Kenney took to the stage in the Legislature press room and delivered a 54-minute long PowerPoint presentation during which he meandered and was clearly unprepared and unfamiliar with the content of the presentation. At many points during the press conference he was simply reading the text on the slides.
It was one of the strangest press conferences I have ever seen and it was a stark contrast from his clear and concise messaging from the night before.
We should all be a little more forgiving of our political leaders as they respond to crises in the moment, but it was clear that the Premier was wading into unfamiliar territory the moment he clicked on the first slide.
It was perhaps a case of too much micro-managing on Kenney’s part.
Usually a pretty competent political communicator, Kenney’s performance has been all over the map during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it appears clear that he would like more media focus on the government’s economic and political agenda, the Premier should leave the scientific presentations to the public health and medical professionals, like Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu.
If you’re a conservative lawyer or energy company CEO in Alberta, you should check your email. There’s a good chance you might have been appointed to a public agency, board or commission last week.
A large number of political appointments made last Friday morning included new board chairpersons and directors at eleven post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University, as well as Alberta Health Services, the Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission. The UCP appointees replaced a number of high-profile NDP-appointees, including U of A board chairperson Michael Phair, NAIT board chairperson Ray Martin, AHS board chairperson Linda Hughes, and WCB chairperson Grace Thostenson.
As reported by David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca, “At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws.” Progress Alberta is expected to publish a more detailed report soon, but a scan of financing disclosures by executive director Duncan Kinney showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were among the appointees.
Included in the flurry of appointments are a handful of former conservative politicians, activists, and officials with ties to the UCP, the federal Conservative Party, and right-wing lobby groups and think-tanks:
Also appointed to the AGLC are Elan Harper, the chief financial officer for the Calgary-Varsity UCP association, and Gerard Curran, the owner of the James Joyce Pub in Calgary and former chairman of Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (now known as the UCP-friendly Restaurants Canada).
Former Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Sarich was appointed to the board of MacEwan University, former MLA and associate cabinet minister Donna Kennedy-Glans was appointed to the board of the Banff Centre, and former Member of Parliament James Rajotte is now on the University of Alberta Board of Governors.
Former APPEGA president Kim Farwell, appointed to the board of governors of Keyano College in Fort McMurray, was campaign manager to Conservative MP David Yurdiga and president of the local Conservative Party association.
Lydell Torgerson, appointed as a public member of the Board of Directors of Grande Prairie Regional College has acted as the official agent for Conservative MP Chris Warkentin‘s election campaign.
Andy Crooks, the former chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation during Jason Kenney‘s time as its spokesperson, is now a member of the Municipal Government Board, and Moin Yahya, a U of A law professor and senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, is now a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Grafton Asset Management, the company run by newly appointed University of Calgary board chairperson Geeta Sankappanavar, donated $25,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future political action committee which purchased front-page pro-UCP ads in Alberta’s Postmedia newspapers.
Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy and newly appointed chairman of the Mount Royal University board of directors, donated $4,000 to the UCP in 2019.
The biggest outlier when it comes to political donations might be new AHS board chairman David Weyant, the outgoing chairman of the Banff Centre of the Arts, who has donated $1,775 to the Alberta NDP since 2016, including a $550 donation in 2019.
Overall, the appointments send two messages:
The Tory patronage machine is back, and it’s a deep well. While the NDP embraced the oil and gas sector and appointed corporate executives to public boards during their five years in government, Premier Rachel Notley‘s party never had a large political establishment to draw upon for appointees. The NDP also attempted to to professionalize the selection process but holding interviews and expanding the application process to allow a broader cross-section of Albertans to serve on some public boards. The long list of UCP appointees employed as corporate executives and lawyers, as well as the lack of representation from civil society groups, signals a return to something more similar to the old PC Party regime. It also serves as a reminder of the deep well of patronage appointees from the conservative establishment in this province that have made themselves available to the UCP.
Resistance is futile (at least that’s what they want you to think). Serious political resistance at the board level to what are expected to be significant funding cuts to post-secondary education and public agencies like Alberta Health Services is now less likely to be successful. With significant budget cuts expected to be recommended in the “Blue Ribbon” panel report prepared by history professor and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Janice McKinnon, it is likely that the UCP government wanted to install appointees who would be eager to enact the government’s austerity and privatization agenda when the provincial budget is tabled in the fall.
While it is difficult to criticize the qualifications of some of the appointees, some who are highly qualified for the positions they have been appointed to, it is expected that their experience was weighed closely with how compliant they will be with Kenney’s political agenda.
Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.
A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.
Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes cast. Led by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.
He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.
Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.
In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed tocabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.
Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.
As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive.
“Only three weeks into the job he’s the WizardofZwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.
In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.
He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.
While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision.
He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.
Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.
Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.
Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)
Before changes were made to Alberta’s elections laws in 1983, the head of Elections Alberta had the authority to rule individuals indefinitely ineligible to stand for provincial office if they failed to submit their financial returns on time. Three individuals are still listed as being indefinitely ineligible to run as a candidate.
“These things can happen when you’re 22 years old, and get talked into running,” wrote Hugh Sommerville in an email to the publisher of this website. The respected Drumheller-based lawyer was surprised to learn that 38 years after he stood as a provincial election candidate, he is still listed by Elections Alberta as being indefinitely ineligible to run again.
“I ended up being ineligible because my campaign spent absolutely no money, and my campaign manager left the province for employment in Saskatchewan without filing papers to say that,” Sommerville wrote. “I was working in Fort McMurray at the time, and my mail was being sent to the family farm. By the time I actually received notice that my campaign manager had neglected to file, I was already on the naughty list,” he wrote.
The other two past candidates listed as indefinitely ineligible are Claire Williscroft, another NDP candidate in the 1979 election, and Barry Cook, an Independent candidate in the 1982 election.
“I suppose I should look into whether it is possible to get my name off the list after 38 years,“ Sommerville wrote, noting that he has no intention of running in any future provincial election.
As for Lall, he is now a member of the United Conservative Party but says he is not sure if he will run in the next provincial election, expected to be held in 2019.
UPDATE: Sommerville has been removed from the list.
Included on the list of individuals prohibited from running or serving as chief financial officers until May 9, 2024, are Edmonton City Council candidates Tony Caterina and Rocco Caterina. The senior Caterina, Tony, ran as a Progressive Conservative the 2015 election, and his son Rocco, served as his chief financial officer.
Tony Caterina told Metro Edmonton in June 2016 that he filed his financial disclosures, but was unable to retire an $11,000 deficit he incurred during the campaign.
The race is still in its early stages, but Albertans hoping the Progressive Conservatives leadership contest would spark a great policy debate about the future of our province are so far disappointed. The most notable news so far from this race has been the growing number of endorsements collected by front-runner Jim Prentice.
While 45 of 58 PC MLAs lending their names to his campaign, Mr. Prentice has only released five priority statements. Although few will doubt his competence or intelligence, it remains unclear where Mr. Prentice stands on many important issues facing Albertans.
What is Mr. Prentice’s position on the increasing privatization of seniors care in Alberta? What does he think about proper funding for our fast-growing municipalities? What are his thoughts on the impact oil sands pipelines will have on northern Alberta’s caribou herds? What about poverty? Does he believe locally elected school boards have a meaningful future? What about the future of Alberta Health Services?
Without policy or ideas to discuss, Mr. Prentice’s past has become one of the issues of the campaign.
Friends of Medicare raised concerns about Mr. Prentice’s recent role on the board of a company that owns an exclusive private boutique health clinic in Calgary. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a conservative lobby group which keeps its own financial backers secret, took a cheap shot at Mr. Prentice because the federal government has no copies of expense claims he filed before he left his job as a minister in Ottawa four years ago.
While it is true that Mr. Lukaszuk was only appointed into that role shortly before the provincial budget cuts were announced, he accepted the job to become the public face of the PC Government’s cuts to post-secondary education. Mr. Lukaszuk is a political bulldog and his attempts to dress himself as a political lamb are unconvincing.
As most Tories are struggling to pretend this is a competitive race, I tend agree with Ms. Elliott. Serving his first-term as an MLA, former Calgary Alderman Mr. McIver is the only candidate of the three who can convincingly argue he is an outsider to PC establishment politics (Mr. Lukaszuk has been an MLA for 13 years and Mr. Prentice has been involved in PC Party politics since the 1980s).
And while Mr. Prentice’s polished-style and well-tailored suits give him the resemblance of a “full bodied, oak aged Chardonnay, grilled veal chops with mushrooms, red peppers and butternut squash conservative,” Mr. McIver’s presents the image of a less sophisticated “meat and potatoes conservative.” Because of this, I have no doubt that Mr. McIver will appeal to many PC supporters looking for a more populist and less polished candidate for leader.
When (or if) PC leadership candidates finally choose to have a meaningful policy debate during this contest, they will not only be competing with each other for attention, but also with the opposition parties they will be competing with in the next general election.
Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership
Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.
Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.
The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.
If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.
Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.
Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.
Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.
According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.