Tag Archives: Brad Wall

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

Nothing new under the Prairie Sun: Brad Wall isn’t the first Saskatchewan politician to get his orders from Calgary

The recent news that Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is flush with cash from Calgary-based corporations is both noteworthy and concerning. Due to that province’s lax political finance laws, the Saskatchewan Party is reported to have received at least $2 million in donations from Alberta-based energy companies since 2006. This is notable considering the Premier’s fierce opposition to the federal government’s plans to fight climate change and his frequent criticisms of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government (a government that has banned corporate donations to political parties).

William Aberhart

William Aberhart

Mr. Wall is not the first Saskatchewan politician to get his financial backing from Calgary. There was a time when the people of Saskatchewan faced another, more literal, political invasion from Alberta.

Seventy-eight years ago, Alberta Premier William Aberhart staged an invasion of Saskatchewan politics.

Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit Party had swept the 1935 Alberta election, going from zero to 56 seats and forming a majority government during the height of the Great Depression. Upon learning of the election victory, the Social Credit Greenshirts in London were reported to have marched around the Bank of England Building holding torches and blowing their trumpets (no doubt inspired by the Battle of Jericho).

During its first decade in government, Mr. Aberhart’s radical administration tried to print its own currency, legislate control over the media, nationalize the banking system and ban alcohol sales.

Major C.H. Douglas

Major C.H. Douglas

Eager to spread the gospel of Major C.H. Douglas and Social Credit theory, Mr. Aberhart’s party propped up a Socred Party in Saskatchewan to contest the June 8, 1938 provincial election. The Alberta Premier viewed Saskatchewan as a beachhead for his party’s expansion across Canada and, eventually, to Ottawa.

While The Battlefords Member of Parliament Joseph Needham was party leader by default, the Saskatchewan Social Credit Party organization in that election was manufactured by Albertans. It was run by Alberta MLA and Provincial Secretary Ernest Manning, who would succeed Mr. Aberhart as Premier in 1943 and serve until his retirement 1968.

Ernest Manning

Ernest Manning

Nearly all of Alberta’s Social Credit MLAs and cabinet ministers hit the hustings in Saskatchewan, spending weeks campaigning for local candidates. Mr. Aberhart spent two weeks on the campaign trail, speaking to rallies across Saskatchewan along with a band of experts in Social Credit theory.

“The outlook in Saskatchewan is very encouraging,” Mr. Aberhart was reported to have said upon a brief return to Alberta in May 1938. “It would appear from the definite interest manifested by the people who gathered in such large numbers that they realize a change is absolutely necessary,” Mr. Aberhart said.

The “troupe from Alberta invading Saskatchewan,” as one Saskatchewan newspaper described them, did not go unnoticed and faced fierce opposition from local political establishment and opponents on both sides of the provincial border.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

The intentions of Social Credit candidates on the ballot were called into question by The Leader-Post, whose editors asked in a June 6 editorial who they would be loyal to if elected. “Will their loyalty be given to the Alberta Premier or to the people of Saskatchewan?,” the editorial asked.

Saskatchewan’s Liberal Minister of Natural Resources, William Franklin Kerr, called Social Credit a disease and claimed that if its candidates were elected those MLAs would represent the Premier of Alberta in the Saskatchewan Legislature.

John Hugill, a former Social Credit Attorney General who had become an outspoken critic of Mr. Aberhart, said in May 1938 that the Alberta Premier “visualizes being the dominant force in the political life of Western Canada as a stepping stone to becoming the Hitler of Canada.”

On the eve of the election, Mr. Aberhart is reported to have spoken to a rally of 5,000 people in the Town of Melville. The rally was policed by party activists, wearing official Social Credit armbands, who tossed out protesters from the event. It is unclear if the armbands were accompanied by official party uniforms. This was 1938 after all.

“Mr. Aberhart and his government are a peril to the people of Alberta. Not only is he a threat to Alberta, but his actions coming into Saskatchewan and disrupting the affairs of neighbouring province has been a menace to Canadian unity,” J.T. Shaw told The Leader-Post in June 1938. Mr. Shaw was a Knight of Columbus who traveled from Calgary to campaign against the spread of the Social Credit menace in Saskatchewan.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

A political cartoon in The Leader-Post in May 1938.

On June 6, the Kerrobert League for Democracy, based in the town of Kerrobert, sent a telegram to the chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asking him to stop Mr. Aberhart’s radio broadcasts into Saskatchewan. “The law prohibits radio broadcasting of political propaganda for certain periods before election days,” the League wrote. “…Premier Aberhart of Alberta took unsportsmanlike advantage of situation by broadcasting his propaganda against Saskatchewan opponents from Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute Sunday…”

Mr. Aberhart earned his nickname, “Bible Bill” from his weekly Christian radio sermons broadcast from the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute in downtown Calgary.

Despite his best efforts, Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credit invasion of Saskatchewan was repelled. The Liberal Party led by Premier William Patterson was re-elected with a reduced majority of 38 seats and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation formed official opposition with 10 seats. The Social Credit Party earned only 15.9 percent of the vote and elected two MLAs.

“The Alberta-run Social Credit election effort in Saskatchewan provided only two Social Credit seats in a fifty-five-seat house… The Social Credit revolution had been stopped at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border,” wrote historian Alvin Finkel in his 1989 book The Social Credit Phenomenon.

The Leader-Post editorial on the day following the election read: “The result is also satisfactory because it means the repulse of an outside government that threw itself into the domestic affairs of a neighboring province and attempted to lure Saskatchewan into adopting a plan of government and economics that has failed signally in Alberta. Mr. Aberhart and his men can now go home and attend to the business of running the province of Alberta, where they will find plenty of work to do. Mr. Aberhart may now cease from his extravagant claims that the people of the west are clamouring for Social Credit.”

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

Notley searches for her Lougheed moment by demanding pipelines for Trudeau’s carbon tax

Demanding the federal government help “break the landlock” and support the construction of oil pipelines from Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips drew a line for Alberta’s support of the Justin Trudeau government’s proposed national carbon pricing plan. In a statement released today, Ms. Notley stated that the Alberta government would not support the federal carbon pricing plan without federal support for increased “energy infrastructure” (a.k.a. oil pipelines).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

There is nothing more Albertan than a good old fashioned political battle between the provincial government and Ottawa over energy issues. Premier Notley may be hoping this standoff could be reminiscent of the heated political disputes that took place between the governments of Premier Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s and 1980s. In the case of Mr. Lougheed, an iconic figure in Alberta politics, political fights with Ottawa can help boost a politician’s popularity at home.

When Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice began casting the New Democratic Party as “extremists” during the 2015 election, Ms. Notley frequently turned to quotes by Mr. Lougheed to support her party’s positions on issues like raising corporate taxes.

Ms. Notley’s NDP have been vocal supporters of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline since she became party leader in 2014. Now, as government, the Alberta NDP’s support for oil pipeline expansion has contributed to an increasingly deep divide between the national and provincial NDP in this province. The national NDP, with strong support in anti-pipeline constituencies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has played a much less supportive role in advocating for Alberta’s oil industry.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The Alberta government’s criticism of the federal government puts Ms. Notley in the company of conservative Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, a constant critic of Ottawa. But unlike Mr. Wall’s government, which has dragged its feet on tackling climate change, Ms. Notley’s government cannot be accused of doing nothing to address climate change. Alberta’s NDP government has led the charge with its flagship ‘Climate Leadership Plan‘ which includes its own carbon tax and an aggressive phasing out of dirty coal-fired power plants.

The Alberta NDP plan enjoys the support of environmental groups and oil and gas industry heavyweights like Cenovus, Suncor, CNRL and Shell.

Meanwhile, opposition groups like the Wildrose Party are literally hoping to rehash the political battles of the 1980s. The official opposition Wildrose Party circulated a meme online today comparing the national carbon tax announcement to the unpopular National Energy Program of the 1980s. The Wildrose Party continues to be fierce critics of the federal Liberals and NDP but party leader Brian Jean has yet to offer any alternative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Ironically, the Wildrose Party’s 2015 election platform proposes to “Ensure Alberta’s standards for CO2 emissions and pollutants are in line with national and international standards.” This statement was written during a time when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister and a national climate change plan was nowhere on the agenda. It is amazing how quickly politics can change in a short seventeen months.

Breaking the landlock,’ which I predict will become the latest political buzzword, is analogous to the “bitumen bubble” that former premier Alison Redford warned Albertans of in a televised address in 2014. Both buzzwords are part of a public campaign to build pipelines that would presumably allow for easier export of Alberta’s oil, and allow the private companies exporting the oil to sell Western Canadian Select at a lower discount rate than in previous years. This probably would not make a significant difference to Alberta until the international price of oil rebounds.

Over the past year, Ms. Notley has shown her willingness to work with Mr. Trudeau on a wide-range of issues. This may have led the Prime Minister to expect he would find an ally in Ms. Notley in his bid to implement a national carbon pricing plan. But by attaching strings to Alberta’s support for a national carbon pricing plan, Ms. Notley is playing a political game that could pay out political dividends at home. In a fight between the Alberta government and Ottawa, as Mr. Lougheed discovered, you can bet that nine times out of ten, Albertans will side with Edmonton.


Here is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in the House of Commons today announcing the national carbon pricing plan:

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

A Timeline of Derek Fildebrandt’s bizarre “suspension” from Wildrose

The Wildrose Party was not one big happy family this week. Albertans might be confused about what exactly happened between Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Finance critic Derek Fildebrandt.

It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.

Brian Jean

Brian Jean

Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.

An outspoken critic and a fierce partisan, Mr. Fildebrandt has been a opponent of nearly everything the New Democratic Party government has proposed since it formed government in 2015. But the second highest profile MLA in the opposition benches has also attracted his share of controversy.

Here’s the timeline of what has become a fascinating internal struggle for power inside Alberta’s Wildrose Party:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was a guest at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Official Opposition Finance critic Mr. Fildebrandt attacked her record as premier as she sat in the Speaker’s Gallery. In reference to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall,  Mr. Fildebrandt shouted “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall at Premier Rachel Notley as she tried to answer a question during Question Period. Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Ms. Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper

Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”  Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.

Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne

Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ronda Klemmensen, President of Mr.Fildebrandt’s Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose constituency association spoke out against the suspension. Ms. Klemmensen was backed by the Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose constituency association and at least five other associations that wrote letters in support of Mr. Fildebrandt. Lakeland Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs posts a comment on Facebook in support of Mr. Fildebrandt.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calgary-Shepard Conservative MP Tom Kmeic tweeted his support for Mr. Fildebrandt.

CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.

Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.

The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.

Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley saidwith respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”

AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga suggested that Mr. Jean may have violated the Wildrose Party constitution by how Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.

A sunny day on the campus of University of California, Berkeley.

Keystone XL is dead. New government means climate change back on the agenda.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Having enjoyed the last week in the sunny Berkeley, California, it felt odd to turn on the car radio to hear the local disc jockeys discussing the tarsands and the merits of a pipeline that would pump unrefined bitumen from Canada to Texas. Being one of the most liberal areas in the U.S. – there were more than a few cars sporting “Bernie Sanders 2016″ bumper stickers – the discussion revolved around climate change and the environmental impact of the tarsands.

So, to the shock of no one who was paying attention, American President Barack Obama rejected the TransCanada corporation’s application for the cross-border permit needed to link the Keystone XL pipeline across the Canada-United States border.

It had become clear over the past few years that the project was unlikely to be approved by the American President. While counter-messages from the oil industry and environmental groups set the tone internationally, opposition to the pipeline by a handful of rural landowners in Nebraska is what ended up tying the pipeline project in the courts.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

While the rejection of Keystone XL represents a victory for the projects opponents, it also represents a failure of Canadian foreign policy. For the past decade, the federal and provincial governments have been subsidizing TransCanada by spending significant amount of time and resources providing public funding for the pipeline through lobbying activities.

Elected officials like former Premier Alison Redford and her cabinet ministers were essentially publicly-funded lobbyists as they travelled to the U.S. dozens of times to advocate for Keystone XL and other oil industry projects. The decision by Jim Prentice to appoint well-connected Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield to the post of Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. was supposed to give a boost to the government’s pipeline lobbying goals (he was later dismissed by Premier Rachel Notley). And the government led by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was reported to have paid at least $3 million to lobbyists in Washington D.C.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which was rejected by Canadians on Oct. 19, had arguably been the most pro-oil industry administration we have seen in decades. But instead of trying to build a national consensus in favour of projects like Keystone XL, the Conservative government demonized opposition to the pipelines in Canada. Opponents of Bill C-51 claimed that new spy laws passed by the former Conservative government with support from the Liberals could target Canadian citizens who oppose the expansion of oil pipelines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared his support for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in a speech to the Calgary Petroleum Club in October 2013 while also criticizing the Conservative government’s approach to lobbying for the pipeline in Washington D.C. “They have poked and prodded, annoyed and irritated the Obama administration at every turn. Largely, I suspect, because they don’t know how to work with people who don’t share their ideology,” Mr. Trudeau told Calgary’s oil elite.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

While Mr. Trudeau has not publicly supported TransCanada’s other major pipeline project, the Energy East pipeline, new Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr faces a challenging task of managing the interprovincial politics of pipelines. An Energy East pipeline that would would pump oil from Alberta to port terminals in New Brunswick or Quebec, keeping jobs in Canada, was endorsed by Ms. Notley and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant last month.

The appointment of Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and former environment minister Stephane Dion as Minister of Foreign Affairs signals that the new federal government may not be as singularly focused on pipelines as the previous government. Mr. Dion is well versed in environmental policy after serving as environment minister from 2004 to 2006 and spearheading the Green Shift policy while leading the Liberal opposition in the 2008 election.

Catherine McKenna

Catherine McKenna

One of the new federal government’s first major tasks will be to bring its ideas to address climate change to COP21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, being held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, France. Ms. McKenna will be advised by a strong Alberta voice in these matters, with former Pembina Institute executive director Marlo Reynolds, a Canmore, Alberta resident, as her chief of staff.

Ms. Notley and Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips will also be attending the conference in Paris.

The Pembina Institute may have spotted one of the biggest changes that the rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL signifies for Canada’s new foreign relations and energy strategies. In a statement released yesterday, Alberta director Simon Dyer said the “decision by President Obama reiterates that climate change is a key consideration for all energy infrastructure projects going forward.”

Notley should avoid getting dragged into oilsands election trap

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

When Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper claimed on the campaign trail last week that Alberta’s new government was “a disaster,” Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci calmly and cautiously responded.

But when Mr. Harper again criticized Alberta’s new government during a brief stop in Edmonton this week, Mr. Ceci delivered a sharply worded response criticizing the federal Conservatives eight consecutive years of budget deficits.

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

The decision to stay out of the personal fight was typical of Ms. Notley, who already demonstrated her ability to fly above the political fray when Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall attempted to goad her into a political war of words last month.

Mr. Harper’s bluster is a sign of larger problems for the Ottawa Conservatives across Canada. Nationally, they are in a three-way race with the NDP and Liberals. Provincially, the political environment in Alberta has undergone a seismic shift and the Conservatives no longer have natural allies sitting in government in Edmonton.

Should Notley respond to McQuaig?
Linda McQuaig Oilsands Alberta

Linda McQuaig

Acting as if the topic of natural resource policy should be taboo in election campaigns, Conservative politicians and columnists have wasted no time pilling on Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig and other NDP and Liberal candidates for comments made about Canada’s oil sands .

Ms. McQuaig is known for her strong opinions about Canada’s natural resources, she should not be demonized for staking a position in the public debate (well-known public deviants such as former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and former Premier Peter Lougheed also questioned the speed of growth and environmental impact of oil development).

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

While support for the oilsands and pipeline construction is high in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is significant public opposition in other parts of Canada.

A lax approach to environmental concerns has cost Alberta in political currency and a visceral reaction to these criticisms will not help build a successful public case for oilsands expansion and pipeline construction across Canada.

Having already described the oilsands as a “tremendous public asset,” Ms. Notley should not get caught in the trap of rebutting every political candidate or commenter who criticizes the province’s natural resource track record. The appointment of an expert panel to recommend a new approach to climate change has the potential to have a more positive impact on public opinion.

But what Ms. McQuaig’s comments do suggest is that a future divide between elements of the federal NDP and Ms. Notley’s provincial NDP over the future of natural resource development is almost inevitable. And when it comes to national debates about energy, Albertans will rally behind their Premier, regardless of who sits in office in Ottawa.

Alberta PIpelines

Notley strikes a collaborative tone in Canada’s pipeline debate

This week’s Council of the Federation meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland marked Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s first appearance on the national stage since the NDP won a stunning victory in the May 5, 2015 provincial election. The new premier used the meeting to strike a more collaborative tone than her Conservative predecessors, who sometimes appeared more interested in chest-thumping than negotiating with their counterparts from other provinces.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Taking a different approach raised the ire of one of Ms. Notley’s staunchest conservative critics, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Mr. Wall lashed out against Ms. Notley for her willingness to negotiate with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard over the TransCanada corporation’s Energy East pipeline.

Three weeks ago, Mr. Couillard told reporters that he saw little economic value for his province from the Energy East pipeline. He was not alone in this opinion. Two-thirds of Quebecois are opposed to that pipeline, according to one poll released in late 2014. This opposition is likely the reason why Mr. Couillard laid out some potential conditions related to climate change and environmental issues in exchange for his support of the pipeline going through his province.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

Mr. Couillard may have opposed the pipeline without a compromise and may still oppose it, but Ms. Notley has succeeded in keeping the dialogue open.

Like every other premier sitting around the table at this week’s meeting, Ms. Notley, Mr. Couillard and Mr. Wall have their own political agendas in mind.

While conservatives have fallen over themselves praising Mr. Wall as a voice for Canada’s oil industry, we should not believe for a moment that he has Alberta’s best interests in mind. In the days after Albertans elected Ms. Notley’s government on May 5, Mr. Wall and his ministers were inviting the oil industry to abandon Alberta and move east to Saskatchewan.

If you believe Mr. Wall that compromise on national issues is not acceptable, remember that he has asked the rest of Canada for concessions in the past, most recently when Saskatchewan agreed to sign on to the National Securities Regulator in 2014.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

The premiers signed on to a Canadian Energy Strategy, which could be an important first step in national cooperation but does not approve pipelines or targets to reduce carbon emissions. As long as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative government refuse to participate in these meetings, there is only so much that can be achieved.

What is clear is that previous strategies used by Alberta premiers to promote expansion of pipelines from Alberta’s oilsands has fallen flat. And with this week’s major oil pipeline leak in northern Alberta, critics and opponents of pipeline expansion to change their minds without assurances of stricter environmental regulations.

Compromise and negotiation should be part of politics in any democratic country. On any controversial projects, like cross-Canada pipeline expansion, it should be expected that local political realities in provinces and First Nations will slow, or block, attempts to force through industrial projects.

Alberta’s poor environmental record has helped fuel opposition to the oilsands and the proposed pipelines that would carry our natural resources to ports in all directions. Our province’s status as a national laggard on environmental issues is a big reason Ms. Notley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips announced last month that University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach would lead a panel to recommend a new climate change plan for Alberta.

With a new government, Alberta has an opportunity to show our critics, through collaboration, negotiation and action, that strong leadership on economic and environmental issues are not mutually exclusive. That would be a refreshing change.

Premier Rachel Notley (centre) and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason (right) announce that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge (left) will advise the new government. (Photo Credit to premierofalberta on Flickr)

Notley NDP waste no time implementing popular progressive agenda in former conservative heartland

Banning corporate and union donations: Check.
Restoring funding to health, education and human services: Check.
Increasing corporate taxes: Check.
Introducing a new climate change strategy: Coming soon.
Phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage: Coming soon.
Reviewing Alberta’s natural resource royalty framework: Coming soon.

Progress is the order of business in Canada’s so-called Conservative heartland as Premier Rachel Notley’s newly elected Alberta NDP government begins implementing the main promises from their winning election platform. Leaders of the previous PC regime, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, styled themselves as Progressive Conservatives, their actions rarely matched their words. The NDP proposed a fairly moderate progressive agenda and it is refreshing to see it take action so quickly after the election.

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Marg McCuaig Boyd

Revenue and tax reform was a big issue before and during the recent election, with Mr. Prentice and the opposition argued over how best to remove Alberta from the oil revenue roller coaster. It remains clear that Alberta cannot continue to rely on revenues generated from oil and gas royalties to fund the provincial operating budget. Both the PCs and NDP proposed tax increases in the recent election, but Mr. Prentice’s refusal to increase corporate taxes, even symbolically, was a huge miscalculation.

While conservatives preach doom and gloom, our province still has corporate and personal tax rates lower than when Ralph Klein was premier, no provincial sales tax, and huge reserves of oil and gas. Alberta will now have the same corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous

But there is still plenty more for the new government to do. Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier should extend protections to farmworkers injured on the job. Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous should follow calls from Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Michael Janz to reform municipal election finance laws. And the province can do much more to clean up provincial election laws, something that a new all-party committee will be tasked to do soon (and they should consider adopting some of the amendments made by Wildrose MLAs during recent debates in the Legislature).

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

Apologizing for previous governments lack of action to stop residential schools and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was absolutely the right step to take but action needs to follow. Justice and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley needs to show through government policy that this apology is more than just political posturing.

The government also announced it will soon take action to improve Alberta’s record of poor environmental management and lack of action of climate change, which has helped fuel international opposition to pipeline expansion and the oil sands. On climate change, the PCs lost the public relations battle years ago. Now the challenge will fall to Ms. Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips and Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd to win the policy war on climate change.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

I do not have enough room in this post to even begun to discuss the challenges facing Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Education Minister David Eggen (which will be included in a series of future posts).

As the new government moves forward with what in most other provinces would be considered a moderate progressive agenda, Canada’s conservative outrage industry is gearing up its attacks on the Alberta’s new government.

Talking heads like Ezra Levant are fuelling the paranoia of right-wing fringe conservatives afraid we are witnessing a Red Dawn-style communistic coup (federal Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte and Wildrose MLAs Drew Barnes and Rick Strankman were among the registered spectators at one of Mr. Levant’s travelling circus shows). And recent opinion editorials by critics like conservative economist Jack Mintz, who suggested Alberta could be the next Greece, have verged on the bizarre.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Ms. Notley and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason moved quickly to quell criticism of their fiscal plan by announcing last week that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge will be advising the Premier on infrastructure investment issues. Hiring Mr. Dodge is a smart move and shows a willingness to bring in talent from outside traditional NDP circles.

Aside from the angry conservatives, the new government appears to still enjoy popular support from Albertans, who tossed out the scandal-ridden and tone deaf Tories on May 5. Recent polling shows Ms. Notley, still in her honeymoon period, enjoying the approval of 53% of Albertans, making her the second most popular premier in Canada next to Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall.

The NDP need to be careful not to cut short their honeymoon by making small mistakes. They have already faced criticism for hiring too many provincial outsiders and the media is poking around the perceived influence of Ms. Notley’s husband. These are minor issues that I am sure most Albertans will look past today but the small mistakes can pile up quickly if the new government is not careful.

If the NDP can continue to limit their missteps, focus on implementing their popular platform, and remember why Albertans endorsed Ms. Notley’s charismatic leadership, they will enjoy a warm welcome on the summer political barbecue and parade circuit.

Five ways to save the Senate of Canada

Save the Canadian Senate

Is the Senate of Canada broken? And if so, is it worth saving? Here are the positions held by Canada’s federal political parties:

1) Abolish the Senate
The New Democratic Party of Canada, the official opposition since 2011, are staunchly in favour of entirely abolishing the Senate of Canada. “Unelected party hacks have no place writing or rewriting the laws of this country. It’s as simple as that,” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters in August 2013. Saskatchewan’s conservative premier Brad Wall is also in favour of abolishing the Senate.

It is unclear how the NDP would actually implement the abolition of the Senate if the party ever formed government in Ottawa.

2) Elect the Senate
Elected, equal and effective was the Triple-E proposal supported by the now-defunct Reform Party of Canada.  Alberta is the only province to have ever held Senate nominee elections (in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012). Typically coinciding with provincial or municipal elections, the Senate elections are a sideshow that have received little attention from the media or the general public. The Senate nominee candidates have run as provincial party candidates. Five elected nominees have been appointed to the Senate by prime ministers since 1990.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative Party of Canada proposed legislation that could shorten terms in office and move towards provincially elected senators in 2006. The legislation was stalled and  the Conservative have since asked the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion on the Senate reform proposals.

3) Panel-appointed independent Senate
Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau announced this week that he had removed all 32 Liberal senators from the party’s national caucus. The justification for doing so was to make the Senate less partisan and to eliminate patronage. Mr. Trudeau suggested that a non-partisan panel select new appointees to the Senate.

4) Proportional representation Senate
The Green Party of Canada passed a motion at their 2010 convention which supports the election of senators through a system that ensures proportional representation. While the policy is not specific, it could be referring to the electoral system used to elected members to the Australian Senate.

5) The status-quo Senate
In practice, the Governor General makes appointments to the Senate at the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Senators must be citizens of Canada and at least thirty years of age to be eligible for appointment to the Senate. They must maintain residency in the provinces or territories for which they are appointed and can only serve until the age of seventy-five.

While prominent Canadians have been appointed to the Senate, they overshadowed by the long-list of party loyalists who have been rewarded with appointments by various Conservative and Liberal prime ministers. Mr. Harper has appointed 51 of the 96 current senators since the Conservatives formed government in 2006 (there are currently 9 vacancies in the Senate).

The ghosts of senate reform haunt the Harper Conservatives

Stephen Harper Senate Conservatives Reform

Howling “RREEEEFFFOOOORRRRMMMM,” the ghosts of the Reform Party stumble towards the Conservative Party Convention in Calgary (Yes, this is a photo of zombies, but ghosts don’t stumble).

The ghosts of Senate reform will haunt Prime Minister Stephen Harper as his party establishment gathers in Calgary on Halloween to discuss and debate party policy. After more than seven years in office, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have accomplished little on the issue of reforming the Canadian Senate.

Who would have thought that a Senate scandal involving Conservative appointees could potentially be one of the defining stories of Mr. Harper’s third-term as Prime Minister? Was Mr. Harper not the Prime Minister who vowed to reform Canada’s archaic upper house of Parliament?

While the federal Conservatives had hoped to end this particular Senate scandal with the announcement of a new free trade agreement with the European Union and a consumer-first agenda, the wrath of Conservative Senators scorned has dominated the headlines.

After being ejected from Conservative Party ranks, Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau, all appointed by Mr. Harper, have proven to be incredibly dangerous liabilities. Accused of improper spending and expenses, the three former Conservatives have turned on their former party and are drawing national attention to alleged improper activities of Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Senate reform was a defining policy for the now defunct Reform Party of Canada and a historical grievance that many western Conservatives hoped would finally be resolved when the Canadian Alliance (the Reform Party’s rebranded name) merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. While the crusade for a Triple-E Senate (equal, elected and effective) helped propel the Reform Party onto the national stage in the early 1990s, there does not appear to be much political appetite for this type of reform among Canada’s political leaders.

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Harper has appointed at least 52 of the Senate’s 106 members, including many failed Conservative party candidates or close associates of the Prime Minister. Despite his claims that he would approach the Senate differently, Mr. Harper has proven by his actions that he is not much different than Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin.

In Alberta, the only province to have held elections for Senate nominees, the votes have attracted low levels of attention and there is no indication that the upper chamber is more effective with the three current elected nominees that have been appointed.

Popular Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, seen by many as a potential successor to Mr. Harper, announced today that his government will revoke its support for Senate nominee election in favour of supporting abolishment of the Senate. This positions Mr. Wall alongside Official Opposition NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has embraced NDP’s long-standing position that the Senate should be abolished.

The Reform Party’s first leader, Preston Manning, in his role as the godfather of Canada’s conservatives, will today be hosting an all-day Manning Foundation symposium on the future of the Senate. Speakers will include Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre, former Alberta MLA Ted Morton,  retired Liberal Senator Dan Hays, Calgary School chieftains Tom Flanagan and Rainer Knopff, and former Senator-nominee turned Wildrose Party candidate Link Byfield. This and other Manning Foundation events will coincide with official Conservative Party events in Calgary this weekend.

Provincial NDP take Lethbridge

Meanwhile, in southern Alberta, provincial New Democrats will gather this weekend for their annual convention  in Lethbridge. Delegates will hear from NDP strategist Anne McGrath and Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

At the annual meeting, NDP leader Brian Mason will not face a leadership review, but his party activists will debate some changes to party operations. One topic of debate will be whether the party holds annual conventions or moves to biennial conventions. Party members are also expected to debate whether the Labour movement should have two vice-presidents represented on the party’s executive council.

Most of the province outside of Edmonton is bleak for the social democratic party, but Lethbridge has provided a glimmer of hope that the NDP plan to build on. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP saw their support double to 27% and in the 2012 provincial election, Lethbridge-West candidate Shannon Phillips placed a strong second in a three-way race won by PC MLA Greg Weadick.

Wildrose can grow from Tory seeds of doubt

Do you drain a Lake of Fire or do you dam it?

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Whatever it takes, Wildrose Party activists are expected to moderate the tone of their policies at their weekend policy convention in the booming central Alberta city of Red Deer. A delicate and sometimes shaky coalition of libertarians and social conservatives (among other groups), Alberta’s official opposition party will learn from the mistakes they made in the 2012 election. On the cusp of victory, offensive remarks made by social conservative candidates in Calgary and Edmonton scared many moderate Albertans to support the long-governing Progressive Conservatives at the ballot box.

Since forming the official opposition with 17 MLAs, Ms. Smith has led a disciplined front-bench that has in many cases driven the government’s agenda, or at the least frustrated government ministers unaccustomed to their aggressive style. Implementing tactics used by the Ottawa Conservatives, the Wildrose have been relentless in their opposition to the forty-two year old governing PC Party.

Fighting back against the Wildrose, or at least trying to, Tory environment minister Diana McQueen emerged from her legislature office yesterday to attack Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s position on climate change. While Ms. Smith’s party is undoubtably weak on environmental issues, especially on the important climate change file, the Tory government’s environmental record is not much better. While the Alberta government is doing more on this file than it has in a decade, its plan appears to be propped up by snippets of truth and focus group tested sound bites.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

The Wildrose are looking for second chances and there is opportunity for them. With drastic cuts to education and post-secondary education, constant political meddling in the health care system and fears that public sector pension changes may negatively impact the retirement prospects of hundreds of thousands of Albertans, Alison Redford’s Tories threaten to alienate the electoral coalition of moderate voters (including many former Liberal voters) who helped them narrowly win re-election. Shooting from their hips (and frequently missing their targets), cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, and Doug Griffiths often confuse their own confidence with arrogance. The Tories do not give any impression that they were humbled by their near-defeat in last year’s election.

Some Tories may point to the electoral success of Premier Ralph Klein following his drastic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but this is a very different political environment, and I am sure that most Albertans would agree that Ms. Redford is no Mr. Klein.

A recent poll from Leger Marketing, for what it’s worth three years before the next election, shows Ms. Redford’s and Ms. Smith’s parties competing with mid-30 percent range support. The poll also shows that more than half of Albertans disagree with the government’s performance, but the Wildrose’s support in the polls suggests voters have not settled on an alternative.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

This weekend and over the next three years, the Wildrose Party could look to Saskatchewan for inspiration. Stalled for years in the opposition benches, the conservative Saskatchewan Party undertook a move to modernize its image and policies when Brad Wall became the party leader in 2004. The unruly coalition of Tories and Liberals led by a former Reform Party MP had been unable to defeat the institutionalized New Democrats, who dominated in that province’s major cities. Under the smart and savvy Mr. Wall, the Sask Party modernized, and slowly began to encroach into NDP held urban constituencies.

After his party finally defeated in NDP in 2007, the conservative Mr. Wall has become one of Canada’s most popular provincial leaders. Like the NDP did to the Sask Party, and the Tories did to the Wildrose in 2012, Albertans can expect to be berated by rounds of “ooga booga, the Wildrose is scary” ads in the next election. The part that will be missing from those ads is that many, if not most, current Wildrose supporters were sitting comfortably in the Tory camp until about three years ago.

Wildrose success is not entirely about policy. Planting the seeds of doubt in Ms. Redford’s ability to run an honest government will also be key to the Wildrose Party’s success in the next election. Ms. Redford’s tendency to avoid controversy by hiding the truth or bending the facts is something that many political watchers have noted. Her office’s decision to block requests to release details of more than $2 million in severance packages given to former premier’s office staffers planted one seed of doubt. Her actions, her words, and people she surrounds herself have planted others. Two bad seeds that might not go away, controversial former PC MLAs Mike Allen and Peter Sandhu, are expected to apply for re-entry into the Government Caucus.

And the Wildrose do not just need Tory voters to vote for them, they also need former New Democrat and Liberal voters to return to their prior allegiances (a key reason behind Ms. Smith’s province-wide debate tour with NDP leader Brian Mason).

So, it’s clear the Wildrose needs to moderate the tone of their policies to attract new voters, but they can also benefit greatly from the seeds of doubt that the Redford Tories appear to be planting each week.

J’accuse! Thomas Mulcair’s treason and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

"Treason" was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

“Treason” was one of the accusations used against NDP leader Thomas Mulcair after be voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C.

The rhetoric is running high this week with President Barack Obama expected to soon decide the fate of the controversial TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.

In Washington D.C. last week, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair criticized the pipeline that would ship bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Texas. Mr. Mulcair also took the opportunity to criticize the deconstruction of Canada’s environmental regulations by Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government and told the media that the pipeline would export jobs from Cnaada and would pose a threat to our country’s energy security. Mr. Muclair’s treasonous words were printed in the National Post:

“According to object studies, Keystone represents the export of 40,000 jobs and we think that is a bad thing for Canada,” Mulcair said in an interview. “We have never taken care of our energy security. We tend to forget that a 10-year supply to the U.S. is a 100-year supply to Canada. We are still going to need the energy supply to heat our homes and run our factories, whether it comes from the oilsands or it comes in the from natural gas. Fossil fuels are always going to be part of the mix.”

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair

If you do not find these words abhorrent and treasonous, you may be surprised by the whiplash reaction from Mr. Mulcair’s political opponents.

In Alberta, where a political consensus is tilting towards approval of the pipeline, Premier Alison Redford took to the floor of the Legislative Assembly to attack Mr. Mulcair and NDP leader Brian Mason for their opposition to the pipeline.

Treason” was the word Mark Cooper, the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister’s Press Secretary, used on twitter this week to describe the NDP position on the pipeline. While his tweet should be taken somewhat in jest, that word set the tone for the pipeline debate this week.

On the floor of the Assembly, Energy Minister Ken Hughes criticized the NDP by boasting about having created a  “coalition of the willing” in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Minister Hughes’ comment was an unfortunate reference to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which marked its ten year anniversary this week.

Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes

Mr. Mason was more than happy to pull quotes from recently deceased former Premier Peter Lougheed, who voiced his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in favour of refining bitumen in Alberta. This happens to be close to the NDP position.

This is not a clear left/right issue. Prominent labour unions, including the AFL-CIO in the United States, have voiced their support for the pipeline for the jobs it would create in the bitumen refineries in Texas. Pipeline critics, like Alberta Federation of Labour‘s Gil McGowan, argue that refining oilsands bitumen in Alberta would create more jobs in-province.

Also joining the debate is former Premier Ed Stelmach, who spoke in favour of local refining today telling the Edmonton Journal “…it is in our interest to promote as much pipeline capacity as possible to move products to existing markets, and of course, new markets. But to close that differential in price, we need to sell a higher-value product.”

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

To the east in Saskatchewan, the partisan divide over the Keystone XL Pipeline in not so sharp. Premier Brad Wall, the province’s most popular leader since Tommy Douglas, has trumpeted the benefits the Keystone XL Pipeline could bring to Canadian and American economies. His main opponent, newly selected Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten, has broken from his NDP colleagues and given his timid support for the pipeline’s construction.

The Alberta government purchased a $30,000 advertisement in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. While widely read, the ad was meant to respond to an anti-Keystone XL editorial widely circulated on the internet. The factual arguments made by the Alberta Government in the ad will likely fall flat in this highly emotional debate. While the ad generated significant earned media in Alberta, this one-time ad-buy will likely have little impact on the large debate happening in the United States.

Recognizing that Conservative Parties are seen by many Canadians as ‘weak’ on the environmental issues related to pipeline construction, the Conservative movement is putting significant energy toward finding the key messaging needed to convince Canadians otherwise.

At last week’s Preston Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa, speakers presented their analysis of the Oilsands Pipeline debate. As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, “the most creative minds in Canadian conservatism are applying their brainpower to moving forward pipeline projects – extending from Alberta, the centre of their political and economic universe, to all points of the compass.”

More on this later.

ndp and liberals searching for a pulse on the prairies.

You can be forgiven if you missed it. Hundreds of Liberals from across Alberta gathered in Edmonton last weekend for the biennial meeting of the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta.

Bob Rae

Bob Rae

Speakers and guests at the weekend conference included interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, Scarborough-Agincourt MP Jim Karygiannis, and Senators Grant Mitchell, Art Eggleton, and James Cowan. One of the main guest speakers was Donna Clare, the Edmonton-based architect who designed the new Royal Alberta Museum.

Electing only two MPs in the three prairie provinces, the west was a wasteland for the federal Liberal Party in the 2011 election. Only in Manitoba, where the party earned 16% of the vote did they place above 10% (they earned 9% in Alberta and 8% in Saskatchewan). While the west has not been a bastion of Liberal support for at least two generations, this level of support is far below the average support earned over the 1990s and 2000s.

The decline in support can also be seen at the provincial level.

With 5 MLAs and 10% support in this year’s provincial election, the Alberta Liberals are the strongest of any prairie Liberal Parties. In the November 2011 election, the Saskatchewan Liberals failed to elect any MLAs for the third election in a row and only earned 0.5% of the popular vote. In Manitoba’s election, held in October 2011, the Liberals fell from 2 MLAs to 1 MLA and earned only 7% of the province-wide vote.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

Leadership was undoubtably a topic of discussion over the weekend conference. Next year, the federal Liberal Party will be choosing its seventh leader in ten years. Interim-leader Mr. Rae, who entered the role after Michael Ignatieff‘s resignation in 2011 election, recently announced that he decided to stand by his previous commitment not to seek the permanent leadership.

The rate at which Justin Trudeau is being touted as a leadership contender makes his candidacy feel almost inevitable. Long-shot candidate George Takach was in attendance at the weekend convention and constitutional expert Deborah Coyne entered the race today. Liberals activists I have spoken with over the past few days have named New Brunswick MP Dominic Leblanc, Quebec MP Marc Garneau, former Quebec MP Martin Cauchon, and past Ontario candidate David Bertschi all as possible candidates for the Liberal Party leadership.

Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan…

A little further to the east, supporters of the provincial NDP gathered in Saskatchewan for their annual conference and passed a resolution calling for a strategy to grow their party in the three prairie provinces. The conference included speeches from federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who has not endeared himself to some Conservative leaders in the prairie provinces.

Brad Wall

Brad Wall

The popularity of conservative Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall led to the provincial NDP being nearly wiped off the electoral map during last year’s Saskatchewan election. Currently without a permanent leader, the Saskachewan NDP have scheduled a leadership vote to be held in March 2013.

The decline of NDP support in Saskatchewan is not limited to the provincial level. Once a stronghold for prairie social democrats, federal NDP support in Saskatchewan took a sharp decline in the 1990s and the party no longer has any MPs from that province represented in Ottawa.

Over time, support for the NDP has shifted away from rural areas and to the cities. This concentrated urban support has not helped the NDP in Saskatchewan, where urban federal ridings were redrawn to include large rural areas outside the cities, where the Conservatives hold strong support. Despite leading his party to huge gains across the country, I am sure that former leader Jack Layton‘s address in central Toronto did not help grow his party’s support in rural Saskatchewan. It will be interesting to see whether the NDP under Mr. Mulcair, another big city politician, will be able to regain a toe-hold in Saskatchewan in the next election.

Across the prairies, the NDP remains strong only in Manitoba, where dominance over the northern regions and the city of Winnipeg ensures the continued election of NDP majority governments in that province. In Alberta, NDP support has long been limited to a handful of constituencies in Edmonton, where the party has 4 MLAs. Federally, the NDP placed well in a few Edmonton ridings, and Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncanwas re-elected in 2011.

A photo of Shannon Phillips Alberta NDP Candidate in Lethbridge-East.

Shannon Phillips

A creed known as the Lethbridge Declaration is gaining attention in some NDP circles by those who recognize the need to reconnect with voters in the prairie provinces. It is not completely clear how they will accomplish this, but looking to the declaration’s name-sake gives long-toiling social democrats a glimpse of hope in the Conservative Party’s prairie stronghold.

The NDP experienced significant growth in support in Lethbridge in the recent federal and provincial elections. It may seem like the most unlikeliest of places, but federal candidate Mark Sandilands earned 27% of the vote, nearly doubling his vote from the 2008 election (the Conservative vote dropped 10% from 2008).

In the recent provincial election, Shannon Phillips tripled her party’s support in Lethbridge-West, coming within 7% of defeating incumbent Progressive Conservative MLA Greg Weadick.

life after dutch disease: thomas mulcair to visit alberta on may 31.

Thomas Mulcair Edmonton Alberta January 2011

Thomas Mulcair

After weeks of warring words about the economic influence of Western Canadian oilsands development on the crumbling Central Canadian manufacturing sector, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair will visit Alberta on May 31 to meet with business and political leaders. This will be Mr. Mulcair’s first visit to Alberta since being selected as his party’s leader in March (he visited Alberta at least once during the NDP leadership contest).

In a media release distributed this morning, provincial NDP leader Brian Mason was quoted as saying “Tom and I had a conversation over the phone a couple of days ago, and I invited him to come to Alberta. I’m pleased that he agreed to come.”

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

Mr. Mulcair’s comments that “Dutch Disease,” caused by Western natural resource development, is to blame for Central Canadian economic woes drew harsh criticism from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Premier Redford accused the Official Opposition leader of being “wrong and misinformed” on the issue. Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Diana McQueen accused Mr. Mulcair of “old-style politics — trying to pit one part of the country against another.” (on another note, Minister McQueen admitted today that Alberta has likely missed its greenhouse gas reduction targets).

Earlier this year, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also publicly mused that the high Canadian dollar, caused as a results of Western natural resource development, was hurting Ontario’s economy.

The federal NDP currently have only one Member of Parliament from Alberta and it is likely that Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan will play a prominent role in Mr. Mulcair’s day-trip to Alberta. During the recent provincial election, a number of NDP MP’s, including Olivia ChowJack HarrisNiki Ashton, and Peter Julian, visited the province to campaign alongside their provincial colleagues.

While the provincial NDP recently made electoral gains in Edmonton, doubling their caucus from 2 to 4 MLA’s, the party still faces tough criticism for perceived anti-oilsands positions. During the campaign, Mr. Mason argued that Alberta’s economy would benefit from building bitumen refineries in-province rather than shipping unrefined product internationally through pipelines and ocean tankers.

Linda Duncan NDP MP Edmonton-Strathcona

Linda Duncan

Mr. Mulcair’s visit will take place only days after the Premiers of Canada’s western provinces and territories meet in Edmonton for the Western Premiers’ Conference. The annual meeting is being held on May 29 at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald in Edmonton.

While Mr. Mulcair’s comments will be a topic of small chat amongst the Premier’s and their staff, the topic of pipelines and international markets will likely be a hot topic on the agenda. As the only current NDP leader in government in western Canada, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger might be the closest person Mr. Mulcair has as an ally at this meeting.

Faced with plummeting poll numbers, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has expressed concern about the shipment of oilsands bitumen using the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern BC. Riding high at 50% in the polls, BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix is opposed to the proposed Enbridge pipeline and is assembling a legal team to halt its construction.

 

can thomas muclair’s ndp win in western canada?

Thomas Mulcair Edmonton Alberta January 2011

Thomas Mulcair

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair talked his way into inevitable criticism of the oil sands this past weekend. Speaking on CBC Radio’s The House, Mr. Mulcair suggested that the development of the oil sands is contributing to a strong Canadian dollar, and thus hurting the industrial manufacturing sector in other provinces (also known as “Dutch Disease“).

The comments earned harsh criticism from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Calgary economist Jack Mintz pointed out that the manufacturing industry malaise in Central Canada and the Mid-West United States has less to do with the western provinces and is almost entirely a result of an automotive industry that failed to compete with its international competitors.

The natural resource wealth in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the shift of political power westward may redefine Canadian politics in the next decade. The industrial base in the oil sands is driving the national economy and poses a great challenge to the traditional economic dominance of Ontario and Quebec, where the NDP found the majority of its political support in the May 2011 federal election.

Speaking from his experience as a provincial cabinet minister in Quebec, I must believe that Mr. Mulcair has a better grasp of economic issues than even most of our federal politicians. Realistically, it probably would not have mattered what Mr. Mulcair said about the oil sands. Had Mr. Mulcair said he liked the oil sands, his Conservative critics would have decried him for not declaring his love for the oil sands.

Tommy-Douglas-NDP

Not your grandfather's NDP.

Mr. Mulcair’s NDP faces a number of political challenges in preparation for the 2015 election, including expanding its support between the British Columbia and Ontario boundaries, where the party elected only three Members of Parliament in the last federal election. For the past twenty-years, the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance, and now the Conservative Party of Canada led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper have held an electoral monopoly over the region.

The federal NDP base of support in Western Canada, which sent strong contingents of New Democrats to Ottawa in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, was weakened due to changing electoral boundaries and evaporated after finding itself on the unpopular side of wedge issues successfully leveraged by Conservative parties in rural areas. In 2011, as the Orange Wave swept Quebec and formed Official Opposition in Ottawa for the first time, the NDP placed a distant second in the West.

While his provincial counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been relegated to the political margins, the electoral success of the provincial NDP in Manitoba, which has formed moderate centrist governments since the late 1990’s could provide a template for electoral growth in the West.

alberta politics notes 9/11/2010

– Residents of Sherwood Park are rightfully angry to discover that their long-promised hospital is not actually a hospital. Councillor Jason Gariepy had his computer access and blackberry service cut off after he sent an email criticizing a Strathcona County media release. The release quoted Strathcona County Mayor Cathy Olesen praising the County’s two PC MLAs Minister Iris Evans and Dave Quest. Councillor Linda Osinchuk, who is challenging Mayor Olesen, is less pleased.
– In a 2004 interview with the Edmonton Journal, Minister Evans listed bringing “a 24-hour emergency medical care facility to Sherwood Park” as the first of her top three priorities. Since that time, she has served as Minister of Health and Minister of Finance.
Alberta Health Services has re-announced the opening of 132 beds in Calgary this week. The beds were originally announced on June 25, 2010.
– Premier Ed Stelmach joined Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, and federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice for dinner with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week. The Pembina Institute‘s Marlo Reynolds met with Speaker Pelosi the next day.
– It is official. The Fall Sitting of the Alberta Legislature will begin on October 25.
Canadian Rockies Public School Trustee Esmé Comfort has written an excellent letter in the Rocky Mountain Outlook about why school trustee work is important for community. The Public School Boards Association of Alberta has also published an excellent letter about the importance of trusteeship and the democratic process.
– NDP MLA Rachel Notley believes that public school fees would be less if the government stopped funding private schools.
– The Wildrose Alliance has released their Education policy.
– An MLA committee conference call caught some comments by Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA and Mayoral candidate Kent Hehr about fellow Mayoral candidate Barb Higgins.
– Earlier this week, Mr. Higgins’ campaign manager Donn Lovett shoved Naheed Nenshi supporter Stephen Carter at a campaign event. Mr. Lovett apologized after word of the altercation spread on Twitter.
– Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel launched his website, Twitter, and Facebook campaign.
Rod Love is now lobbying on License Plate Branding.
Elections Alberta is currently recruiting Returning Officers and Elections Clerks in seven constituencies for the next provincial election.

Read more in the Alberta Politics Notes archive.