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Alberta Politics

Guest column: Prescribing a dose of reality for Alberta’s Health Minister

By Aaron Manton

Aaron Manton
Aaron Manton

As a Press Secretary for Alberta’s NDP government, I had the pleasure of working with five cabinet ministers, spending countless hours with them at more events than I can remember.

There are, however, a few events I can’t forget.

Like the time the Executive Protection Unit – the EPU, sort of the Premier’s “secret service” – pulled me aside to let me know a threat had been made against the minister I was staffing. They never said where it was from, or what the nature of the threat was, only that we had to go – now.

They discreetly escorted us out a back door to the minister’s vehicle and we drove away. Everyone was fine. It was quick. Swift. Professional. Painless. The whole incident might have lasted five minutes, but my heart was in my throat the whole time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I follow the events surrounding Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro being accused of berating a physician and intimidating citizens in response to a Facebook meme and alleged threats made to his wife, Andrea Shandro, regarding their part ownership in a private health insurance company, Vital Partners.

Though I haven’t seen or read the threats, and I sincerely hope they weren’t dangerous or serious, I have seen the Facebook meme, and to call it derogatory is to be a bit hyperbolic.

People are losing their jobs. People are getting sick. The person responsible for health care in Alberta is worried about losing Facebook friends.

Now, having worked as a New Democrat in Alberta, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have anyone say something critical of my work on the internet and have my friends and neighbours share it…

As part of my work, I helped manage social media accounts for a handful of female politicians, including two women health ministers. I’ve seen what social media attacks look like. I’ve seen the kind of vitriol spewed at them daily. Bullying, defamation and harassment don’t come close to describing some of it, and I know none of it came close to what some other women in politics have experienced. I also saw these ministers able to keep their focus on the critical portfolios they were responsible for, rather than on their mentions.

There is a process for dealing with concerning or threatening emails and social media posts. It doesn’t involve politicians or their staff harassing constituents. You report threats to the EPU. They are the professionals who advise you on whether the threat is serious and if you should go to the person’s house to yell at them.

Just kidding.

The point is, there are folks who know what they are doing when it comes to keeping ministers and those around them safe, and that’s who should be dealing with any threats the Shandros were receiving. I only felt the need to use this process a few times, and only when something felt a bit off. Thankfully never because of a threat to myself, and thankfully everything always turned out fine.

I can understand why Shandro feels passionately.

I love my partner too.

I get upset when people say things to hurt her. I get worried when people say things to make her feel unsafe. I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I wouldn’t respond passionately to defend her, as Shandro says he was doing for her wife. That’s why I was really concerned when Jason Kenney’s opposition staffers doxed her Twitter account and put it on an enemies list last year. I was also pretty freaked out when they started stalking my roommate and releasing creepy videos online around the same time. When a conservative staffer snapped a picture of me smoking by a no smoking sign at the Legislature, I just thought that was weird. Just don’t tell my grandma, man.

But joking aside, it can get pretty rough when these things start happening, close to home, you know?

The fact remains, the Facebook meme that enraged Shandro wasn’t threatening. Frankly, compared to what one sees regularly on the #ableg feed, it’s not really even that bad.

Shandro’s statement in response to all of this doesn’t take any responsibility for what was a significant failure of judgement and character during a time when he should be bringing his best to his work.

Surely even the minister himself must wonder in hindsight why at some point on the way to confront a neighbour in person about an internet meme he didn’t ask himself, “should I be doing this right now, or ever?”

The statement does, however, fit with his government’s serial habit of playing the victim and mobilizing its resources to intimidate citizens when deflecting criticism. The language makes clear that a physician criticizing Shandro is doing something he shouldn’t, that Albertans expressing concerns about a minister’s potential perceived conflict of interest is unacceptable, and that the only folks who should feel wronged in any of this are the Shandros.

The minister, for his part, apologized for getting distracted.

Thankfully, Shandro pledged not to let Facebook distract him anymore, and I think that’s great. Every politician should avoid looking at their notifications. But this incident shows that it might just be time for Shandro to put the phone down.

Besides, the very capable communications people at Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services can handle communicating with Albertans about all that pesky public health care system stuff that doesn’t seem to be his priority. In a pandemic.

When I’ve felt like social media isn’t the best presence in my life, I’ve replaced it with more productive things, like when I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone and downloaded Duolingo. Ahora, mi español es perfecto! Shandro may want to consider some other projects he can direct his passion towards, perhaps the health care system serving over four million people he is responsible for. In a pandemic.

In all seriousness, during these uncertain and sometimes scary times, citizens want to feel assured that their leaders are focused on the things they are worried about. The perception that the government isn’t prioritizing the well-being of the people it serves can be detrimental to the public trust at a critical time. Just look south of the border.

Tyler Shandro is still new at this. He says he knows what he signed up for when he got into politics.

I thought I did too, but working in politics comes with many surprises, not all of which are pleasant.

I never saw myself putting my body between a candidate and a man inches away from his face yelling about how we wanted to make his children gay. I never predicted having to eject someone from the campaign office I was managing for hate speech. I didn’t think any of my aunts would block me during an election. I didn’t anticipate far right websites posting videos of my friends and making petitions to get them fired.

But I did expect a few mean things to be said about me on Facebook, and I mostly tried not to let it ruin my day.

Aaron Manton was a Press Secretary for Alberta’s NDP government from 2015 to 2019 and has volunteered, worked on and managed political campaigns across the country. You can say nice or mean things to him @mantonaaron on Twitter.

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Alberta Politics

Remember “Albexit?” Economist and political pundit Jack Mintz to lead UCP economic advisory panel

With the international price of oil taking another nose-dive this week, Premier Jason Kenney announced at a press conference this afternoon that Jack Mintz, a fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and board member of Imperial Oil Limited and Morneau Shepell, will lead the latest in a series of expert panels appointed by the United Conservative Party government.

Mintz’s panel will be tasked with providing economic advice to the government in light of the recent drop in oil prices. Mintz tweeted the idea about 5 hours before Kenney announced it, leaving political observers to wonder which came first: the tweet or the appointment?

The challenges facing Alberta has been clear for a long time: the Alberta government is over-reliant on revenues from unreliable oil and gas royalties to fund the daily operations of government. This has been the case for decades, including all the previous times the international price of oil has collapsed, leaving the province in an economic crisis.

The need to find alternative revenue streams is something the UCP and previous governments have been unable to accept or accomplish.

Kenney has already said a provincial sales tax is off the table, so a major solution favoured by many economist is likely a non-starter.

Mintz’s views about government spending and economics are no secret in Alberta, nor are they to Conservative politicians and political leaders who he has lent his advice to in the past. While it might be unfair to prejudge Mintz’s yet-to-be-named panel, it would be a great surprise if a strong dose of austerity, privatization, or a version of Janice MacKinnon’s Report on steroids were not included in its advice.

As one of the province’s most prominent conservative economists his appointment to lead this panel is probably predictable, but it is his political views that make the choice more interesting.

For years, Mintz has moonlighted as a political pundit in the pages of the Postmedia-owned Financial Post, penning a regular opinion column that has included some fairly cringeworthy claims targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s federal Liberal government, Alberta’s former New Democratic Party government and, more recently, providing fuel for supporters of Wexit and Alberta’s separation from Canada.

A column published in June 2015 aimed at the newly elected government of then-premier Rachel Notley claimed at “Alberta is not yet Greece, but it’s heading along that path,” in reference to the Greek economic crisis of the mid-2010s.

In “Alberta has better reasons to Albexit than Britain did for Brexit,” published in December 2018, claimed that “if Brexit happened, then Albexit is just as possible” and “[w]hatever negatives Alberta would face are easily swamped by the positives that would come with separation.”

And a recent column following Mintz’s participation at a right-wing political conference focused on Alberta separatism touted a “nuclear option” and ended with the claim that “…Albertans are looking for the shackles to be taken off.”

While the advice given by Mintz’s panel will certainly be of interest to many Albertans, how his own political views are reflected in the recommendations might be just as interesting, and concerning, to watch.

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 49: Radical Sabbatical. Climate justice and Alberta politics with Chris Gusen

Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?

Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.

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!

Recommended reading/listening:

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Alberta Politics

Alberta politics talk with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

I was thrilled to spend an hour with Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED today to talk about American and Alberta politics.

We covered a lot of ground, including the political theatre between United States President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address, the federal Conservative Party leadership race and whether a Draft Kenney campaign will start anytime soon, political party fundraising returns from 2019, Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the NDP into Alberta’s 2023 election, and whether the Canadian Energy Centre is worth it’s $30 million annual budget (spoiler: it’s not).

Thanks again to Ryan for having me on the show!

Categories
Alberta Politics

A look at political party fundraising in 2019 and the state of the parties in 2020

Political party fundraising totals from 2019 were released last month and show that Alberta’s two main provincial parties raised record amounts of money last year.

The United Conservative Party raised $7.37 million as the party continues to demonstrate its fundraising strength. The now official opposition New Democratic Party also raised an impressive $5.5 million.

The total amount of donations raised by the two main parties is significant, especially when you consider how much Alberta’s political parties were raising five years previous. In 2014, the formerly governing Progressive Conservative Party raised $3,387,585.83, and the then fourth place NDP marked a record fundraising year with $482,085.

Political Party Fundraising in Alberta from 2016 to 2019, following the ban on corporate and union donations. Click to enlarge.

Both the NDP and the UCP’s successor predecessor party, the Wildrose Party, spent years cultivating strong bases of individual donors, which meant they were well positioned when corporate and union donations were banned in 2015.

The disclosures suggest that despite losing the election, the NDP remained a financially viable political party in the second half of 2019. The annual fundraising totals for the NDP in 2020 will provide some evidence as to whether the now official opposition party can sustain its fundraising levels outside of government.

Likely to help the NDP’s fundraising efforts in 2020 is Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the party into the next provincial election.

Notley would become the first former Alberta premier to lead their party into an election after they lost government. With Alberta’s long history of political dynasties, there are only a few premiers who had led their parties to lose an election – Charles Stewart, Richard Reid, Harry Strom, and Jim Prentice all resigned following their party’s election defeats.

Not having led a dynastic party, and arguably remaining her party’s strongest asset, Notley is in a different position than some other former premiers. She remains personally popular, and some early polls would suggest her party could remain an electoral force if a vote were held today.

The NDP faces a number of significant challenges, one being its lack of organizational strength in much of rural Alberta and Calgary. The NDP elected 24 MLAs in 2019, but none from rural Alberta and the party lost considerable ground in Calgary, where it had a breakthrough in 2015.

A positive note for the provincial NDP is that attempts to connect Notley to the federal NDP, which has been demonized in Alberta for its opposition to oil pipeline projects, does not appear to have hurt its fundraising bottom line.

But while the lack of federal party presence in Alberta is a mixed blessing for the NDP, it is a strength of the UCP, which shares considerable resources with its federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada. The upcoming federal Conservative leadership campaign could also introduce an interesting dynamic into this relationship (more on this comings soon).

The Other Parties

Alberta’s smaller political parties raised considerably less that the big two parties in 2019, with the Alberta Party raising $317,470, the Liberal Party raising $130,519, the Green Party raising $27,999, and the Freedom Conservative Party raising $24,783.

The Alberta Party remains leaderless following Stephen Mandel’s resignation shortly after his defeat in the 2019 election. It is suspected that the party will open a leadership race in the spring, after the UCP government is expected to make significant amendments to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, including rules for leadership races.

Mandel and his predecessor Greg Clark have been appointed to positions by the UCP government. Mandel now serves on the board of directors of Alberta Health Services and Clark is now chair of the province’s balancing pool.

David Khan‘s leadership was “overwhelmingly endorsed” by delegates attending last year’s Liberal Party convention, despite 2019 marking the first time since before 1986 that the party failed to elect any MLAs to the Legislative Assembly.

Delegates to the convention heard from a party committee that was convened to offer recommendations for how the Liberals should move forward in Alberta. The report was not made public.

Green Party members will vote for a new leader on March 28, 2020, following the resignation of Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes in 2019. Brian Deheer and Jordan Wilkie have declared their candidacies. This will be the party’s third leadership race since 2017. 

The Green Party also announced plans to adopt a co-leader system in which two individuals will share leadership responsibilities. This is the first party in Alberta to use a system similar to Green parties in other countries and Quebec solidaire in Quebec.

Alberta’s separatist fringe gets fringier

And there continues to be a flurry of activity on the separatist fringe.

Former UCP nomination candidate Dave Campbell has replaced former UCP nomination candidate Todd Beasley as President of the Independence Party of Alberta. The party currently does not have a leader.

Meanwhile, Kathy Flett, who is styled as the former interim leader of the Wexit Alberta separatist group, has joined the board of directors of the right-wing Freedom Conservative Party, which was founded in 1999 as the Alberta First Party and has at various times changed its name to the Separation Party of Alberta, the Western Freedom Party, and again to the Alberta First Party.

It could be that the Freedom Conservative Party is about to change its name once again, this time to the Wexit Alberta Party, or maybe the fringe separatists are continuing to fraction?

According to the Western Standard, a conservative website rebooted by former Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt after his defeat in the 2019 election, current federal Wexit leader Peter Downing claimed he fired Flett for attempting “to steal our trademark.”

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 47: If you ain’t oil, you ain’t much. A deep dive into Alberta’s oil well liability crisis.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics this month when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Tina Faiz and Regan Boychuk joined Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the growing issue of oil well liability, and the political and policy repercussions created in its wake.

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and political strategist based in Edmonton and Regan Boychuk is the lead researcher and oilfield liability expert with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project.

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!

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

15 years ago I started a blog about Alberta politics

It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.

Dave Cournoyer in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)
Dave Cournoyer at a political event in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)

I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.

I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.

Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?

The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.

Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.

Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.

Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
Dave Cournoyer and Justin Trudeau in 2014.

Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:

Alberta Legislature

Then: The Progressive Conservative Party formed a majority government with 61 MLAs, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition with 17 MLAs, the New Democratic Party had 4 MLAs, and the Alberta Alliance had 1 MLA. Ken Kowalski was the Speaker and serving his 26th year as an MLA.

Now: The United Conservative Party forms a majority government with 63 MLAs, and the NDP forms Official Opposition with 24 MLAs. Nathan Cooper is the Speaker.

"...Dave Cournoyer isn't some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut." - Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)
“…Dave Cournoyer isn’t some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut.” – Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)

Premier of Alberta

Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.

Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.

Leader of the Official Opposition

Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.

Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.

The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)
The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)

Alberta separatism

Then: The week that I launched Daveberta.ca, former Western Canada Concept leader Doug Christie was traveling through Alberta trying to start another western separatist party. The Western Block Party was unable to elect any MPs and was dissolved in 2014.

Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.

Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)
Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)

There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):

  • My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
  • My friend Chris Henderson, whose advice and friendship helped me navigate a number of politically challenging times.
  • My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
  • Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).

And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.

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Daveberta Podcast

Episode 46: Best of Alberta Politics in 2019

With a provincial election, a change in government, a federal election, and much more in between, 2019 was a big year in Alberta politics. Tina Faiz and Natalie Pon join Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the year in Alberta politics and their hopes and wishes for 2020. 

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and served as a press secretary and acting chief of staff for the Alberta NDP government. Natalie Pon is a conservative activist and former member of the United Conservative Party interim joint board.

And with more than 2,000 votes cast, they also discuss the results of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey and their picks in each category.

Thanks to everyone who voted and congratulations to the winners of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey:

Best Alberta MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
Best Cabinet Minister: Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier, Minister of Health & MLA for Edmonton-Glenora
Best Opposition MLA: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona
MLA to Watch in 2020: Janis Irwin, MLA Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 election: Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake
Biggest political issue in 2019: Budget cuts

And a huge thanks to our talented producer, Adam Rozenhart, who always makes the podcast sound so good.

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 always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You contact us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Thank you for listening and see you in 2020!

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics

Vote for the Best of Alberta Politics in 2019 – The Top 3

Photos: Leela Aheer, John Archer, Greg Clark, Devin Dreeshen, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Rachel Notley, Janis Irwin, Rakhi Pancholi, Shannon Phillips (source: Legislative Assembly of Alberta website)

With more than 500 submissions made to the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey, your choices have been sorted and you can now vote in each category. Voting is open until Dec. 14, 2019 at 11:59 pm and the winners will be announced on the special year-end episode of the Daveberta Podcast on Dec. 16, 2019.

Here are the top three choices in every category:

Who was the best Alberta MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshan, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona

An honourable mention to Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West who placed a strong fourth in total submissions. Notley was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best Alberta cabinet minister of 2019? – Vote

  • Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women
  • Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
  • Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Honourable mentions to Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen and Minister of Finance Travis Toews, who placed a close forth and fifth in this category. Former Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson was last year’s winner in this category.

Who was the best opposition MLA of 2019? – Vote

  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona
  • Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West

Former Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark was last year’s winner in this category.

Who is the up and coming MLA to watch in 2020? – Vote

  • Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake
  • Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  • Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud

An honourable mention to Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, who placed a strong fourth in the first round of voting. Jessica Littlewood, former MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, was last year’s winner in this category..

Who was the best candidate who didn’t win in the 2019 Alberta election? – Vote

  • John Archer, NDP candidate in Edmonton-South West
  • Greg Clark, Alberta Party candidate in Calgary-Elbow
  • Danielle Larivee, NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake

An honourable mention to Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville NDP candidate Jessica Littlewood, and Leduc-Beaumont NDP candidate Shaye Anderson, who tied for fourth place in this category..

What was the biggest political issue of 2019 in Alberta? – Vote

  • Budget cuts
  • Economy and jobs
  • Firing the Elections Commissioner
  • Turkey farm hostage taking

There were a lot of submissions in this category, so we decided to give you a chance to vote on the top four in this category.

What was the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta?

Lorne Gibson Alberta Election Commissioner
Lorne Gibson

This category is usually a dog’s breakfast, but this year your choice was clear. So we have declared the biggest political play of 2019 in Alberta was the United Conservative Party government firing of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson. The UCP government’s omnibus Bill 22 dissolved the Office of the Election Commissioner, who was in the midst of investigating and issuing fines for violations of Alberta’s elections laws during the UCP leadership race in 2017.

Government watch-dog Democracy Watch has called on the RCMP to investigate the firing of the Election Commissioner and wants a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the investigation to ensure there is no political interference.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta’s “Fair Deal” Panel hosts first Separatist Open Mic Night in Edmonton

Dozens of speakers stepped up to to the mic to share their two-minutes worth of opinions at the first “Fair Deal” Panel town hall meeting in Edmonton last night. The event in the large meeting room at the St. Michael’s Heritage Hall was well-attended, but not overflowing with crowds of angry Albertans demanding separation from Canada.

The panel was appointed last month to decide whether Alberta is receiving a fair deal from Ottawa.

Fair Deal Panel Edmonton Alberta Politics 1
Fair Deal Panelists: Oryssia Lennie, Preston Manning, Stephen Lougheed, Jason Goodstriker, Donna Kennedy-Glans, Drew Barnes, Moin Yahya, Miranda Rosin, and Tany Yao.

The first speaker up to the mic told the panel that he was a separatist from Quebec when he moved to Alberta in the 1980s and feels Alberta is not getting a fair deal from Ottawa. The second speaker used his two-minutes at the mic to boisterously declare that Canada was broken and that his personal Christmas wish was for Premier Jason Kenney to hold a referendum on separation.

A few speakers criticized the government for stirring up separatist sentiment, expressed hope that Alberta could collaborate with other provinces, and said they wouldn’t trust the United Conservative Party government to manage a provincial pension plan (a statement which got some enthusiastic cheers from sections of the room). But many of the speakers tended to share separatist, or at least anti-federal Liberal sentiments, venting frustrations about federal environmental laws, delivering detailed plot summaries of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and offering their expertise on constitutional issues.

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips
Chris Chang-Yen Phillips

In what was probably the most thoughtful two-minutes of the evening, Chris Chang-Yen Phillips, Edmonton’s former historian laureate and host of the Let’s Find Out Podcast, urged the panel to focus less on what we believe we are owed and more on taking care of each other.

Chang-Yen Phillips went on to explain that a fair deal in Confederation for him would be where every province does its part to lower carbon emissions, or transition away from fossil fuels. His comments might fall on deaf ears on the panel but it was a refreshing break from the separatist rhetoric that dominated the evening.

Who stood up at the mic was also telling. While not all of the speakers were white men who appeared to be older than 60 years old, it certainly skewed toward that demographic from my view in the room.

The panel was created following the Liberal Party‘s victory in the October 21, 2019 federal election, despite the Conservative Party earning 70 percent of the vote in Alberta, and was prescribed nine policy proposals that would ostensibly make Alberta more autonomous from the federal government in Ottawa. The proposals, ranging from creating a provincial police force to withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan to barring municipal governments from making agreements with the federal government, are inspired by the Firewall Manifesto penned by a group of conservative luminaries in 2001.

Separatist Open Mic Night Edmonton Alberta
The panel hears from a speaker at the town hall

Politically, the panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent separatist sentiments while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s the plan.

The first town hall took place on the same day as the international credit rating agency Moody’s once again downgraded the provincial government’s credit rating.

During their time in opposition, the UCP was very eager to blame the credit downgrades on the New Democratic Party government’s “reckless” and “ideological” agenda, but it turns out that the credit rating downgrades have more to do with structural problems facing Alberta’s finances – like our unwavering over-dependence on oil and gas royalties to fund the day to day operations of the public service. That might have been a topic at a town hall interested in a fair deal for Albertans in Alberta, but this panel has a narrow political scope – and Kenney has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is square in its sights.

There are plenty of articulate arguments to be made in favour and against pursuing the nine autonomy policies presented by the panel but they weren’t heard last night. The two-minute open mic format is a good way to let people vent and a poor way to collect meaningful information. If this is the format that is going to be used for the rest of the panel’s town hall meetings, it is difficult to believe they will gather much substantial feedback for their report to the government.


Independence Party of Alberta fires its President

Overshadowed by the media-darling Wexit group, the Independence Party of Alberta appears to be in a bit of internal turmoil.

The IPA, which recently changed its name from the Alberta Independence Party to the Independence Party of Alberta, released a statement on Nov. 1, 2019 announcing that interim president S. Todd Beasley had been removed from the position and his membership had been rescinded. The party then released another statement accusing Beasley and a group of former candidates of breaking internal party rules and being in possession of books of party membership forms.

Beasley is a controversial conservative activist who was believed to be the frontrunner for the UCP nomination in Brooks-Medicine Hat before he withdrew from the contest after making derogatory remarks about Muslims.

The Alberta Independence Party fielded 63 candidates in the April 2019 provincial election and earned a total of 0.71 per cent of the province-wide vote. Party leader Dave Bjorkman resigned shortly after the election and Wexit leader Peter Downing had announced plans to seek the leadership but his supporters appear to be continuing to collect signatures to form a separate Wexit Party.

Meanwhile, another group of separatists led by former Wildrose Party candidate Sharon Maclise, appears to be continuing its effort to collect signatures to register the Alberta Freedom Alliance as an official party in Alberta.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 45: Class(room) Warfare and how the UCP Budget impacts Public Education in Alberta

Public education advocate and school trustee Michael Janz joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of public education in Alberta and how cuts in the United Conservative Party‘s first provincial budget will impact the education system in our province. We also discuss what is behind the UCP’s drive to expand private and charter schools, and why the New Democratic Party did not cut the 70% subsidy for private schools in Alberta while they were in government.

Michael Janz Edmonton Public School Board trustee education advocate
Michael Janz (source: EPSB)

We also opened the mailbag to answer some of the great Alberta politics questions sent in by our listeners, and announce the launch of the Best of Alberta Politics 2019 survey which starts later this week.

A huge thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, who tried to keep us on track during this episode.

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 always love to feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Send us your feedback, or ask us any questions you have for our next episode. You contact us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca.

Thanks for listening!

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Categories
Alberta Politics

How much Alberta’s political parties spent in the 2019 election

Elections Alberta has released the initial financial disclosures showing how much money Alberta’s political parties spent and raised during the 2019 provincial general election campaign period spanning from February 1, 2019 to June 16, 2019.

This was the first election under the new election finance rules implemented by the New Democratic Party during their term in government. The NDP made a number of significant changes to how Alberta’s elections were financed, including banning donations to political parties by corporations and unions, and introducing a spending limit of $2,000,000 for political parties and $50,000 for candidate campaigns, but at the financial returns show, what the spending limits apply to are limited.

The $2,000,000 and $50,000 spending limits only apply to the actual 28-day election period from the time the election is called until Election Day. So the limit does not apply to the broader campaign period, which according to Section 38.1(2) of the Election Act, begins on February 1 in the year of the fixed-election date and ends ends 2 months after Election Day.

The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act also creates exceptions to the spending limit on expenses categorized as “election expenses.” The expense limit during the 28-day election period does not apply to a candidate’s travel expenses related to the election, including meals and accommodation, a candidate’s child care expenses, expenses related to the provision of care for a person with a physical or mental incapacity for who the candidate normally provides such care, etc.

What the parties spent

Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta's provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)
Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta’s provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)

The United Conservative Party spent $4,561,362.10 while raising $3,889,582.70 during the campaign period, ending the campaign with a deficit of $671,779.40.

$1,909,116.43 of the UCP’s expenses were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,202,965.43 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional materials. $2,619,471.83 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The NDP spent $5,363,029.30 and raised $3,706,785.66, ending the campaign with a deficit of $1,656,043.64.

Of the NDP’s campaign expenses, $1,977,367.65 were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,363,029.74 for advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional material. $2,200,131.09 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The Alberta Party raised $206,597 and spent $199,935 during the campaign period. $118,960 of the Alberta Party’s expenses fell under the provincial limit rules, including $21,932 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional. Of the party’s total expenses, $74,975 was exempt from the limit.

The Alberta Liberal Party raised $101,233 and spent $130,063, ending the campaign with a deficit of $28,830. The Green Party raised $14,894.40 and spent $41,702.22, earning a deficit of $26,807.82.

Some candidates spent a lot during the campaign period

The campaigns of a number of UCP candidates spent considerable amount during the course of the broader campaign period. Here is a snapshot of some of the higher candidate campaign expenses:

  • Doug Schweitzer, UCP candidate in Calgary-Elbow: spent $309,597.22, of which $268,166.23 did not fall under the spending limit.
  • Tyler Shandro, UCP candidate in Calgary-Acadia: spent $122,170.91, with $77,463.88 not falling under the spending limit.
  • Kaycee Madu, UCP candidate in Edmonton-South West: spent $101,098, with $55,527 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Dan Williams, UCP candidate in Peace River: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Jason Luan, UCP candidate in Calgary-Foothills: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.

No NDP candidate candidate campaign spent anywhere near the amount of the big spenders on the UCP slate, but a number of candidates did exceed the $50,000 limit:

  • Rachel Notley, running for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona: spent $73,297, with $39,798 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Christina Gray, NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods: spent $73,576, with $27,742 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Lorne Dach, NDP candidate in Edmonton-McClung: spent $64,282, with $27,396 exempt from the spending limit.

And the campaign of Caylan Ford, the UCP star candidate in Calgary-Mountain View who withdrew from the election before the nomination deadline, was recorded to have spent $83,100,50 during the campaign period that began on February 1, 2019, with $32,676.94 of these expenses being exempt from the spending limit.

Chief Elections Officer recommends changes

Glen Resler Chief Elections Officer Alberta
Glen Resler (Source: Elections Alberta)

Chief Elections Officer Glen Resler recommended in his office’s recently released annual report that the spending limits be placed on the entire campaign period, rather than just the election period. He argued in the report that this change would “reduce the administrative burden and provide clarity for Chief Financial Officers of parties, constituency associations and candidates with respect to apportioning expenses between election and campaign periods.

Resler recommended that Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Election Act be “combined into one coherent statute to make the legislation more accessible to participants and electors and provide a much-needed opportunity to renumber the legislation.” Currently, eight other provinces and territories have one piece of legislation governing provincial elections.

The report also recommends that political entities be expressly prohibited from contributing to third party advertisers, which seems to be a reaction to the decision by the now defunct Wildrose Party association in Airdrie to donate $16,000 to a political action committee.

CBC reports that the UCP government is expected to make major changes to Alberta’s election finance laws in the spring 2020 session of the Legislature. It is suspected that some changes could removing the limits of third-party advertisers to spend funds during the election and campaign periods, and raising the amount that individuals can donate to political parties. Changes are also expected to include moves to limit the ability of unions to fund third-party groups and to advocate for their members on political and policy issues.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta is getting an MLA Recall Law. Here is what it could mean for Alberta politics.

Photo: Mark Smith, UCP MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon (source: Facebook)

A private members’ bill introduced by Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith would, if passed, create a law to allow Albertans to trigger a by-election in a riding where 40 per cent of registered voters have signed a petition recalling their MLA.

William Aberhart
William Aberhart

This is the second time Smith has introduced a private members’ bill calling for what is known as MLA recall. The first recall bill introduced by Smith, then a Wildrose Party MLA, was defeated in second reading in April 2016. His latest attempt, Bill 204: Election Recall Act, passed second reading today and stands a strong chance of passing third reading and becoming law. 

MLA recall was included in the United Conservative Party’s election platform, and allowing Smith deliver on this promise through a private members’ bill may his consolation prize after he was excluded from the cabinet after his gross comments about “homosexual love” surfaced during the provincial election.

MLA Recall is nothing new in Alberta. Bill 204 marks the eighth time since 1993 that Alberta MLAs have debated recall in the Legislature, and Alberta even briefly had an MLA recall law in the 1930s.

An law passed in 1936 by the newly elected Social Credit government of Premier William Aberhart required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election. The law was repealed by the government in 1937 when a recall campaign in Aberhart’s Okotoks-High River was gaining momentum and expected to trigger a by-election.

Leela Aheer ALberta MLA
Leela Aheer (Source: Twitter)

Smith’s bill would create a threshold of 40 per cent of eligible voters needed to trigger a recall by-election, which is significantly higher than previous versions of the bill, including one introduced in 2015 by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer that set the bar at a low 20 per cent of eligible voters.

Mark Smith’s bill has a number of concerning weaknesses

Removing a democratically-elected MLA from office through recall is a very serious action, and one that should be done only in certain serious circumstances.

Bill 204 places limits on when recall can take place, starting 18 months following a provincial election, but it does not place limits why it can be triggered.

Recall legislation proclaimed in the United Kingdom in 2015 states specific circumstances in which a recall petition can be triggered against a sitting Member of Parliament:

  • A custodial prison sentence of a year or less—longer sentences automatically disqualify MPs without need for a petition;
  • Suspension from the House of least 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, following a report by the Committee on Standards;
  • A conviction for providing false or misleading expenses claims.
Shannon Phillips
Shannon Phillips

If there is going to be a recall law in Alberta, it should be fair and should only be allowed to be triggered under certain circumstances, otherwise it could be used to punish MLAs who make unpopular decisions or break from their party on high-profile political issues.

Because Bill 204 appears to be silent on how political parties and third-party political groups, widely known as political action committees, can engage in the recall process, it seems possible that they could play a role in collecting petition signatures through coordinated campaigns.

Bill 204 does not appear to address the role of political parties in funding, supporting, or organizing recall petitions, meaning that the UCP, New Democratic Party, or another political party might be able to actively support a recall campaign against its political opponents.

While political parties and third-party political groups would still be required to report their financial disclosures, it is not clear how their activities or interference during the recall process would be monitored.

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

It is not far-fetched to believe that third-party groups, of both conservative and progressive persuasions, could start collecting signatures to trigger recall elections in ridings where MLAs were elected by narrow margins in 2019, like NDP MLAs Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Jon Carson in Edmonton-West Henday or UCP MLAs Nicholas Milliken in Calgary-Currie and Kaycee Madu in Edmonton-South West.

Empower MLAs rather than punish them

Being a backbench MLA in a government caucus is not a glamorous job. They are told where to be and how to vote on most issues, and rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate meaningful independence without facing admonishment from the Caucus Whip.

In many ways, the Legislative Assembly has become subservient to the Premier’s Office, and serves as a body that exists to pass government legislation introduced by cabinet, rather than debate legislation introduced by individual MLAs. This is not unique to Alberta and it is a problem that plagues legislative bodies across Canada (and likely the world).

One way that individual MLAs could empower themselves would be to change the standing orders to allow MLAs who are not in cabinet an increased opportunity to introduce private members bills. Right now MLAs earn the ability to introduce private members bills through a lottery, meaning that some MLAs will never have the chance to introduce a law into the Legislature. And private members’ bills are only debated on Monday afternoons, severely limiting their ability to get attention and get passed into law. 

Accountability of democratic officials is important, and that is why we have elections every four years. And as Albertans have demonstrated over the past two elections, they will not hesitate to dramatically unseat MLAs and governments.

It would be better for democracy in Alberta if we focused on ways to empower MLAs to better represent Albertans in the Legislative Assembly, rather than creating new ways to punish them.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Firing the Election Commissioner is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta

In an unusual but not unheard of piece of political theatre, New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley was removed from the Legislative Assembly today when she refused to apologize for accusing the UCP government of obstruction of justice as it dissolves the independent Office of the Election Commissioner.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley (Source: Facebook)

Notley knew what she was doing, and did not take it lightly, as she was willing to be thrown out of the Assembly for a day in order to make her point. This is the first time in recent memory that a leader of the official opposition has been removed from the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney was on a plane to Texas safely avoiding controversy when his United Conservative Party government introduced the omnibus bill.

Bill 22: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprise Act, a 174-page omnibus bill, is packed with legislative changes, including major changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans, cuts to historical and sports groups, and dissolves the Office of the Election Commissioner. That last move in effect fires Commissioner Lorne Gibson and likely shuts down his years-long investigation into the UCP’s 2017 leadership campaign that has already led to more than $200,000 in fines.

The Election Commissioner’s investigation is related to illegal or irregular donations to the so-called Kamakaze campaign of Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president whose brief run for the UCP leadership is considered to have been a stalking-horse for front-runner Kenney. The RCMP are conducting a separate on-going investigation into the UCP leadership campaign.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney (Source: Daveberta.ca)

Kenney’s campaign closely collaborated with Callaway’s campaign, and Matt Wolf, now the Premier’s Executive Director of Issues Management, played an intimate role. But that’s not the shady backroom business that is being investigated by the Commissioner or the RCMP.

The Office of the Election Commissioner was created in 2017 because it was determined that the Chief Elections Officer did not have the resources or political independence to launch thorough investigations into violations of Alberta’s election finance laws.

Wildrose MLAs argued against the creation of his office and UCP supporters have both despised and dismissed Gibson’s investigations, but it is the timing and brazenness of the firing that was shocking.

Before it was tabled for First Reading in the Assembly, Government House Leader Jason Nixon moved to fast-track Bill 22 by severely limiting debate to one hour at each stage in the Legislative process.

Finance Minister Travis Toews has framed dissolving the Office of the Election Commissioner, with its $1 million annual budget, as a money saving decision. But at the same time, the UCP government is spending $2.5 million on a public inquiry to intimidate its political opponents and is providing a $30 million public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry through the creation of Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.

The UCP are changing the rules because people involved in the party broke the rules and were starting to get caught. Kenney knew that firing the Election Commissioner would be unpopular, but he is clearly willing to spend significant political capital to end the investigations into the Kamikaze campaign. It is a cynical move that is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta.

Notley asks LG to not give Royal Assent to Bill 22

Lois Mitchell
Lois Mitchell (Source: LG website)

Notley has asked Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell to not sign Bill 22 when it passes third reading.

It is clear that the best interests of Albertans would be served by allowing the Office of the Election Commissioner to continue its investigations into violations of Alberta’s elections laws, an unlikely outcome if Bill 22 passes, but it is both a serious request and a risky and potentially ineffective political move to ask the Lieutenant Governor to intervene (as she is likely to decline, or worse, simply not respond to the request). 

That said, the Lieutenant Governor does have a power known as reservation, which has rarely been exercised over Canadian history, and probably for good reason. The powers exist in Section 55 of the Constitution Act, and explained plainly, it means the Lieutenant Governor may adopt one of three courses of action in regard to any legislation passed by the Assembly: they may assent, they may “withhold” assent, or they may reserve their assent for “the Signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.”.

I am aware of two examples in recent history in which a Lieutenant Governor opted to withhold Royal Assent to a bill passed by a provincial legislature.

John C Bowen Alberta Lieutenant Governor
John C. Bowen

In 1937, Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by Premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government, including the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to hand over the names and addresses of their sources to the government, and to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. The unconstitutionality of the three bills was later confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1961, Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Frank Bastedo opted to withhold Royal Assent for a mineral rights bill, which was later approved through an order-in-council passed by the federal cabinet in Ottawa.

There have been two recent cases in Alberta’s history where Lieutenant Governor’s have publicly mused about withholding assent.

Ralph Steinhauer Alberta Lieutenant Governor
Ralph Steinhauer (Source: Alberta Lieutenant Governor on Flickr)

In 1977, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Steinhauer, the first person of Aboriginal heritage to be appointed to the post, considered withholding Royal Assent and publicly spoke against Bill 29:The Land Titles Amendment Act.

The bill introduced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s PC government was designed to prevent Aboriginal land claims in the northern Alberta, including the oilsands producing areas.

And in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole publicly suggested she might have a long talk with Premier Ralph Klein before granting Royal Assent to Bill 11, a controversial health care bill.

And in one of the most odd-ball political plays including the  Lieutenant Governor: the Kudatah. Opponents of Notley’s NDP government collected signatures for a petition to present to the Lieutenant Governor to hold a a plebiscite on the carbon tax and Farm safety laws or else they would enact a secret clause in the Elections Act to overturn the results of the May 2015 election (or something like that). With everything else that is going on lately, I don’t think Albertans need or want a repeat of that.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Albertans might need a public inquiry into the Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

It was not a banner week for Alberta’s public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns.

It was supposed to look into the alleged foreign funding of “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” but the $2.5 million public inquiry created by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government found itself in a credibility crisis this week after it was revealed that inquiry commissioner Steve Allan awarded the Calgary law firm Dentons a $905,000 sole-source contract for legal advice.

Allan’s son is a partner at Dentons’ Calgary office and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was a lawyer at that firm before he was elected to the Legislative Assembly. Schweitzer said he severed his connections to the firm earlier this year, but Allan’s son’s employment status at the firm raises some serious questions about conflict of interest.

New Democratic Party MLA Heather Sweet wrote to the Ethics Commissioner this week asking for an investigation into the sole-source contract. The Ethics Commissioner responded that she has no jurisdiction to investigate the inquiry’s contract with Dentons.

The inquiry’s business is shrouded in secrecy and it was designed by the government to be exempt from Freedom of Information requests that would allow a certain degree of transparency. For example, the inquiry website states that Allan intended to travel to Vancouver and Washington, DC in September 2019, and the North Coast of BC and Toronto in October 2019, but because the inquiry is exempt from FOIP requests, it is unclear who he met with during his travels.

But that has not stopped the media from digging, and the leaks from leaking.

Allen is being paid $291,000 for his one-year contract, according to information gathered by Alberta Today’s Allison Smith, and will be paid up to $800 per day to provide testimony following the completion of the inquiry’s investigation. The Edmonton Journal reported that the inquiry is hiring a part-time executive director for $108,123.

CBC also reported that Allan donated $1,000 Schweitzer’s campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017, which raises questions about the nature of his appointment as the inquiry’s commissioner.

Much of the basis of the inquiry’s investigation, that foreign-funded organizations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are responsible for secretly financing anti-pipeline and anti-oil groups in Canada, appears to have been discredited by investigative research done by the National Observer’s Sandy Garossino.

Garossino analyzed data on international charitable granting and found that international foundations, mostly American, have granted around $2 billion to Canadian groups over the last decade, but only 2 per cent of those funds (around $40 million) has gone towards pipeline opposition.

Of that $2 billion total in international funds, about 33 per cent came from the United States government. The second largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributed $537 million. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund environmental grants, which have been demonized in Alberta’s political and media circles, amounted to “just two dollars per thousand in Canadian foreign grants.”

The Muttart Foundation, a non-profit foundation with a storied history in Edmonton, released a stinging criticism of the inquiry in its 174-page submission to the inquiry.

The Foundation’s submission included a report showing that funding from outside Canada represented 0.85% of total funding received by Canadian charities, and 0.26% of total funding received by charities based in Alberta.

The Foundation harshly criticized the rhetoric, fear-mongering, and false statements used to justify the inquiry and the government orders authorizing its creation.

To even imply that support of the energy industry or even agreement with government could become a criterion for determining whether an organization receives funding comes, we suggest, dangerously close to government direction of speech and thought. Leaving aside the legality of such an action, one could suggest that such a course of action would be contrary to the very principles of democracy.”

The inquiry is due to submit a final report to the Alberta government no later than July 2, 2020. In terms of the public inquiry’s credibility crisis and the damage it and the secrecy surrounding it could cause for our province’s reputation, Albertans might eventually need a public inquiry into the Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

International banks continue to divest from fossil fuels

While Steve Allan’s public inquiry is focused on anti-Alberta energy campaigns, the biggest threat to the oil and gas industry in Alberta might be the free market.

Sweden’s central bank announced this week that it no longer hold bonds issued by local authorities in Canada and Australia with high carbon-dioxide emissions. Bloomberg reported that the Riksbank said it had sold its holdings of securities from Alberta, where greenhouse gas emissions per capita are three times higher than in Ontario and Quebec.

The European Investment Bank, the EU’s financing department, also announced it will bar funding for most fossil fuel projects.

Premier Kenney’s principal secretary, David Knight-Legg, faced criticism this week after it was revealed that the senior political staffer stayed in upscale five-star hotels while travelling to London on Alberta government business. According to financial disclosures, Knight-Legg spent more than $45,000 on travel, including four trips to the British capital since the UCP formed government in April 2019.

The nature of Knight-Legg’s trips to London are not entirely clear, with the Premier’s office saying that he was there to fight defamation of Alberta’s oil and gas sector. The NDP is asking the Auditor General to investigate.

Meanwhile, the private corporation created by the Alberta government to fight defamation of the oil and gas sector has been running on silent. Not a peep has been heard from the $30 million War Room, now renamed the Canadian Energy Centre, since former reporter and defeated UCP candidate Tom Olsen was appointed as its managing director last month.

The War Room is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

(Photo source: Government of Alberta)