Tag Archives: Alberta NDP

A screenshot of a Keep Alberta Working campaign video.

No, reforming Alberta’s Labour Laws will not kill democracy.

It won’t come as a surprise to many political watchers in Alberta that the most vocal critics of the NDP government’s yet to be announced reforms to Alberta’s outdated labour laws have strong ties to the province’s Conservative establishment.

Keep Alberta Working” is a campaign of the “Alberta Growth Initiative,” which is a coalition of the  Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, the Canadian Meat Council, Restaurants Canada and the Alberta Enterprise Group. Unsurprisingly, the campaign has ties to Conservative lobbyists connected with United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jason Kenney.

According to publicly available information on the province’s Lobbyist Registry, New West Public Affairs, a company run by former Conservative Member of Parliament Monte Solberg, is the registered lobbyist for the Alberta Growth Initiative group. Solberg served alongside Kenney as a Reform and Canadian Alliance MP, and later in Prime Minster Stephen Harper‘s cabinet.

The media contact person listed on the press release announcing the “Keep Alberta Working” campaign is New West employee Sonia Kont, who is also president of the Progressive Conservative youth-wing and an ardent Kenney supporter. Also thrown into the mix is prolific tweeter Blaise Boehmer, who worked for Solberg’s company as a senior associate until leaving in 2016 to become Communications Director on Kenney’s leadership campaign.

The Keep Alberta Working campaign has been harshly critical of the NDP government’s plans to reform Alberta’s labour laws, some of which have remained untouched since the 1970s. The group was fair to criticize the relatively short consultation period the NDP government allowed for when preparing the reforms, but its claims that the NDP could destroy democracy by introducing a card-check system for union organizing are totally preposterous.

We won’t know what is included in the reforms until Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, is introduced into the Legislative Assembly by Labour Minister Christina Gray tomorrow. Depending on how it could be structured, a card-check system could make it harder for anti-union employers to block their employees from joining a union.

Looking to the debate ahead, the card-check issue could cause more political trouble for the NDP than they expect. As the NDP know from past experience as a tiny scrappy opposition party, it is much easier for the opposition to cast a government as heavy-handed and undemocratic than it is for a government to explain detailed public policy in a 15 second soundbite.

But there is little evidence that any reforms to Alberta’s labour laws will lead employees of the companies represented by these groups to stampede into the closest union recruitment office.

It’s not really surprising that key Conservative politicos are at, or close to, the centre of a campaign to oppose reforms to Alberta’s outdated labour laws, but the connections to Kenney and his leadership bid are worth noting.

So, when you hear this group’s criticism of the NDP’s labour law reforms tomorrow, consider the source. Also remember that while the changes might be described as catastrophic or disastrous by corporate-funded lobby groups, the changes included in Bill 17 might not be dramatic enough for some traditional NDP supporters on the political left.

Pipelines, pipelines, pipelines – An Alberta view of the BC election

British Columbia voters reduced Christy Clark’s BC Liberals to minority status in the provincial election this week. The BC Liberals, who have formed government since 2001, elected candidates in 43 of the province’s 87 legislative constituencies (pending recounts). The official opposition New Democratic Party led by John Horgan boosted their numbers by electing 41 MLAs. And the Green Party, led by climate scientist Andrew Weaver, could hold the balance of power in the minority legislature after three Green MLAs were elected on Vancouver Island.

John Horgan

John Horgan

Results of the British Columbia provincial election by political watchers and pundits in Alberta are being viewed through the same lens they have viewed the entire BC election campaign: by wondering how it will impact future construction of oil pipelines from Alberta to the West Coast.

The NDP and Greens have stated their opposition to the pipeline expansion, and the Liberals gave their support to the federally approved Trans Canada Kinder-Morgan Pipeline expansion. But given the results of yesterday’s election, it is hard to say if there is any governing scenario in BC that is ideal for Alberta’s pipeline dreams.

But just because pipelines are top of mind for many Albertans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing our priorities were the same priorities in the minds of BC voters who cast their ballots on Tuesday. Sure, pipelines, climate change, energy, and environmental issues were likely important issues for many BC voters, but so were health care, education, housing affordability, government corruption, political financing and many other issues.

While pipeline approvals fall under federal jurisdiction, opposition by a provincial government can create significant political problems for any project and a federal government that supports it. The unanswered question now on the minds of many Albertans is how the election results will impact the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to a shipping terminal in Burnaby.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A minority government formed by Clark’s Liberals could continue to support for pipelines, but if they become dependent on the votes of the three Green MLAs to maintain their government, political necessity could change their enthusiasm for the project. An NDP government supported by the Greens could result in further opposition to pipeline expansion.

Opposition to the pipeline by the BC NDP led pro-pipeline Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley to announce in Dec. 2016 that NDP political staffers in Edmonton would be barred from working on BC NDP campaigns in this election. The divide between the two parties, and two provinces, on the pipeline issue is stark. Public support for pipelines among Albertans appears to be near unanimous, while opposition to pipelines in BC is a broad and mainstream opinion.

While the BC Liberals are considered to be a conservative party, a Clark government will not necessarily have the best interests of Albertans in mind. In reaction to American President Donald Trump imposing a tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports, Clark threatened to impose a $70 per tonne levy on thermal coal exports through BC ports. Alberta’s coal exports could be collateral damage in this move, even though Notley has questioned whether Clark actually has the constitutional authority to impose the levy.

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver

Clark has attacked the Alberta NDP in speeches before and during the campaign, and it would not be uncharacteristic of the BC Liberals to attack Alberta in order to further expose the rifts between the Notley government and Horgan NDP.

While Albertans focus on prospects for oil pipelines to the West Coast, it is important to remember that what Albertans perceive as their best interests are not necessarily the top priorities for voters and politicians in BC, and nor should they be.

Former Alberta MLA defeated on Vancouver Island

Former Alberta MLA Alana DeLong was unsuccessful in her bid for election as a Liberal candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowachin constituency on Vancouver Island. DeLong, who represented Calgary-Bow as a Progressive Conservative in the Alberta Legislature from 2001 to 2015, was defeated by incumbent New Democrat Doug Routley 10,986 votes to 6,696 votes.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.

First quarter political party fundraising puts NDP in the lead

Elections Alberta released the financial disclosures showing the results of political party fundraising in the first quarter of 2017.

Combined party and constituency fundraising results show the governing New Democratic Party in the lead in early 2017, having fundraised $373,060.23 between January 1 and March 31, 2017. The Wildrose Party raised $345,125.06 and the Progressive Conservatives raised $226,572.21 in the same period. The Liberal Party raised $47,959.83 and the Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49.

These totals are considerably less than what was raised by the governing and official opposition parties in the fourth quarter of 2016, when the NDP raised $1,985,272.00 and the Wildrose raised $2,063,737.63. Similar to previous years, political fundraising in the first quarter of the year is typically lower than the previous year’s final quarter.

Both the NDP and Wildrose Party fundraised less in this quarter than in the first quarter of 2016, when the NDP raised $398,843.71 and Wildrose raised $448,912.71. The PCs raised more than twice in this quarter than the $105,436.47 the party raised in the first quarter of 2016.

This is the first fundraising quarter to fall under new political finance laws introduced by Democratic Renewal Minister Christina Gray in 2016, which lowered the maximum annual donation limits from $15,000 to $4,000. This followed reforms introduced by the NDP in 2015 that banned corporate and union donations to political parties and candidates.

Here is a quick look at the top donors for each of the five main political parties in Alberta in the first quarter of 2017:

Alberta NDP
Jamie Kleinsteuber – $2,612.50
Amanda Nielsen – $2,287.50
David Mayhood – $2,015
Thomas Dang – $1,976
Brian Malkinson – $1,702.50
Roari Richardson – $1,570

Wildrose
Harvey Aarbo – $4,000
Gordon Elliott – $4,000
Gudrun Schulze Ebbinghoff – $4,000
Robert Such – $4,000
Larry Thompson – $4,000

Progressive Conservative
Maria Binnion – $4,000
John Neudorf – $4,000
Constance Nolin – $4,000
Dennis Nolin – $4,000
Prem Singhmar – $4,000

Liberal Party
Ebrahim Karbani – $4,000
Zulqurnain Abbas – $3,500
Tariq Hussain – $3,300
Israr Ullah – $3,300
Fazal Rehman – $3,000
Saifuddin Syed – $3,000

Alberta Party
James Tererenko – $820.94
Patrick Baillie – $500
Aaron Blair – $500
Greg Clark – $500
Brad Grundy – $500
Brian Mahoney – $500

Alberta’s Conservatives are obsessed with Gay-Straight Alliances

Following Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s comments to the Calgary Postmedia editorial board fifteen days ago when he came out in favour of allowing schools to inform parents when students join a student-initiated Gay-Straight Alliance club, Alberta’s conservative politicians have tied themselves in knots over the issue.

Gay-Straight Alliances are student-initiated clubs meant empower students to create safe environments in their own schools, which studies have found may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students. As I wrote last week, having schools track their involvement in these clubs and informing their parents is not just creepy but could be dangerous.

It appeared as if Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean was setting himself apart from Kenney on April 3 by coming out against outing students to their parents, saying that “it’s much like a math club or a prayer club, and I don’t think that would be appropriate (for parents to be told when a child joins).” On April 4, he changed his tune, stating that parents should only sometimes be notified. But by April 5, he switched back to his original position that he did not believe parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA.

On April 6, Jean appeared to be contradicted by Mark Smith, the Wildrose MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, who criticized a letter sent to school officials by Education Minister David Eggen reaffirming the NDP government’s belief that parents should not be informed if students join GSAs.

The NDP have visibly enjoyed the attention that Kenney and Jean’s comments have generated, on a provincial and even international level. These types of social issues generally play to the strength of the NDP, which is why Kenney desperately tried to pivot his message back to the provincial economy before disappearing from public sight last week.

The NDP are trying to frame Kenney as a social conservative – which he is – going back to his days as an anti-abortion activist while enrolled as a student at a Roman Catholic university in San Francisco.

A large portion of the membership base of the Wildrose Party is also social conservative, which both Kenney and Jean are courting for support in their bids to lead a new conservative party.

This week, the president of the Wildrose Party association in Medicine Hat evoked the legacy of residential schools and forced sterilization in a Facebook post supporting Kenney’s position. “How did the native schools turn out? Yup, that was the government telling us they knew best. How about sterilizing handicapped people? Yup, another brilliant government idea,” wrote Maureen Prince on Facebook post published on April 4, 2017. She also claimed in a Facebook post published on March 16, 2017 that the United Nations wants to “redistribute children to be raised by governments.”

Prince appears to be an active member of a conservative education group called Concerned Parents of Medicine Hat School District #76, which is a vocal critic of the NDP and its stance on GSAs.

The Concerned Parents group provided “Include Parents” buttons to several Wildrose MLAs who wore them in the Legislative Assembly this week. The group appears to be associated or allied with a province-wide conservative education advocacy group called “Parents For Choice in Education.

Parents for Choice took issue with Jean’s first and third positions against potentially outing students to their parents, saying that he and Education Minister David Eggen had the “gall to falsely and audaciously accuse parents of being the greater danger to these vulnerable youth.”

With conservative politicians stuck on the GSA issue, Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been playing to their strengths, spending the past few weeks announcing lower school fees, school nutrition programs, locations for $25-per day childcare programs, and the construction of new schools, hospitals and affordable housing projects.

The NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working remarkably well for the NDP.

Meanwhile, despite previous claims by Brian Jean that he has “no interest” in social issues and Jason Kenney’s pledge to create a free-market conservative party, it appears that the only issue galvanizing conservatives over the past two weeks is whether or not to allow the state-sanctioned outing of gay kids.

Jason Kenney’s hostile takeover of Alberta’s PC Party is complete

Former federal politician Jason Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta today, as was widely expected. Kenney received the support of 75 percent of the delegates attending the party’s voting meeting today at the Hyatt in downtown Calgary.

Richard Starke

Richard Starke

His only opponents, Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson, earned 21 percent and two percent support from the voting delegates.

Kenney’s leadership bid was more of a hostile takeover than a traditional leadership campaign. The central point of his platform was his plan to dissolve the 8-MLA PC Party and form a new party with the official opposition Wildrose Party. Kenney has said he plans to meet with Wildrose leader Brian Jean on Monday to further discuss his plans.

Over the course of the campaign, Kenney and his legions of social conservative supporters, many who also happen to be card-carrying members of the Wildrose Party, worked tirelessly to marginalize progressive voices in the party. Two leadership candidates, Sandra Jansen and Stephen Khan, said they and their supporters faced threats and bullying by Kenney’s supporters before they dropped out of the race. Jansen later crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party and Khan endorsed Starke.

Kenney’s reputation for being a focused campaigner helped him win an overwhelming number of delegates at the local constituency votes. The lethargic and uninspiring campaigns mounted by his opponents were left in the dust.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

But even with such a commanding lead, Kenney’s campaign couldn’t stop itself from getting into trouble. His campaign was fined $5,000 for breaking party rules and the party executive was faced with complaints from former MLAs and calls for Kenney to be disqualified from the race. One of his key organizers, Alan Hallman, was expelled from the party and was reportedly charged with assault last night at the convention hotel.

Despite all the big talk by party stalwarts about the strength of the progressive-wing of the party, the political moderates just did not show up to vote in this race. The progressives who showed up in droves to vote for Ed Stelmach in 2006 and Alison Redford in 2011 stayed home this time. Or maybe they, like Sandra Jansen, like what they see from Rachel Notley’s NDP government?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark said this week that Kenney-ally Preston Manning is eyeing his party’s name, even going so far as to offer Clark a cabinet spot in a future government. It was only one year ago that the Kenney-front group Alberta Can’t Wait attempted a takeover of the Alberta Party.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Clark claims that a number of former PC MLAs and activists, including former deputy premier and vocal Kenney critic Thomas Lukaszuk, are in discussions with his party. This may be related to an upcoming “unite the centre” event in Red Deer that former PC MLA and Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel is said to be behind. Another former PC MLA, Heather Klimchuk, said in an interview on The Broadcast podcast that she is watching St. Albert mayor Nolan Crouse‘s campaign to lead the Liberal Party.

What we discovered today is that less than two years after Alberta’s natural governing party lost its first election in 44 years, the PC Party is a shell of its former self and was ripe for a takeover by Wildrose Party supporters.

In his victory speech, Kenney confidently told delegates at the PC Party convention that he plans to repeal all the changes made by the NDP when he becomes Premier in 2019. That would mean the repeal of policies unpopular with conservatives, like the carbon tax, the Climate Leadership Plan and new farm safety laws, all introduced by the NDP.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

If Kenney is true to his word this would also mean that corporate political donations would be reintroduced, small business taxes would be increased, the minimum wage would be lowered, school fees would be increased, the wealthiest Albertans would get tax cuts, and laws protecting sexual minorities from discrimination would be repealed.

When Kenney pledged today to repeal all of the changes made by the NDP, he was not talking to the now former progressive-wing of the PC Party. He was talking to the social conservative and rural base of the Wildrose Party.

Now that the takeover of the PC Party is complete, Kenney will set his sights on his main challenger for the leadership of a new conservative party, Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

David Eggen goes back to the NDP basics with bill to cut school fees

A flagship bill to cut school fees by 25 percent is familiar and friendly territory for the Alberta’s New Democratic Party. Introduced  in the Legislative Assembly today by Education Minister David Eggen, Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees, eliminates fees for textbooks, workbooks, photocopying, printing and busing transporting.

Last year’s Bill 1, which established a series of job creation and economic diversification committees, was much more technocratic than this year’s first bill. Eggen’s bill returns to retail politics and goes back to the NDP basics. It moves the NDP closer to fulfilling one of their campaign promises from the 2015 election, to “reduce school fees for essential services such as lunch supervision and busing.”

As an opposition party, the NDP railed against growing out of pocket fees that Alberta parents were forced to pay under the old Progressive Conservative government. Eliminating these types of school fees, which cost Albertans an average of $50 million each year, is a change that will have a positive impact in the lives of a lot of Albertans.

The elimination of fees is likely to be a popular move, and it is also shrewd politics. Like the NDP government’s increases to the minimum wage and introduction of $25 per day child care, it will be politically difficult for the conservative opposition parties to campaign against cuts to school fees in the next election.

Who wants to be leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party? Nolan Crouse does.

Nolan Crouse

Nolan Crouse

St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse announced this week that he will run for the leadership of Alberta’s Liberal Party, becoming the first and so far the only candidate to announce plans to run for the job. The party is holding a leadership vote in June 2017 to fill the position being vacated by Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann, a former leader who has been the party’s interim leader since 2015.

Crouse has served three-terms as mayor of the suburban city of St. Albert, located northwest of Edmonton, and is currently the chair of the Capital Region Board.

With the exception of Swann’s re-election, the Liberal Party was wiped off the electoral map during the NDP’s Orange wave of 2015.

Whoever is chosen to lead the Liberals later this year will have a big challenge ahead of them. How does a tiny party differentiate itself from a New Democratic Party government that has swallowed much of what used to be a fairly reliably Liberal vote in Edmonton? And faced with the prospect of a united/merged/rebranded Jason Kenney/Brian Jean/Derek Fildebrandt-led conservative party, why would moderates and progressives choose to vote for a tiny Liberal Party instead of the NDP?

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Whoever wins the Liberal Party leadership will face some of the same challenges faced by Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who is also the party’s lone MLA. Clark has been fairly effective at generating media attention since he was elected in 2015 and generated some controversy this week when he launched a new discussion on Alberta’s fiscal future, including a Provincial Sales Tax.

Without the built in podiums that come with being government or official opposition, both Clark and, potentially, Crouse will have to step outside of the regularly comfortable political narrative to generate attention for themselves and their parties.

A huge irony is that the political split after the 2008 election that led to the the current incarnation of the Alberta Party was part of a plan to replace the Liberals as the progressive and centrist alternative to the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose parties. In the end, the split may have actually benefited the other opposition party which was noticeably and purposely absent from those discussions – the NDP.

Former Liberal Leader on St. Albert City Council

Crouse serves on St. Albert City Council with another politician who once led the provincial Liberals in the wilderness. Councillor Bob Russell led the Liberals from 1969 until 1974. He was a candidate in the 1971 election in St. Albert and in a 1973 by-election in Calgary-Foothills but was unsuccessful in his bids for election.

Russell resigned as leader in 1974 and was succeeded by Calgary oilman and geologist Nick Taylor. Taylor would lead the party out of obscurity and serve as an MLA for Westlock-Sturgeon from 1986 to 1993 and Redwater from 1993 to 1996.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Looking ahead to the Throne Speech and Spring Session

Similar to last week’s third quarter fiscal update delivered by finance minister Joe Ceci, this week’s Speech from the Throne will mostly focus on political messaging and managing public expectations. Along with the pomp and circumstance that will drape the Legislature as Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell reads the throne speech on March 2, 2017, the government will present its narrative for the upcoming session of the Assembly.

To give you an idea of what recent throne speeches have included, here is what the NDP government’s throne speech from March 8, 2016 promised to:

  • diversify energy markets.
  • pursue a coherent and effective economic development strategy.
  • invest in a greener, more sustainable economy.
  • pursue a responsible approach to public finance.
  • pursue ongoing democratic reform to ensure public accountability in all of this work.

The spring session will start just as Premier Rachel Notley returns from Washington D.C. and will mark the half-way mark in the New Democratic Party government’s first term in office.

We can expect NDP cabinet ministers to boast about achieving the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline expansion and Environment & Parks Minister Shannon Phillips to release further details of the plan to address Climate Change, including government support for communities impacted by the phase out of dirty coal-fired power plants. We can also expect to hear some hint about what type of reforms the government could make to Alberta’s outdated labour laws in this session of the Assembly.

We can also expect the NDP to begin shifting away from its more activist legislative agenda into re-election mode later this year.

Predictions that the Alberta economy is beginning to recover bodes well for the NDP as they prepare to present their next provincial budget. If the economy does recover and the unemployment rate decreases, they should be praised for not making the massive cuts to critical public services advocated for by, Jason Kenney, the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party.

(One of the big stories of the upcoming session will be the one-upmanship we can expect to see between Wildrose leader Brian Jean and soon to be anointed PC leader Kenney, but I will save that for a future blog post).

The NDP inherited a financial mess in 2015 from an old PC government that relied too heavily on revenue from resource royalties to fund the daily operations of public services. As we saw starting in 2014, when the international price of oil dropped, the much-lauded Alberta Advantage of using unreliable resource revenues to subsidize short-sighted tax cuts quickly became the Alberta Disadvantage.

I support the NDP government’s decision continue investing in public services and much-needed public infrastructure projects rather than slashing-and-burning, as the opposition conservative would do.

Alberta fell behind on critical infrastructure investment during the years when Ralph Klein was premier, when his government’s singular focus was on deficit and debt reduction. I was pleased to see the PCs move away from that short-sighted approach during their final years in government and that the NDP has continued to invest in building the type of public infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads and public transit – that Alberta’s growing population will need.

The conservative opposition parties continue to irrationally lambast the NDP for taking on debt to fund capital infrastructure projects, but on this issue I agree with the approach presented by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society:

“There remain those government expenditures which are intended to improve future well-being and economic growth or which so serve. Here, borrowing is not only legitimate but socially and economically desirable. Similar borrowing in the private sector of the economy is both accepted and wholly approved even by the most eloquent, frequently vehement, opponents of the public deficit.”

The last throne speech recognized the key economic and financial challenges facing our province. “We have seen oil price drops before. We will get past this one. And we will draw the right lessons from it, and act on them,” the Throne Speech stated.

But overall, it is still not clear to me what the NDP’s longer-term fiscal plans are, or how they plan to significantly diversify the government’s revenue sources without further increasing taxes (which they should do). Maybe they are praying for another oil boom? That was the old PC government’s plan too.

Maybe we will learn more in this week’s Speech from the Throne?

Premier Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of 700 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in downtown Calgary earlier this week.

The Three Alberta’s: Quick thoughts on the latest Mainstreet/Postmedia poll

Some quick thoughts on the Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released yesterday.

The poll showed the Wildrose Party at 38 percent province-wide support, with the Progressive Conservatives sitting at 29 percent and the New Democratic Party with 23 percent. The Liberals and Alberta Party sat at 5 percent each. But the regional breakdown is more interesting.

Support for Rachel Notley’s NDP is at 43 percent in Edmonton with the Wildrose at 26 percent and the PCs at 21 percent. In Calgary, the PCs are at 38 percent with the NDP at 26 percent and the  Wildrose at 22 percent. In the rest of Alberta, a fairly broad term describing rural areas and medium and small urban areas, the Wildrose dominates with 48 percent support, the PCs with 27 percent and the NDP trailing with 16 percent.

The existence of the three political worlds is not new in Alberta politics, but it helps explain the deep political divisions that exist in our province today.

  • If an election were held today, the Wildrose Party might stand a chance at forming a rural-based government without the need to merge with the PC Party. But the poll results support my argument that rural-based Wildrose has limited appeal big urban cities like Calgary, where the PCs still hold a considerable amount of support. As provincial electoral districts are redrawn to reflect population growth in urban areas, the Wildrose might need the PC merger more than PCs need Wildrose.
  • The NDP is traditionally strong in Edmonton and it is not surprising that they have held on to much of their support in the capital city.
  • It is not surprising to see the NDP doing poorly outside Edmonton. The bungled roll-out of Bill 6, the province’s new farm safety laws, salted the earth of NDP support in rural Alberta.
  • NDP support in Calgary was in the low-30 percent range in the 2015 election, so that they have been able to hold on to 26 percent support leaves room for very guarded optimism for the governing party (their traditional level of support in Calgary is around 5 percent). High unemployment levels caused by the drop in the international price of oil is a source of hostility directed at the sitting government but the NDP could have room to rebound in Calgary if competing against a Wildrose-dominated conservative party in the next election.

Fight on the Right

The poll showed 48 percent of Edmontonians opposed the idea of a merger between the PCs and Wildrose parties, with 42 percent supporting the idea. Support for a merger was stronger in Calgary, at 53 percent, and outside the two large cities at 58 percent.

While some sort of new party will likely exist, it is not quite clear if a merger is what will actually take place. Jason Kenney, who is running on a platform of “uniting conservatives,” has at various times promised a merger (which is not legally possible), the creation of a brand new party or possibly preserving the PC Party. Wildrose leader Brian Jean has said any new party should form within the already existing framework of the Wildrose Party. So it remains unclear what the form a “new” conservative party might take in 2019.

Meanwhile, Jean has been holding town hall meetings across the province in his role as leader of the Wildrose Party, but presumably he is campaigning against Kenney for the leadership of a future Wildrose-dominated conservative party (maybe).

It is always important to look at all polls with a grain of salt, as they are a snapshot of individual responses given at a certain time. As we have come to learn in Alberta, voters do change their minds from time to time and what happens during election campaigns does matter.

Setting the stage for Wildrose 2.0: Moderates need not apply

“We must also ensure that a new, united party will be built on a solid foundation of conservative principles and policy. The left-liberal clique that managed to slowly highjack the PC Party must never again be allowed to seize control of Alberta’s conservative movement.”

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

This call for ideological purity came from Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in an opinion-editorial published by Postmedia earlier this week. Fildebrandt, who sounds as if he is preparing his own leadership bid, has been a vocal supporter of Jason Kenney’s bid to “unite” the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party to form a new consertvative party before the next election.

Fildebrandt’s manifesto reads like a call to create a rebranded Wildrose Party without the moderates, centrists and liberals who once found a home in the old PC Party. Driving this ideological agenda, Fildebrandt would undoubtably be a prominent leader in the new Conservative Party, one that a province-builder like Peter Lougheed might not even recognize.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party appears unstoppable at this time. Along with support from former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Manning Centre, and Wildrose Party members, he appears to have secured a majority in the leadership delegate count.

Kenney’s supporters have succeeded in driving out a number of high profile political moderates from the party.

Former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen quit the leadership race after being harassed and threatened with violence. She later joined the NDP and is expected to be appointed to cabinet sometime this year.

Former MLA Stephen Khan told Postmedia columnist Paula Simons last week that he quit the PC leadership race last week after an ugly race where he was the target of racist and Islamaphobic emails from new party members supporting Kenney.

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

When AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga, well-known for his progressive views, asked him about his political future, Khan replied “I have as much interest in joining the Wildrose 2.0 Party as you do.

Party president Katherine O’Neill has done an admirable and thankless job trying to lead the PCs through the turbulent period. Under siege from conservative hard-liners and Kenney supporters, O’Neill represents urban, centrist and moderate views that could lead to a PC Party revival. Too bad she is not a candidate for the leadership.

One year and eight months after losing the election, the big blue tent that led the PC Party to 44 years of electoral success has collapsed but not folded. The party was ripe for Kenney’s hostile takeover but any plans to dissolve the party will have to address  vendor contracts, party constitutional issues, local and provincial board approvals, legalities around fundraising and bank accounts, and fairly strict legal parameters. Despite his campaign to “unite” the two political parties, it is legally impossible to merge political parties in Alberta.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

All this is occurring at the same time as Rachel Notley’s NDP government looks more moderate and centrist by the day. And with pipeline approvals and some projections of a recovering economy, the NDP might be the sensible option on Albertans’ ballots in 2019. But attacks on the NDP, and on Notley personally, will be harsh.

Last week marked six years since Ed Stelmach announced he would step down as Premier of Alberta. Faced with a revolt by right-wing cabinet ministers and the rise of an insurgent Wildrose Party, Stelmach surprised the province at a Jan. 2011 press conference, where he issued a stern warning about the direction and tone of politics in our province, which is shockingly relevant to today:

“There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and US style negative, attack politics that is directed at me personally.

The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focussing on personality – on me personally.

This type of U.S. style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril.”

Stelmach was a few years early, but he was right.

Premier Rachel Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips release Alberta's climate change plan.

The Winter of Discontent over the Carbon Tax

Alberta’s carbon tax, lauded by economists and experts and derided by opposition conservatives, came into force on January 1, 2017.

From photo-ops at gas pumps to outright climate change denial, opposition to the carbon tax has been nothing short of hysterical over the past week.

Don MacIntyre MLA

Don MacIntyre

Don MacIntyre, Wildrose MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, sidelined his party’s attack on the carbon tax as a ‘tax on everything’ when he dove into climate change denying rhetoric during a January 2, 2017 press conference at the Legislature. “The science isn’t settled,” MacIntyre is reported to have said, despite the existence of overwhelming scientific evidence claiming otherwise.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt marked New Year’s Eve by posting photos of himself filling up his truck and jerrycans to avoid any increase to gas prices caused by the carbon tax on January 1. It is estimated that he may have saved a few dollars, but in many locations across Alberta the price of gas actually dropped after the weekend (gas at the local station in my neighbourhood in northeast Edmonton is six cents cheaper per litre today than it was on Dec. 31).

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney probably levelled the silliest criticism of the carbon tax when he tweeted on January 4 a photo of Tesla charging station in Fort Macleod, which was empty. This was apparently meant to be an argument that the four day old carbon tax was a failure.

Despite claims by opposition Wildrose and PC politicians that they would repeal the tax if elected in 2019, a federal carbon tax dictated by Ottawa would likely be imposed in its absence.

But arguments in favour of the made-in-Alberta carbon tax have been, well, confusing and technical.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips’ statement that the province is “still standing” the day after the carbon tax was implemented was factually correct but probably not the statement most Albertans were waiting to hear. Phillips is one of the government’s smartest cabinet ministers, and has done a good job promoting the flagship Climate Leadership Plan, but the NDP have fallen short when it comes to easing Albertans worries about the cost of implementing the carbon tax during an economic downturn.

Economists like Trevor Tombe and Andrew Leach have penned or compiled intelligent arguments defending the carbon tax. Even executives of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies have come out in support of the carbon tax. Many of those executives stood on stage with Phillips and Premier Rachel Notley, along with environmental leaders, when the climate change plan was released in November 2015.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In November 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heaped praise on Notley for Alberta’s climate change plan, which includes the carbon tax, as a key reason for the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion and the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement.

But as anyone involved in politics knows, emotion and anger can sometimes trump facts, science and research. The recent presidential election south of the border confirms this.

Advertisements recently released by the Ontario government are, in my opinion, a good example of an emotional argument in favour of a climate change plan.

One of the arguments that I continue to hear is that Alberta and Canada should not implement a carbon tax because Donald Trump does not support a carbon tax. Trump also tweeted that he believes climate change is a conspiracy created by the Chinese government, so I am not confident that he is someone we should be looking to for leadership on this issue.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Overall public opposition to the carbon tax might start to fade in the coming months as many Albertans begin receiving their rebate cheques – around sixty percent of Alberta households will get a rebate, with full rebates for single Albertans earning $47,500 or less, and couples and families who earn $95,000 or less – but the NDP government will need to work overtime to provide clear evidence of how the carbon tax will benefit Albertans.

Of the funds collected by the carbon tax, the government says $2.3 billion will go towards rebate programs, $3.4 billion will help businesses adjust to the carbon levy, $6.2 billion will go toward energy industry diversification and job creation, $3.4 billion for large scale renewable energy and technology, and $2.2 billion for green infrastructure. As well as $645 million will be directed towards the new provincial agency Energy Efficiency Alberta and $195 million to assist coal communities, which will be impacted by the phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The NDP also cut the small business tax from three percent to two percent, a change that came into effect as the carbon tax was implemented.

Taxes in Alberta remain low, some of the lowest in Canada. Investing in measures that could create a cleaner environment for the next generations is not a burden, it is a responsibility. The carbon tax is a sensible policy, but it could be an uphill battle to convince Albertans to embrace it.

The PC Party’s Christmas gift to the NDP

A defamation lawsuit wrapped with a big bow.

Alan Hallman

Alan Hallman

Any hope Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party had of making the story of Sandra Jansen’s harassment go away is long gone as a political operative working for Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign has launched a lawsuit against a strategist who worked for Jansen’s now-defunct leadership campaign.

According to a report by the CBC, Alan Hallman claims his reputation suffered “irreparable harm” from a tweet posted by Stephen Carter. Hallman is being represented in the lawsuit by former justice minister Jonathan Denis, who is also supporting Kenney’s leadership bid.

The CBC reported that Carter will defend himself against the defamation claim and that the lawsuit is a “bullying tactic.”

“I believe it’s a tactic being used to try to suppress speech around the leadership. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m going to fight,” Carter told the CBC.

Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter

Facing harassment and online threats because of her moderate political views, Ms. Jansen dropped out of the PC leadership race and soon afterward crossed the floor to join the New Democratic Party. It is widely expected she will be appointed to a cabinet position in early 2017.

Hallman and Carter are veteran campaign strategists who have publicly clashed in the past. During the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Carter, the campaign manager for Alberta Party candidate Greg Clark, filed a complaint with the CRTC regarding the use of robocalls by the PC campaign in Calgary-Elbow. Hallman was the manager of PC candidate Gordon Dirks’ campaign in that by-election.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

The PC Party released an investigative report last week in response to Jansen’s allegations that she was targeted by Kenney’s supporters during the party’s policy convention in Red Deer. There is digital evidence that the online harassment is real and it is likely the in-person harassment against Jansen was real as well, but the PC Party had little incentive to deliver justice after she joined the NDP.

The PC Party had little to gain by further penalizing or condemning Kenney’s supporters, as he appears to be on his way to sweeping the party leadership in 2017. The report was a way to end the story, and the allegation, that could tarnish the PC Party and Kenney’s leadership.

Thanks to Hallman, Denis and their lawsuit, the story of how a talented and high-profile woman was pushed out of Alberta’s PC Party will live on into 2017.

Merry Christmas, NDP.