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Alberta Politics

Wildrose Recall Bill would let 20% of voters overturn a fair and democratic election

A private members bill proposed by Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose Party MLA Leela Aheer would allow 20 percent of eligible voters – a significant minority of eligible voters – the ability to overturn the results of a previously held fair and democratic election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview
Leela Aheer

Bill 206: Recall Act, which passed first reading on Nov. 26, 2015, would create an MLA recall mechanism that could force a by-election in a provincial constituency if 20 percent of eligible voters from the previous election sign a petition demanding so.

If we were to have recall laws in Alberta, the threshold for overturning the results of a general election should be much higher than the 20 percent of eligible voters proposed in Ms. Aheer’s private members bill. A small minority of eligible voters should not have the power to overturn the results of a fair and democratic election.

The 20 percent requirement proposed in Bill 206 is also much lower compared to any previous recall proposals in Alberta.

Private members bills proposing the creation of recall laws in Alberta’s recent history have all come from opposition MLAs and all called for a significantly higher percentage of voters to sign the recall petition. Three private members bills introduced by Liberal MLAs in the 1990s called for recall to be triggered with the signatures of 40 percent of voters. A private members bill introduced by a Wildrose MLA in 2010 lowered the bar to 33.3 percent.

The only province with recall laws, British Columbia, requires signatures from more than 40 percent of eligible voters. B.C. adopted recall laws after it was approved through a province-wide referendum in 1991.

Even when Alberta briefly had MLA recall laws, from 1936 to 1937, signatures were required from 66.6 percent of voters to trigger a by-election.

One reason behind the low percentage in this bill is that it could make it easier for the conservative opposition to target and trigger by-elections in rural constituencies represented by NDP MLAs. In rural ridings where NDP candidates were elected in tight races, the low 20 percent threshold in Ms. Aheer’s Bill 206 would equal almost the same amount of votes received by Wildrose candidates in the recent election.

  • In Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, only 3,278 signatures would be needed to trigger a recall by-election under Bill 206. The Wildrose Party candidate earned 3,147 votes in that riding and NDP candidate Marg McCuaig-Boyd earned 3,692 votes.
  • In Lesser Slave Lake, NDP candidate Danielle Larivee was elected with 3,915 votes compared to the Wildrose candidate’s 3,198 votes. Twenty per cent of eligible voters would equal 3,812 votes.

Of course, Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs could also become targets of the recall laws, though it is unlikely the NDP majority – like the previous Conservative majority – would ever support this bill.

In my opinion, Albertans had an opportunity to vote in a general election seven months ago and cast their ballots for candidates with the understanding they would serve as MLAs for the next four to five years. As the results of the 2015 election proved, when we are motivated by tired and arrogant governments, Albertans can be trusted to elect a new government. In 2019, Albertans will once again have an opportunity to cast their ballots and choose who will represent their individual constituencies.

A brief history of recall laws in Alberta

1936: Bill No. 76 of 1936: A Bill Providing for the Recall of Members of the Legislative Assembly was introduced by the Social Credit government and passed after their surprising win in the 1935 election. The bill required 66.6 percent of voters to sign a petition to trigger a recall by-election.

1937: The law was repealed by the Social Credit government after a group of disgruntled Albertans was thought to have collected enough signatures to recall Premier William Aberhart in his Okotoks-High River constituency.

1993: Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Gary Dickson introduced Bill 203: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. The bill was defeated in a 42-34 vote in the Legislature.

1995: Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Karen Leibovici introduced Bill 224: Parliamentary Reform and Electoral Review Commission Act, which would have created a commission to study a handful of issues, including recall. The bill passed first reading but was never debated.

1996: Lethbridge-East Liberal MLA Ken Nicol introduced Bill 206: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. This bill was defeated in a 37-24 vote in the Legislature.

1997Bill 216, Recall Act was introduced by Edmonton-Manning Liberal MLA Ed Gibbons but was never debated in the Legislature. If passed into law, the bill would have trigged a recall by-election if 40 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

2010Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman introduced Bill 208: Recall Act, which would have trigged a recall by-election if 33 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one. Reached second reading but was not debated further.

2015: Chestermere-Rockyview Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer introduces Bill 206: Recall Act, which would trigger a recall by-election if 20 percent of eligible voters signed a petition demanding one

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Alberta Politics

Alberta NDP should tap the brakes on Bill 6, its new Farm and Ranch Safety law

The Alberta government needs to rethink its approach to overhauling safety laws on family farms and ranches. Since it was introduced in the Legislature on Nov. 17, confusion about Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has triggered a significant backlash from Albertans in rural communities across the province.

Bill 6 would expand sections of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code to apply to farm worksites. If Bill 6 is approved by the Legislature, WCB coverage will be mandatory and farms and ranches in Alberta will no longer be exempt from OHS laws. Alberta is currently the only province without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.
Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Nearly 400 angry farmers showed up to voice their concerns about Bill 6 at a government-organized town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week. The event was hosted by public servants and consultants with no MLAs in attendance. Western Producer reporter Mary MacArthur reported this week that MLAs will be present at future town hall meetings planned for Red Deer, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Leduc, Vegreville, Olds and Athabasca.

Close to 200 people, along with 2 ponies, 1 border collie and 1 turkey (see above), staged an afternoon protest against Bill 6 outside the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015. To their credit, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters at the Legislature to hear their concerns.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.
Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

It is clear that there are some changes that do need to be made to farm safety laws in Alberta. As is the case in every other province in Canada, the government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments.

But this is where the New Democratic Party government may have put the cart before the horse. It is unfortunate that the government did not choose to hold these public consultation meetings before introducing the bill. It seems that the NDP could have saved themselves a lot of grief if Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Premier Rachel Notley, Ms. Sigurdson and other NDP MLAs had started this process by travelling to the rural areas of the province to ask farmers and ranchers how changes could impact them.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.
Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Under current safety laws, provincial officers are not allowed to conduct investigations when a workplace fatality takes place on a farm or ranch. The WCB is a shield to protect employers from lawsuits in case of workplace injury and should probably be extended to cover all actual employees of farms and ranches. And farm workers should not be exempt from being given the choice to bargain collectively, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But legal changes also need to reflect the uniqueness of family farms and ranches.

Unlike other worksites, farms rely heavily on incidental and seasonal help during spring and fall from family, friends and neighbours. And by definition, work on a family farm will include work done by family members, some who will not be paid a regular salary and some who will be under the age of 18. It has not been clearly communicated by the government how these changes would impact the day to day operations of these family farms or whether exceptions will be made for smaller farming operations.

While some of the criticism of Bill 6 is rooted in hyperbole and hysterics generated by opponents of the government, it is clear that there is much confusion around this bill, which is a communications failure on the part of the government.

Ms. Sigurdson released a statement following yesterday’s protest at the Legislature trying to clarify the government’s position. “A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada,” Ms. Sigurdson said.

The debate around Bill 6 also highlights a political divide between rural and urban Alberta, neither of which are monolithic communities. It would be easy for us city dwellers to cast rural Albertans opposing these legislative changes as being backward or uncaring when we read media reports of workers or young children killed in farm accidents. And comments by MLAs like Liberal leader David Swann that the current legal framework would make “Charles Dickens blush” probably do not help foster a feeling of collaboration, even if there is a hint of truth to how far behind Alberta is in farm safety rules compared to other provinces.

Alberta is an increasingly urban province. According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift.

The recent provincial election marked a rare moment in our province’s history where MLAs from rural Alberta do not have a large voice in the government caucus. Twelve of the 53 NDP MLAs elected in May 2015 represent rural or partially rural constituencies. Most areas of rural Alberta are represented by Wildrose Party MLAs, who have taken every opportunity to attack the new government and advance the narrative that the NDP do not understand rural Alberta.

As most of their NDP MLAs were elected in urban centres, they should heed the advice that MLA Hugh Horner gave Progressive Conservative Party leader Peter Lougheed more than forty years ago.

David Wood observed in his biography of Mr. Lougheed, the Lougheed Legacy, that “Horner made one point that Lougheed and his colleagues have never forgotten: when you start believing that the people in rural Alberta are somehow different than the people in the bigger centres, you’re making a mistake. Rural Albertans come into the cities, go to concerts, shop in the malls: they’re as sophisticated and as aware of the rest of the world as any of their city cousins.”

Ms. Notley grew up in the northern Alberta town of Fairview. Her father, Grant Notley, was elected and re-elected as the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview four times between 1971 and 1984. Coming from rural Alberta, Ms. Notley should have an understanding of these changes could impact farmers and ranchers.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments. It also has a responsibility to clearly communicate to Albertans why these changes are needed and how they would be implemented. The NDP would demonstrate good will to rural Albertans by slightly tapping the breaks on Bill 6 and restarting this process with a thorough and meaningful consultation about improving farm and ranch safety in Alberta.

Update (Dec 1, 2015): The government announced it is proposing amendments to Bill 6 that would:

  • make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends;
  • make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year.
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Alberta Politics

Pigs fly as oil industry and environmental groups endorse NDP’s ambitious Made-in-Alberta Climate Change Plan

Pigs continued to fly in Alberta politics today as energy industry leaders and environmental groups joined Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips at a press conference to release Alberta’s much anticipated plan to take action against Climate Change. The Alberta government received the final report from the independent panel led by University of Alberta economics professor Andrew Leach and announced its plans to phase out coal burning electricity plants, phase in a price on carbon, introduce a limit on overall emissions from the oil sands and introduce an energy efficiency strategy.

Ms. Notley will now take the report and the made-in-Alberta plan to address climate change to a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers tomorrow and to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris next week.

Here is what energy industry executives, environmental leaders and opposition politicians had to say about today’s climate change announcement:

Responding to climate change is about doing what’s right for future generations of Albertans – protecting our jobs, health and the environment. It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology. Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world’s biggest problems, and doing our part.” – Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta (full release)

I thank the panel members and the many Albertans, including Indigenous people, industry, environmental groups, municipalities and other partners and stakeholders for their contribution. This is the right plan for our province, and now is the right time to implement it.” – Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks (full release)

The announcement is a significant step forward for Alberta. We appreciate the strong leadership demonstrated by Premier Notley and her government. The framework announced will allow ongoing innovation and technology investment in the oil and natural gas sector. In this way, we will do our part to address climate change while protecting jobs and industry competitiveness in Alberta.” – Murray Edwards, Chair, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (full release)

Today we are making history, with Alberta taking its rightful place as a leader on the world stage. Premier Notley promised Albertans leadership on the issue of climate change and she and her government have delivered. This is the right thing to do for both for our environment and our economy. The world needs more of this kind of leadership from major energy producing jurisdictions if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.” – Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute (full release)

We fully support the Government’s new climate policy direction. It enables Alberta to be a leader, not only in climate policy, but also in technology, innovation, collaborative solutions and energy development. I believe it will lead to Albertans and Canadians receiving full value for their oil and natural gas resources, while addressing climate change.” – Brian Ferguson, President & Chief Executive Officer of Cenovus Energy (full release)

After a string of pipeline victories and over a decade of campaigning on at least three different continents, the Alberta government has finally put a limit to the tarsands. Today they announced they will cap its expansion and limit the tarsands monster to 100 megatonnes a year.” – Mike Hudema, Greenpeace (full release)

This new carbon tax will make almost every single Alberta family poorer, while accelerated plans to shut down coal plants will lead to higher power prices and further jobs losses. Wildrose will be looking at every detail of this plan closely, and we will speak out against policies that hurt Albertans and the economy.” – Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose Party (full release)

Canadians have high expectations of themselves when it comes to protecting the environment and managing economic growth, and the world expects much of Canada. Alberta’s new climate change policy sends a clear message that Alberta intends to live up to those expectations. Today’s announcement sets Canadian oil on the path to becoming the most environmentally and economically competitive in the world.” – Lorraine Mitchelmore, President and Country Chair Shell Canada and EVP Heavy Oil for Shell (full release)

Now it’s time for the government to unapologetically promote Alberta’s emissions reduction successes to date and clearly articulate support for the long-term growth of Alberta’s energy industry, including the oil sands, conventional production, natural gas power, cogeneration and renewable energy.” – Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party (full release)

Today we reach a milestone in ensuring Alberta’s valuable resource is accompanied by leading carbon policy. It’s time that Alberta is seen as a climate, energy and innovation leader. This plan will make one of the world’s largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate change challenge.” – Steve Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer, Suncor (full release)

“On a public policy Richter scale, Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan is an 11. It is enormously positive and forward-looking and will yield measurable benefits for the health and quality of life of Albertans. Significantly, the new plan is supported by oil industry leaders, environmental organizations and other important stakeholders.” – Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute

Alberta’s decision to move away from coal-fired electricity generation and dramatically increase its use of renewable energy reflects a trend happening in countries all over the world. More renewable energy in Alberta will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean the air, and produce significant new investment and jobs – particularly in rural areas of the province.” – Robert Hornung, President of CanWEA (full release)

As Premier Notley said today, we expect today’s announcement to further enhance the reputation of our sector and improve our province’s environmental credibility as we seek to expand market access nationally and internationally. As well, the province’s climate strategy may allow our sector to invest more aggressively in technologies to further reduce per barrel emissions in our sector and do our part to tackle climate change. That’s what the public expects, and that’s’ what we expect of ourselves.” – said Tim McMillan, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (full release)

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Alberta Politics

Worth Watching: MLA Maria Fitzpatrick’s powerful speech about domestic violence

Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick stood in the legislature this week to share a powerful story about her personal experiences with domestic violence. During her speech, the first-term MLA described the experiences of violence, abuse and death threats that she and her children faced from her ex-husband.

(Video via Press Progress)

Alberta MLAs have been debating a bill introduced by Deborah Drever, the Independent MLA for Calgary-Bow, that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to flee abuse by breaking rental leases early and without penalty. Bill 204: Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, 2015 passed second reading in the Assembly on  Nov. 16, 2015.

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Alberta Politics

Wildrose demands transparency from NDP and PCs but holds its annual meeting in secret

Alberta’s conservative Wildrose Party is holding its annual general meeting this weekend in Calgary and, according to one media source, the event will be closed to the media with the exception of leader Brian Jean‘s speech ahead of the leadership review vote on the evening of Nov 13, 2015.

It feels like an eternity in Alberta politics since the Wildrose Party’s last annual meeting in Nov. 2014, which saw then-leader Danielle Smith clash with the party’s social conservative base over support for sexual minority rights. Wildrose members at the open door meeting voted down a definitive statement on equal rights for all Albertans, destroying the party’s attempt to appear more mainstream on social issues.

Now, the Wildrose Party led by Mr. Jean will spend its first annual meeting after its spectacular return from the dead debating policy and politics behind closed doors.

Wildrose members will debate motions ranging from equalization paymentspublic sector pensions, ending mandatory membership in students’ unions, increasing access to firearms, abolishing the Canadian Senate, and allowing private enterprise to receive government grants to compete against public essential services.

Members will also debate a series of motions aimed at banning MLAs from crossing the floor to another party, an issue that nearly destroyed the party when 13 of its MLAs crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014.

This type of anti-floor crossing policy could prove difficult to enforce, as it is against the spirit of the Westminster parliamentary system and idea of responsible government. Wildrose members should also note that none of the floor-crossers were re-elected in this year’s general election, providing some evidence that elements of our system of democracy worked without unneeded tinkering.

The closed door meeting could help hide controversial comments or embarrassing eruptions that regularily happen when political party members line up to speak at the microphone.

Rumours have circulated for months about a group of party members who still harbour bad feelings from the party’s March 28, 2015 leadership race and could create trouble for Mr. Jean at this annual meeting. The leadership vote, which Mr. Jean won with 54 percent to Drew Barnes’ 40 percent, was held days before the provincial election was called.

An internal investigation was launched amid allegations of illegal robocalls and the party imposed a $15,000 fine against Mr. Barnes’ campaign. The message in the robocalls allegedly attacked Mr. Jean for his $10,000 donation to Jim Prentice‘s PC leadership campaign only months before he entered the Wildrose Party leadership race.

Mr. Jean is now carefully manufacturing his pitch to convince members of the former governing PC Party to join his party’s ranks. Later in November, the Wildrose Party is hosting a “conversation” fundraiser in Calgary where Mr. Jean will make his pitch to conservatives to unite behind his party against the NDP. Any embarrassing or divisive fights at this meeting could derails those attempts.

Wildrose MLAs have eclipsed the tiny PC opposition in media attention while relentlessly hammering almost every decision made by Rachel Notley‘s NDP since they won the May 2015 election. But recently Wildrose MLAs have found themselves tied up in an embarrassing missteps including fighting a new 9:00 a.m. start time for the Legislature and a very public dispute with a Globe & Mail reporter.

Partisan debates about policy can be divisive and messy, but it is hypocritical for Wildrose Party MLAs to lambast the NDP for failing to be transparent and the PCs for being secretive and entitled while holding their own policy meetings behind closed doors.

If Mr. Jean’s Wildrose Party truly wants to prove it is ready to govern and represent mainstream Alberta, they should demonstrate it by giving Albertans a view into how their grassroots members really believe our province should be governed.

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Alberta Politics

Putting protection of LGBTQ students and staff back on the agenda at Alberta school boards meeting

Amid allegations of financial misspending and a lack of transparency, representatives from sixty-one elected Public, Catholic, and Francophone school boards from across Alberta will gather at the fall general meeting of the Alberta School Boards Association on November 15, 16 and 17 in Edmonton.

Michael Janz Edmonton
Michael Janz

School board representatives could face another round of debate about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and staff. The Edmonton Public School Board will introduce a motion at the meeting for the ASBA to create a policy that protects all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities.

I think tone at the top is very important, and it is important for the Alberta School Boards Association to take an active stance against the bullying and marginalization of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. I think this will send a very important signal across school boards that we do support inclusion, we do want to support our students,” EPSB chairperson Michael Janz told the Edmonton Sun.

The motion has been proposed as emergent by EPSB and will be introduced on the first full day of the meeting. Delegates will be asked whether it should be added to agenda and debated at the meeting.

Debate at the ASBA’s general meeting in 2012 attracted national attention when 62 percent of the delegates voted down a proposal to protect gay students and staff from discrimination, similar to a policy passed by EPSB in 2011.

David Eggen
David Eggen

One trustee at the 2012 meeting from the Pembina Hills School Division suggested if “children with a gay tendency” could hide their gayness it would be “for their own benefit.” The trustee later apologized but not before his comment became national news.

The debate around legislating the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools became a major political issue in the final months of 2014 and created major rifts between social conservatives and moderate conservatives in the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties.

Recent debates at the Edmonton Catholic School District about creating safe environments for transgender students have degenerated into public scenes of crying and shouting. “I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic,” Education Minister David Eggen said following the debates.

Mr. Eggen has directed all Alberta school boards to have a policy supporting LGBTQ students in place by March 31, 2016.  It has been reported that only 13 out of 61 school boards currently have stand alone policies protecting rights of LGBTQ students and staff.

The result of the debate about whether to adopt a policy protecting all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities will likely set the tone for an important breakfast event being held for trustees and MLAs on the final day of the meeting. Twenty-eight NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs are scheduled to attend the breakfast, including cabinet ministers Brian Mason, Joe Ceci, and Oneil Carlier. Mr. Eggen scheduled to deliver an address at the breakfast.

What the Education Minister has to say in his address will likely depend on if Alberta’s elected school trustees choose to rise above the closed mindedness and ignorance that has dominated these debates in past years. Protecting students and staff is not optional.


Here is the motion that the EPSB plans to introduce:

That the Alberta School Boards Association support its members school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and genders minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.

EPSB rationale for the motion:

  • Issues with regard to publicly funded education and supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity students, staff and families have been in the news this year. The ASBA has been silent on these issues, both in policy and presence. It is proposed by the Committee that we take a second attempt at moving forward the 2012 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy to the ASBA.
  • The Committee believes it is important for the ASBA to clearly take a policy position in support of students, staff, and families in alignment with provincial legislation and our Strategic Plan outcome to provide welcoming, inclusive, safe caring and healthy learning and work environments. Research has shown that sexual minority youth experience more bullying, harassment, alienation, and suicide ideation than do their heterosexual peers and; therefore, boards are encouraged to counter pervasive cultural biases against sexual minorities through proactive and specific policy and regulation to ensure that all sexual orientation and gender identity minority individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in all of their schools.

Previous ASBA fall general meetings have been webcast. I will post a link to the website once I have confirmed this meeting will be live streamed online.

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Alberta Politics

What about Bob? Hawkesworth swoops into top political job.

Former Calgary alderman Bob Hawkesworth has been appointed Executive Director of Premier Rachel Notley’s southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary. A press release sent out on Nov. 7 states that Mr. Hawkesworth will be responsible for “the day-to-day operation of McDougall Centre, including stakeholder relations, communications and outreach services.

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA
Richard Gotfried

Mr. Hawkesworth is a familiar name in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

But his long career in municipal politics ended with a flame out. When faced with dwindling support in his bid for mayor in 2010, the respected alderman known for his ‘nice guy’ image launched a blistering negative attack on Naheed Nenshi before dropping out and endorsing Barb Higgins (his name still appeared on the ballot – he earned 1,513 votes). The negativity and surprised endorsements had many Calgarians scratching their heads in confusion.

He attempted a return to provincial politics in a September 2015 by-election but was defeated by Wildrose candidate Prasad Panda.

Reaction from the opposition parties to his appointment this weekend was surprisingly mixed.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose
Prasad Panda

Calgary-Fish Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Gotfried tweeted a congratulatory note, describing Mr. Hawkesworth as “A good man and an able representative of the @albertaNDP in #YYC.

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon attacked the announcement as “a patronage appointment while Albertans across the province are hurting.” It seemed odd that the Wildrose caucus did not choose their only MLA from Calgary, Mr. Panda, to respond to the appointment. Maybe they are still preparing themselves for the rigours of a 9:00 a.m. start time?

Was this appointment based on political connections? It is hard to argue it is not. We can expect Ms. Notley to hire who she knows and who she trusts to these top positions. Mr. Hawkesworth might be the most well-connected and well-known partisan New Democrat in Calgary (Finance Minister Joe Ceci, another former alderman, might be the only other Calgary New Democrat as well connected). And he did earn endorsements from a number of conservatives during his by-election bid, including Councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake and former mayor Rod Sykes.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Jason Nixon

This appointment of a long-time party loyaltist also signals that the NDP don’t have a broadly developed network of fresh talent to draw from in Calgary and southern Alberta, which may explain the large number of out-of-province hires. Many Calgary progressives I speak with regularily, some who are affiliated with Mr. Nenshi’s mayoral campaigns, are completely unfamiliar with the NDP’s political networks in their city, mostly because these networks are just now being built.

Despite electing 15 MLAs in Calgary, the NDP only earned 35 percent of the city-wide vote in the May 2015 election. It will largely depend on these 15 MLAs in Calgary and their colleagues in Banff-Cochrane, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to develop those networks through the work they do on the ground in their constituencies over the next four years.

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC
Rob Merrifield

The appointment of Mr. Hawkesworth does raise the question about Ms. Notley’s pledge to operate differently than the old PC government. In fact, only a few months ago, the NDP government publicly fired and criticized former Alberta representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield for being a political appointee.

Mr. Merrifield was a partisan political appointee, hired by former Premier Jim Prentice, because he knew him and believed he could trust him to do a good job. Just as I am sure Ms. Notley knows and believes she can trust Mr. Hawkesworth to do a good job running the Premier’s office in at the McDougall Centre.

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Alberta Politics

Sky does not fall as Alberta NDP presents its first budget

When Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood in the Legislature on Oct. 27 to deliver the Alberta NDP’s first budget, it marked the first time since 1972 that the budget was not tabled by a Progressive Conservative finance minister.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader
Rachel Notley

The first budget of Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP government includes a 15 percent increase in capital spending over the next five years, with a goal to create jobs and tackle the province’s aging and neglected hospitals, schools, roads and other public infrastructure.

The NDP budget includes modest increases and projected stable funding for health care, education, advanced education and human services – core services that Albertans depend on. This was a key component of the election platform that helped propel the NDP into government on May 5. The job creation and economic stimulus elements of the budget followed last week’s creation of an Economic Development and Trade portfolio, led by Edmonton MLA Deron Bilous.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister
Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

A projected $6.1 billion deficit in the NDP budget is larger than the $5 billion deficit presented in the Tory spring budget, which was tabled but never passed. But the Alberta government’s eighth consecutive deficit budget is “…hardly sky is falling territory,” wrote University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe in Maclean’s Magazine this week.

While not trivial, obviously, it is completely manageable. Alberta is fully able to handle it and no one need panic. It represents 1.8 per cent of the province’s GDP, which is fairly small, as far as some deficits go,” Dr. Tombe wrote.

The NDP government will borrow to pay for parts of its operations budget starting next year, which will hopefully be a short-term move. Decades of bad financial management and poor long-term planning by the previous conservative government has exacerbated the provincial government’s current fiscal situation. The PCs simply became too comfortable and dependent on unreliable revenue from natural resource royalties to fund the province’s operations budget.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier
Jim Prentice

Mr. Ceci also announced that the government would legislate a debt ceiling of 15 percent debt-to-GDP in order to hold off a risk of credit downgrades and higher debt service costs.

Former premier Jim Prentice was correct last year when he warned about getting “off the royalty roller coaster.” The Alberta government faces serious revenue problems and moving Alberta away from its over dependence on resource revenue will be a significant test of Ms. Notley’s first term in government.

Any plan to deal with the revenue problem will likely come after the government receives a much anticipated report from the royalty review panel chaired by ATB President and CEO Dave Mowat. The panel is expected to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year. But it will not be enough to simply wait for the international price of oil to rise again. Albertans need to have a serious conversation about revenue and taxation, including the potential introduction of a provincial sales tax.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers
Derek Fildebrandt

To no ones surprise, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and finance critic Derek Fildebrandt responded to the NDP budget with outrage and a message filled with apocalyptic rhetoric.

Mr. Jean’s post-budget press conference was somewhat overshadowed by Mr. Fildebrandt’s bizarre decision to refuse to answer a question from Globe & Mail reporter Carrie Tait (see the ~8:50 mark in this video). Mr. Fildebrandt is sour from a recent interview Ms. Tait published in which she quotes him as claiming the NDP duped Alberta voters by actually implementing promises made during the election (and he later referred to Ms. Tait as a b-list reporter and accused her of auditioning for a job in the Premier’s Office – a comment he later retracted).

Brian Jean Wildrose
Brian Jean

A joint opinion-editorial written by Wildrose MLAs Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), and Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Dave Schneider (Little Bow) and circulated to rural weekly newspapers in September 2015 provides some sense of how that party would approach provincial budgeting if elected to government:

“When governments borrow and spend, there’s no marketable asset. There’s only debt. It’s like using a credit card to buy pizza. Even when governments borrow to spend on bridges and highways rather than programs, the debt is still not connected to a marketable asset. It’s a liability. Mortgages can be liquidated. Houses can be sold. Who buys used government bridges and worn-out highways?”

This is a crude ideological approach to public governance. Using capital financing to pay for the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, bridges and roads is nothing like using a credit card to buy a pizza.

The Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget is sensible and reflects the thoughtful approach that has defined the first six months of Ms. Notley’s tenure as Alberta’s Premier. Rather than follow a disastrous road taken by some of her predecessors, and slash funding to government services while the price of oil is low, the NDP government is taking an opportunity to invest in much needed public infrastructure when the economy is slow and the price is right. It’s not a brand new approach in Alberta politics, but it is refreshing to see a government focus on building rather than tearing down.

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Alberta Politics

Notley creates Economic Development ministry, appoints rural Municipal Affairs minister

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew from twelve to thirteen today with the appointment of Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee to the posts of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.

Ms. Larivee takes over those roles from Deron Bilous. Mr. Bilous, one of the four NDP MLAs elected before this year’s orange chinook swept across Alberta, is now the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, a new department created from elements of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation and International and Intergovernmental Affairs.

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table the provincial budget in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 27, the creation of this new ministry is meant to send a message about the importance of job creation and economic diversification. It was announced today that the budget will also include an “economic development plan” that will help provide some direction for this initiative.

The provincial budget is expected to include significant investment in public infrastructure and job creation projects to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by the drop in the international price of oil.

Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe

The appointment of a rural northern Alberta MLA to cabinet has already generated complaints from some Calgary-based pundits. Only four of thirteen cabinet ministers represent constituencies south of Edmonton, including Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Over the course of its 44 years in power, the old Progressive Conservative government was led by Calgarians for more than three decades – Premiers Peter Lougheed (1971 to 1985), Ralph Klein (1992 to 2006), Alison Redford (2011-2014) and Jim Prentice (2014-2015).

It is suspected that former Alderman Bob Hawkesworth would have been appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs if he had won a September by-election in the Calgary-Foothills riding. If this is true, Calgarians can rightfully ask why one of the other eleven NDP MLAs in Calgary wasn’t appointed to cabinet. But they would be mistaken to believe they are the only group the provincial government is trying to represent.

As an MLA representing a large rural constituency, Ms. Larivee’s appointment to the Municipal Affairs post is more likely a tip of the hat to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. An incredibly well-connected lobby group during the PC Party’s time in power, the AAMDC has found itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

The group was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many of its officials have used the group as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former cabinet minister Jack Hayden).

As a registered nurse who worked in a community health care setting, Ms. Larivee will understand some of the challenges facing the rural and remote communities represented by the AAMDC. It just so happens that Ms. Larivee’s new job starts a month before her first large event as minister – the AAMDC’s annual general meeting on November 17 and 18.


Alberta’s New Cabinet

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) – Economic Development and Trade

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne) – Agriculture and Forestry

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort) – Finance and Treasury Board President

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) — Education and Culture and Tourism

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake) – Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) –  Infrastructure and Transportation

Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley) – Energy

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) – Environment and Parks and Status of Women

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview) – Advanced Education, and Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour

Categories
Alberta Politics

Can Alberta’s Royalty Review get us off the “Royalty Roller Coaster?”

Alberta’s Royalty Review panel stopped in Edmonton on Oct. 6, 2015 for the fourth and final scheduled community consultation meeting. Compared to reports from a tense meeting the previous evening in Calgary, the crowd of about 120 Edmontonians was generally polite and quite tame.

A review of Alberta’s natural resource royalty rates was a key plank in the New Democratic Party‘s election platform and a panel was appointed shortly after Rachel Notley was sworn-in as Premier earlier this year. The panel is chaired by Alberta Treasury Branches President and CEO Dave Mowat and includes Town of Beaverlodge Mayor Leona Hanson, former deputy finance minister Annette Trimbee, and respected energy economist Peter Tertzakian.

The difference in tone at the two consultation meetings is likely explained in the job losses caused by the decline in the international price of oil, which has impacted Calgary and communities in northern Alberta in larger numbers than Edmonton, which has been somewhat sheltered by a boom of large construction projects and a large public sector workforce.

Unlike other parts of the province where the new government’s policies may be met with varying levels of hostility or cynicism (and where NDP MLAs were elected with thin margins), support for Ms. Notley’s party is deep in Edmonton where 64 percent of voters cast ballots for NDP candidates.

As Mr. Mowat described it, it is critical to separate overlying vision (which is inherently emotional) and the complex technical structure (which is very complex) of Alberta’s natural resource royalties when trying to have a public discussion about the issue. And to Mr. Mowat’s credit he presented the panel’s goals and answered questions from the crowd using layman’s terms with ease.

Of course, what is actually implemented when the panel submits its report to the government will be a decision left to the politicians.

An advantage of appointing an arms-length panel like the one Mr. Mowat is chairing is that the government can pick and choose what recommendations it deems viable, both politically and economically.

Last month, Ms. Notley echoed comments made by former Premier Jim Prentice when she said it was time to get Alberta “off the royalty roller coaster.”

The drop in the international price of oil exposed a large cleavage in the government’s finances as past governments became too comfortable and over reliant on these unstable resource revenues to fund the province’s operations budget.

Like her predecessor, Ms. Notley says she plans to fix this, albeit without significant cuts to public services as Mr. Prentice and the opposition Wildrose Party proposed.

But before Alberta’s government is in a position to decide whether the royalties we collect in exchange for allowing private corporations to extract our natural resources should be lowered, kept the same, or increased, the panel is continuing to collect feedback and submissions from Albertans.

These natural resources belong to all Albertans, so do your part and let the panel know what you believe the future of our natural resource royalties should be.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Goodbye? The future looks bleak for the Alberta Liberals

Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership chairperson Josipa Petrunic, MLA Laurie Blakeman, MLA Hugh MacDonald and candidate Bruce Payne.
Raj Sherman (right) accepts the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 2011. To the left: Leadership race chairperson Josipa Petrunic, and leadership candidates Laurie Blakeman, Hugh MacDonald and Bruce Payne.

It has been a long time since things have looked good for the Alberta Liberals. The provincial party has been teetering on the verge of the political abyss for years but lately the future looks especially bleak.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Recent announcements that popular Calgary Liberal MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang are moving to greener pastures in federal politics with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will shrink the provincial Liberal caucus to just three MLAs, leaving the party with its smallest caucus in nearly thirty years. The two departures also mean the party may be forced to play defence in two by-elections before the next general election, a feat not aided by continuously low fundraising returns.

In the 2012 provincial election, Liberal support dropped to its lowest level since the 1980s, with only five candidates incumbent MLAs re-elected and the party losing its hold on formerly reliably Liberal-voting ridings like Edmonton-Gold Bar, Edmonton-Riverview, Calgary-Currie and Calgary-Varsity.

But the biggest blow to the Liberals in that year’s election was losing Official Opposition status to the Wildrose Party, a title the Liberals had held in Alberta since 1993. Since losing its place as the default opposition to the Tories, the party has struggled to define its identity in a new political environment dominated by two conservative parties.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

With the departure of Mr. Hehr and Mr. Kang, the party will soon have less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which, in the midst of its own leadership race, is showing signs of positive growth in Edmonton. The NDP, the Liberal Party’s long-time rivals, seem to be paying less attention to that party, focusing instead on the new Progressive Conservative-Wildrose dominance of Alberta’s political environment. And the recent defection of a senior Liberal Party official to the tiny Alberta Party also raised eyebrows.

It would be unfair to assign the blame on one person, especially considering the Liberal Party has been a slow state of decline since 1993 (with the exception of the 2004 election, where the party, led by Kevin Taft, increased its MLAs).

The party’s current leader, Raj Sherman, is the definition of a wildcard. The former PC MLA and junior cabinet minister has been an odd fit in the Liberal benches. Those who work close to him describe him as kind and well-meaning, but his scattered and erratic behaviour make him difficult to anticipate. The Liberals took a risk in choosing an outsider as their leader and, at least today, there does not appear to be a reward in sight.

MLAs like Edmonton-Centre‘s Laurie Blakeman and Calgary-Mountain View‘s David Swann are hard-working representatives, but as a caucus, the Liberals tend to act more like Independent MLAs who share office space.

Despite the bleak view on the horizon, I would never count the Liberals out. They have been constant underdogs and they have a highly committed base of activists who are extremely loyal to their party’s traditional brand.

It is too soon to tell whether the provincial Liberals will benefit from a new wave of Trudeaumania in federal politics. A big question is whether the Liberals will follow the trend of their provincial prairie cousins in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who have become become non-existent or irrelevant in recent decades.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Opposition hoping for a sequel to Air Redford… Air Prentice

Air-Alison-Redford-Jim-Prentice
Alberta’s Opposition Parties are giddy at the thought of a sequel to the Air Redford scandals… Air Prentice. Can they make it fly in the minds of Albertans?

The long-summer of 2014 has begun in Alberta politics. With little substantial policy ideas to dispute or debate, Alberta’s opposition parties have set their sights on Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Jim Prentice (if this continues, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are going to start feeling left out).

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

Hoping to tie Mr. Prentice to frequent-flying former Premier Alison Redford and her controversial $45,000 flight to South Africa and flights to Palm Springs and Jasper, the NDP Opposition released detailed flight manifests outlining the former federal cabinet minister’s travel expenses during his time in Ottawa.

Describing Mr. Prentice as “a Bay Street lawyer and a millionaire,” Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP MLA Deron Bilous said in a news release that the Tory leader-to-be “used them repeatedly as a cabinet minister, costing the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The NDP claim the manifests show Mr. Prentice’s flights cost the federal government in excess of $400,000. NDP researchers must have been giddy when they discovered flights in 2009 that cost $29,169 (Mr. Prentice had the government plane fly from Ottawa to Calgary to drop him and his constituency director off in Washington DC, and then the plane flew back to Ottawa empty) and in 2010 that cost $41,522 (Mr. Prentice flew to Norway from Ottawa with his Communications Director and Chief of Staff).

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

Following the NDP’s lead, the Wildrose Party quickly released an info graphic highlighting Mr. Prentice’s recent quote that politicians should not be riding on government airplanes, but should fly commercial with everybody else. Putting aside the $400,000 sticker-shock, it is not clear that Mr. Prentice did not frequently travel on commercial airlines. Members of Parliament are allowed a certain number of expensed commercial flights each year to between Ottawa and the riding they are elected to represent.

The question is whether Albertans will see this as more confirmation of Tory excess (which Mr. Prentice has pledged to crack-down on, even though short-term Premier Dave Hancock refuses to acknowledge it exists) or as the price of doing government business in a geographically large country like Canada. I imagine it will be a mix of both.

Recent polling from ThinkHQ shows the Wildrose Party far in the lead among decided Alberta voters, even after Mr. Prentice entered the PC leadership race. The polls also show the NDP leading in support in Edmonton. While this is one single poll, it is a snapshot that will surely contribute to the growing narrative that the PC Party remains in trouble even after jettisoning Ms. Redford.

With the smell of opportunity in the air, Alberta’s opposition parties are expected to continue taking every opportunity to remind Albertans of the out-of-touch attitudes of the previous premier and hope it sticks to Mr. Prentice and the 45 PC MLAs who eagerly endorsed his candidacy.

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Alberta NDP leadership race Alberta Politics

Who wants to be leader of the Alberta NDP?

NDP-Edmonton-Folk-Fest-Ad
The Alberta NDP will hold a leadership vote in October 2014. Photo from the NDP ad in the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival program.

While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.

Brian Mason
Brian Mason

At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.

No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.

While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.

Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.

David Eggen
David Eggen

While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.

Deron Bilous
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.

David Eggen
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.

A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.

Rachel Notley
First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.

She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.


Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award

Congratulations to my blogger-in-arms David Climenhaga who walked away with the Best in Political and Current Affairs award at last night’s Yeggies gala in Edmonton. Mr. Climenhaga faced a handful of worthy contenders, including the Edmonton Journal‘s entire political reporting team.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Scrappy and strong-willed, Brian Mason punches above his weight

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason
Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason announced this week that he will be retiring as leader of his party in October 2014.

Back in the mid-2000s, when I worked for the Alberta Liberals, Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason was a constant source of frustration for my colleagues and I. Each week, I was amazed at how the leader of the tiny perfect NDP could consistently earn so much press and scoop away the media attention deserved by of my party’s Official Opposition MLAs (of course, there were a few other contributing factors at play).

At the time, I had a professional respect for Mr. Mason and, since stepping back from the world of partisan politics and having engaged with him in more informal settings, I now have a personal respect for him (he is also my MLA).

Scrappy and strong willed, Mr. Mason has always punched above his weight with ease, putting even the most confident Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers on edge.

This week, after ten years in the job, Mr. Mason announced his plans to step down as leader of the NDP after his party holds a leadership vote in October 2014. As he departs, it is important to reflect on how far the NDP has come overt he past decade.

Ten years ago, the NDP had two MLAs in Alberta, no sign of life outside of central Edmonton and a dozen Members of Parliament in Ottawa (none from Alberta).

Today, the NDP is now the Official Opposition in Ottawa (with one MP from Alberta), are back up to four MLAs in Alberta, their vote has grown in Edmonton and they now have a beachhead of support in Lethbridge.

While the NDP is a long way from being a competitive alternative to the two Conservative parties in this province, the next two years present the new NDP leader with a unique opportunity to speak with voters searching for an alternative (I will write more on this later).

While it would be unfair to solely credit Mr. Mason for the change over the past decade, in many ways, he will leave the Alberta NDP in a better shape than it was the day he started the job.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Should the Alberta NDP accept corporate donations?

Alberta NDP MLA Caucus
The Alberta NDP MLAs Brian Mason, David Eggen, Rachel Notley, and Deron Bilous in last year’s Edmonton Folk Music Festival program book.

With vibrant progressive campaigns winning on the municipal-level in Calgary and Edmonton, it is difficult to understand why there is not be a progressive party, or even a non-conservative party, able to compete on the provincial-level in Alberta.

Alberta’s progressive political parties are being left in the dust by the large fundraising machines of the province’s two main conservative parties, according to Elections Alberta reports.

The Alberta NDP declared $775,152 in revenue in 2013, roughly $2.2 million less than the Wildrose Party. Most of the NDP donations came from that party’s impressive individual donor base, and less than 10% from labour unions. The NDP accepted a small amount of donations from small-businesses, but shies away from larger corporate donors.

With the conservative parties eagerly tapping into a wealth of corporation donors in Alberta, is the NDP handicapping itself by refusing to accept larger corporate donations?

Party purists would argue that the NDP should stick to its social democratic principles by not accepting corporate donations, which would corrupt the party’s morals. Many of the same purists would argue that principles alone win elections. The Alberta NDP’s historically small real-estate in the opposition benches would suggest this is not a winning strategy.

If a party is not seeing consistent growth in funds and votes, then it should change tactics.

In other provinces, like British Columbia, the provincial NDP accepted $2.1 million in corporate donations during last year’s election. While that party did not win that election, it has formed government in the past and remains competitive on a provincial level.

A political party cannot be effective in the long-run if it is not  competitive in fundraising. In Alberta, the NDP is falling short of being able to raise the funds  necessary to compete with the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party on a province-wide level.

The next provincial election presents a very real opportunity for a progressive political party to make gains by providing an alternative to the two main conservative parties. That progressive party would also need the funds and resources to compete on a province-wide level, which would require more money than the NDP appears able to raise without accepting corporate donations.