever (beating the record of the Nova Scotia Liberals, who governed that province from 1882 to 1925).  And August 30, 2014 will mark 43 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971. Perhaps term-limits for parties in government is a more worthwhile idea (but probably just as hard to implement).

It is hard to see Mr. Prentice’s term-limit pledge as anything but an attempt to distract Albertans from lacklustre leadership contest and the ongoing government spending and airplane scandals (and the PC government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions).

Mr. Prentice’s front-runner campaign is appearing less dynamic and more vulnerable each day and rumours continue to circulate that less than 30,000 PC Party memberships have been sold, compared to more than 100,000 that were sold in that party’s 2011 contest.

With two weeks left before PC members vote to choose their next leader, Mr. Prentice’s campaign is desperately trying to spark some excitement in the minds of its supporters. With today’s term-limit announcement, they appear to have missed the mark, by a long-shot.

PC Party compared MLA term-limits to whims of an Ayatollah or a general

Alberta Politics Term LimitsToday, Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate Jim Prentice proposed term-limits for Premiers and MLAs.

The following is an excerpt from an editorial on term-limits for MLAs that was printed in the Progressive Conservative Party’s “PC People” magazine, published in September 2010:

Another concept being promoted in some quarters is the idea of term limits. These laws restrict the number of times an office holder can seek re-election.

On the surface this may seem like noble enough sentiment until you take a closer look. Voters pick their favoured candidate and the individual with the greatest support becomes the community’s representative.

For all intents and purposes, term limits bar voters from selecting the candidate of their choice.

Voters whose favoured candidate is prohibited from seeking re-election are disadvantaged as much as voters whose candidate is barred by the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.

Thoughts?

Advice for the next Premier of Alberta: Be Bold by being Boring

daveberta.ca

Guest post by: Anonymous

So you’re a new Premier, looking for a way to make a splash – to make the public forget about the previous regime. You could do something simple like reduce Cabinet to 20, which is essentially the size of Cabinet (Associate Ministers are not actually Cabinet ministers). But that’s not really bold. Bold would be to end the whole idea of creating ministries to fulfill or establish a political debt.

An issue rarely talked about is how cabinet shuffles increase costs, create inefficiency, and general serve little operational strategies, but political ones. Thomas Lukaszuk has alluded to it with the Jobs, Skills, etc ministry that was created to keep him happy about being demoted from Deputy Premier. But for the bureaucracy, the effect is real. There are divisions that have been shuffled 5 times in 6 years; needing to learn a new ministry, new corporate culture, rebuild networks and adjust to new processes. Why? So a ‘leader’ can fulfill a political debt, not to make for a more efficient or effective government.

To do something bold would be to reduce the number of ministries to 10 or 12, codify the departments in the Government Organization Act, and have any enactment past or future be tied to a specific department. The structure of government should be far more permanent than it is. This enables for more streamlined decision-making, and creates consistency for stakeholders and the public when interacting with government. It also reduces the number of senior appointments, reduces ‘make work” projects that come from a cabinet shuffle, like creating new websites, new letterhead, etc and it can consolidate internal services like finance, HR, policy, FOIPP and communications.

To me, the structure of government and ministries and any proposed changes to them should always receive the scrutiny of the House. Government structure is fundamental and yet its structure is set to the whim of the Premier and not the will of the House.

As a political benefit, this reduces the size of Cabinet, which inevitably improves the timeliness of decision-making. But what about paying back all those political debts? How does the Premier make sure Cabinet doesn’t run amok of what MLAs are hearing on the ground?

Committees can be a real answer. Being a committee chairman should have the same status as being a Cabinet minister. Some politicians are better in the executive and others are better in the law making. Effective committees can hold Ministers accountable, add more voices to the policy development process and ensures that the Legislature and not the bureaucracy is driving policy. Moreover, they give caucus a real means to engage in policy and keeping Ministers accountable.

Speaking of holding Ministers accountable, why is that a Minister rarely executes the powers conferred on him or her without checking in with Cabinet or the Premier? A leader allows others to lead, to succeed and to screw up. If a screw up is that bad, fire the Minister. And since you have a stock of experienced legislators, you have plenty of options to choose a replacement. Allowing your Ministers to use their powers frees the Premier to focus on the broad policy objectives, building relationships and to build the political machine.

Be bold by being boring. You’d be surprised how far it may take you in governing.


This guest post was submitted, on the condition of anonymity, by a hardworking member of Alberta’s public service.

#pcldr Flashback: Alison Redford 2011: Why I want to be Premier of Alberta

Alison Redford Alberta POlitics

Former Premier Alison Redford, during the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race.

With today’s release of Auditor General Merwan Saher‘s report on Alison Redford‘s travel habits, and as Premier Dave Hancock, leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice and Progressive Conservative MLAs desperately try to distance themselves from their former leader, it is important that we look back to a more optimistic time. During the 2011 PC leadership race, and the provincial election that followed, the former premier (and now former MLA for Calgary-Elbow) seemed to be full of potential and represented a hopeful future for her party and the province.

But, as we are now all aware, promises were broken and “mistakes were made” by Ms. Redford and her government.

Here is a look back to a happier time, in 2011, when then-leadership candidate Ms. Redford was asked why she wanted to become Premier of Alberta:

Editor’s Note: I will be taking a short break from the world of political blogging for the next week to enjoy the limited summer weather that our great country has to offer. To fill your need for daily Alberta politics news in my absence, keep an eye on AlbertaDiary.ca and the always prolific #ableg and #pcldr hashtags on Twitter.

False Passengers and Fake Promises: Could the PC Party be choosing the next opposition leader?

Alison Redford Jim Prentice Thomas Lukaszuk Ric McIver Alberta Premier PC Leadership Race

Alison Redford, Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice

Here’s a question that isn’t often asked in Alberta: Which of the three Progressive Conservative leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

An insane trail of scandal continues to leak out of the 43-year-long governing PC Party as it lurches towards a leadership vote on September 6.

A CBC exclusive story alleged today that Auditor General has uncovered “false passengers” were booked to ensure that Premier Alison Redford and her political staff would be the only passengers on government planes during certain flights.

The leak was a draft copy of a report Auditor General Merwan Saher is expected to release in August 2014 and will also include a review of the former premier’s flights to South Africa and Palm Springs.

Along with Ms. Redford’s secret plans for a private penthouse residence, this week’s secret cancellation of a three-year pay-freeze for senior government executives (which was only implemented 17 months ago), and the Auditor General’s discovery last month that the province has failed implement its much vaunted Climate Change plan, the PC government does not look like the well-polished machine it once was.

Two years ago, PC candidates led by Ms. Redford promised a new era of open and transparent government. It appears that the fake passengers were not the only fabrication.

Is it possible that the three men vying to lead the PC Party did not know about the false flyers?

Both insiders, Thomas Lukaszuk served as Ms. Redford’s Deputy Premier and Ric McIver was Transportation Minister from May 2012 to December 2013. While they have denied knowledge of the flights, it is strange that at the very least these two senior cabinet minister had not even heard rumours about the Premier’s alleged fictional bookings and questionable travel habits.

And Jim Prentice? He is not an MLA and was busy working for a big Bay Street bank during Ms. Redford’s reign.

But what of Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose department is responsible for the Alberta government’s fleet of airplanes? Surely someone within the Finance Department would have been aware of these alleged ghost travellers? Mr. Horner, along with 50 other PC MLAs and nearly every PC Party insider, is supporting Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC Party leadership.

Mr. Prentice, who appears to only speak in generalizations and avoids details in all his public announcements, issued a statement on his Facebook Page in response to the allegations. “Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made,” Mr. Prentice’s Facebook statement said.

Nearly everyone who would have been sitting around the cabinet table when these phantom flyers were on the books are now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

His opponent, Mr. Lukaszuk, was much more harsh on Ms. Redford, who remains the PC MLA for Calgary-Elbow. The former Deputy Premier said he would have his former boss thrown out of the PC Caucus and would ask a retired judge to investigate the allegations (Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, also supporting Mr. Prentice, today asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to decide whether there should be an investigation).

This leads me back to my initial question: Which of the three leadership candidates would make the best Leader of the Opposition?

For the past four decades, this would have been a nonsensical question. But in 2014, the Tories face a relentlessly aggressive Wildrose opposition flush with cash and preparing for an election. There is an increasingly real possibility that the PC Party could be in opposition after the next election.

Mr. Prentice served in the Conservative Official Opposition benches in Ottawa for two years during the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government, a time which may oddly familiar similar to the current politics in Alberta. An ambitious politician, Mr. Prentice does not strike me as someone who would be interested in remaining in the opposition benches if the PC Party were to lose the next election.

Mr. Lukaszuk is well-known for his partisan attack dog-style in Question Period, and might thrive in the opposition benches. Mr. McIver served as the unofficial opposition to Mayor Dave Bronconnier on Calgary City Council, but, like Mr. Lukaszuk, he has no support from his PC MLA colleagues.

In light of recent revelations, perhaps some time spent in the opposition benches could inject a much needed dose of humility into Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, who have become very comfortable with the trappings of political power. Despite coming within a hair of losing the last election, the Tories act as if they are an invincible force. This recent string of scandals may help prove that the PCs are not invincible.

The Gang of Seven MLAs who have not endorsed Jim Prentice

The-Gang-of-Eight-Alberta

Dave Hancock, Alison Redford, Gene Zwozdesky, George VanderBurg, Bridget Pastoor, Rick Fraser, Linda Johnson (removed from list after she announced she is endorsing Jim Prentice – see update below), and Ron Casey.

By my count, there remain eight seven Progressive Conservative MLAs who have not endorsed a leadership candidate Jim Prentice in the race to become that party’s next leader. As of this week, 49 50 of 59 PC MLAs have endorsed Mr. Prentice’s candidacy to become their next leader. Leadership candidates Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk have not earned any endorsements from their MLA colleagues.

Premier Dave Hancock, who is serving as the PC Party’s interim leader, has said he will not endorse any candidate as a condition of his temporary position in the Premier’s Office. Former Premier Alison Redford, whose scandal-filled departure triggered the leadership race, is not expected to endorse a candidate (it is unlikely that any of the leadership candidates would accept her endorsement). Ms. Redford remains the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and PC Caucus Whip George VanderBurg are expected to stay neutral in the contest because of their positions in the Assembly. Although these are legitimate reasons, it is not a requirement. Former Speaker Ken Kowalski set a precedent by endorsing candidates in the 2006 and 2011 PC leadership races.

Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey was one of two MLAs to endorse Ken Hughes short-lived leadership campaign and has remained quiet since he dropped out of the contest on May 12, 2014. The remaining three Tories who have yet to issue an endorsement are Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor, Calgary-Glenmore MLA Linda Johnson (see update below) and Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser.

It is suspected that Mr. Fraser’s decision to not join his colleagues in endorsing the front-runner is a reflection of the support Mr. McIver has in south east Calgary.  It is expected that Mr. McIver’s campaign has sold a significant amount of PC memberships in south east Calgary’s sprawling suburbs, the area he represented on City Council and dominated in the 2010 Mayoral election.

Coincidentally, the previous MLA for Mr. Fraser’s south east Calgary riding, Art Johnston, was the only candidate to endorse Ms. Redford in the PC Party’s 2011 leadership race.

Update: MLA Ms. Johnson has endorsed Mr. Prentice’s candidacy, raising his total MLA endorsements to 50 out of 59 PC MLAs.

Alberta Tories hold the World’s Most Boring Leadership Race

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver

Yaaawwwnn… Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

In 53 days, members of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will vote to choose their next leader and the next Premier of Alberta.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, where Albertans of all political-inclinations were excited to participate in the vote to directly choose the next Leader of the Natural Governing Party, there does not appear to be any sign of overwhelming interest in 2014. This year’s PC leadership race, held less than three years since the last one, appears to be far away from the minds of most Albertans.

The overwhelming perception that former federal politician and bank executive Jim Prentice is the sure-bet in the race has certainly contributed to the disinterest. Mr. Prentice’s campaign has the backing of the party’s powerful establishment and boasts a long-list of MLA endorsements – 49 of 59 PC MLAs, including recent additions St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan, Tourism minister Richard Starke and Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen.

With their party lagging behind the Wildrose (and the NDP) in some polls, PC MLAs are nervous that a divisive leadership race will further damage their party.

Mr. Prentice’s campaign succeeded early in the race in chasing away his most serious potential rivals, like Finance minister Doug Horner, current Energy minister Diana McQueen and former Energy minister Ken Hughes, out of the race. He now faces former cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, who have no support in the caucus (other than themselves).

On the ideas front, there has not been much to discuss. Two months after Mr. Prentice entered the leadership race, it still remains unclear what he stands for. He speaks in vague generalizations about “keeping Alberta strong,” “pursuing commons sense policies,” “global markets and long-term capital investment” and “an end to sweet heart government contracts for political staff,” but provides little detail.

Unlike the 2011 leadership contest, during which the PC Party organized public forums in each region of the province, there are no public debates scheduled for this contest. The lack of public venues for the candidates to engage with each other has made Mr. Prentice’s low-risk front-runner campaign hard to beat.

And without any public debates, there is little opportunity for PC Party members or any interested members of the general public to challenge the candidates into providing more details about what they would do as premier.

While two years of embarrassment and scandal have seriously damaged the reputation of the 43-year old government, the PC Party is still the party in power and will sell a lot of memberships. But the key number will be how many of these members actually vote in the leadership selection (144,289 voted in 2006 and 78,176 voted in 2011).

Unlike previous races, where anyone could show up on the day of the vote and buy a membership, this year’s vote will be held online and memberships sales will be cut off 36 hours before the vote is held.

Any voter apathy around Mr. Prentice’s front-runner status could help his opponents. However unlikely, it is not impossible to foresee a scenario where one of his opponents could capitalize on perception that Mr. Prentice’s win is a forgone conclusion. A low-voter turnout on the September 6 first ballot vote could actually help another candidate with a more motivated base of support.

Mr. McIver’s reputation as Calgary’s Dr. No still carries some cache among Calgary conservatives. And, despite condemnations from media columnists and liberals, his association with Calgary Street Church and the March for Jesus could have actually solidified his support among social conservatives (who have the motivation to vote).

Some political watchers suspect that the PC Party is purposely downplaying the leadership race, and there may be truth to this. The establishment of the long-governing party is eager to avoid any controversy that would result in the defeat of the establishment’s chosen candidate, like happened in 1992, 2006 and 2011.

So, while we may spend the next 53 days watching a leadership race devoid of excitement and substance, we can only hope that this boring leadership race produce some interesting results.

Alberta’s billion dollar failed Carbon Capture “science experiment”

Carbon Capture and Storage Alberta Oil Sands

Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Government has committed to spend billions of dollars on unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher released this week found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy which was first implemented in 2008. The report also uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy.

Since it was first announced in 2008, the PC government has committed to hand over more than a billion public dollars to the world’s largest energy companies, including Shell, to develop ways to bottle carbon dioxide deep in the ground.

Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jim Prentice dismissed the provincial government’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy, saying he would move away from the unproven technology. This echoes what the former federal minister told the Globe & Mail editorial board in 2009: “CCS is not the silver bullet in the oil sands.”

Mr. Prentice characterized the project a “science experiment,” which is a generous description (I refer to it as unicorn science).

“It was apparent to the department that the expected reductions from carbon capture and storage will not be achieved. Carbon capture and storage in the 2008 strategy represents the majority of forecasted emission reductions. However, with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.” – Auditor General’s report on Alberta’s Climate Change strategy, July 2014 (Page 39)

Not surprisingly, the Auditor General also reports that Alberta is unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

I am not sure what is worse: being a climate change denier or believing in climate change but not seriously doing anything to stop it?

Under Premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and now Dave Hancock, the PC government used funding unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology to convince the international community and investors that Alberta can ‘green’ the oil sands. While the oil sands represents the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada, some of Alberta’s largest emissions result from of our large coal burning industry.

But it was not as if no one saw this coming. In 2008, a leaked government memo from a University of Calgary researcher suggested that Carbon Capture and Storage would do little to reduce carbon emissions emanating from Alberta’s oil sands. The report by researcher Dr. David Keith wrote that not enough of the oil sands carbon dioxide could be captured because most emissions are not concentrated enough.

A report by the Munk School of Global Affairs released in 2009 described the Carbon Capture and Storage plan as “sheer folly.” At the same time, Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr characterized Carbon Capture and Storage as an expensive “experiment” and the Wildrose opposition has said many times that it would cancel the project outright (although any government would likely be contractually obligated to complete some of the project funding already committed – or spend funds on legal bills resulting from broken contracts).

PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as a senior cabinet minister from 2010 to 2014, told the media that he continues to support the project.

As a public relations exercise, Carbon Capture and Storage has come with a high price. Allocated more intelligently, the hundreds of millions of public dollars spent on Carbon Capture and Storage could have helped Alberta become a world leader in smart innovation and research and development of renewable energy or sustainable transportation.

These billions of dollars are emblematic of the problem with the current government – while aged hospitals flood, public schools overcrowd and the legal-aid system buckles, the PCs spend mountains of Albertans resource revenues on a flimsy “science experiment.”

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

Ric McIver tosses the PC Party’s ‘Lake of Fire’ trump card

Ric McIver Alberta PC leadership candidate Calgary MLA

Ric McIver

The day after it was revealed that Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver attended and endorsed the March for Jesus, a group which has posted hateful homophobic rants on its website, Mr. McIver was nowhere to be found.

As a proud supporter of the March for Jesus and its organizers at the extreme religious Calgary Street Church, it was surprising that Mr. McIver was not defending his position yesterday. Street Church pastor Artur Pawlowski has publicly blamed last year’s southern Alberta floods on God’s unhappiness with homosexuality.

Instead of publicly defending his support, or denouncing the extreme elements in that organization, the former cabinet minister and Calgary MLA hid behind a Facebook comment, and an unclear one at that. It felt uncharacteristic for a leadership candidate who has painted himself as a populist conservative.

It seems that, once again, the PC Party has committed self-immolation by tossing away one of its strongest playing cards – the ability to paint the Wildrose Party as the province’s only ‘Lake of Fire‘ Party. While short-term Premier Dave Hancock is a moderate conservative, who participated in Edmonton’s Pride Parade last week, it is clear that the elements of the big-tent PC Party are not as supportive.

Even if, or perhaps more likely, when Mr. McIver is defeated by PC leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, the damage could be hard to be undone.

As the last provincial election proved, these type of extreme views may have found a home in the mainstream views of Albertans 30 or 40 years ago, but do not represent the views of modern Albertans in 2014.

Meanwhile, Wildrose Party strategists are sitting back and watching as the PC Party help to make them look less scary in the minds of Albertans.

Ric McIver and the March for Jesus: A Lake of Fire Redux?

Ric McIver March for Jesus Lake of Fire

“The March for Jesus 2013 was officially opened by the Minister of Infrastructure Ric McIver…” according to the March for Jesus website (photo from MarchForJesus.ca).

“Last year alone, Calgary’s streets were flooded with people of wrong sexual preferences during a homosexual parade of over 30,000 attendees and none of them were embarrassed the slightest to publicly even present their nakedness in front of families and in front of future generations to openly proclaim and manifest that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God.”

The quote above was taken from an article on MarchForJesus.ca, which has been circulating on social media this weekend. The article also features a photo of Calgary MLA and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver as the parade marshal for the group’s 2013 event. Mr. McIver tweeted a photo while attending this year’s march in Calgary on Sunday, June 15.

The website also features endorsements of the event by Christian Heritage Party of Canada leader David Reimer and perennial social conservative fringe candidate Larry Heather.

Street Church, one of the organizations behind the annual March for Jesus, features a photo of Justice Minister Jonathan Denis on their website as a supporter of the event.

UPDATE: On his Facebook Page, Mr. McIver has responded to the backlash caused by his participation in the March for Jesus event.

“I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception,” wrote Mr. McIver. “I shall continue to attend events celebrating the diversity of Alberta.”

“I hope this statement clears up any doubts about my commitment to the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, in the past, in the present and in my intentions for the future,” he wrote.

It’s as clear as mud, Mr. McIver.