Tag Archives: Alison Redford

Is the Wildrose Caucus about to merge with the PC Caucus?

Wildrose MLA Caucus Alberta Danielle Smith

Are more Wildrose MLAs preparing to cross the floor to the Progressives Conservatives? Independent MLA Joe Anglin has told reporters that Danielle Smith‘s 14 MLA Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus will vote on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 on whether to join the governing PC Caucus.

Rob Anderson Wildrose MLA
Rob Anderson

Mr. Anglin’s comments, claims published on an anonymously blog and tweets from conservative activists fuelled the rumours of the Wildrose Party’s demise on social media last night.

The sources of the rumours are questionable, but the curious silence of official Wildrose Party social media accounts suggests that the merger of the two caucuses could indeed be on the table when Wildrose MLAs meet on Dec. 16.

The loudest rumours point to Wildrose MLAs Rob Anderson and Shayne Saskiw crossing the floor, a claim Mr. Saskiw quickly denied on Twitter.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose
Shayne Saskiw

More reliable sources say that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Saskiw will make a presentation to their fellow MLAs on Dec. 16 detailing an offer extended by Mr. Prentice to Wildrose MLAs to join the PC Caucus. [Update: The Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell has obtained a copy of the “Reunification Agreement.”]

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes also tweeted his commitment to the Wildrose Party in response to the rumours.

This is not the first time we have heard rumours of a merger. In May 2014, Ms. Smith told reporters that then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice had proposed a merger of the two conservative parties. At the time, Premier Dave Hancock denied the claims, but it was clear that Mr. Prentice was reaching out to Wildrose MLAs.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Since becoming Premier, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of its most effective talking points by committing to focus on property rights and reversing many of former premier Alison Redford‘s most unpopular decisions. In some ways, it is now difficult to tell what differentiates the Wildrose Party from Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

Last month, Wildrose MLAs Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle, crossed the floor to the PC Caucus. And only weeks before that, Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus, claiming that a ‘civil war‘ was being waged within the party.

After losing four by-elections in October 2014 and losing three MLAs since then, the normally loud Wildrosers have toned down, and in some cases struck a more conciliatory tone with the governing PCs.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Even normally hyper-partisan Justice Minister Jonathan Denis tweeted about working with Mr. Anderson on a Wildrose Caucus amendment to Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act. If that does not signal a warming of relations between the two caucuses, I’m not sure what else would.

But despite the party’s recent poor showing, a Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith could still remain competitive going into the next election.

The party has collected an impressive war chest and has nominated candidates in more than a quarter of Alberta’s constituencies. Recent polls show the party sitting at 29% support, only five points behind Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

The question is whether the change in tone signals a new strategy or preparation for a merger with the 43-year governing PC Party? If there is truth to the merger rumours, the departure of more Wildrose MLAs (including Ms. Smith) would be a death blow to that party.

What would a Wildrose-PC Caucus merger mean?
Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

MLAs crossing the floor is a fairly common occurrence in Alberta and Canadian politics, but I cannot think of any time when an Official Opposition Caucus has voted to merger with a governing caucus.

Unlike the merger of the federal Canadian Alliance and PC Party that created the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, there is little to no chance another party will form government in the next election (in the context of 2003, a PC-Wildrose merger would be more like Stephen Harper‘s Canadian Alliance joining Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party).

In a scenario where nearly all the Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party, Raj Sherman‘s five MLA Liberal Caucus could regain its role as the Official Opposition. But the Liberals would only hold that title until MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang resigned to run in the October 2015 federal election. Upon their resignations, Rachel Notley‘s four MLA NDP Caucus could become the Official Opposition.

Alberta is always in Tough Economic Times

“They don’t know what to do with tough economic times. It was easy enough to govern when the money was flowing in, when things were going well. They took all the credit for it at that time. It’s much harder to govern, and the mark of a good government is how they handle it, when times get difficult.” – Ray Martin, Leader of the Official Opposition (June 13, 1986)

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Despite Alberta’s prosperity, Premier Jim Prentice is warning we could be heading into tough economic times. The decline in the world price of oil has spooked the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative establishment and the corporate elites in downtown Calgary.

The perilous “price trough” has led Mr. Prentice to warn of a potential $7 billion revenue shortfall if oil prices remain at lower than expected levels for the entire 2015/2016 fiscal year. According to a government spokesperson, some of the missing $7 billion could come from revenue streams such as land leases, but at this point the number is largely based in speculation and politically spin.

Mr. Prentice’s prophetic $7 billion shortfall becomes more startling when learning the Alberta Government is projected to collect only $7.5 billion in crude oil and bitumen royalty revenue in the 2014/2015 budget year. This projected revenue is based on the price of Western Canada Select (WCS) oil remaining at $77.18 per barrel. Although the yearly average price is $84.02 per barrel the current price of WCS  has dropped to $48.44 per barrel.

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta
Ray Martin

If the “tough economics times” message sounds vaguely familiar, that is because it is. In oil-rich Alberta, we hear a lot from our political leaders about tough economic times, even when times are prosperous. In most cases, our politicians are managing voters’ expectations and positioning themselves to take credit as ‘prudent fiscal managers’ when the world-wide price of oil inevitably increases.

Meeting the Challenge of Tough Times” was the name of the three-year economic plan launched by Premier Ed Stelmach’s PC government in 2009.

Bitumen Bubble Alberta
Bitumen Bubble

The sharp decline of natural gas royalty revenue and that year’s world-wide recession, which felt more like a mild economic pause in Alberta, even convinced the Tories to amend the Klein-era Fiscal Responsibility Act to allow the government to pass deficit budgets.

And in January 2013, Premier Alison Redford used a televised address to warn Albertans that a $8 billion shortfall in the provincial budget was being caused by an ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford’s bubble was then used as justification to slash funding to colleges and universities by 7% in that year’s budget.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert
Ron Liepert

But the PCs have not always predicted “tough economic times.” In 2012, then-finance minister Ron Liepert told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to expect $16 billion in projected resource revenues by 2015. A huge jump in revenue would certainly increase the likelihood of Mr. Prentice calling a provincial election in early 2015.

Alberta’s government has heavily depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for decades. After years of unrestrained growth, no one should be surprised that Alberta’s economy could slow down.

The question is how we respond to actual tough economic times in Alberta. Was NDP Official Opposition Leader Ray Martin correct in 1986 when he said that “they don’t know what to do with tough economic times”?

While some right-wing think tanks call for a return to brutal slash and burn fiscal policies, the implementation of real long-term financial planning would probably be a more mature solution.

Alberta Norway Oil Fund Money Savings
Comparing Alberta’s Heritage Fund and Norway’s Petroleum Savings Fund.

Norway, a country with 5.1 million people, invests oil revenues into the Government Pension Fund Global and contains more than $857 billion. The fund was established in 1990 to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices. Oil-rich jurisdictions like Norway prove that economies can be both economically prosperous and environmentally green.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

Alberta, a province of 3.6 million people, launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under the leadership of Peter Lougheed, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion.

Facing tough economic times in 1987, the PC government of Don Getty halted all transfers to the Heritage Fund. Zero deposits were made between 1987 and 2004.

This week, PC MLAs passed Bill 11: Savings Management Repeal Act, which repealed the Savings Management Act, which was enthusiastically passed by the same group of PC MLAs in March 2014. The earlier bill would have diverted resource revenue to the newly created Alberta Future Fund, Social Innovation Endowment account and Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment. The bill passed this week eliminates those new funds.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

Despite talk of revenue diversification, it is questionable whether the governing PCs would seriously consider increasing resource royalties, reinstating a progressive taxation system or introducing a provincial sales tax.

While many politicians view tax increases as politically unpalatable, a slight tax increase would not destroy the our province’s economy. “If Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada,” Kevin Taft wrote in his 2012 book, Follow the Money.

Dr. Taft’s book breaks down government spending patterns over the past 30 years and details how corporate profits have skyrocketed in Alberta at the same time the PC Government has struggled with deficit budgets.

As a province with decades worth of dependence on revenues from natural resource royalties, it should not be a shock that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Maybe our only problem is not our over reliance on cyclical natural resources revenues, but that the Progressive Conservatives are just bad fiscal managers.


Primetime Politics this week…
On this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel, I joined Rob Breakenridge, Roberto Noce and host Michael Higgins to discuss the Gay-Straight Alliance debate, Moe Amery‘s texting-while-driving-demerits bill, and Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act.

 

Child poverty a problem worth eliminating in wealthy Alberta

November 24, 2014 marked 25 years since members of the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously to end child poverty in our country. The motion introduced by then-NDP leader Ed Broadbent supported abolishing child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

Twenty-five years later, we are far away from reaching this goal.

Although Alberta has benefited from rapid economic growth, not everyone has shared in this prosperity. The Edmonton Social Planning Council, Alberta College of Social Workers and Public Interest Alberta released a new report on Nov. 24 showing that 143,200 children in our province lived below the low-income measure in 2012.

Alberta Child PovertyThe numbers in the report are depressing but important to recognize. According to the report, the percentage of Alberta children living in poverty is essentially unchanged since Mr. Broadbent’s motion was passed in 1989.

Unemployment is not necessarily the main cause of child poverty in Alberta. The report shows that in 2011, a record high of 59.2% of children in poverty lived in a household where one or more persons were working full-time job.

According to the report, Alberta’s income inequality has increased faster than the national average, with the top 1% of earners seeing real income increases of over 60% since 1982 while the bottom half of income earners only saw a small increase of 3.4%.

The report also shows that in March 2014, more than forty-nine thousand Albertans accessed food banks, an increase of 2.3% from  2013 and 48.2% higher than in 2008.

The recent Homeless Count found 2,252 people without a home in Edmonton, an increase of 3.5% from 2012. The number of youth increased by 17% from 481 to 562. Of all those counted in the survey (including non-youth), 47% identified as being of Aboriginal heritage.

But despite an intense political focus in Alberta on low taxes and oil pipeline expansion, the discussion around income-inequality and eliminating poverty has gained some attention in recent years.

Poverty Parents Working Alberta

In March 2014, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson named a task force on Poverty Elimination to develop a plan with recommendations to eliminate poverty in the city.

“There are over 100,000 Edmontonians living below the poverty line, 30,000 of whom are children. For me, that is not acceptable,” Mr. Iveson said in a press release earlier this year.

Speaking to a group of Edmontonians during a break from budget hearings last week, Mr. Iveson explained some of the ways Edmonton can help contribute to the reduction of child poverty through public library education programs and reduced-fee transit passes for low-income parents.

“Poverty elimination will be the result of good prevention,” Mr. Iveson said, as he explained the need for a renewed focus on the social determinants of health.

“If we don’t deal with some of those things proactively they can become policing challenges, which is the most expensive thing we do,” he said.

As city governments are limited in their resources compared to provincial and federal governments, he spoke to the need for municipalities to pressure MLAs to make much needed funding increases to Family and Community Support Services.

During the 2012 election, Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford promised the creation of a ten year strategy to end poverty in Alberta, which would include a five-year plan to eliminate child poverty and a plan to address the root causes of poverty. Following Ms. Redford’s departure, it is suspected that a strategy will not be released until next year. But it remains unclear how Premier Jim Prentice will approach this issue.

Despite our prosperity, Mr. Prentice is pleading poverty due to slightly deflating world oil prices and is already suggesting education funding cuts are likely in next year’s budget.

It is shameful that child poverty in Canada still exits in 2014, twenty-five years after every Member of Parliament stood and committed to eliminating it by 2000. And in a wealthy and prosperous jurisdiction like Alberta, where we have the financial means and ingenuity to ensure every resident can live outside of poverty, there is no excuse why child poverty still exists.

Read the reportNo Change: After 25 years of Promises it is Time to Eliminate Child Poverty.

Listen: Ed Broadbent’s interview with CBC’s The Current on the 25th anniversary of the motion to end child poverty

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA
After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus?

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

A short few months ago, it almost felt inevitable that the Wildrose Party would sweep into a majority government at the next election. Their support in the polls was skyrocketing and the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives looked corrupt, broken and battered. But over the past few weeks, it appears the Official Opposition is stumbling into disarray.

Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to reenergize her party after its four recent by-election loses were sabotaged by social conservative party activists who rallied to reject a motion in support of equality at the party’s recent annual meeting. The defeated motion would have pledged the Wildrose to defend the rights of all people, “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” The vote has cast a shadow over the party.

After spending two years trying to distance herself from the “Lake of Fire” comments that cost the Wildrose its chance of winning the last election, it appears that Ms. Smith is back to square one.

Chris Bataluk Wildrose Edmonton Decore
Chris Bataluk

The defeat of the motion led Terrence Lo, the party’s vice-president in Calgary-Glenmore, to publicly resign.

“This vote confirmed to me that the misguided angry beliefs of a minority of the rank and file holds actual sway in party policy,” Mr. Lo wrote on his blog.

Lawyer Chris Bataluk, who ran for the Wildrose in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election, posted a stinging critique of his now former party on Facebook today.

“At this point I feel that the Wildrose Party was a noble but failed experiment,” Mr. Bataluk wrote. “It is of little joy to participate in a party that allows itself to be branded as the party of backward homophobes.”

Mr. Bataluk also noted that he did not renewed his party membership when it expired in August 2014.

Ian Donovan Wildrose
Ian Donovan

Mr. Bataluk’s Facebook post was notably “liked” by Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s colleague, Joe Anglin, recently left the Wildrose Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA, citing an internal civil war.

The opposition party’s sudden turn is an important reminder of how quickly a party, or a leader’s, political fortunes can turn from good to worse.

Ms. Smith still has time to turn her party’s fortunes around, but the Wildrose Party is increasingly beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The party has a dedicated base of supporters and has shown its ability to raise significant amounts of money, but it now struggles to find relevance in a post-Alison Redford political environment. Can the Wildrose Party be more than a protest party?

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

While PC Premier Jim Prentice is still surrounded by many of the MLAs and party activists who stood loyally with Ms. Redford until her spectacular end, he has skillfully distanced himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The PC Party is once again masterfully attempting to reinvent itself in the image of its new leader.

After 43 years in power, it seems that anytime an opposition party gets close to defeating the PCs, they soon get knocked out. Not long after Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party to near victory in 1993, infighting and floor crossing destroyed any opportunity of a second chance at unseating the PCs.

Perhaps a sign of the PC Party’s versatility are two key players from Mr. Decore’s 1993 surge who now sit comfortably in the government ranks. Former Liberal MLA Mike Percy is now Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff and Gene Zwozdesky, first elected as a Liberal MLA, is now a PC MLA and the Speaker of the Assembly.

While the Wildrose Party has proven itself to be a tough and aggressive opposition, it is very much a party of disgruntled former PC supporters. While the party’s roots can be traced back to Alberta Alliance formed by former Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson in 2002, the Wildrose Party did not begin to gain real support until it started attracting former PC members like Ms. Smith, Shayne Saskiw, Shannon Stubbs, Rob Anderson, Guy Boutilier, and Heather Forsyth.

Those disenchanted Tories took a big political risk when they stepped out of line with Alberta’s Natural Governing Party to help start the Wildrose. The dangerous question for Ms. Smith is whether they are beginning to regret making that choice?

Prentice victory lap to leave Redford legacy in the dust at Banff PC AGM

Redford earned 77% approval at 2013 PC AGM

Alison Redford David Dorward
Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs celebrate her 77% vote of approval from PC Party convention delegates in November 2013.

Premier Jim Prentice is warming up for a victory lap as Progressive Conservatives loyalists gather at the posh Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for the party’s annual general meeting on November 14 and 15, 2014. Mr. Prentice will join the convention basking in the glow of an impressive first two months as Premier and four recent by-election wins as party leader.

What a difference one year has made in Alberta politics. It was only twelve months ago that PC Party loyalists gathered at their 2013 annual meeting in Calgary to reward former leader Alison Redford with a 77% seal of approval.

“There’s always going to be people that have different perspectives,” Ms. Redford told CBC News after the vote. “It’s something that we celebrate in our party and we’re going to make sure that we keep working with everyone across the province.”

Less than five months later under a hurricane of controversy, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta and leader of the PC Party.

Adults now back in charge

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race
Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

And after two years of what has felt like an endless stream of scandals, it finally feels like the adults might be in charge again at the Legislative Assembly.

But Ms. Redford’s absence does not mean the PC Party is free of problems.

The party saw record low participation in its September 2014 leadership contest. Only 23,386 votes were cast in the one ballot race, down from a record high of 144,289 votes cast in 2006. There were also numerous irregularities in the voting process, accusations that some members were unable to vote and that one PC MLA was given improper access to voting PIN numbers.

Future prospects for the PC Party may look better with Ms. Redford gone, but the party remains connected to a long list of broken promises made during the 2012 election.

Impressed with Mr. Prentice’s calm and commanding swagger, the party faithful seem satisfied with sweeping away the memory of their embarrassing leadership contest and the catastrophe was triggered it.

To the opposition Wildrose Party’s dismay, the by-election results suggest that many Alberta voters are willing to give Mr. Prentice a chance. The new Premier’s quick and efficient de-Redfordization strategy appears to have convinced many Albertans to, at least conditionally, once again warm up to Alberta’s natural governing party.

Mr. Prentice’s real challenge is a long-term one. Ms. Redford’s unpopular legacy left the new Premier with many easy initial wins to begin his tenure. But eventually Mr. Prentice will be forced to make tough choices, some of which may be unpopular. How he fairs when making these decisions, and responding to his critics, might be a more telling indicators of his political longevity as Premier.

What about Term-Limits for PC MLAs?

In a leadership contest devoid of much substance, an odd promise made by Mr. Prentice on August 21, 2014 did stick out.

In the middle of the leadership campaign, the front-runner’s team built up expectations around an important announcement.It was expected to be big. But when Mr. Prentice stepped up to the podium, he was met with confused stares when he proudly announced his second piece of legislation as Premier would be to impose legislated term-limits for MLAs.

When it quickly became clear that a term-limit laws was probably unconstitutional and would likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. Prentice, a lawyer, scrambled to change his tune. He soon downplayed his initial promise, claiming that MLA term-limits would be an internal PC Party policy, rather than law.

It is yet to be seen whether Mr. Prentice will move forward with his term-limit agenda at this weekend’s convention in Banff.

How quickly fortunes change

PC Party loyalists who attended last year’s annual general meeting and leadership review may remember this slick promotional video promoting the visionary leadership of Ms. Redford. This artifact serves as an important reminder of how quickly political fortunes can turn for the worse.

What Civil War? After Joe Anglin quits, Wildrose MLAs rally behind Danielle Smith

Wildrose MLA Caucus Alberta Danielle Smith
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith surrounded by her caucus on March 19, 2014.

In a move designed to quash any further internal party dissent, Wildrose MLAs rallied around their leader yesterday by unanimously requesting their party’s executive committee cancel a leadership review that Danielle Smith requested last week.

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

The sign of caucus unity came shortly after Sundre-Rocky Mountain House-Rimbey MLA Joe Anglin announced he was leaving the Official Opposition Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Ms. Smith requested the review in response to the Wildrose Party’s poor showing in four by-elections held on October 27. Although the by-elections were held in traditionally safe Progressive Conservative voting constituencies, they were seen by many political watchers as a mid-term review for the 43-year governing PC Party, now led by Jim Prentice.

Will the sign of caucus support for Ms. Smith’s leadership put an end to the Wildrose “civil war” between pragmatic and ideological conservatives that Mr. Anglin referred to in a Facebook post yesterday?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

From the outside, it is difficult to tell whether an actual “civil war” is being waged. Mr. Anglin has always been more comfortable as a political lone-wolf and his departure was not unexpected. And despite the party’s sometimes uneasy coalition of libertarian and social conservatives, it is reasonable to believe Ms. Smith would still receive a strong endorsement from party members in a leadership review (she received 90% approval in a 2013 review).

But the entrance of Mr. Prentice onto the political stage may have slightly shifted the ground in Alberta’s conservative movement. As the by-election results suggest, there are many conservative voters comfortable with a PC Party led by Mr. Prentice and, at the very least, they willing to give him a chance.

Mr. Prentice does pose a serious challenge for the Wildrose Party, which made former Premier Alison Redford into political lightening rod. And while the sting of Ms. Redford’s legacy did not resonate in the by-elections, the recent announcement of an R.C.M.P investigation into her alleged misdeeds may reignite Albertans anger.

It is difficult to imagine who would replace the Wildrose Party’s high-profile leader. Although MLAs Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, Shayne Saskiw, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson have some provincial profile, none are as recognizable as their current leader. I would guess that most Albertans would struggle to name a Wildrose MLA other than Ms. Smith.

Whether a “civil war” is actually underway, it is clear that the Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party is facing an identity crisis in a post-Redford political environment.

———

Meanwhile, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman have ruled out any talk of a merger by Alberta’s centre/centre-left political parties. Talk of a potential merger arose following significant vote-splitting in the Oct. 27 by-elections.

Joe Anglin fires opening shot in Wildrose Civil War

Danielle Smith Joe Anglin Wildrose MLA Election Alberta 2012
Happier times: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith with Joe Angiln during the 2012 Alberta Election.

Citing a “civil war” within the Wildrose Party, MLA Joe Anglin has decided to leave the Official Opposition caucus to sit as an Independent MLA.

Mr. Anglin said in a Facebook message posted this morning that he did so in advance of today’s caucus meeting, where leader Danielle Smith was expected to introduce a motion to expel him from the Official Opposition caucus.

The first-term MLA for Sundre-Rocky Mountain House-Rimbey claimed foul-play when losing his nomination bid to represent the Wildrose in the next election. A divisive split in the local constituency association has drawn the ire of senior party officials.

His departure represents the first time the Wildrose has lost an MLA to a defection and now leaves the Official Opposition with 16 MLAs.

A political wildcard, Mr. Anglin admitted in his Facebook post he had “been a round peg in a square hole in the Wildrose Party.” And despite the more recent troubles, rumours of his departure have been circulating in political circles for at least one year.

The former leader of the Alberta Green Party and outspoken critic of electrical transmission line development in rural Alberta was an odd fit for the Wildrose Party.

Mr. Anglin’s advocacy came to province-wide attention in 2007 when it was revealed the now defunct Energy and Utilities Board hired a private detective to spy on central Alberta landowners who were organizing in opposition to transmission line construction through their property.

Fanning the flames of enraged farmers and landowners, Mr. Anglin, along with lawyer Keith Wilson, helped lay the ground for the Wildrose surge in central and southern Alberta in the 2012 election.

The question now is whether Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice‘s peace-offerings towards property-rights activists like Mr. Anglin could convince him to join the government caucus, or at the very least support related legislation expected to be introduced in November.

While the party’s loss in four recent by-elections put the spotlight on Ms. Smith and her call for a leadership review at the party’s November convention, Mr. Anglin’s departure casts a light on a split in the party and caucus.

It has been caught up in a civil war between ideologues and pragmatists, with staff, volunteers, and even MLAs being placed into and forced out of positions with alarming frequency,” Mr. Anglin wrote in his Facebook post.

While most Wildrose Party activists I have spoken with support Ms. Smith’s leadership, there is a group who remain disappointed with the party’s lack of focus and inability to hold significant ground against the PCs in the polls.

The clear beneficiary of this public dispute is Mr. Prentice, who, after nearly two months in office, has left the Wildrose Party scrambling to respond to a post-Alison Redford reality.

Since Peter Lougheed catapulted from official opposition leader to Premier in 1971, leadership positions in Alberta’s opposition benches have become a political graveyard for many well-intentioned and ambitious politicians.

If Ms. Smith is able to rally her MLAs and party activists in unity at the party’s convention and secure a strong leadership vote, the party could remain competitive going into the next election.

If Mr. Anglin’s departure deepens the splits in the party, and other MLAs join him or cross the floor to the PCs, Ms. Smith may be destined to join the list of many other Official Opposition leaders who failed to defeat Alberta’s 43-year governing PC Party.

Wildrose leader faces Rocky [Mountain House] challenges and leadership review

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith at the launch of Edmonton-Whitemud candidate Tim Grover’s by-election campaign in October 2014.

Reacting to her party’s poor results in four provincial by-elections held this week, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced that she will face a leadership review at her party’s annual convention on November 14 and 15, 2014 in Red Deer.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

This is a smart move by the official opposition leader, as a solid approval rating could silence her detractors inside the party and mute Progressive Conservative activists who have been using social media to vocally call for her resignation after this week’s by-election votes.

It is not hard to imagine Ms. Smith doing well in the review. She earned 90% support in a leadership review following the 2012 election.

Ms. Smith has also publicly recognized that her party’s strategy of attack in the by-elections fell flat. And on a conference call with constituency presidents last night, Ms. Smith said she would not accept party strategist Vitor Marciano‘s resignation offer in wake of the by-election results. Mr. Marciano also serves as Ms. Smith’s press secretary and is a former member of the Conservative Party of Canada National Council.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

But the move to reaffirm her leadership in advance of the 2016 election also comes with risks if her opponents inside the party do decide to strike.

And as we know from recent PC Party leadership reviews, who is able to vote is highly controlled and the results have limited meaning. In 2009 and 2013, PC leaders Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford earned 77% approval from party loyalists. But within months of the both votes, the leaders were drummed out of office by caucus and party revolts (a real revolt in Ms. Redford’s case and a threatened one in Mr. Stelmach’s case).

Wildrose Party members would be foolish to remove Ms. Smith as their leader before the next election. She is smart, media savvy and has grown into her role as official opposition leader since taking over the party in 2009. Removing her as leader would be a death knell for the party.

Trouble in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

Aside from a leadership review, Ms. Smith may have to deal with growing unrest in one of her party’s rural constituency associations. The Wildrose Party executive committee has appointed a special subcommittee to investigate an ongoing dispute within the party’s Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association.

The controversy centres around a heated vote for a  new board of directors at an October 15, 2014 annual general meeting. A new board of directors is believed to have been elected, but is disputed by the previous board of directors, who claim that the meeting had officially adjourned before the new board could be elected.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Jason Nixon

The President of the new board of directors is Edwin Erickson, a former leader of the Alberta Party and former deputy leader of the Alberta Greens during Mr. Anglin’s time as that party’s leader from 2008 to 2009.

These allegations have led the new board, which is operating as the official board, to retain the services of Toronto lawyer Donald Bur to represent them in any legal disputes.

According to the Rimbey Review, Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin did not attend the meeting and claims he heard a tape recording that proves the motion to adjourn was “soundly defeated.”

Much of the tension appears to stem from a recent nomination contest that was wrought with controversy and accusations. During the July 2014 contest, Mr. Anglin, an outspoken property rights activist, publicly accused the Wildrose Party executive committee of failing to enforce the party’s own nomination rules. When the votes were counted, Mr. Anglin was defeated by Jason Nixon.

Following Mr. Anglin’s nomination loss, Ms. Smith suggested that he might consider running in an Edmonton constituency in the next election.

Wildrose needs to be more than the Anti-Redford Party

PCs sweep four by-elections, NDP and Alberta Party make gains
Jim Prentice Gordon Dirks Calgary Elbow By-Election Alberta
Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Premier Jim Prentice during the by-election campaign.

Disgraced former premier Alison Redford gave Albertans a convincing reason to vote Wildrose, but Danielle Smith‘s official opposition needs to find a new strategy to defeat Premier Jim Prentice‘s Progressive Conservative.

This appears to be the case as Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives celebrate their candidates victories in four Alberta by-elections held yesterday.

Kathy Macdonald Wildrose Calgary-Foothills by-election
Kathy Macdonald

The wins in the four strong-PC voting constituencies are a signal that the long-governing party should not be underestimated. And despite two years of spending scandals, embarrassment and misdeeds, the PC Party remains a competitive political force in this province.

It appears that despite the scandals, many Albertans wan to give Mr. Prentice a chance. And the PC’s smooth ‘be boring‘ and ‘de-Redfordization‘ strategy appears to have paid off with voters, at least in the short-term, and helped the party hold onto Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. Chosen as PC Party leader in September 2014, Mr. Prentice was personally elected last night in Calgary-Foothills, with a commanding lead ahead of Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald.

Mike Ellis PC Alberta calgary-west MLA
Mike Ellis

In Calgary-West, a constituency the Wildrose had targeted to win, candidate Sheila Taylor was narrowly defeated by Tory Mike Ellis. The Wildrose hoped that Ms. Taylor’s high-profile role as a public school board trustee would take her to victory, but the PCs Mr. Ellis narrowly held on to the constituency first won by former premier Peter Lougheed in 1967.

The by-elections gave Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party an opportunity to test campaign tactics, strategies and messages in preparation for the next election, and it is obvious they fell flat.

Stephen Mandel Health Minister Alberta Edmonton Whitemud MLA
Stephen Mandel

While PC Party supporters on social media have vocally called on their opponent to step down, the Wildrose would be foolish to part with the leader, who is one of their greatest assets. Ms. Smith is media savvy and has grown into her role as Premier-in-Waiting. Despite missing an opportunity to steal a by-election away from the PCs, the Wildrose is still strong in other areas of Alberta (and in other constituencies in Calgary and Edmonton).

One recent poll  shared with this blogger showed the Wildrose with 51% support in rural Alberta and 47% in the province’s small cities, which represent a significant number of constituencies in Alberta. Despite tonight’s losses, the 2016 election could still be hotly contested between the two conservative parties.

Dr Bob Turner NDP Edmonton-Whitemud By-election
Dr. Bob Turner

But worrying to both the Wildrose and the PCs should be the other opposition parties that made significant electoral gains in these by-elections. In Edmonton-Whitemud, PC Health Minister Stephen Mandel saw his party’s vote drop by nearly 20% from the 2012 election, but still collected enough votes to defeat New Democrat Dr. Bob Turner. Wildrose candidate Tim Grover was relegated to third place.

Dr. Turner’s 21% finish marks the first time the NDP has placed second in this constituency since the 1986 election, an impressive feat for the tiny Edmonton-based party.

Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party
Greg Clark

And in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark exceeded expectations, placing a close second behind PC Education Minister Gordon Dirks. Mr. Dirks’ was elected with the help of a convenient opposition vote-split between Mr. Clark and talented Liberal Susan Wright. But despite the narrow defeat, this second place finish gives Mr. Clark a solid foundation to run as a candidate in the next election.

Before the next election, can any of those tiny opposition parties garner enough strength on their own to take advantage of a split within Alberta’s conservative movement? And as Wildrose strategists analyze the results of yesterdays vote, can they come up with a plan to defeat the Tories? In spite of yesterday’s wins by the 43-year governing PC Party, will Albertans still be willing to give Mr. Prentice a chance in 2016?

One this is for sure, the political landscape in Alberta looks more interesting than ever.

 October 27, 2014 By-election Results

Calgary-Elbow
Gordon Dirks, PC: 4,207 (33.2%)
Greg Clark, AP: 3,412 (26.9%)
John Fletcher, WR: 3,056 (24.1%)
Susan Wright, LIB: 1,519 (11.9%)
Stephanie Mclean, NDP: 472 (3.7%)

Calgary-Foothills
Jim Prentice, PC: 6,898 (58.2%)
Kathy Macdonald, WR: 3,545 (29.9%)
Robert Prcic, LIB: 458 (3.8%)
Jennifer Burgess, NDP: 444 (3.7%)
Polly Knowlton Cockett, GRN: 261 (2.2%)
Michelle Glavine, AP: 212 (1.7%)
Dave Woody Phillips, IND: 23 (0.1%)

Calgary-West
Mike Ellis, PC: 4,843 (44.4%)
Sheila Taylor, WR: 4,528 (41.5%)
David Khan, LIB: 926 (8.5%)
Brian Malkinson, NDP: 336 (3.0%)
Troy Millington, AP: 265 (2.4%)

Edmonton-Whitemud
Stephen Mandel, PC: 6,003 (42.3%)
Bob Turner, NDP: 3,150 (22.2%)
Tim Grover, WR: 2,679 (18.9%)
Donna Wilson, LIB: 2,043 (14.4%)
William Munsey, AP: 202 (1.4%)
Rene Malenfant, GRN: 95 (0.6%)