Tag Archives: Alberta PC Party

All roads lead to Red Deer and the Alberta Party for homeless politicos

Red Deer and the Alberta Party are frequent destinations for disaffected politicos in search of a new political home.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

Led by former Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill and backed by former cabinet minister Stephen Mandel, disaffected Tories are booking their trip to the central Alberta city this weekend to discuss bringing centrists “together,” presumably under the banner of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Together political action committee, led by O’Neill, has been created to search for a new home for disaffected PC Party members unhappy with the rightward direction of the established Conservative parties in the province.

The Alberta Party has been home to some very different stripes of politicos since it was founded in the early 1980s. The party had little success as a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party during its first two decades of existence and made minor headlines when it was involved in unsuccessful merger negotiations with the Alberta Alliance (the predecessor of the Wildrose Party) in the mid-2000s.

It was only a only a few short years ago that another group of disaffected political activists, mostly Liberals and Greens, with a few PCs and New Democrats tossed in the mix (including myself), also met in Red Deer to discuss the creation of a new political… something. Those meetings back in 2010, following the landslide victory that Premier Ed Stelmach led the PCs to in 2008, led to the creation of what has become the current version of the Alberta Party.

Dave Taylor MLA

Dave Taylor

The party, which was nothing more than a great name at the time, was inherited by former Green Party supporters in 2009 (the Green Party of Alberta was disbanded in 2009) and soon after Hinton mayor and past NDP candidate Glenn Taylor became the party’s leader. Two-term Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor became the party’s first MLA in 2011 after he left the then-Official Opposition Liberals.

The reinvention of the Alberta Party in 2010 dramatically shifted the tiny party into the limelight for a short period in the early 2010s, when it was seen as a potential successor to the failing Liberal Party brand in Alberta. But Stelmach’s decision to retire and Alison Redford’s ascendancy to what at the time looked like a reinvigorated Progressive Conservative Party stole the wind from the Alberta Party’s sails.

The Alberta Party bandied around merger discussions with the Liberal Party before the 2012 and 2015 elections, but nothing came of it. Rather than merging or accepting a floor crossing, the Alberta Party decided to endorse Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s re-election bid in Edmonton-Centre in 2015 (the five-term MLA was defeated by New Democrat David Shepherd in the orange tidal wave that swept the capital city).

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who worked as a Liberal Caucus staffer in the mid-1990s, was elected as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow in 2015. And since then, Clark has tried to position his party as a new home (and a safe refuge) for PCs who are uncomfortable with Jason Kenney’s social conservative leadership and the planned merger with the Wildrose Party to create the United Conservative Party.

Like those disaffected Liberals, Greens and New Democrats who gathered under the Alberta Party banner in the early 2010s to create a new alternative to the PCs, this group of disaffected PCs are gravitating toward the Alberta Party to create a new alternative. Some of the big names associated with the weekend gathering were involved in the PC Party’s epic defeat to Rachel Notley’s centre-leftish NDP in the May 2015 election and the unsuccessful campaigns to stop Kenney from winning the PC leadership in March 2017.

The Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, and a home for disaffected politicos without a home. Whether or not this latest group to wander over will make themselves at home in the Alberta Party is yet to be determined.

Alberta Conservatives now appear less united than they have in years

Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney took aim at the New Democratic Party and Alberta’s teachers this week, claiming that both groups are planning to hijack the July 22 vote to fold his party and the Wildrose Party into a new United Conservative Party. Kenney’s claims are unsubstantiated and are likely a distraction from the unity crisis happening in his own party.

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader,” wrote Sumita Anand in an email May 24, 2017 email announcing her resignation as west Calgary regional director on the Progressive Conservative Party board of directors.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive,” wrote Anand, who was president of the Calgary-Foothills PC association from 2014 to 2016.

Anand is one of a handful of high profile Conservatives to resign from the PC Party board since Kenney became leader on March 18, 2017.

Among the individuals who have left the PC Party board since the change in leadership include president Katherine O’Neill, northern finance committee chair Stephen Mandel, budget director Kim Krushell, southern Alberta vice-president Jordan Lien, south Calgary regional director Connor Turner, St. Albert regional director Lorna Wolodko, north Edmonton regional director Stephanie Shostak, central north east regional director Bud James and vice president organization Denise Brunner. Janice Harrington resigned as vice president outreach to become the party’s interim executive director.

Kenney’s public statements on Gay-Straight Alliances and his party’s recent political maneuvering around Edmonton’s Pride Parade suggest he is willing to appeal to the loud vocal minority of social conservatives at the expense of moderate conservatives already in his party.

Shostak announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the Alberta Party, and Brunner has emerged as the Edmonton regional organizer for the Alberta Party. Brunner recently sent an email to Alberta Party members announcing a series of annual general meetings to be held in the Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Edmonton-Castle Downs, Edmonton-Decore, and Edmonton-Manning constituencies.

The Alberta Party’s recruitment of former PC Party executive director Troy Wason, and his extensive list of contacts across the province, will surely help the party, but it needs organization on the ground and money in the bank. The Alberta Party raised only $14,070.49 in the first four months of 2017, which was only three percent of total amount that was fundraised by the governing New Democratic Party in the same period.

The Alberta Party is not the only recipient of political refugees from the PC Party. Former PC Party member Kerry Cundal recently ran for the Liberal Party leadership and some PCs unhappy with the direction of the party have even joined Rachel Notley‘s NDP.

The most high-profile Tory to join the NDP recently has been Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who crossed the floor in November 2016 after dropping out of the PC leadership race. More recently, Thomas Ockley, a former PC caucus and party staffer who served as Richard Starke’s scrutineer in the 2017 PC leadership race, is now listed on the Alberta government website as being employed as a researcher for the NDP caucus at the Legislature.

Support for the new party is not unanimous in the Wildrose Party either. Leader Brian Jean faced pushback from party president Jeff Calloway this week. Sharon Maclise, the party’s president in Edmonton-Glenora, described abandoning the Wildrose Party to create a new party as an “idiotic idea” in a letter to the editor in one of Edmonton’s Postmedia newspapers last month.

Unlike Kenney, who only needs the support of 50 percent plus one to fold the PC Party, Jean requires a steep 75 percent approval from the Wildrose Party membership.

While Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party earlier this year may lead to the creation of a United Conservative Party (at least on paper), conservatives in Alberta now appear less united than they have in years.


Here is the full email from Sumita Anand:

Dear President and fellow board members,

Regretfully, I submit my resignation from the board of Directors. 

After having served the party for approximately fifteen years in various capacities, I am not in support of the direction the party is currently taking under the new leader. 

During my tenure as a volunteer with the party, I have always observed and recognized the leader as being the pillar on which the progressive and conservative values stood firm and grounded, leading the party’s initiatives to form government without any selfish objectives. Those principals seem to have been lost under the current leadership.

At the board level there is no opportunity for positive participation and there seems to be a staged place for only those board members who agree with the leader on all suggestions even if they are far from being either socially progressive or inclusive. 

A party leader’s actions are a reflection of the direction for not only its members but for Albertans at large. Currently the party reflects being resourceful but not compassionate, responsible, open or practical.  I would like to contribute my capabilities to a party that is humble yet remarkable and according to me, those values are not aligned with the direction this party is taking. 

While working with the party, I have found great friends and take back with me very fond memories.  I appreciate the opportunity given to me through the years for contributing to community at large. 

I wish the current board success through its endeavors. 

Sincerely 

Sumita Anand 
Board member 
 Dated: 24th May 2017

Labour Minister Christina Gray. Photo from premierofalberta on Flickr.

NDP finally introduce their Labour Law modernization bill

Labour Minister Christina Gray introduced Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, into the Legislative Assembly today. This bill includes long-awaited reforms to modernize Alberta’s Labour Code and Employment Standards Code. Some parts of Alberta’s labour laws have remained untouched since the 1970s.

The 249-page bill includes a wide-range of amendments from improving maternity leave and compassionate care leave to extending parental leave from 37 weeks to 52 weeks to guaranteeing job protection for new unpaid leaves to simplifying union certification and decertification processes.

Well-respected labour lawyer Andrew Sims, who was hired by the government to work on the reforms, described the changes in Bill 17 as moderate and middle of the road. “This is not a cutting-edge, lead-the-country reform,” Sims told reporters. “It is in most respects a bring-the-best-experiences-from-elsewhere to Alberta.” This would appear to fit with the New Democratic Party‘s shift in adopting more centrist policies ahead of the next provincial election.

While the bill does not include changes some trade unions were advocating for, including banning “double breasting” and replacement workers during strikes, it does include some meaningful changes.

During her time as an opposition MLA, Premier Rachel Notley was a vocal advocate for first contract arbitration, which is included in the bill. First contract arbitration allows employers and unions to access dispute resolution methods under the Labour Relations Code that could avoid lengthy lock-outs or job action if negotiations for a first contract at newly unionized worksites are unsuccessful.

On the issue of card-check, which I briefly discussed yesterday, changes in Bill 17 require a secret ballot vote to take place at a job site where between 40 and 65 percent of workers have signed up to join a union. If more than 65 percent of workers have signed up, then a vote is not required.

You would think that a bill allowing workplace leave for parents looking after kids with long-term illness, leave for women suffering from domestic violence, and striking a provision that allowed persons with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage would garner support from all sides of the Legislative Assembly. You would think.

But before debate on Bill 17 could even begin, Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs, now essentially operating as the United Conservative Party caucus, voted against first reading of the bill. It is very unusual for MLAs to vote against a bill in first reading, as a vote in favour of first reading is needed to allow for debate on a bill to begin. In fact, a vote in favour of first reading is needed before MLAs and the public even get a chance to read the bill.

It is hard to describe their behaviour as anything but foolish partisanship. Wildrose and PC MLAs have made it clear they are unwilling to work with the NDP on many issues, but at a bare minimum they should be able to offer alternatives and meaningfully contribute to a debate.

But perhaps this is not surprising when you consider some of the last significant pieces of labour legislation passed by a Conservative government in Alberta. In 2015Jim Prentice‘s government repealed a law passed in 2013 that would have levelled fines of $500 and a prosecution within one year for any “person” who suggested that public sector employees strike or threaten to strike. The 2013 law was undemocratic and very likely unconstitutional.

At first glance, the NDP bill appears to bring some semblance of balance into labour law in Alberta while modernizing some workplace protections that are fairly standard in most other Canadian provinces.

The bulk of the changes included in the bill also reflect the NDP’s main narrative in 2017 of “making lives better for Albertans.” By voting against Bill 17 before it was even up for debate, Wildrose and PC MLAs continued to fulfill the NDP’s secondary narrative, “making life difficult for conservative MLAs.”

The U-C-P: Jean and Kenney launch the United Conservative Party

Today’s announcement from Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney that they plan to create a new conservative political party has been expected for weeks. The press conference was filled with fairly nauseating partisan rhetoric about how awful and catastrophic the NDP are, but most importantly, we found out what is included in the agreement that was negotiated by a committee of party insiders and signed by the two party leaders.

– It is not really a merger. Under the Jean-Kenney agreement released today, a new legal entity will be created under the Societies Act. It is not clear what will happen to the two currently existing parties and whether they will eventually be dissolved or will continue to exist in name only.

– The new party will be called the United Conservative Party, or U-C-P, for short (the acronym was widely mocked on social media today). This name might not have been the first choice of the two leaders. A failed plot was supposedly hatched by the Kenney-support group Alberta Can’t Wait, to take control of the Alberta Party board of directors at their 2016 annual general meeting. The Alberta Partiers thwarted the takeover and preserved their control over their party’s coveted name.

– The two parties will hold a vote of their memberships on July 22, asking whether the membership would like to create a new party. Approval would require the support of 50 percent plus one of the PC Party membership and 75 percent of the Wildrose Party membership. It is fairly well known that many of Kenney’s supporters in the PC Party leadership race also hold memberships in the Wildrose Party, so it is unclear whether those individuals will be able to cast their ballots twice.

– If members of the two parties vote in favour of creating a new party, the two leaders will step down from their current position and a newly merged caucus of Wildrose and PC MLAs will elect an interim leader. The UCP, Wildrose and PC parties will then be governed by the same leader and executive officers.

– A leadership vote would be held on October 28, 2017. Jean and Kenney have said they will run for the leadership. Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt is said to be preparing a leadership bid. Interim federal Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose, who announced her retirement from federal politics this week, was rumoured to be considering a run, has instead taken a position with the Washington DC-based Wilson Centre.

– There are still outstanding questions about what will happen to the finances of the two parties, in particular the PC Party’s outstanding debt from the 2015 election. According to financial documents published by Elections Alberta, as of December 31, 2016, the PC Party had drawn $754,475 from their $850,000 line of credit. The line of credit is guaranteed by a former director of the party.

The next five months could be fascinating to watch.

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

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

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

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

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

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

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

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

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

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

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

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

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

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

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

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

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

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

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

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

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

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

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.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Kenney shifts into Phase Two of Uniting the Right

Shifting into the second phase of his campaign to unite Alberta’s two largest right-wing political parties, newly elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney met with Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean this week. According to an email from Kenney’s campaign, the two men, who are both expected to run for the leadership of a new conservative party, shared a carton of Tim Horton’s coffee in the official opposition offices located in the Federal Building.

Brian Jean Wildrose Leader

Brian Jean

Kenney emerged from the meeting alone, holding a press conference by himself without Jean outside the building to announce the creation of conservative discussion groups. Jean probably made a good decision not to participate in a joint press conference at this point, as he would have certainly been made to look like he was playing second fiddle to his main leadership rival.

Jean told CBC that he wants a new party to hold a leadership race before October 15, 2017. This is slightly ahead of the timeline proposed by Kenney, which would have the leadership vote held later in 2017 or in early 2018.

An October 2017 vote would coincide with the creation of new electoral boundaries for the next provincial election, when parties are expected to begin nominating candidates in earnest. The final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 31, 2017.

Jean also reiterated his position that a new party should exist within the current legal framework of the Wildrose Party, which puts him at odds with Kenney’s previously stated plans to either merge the two or create an entirely new party.

Wason Resigns

Troy Wason

Troy Wason

PC Party executive director and long-time party activist Troy Wason resigned his position over the weekend. “It’s very difficult to put a round peg into a square hole,” Wason was quoted as saying about Kenney’s PC-Wildrose merger plans in response to the Feminism is Cancer email sent out the Wildrose campus club at the University of Calgary last week. His departure was not a complete surprise but a signal that the Kenney’s victory has some moderate Tories looking for an exit.

It is also notable that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel’s name disappeared from the PC Party website this week. Mandel, who briefly served as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud and health minister from 2014 to 2015, was the party’s northern Alberta finance committee chairman. As I wrote earlier this week, Mandel is rumoured to be backing an upcoming “unite the centre” meeting to discuss the potential creation of an alternative to the PC-Wildrose coalition.

Merger aims to keep Tory cash
A group of PC and Wildrose associated lawyers calling themselves the Alberta Conservative Consolidation Committee believe that Elections Alberta’s statement that political parties cannot legally merge is wrong. The group is chaired by former Canadian Taxpayers’ Association president Andy Crooks and includes past Wildrose candidate Richard Jones and PC constituency president Tyler Shandro and two other lawyers.

The desire to merge the two parties rather than create a new party is likely partly driven by the estimated $1.5 million believed to be sitting in dozens of PC Party constituency bank accounts and candidate trusts. If a party dissolves, the funds are held in trust by Elections Alberta and later transferred into the Alberta government’s general revenue.

Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is spending much his political retirement on Twitter, posted a photo online showing the PC constituency association in Edmonton-Castle Downs, which he represented in the Assembly from 2001 until 2015, had liquidated its financial assets by donating the funds to local charities.

I do not expect a new conservative party would have trouble raising money before the next election but new donation limits have lowered the maximum annual contribution from $15,000 to $4,000. The NDP also banned corporate and union donations, which the PC Party relied heavily on before the last election. The Wildrose Party, like the NDP, have cultivated a large individual donor base, but losing that $1.5 million would be a hit.

Gotfried and the Red Menace

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried, the lone rookie PC MLA elected in 2015, evoked his father’s flight from Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China during a speech criticizing the NDP government in the Assembly this week. It takes a special amount of partisan and ideological gymnastics to draw connections between brutal and tyrannical dictatorships and a freely elected democratic government in Alberta, but Gotfried did it.

This is not the first time an opposition MLA has drawn these kinds of connections. Last summer, Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman apologized, twice, for an open-letter signed by nine Wildrose MLAs that compared the NDP government’s carbon tax to the Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

What does Jason Kenney’s PC Party stand for?

Kenney has played it pretty smooth since entering provincial politics last summer, largely avoiding getting directly caught in any of the controversy generated by his campaign. But that will not stop his political opponents from reminding Albertans of his more controversial, and in some cases totally bizarre, political statements.

Press Progress unleashed a long list of “abnormal” comments that the 48-year old Kenney has made over the course of his 30ish-year political career. They include comments from his time as an anti-abortion activist at the Catholic University of San Francisco to more recent claims that schools brainwash children with anti-conservative beliefs“bohemian” youths are “unconsciously” promoting communism and marxist professors are working to “suppress” Canada’s “Christian patrimony.”

There is no doubt Kenney has his share of political baggage, but his opponents, including the governing New Democrats, would be foolish to underestimate him. Despite his apparent belief in some weird conspiracy theories, Kenney is an extremely capable campaigner.

Main photo: Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

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.

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 Party first out of the gate for 2019 election

Chemical Engineer Omar Masood is the first candidate nominated to run in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be held in early 2019. Members of the Alberta Party association in the Calgary-Buffalo constituency acclaimed Mr. Masood as their candidate at a meeting on November 29, 2016.

Mr. Masood serves on the board of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association.

He recorded a video endorsement of former Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr during his federal election bid in 2015, in which Mr. Hehr was ultimately elected.

Calgary-Buffalo is represented by NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley, who serves as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Before the NDP sweep in the 2015 election, voters in this downtown constituency had a track record of electing Liberal MLAs (Mr. Hehr from 2008 to 2015, Gary Dickson from 1992 to 2000, and Sheldon Chumir from 1986 to 1992).

The Alberta Party did not run a candidate in this constituency in 2015.

Alberta Party-PC Party merger?

After years of wrangling over a merger with the Liberal Party, some Alberta Party members are reportedly now pondering a merger with the Progressive Conservatives. This merger feels unlikely, considering the conservative forces pushing for the PCs to merge with the Wildrose Party. But it does raise to the question of where moderate conservative voters and political activists will find a new home if Alberta’s Conservative parties shift further to the political right.

During the 2015 election, a local Alberta Party association formally endorsed and did not run a candidate against Liberal Party candidate Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre.

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

PCs don’t need the Wildrose to win, NDP should watch their Liberal flank

Uneventful weeks have become rare in Alberta politics and this week in particular has been uniquely interesting.

We started with the release of political party fundraising data from Elections Alberta showing the NDP raised more funds in the last quarter than any of the conservative parties combined, a first. This news was followed by a State of the Province address from Premier Rachel Notley and an oddly curious poll showing the Progressive Conservatives with a 13 point lead in support ahead of the NDP and the Wildrose Party.

The telephone poll conducted by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, which was in the field from from October 1 to 8, 2016, showed the formerly governing PCs with 38.4 percent support. The survey showed the Wildrose Party in second place with 25.7 percent and the NDP in a distant third-place with 19.7 percent. It is important to look at polls with a grain of salt, especially ones which deviate dramatically from other polls, but it is important to recognize that polls can be indicative of trends.

Here are a few thoughts and observations:

1) NDP electoral coalition is fraying
We are still two or three years away from the next election so the NDP are smart to avoid focusing on any horse race polls but they should be concerned.

There are signs that moderate voters, who were a key part of the NDP’s winning coalition in 2015, are migrating to the PCs and Liberal parties. The NDP need to ask themselves why, only 17 months after their election, they appear to have lost nearly half their supporters.

Ms. Notley tried to bolster support for her government’s agenda through the State of the Province Address delivered to a crowd of 700 at downtown Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. She used the opportunity to reiterated her commitment not to make the sort of funding cuts to health care and education that Albertans could expect her Conservative opponents to make if they were in government.

The NDP need to take a hard look at why key elements of their government agenda, including some of their flagship policies, might not be resonating with the Albertans who voted them into office. This may require a more thoughtful and aggressive communications strategy and putting Ms. Notley front and centre is a good start to remind Albertans why they voted NDP. She is their greatest asset.

2) PCs don’t need to merge with the Wildrose Party to win the next election 

Having the NDP drop into third place in the polls weakens the argument promoted by Jason Kenney and groups like the Manning Centre that the PC and Wildrose parties need to merge in order to defeat the NDP in the next election.

It is probably more true that the Wildrose Party needs to merge with the PC Party in order to break the ceiling it has reached under Brian Jean’s leadership. But this poll would suggest that the PCs do not need to merge with the Wildrose Party in order to win the next election.

Despite both parties being conservative in philosophy, the PCs and Wildrose hold fundamentally different views on issues ranging from climate change to social issues to education and health care. The strength of the PC Party during its 44 years as government was its ability to attract a broad coalition of conservative, moderate and liberal voters. Everything the Wildrose Party has done over the past 17 months indicates the leadership of that party is not interested in building a broad coalition of Albertans.

We should expect support for the PCs and Wildrose Party to fluctuate over the next few months as the PCs choose their next leader. If the PCs anoint a more right-wing social conservative leader on March 18, 2017, they could drive moderate voters back into the NDP coalition.

3) Watch out for the Liberals

An unexpected result of a decline in NDP support could be a resurgence in support for the Alberta Liberal Party, which will be choosing a new leader in early 2017. According to the survey, Liberal support is at 9 percent up from an abysmal 4 percent in the May 2015 election. The popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely part of the provincial Liberal Party’s small boost, which saw the party’s candidate place a close third in a by-election earlier this year.

A significant part of the NDP’s winning coalition from the 2015 election was made up of former Liberal voters who abandoned their party in favour of the PCs in the 2012 election (in order to stop a Wildrose victory). It appears that many of those moderate voters may have become disenchanted with the NDP and have migrated back to the Liberals, and the PCs, for the time being.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga wrote earlier this week, the loss of this vote may signal to the NDP that “[m]aybe it’s time to start talking about uniting the left again.


Speaking of Liberals, it was announced today that Edmonton lawyer Kevin Feehan has been appointed as a Judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. Mr. Feehan was serving as co-chair of the Alberta Liberal Party’s leadership selection process, a position he will likely have to vacate due to his judicial appointment. Mr. Feehan is the brother of Richard Feehan, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford and Minister of Indigenous Relations.

The Liberals replaced Calgary leadership co-chair Nirmala Naidoo last month when she resigned to join the campaign team trying to elect Sandra Jansen to the leadership of the PC Party.

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

Alberta NDP raised more money than the Wildrose Party in Q3 of 2016

Elections Alberta has released the results of political party fundraising from the third quarter of 2016 and it shows that the Alberta NDP raised more money than the Wildrose Party for the first time since the second quarter of 2015. This marks the second best fundraising quarter for Rachel Notley‘s NDP since the party was elected to government in May 2015.

2016 Third Quarter Fundraising from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2016
Alberta Liberals: $39,187.98
Alberta NDP: $425,437.9
Alberta Party: $15,511.5
Green Party: $2,127.5
PC Party: $48,209.16
Wildrose Party: $330,666.45

The results for the Wildrose Party represent a significant drop in fundraising for the official opposition party. This is the first time since the third quarter of 2015 that the Wildrose Party has raised less than $400,000 in a quarter.

With Wildrose supporter Jason Kenney a contender for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership, it will be interesting to see whether traditional Wildrose donors have decided to shift their financial support.

And in the midst of a leadership race, the PC Party increased their fundraising income to $48,209.16, up from $27,376 in the second quarter of 2016. The PCs have struggled to raise funds since the NDP banned corporate donations to political parties in 2015.

Here is a breakdown of political party fundraising in Alberta in the first three quarters of 2016:alberta-political-party-fundraising-2016

 

Alberta PC leadership Debate 2011

PCs kick off leadership race 5 years after choosing Alison Redford

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives officially kicked off their leadership race on October 1, 2016 at a party event in Lethbridge. The PC Party formed government in Alberta from 1971 until 2015, when it was reduced to third-place in the Legislative Assembly behind the governing New Democratic Party and Official Opposition Wildrose Party.

As party officials celebrated the start of this leadership race, the event marked the fifth anniversary of the party’s 2011 leadership race, which resulted in first-term MLA and justice minister Alison Redford defeating former cabinet minister and establishment favourite Gary Mar. Ms. Redford defeated Mr. Mar in a third-ballot vote 37,104 to 35,491.

At the time, there was plenty of hope and optimism that the election of Ms. Redford, Alberta’s first woman premier and a lawyer with international experience, would signal the start of a new urban and progressive agenda for Alberta. The ensuing years were instead better defined by arrogance, entitlement and abuses of power. This would end up spelling the end of the PC Party’s 44 years of uninterrupted power in Alberta.

Seventeen months after Alberta’s 2015 election, this PC leadership race represents the first time since 1965 that the winner of a PC leadership race will not also immediately step into the Premier’s office.

While the defining narrative of this race until this point has been whether or not the party should merge with the further-right-wing rural-based Wildrose Party, there appears to be little discussion about why Albertans chose to replace the old PCs with Rachel Notley’s moderate NDP.

PC Leadership Candidates

Candidates have until November 10, 2016 to join the race and party delegates will choose a new leader on March 18, 2017.

As of today, the candidates include former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney, former Calgary-Varsity MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, past candidate Byron Nelson, Town of Devon Councillor Michael Laveck, and current Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke. Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen is also expected to join the race.

I have launched a new webpage tracking the candidates and their social media links.

Levelling the playing field in Alberta Elections

For many decades, Alberta’s old Progressive Conservative government benefited greatly from large corporate donors which would help keep the governing party’s campaign war-chest flush with cash. It was well-known in Alberta political circles that the PC Party had the goal of always having enough money in their bank account to run two back-to-back election campaigns at any time. And usually they did.

The first law passed by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government after its election in May 2015 banned of corporate and union donations. Limiting contributions to individual donors was the first move in what is expected to be an overhaul of Alberta’s outdated elections laws. It was a good place to start, but there is much more work to be done.

The all-party MLA Special Select Ethics and Accountability Committee was created last year in order to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act. The committee will make recommendations to the government for changes to the four laws and any changes introduced by the government will be debated in the Legislative Assembly.

Here are three changes that have been debated by the committee recently:

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP

Rod Loyola

Reimbursements: A motion introduced by Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Rod Loyola on August 10, 2016 recommended “that the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act be amended to provide for a rebate of 50 per cent of registered parties’ and registered candidates’ campaign expenditures provided that campaigns receive at least 10 per cent of the vote cast and file all required financial returns.” Similar subsidies exist in federal elections and in many other provinces.

I understand the arguments in favour of this policy, but unfortunately the NDP MLAs are not going into great lengths to explain them. I do not believe these types reimbursements actually “level the playing field,” as Mr. Loyola argued when he proposed the motion. These types of reimbursements reward candidates and parties that spend the most money, even if they lose the election. A very generous tax credit system already exists for individuals who donate to candidates and political parties, and in my opinion that should be sufficient.

If the MLAs truly want to level the playing field through a financial reimbursement program, they should study the funding system that existed federally between 2004 and 2015, which tied a financial reimbursement to political parties to the number of votes they earned in an election.

Graham Sucha MLA

Graham Sucha

Spending Limits: Last week, I wrote about the committee’s recommendation to create campaign spending limits and I was pleased to see Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha have his original motion amended to raise to initial proposed limits (which I believed were too low). The new proposal would increase the limits per campaign to $70,000 for local campaigns and an $80,000 limit for four northern constituencies. Party province-wide campaign would be limited to spending $0.80 per eligible voter, which is similar to the limit that exists in Ontario.

I do believe it is arbitrary to simply name four constituencies as exemptions, as the province’s electoral boundaries will be redrawn before the next election and these four constituency may not exist in their current form when the next election is called. It might make more sense to create a formula based on population and geography to determine whether special exceptions are required for spending limits in northern and remote rural constituencies.

Chris Nielsen MLA

Chris Nielsen

Donation Limits: Currently, any individual can donate a maximum of $15,000 annually to a political party outside of election periods and $30,000 to a political party during election periods. A motion introduced by Edmonton-Decore MLA Chris Nielsen and amended by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr would lower financial contribution limits to $4,000 during election periods and $2,300 outside election periods.

The committee continues to meet this week, so I am anticipating there will be more to write about in the days to come.