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Alberta Politics

More Nots than Hots as Alberta MLAs wrap up heated summer session at the Legislature

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta five months ago, our Legislative Assembly was one of only a handful of provincial assemblies that continued with a mostly regular sitting schedule. Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers frequently quoted Winston Churchill and compared the current pandemic to the Nazi blitz of the United Kingdom during World War II. But the narrative of fighting on the beaches and uniting Albertans did not stick around for long.

United Conservative Party MLAs were eager to continue the regular business of the Legislature and Kenney barely skipped a beat in continuing to implement a political agenda aimed at dismantling government regulation and imposing swift changes to health care, education and labour laws.

While the UCP enjoys a big majority in the Legislature, and the continued support of enough Albertans to probably form another majority government (albeit likely smaller) if an election were held tomorrow, the government’s decision to move forward with a business as usual approach further entrenched some political divides that grew more conciliatory in other provinces. While other premiers were pulling their provinces together, and enjoying popularity bumps as a result, Alberta’s premier actively pushed people apart.

Politics as usual meant that unlike other provinces, where government and opposition parties generally worked together or at least put partisan politics on hold, in Alberta, politics remained heated and partisan.

Along with a flurry of attacks on provincial parks and public sector unions, and pushing for increased autonomy from Ottawa at the same time as the provincial government was increasingly relying on federal funding, the UCP, usually led by Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon used every opportunity to attack the New Democratic Party opposition. Rachel Notley and the NDP responded in kind.

If someone out there was keeping a political scorecard of Alberta’s MLAs, here is look at a few individuals who stood out during this session:

Tyler Shandro Alberta Health Minister Calgary Acadia
Tyler Shandro

Not: Health Minister Tyler Shandro (MLA Calgary-Acadia): Appointed to oversee a major overhaul and dismantling of Alberta’s public health care system, Shandro’s combative and confrontational approach has undermined much of the good will generated by the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shandro’s ongoing dispute with the Alberta Medical Association, including a temper-tantrum in the driveway outside a physician’s house, has poisoned the relationship between the government and doctors in the middle of a pandemic. The threat of doctors leaving rural Alberta practices has created an uncomfortable divide in the UCP Caucus between rural MLAs worried about the impact of losing doctors in their communities and Calgary MLAs not wanting to back down from a fight.

Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg announced this week that the town’s council had to step in to convince doctors to not withdraw their services from that community’s hospital. Anderberg condemned Shandro and accused him of not being honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community.

Adriana LaGrange Alberta MLA Red Deer North
Adriana LaGrange

Not: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (MLA Red Deer-North): The soft-spoken former Catholic school trustee from central Alberta spent much of her first year in office battling with school boards and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, leaving her with few allies when schools were forced online at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, with a return to school plan that appears woefully inadequate, LaGrange faces opposition and a lot of unanswered questions from parents, teachers and students who will be returning to school as normal in September.

Hot: Janis Irwin (MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood), Rakhi Pancholi (MLA Edmonton-Whitemud), and David Shepherd (MLA Edmonton-City Centre): These three NDP MLAs stood out to me as some of the most effective voices and sharpest critics in the opposition benches during this session.

Rakhi Pancholi NDP Edmonton Whitemud
Rakhi Pancholi

Not: Finance Minister Travis Toews (MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti): The provincial budget was barely tabled when the international price of oil plunged once again, putting the Alberta government’s optimistic projected natural resource royalty revenues in the realm of fantasy for the foreseeable future. The drop in oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic changed Alberta’s reality, but that did not stop Toews from shepherding an outdated budget through the legislative approval process.

With its revenues in the tank, the government continues to refuse to consider options to diversify its revenue streams, meaning Toews, who usually fills the roll of the adult in the room, will likely be announcing big cuts and layoffs when the Legislature returns for a one-day fiscal update debate on August 27.

To top it off, Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has declared Alberta is now a “have-not” province.

Hot: Mike Ellis (MLA Calgary-West): Ellis’ role as chair of the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills will be unnoticed by most Albertans, but he has succeeded in fairly navigating some contentious issues that have arisen at committee hearings on private members’ bills this session. The expanded committee process for private members bills is new and is a very procedural and important part of how laws are made in Alberta.

Kaycee Madu Edmonton South West
Kaycee Madu (Source: Twitter)

Not: Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu (MLA Edmonton-South West): Carrying a definitively paternalistic approach to the provincial government’s relationship with municipalities, Madu introduced changes to local elections laws that led the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to declare that their relationship with the minister was broken.

Many rural municipalities have spoken out about oil and gas companies that are either unable or refusing to pay their municipal taxes and now tax structure changes implemented by the province threaten to strip oil and gas tax revenue from those same rural municipalities.

According to a statement from Camrose County: “Council and administration are extremely concerned about the serious impacts of this decision because it will mean an increase in property tax, reduction of services, or combination of both to make up for this lost revenue.

While the stated intention of this decision is to increase the competitiveness of oil and gas companies in this hard time, these changes will disproportionately benefit large oil and gas companies and harm smaller local firms.”

Sonya Savage

Not: Energy Minister Sonya Savage (MLA Calgary-North West): It is a pretty grim time to be an Energy Minister in Alberta. Former pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage had some success in negotiating funding from the federal government to clean up orphan and abandoned well sites, but her brave rhetoric has not matched the reality of the world’s energy market. Big oil companies like Total are pulling out of Alberta and barely a week goes by without a major investment house or bank divesting its funds from Alberta’s oil sands.

The much-lauded “Fightback” strategy touted by Savage and Kenney, which features a scandal-plagued Canadian Energy Centre and a $3.5 million secret public inquiry, seems to amount to the minister accusing companies like Total and financial institutions like Deutsche Bank of being “highly-hypocritical.” The world is moving away from Alberta’s oil sands and the government is either unable or unwilling to face that challenge.

Marlin Schimdt NDP MLA Edmonton Gold Bar Alberta Election 2019 politics
Marlin Schimdt

Not: Shane Getson (MLA Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland): Getson’s adolescent behavior – telling the NDP that they have a special VIP section reserved in Hell and allegedly making inappropriate gestures toward opposition MLAs – are unbecoming of an elected representative. Grow up, Shane.

Hot: Speaker Nathan Cooper (MLA Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): An effort to demystify the Legislative Assembly, Cooper’s weekly videos highlighting different parts of the Legislature Building and functions of the Assembly has been entertaining and educating. Cooper and his staff should be commended for recognizing the opportunity to open the Legislature to Albertans through social media.

Not: Marlin Schmidt (MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): Schmidt’s comments about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were an unnecessary distraction at a point when it looked like the NDP were on a role. Smarten up, Marlin.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 58: Summer in Alberta Politics Q & A

You sent us your questions and we answered! In this edition of the annual Alberta politics Q&A episode, Daveberta Podcast host Dave Cournoyer and producer Adam Rozenhart dive into the mailbag to answer listener questions about provincial parks, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the reopening of schools in September, political party fundraising, how previous governments might have handled the COVID-19 pandemic differently, how the government could do a better job convincing more Albertans to wear face masks in public, and much more.

We also chat about your recommendations for the Alberta politics summer reading list, which will be published later this week.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP ride high as UCP fundraising plummets in second quarter of 2020

The opposition New Democratic Party has out-fundraised the United Conservative Party for the first time since 2017, according to political party financial disclosures released by Elections Alberta.

The NDP raised $1,032,796.85 between April and June 2020, almost twice as much as the governing UCP, which raised $642,677 in the second quarter of 2020.

This is almost the opposite of the first quarter of 2020, in which the UCP raised $1.2 million and the NDP trailed with $582,130.

The UCP raised $7.37 million in 2019 but has has been feeling financial strain after the conservative party racked up a $2.3 million deficit and was forced to apply for the federal wage subsidy program in order to keep its staff on payroll. The party also saw significant turnover in its staff leadership as it hired its third executive director in three years when Dustin van Vugt was hired to replaced Brad Tennant, who left earlier this year to join Nick Koolsbergen’s lobbyist company.

Alberta’s political parties largely stopped in-person fundraising events since the COVID-19 pandemic began but they all continued with their traditional aggressive email and social media appeals.

The NDP held a number of Zoom fundraisers featuring musical acts and guest speakers during the pandemic but it is the actions of the UCP that likely helped boost the NDP’s cash flow.

While the UCP would still likely be re-elected if an election were held tomorrow, public opinion polls show that Albertans do not approve of the government’s handling of health care, education and post-secondary education issues.

I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly look through the list of individual donors, but I would not be surprised if the very public fight between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the Alberta Medical Association means there are less doctors showing up on the UCP’s list in this quarter.

The size of the donations received by the parties is also worth noting. More than half of the donations to the NDP were in amounts of $250 or less, while almost two-thirds of donations to the UCP were in denominations over $250.

One of the big successes of the UCP’s predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, was its ability to cultivate a large base of small donors, something that the UCP appears to have trended away from (the UCP received nearly 90 individual donations of $4,000 in the first quarter of 2020).

I am told that the NDP raised around $10,000 in small donations during an impromptu social media campaign encouraging supporters to donate to the NDP to celebrate Premier Jason Kenney‘s birthday on May 30.

While the UCP will likely recover their fundraising advantage or at least become more competitive with the NDP in future quarters, it does show that Kenney’s party faces some significant internal financial problems. And for the NDP, it shows that despite losing last year’s election the party under Rachel Notley‘s leadership has continued to maintain a strong base of donors during its first year as official opposition, and, presumably, as government-in-waiting.

Here is what the political parties raised during the second quarter of 2020:

The Pro-Life Alberta Political Association and Reform Party of Alberta reported no donations during this period.

The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4,000 as of January 1, 2020.

Parties move to virtual conventions

The UCP and the Alberta Party have both announced plans to forgo their annual in-person conventions, opting to hold the meetings online this year.

The UCP’s virtual AGM will be held on October 16, 17 and 24 and will feature policy debates, board and executive elections and the traditional MLA bear-pit session.

The Alberta Party’s virtual annual general meeting is scheduled to be held on August 29 and will include board elections and likely discussion around the process to select a new leader.

Jacquie Fenske
Jacquie Fenske

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jacquie Fenske stepped up to become interim leader of the Alberta Party in February 2020, replacing former PC MLA Stephen Mandel who resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election. Fenske previously served as MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville from 2012 to 2015 and as a Councillor in Strathcona Country from 1995 to 1998 and 2004 to 2012.

Meanwhile, the UCP has scheduled its first major COVID-era in-person fundraiser on August 14, which will take the form of a horse race derby at a race track outside Lacombe.

Tickets to watch Kenney and UCP MLAs compete in a horse race, including a T-Rex race that will feature MLAs racing in “their t-rex dinosaur costumes,” start at $100 for the “MLA Cheer Team” and go as high as $3000 for the “Ralph Klein VIP Suite.”

Categories
Alberta Politics

4 reasons why Kenney’s approval ratings are low and Albertans aren’t rallying around the flag during the pandemic.

Alberta is used to being a political outlier. And in the first six months of 2020, when governments and opposition parties in most provinces put aside their political differences to face the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, Alberta remained an outlier as neither the United Conservative Party government nor the New Democratic Party opposition put aside their differences to rally around the flag. Here are a few reasons why:

Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)
Jason Kenney (source: Flickr)

1. Jason Kenney is unpopular. This is not new and has been a problem that has dogged him and his party since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017. Pulling off a coup by taking over the Progressive Conservative Party and merging it with the Wildrose Party to form the UCP may have solidified his popularity among conservative partisans, but most polls have shown his approval and performance ratings dragging far below the high-water mark of UCP support in the 2019 election.

2. The United Conservative Party government is using the pandemic and economic crisis as cloud cover to continue to implement a divisive political agenda. The UCP campaigned on the slogan of “jobs, economy and pipelines,” but during the pandemic the government has barely skipped a beat in continuing its fight with rural and small town doctors, cutting funding that led to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs and thousands of layoffs at Alberta’s technical colleges and universities, and pushing the privatization and closure of Alberta’s provincial parks. And plans to layoff nurses and health care workers? That has only been delayed.

And while claiming that the government is broke, the UCP invested $1.5 billion and pledged an additional $6 billion towards the construction of a pipeline that entirely depends on Donald Trump being re-elected as President of the United States in November.

Donald Trump (source: Facebook)
Donald Trump (source: Facebook)

Probably one of the most distinguishing features of the UCP government is the inability of its ministers to admit it is wrong or has made a mistake, ever. Instead, the UCP responds by aggressively blaming its opponents, whether it be the Alberta Medical Association, the New Democratic Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan, secret foreign-funded anti-Alberta campaigns, or nefarious urban green-left radicals with growing influence over New York City-based credit rating agencies.

Barely a day goes by where the UCP does not release a meme or video on social media attacking its opponents. Long gone are the days when the old PC Party government would focus on governing and pretend the opposition parties didn’t exist.

3. The New Democratic Party official opposition is very aggressive. While the tiny 2-4 MLA NDP caucus of the past would frequently run circles around the other opposition parties, the current 24-MLA NDP caucus is striking a different tone and operating in a similar aggressive manner to how the Wildrose Party did during its time in opposition benches from 2012-2017.

Rachel Notley (source: Facebook)

It is perhaps not a surprise that the UCP is now trying to paint the NDP with the same “Team Angry” moniker that the PC Party slapped onto the Wildrose Party a decade ago. But the political landscape in Alberta is drastically different as both parties now exist in a competitive environment where Albertans have a taste for electoral change.

With former premier Rachel Notley at its helm and a front bench of former cabinet ministers in its caucus, the NDP are the first official opposition in decades that can legitimately call itself a government-in-waiting. But in a big way, the NDP needs to start acting like a government-in-waiting and talking confidently about what new ideas it will implement and bad UCP ideas it will repeal if or when it forms government again in 2023.

4. Nothing is actually getting done for Albertans who now face record unemployment levels and a very uncertain economic future.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 54: That’s a great Alberta politics question.

We dive into the mailbag in this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to answer questions about Alberta politics sent in by our listeners on topics ranging from the United Conservative Party’s influence on the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race to the details of the Alberta government’s Keystone XL Pipeline investment to Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s never-ending fight with Alberta’s doctors to how the 1918 Spanish influenza impacted Alberta politics and more great questions.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

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Alberta Politics

Talking Alberta pandemic politics with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

I was thrilled to spend an hour (remotely) with Ryan Jespersen and panelists Rosa Ellithorpe and Melissa Caouette on 630CHED today to talk about Albertan, Canadian and American politics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We covered a lot of ground, including President Donald Trump’s decision to order 3M to not ship N95 masks to Canada, and how premiers Jason Kenney and Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have responded to the pandemic and a collapsing economy.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 51: A new Alberta. Responding to COVID-19 and Oil Crash with Chris Henderson.

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay at home.

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the plummeting price of oil has sent shockwaves through Alberta politics over the past two weeks.

Chris Henderson, Chief Strategist and Partner at Y Station Communications and Research, joins Dave Cournoyer and Adam Rozenhart on the Daveberta Podcast to try to make sense of the rapidly changing political landscape in Alberta and Canada.

Chris reflects on how political leaders Jason Kenney, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump are responding to the crisis and shares some of the results from Y Station’s recent polling of Albertans on COVID-19 issues.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Accolades: The Daveberta Podcast is the winner in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in the 2020 Canadian Podcast Awards. Thanks to everyone who voted for and continues to listen to our made-in-Alberta politics podcast.

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