It will probably be no surprise to readers that I am not a fan of the United Conservative Party’s budget tabled this week in the Legislature by Finance Minister Travis Toews. It includes short-sighted cuts to public health care, public education and public services that will have a detrimental impact on Albertans and lead to thousands of job losses across the province.
But my key criticism of this budget is close to the same I have given to budgets presented by former finance ministers Joe Ceci, Robin Campbell, Doug Horner, Ted Morton and Iris Evans: Alberta needs to stop over-relying on revenues from oil and gas royalties to pay for the daily operations of government.
The budget does not deal with the big financial problems facing Alberta.
Premier Jason Kenney frequently claims that Alberta is “broke,” but the budget documents plainly explain that our provincial government collects the lowest levels of taxes in Canada. We are also the only province without a sales tax, a solution that could relieve some of our government’s over-dependence on oil and gas, a revenue source determined by international prices.
The UCP budget actually increases its projected dependence on oil and gas royalties, growing from 10 percent of revenues to 15 percent by the 2022-2023 budget. When the international price of oil plummeted in 2014, it left an estimated $7 billion hole in the Alberta government’s revenue stream.
Kenney, like premiers Rachel Notley, Jim Prentice, Alison Redford, and Ed Stelmach before him, is praying for the international price of oil to rise and return an economic boom to Alberta.
The international price of oil, and our government’s chronic over-reliance on the oil revenues generated by it, is the source of much of the economic and political malaise we now find ourselves in.
The UCP also cut corporate taxes for the province’s wealthiest corporations, to the tune of $4.7 billion, according to the opposition.
With a single-minded focus on reducing spending, regardless of the jobs lost and the cost to Albertans’ quality of life, it appears highly unlikely that Alberta’s revenue stream will be looked at as long as Kenney, a founding spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, occupies the Premier’s Office.
While responsible investment of public funds is a goal that should transcend party-lines, the UCP government’s hand-picked panel to study Alberta’s finances was expressly limited to recommend changes to spending, not revenue.
Supporters of conservative parties frequently compare government finances to a household budget as justification for cuts to public services. Comparing a government budget to a household budget is a flawed analogy for many reasons, but it is has become a familiar narrative in Canadian politics.
If the Government of Alberta was a household, it’s overdraft and line of credit would partially be the result of someone purposely taking a lower paid job (stable taxation revenue) and instead relying on lottery tickets or inheritance from dead relatives (unpredictable oil and gas revenues) to pay the bills and keep the family fed.
More than half of Albertans live in Calgary and Edmonton, so why does it feel like big city issues are an afterthought for the provincial government?
Mack Male joins Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of local media in Edmonton, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu’s paternalistic approach to municipal relations, the review of the Local Authorities Election Act and how it might change the rules of the 2021 municipal elections, and whether there is hope for ever getting a real urban agenda for Alberta (plus free transit and gondolas).
A big thanks to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for making this episode sound so good.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
Deep cuts to the provincial budget are resulting in the cancellation of public services and job layoffs across the province, and the fallout from the federal election continues to dominate the political discussion. And crisis – organized crisis – reigns, as Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government dramatically shifts the political narrative on an almost daily basis.
But things got really weird last week when elected councillors of the County of Wheatland, a 8,700 person rural municipality east of Calgary, voted for a resolution calling for a possible Alberta independence vote. The councillor who introduced the motion is Jason Wilson, who according to his online biography also sits on the board of the local UCP association.
Yesterday, Kenney stood at the podium at the now one-day Manning Networking Conference in Red Deer to announce the creation of a “Fair Deal” panel that will look at ways to give the province more autonomy.
While some of the frustration felt by Albertans is legitimate, regional and partisan grievances are deeply intertwined in this province. With the UCP essentially operating as a provincial-wing of the federal Conservative Party, it is hard to believe that this panel would exist if Scheer had not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on October 21.
The panel will be given a $650,000 budget to hold seven town hall meetings to consult with Albertans on a prescribed series of issues that have been bees in Conservative partisans’ bonnets for decades, including:
withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and creating an Alberta Pension Plan (something that was hinted last week and could have a big impact on the migration of interprovincial labour to Alberta),
replacing the Canada Revenue Agency by establishing a provincial revenue agency,
ending contracts with the RCMP and creating a provincial police force (the RCMP are currently investigating allegations of fraud in the UCP’s 2017 leadership contest),
opting out of federal programs like pharmacare,
forming an office of a Chief Firearms Officer (a Wildrose Party policy), and
creating an Alberta Constitution.
The panel’s mandate letter talks a lot about emulating Quebec, including implementing a rule that municipalities and school boards require the approval of the provincial government before they can enter into agreements with the federal government. This could be used by the Kenney government to cut off potential cooperation between municipalities and the federal government on projects like affordable housing, public infrastructure and climate change initiatives.
The panel and its town hall meetings are both a relief valve and a steering wheel meant to allow Albertans to vent their frustrations while allowing Kenney to attempt to keep ahead of the crowd. Or at least that’s probably the plan.
Kenney frequently boasts about the size of his electoral mandate, so it is notable that none of the autonomy polices to be considered by the panel were included in the UCP’s incredibly thorough election platform just six months ago.
And, like many of the initiatives started in the final few years of Klein’s tenure as premier, it was a meant to create a distraction from what had largely become a rudderless government.
The mandate letter of the MLA committee was filled with much more flowery and hopeful language than the doom-and-gloom fear of separatism included in the mandate letter of Kenney’s panel. But the real mandate of the MLA committee was to travel the province to gauge support for the Firewall manifesto – a similar mandate of Kenney’s panel.
The MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation held 12 public hearings between January and March 2004 and here is what they recommended:
Pension Plan: “The Committee believes that withdrawing from the CPP and creating a separate Alberta pension plan is not in the best interests of Albertans. That is not to say that the CPP should not be improved for Albertans and all Canadians. The Committee further recommendsthat Alberta develop and advocate further CPP reforms that will end the intergenerational inequity, and move the CPP to a fully-funded foundation.” (Page 19)
Tax Collection: “Collecting our own personal income taxes would be a costly venture. One analysis suggests that set-up costs would be $30-40 million and that annual administrative costs could be between $70 and $160 million (including the costs of an additional 1,000-2,000 full time positions that might be required).By comparison, the administrative fee paid by Alberta under the TCA is less than $5 million annually. The Committee is also concerned that individual Albertans and businesses in the province would incur higher out-of-pocket costs in complying with two separate tax systems. This consideration alone makes the idea impractical. The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta reach a new Tax Collection Agreement with the federal government that addresses Alberta’s concerns and provides increased tax policy flexibility.” (Page 21)
Police Force: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP in advance of the 2007 cost review. This analysis should include a careful examination of costs, efficiencies, and levels of service. … The Committee further recommends that appropriate municipal stakeholders be consulted in the cost review negotiations in 2007, and that consideration be given to inclusion of such stakeholders on the Alberta negotiating team.” (Page 25)
Senate: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Alberta, through the Council of the Federation, encourage the Premiers to consider a process that would see the Prime Minister fill Senate vacancies from lists of provincial nominees. In Alberta’s case, the list should be generated by a Senatorial election.” (Page 29)
Intergovernmental Relations: “The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta re-establish an office in Ottawa. Close proximity to, and face-to-face contact with, federal decision-makers would improve relations between our governments and would help ensure Alberta interests are accurately and efficiently conveyed and addressed.” (Page 58)
Our Future: “The Committee also recommends that the Government of Alberta work towards fixing the underlying structural problems of our Canadian institutions that feed the flames of western alienation. The Committee further recommends that the Government of Alberta establish a fund for use in pursuing those legal challenges deemed to be necessary and desirable for safeguarding Alberta’s Constitutional jurisdiction.” (Page 59)
The MLA committee and its final report rejected the Firewall manifesto and was quickly forgotten after Paul Martin’s Liberals lost their majority in June 2004 and Klein’s PCs had their knuckles rapped in November 2004. But unlike Klein’s committee, which resulted in some fairly moderate and milquetoast recommendations, many of the panel members appointed by Kenney yesterday and the political environment they exist in are much more ideologically driven and politically divided.
This weird ride doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. There’s more crisis ahead.
Alberta to reopen office in Ottawa, again
In his speech to the Manning Centre, Kenney announced that the Alberta government will open offices in Ottawa, Quebec, and British Columbia. It is unusual and unclear why the Alberta government would need offices in other provincial capitals or in Ottawa, where Albertans just elected 34 Members of Parliament to represent their interests. But an office in the federal capital is not unprecedented.
The Alberta government opened an office in Ottawa in 1939. The Ottawa office was closed in 1996 and its last executive director, Gordon Olsen (brother of War Room CEO Tom Olsen), relocated to Calgary. A government review conducted in 2000 concluded that technology allows people to research information just as easily without a full-time office in Ottawa.
In 2004, Klein publicly mused about opening an Alberta government-funded office in Ottawa for the province’s elected Senate nominees, but the unpopular idea died quickly.
Premier Alison Redford reopened the office in 2013 and Calgary energy lawyer Alan Ross was hired as Alberta’s representative. Premier Jim Prentice closed the office again in 2015.
As has been widelyreportedthis week, the Alberta New Democratic Party has purposely shifted the focus of their political material onto their greatest asset, Premier Rachel Notley. The NDP began replacing the NDP logo with a Rachel Notley logo on their social media images back in April 2018, but the party recently highlighted this focus with the launch of their new RachelNotley.ca campaign website.
The move has been attacked by critics of the NDP, who claim the party is nefariously attempting to distance itself from its unpopular federal cousins. The NDP are probably trying to distance itself from the Jagmeet Singh-led federal NDP, but there is nothing nefarious about it. Campaigns always try to play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. This is why the NDP campaign will put Rachel Notley front-and-centre and the UCP will not be featuring Jason Kenney logos on their election lawn signs.
Putting the focus on party leaders is nothing new in Alberta politics.
In 1971, much of the Progressive Conservative Party’s advertising and messaging revolved around Peter Lougheed. The “Lougheed Team” focused on the party’s young and dynamic leader and the impressive slate of candidates that surrounded him.
While Alberta politics have certainly changed since the 1970s, Notley frequently evokes the memory of popular Lougheed in her media statements and campaign speeches.
‘Ralph’s Team’ was a slogan the PC Party used in the 1990s, putting the focus on their popular party leader, Ralph Klein. And the federal Liberal Party attempted a similar move when they placed ‘Team Martin’ logos on their campaign signs and material during the 2004 election.
As Postmedia columnist Keith Gerein wrote last week, the two main party leaders have divergent popularity among their parties own supporters. While her party is behind in the polls, Notley remains wildly popular among NDP voters.
United Conservative Party has a massive lead in the polls, but party leader Jason Kenney is much less popular than the party he now leads, which which is why Albertans will probably not spot any “Team Kenney” logos when the election is called this spring.
Almost all NDP MLA’s should know they have Notley’s leadership to thank for their electoral fortunes in the 2015 election, the same might not be said of UCP candidates and their leader in 2019. If the UCP’s strong support holds, many of that party’s candidate could be elected despite their leader’s lower approval ratings.
Any leader who’s popularity falls below that of the party they lead inevitably becomes vulnerable to leadership challenges and caucus revolts, as Don Getty, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, and in the dying days of his premiership, Ralph Klein, discovered. Conservatives in Alberta have been ruthless with their party leadership and rarely tolerate weaknesses that could jeopardize electoral success.
It is yet to be seen whether Kenney will fall into this category, which will probably depend on what the UCP caucus looks like after Election Day. If the UCP caucus is large, Kenney’s leadership could be secure. But as Stelmach and Klein discovered, large caucuses are impressive but can be unruly and difficult to manage. If he does fall into the traps sprung by previous Conservative premiers, look to UCP MLAs Jason Nixon, Nathan Cooper, Leela Aheer and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean to be eyeing the Premier’s chair.
Rachel Notley on the other hand might not be as vulnerable, even if the NDP is defeated in 2019. If her party does better than expected in 2019, even electing 25 or 30 MLAs, the NDP caucus and members may come to the conclusion that Notley remains their strongest asset and could be their best bet at returning to government in 2023. They could encourage her to remain party leader.
As an opposition leader, Notley would be fierce and lead an actual government-in-waiting, not something Albertans are used to having. It would also signal whether the NDP will remain in its centre-leftish position or embrace a more aggressive progressive agenda advocated by some members.
While Notley remaining in the party leadership beyond a 2019 loss may go against some of the common popular opinion about former premiers, past NDP premiers Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan and Dave Barrett in British Columbia both led their parties into elections following defeats. Barrett even went on to have a career in federal politics and nearly became leader of the federal NDP in 1989.
I am probably getting ahead of myself, as this year’s election has not even been officially called, but scenarios like these are certainly something that many political watchers are thinking about.
Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.
A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.
Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes cast. Led by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.
He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.
Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.
In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed tocabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.
Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.
As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive.
“Only three weeks into the job he’s the WizardofZwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.
In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.
He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.
While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision.
He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.
Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.
Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.
Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
Photo: Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff and Premier Rachel Notley at a roundtable on education affordability in 2017 (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff has been removed from the New Democratic Party Caucus after releasing a public letter announcing she would not sit in the Legislative Assembly “in protest of a culture of fear and intimidation that leads to MLA’s being unable to properly represent their constituents in the legislature.”
Writing that she “felt bullied by the NDP leadership for over 3 and a half years” and faced “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Luff’s letter details the grievances she feels as a backbencher in the government caucus, which include whipped votes and reading scripted questions and private members statements in the Assembly.
Luff wrote in the letter that she would not return to the Assembly “until a resolution has been presented.” It is now likely that when she does return it will be as an Independent MLA.
Luff is correct that many of the prepared statements and questions that backbenchers are frequently required to read in the Assembly are scripted, and sometimes comically so. Many provinces do not provide time for government backbench MLAs to ask questions in Question Period, and anyone who has watched an episode of QP will likely see why. Known colloquially as “puffballs,” the scripted questions asked by backbench MLAs are rarely challenging and exist to provide cabinet ministers with an opportunity to read government talking points into Hansard.
“People are permitted to speak their minds, and they have an opportunity to do that,” said Government House leader Brian Mason in response to Luff’s letter. “Everybody in a caucus, especially large caucuses, is frustrated from time to time.”
A statement released by the NDP Caucus late on November 5, 2018, stated that “NDP MLAs have lost confidence in her ability to participate as a productive and trustworthy member of the government caucus.”
Despite her family roots in the Alberta NDP (her grandfather Alan Bush was an Anglican minister who stood in the federal NDP in northern Alberta in the 1965 and 1967 federal elections and ran against Grant Notley for the leadership of the NDP in 1968) a breach of caucus solidarity this large was not going be treated lightly.
There is no doubt Premier Rachel Notley runs a tight ship and because of it the NDP have imposed an impressive level of caucus discipline since forming government in 2015. Since their election victory, the NDP have largely avoided the types of bozo-eruptions and embarrassing scandals that have sometimes become weekly occurrences in the Wildrose-turned-United Conservative Party Caucus.
Caucus discipline is nothing new. It is a characteristic of most functional parliamentary democracies. But the level of control exerted on individual MLAs by party leaders and their staffers is something that could feel incredibly stifling for some backbench MLAs, especially those who might feel more naturally inclined to sit in the opposition benches.
Backbenchers who do not feel they are being valued or given an opportunity to speak up and advocate for the issues they or their constituents feel are important can create resentment towards the political leadership. Providing some sort of relief valve to deal with backbencher frustration is important.
Aside from being allowed to play minor theatrical roles as the internal opposition to government, most backbench MLAs were largely compliant during the PC Party’s 43-year reign. The caucus and party revolt that ended Alison Redford’s political career in 2014 was a notable exception, but the most significant actual rebellion by backbench MLAs in Alberta’s history was the Social Credit backbenchers revolt of 1937, which nearly toppled Premier William Aberhart’s nascent government.
It is not uncommon for disgruntled MLAs to leave their caucus to sit as Independent MLAs or join other parties, like Sandra Jansen did in 2016 and Rick Fraser and Karen McPherson did in 2017, but Luff’s decision to refuse to take her seat in the Assembly is not a tenable long-term strategy.
Without knowing more, it is not clear that anything Luff wrote she has experienced is new or unique to the NDP Caucus in Alberta, or if she is alone in feeling this way. It is also unclear what Luff’s political future outside the NDP Caucus will hold over the next five months until the 2019 election is called.
Whether publishing that letter was politically smart or political suicide, it took courage for Luff to speak up. And speaking truth to power is something that we should encourage our elected officials to do more regularly.
Calgary-Elbow has a long-history in conservative partisan lore, having been represented by former premiers Ralph Klein and Alison Redford and past deputy premier David Russell, but it has also been a marginal district at times.
Danielle Larivee was nominated as NDP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake. Larivee was first elected in 2015 and currently serves as Minister of Children’s Services and Minister for the Status of Women. Before her election Larivee worked as a Registered Nurse in public health in northern Alberta.
NDP MLA Marlin Schmidt is expected to be nominated as his party’s candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar on September 20, 2018. Schmidt was first elected in 2015, earning 68 percent of the vote in the 2015 election. He now serves as Minister of Advanced Education and will face a rematch against UCP candidate David Dorward, who Schmidt defeated in 2015 and placed a strong second against in 2012.
Edmonton-Gold Bar is a former Liberal Party stronghold, having been represented by party heavy-weights Bettie Hewes from 1986 to 1997 and Hugh MacDonald from 1997 to 2012, though support for the party collapsed to an abysmal 3.1 percent in the 2015 election.
Issik is a long-time party activist, having worked as a campaign manager for Jim Prentice’s brief run for the federal Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-Southwest in 2002, as a constituency assistant to former Calgary-Mountain View MLA Mark Hlady (who is now seeking the UCP nomination in that district), and as policy co-chair of the federal PC Party during the 2000 federal election. LaBerge is president of Channel Energy Inc. Schuman is an insurance company account executive and until July 2017 was the Media Coordinator for United Liberty, the political action committee created by now-Freedom Conservative Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt.
Past Wildrose Party candidates Kathy Macdonald and Jeremy Nixon are seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Klein on September 22, 2018. MacDonald is a retired Calgary police officer and was the Wildrose Party candidate in the 2014 by-election in Calgary-Foothills and 2015 Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill. She also ran for the Wildrose Party nomination ahead of the 2015 by-election in Calgary-Foothills. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012 and 2015. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.
Deron Bilous is expected to be acclaimed for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on September 23, 2018. Bilious has represented this district since 2012 and was re-elected in 2015 with 73.8 percent of the vote. He currently serves as Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. This district has deep NDP roots, having been represented by former city councillor Ed Ewasiuk from 1986 to 1993 and former party leader Ray Martin from 2004 to 2008.
Camrose – Brandon Lunty is seeking the UCP nomination. Lunty was the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-South East in the 2015 election, placing third with 29 percent of the vote behind PC MLA Rick Fraser and New Democrat Mirical Macdonald.
Calgary-Falconridge – Christopher Steeves has withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest in this new east Calgary district. He served as a councillor with the City of Chestermere from 2005 to 2017.
Sherwood Park – Sean Kenny is the fourth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this suburban Edmonton area district.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
Meanwhile, one of Jansen’s former caucus colleagues had his political comeback halted in its tracks. Former PC MLA Steve Young was unable to secure the United Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-Glenora last week after he and David Salopek were defeated by Marjorie Newman in the party’s nomination contest.
Young served as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Riverview from 2012 to 2015, when he was unseated by New Democrat Lori Sigurdson. It is unclear why Young decided to mount a comeback in the neighbouring Glenora district.
Current Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate at a September 12, 2018 nomination meeting. Hoffman was first elected in 2015, earning 68.5 percent of the vote. She currently serves as Deputy Premier and Minster of Health.
Young was the latest in a group of former PC MLAs defeated in the 2015 seeking to make a political comeback in 2019. Former Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan has been nominated as the UCP candidate in Calgary-Foothills and former MLA PC MLA David Dorward has been nominated as a UCP candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar.
Former PC MLA Janice Sarich is seeking the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Decore, which she represented from 2008 to 2015, and former Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Sohail Quadri is running for the nomination in Edmonton-South West. Dave Quest is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in Strathcona-Sherwood Park, which he represented as a PC MLA from 2008 to 2015. And as first reported on this blog, former Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in Edmonton-South West.
Upcoming nomination meetings are being held in the following districts:
Edmonton-Ellerslie – NDP MLA Rod Loyola is expected to be nominated at an August 28, 2018 meeting in this southeast Edmonton district. Loyola was first elected in 2015, earning 61 percent of the vote.
Livingstone-Macleod – Dylin Hauser is expected to be nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in this south west Alberta district on August 23, 2018.
Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin – Three candidates are contesting the UCP nomination vote scheduled for August 23 and 30, 2018. Former Wetaskiwin City Councillor Donna Andres, former County of Wetaskiwin Councillor and Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools trustee Richard Wilson, and local business owner Sandra Kim are seeking the nomination. Kim found herself in the centre of controversy when it was revealed she had shared Facebook posts denouncing same-sex marriage.
Here are some more of the latest updates to the growing list of Alberta election nomination candidates:
Calgary-McCall – Amarjit Singh Banwait is seeking the UCP nomination.
Calgary-North East – Manjit Jaswal is seeking the UCP nomination. Jaswal is the sixth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in this district. Jaswal ran for the PC Party nomination in the Calgary-Cross district in 2015.
Calgary-North West – Andrew Bradley is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview – Ruby Malik is seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-City Centre – Robert Philp has been acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate after Stephanie Shostak withdrew from the contest. Philip is a former judge and former Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Edmonton-Mill Woods – Sophia Kahn and Muhammad Afzal are seeking the UCP nomination.
Edmonton-West Henday – Winston Leung has been acclaimed as the Alberta Party candidate.
Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland – Dale Johnson defeated Barbara Costache, Everett Normandeau, and Leah Wood to secure the UCP nomination in this new rural district northwest of Edmonton. Jerry Molnar was disqualified following the discovery of controversial social media posts. Johnson previously served as president of Whitecourt-Ste. Anne PC association and as an appointed board member of the Aspen Regional Health Authority and Credit Counselling Services of Alberta.
Lesser Slave Lake – Real estate agent Jim Sparks is seeking the UCP nomination.
Red Deer-North– Lawrence Lee and Reg Warkentin are the latestcandidates to join the race for the UCP nomination in this district. Lee has served on Red Deer City Council since 2013 and Warkentin is the policy and advocacy manager with the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.
St. Albert – Shelley Biermanski is seeking the UCP nomination. Biermanski ran for the Wildrose Party in this district in the 2015 election and mounted an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of St. Albert in 2013.
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For UCP activists, and Jason Kenney in particular, the fight in Calgary-North West likely feels personal. Jansen was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 2012 and re-elected in 2015 before crossing the floor to the NDP in 2016. But Conservative anger was directed at Jansen before her floor-crossing.
Jansen’s support for her friend Nirmala Naidoo, who ran as a Liberal candidate in the 2015 federal election, drew the ire of the legions of federal Conservatives who were moving to take over the PC Party following its defeat in the 2015 election (Naidoo’s Conservative competitor, now Member of Parliament Pat Kelly, is endorsing UCP nomination candidate and pipeline lobbyist Sonya Savage).
Jansen attempted a mount a campaign for the leadership after her party’s disastrous results in the last election but was all but drummed out of the party by social conservatives allied with Kenney.
Her moderate views on social issues like abortion and rights for sexual minorities, as well as her role as a former communications manager and key supporter of former premier Alison Redford contributed to the mounting tension from more hard-line conservatives.
Jansen accused Kenney of wanting to destroy the PC Party in his plans to merge with the Wildrose Party. And when push came to shove at the PC Party’s annual convention in 2016, Jansen was shoved hard by social conservative activists and soon after decided to leave the party.
For Conservative partisans, this was the biggest betrayal.
As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road and the Green Line C-Train route.
Jansen plays a big role in Premier Rachel Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary, but her tendency to get involved in petty arguments with Conservative partisans on social media distracts from the NDP government’s narrative. As I have written in the past, she could probably spend less time arguing on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.
Uniting the Right meant CPC-UCP unity too
Regardless of whether Jansen wins or loses the next election, she should take it as a complement that a Conservative heavy hitter like Harper would personally campaign against her. She should wear it as a badge of honour.
Harper likely remains popular among Conservatives in particular and Calgarians in general, and his support for Kenney’s UCP is not surprising. Harper endorsed Kenney’s leadership bid last year and was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the scenes in the PC-Wildrose unity referendum last year.
Harper is now the chairman of the International Democratic Union, an international club of right-wing political parties from 63 countries. His congratulatory tweet to extreme right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in April 2018 raised eyebrows among political watchers. Orbán was re-elected after campaigning on a platform that included hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric.
But the federal Conservative connections to the UCP go deeper than Harper. Organizationally, the UCP has become an extension of the Conservative Party of Canada in Alberta, with most Conservative MPs actively involved or endorsing candidates in UCP nomination races. This is a significant change since the 1990s, when the provincial PC Party and the federal Reform Party were at each other throats.
Despite forming the opposition, the UCP are not the underdogs going into the next election. The next election campaign will represent the first time in more than 25-years that the dominant federal and provincial conservative parties in Alberta will be marching in lock-step.
While this may give Conservatives a big boost in an election campaign, it is yet to be seen whether a UCP government would stand up for the interests of Albertans over partisan gain if faced by a Conservative government in Ottawa.
Not first time a Calgary-North West MLA targeted
It is reminiscent of another election in Calgary-North West more than two decades ago. Liberal MLA Frank Bruseker had represented the district since 1989 and had become a major thorn in the side of Premier Ralph Klein going into the 1997 election.
Bruseker was described at the time as being a relentless and ferocious critic of Klein during the Multi-Corp Inc. share affair, in which the premier was accused of promoting a company his wife had shares in.
It was reported during that campaign that PC Party campaign manager Rod Love had a poster hanging in his office of Bruseker framed by the crosshairs of a rifle scope.
The PCs poured significant resources into Calgary-North West and, when the dust settled in March 1997, Bruseker was unseated by Tory Greg Melchin by a margin of 1,964 votes.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was dancing up a storm in front of thousands of Edmontonians at the capital city’s Pride Festival Parade on Saturday. The annual march travels down Whyte Avenue in the heart of Notley’s Edmonton-Strathcona district.
Notley was joined by dozens of Alberta NDP MLAs and Olypmian Jen Kish. Kish was captain of Canada’s Women’s Sevens Team at Rio 2016 where they won bronze in the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament.
The United Conservative Party held its own event a few blocks away. After being declined a spot to march in the parade, UCP leader Jason Kenney announced that instead of attending the parade or other pride events, his party would hold its own event. The event featured speaker Lorne Mayencourt, an openly gay politician who represented downtown Vancouver in the BC Legislature from 2001 and 2009 and was a federal Conservative candidate in 2008.
As a professional politician Kenney is a master at schmoozing his way into all kinds of events, so it is unlikely he did not show up just because he was not allowed to march in the parade. Kenney is a social conservative whohasspentmuchof his 21-year long career in elected office opposing LGBTQ rights in Canada and he appealed to social conservatives in order to win the leadership of the UCP last year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, even though he did not attend the event, Kenney has strong opinions about the Pride Festival Committee deciding not to include police and military in future parades.
With an election coming up in early 2019, and Kenney’s UCP holding a solid lead in the polls, it might be unlikely we’ll see another Premier dancing in the streets anytime soon.
Photo: Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft speaks to a rally of supporters on the weekend before the 2008 election. Taft, in my opinion, was one of the best premiers Alberta never had.
March 3, 2008 was an optimistic day to be a Liberal Party supporter, at least up until 8:22 p.m that night. The polls had only closed for 22 minutes when the news channels began declaring that the long in the tooth Progressive Conservatives would form another majority government in Alberta.
It was a heartbreaking loss for those of us who were involved in the Alberta Liberal Party campaign that year.
I had been involved with the Liberal Party since the early 2000s and played a behind the scenes role in that year’s election campaign.
While I spent a considerable amount of time knocking on doors for candidates in Edmonton, I was also working with a group of MLAs, lawyers and former PC cabinet ministers on what would have been the plan to transition the Liberals into government if the party had won that election ten years ago today.
The whole project felt like a silly effort at 8:22 p.m. that night, but there were moments in the campaign where it did feel like Albertans were looking for a change.
After a divisive PC leadership race and a surprise win in the Calgary-Elbow by-election, it looked as if the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft were about to build significant gains after their Calgary breakthrough in the 2004 election.
The Liberals did make gains in Calgary that night, electing five MLAs including rookies Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, but the party suffered huge losses in its traditional base of Edmonton. Liberal MLAs were defeated in seats the party had held since the 1980s and 1990s and gains they had made in the city in the previous election were competely erased. When the dust settled, there were only 3 Liberal MLAs left in the capital city.
It was also bittersweet night for our opponents in the New Democratic Party campaign. Star candidate Rachel Notley was elected in Edmonton-Strathcona, retaining the seat held by former party leader Raj Pannu. But the party’s caucus was reduced to two after MLAs David Eggen and Ray Martin were swept away in the PC’s Edmonton wave.
For those involved in the PC campaign, it was a remarkable landslide. And the last big landslide of the party’s more than four consecutive decades in office.
Stelmach ended up being a fairly decent premier, who I believe history will treat kindly, but landslide victories like these can be a doubled-edged sword. The large PC caucus of 72 MLAs, which included rookie MLAs Alison Redford and Raj Sherman, proved to be too unruly to manage. And the politics of a bitter conservative establishment festered as aspiring leadership contenders jockeyed for power. It was less than four years later that Stelmach resigned from the Premier’s Office.
The 2008 election was a real formative political period for me. Despite the disappointing and depressing outcome, I learned so much from my time working with the dedicated and passionate Albertans involved that campaign. It was a real honour.
To this day, I think Albertans were looking for change on March 3, 2008. It just took them another seven years to decide that the change they were looking for wouldn’t come from inside the PC Party.
Photo: Ed Stelmach (elected leader of the PC Party in 2006), Danielle Smith (elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009), Kevin Taft (elected leader of the Liberal Party in 2004), and Alison Redford (elected leader of the PC Party leader in 2011).
Following the announcement this week of the results of the Alberta Party leadership race, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voter participation in party leadership races in Alberta over the past twenty years.
The largest participation in a party leadership race in the past two decades, and in Alberta’s history, took place during the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 2006. More than 144,000 members voted in the race and it is believed that more than 200,000 memberships were sold. The party had a very open membership sales policy, which allowed any Albertan to purchase a membership at their local voting station on the day of the vote. This vote chose Ed Stelmach to replace Ralph Klein as PC Party leader and Premier of Alberta.
The 2011Liberal Party leadership vote, which selected Raj Sherman as party leader, used an open membership system. This allowed any Albertan to participate in the vote without having to actually purchase a party membership.
The 2017United Conservative Party leadership vote was conducted by delegates who were elected by party members in each district. The party membership consisted of new UCP members, as well as individuals who had been members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party until that point.
Acclamations occurred in the 2000 and 2004 NDP leadership contests, the 2001 Liberal Party leadership contest, and the 2003 Alberta Alliance leadership contest.
A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.
“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”
Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.
In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.
The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.
While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.
The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.
Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.
In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.
The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.
Politics and Rural Representation
When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.
Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.
The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.
For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).
The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.