Tag Archives: Bob Hawkesworth

Don Getty Ray Martin Laurence Decore Alberta Family Day Debate

Repost: The Great Family Day Debate of 1989

[This post was originally published on Feb. 16, 2010]

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take for granted the holiday on the third Monday of February may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day was incredibly controversial when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

Kurt Gesell MLA Alberta

Kurt Gesell

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC MLA Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989

Don-Tannas-Alberta MLA

Don Tannas

Don Tannas (PC MLA Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

Norm-Weiss-Alberta-MLA

Norm Weiss

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP MLA Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC MLA Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie-Hewes-Alberta-MLA

Bettie Hewes

Bettie Hewes (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek-Fox-Alberta-MLA

Derek Fox

Derek Fox (NDP MLA Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Don Getty (PC MLA Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie-Laing-Alberta-MLA

Marie Laing

Marie Laing (NDP MLA Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob-Hawkesworth-Alberta-MLA

Bob Hawkesworth

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP MLA Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Mr. Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [editor’s note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

Brian Topp NDP leadership candidate

Off the Topp: Notley shuffles her senior staff

As the fall Legislative session ends and MLAs prepare to return home to their constituencies for the holiday season, Premier Rachel Notley announced big changes in the senior ranks of her political office.

John Heaney

John Heaney

Gone is Brian Topp, the veteran political operative who became Ms. Notley’s Chief of Staff after the NDP formed government in 2015. He is reportedly becoming a fellow with the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.

Mr. Topp is replaced by John Heaney, a former British Columbia NDP political operative who served as Chief of Staff to John Horgan until moving east to Alberta last year. He was filling the role as Alberta’s policy czar as Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office.

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

Former federal NDP campaign manager Anne McGrath, who was hired as Ms. Notley’s Principal Secretary after the 2015 federal election, moves south to run the Premier’s Calgary office at the McDougall Centre.

Ms. McGrath, who lived in the city and studied at the University of Calgary, replaces former alderman and MLA Bob Hawkesworth as Executive Director. It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a demotion. But the addition of Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen to the government caucus, placing a campaign manager in the role could signal that the NDP are beginning to realize the need to shore up support in Alberta’s largest city before the next election.

Anne McGrath NDP

Anne McGrath

Back in Edmonton, Ms. McGrath will be replaced by ministerial chief of staff and former BC NDP advisor Jim Rutkowski, who rounds up the group of recently imported BC NDP operatives now filling the two most powerful political jobs in Alberta.

Alberta’s NDP government has pursued an aggressive policy and legislative agenda since defeating the 44-year old Progressive Conservative regime in May 2015. And while the economic recession caused by the decline in the international price of oil has created significant challenges, it has not slowed down the political agenda.

The recent approval of two oil pipelines suggests the NDP government flagship Climate Leadership Plan is already achieving political results for the province but the political battle over the carbon tax and phase of dirty coal fired power plants will continue into 2017.

It is too soon to tell what today’s staff changes will mean or how they will impact how the NDP government operates. The NDP focused on introducing policy and legislative changes during its first year in office, and now the government will need to shift political gears as it moves to implement its ambitious Alberta-changing policy goals.

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

Partying like it’s 2016! A look ahead at next weekend’s Alberta NDP convention in Calgary

In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.

Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.

That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.

Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.

This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.

It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.

A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.

There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.

These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.

Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.

Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:

President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.

[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]

Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.

Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.

I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.

Premier Rachel Notley (centre), Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir (fourth from left) and NDP candidate Roop Rai (third from left) at a campaign stop in Calgary-Greenway.

Expect the unexpected in the Calgary-Greenway by-election

The second by-election since Alberta’s May 2015 election will be held on March 22, 2016 in the northeast Calgary constituency of Calgary-Greenway. With the re-election of Manmeet Bhullar, this constituency was one of eight in Calgary to elect a Progressive Conservative candidate in that election. His death in November 2015 triggered this by-election.

By-elections can produce unexpected results. While they are important snapshots of the political mood of an electorate at a certain point in time, the results can be poor indicators of outcomes of future general elections.

In October 2014, four by-election wins by the PC Party made Premier Jim Prentice look like a political juggernaut. His party was swept out of office by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party seven months later. A by-election win by the Wildrose Party in 2009 did not produce a Danielle Smith-led government in 2012 and an important by-election win by the Liberals in Ralph Klein’s Calgary-Elbow constituency in 2007 also ended up being a false start for that party in the next election.

Last year’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills, triggered by Mr. Prentice’s election night resignation, was the first in Alberta’s dramatically new political environment. The NDP poured significant resources in their campaign to elect former MLA  Bob Hawkesworth and his loss to Wildroser Prasad Panda was a blow to the NDP, which is likely why the NDP appear to have done a better job managing expectations for Roop Rai‘s campaign in Greenway.

Alternatively, the Calgary-Greenway by-election is a must-win for the PC Party, which has dropped down to eight MLAs from 70 MLAs before the 2015 election. PC candidate Prab Gill needs to retain this by-election to signal his party will continue to be a viable alternative to the NDP.

A win by the PC Party would also throw a wrench into the plans of the official opposition Wildrose Party, which has been aggressively attacking the new NDP government since it took office less than a year ago. A Wildrose win might be a final nail in the coffin of the PC Party.

A win by the Liberals would be, well, unexpected.

One poll, released by Mainstreet Research on March 12, projected a four-way race between the PC Party, NDP, Wildrose and Liberals.

Unlike most of the 44-years of PC Party government, Albertans no longer live in a political environment where we can expect the governing party to win every seat. And that’s a good thing.


The following candidates will be listed on the ballot on the March 22, 2016 by-election in Calgary-Greenway:

Green PartyThana Boonlert [FacebookTwitter]
Liberal PartyKhalil Karbani [FacebookTwitter]
Independent: Said Abdulbaki
Independent: Larry Heather
Independent: Sukhi Rai
New Democratic PartyRoop Rai [FacebookTwitter]
Progressive Conservative: Prab Gill [FacebookTwitter]
Wildrose PartyDevinder Toor [Facebook]

 

Bob Hawkesworth with Premier Rachel Notley during the by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

What about Bob? Hawkesworth swoops into top political job.

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

Richard Gotfried Calgary Fish Creek PC MLA

Richard Gotfried

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

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

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

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

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

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

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

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

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Jason Nixon

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

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

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC

Rob Merrifield

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

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

Danielle Larivee Rachel Notley Deron Bilous

Notley creates Economic Development ministry, appoints rural Municipal Affairs minister

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

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

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

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

Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alberta’s New Cabinet

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors

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

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

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

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

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.

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

Wildrose win Calgary-Foothills by-election, NDP hold on to ‘Orange Chinook’ support

Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda became his party’s only MLA from Calgary with a fairly decisive win in yesterday’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills, stealing the constituency away from the Progressive Conservatives. PC candidate Blair Houston finished third in the constituency that elected former Premier Jim Prentice in another by-election ten months ago and in a general election only four months ago.

The New Democrats mounted what appeared to be a strong campaign with candidate Bob Hawkesworth, but the governing party was only able to finish with second place in the by-election.

The NDP lost some ground in this by-election, holding 25.7 percent of the vote compared to the 32.3 percent earned by candidate Anne Wilson in the May 5, 2015 general election but still significantly more than the 3.7 percent earned by the NDP candidate in the October 2014 by-election. The results suggest that the NDP “orange chinook” from May 2015 has not completely dissipated as some would have argued and that NDP have developed a base of support in the city that was non-existent only a few months ago.

An NDP loss in this by-election would not have been a notable outcome had that party not intentionally raised the stakes of the results by pouring significant resources into the campaign, including high-profile endorsements of Mr. Hawkesworth and at least three campaign visits by Premier Rachel Notley. The loss does not spell the end of the NDP in Calgary but it does demonstrate that the party faces strong conservative opposition in the city, which should come as a surprise to no one.

Media commentaries will likely frame the Wildrose win as a rebuke of NDP policies in Calgary-Foothills, which it was, but at a more interesting level the results of this by-election are reflective of the divide between the Wildrose and the PC Party.

While the electoral outcomes were different from the last election, the percentages of the combined PC and Wildrose votes were 59.8 percent, up slightly from their combined vote of 58 percent in May 2015. This is a major decline from the October 2014 by-election, when the two conservative parties dominated with a combined 88 percent of the vote.

Conservative voters were split in this by-election, but Mr. Panda’s win will give the Wildrose Party potent ammunition to argue that the old PC Party is not a viable conservative alternative to the NDP in the three and a half years leading up to the next general election. The by-election results do suggest that in Calgary, the mostly rural based Wildrosers could still have some hard work ahead of them, as the PC Party is at the very least “still standing.”

The Wildrose caucus will now grow from 21 to 22 MLAs, making it the largest official opposition since the Liberals had 31 MLAs in the early-1990s. The PCs have 9 MLAs in the Legislature.

Here are the unofficial results from the September 3, 2015 by-election (66/66 polls reporting):

Prasad Panda, Wildrose: 4,877 (38.3%)
Bob Hawkesworth, NDP: 3,270 (25.7%)
Blair Houston, PC: 2,7,46 (21.5%)
Ali Bin Zahid, Liberal:  791 (6.2%)
Mark Taylor, Alberta Party: 610 (4.8%)
Janet Keeping, Green: 377 (2.9%)
Antoni Grochowski, Independent: 46 (0.36%)

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills

Today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills is the first major litmus test for Alberta’s political parties in the post-Progressive Conservative political world. After forty-four years of PC Party-government in Alberta end earlier this year, politics in this province could still be in flux.

Bob Hawkesworth NDP Calgary Foothills

Bob Hawkesworth

When Rachel Notley led NDP candidates to victory in fifteen constituencies in the city on May 5, 2015, the “Orange Wave” broke at the boundaries of Calgary-Foothills as conservative voters re-elected Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice as their MLA (Mr. Prentice the triggered the by-election when he resigned as MLA on election night).

Despite considerable conservative strength in Calgary-Foothills, the NDP have willingly turned low expectations into high stakes by pouring significant resources into this by-election. Ms. Notley has personally visited the constituency at least three times to campaign alongside Bob Hawkesworth, a well-known candidate with thirty-years of experience in municipal and provincial office in Calgary.

Prasad Panda Calgary Foothills Wildrose

Prasad Panda

Mr. Hawkesworth’s campaign has released impressive endorsements from some unlikely figures – former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes, former PC MLA Gordon Shrake, former Liberal candidate Brian Edy, and current city councillors Diane Colley-Urquhart and Druh Farrell – to demonstrate a broad support for his candidacy.

Talk in political circles is that he would be a shoe-in for a cabinet spot if elected, maybe as Minister of Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour or Minister of Infrastructure.

But the decline of the international price of oil and recent energy-sector layoffs may have voters in this constituency sticking with their conservative options. The opposition parties have been quick to blame NDP plans to review resource royalties for making the economic situation worse.

Blair Houston PC Calgary Foothills

Blair Houston

The war of words in the by-election got nasty after it was discovered that a Chinese-language pamphlet circulated by Wildrose Party candidate Prasad Panda’s campaign accused the NDP of being communists. The Wildrose campaign claimed the translation was unintentional but it is difficult to believe this would be a mistake.

There is a reason why the communist message was only included in the Chinese-language material. According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 12.4% of homes in Calgary-Foothills identify Chinese as their household language and 24.1% of the population in the constituency is of Chinese ethnic origin.

Instead of repudiating Mr. Panda’s claims, Wildrose leader Brian Jean doubled down on the communist accusations, telling NewsTalk770 yesterday that the NDP “are the most socialist out of any party in Canada.”

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

The presence of an increasingly depressing PC Party, represented by candidate Blair Houston could spoil an easy Wildrose victory. Mr. Houston’s campaign material claims that “only the moderate can defeat the extremes,” sending a strong message that there is still significant distrust between the two conservative parties.

The split between Wildrose and PC conservatives is evident among conservative activists on the internet.

An army of Wildrose twitterati launched online attacks yesterday against Calgary-North West PC MLA Sandra Jansen for her support of former television news anchor Nirmala Naidoo, who is running as the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Rocky Ridge, which overlaps with the Calgary-Foothills constituency.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Ms. Jansen responded that she is not a member of the federal Conservative Party and is under no obligation to support their candidates (her pragmatic reply is unlikely to appease her Wildrose critics).

As litmus tests, by-elections can be indicators of citizens approval or disapproval of a governing party at a given time, but by-election results are not necessarily indicators of how voters will cast their ballots in the future.

The Progressive Conservatives swept four by-elections in October 2014, including one in Calgary-Foothills, leading many political observers to believe that Mr. Prentice was an unstoppable political juggernaut. Only ten months later, Mr. Prentice is gone, the NDP have a majority government, the Wildrose rebounded into official opposition and Alberta has been thrown into a new political reality.

It is anyone’s guess what comes next after today’s by-election in Calgary-Foothills.

Unofficial results from today’s by-election will appear on the Elections Alberta website after 8:00 p.m.

Calgary-Foothills by-election candidates Blair Houston (PC), Bob Hawkesworth (NDP), Janet Keeping (Green), Prasad Panda (Wildrose), Ali Bin Zahid (Liberal) and Mark Taylor (Alberta Party).

Calgary-Foothills by-election vote on Sept 3. Here’s what the parties are saying.

Taking place in the backdrop of a federal election, the September 3 provincial by-election in the Calgary-Foothills constituency could have a profound impact on the federal election in Alberta.

A win by the NDP would almost certainly boost momentum for the federal NDP in Alberta, a win by the Wildrose would solidify that party’s dominance over the third-place Progressive Conservatives, and a win by the PCs would be that party’s first sign of a pulse since its defeat in the May 2015 election.

This is the third time voters in this constituency have gone to the polls to select a new MLA since October 2014, when PC leader Jim Prentice entered the Legislature. When it became clear the PC Party has lost the election on May 5, Mr. Prentice resigned as MLA before the votes were even finished being counted.

New Democratic Party: Premier Rachel Notley was the guest of honour at NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth campaign launch this weekend. Mr. Hawkesworth is a well-known figure in Calgary politics, having served on city council from 1980 to 1986 and 1993 to 2010 and as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993. He received a surprise endorsement last week from Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart, who is a former PC Party candidate.

Agreeing with calls from opposition parties, the NDP government committed to not making any government announcements in Calgary until after the by-election. This follows criticism levelled at the former PC government, which used its office for political gain to boost support for candidates in four 2014 by-elections.

Progressive Conservative: The PCs have chosen past city council candidate and bar owner Blair Houston as their candidate. Before the 2015 provincial election, Mr. Houston ran for the PC nomination in Calgary-North West against incumbent MLA Sandra Jansen.

Wildrose: The Wildrose Party nominated Prasad Panda as their candidate in a three-way contest with more than 700 Wildrose members voting in the nomination selection. Mr. Panda was the 2012 and 2015 Wildrose candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Northern Hills constituency.

Alberta PartyMark Taylor has been nominated to run as the Alberta Party candidate. Mr. Taylor was President of the Wildrose Party’s Highwood association from 2012 until 2013 (at the time, the constituency was represented by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith). His campaign released an interview with a local business owner criticizing the NDP government’s 3-year phased increases of the minimum wage.

Liberal: Candidate Ali Bin Zahid issued a press release urging the NDP government to delay their promised royalty review, which is being chaired by Alberta Treasury Branches CEO and President Dave Mowatt. “The last thing the people of Foothills want at this moment is another career politician who will contribute to the NDP’s stubborn determination to do this review now,” said Mr. Zahid.

Green: Green Party leader Janet Keeping criticized the NDP for a lack of basic amenities in the Calgary-Foothills constituency and for an end to the political polarization in the debate about oilsands development. “Sustainability is about more than the physical environment. It is also about maintaining a healthy employment climate. The rate of oilsands development should be reduced decisively but gradually,” said Ms. Keeping.

Calgary Foothills Election By Results

What’s at stake for who in the Calgary-Foothills by-election

The Calgary-Foothills by-election to replace former Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, who resigned on the evening he was re-elected as MLA on May 5, will take place on September 3, 2015.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Like most constituencies in Calgary before this year’s election, Foothills has been a traditionally conservative voting area that elected PC MLAs since the party began its 44-year run as government in 1971. But unlike most constituencies in Calgary in the recent election, enough voters in Calgary-Foothills supported Mr. Prentice to avoid Rachel Notley‘s orange wave.

This by-election is the first electoral test for Ms. Notley’s new government since it was voted into office on May 5.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The NDP have nominated former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, who also served as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993.

With a comfortable majority of 53 MLAs in the Legislature, the NDP do not need to win this by-election, but a win would demonstrate that the NDP sweep in May can be expanded into new areas of the province. A very poor showing would be seen as a rebuke of Ms. Notley’s policies.

Showing how serious the party is taking the by-election opportunity, one of the Premier’s top communications staffers, former CBC reporter John Archer, tweeted last week that he would be taking a leave of absence from his job at the Legislature to work on Mr. Hawkesworth’s campaign.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Expect Calgary NDP MLAs and cabinet ministers Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir to be flooding through this constituency many times over the next month.

Although the by-election will take place in the depths of summer, it also falls in the midst of a federal election campaign, which could create some fascinating political scenarios.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

Federal Conservatives united behind Stephen Harper‘s federal party may be forced to choose sides between the old Progressive Conservatives now led by former Calgary alderman Ric McIver and the opposition Wildrose Party led by former Fort McMurray Conservative MP Brian Jean.

It is well known that many federal Conservative MPs, including Rob Anders and Jason Kenney, support the Wildrose but recent polls show the PCs remain popular in Calgary while the Wildrose opposition caucus is almost entirely based in rural Alberta. But in 2015, three former PC MLAs are running as federal Conservative candidates – Ron Liepert in Calgary-Signal Hill, Matt Jeneroux in Edmonton-Riverbend and former Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber in Calgary-Confederation.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

The by-election will be an important indicator showing if the PC still have a political pulse.The party remains in shock after their stunning electoral defeat and has yet to nominate a candidate to run in the by-election.

Update: AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga reports that past city council candidate Blair Houston is expected to be nominated as the PC candidate.

Stakes are also high for the Wildrose Party and Mr. Jean. The Wildrose was unable to elect any candidates in Alberta’s two largest urban centres in the recent election, despite having elected two MLAs in Calgary in 2012. A Wildrose win in Foothills could torpedo activities by conservative operatives to merge the two conservative parties.

Greg Clark Calgary-Elbow Alberta Party

Greg Clark

Originally scheduled for August 15, the Wildrose has moved up their nomination vote to August 11, 2015 (John Huang, Kathy Macdonald, and Prasad Panda are contesting the nomination).

The by-election could also be an important test for the Alberta Party, whose leader Greg Clark was elected in Calgary-Elbow and has earned a reputation as a vocal critic of the NDP over the past three months. While still new to the Legislature, Mr. Clark has an opportunity to turn his party into the moderate conservative alternative to the PC Party and Liberal Party. The Alberta Party has yet to nominate a candidate.

The Liberals have nominated electrical engineer and past candidate Ali Bin Zahid, and Green Party leader Janet Keeping, who ran against Mr. Prentice in May, is running again.

Calgary Foothills Electoral Riding Alberta Map

Gearing up for another Calgary-Foothills By-Election

Voters in Calgary-Foothills will face their third election in less than a year when a by-election is called to replace Jim Prentice in the next few months. I’ve created a special page to track candidate nominations and news about the upcoming by-election. Here are the latest candidate updates:

New Democratic Party: Past candidate Anne Wilson and former MLA and city councillor Bob Hawkesworth, are seeking the NDP nomination. Ms. Wilson was the NDP candidate in the recent election and earned 32% of the vote. Mr. Hawkesworth represented Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993 and was elected as a city councillor for a ward south of the Foothills constituency. This will be the first electoral test faced by the new NDP government since Rachel Notley led them to victory on May 5. The nomination meeting has been scheduled for July 27, 2015.

Wildrose: Retired police officer Kathy Macdonald will seek the Wildrose nomination. Ms. Macdonald placed second with 30% in the 2014 by-election in this constituency.

LiberalAli Bin Zahid announced on Twitter that he would once again seek the Liberal Party nomination. He was that party’s candidate in the recent election and earned 7.2% of the vote.


I have not yet heard any rumours about who might seek the Progressive Conservative nomination. Voters in this constituency have elected PC MLAs since 1971 but following Mr. Prentice’s abrupt resignation in May 2015 they may not be sympathetic to the next PC candidate (who will now represent the third place party).

Update: Green Party leader Janet Keeping has confirmed she will stand as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP Premier

June 15 marks the end of the NDP’s trek through Alberta’s political wilderness

On June 15, 2015, Alberta’s new government will present its first Speech from the Throne. Read by new Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, the speech will represent the first official major statement made by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government since its stunning election win on May 5.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

In an important lesson about how political fortunes can change, June 15 also marks the 22nd anniversary of Alberta’s 1993 provincial election, which marked the beginning of the Alberta NDP’s long march through the political wilderness.

On June 15, 1993, the official opposition NDP led by Ray Martin saw their political fortunes plummet from 15 to zero MLAs in an election dominated by the Liberals led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore and Progressive Conservatives led by former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein.

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta

Ray Martin

The NDP regained a beachhead in the Legislature four years later and their tiny caucus spent the next eighteen years fluctuating between two and four MLAs before electing 54 MLAs in the historic 2015 election.

Twenty-two years after Alberta’s Klein-era began, a populist centre-leftish New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government while promising prescriptions to heal much of the damage caused by the short-sighted slash and burn policies of Mr. Klein’s government.

In contrast, the two parties that dominated Alberta’s political landscape 22 years ago today are decimated. After 44 years in power the PC Party has been relegated to opposition benches with 9 MLAs and the Liberals are searching for meaning with only one MLA left in the Assembly.

With a clean slate and a fresh mandate, the first NDP throne speech will lay out the new government’s plans for its four year term as government, marking Alberta’s first change in government since 1971.

Blast from the Past
Anne Wilson NDP Calgary Foothills

Anne Wilson

The resignation of PC leader Jim Prentice on election night means that a by-election will need to be held in Calgary-Foothills within the next six months.

Lawyer Anne Wilson earned 32% while standing as the NDP candidate against Mr. Prentice in the recent election and has announced she is seeking the NDP nomination.

Facebook page has been created to draft former Calgary City Councillor and NDP MLA Bob Hawkesworth to seek the nomination. Mr. Hawkesworth served as a city councillor from 1980 to 1986 and 1994 to 2010, and as the NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View from 1986 to 1993 (in 1986 he defeated young PC candidate Mr. Prentice in his first electoral bid).

Retired Calgary police officer Kathy MacDonald has expressed interest in seeking the Wildrose nomination in this by-election. Ms. MacDonald was the Wildrose candidate in the October 2014 Calgary-Foothills by-election and general election candidate in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency. The Wildrose were unable to elect any candidates in Calgary in the May election.

PC Party tossed into the wilderness

Beginning their own trek through the political wilderness, the PC Party has hired Calgary consultant and long-time party loyalist Troy Wason as interim managing director. Amid rumours that the long governing party is deep in debt, the PC Party announced shortly after the election that it was laying off most of its paid staff and could close down its offices in Calgary and Edmonton.

Don Getty Ray Martin Laurence Decore Alberta Family Day Debate

Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989

[This post was originally published on Feb. 16, 2010]

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take the holiday on the third Monday of February for granted may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day generated some controversy when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal: Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC: Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989
Don Tannas (PC: Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP: Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC: Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie Hewes (Liberal: Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek Fox (NDP: Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Premier Don Getty (PC: Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie Laing (NDP: Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP: Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Premier Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [daveberta note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

Alberta NDP still running that other leadership contest

Alberta NDP leadership race Rachel Notley David Eggen

Alberta NDP leadership rivals Rachel Notley and David Eggen (photo from Ms. Notley’s Facebook page).

It is pennies compared to the $1.8 million raised by Jim Prentice during the Progressive Conservative leadership race, but in the world of the Alberta NDP leadership contest, the money is flowing.

The NDP’s monthly contributions report from its leadership candidates shows Edmonton-Strathcona MLA and front-runner Rachel Notley has raised $82,826.99, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen has has raised $32,924 and labour activist Rod Loyola raised $5,310 since the race started.

The largest donations made to the candidate have been from UFCW Local 401, which donated $15,000 each to Ms. Notley and Mr. Eggen, and $5,000 to Mr. Loyola. UFCW Local 401 is a major player in the provincial NDP and is expected to take up a large percentage of reserved NDP union-affiliate votes in this contest. None of the NDP supporters I have spoken with have been able to clearly explain how the union-affiliate vote process will work.

Ms. Notley’s candidacy has received a number of high profile endorsements, including those of fellow NDP MLA Deron Bilous, former NDP MLAs Barrie Chivers, Bob Hawkesworth and Jim Gurnett, former Red Deer mayor Morris Flewwelling (who ran for the PCs in the 1997 federal election), former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger and former Edmonton Public School Board trustee Dave Colburn.

While Ms. Notley appears to have the support of many NDP insiders and luminaries, I am told that Mr. Eggen’s campaign is busy selling memberships across the province. This being the party’s first contested leadership campaign since 1996, it is unclear what the benchmark for membership sales should be.

So far, the contest appears to have been a friendly affair, with no  public clashing between the candidates. Ms. Notley has released a five priority platform, and she and Mr. Eggen have continued in their roles as opposition critics.

Mirroring a larger internal NDP debate on the national level, Mr. Eggen has released a statement calling for peace between Israel and the Palestinians living in Gaza. Mr. Eggen called on the provincial government to review its investments through AIMCo and look to divestment in order to pressure a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

Recent polls have shown NDP support growing in Edmonton, suggesting that the party could expand its four MLA caucus in the next election. Despite being in the midst of a leadership contest, which ends with a vote on October 18, 2014, the NDP continues to nominate candidates for the next election.

This week the NDP nominated Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Gold Bar and, on September 30, AUPE activist Heather Sweet is expected to be nominated in Edmonton-Manning. Those are both constituencies that the NDP are said to be targeting resources toward for the next election.

While current disenchantment with the PC Party has helped the NDP increase its support in Edmonton, the political environment remains unstable. The next leader of the NDP will need to work hard to ensure that progressive voters do not flock to one conservative party in order to block another conservative party from forming government during the next election.


The NDP is hosting a series of forums with the three leadership candidates across Alberta. The follow events all begin at 7:00 p.m.

Lethbridge, GALT Museum (502 1st Street S)- September 16, 2014

Calgary, Barnsworth Theatre (750 – 9th Avenue SE)- September 17, 2014

Edmonton, Campus St. Jean Auditorium (8406 Rue Anne Gaboury)- October 2, 2014

Can the Alberta NDP win in Calgary?

Rachel Notley NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta

Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley

To describe it as a long-shot is polite, but two Edmonton MLAs running for the leadership of Alberta’s New Democratic Party say that growing support in Calgary is critical. Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley launched her campaign for her party’s leadership at Niko’s Bistro in Kensington this week. And Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen described Alberta’s largest city as ‘unploughed ground’ for the NDP.

David Eggen NDP MLA Leadership Candidate Alberta

Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen

At her Calgary launch, Ms. Notley was introduced by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth, one of the last New Democrats to be elected under that party’s banner in Calgary. Mr. Hawkesworth was elected along with fellow New Democrat Barry Pashak in the 1986 and 1989 elections. Both men were defeated in the 1993 election, along with every other NDP candidate in the province.

The NDP has regained support in Edmonton, earning 21% in the last provincial election, but it has never recovered in Calgary. In the past two provincial elections the NDP earned less than 5% of the total vote in Calgary.

Although the provincial NDP earned 19,942 votes (4%) in Calgary in the 2012 provincial election, the Orange Wave in the 2011 federal election helped that party collect an impressive 51,652 votes in cowtown.

A handful of popular Liberal MLAs – like  David Swann, Kent Hehr, and formerly Harry Chase – have successfully held the progressive (non-PC Party) banner in that city for the past three elections. But a decline in Liberal Party support may open an opportunity for a resurgent NDP looking for gains in Calgary, if the NDP actually work for it.

Back in 2009, I was a freelance writer covering the annual NDP convention. While most delegates were caught up debating constitutional resolutions in a dingy and windowless conference room in downtown Edmonton, the Calgary-Glenmore by-election was heating up.

When I asked an NDP organizer why they hadn’t hired a bus to shuttle the 150 delegates down south for a day to help their candidate (a move that would have been a strong show of support), the individual replied that they were sure the party had it under control. Come election day, Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman narrowly defeated Liberal Avalon Roberts, with Tory Diane Colley-Urquhart placing third and the NDP candidate placed a distant fourth with an insignificant 1.3% of the vote.

Any viable opposition party in Alberta needs to be competitive in the province’s largest city. Even if they are only competitive in a few constituencies, the NDP need to have a presence in Calgary before they can claim to be a true provincial opposition.

NDP could make gains in Lethbridge
This week the NDP nominated researcher Shannon Phillips as their candidate in Lethbridge-West. The NDP hope that with some hard work Ms. Phillips can build on her 2012 results, when she boosted her party’s support to 29%, up from 10% in the 2008 election. Those 2012 results placed Ms. Phillips ahead of the Wildrose candidate and just over 1,000 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick.

A Rural Target?
Last month, the NDP sought to hire a field organizer based in the Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater riding, which is currently represented by controversial Education minister Jeff Johnson.

While the area northeast of Edmonton has not been a hotbed of traditional support, NDP candidate and potential leadership candidate Mandy Melnyk earned 13.7% of the vote in the last election, the NDP’s best result in rural Alberta.