Tag Archives: Alberta NDP

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.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017: Shannon Phillips, Sarah Hoffman, Sandra Jansen, Derek Fildebrandt, Brian Jean, RIchard Starke, Thomas Dang, Christina Gray, Jessica Littlewood, and David Swann.

Ten Alberta MLAs to watch in 2017

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.

Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.

Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.

Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.

Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.

David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 20162015 and 2014.

The Senate Chamber in Canada's Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

Alberta’s Senate Election Law expires on Dec. 31, 2016

The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. With the current session of the Legislature expected to end at the end of this week, it is unlikely the law will be renewed.

The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.

Alberta has held Senate Nominee elections in 198919982004 and 2012. Only the Progressive Conservative, Wildrose and Evergreen parties nominated candidates in the April 2012 contest, which was marred by low turnout and a high-percentage of spoiled ballots. Three PC candidates were “elected” in 2012 and two – Doug Black and Scott Tannas – were appointed to the Senate in 2013.

I wrote about more about the end of Alberta’s Senate elections back on February 16, 2016

Construction of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline is expected to start in 2017.

Will the Alberta NDP lend their support to the anti-pipeline BC NDP in the next election?

Pipeline politics creates strange bedfellows in Alberta and BC

Fresh from winning the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is off to British Columbia to pitch the benefits of the pipeline.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

On pipelines and climate change, Alberta’s New Democratic Party appears to be more in sync with the federal Liberals than with their NDP cousins in Ottawa and Victoria.

The federal party’s flirtation with the controversial LEAP Manifesto at last year’s federal convention in Edmonton created serious strains between the two wings of the party. BC NDP leader John Horgan’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline has further divided the party and created strange political bedfellows.

Ms. Notley was in Ottawa last week as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. At the press conference, Mr. Trudeau heaped praise on Alberta’s flagship climate change policy, which includes a price on carbon.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark

Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark, leader of the conservative BC Liberals, is now touting Ms. Notley’s pipeline boosterism.

I would certainly say that Rachel Notley is very different from the leader of the NDP in B.C.,” Ms. Clark told the Vancouver Sun. “They are deeply split on the issue of Kinder Morgan and whether or not it should go ahead.”

The NDP-schism over pipelines could further complicate the inner-politics of the party.

Senior political staffers at the Alberta Legislature, including Brian Topp, the premier’s Chief of Staff, John Heaney, Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office, and ministerial chiefs of staff Jim Rutkowski and Steve Stringfellow have strong ties to the BC NDP. Mr. Topp was the BC NDP campaign manager in 2013 and Mr. Heaney served as Mr. Horgan’s Chief of Staff until he joined Ms. Notley’s office in 2015.

Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

It is well-known that the NDP operates a national network of political organizers who travel the country to work on election campaigns. This was an asset during Alberta’s 2015 election when experienced NDP campaigners from across Canada descended on our province. Some of those organizers now occupy political jobs in the Alberta government, which is now the only NDP government in Canada.

A few Alberta NDP staffers, including at least one current cabinet minister, traveled to BC to work for the NDP in the last election campaign.

John Horgan

John Horgan

But now that Mr. Horgan opposes the pipeline that Ms. Notley has staked her political future on, will the Alberta NDP lend their political staff to the BC NDP during next year’s election?

They shouldn’t.

The attack ads write themselves.

The NDP promises pipelines in Alberta but campaigns against them in BC. Whose side are they on?” an ad from Jason Kenney‘s Wildrose-PC Party might ask.

There are many New Democrats and progressive Albertans who would like to see Mr. Horgan’s NDP win the next election for reasons that go beyond pipelines (when I met Mr. Horgan in Victoria last year I found him to be quite engaging and likeable). But it would be foolish for the Alberta NDP government to allow its political staffers to campaign to elect a BC NDP government that will oppose Ms. Notley’s pipeline agenda and undermine all the work she is doing in BC this week.

Obviously Ms. Notley cannot stop individuals from campaigning on their own time, but if political staffers from Alberta are going to work against the pipelines in BC, they should not expect to have political jobs waiting for them back in Edmonton.

PC Alberta Tammany Hall

NDP Bill aims to take Big Money out of Alberta politics

The Alberta NDP are pushing forward with their plans to reform Alberta’s outdated election finance laws.

Christina Gray Edmonton Mill Woods MLA

Christina Gray

Labour Minister Christina Gray, who also serves as Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, introduced the NDP’s latest election finance reforms in the Legislature today in Bill 35: Fair Elections Finances Act. This follows in the footsteps of the first bill championed by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP after the party formed government in 2015, banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

The bill introduced today includes a handful of the reform ideas that were debated by the now-defunct Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which was created during the euphoria that followed the election of the NDP. The political mood soured quickly after the election and the committee quickly succumbed to a year of partisan wrangling and procedural brinksmanship until the Legislature allowed the committee to disband in September 2016.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

The new bill has already received the support of committee member and Liberal Party leader David Swann. Dr. Swann, who is believed to be quite sympathetic to the NDP on many issues, was quoted in a government press released praising the changes.

The bill picks up where the committee left off, but does not include some of the more controversial ideas, such as per-vote financial subsidies for political parties.

Bill 35 would lower the limit that individuals can contribute annually to political parties to $4,000, which is a positive move, and is a reform that NDP and Wildrose MLAs on the all-party committee found room to agree on. The current annual contribution limits are $15,000 outside election periods and $30,000 during election periods.

Eric Rosendahl

Eric Rosendahl

The bill imposes a spending limit of $50,000 for each individual candidate’s campaigns and a $2 million limit for political parties (the Progressive Conservatives were the only party to spend more than $2 million in the last election). I am in favour of spending limits but I do believe that a $50,000 limit for constituency campaigns could be too low. I expect this could lead to some candidate campaigns spending additional funds in advance of the election being called in order to circumvent the low limit.

There are currently no spending limits in Alberta and our province is currently the only province in Canada without spending limits. The lack of spending limits has led to some significant disparities in what is spent in elections campaigns. For example, Edmonton-Whitemud PC candidate Stephen Mandel‘s campaign spent $132,991 in 2015, while candidates like West Yellowhead New Democrat Eric Rosendahl spent $748. Generally, the rule is that the candidate who spends the most money is likely to win, but 2015 was an exception to that rule (Mr. Mandel was defeated and Mr. Rosendahl was elected).

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

The NDP have allowed a handful of costs to be exempted from the limit, including travel costs, parking and gas, childcare expenses, expenses related to a candidate living with a disability, and financial audits required by law. I suspect the exemption of travel and gas costs are meant to address some concerns that MLAs on the committee raised about additional expenses incurred when campaigning in geographically large rural constituencies. This issue was raised by Wildrose MLAs on the committee who represent some of these large rural areas.

The bill also proposes limiting spending by candidates running in party nomination contests, which currently does not exist in Alberta. Nomination candidates would now have to register their candidacy with Elections Alberta, which is similar to a system that already exists for federal political parties.

Rick Strankman

Rick Strankman

Perhaps most controversially, Bill 35 seeks to limit the total amount of money that third-party advertisers can spend during elections campaigns. The proposed limit of $150,000, of which no more than $3,000 could used in an individual constituency, is severely limiting. The high costs associated with advertising campaigns would mean that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any third-party group to run an effective province-wide campaign during an election period in Alberta.

The province’s original third party advertising laws were introduced in 2009 by first term Progressive Conservative MLA Rob Anderson, who later crossed the floor to the Wildrose Party in 2010 before crossing back to the PCs in 2014. Mr. Anderson is now supporting Jason Kenney‘s campaign to merge the two parties and penned an apology to Wildrose supporters on his blog.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, considering the vastly different political environment in 2016, the third-party advertising laws passed by the PCs in 2009 were seen as a reaction to the Albertans for Change advertising campaign targeted then-premier Ed Stelmach. The ads, which became infamous for the spooky “Noooo Plaaan” tagline, were sponsored by a handful of Alberta labour unions.

It was during the 2009 debate in the Legislative Assembly over Mr. Anderson’s bill that the rookie MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, Rachel Notley, foreshadowed what seven years later would become her government’s reforms to Alberta’s elections finance system:

…in Alberta we should have a much more comprehensive set of rules around our own election financing as candidates, as members of political parties, we should have much more substantial limits on how much we can spend as political parties, and we should have much more substantial rules on the maximum donation that we can receive, all of that designed to ensure it is the individual voter whose activity and whose engagement ultimately makes the day one way or the other at the end of the process and that it’s not one person or a group of 20 people with $15,000 each who can decide a particular campaign in a particular riding.


Where is Strankman’s bill?

Post media columnist Graham Thomson raises an important point in his latest column. Earlier this year Wlidrose MLA Rick Strankman introduced a Private Members’ Bill calling for a blackout of government announcements during election period in order to prevent a governing party from using public funds to influence the election.

The bill was introduced in the Assembly but then referred to the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability, which never had the opportunity to debate it before it was disbanded. It is unclear whether Mr. Strankman’s bill will ever resurface in a future sitting.