Jason Kenney touted Alberta’s low taxes, educated work-force and efficient power prices to the Indian media during a trip to meet with government ministers and business leaders on the subcontinent this week, according to a report from the CBC.
Meanwhile, back in Alberta, political watchers are scratching their heads, wondering why Kenney, actually only the leader of the Official Opposition United Conservative Party, would contradict some of his main criticisms of the New Democratic Party government while he is overseas?
In the clip referred to the in CBC article, Kenney sounded more like actual Premier Rachel Notley or Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, than the anti-NDP Kenney that Albertans have got to know over the past year and half.
Kenney has spent the past two years rallying against NDP ‘ideological’ and ‘risky’ high-taxes that he argues have destroyed our province’s mythical “Alberta Advantage.” He has also warned that electricity prices could soon spike because of the NDP’s shift toward renewable energy and away from dirty coal-fired power plants.
The truth is that the Kenney we heard from India is correct. Alberta’s taxes are low, (I have argued they are lower than they should be), our electricity prices are stable, and our excellent public education system has produced a highly-educated workforce. And Alberta’s economy is growing, albeit at a slower rate than the over-heated boom-times we all became accustomed to, according to recent projections.
Probably a little confused about what they were hearing from Kenney’s trip, the NDP raised questions about the ethics of the opposition leader’s trip abroad. I am a little skeptical about whether there are actually any ethical breaches, but there still remains unanswered questions about how the trip to the subcontinent actually began and who or what organization is paying for it.
Kenney says he was invited by the High Commission of India, which is probably true, but it seems unusual for a foreign government to extend an invitation like this to the leader of a provincial opposition party.
The trip was publicly announced mid-week last week and Kenney was on a plane by Friday with his United Conservative Party delegation of Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen. It is not clear whether the UCP will publicly release the itinerary of Kenney’s visit, as would be released with any actual ministerial visit.
Despite his current role as a provincial opposition politician, Kenney very much remains a nationally-minded politician (with frequent trips to Ottawa in his schedule) and has strong connections to conservative politicians in other parts of the world. And he is no dummy. Putting aside the tongue and cheek opening sentence of this article, I doubt Kenney is misrepresenting himself to Indian Government officials by pretending to be a Minister of the Crown. But I think it is entirely possible that he is presenting himself in India as the next Premier of Alberta.
The UCP does not have a trade policy, at least not one they have released for Albertans to see, so it is also not clear what kind of promises or commitments he is making to Indian government officials and business people.
Perhaps the UCP leader is so confident that his party will win a solid majority in next year’s election that he already feels comfortable embarking on international trips on Alberta’s behalf. Kenney has room to be confident, but not to be complacent.
According to two polls, his party’s lead ahead of the NDP has shrunk from 24 percent in April 2018 to 14 percent in July 2018. This is obviously still a very healthy lead, but it’s only a stone’s throw away from becoming a competitive election.
Perhaps the reason for this narrowing of the polls is that Notley’s has largely outmaneuvered him on the pipeline issue, leaving him largely sitting on the sidelines. Despite the alternate universes that some media pundits exist in, Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for the oil industry and pipeline expansion (to the chagrin of some environmentally-minded NDP activists).
As I have written in the past, there is value in public officials making international trips to promote Alberta. But the value of overseas trips by government officials remain almost impossible to calculate, and a visit like this by a provincial opposition leader, even a former federal cabinet minister like Kenney, will likely have little impact on actual trade relations between India and Alberta.
As noted in some media coverage of Kenney’s overseas adventure, this is not the firs time an opposition leader from Alberta has made an international trip. NDP leader Brian Mason received approval from the Speaker of the Assembly to use public funds to visit Alaska in 2007 to study that State’s royalty structure.
Liberal leader Kevin Taft stayed closer to home when he travelled to Winnipeg in 2007 to promote his idea for turning western Canada into an oil refining super-hub. And in the 1993 election, it was reported that NDP leaderRay Martin brought reporters to a hospital in nearby Montana as a way of focusing attention on medicare.
Photo: Alberta political party leaders – Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, Stephen Mandel, David Khan, and Derek Fildebrandt.
We are now somewhere between seven and ten months away from the next provincial general election in Alberta. For the past seven provincial elections, leaders of the main political parties have participated in televised leaders debates, and while a lot of media and political attention is focused on these events, their impact on the outcome of the election varies.
Which party leaders are invited to participate in the debates, which are typically organized by private news media companies, can sometimes be contentious. Generally, only leaders whose parties have elected MLAs in the previous general election have been invited, but this has not always been the case. Unlike our neighbours to the south, there are no official rules or commission governing who is invited, which has led to inconsistencies since the televised leaders debates began in Alberta in 1993.
Assuming one is held, let’s take a look at who might and might not be invited to participate in a televised leaders debate held in Alberta’s next provincial election, which is expected to be called between March 1 and May 31, 2019.
Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney: Notley and United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney are shoe-ins to participate in the leaders debate. Notley is the current Premier of Alberta and Kenney leads the Official Opposition UCP. Although the UCP did not exist in the last election, the party has won three by-elections since it was formed in 2017.
David Khan: Liberal Party leader David Khan is not a sitting MLA and his party’s sole MLA, former leader David Swann, is not seeking re-election. This is the first election since 1986 that the Liberals will not have an incumbent MLA running for re-election. Khan is running for election in Swann’s Calgary-Mountain View district. While the party has had one elected MLA since 2015, the party’s lack of incumbent MLAs and declining relevance in Alberta politics could lead to the Liberals not being invited to join next year’s debate.
The Derek Fildebrandt Question:Derek Fildebrandt is a sitting MLA and most likely will be leader of the Freedom Conservative Party when the next election is called. He was first elected as the Wildrose Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks in 2015 and joined the FCP in 2018. His party did not elect any MLAs in 2015, but neither did the UCP, which was formed in 2017 by MLAs who were previously members of the PC and Wildrose parties.
Fildebrandt has said his party will not run candidates in all districts, only focusing on districts where the NDP is not considered to be competitive. This means that most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for a Freedom Conservative Party candidate on Election Day, but a lack of a full-slate has not stopped leaders from being invited to the debates in the past.
Fildebrandt is a fiery quote-machine and his participation in the debates would undoubtably create some entertainment value for viewers. While I suspect Notley and Mandel would be supportive of Fildebrandt’s involvement in the debate, I expect that Kenney would not be eager to share a stage with Fildebrandt. As I predicted on a recent episode of the Daveberta Podcast, I suspect Kenney could threaten to withhold his participation in the debate if Fildebrandt is invited to join.
As for the format of a leaders debate, as I have written before, my preference would be to hold in front of a live audience, rather than a sterile and controlled television studio. This would allow the party leaders to demonstrate their debating skills and a live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.
A History of Leaders Debates in Alberta Elections
Here is a quick history of leaders debates during general elections in Alberta:
1967 election – Four party leaders participated in this debate: Social Credit leader Ernest Manning, PC Party leader Peter Lougheed, NDP leader Neil Reimer and Liberal leader Michael Maccagno. Lougheed had initially challenged Manning to a televised debate, but a public debate was held instead. The meeting was sponsored by the City Centre Church Council and held in downtown Edmonton. The leaders fielded questions from the audience of the packed church.
The Calgary Herald reported that “…Manning was booed by a small contingent of hecklers while the new leader of the Conservatives reportedly “appeared to score heavily and draw the most applause.”
At the time of the debate, only Manning and Maccagno were MLAs. Reimer was not an MLA but there was one incumbent NDP MLA, Garth Turcott, who had been elected in a 1965 by-election in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest. Lougheed was not an MLA and his party had not elected an MLA since the 1959 election.
1971-1989 elections – No leaders debates were held during the 1971, 1975, 1979, 1982, 1986 and 1989 elections. Lougheed was challenged by opposition leaders, including NDP leader Grant Notley and Western Canada Concept leader Gordon Kesler, to participate in a televised debate but were turned down. Don Getty also refused to debate his opponents on television.
1993 election – Three party leaders participated in two televised debates: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, NDP leader Ray Martin, and Liberal Party leader Laurence Decore. The first debate was held in-front of a live studio audience and was broadcast on CFCN in Calgary and CFRN in Edmonton. The second debate was held without a live studio audience and broadcast on Channel 2&7 in Calgary and ITV in Edmonton.
1997 election – Four party leaders participated in this televised debate organized by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and broadcast by CBC: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal Party leader Grant Mitchell, NDP leader Pam Barrett, and Social Credit Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.
Barrett and Thorsteinson were invited to participate despite not being MLAs at the time and neither of their parties having elected any MLAs in the previous election. The NDP and Social Credit Party did not nominate a full slate, with only 77 and 70 candidates running in 83 districts.
2001 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate organized by Calgary Herald and Global News: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth and NDP leader Raj Pannu. The three major parties nominated candidates in all 83 districts.
2004 election – Three leaders participated in this televised debate broadcast by Global Television: PC Party leader Ralph Klein, Liberal leader Kevin Taft and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Despite having been invited to join the televised debate in 1997, Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson was not allowed to join in 2004 because he was not an MLA and his new party did not elect any members in the previous election. The party had one MLA, former Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk, who crossed the floor in the months before the election was called.
The PCs, NDP and the Alberta Alliance nominated candidates in all 83 districts in this election. The Liberals nominated candidates in 82 of 83 districts.
The Wildrose Alliance nominated 61 candidates in 83 districts. Green Party leader George Read was not invited to participate in the debate, despite his party nominating candidates in 79 of 83 districts (the Greens would earn 4.5 percent of the total province-wide vote, only slightly behind the 6.7 percent earned by the Wildrose Alliance in this election).
2012 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global and streamed on the internet: PC Party leader Alison Redford, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman and NDP leader Brian Mason.
Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to join the leaders debate, despite his party having one MLA in the Legislature. Former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor became the Alberta Party’s first MLA in 2011. The Alberta Party nominated 38 candidates in 87 districts.
2015 election – Four leaders participated in this debate broadcast by Global: PC leader Jim Prentice, NDP leader Rachel Notley, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, and Liberal leader David Swann. Despite only narrowly losing a 2014 by-election in Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was not invited to join the debate. Clark would go on to be elected in Calgary-Elbow in this election.
The NDP and PCs nominated candidates in all 87 districts, while the Wildrose Party nominated 86 candidate and the Liberals nominated 56. The Alberta Party nominated 36 candidates in 87 districts.
This week on the Daveberta Podcast, guest hosts Erika Barootes, Janis Irwin and Natasha Soles chat with our producer Adam Rozenhart about their experiences in provincial politics and where they see Alberta politics moving in the near future. They also answer some questions you submitted to us.
Erika Barootes is the the president of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, an athlete, and in her day job, a senior advisor of corporate communications at EPCOR.
Janis Irwin the Director of Stakeholder Relations in the Office of the Premier, and she’s also declared that she’ll be running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Edmonton’s Highlands-Norwood electoral district, which has been held by Brian Mason since the year 2000.
Natasha Soles is the former Director of Communications and Legislative affairs for the Alberta Party Caucus. She’s also a Senior Executive Associate at an outstanding Edmonton not-for-profit called Homeward Trust.
Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and wherever you find podcasts online. We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at email@example.com.
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Photo: More than 200 people packed into the Bellevue Community Hall tonight to support Janis Irwin’s bid for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.
Janis Irwin launched her campaign for the New Democratic Party nomination in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood this evening at the Bellevue Community Hall. Irwin is a community advocate and educator, and she was the federal NDP candidate in Edmonton-Griesbach in the 2015 election, where she placed a strong-second behind Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte.
Irwin currently works as a Director of Stakeholder Relations in the Office of the Premier.
The area has been represented by outgoing NDP MLABrian Mason since 2000 and and is considered to be one of the strongest NDP-voting districts in Alberta. Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood makes up the Orange Core of the federal Edmonton-Griesbach district. (Note: I live in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, so I have a particularly keen interest in this nomination contest).
A nomination meeting has been scheduled for October 23, 2018 at the Alberta Avenue Community Hall.
Former Kenney staffer nominated in Peace River
Daniel Williams defeated Mackenzie County deputy reeve Lisa Wardley to secure the UCP nomination in this sprawling northern Alberta district. Williams worked as a political staffer for Jason Kenney in Ottawa before returning to Alberta to seek the UCP nomination in Peace River.
NDP MLA Jamie Kleinsteuberannounced on social media that he will not seeking re-election in 2019. Kleinsteuber was first elected in 2015 in Calgary-Northern Hills and in 2019 the district is being redistribtued between the Calgary-Beddington, Calgary-North and Calgary-North East districts.
Earlier this evening, an Annual General Meeting was held to create the new NDP constituency associations for the new…
Calgary-Mountain View – Liberal Party leader David Khan has been nominated as his party’s candidate in this north central Calgary district. This area has been represented by Liberal MLA David Swann since 2004. Swann is not seeking re-election.
Calgary-North East – Mandeep Shergill is seeking the UCP nomination. Shergill works as a Constituency Assistant to Calgary-Greenway MLA Prab Gill, who was seeking the UCP nomination in this district before he resigned from the UCP caucus following allegations of ballot-stuffing at the local UCP association’s annual general meeting.
Edmonton-Castle Downs – Ed Ammar defeated Arthur Hagen and Gennadi Boitchenko to win the UCP nomination. Ammar is a real estate agent and served as the first chairman of the UCP interim board following the formation of the party in 2017. Ammar was the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election and president of the Wildrose Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs in 2016.
Edmonton-City Centre – Lily Le is the third candidate seeking the UCP nomination in this downtown Edmonton district.
Edmonton-Mill Woods – Abdi Bakal is seeking the Liberal Party nomination in this southeast Edmonton district. This area was represented by Liberal MLAs Don Massey from 1993 to 2004 and Weslyn Mather from 2004 to 2008. Tariq Chaudhry is seeking the UCP nomination. Chaudhry is the owner of the Maharaja Banquet Hall.
Edmonton-South – Pramod Kumar defeated Enayat Aminzadah to win the Alberta Party nomination. William Farrell becomes the fifth candidate to join the UCP nomination contest.
Edmonton-South West – Former PC MLA Sohail Quadri is seeking the UCP nomination. Quadri previously represented Edmonton-Mill Woods from 2012 to 2015. From 2014 to 2015, he served as Legislative Secretary to Premier Jim Prentice. He was unseated in 2015 by NDP candidate Christina Gray.
Grande Prairie – Tracy Allard was acclaimed as the UCP canddiate. School trustee John Lehners withdrew from the contest after serious car accident. According to the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune, Lehners’s brush with death made politics seem less important. “When I was hanging upside down I wasn’t thinking about running for MLA. I’m thinking about my dog, I’m thinking about my family, I’m thinking about my friends and what I’m going to do next and ‘Thank God I’m alive,’” Lehners told the Daily Herald Tribune.
Lesser Slave Lake– Darryl Boisson is seeking the UCP nomination in this sprawling northern Alberta district. This will be Boisson’s third attempt at provincial office in this district. He was the Wildrose Party candidate in Lesser Slave Lake in the 2012 and 2015 elections.
If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will add them to the list. Thank you!
You can listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts online. We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a comment on the blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at email@example.com.
We are always thankful to our hard working producer, Adam Rozenhart, who helps make each episode of the Daveberta Podcast sound so great.
Photo: NDP MLA Brian Mason announces his retirement from Alberta politics on July 4, 2018. (photo credit: David Climenhaga)
After 30 years in elected office, Brian Mason will call it quits when the next provincial election is called. The New Democratic Party MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood announced at a press conference this morning that he will not seek re-election in 2019.
Brian Mason as a city transit driver in the 1980s. (source: Facebook)
He started his political career as a student activist, including a term as Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union and as director of the Alberta Federation of Students. Mason jumped into municipal politics in 1983, running for city council as past of the left-leaning Edmonton Voters Association slate. His first run was unsuccessful but he ran again six years later.
Then employed by the City of Edmonton as a bus driver, Mason challenged a law prohibiting city employees from running for council and was elected to city council in 1989. He was re-elected in north east Edmonton in 1992, 1995, and 1998. He jumped into provincial politics in 2000, running in a by-election in Edmonton-Highlands to succeed former NDP leader Pam Barrett, who had represented the district from 1986 to 1993 and 1997 until her retirement from politics in 2000.
Mason cruised to victory in the by-election against former Leduc Liberal MLA Terry Kirkland and was re-elected by significant margins in the five elections since. He became leader of the Alberta NDP ahead of the 2004 election, succeeding Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu.
Brian Mason at the opening ceremony marking the completion of the north-east leg of the Anthony Henday ring road in Edmonton. (photograph by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
As leader of the sometimes 2 or 4 MLA caucus, Mason led a feisty opposition that frequently ran circles around the actual Official Opposition Liberals (to the frustration of Liberal Party staffers like me).
He stepped down as leader in 2014, perhaps sensing a change in the times. And the timing of the NDP leadership race that chose Rachel Notley was perfect. While no one could have predicted on that day that Notley would lead the NDP to form government in 2015, Mason handed over a party that was in much better shape than it was on the day he started the job in 2004.
He was re-elected in 2015 in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood with the widest margin of his political career, earning a landslide 78 percent of the vote.
Despite rumours that Notley might pick him for Minister of Finance or back a bid for him to become Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, she appointed Mason as Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure and Government House Leader when the NDP were sworn-in to office in 2015.
The Dean of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Mason will end his political career as the longest-serving current MLA in our province.
NDP nomination battle in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
Janis Irwin (source: Facebook)
With Mason stepping aside, we could now see a spirited nomination contest in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, a largely blue-collar district that is considered strong territory for the NDP.
(I live in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, so I have a particularly keen interest in this nomination contest).
A history of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
The Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood district was created in 2004 and included areas from the former Edmonton-Highlands and Edmonton-Norwood districts.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood (click to enlarge)
Edmonton-Highlands had been represented by the NDP from 1986 until 1993, when Liberal Alice Hanson was elected, and again by the NDP from 1997 until 2004.
Edmonton-Norwood was represented by NDP leader Ray Martin from 1982 until 1993, when he was unseated by Liberal Andrew Beniuk. Beniuk later crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives and was defeated in 1997 by Liberal Sue Olsen. Olsen did not seek re-election in 2001 and the seat was won by PC candidate Gary Masyk, who would later cross the floor to the Alberta Alliance. Masyk chose not to challenge Mason in the new district in 2004 and was defeated in his bid for re-election in the neighbouring Edmonton-Decore district.
But Aheer is not in the clear. Current Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who now sits as an Independent Conservative and was barred from challenging Aheer in the nomination, is expected to challenge Aheer in the general election.
The drama continues in north east Calgary as the UCP says it is now investigating allegations of ballot-stuffing at the founding meeting of the Calgary-North East constituency association. The allegations were made public through a video posted by a UCP member on YouTube following the meeting. Current MLA Prab Gill, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in the 2016 Calgary-Greenway by-election, is challenging Anand Chetty and Tariq Khan for the UCP nomination in this district.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul – Former St. Paul mayor Glenn Anderson has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-Edgemont – Joanne Gui has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate.
Calgary-Elbow – Janet Eremenko is seeking the New Democratic Party nomination. Eremenko was a candidate for Calgary City Council in Ward 11 in the October 2017 election where she finished third with 20 percent of the vote. Past Ward 8 city council candidate Chris Davis is seeking the UCP nomination in this district.
Edmonton-North West – Todd Ross is seeking the Alberta Party nomination. Ross was the Liberal Party candidate in Edmonton-Castle Downs in 2015, earning 4.9 percent of the vote.
Edmonton-Whitemud –Elisabeth Hughes is seeking the UCP nomination. Hughes works as a constituency assistant in the office of Edmonton-Riverbend Member of Parliament Matt Jeneroux.
Leduc-Beaumont – MLA Shaye Anderson will seek the NDP nomination, which has been scheduled for July 18, 2018. Anderson was first elected in 2015 with 38 percent of the vote. Corinne Hubert is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Lesser Slave Lake – Judy Kim-Meneen is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.
Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin – LGBTQ activist Chevi Rabbitt is seeking the Alberta Party nomination in this newly redrawn central Alberta district.
Photo: Ed Stelmach (elected leader of the PC Party in 2006), Danielle Smith (elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009), Kevin Taft (elected leader of the Liberal Party in 2004), and Alison Redford (elected leader of the PC Party leader in 2011).
Following the announcement this week of the results of the Alberta Party leadership race, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voter participation in party leadership races in Alberta over the past twenty years.
The largest participation in a party leadership race in the past two decades, and in Alberta’s history, took place during the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 2006. More than 144,000 members voted in the race and it is believed that more than 200,000 memberships were sold. The party had a very open membership sales policy, which allowed any Albertan to purchase a membership at their local voting station on the day of the vote. This vote chose Ed Stelmach to replace Ralph Klein as PC Party leader and Premier of Alberta.
The 2011Liberal Party leadership vote, which selected Raj Sherman as party leader, used an open membership system. This allowed any Albertan to participate in the vote without having to actually purchase a party membership.
The 2017United Conservative Party leadership vote was conducted by delegates who were elected by party members in each district. The party membership consisted of new UCP members, as well as individuals who had been members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party until that point.
Acclamations occurred in the 2000 and 2004 NDP leadership contests, the 2001 Liberal Party leadership contest, and the 2003 Alberta Alliance leadership contest.
Photo: Sandra Jansen (left) and Premier Rachel Notley (right) at the press conference announcing the PC MLA had crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016. (Photo from Premier Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page)
It was widely expected to happen in 2017, and today NDP MLA Sandra Jansen was sworn-in to the provincial cabinet as Minister of Infrastructure. She takes over the portfolio from veteran MLA Brian Mason, who had served as both Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation since the NDP formed government in 2015.
Bringing Jansen into cabinet bolsters the number of NDP cabinet ministers in Calgary, which is expected to be a critical electoral battleground in the next election. Infrastructure issues, like the construction of a new cancer centre, were key issues for voters in the last election.
The NDP swept Calgary in the last election, but they will face a very steep uphill battle to re-elected many of those MLAs in the next election.
Jansen’s appointment to the provincial cabinet means the majority of Alberta’s cabinet ministers – eleven out of twenty-one – are women.
Other recent changes to the provincial leadership include the appointment of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade for Small Business and Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education.
Under the old PC government, appointments of Parliamentary Secretaries, or Parliamentary Assistants, were used in some cases to provide training for backbench MLA’s identified as being future cabinet minister material. In other cases, when the PCs were burdened with large caucuses, some MLAs were given with Parliamentary Secretary appointments as a way of generating busy-work for backbenchers who might otherwise cause trouble for the government leadership.
Littlewood and McKitrick are the first two Parliamentary Secretaries appointed since the NDP formed government in 2015, so it is unclear what their actual role in the government will be.
Other notable appointments include:
Calgary-Currie MLA Brian Malkinson was recently appointed to the provincial Treasury Board.
Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas was recently sworn in as a member of the Legislative Review Committee.
The rally featured Neal Bernard “The Roughneck” Hancock removing his shoes and throwing them at the doors of the Legislature, former federal cabinet minister Chris Alexander appearing to nod as protesters chanted “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, and climate change denying, anti-gay and anti-immigration messages on signs and pamphlets.
While the crowd certainly included Albertans who are frustrated and angry at the economy and the government, the bizarre program and assortment of weird fringe groups distracted from any anti-carbon tax message they hoped to send.
Government House leader Brian Masonmused to reporters that the New Democratic Party government was considering scrapping the committee when its deadline to make submissions is reached this week. Although the committee was tasked with reviewing four Acts, it only met fifteen times over the past year.
Regardless of the future of this committee, changes need to be made to Alberta’s elections and elections finance laws. Even if the committee is scrapped, the government could introduce changes to Alberta’s elections laws in the spring legislative sitting.
The NDP should lower the maximum annual amount that individuals can donate to provincial political parties. The current maximum annual donation limits in Alberta is $30,000 during election periods and $15,000 outside of election periods. The current maximum annual donation for federal political parties in Canada is $1,525.
The NDP should also implement maximum limits to how much candidates, political parties and third-party groups can spend during the election period, as already exist for candidates in federal elections. The limits should be reasonable and could easily be tied to the number of eligible voters in each constituency, as is the case in federal elections.
One potential change that has not been discussed, at least not much in public, is the possibility that the government could scrap Alberta’s fake fixed-election law. Introduced in 2011, the law states that an election be called every four years between March 1 and May 31. Alberta is the only Canadian province with a fixed-election law that does not actually include a fixed-election day.
The Legislative Assembly should grant the committee the time extension it has requested when MLAs reconvene on October 31, 2016. But it is difficult to imagine that both the NDP and opposition MLAs on the committee, especially Wildrose MLAs eager to embarrass the government, will conduct themselves any differently than they have in the past year since the Ethics and Accountability Committee was formed.
Days after the Alberta New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government in 2015, I wrote a column outlining the promises made in the party’s election platform to improve ethics in government. One year later, here is a look at those six platform points and whether the NDP have kept their promises to implement them.
(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.
(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.
A promise made by Premier Rachel Notley at a campaign stop in Calgary on April 17, 2015. An NDP press release at the time said that “[t]he list will indicate how projects are prioritized, including the standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”
Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said in July 2015 that a list would be released soon but by November 2015 he told reporters that an “artificial order” of priority might create too much animosity between municipalities. The NDP still have until 2019 to implement this promise but I suspect they have decided the political blowback from municipal governments and school boards would cause more trouble than it is worth for the provincial government.
(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.
This could be included in the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability recommendations expected to be completed in September 2016. A private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankmanin 2016 that would ban government advertising during election periods was referred to this committee.
(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act was introduced by Ms. Ganley on November 5, 2015 and came into effect on December 11, 2015. This bill extended the sunshine list to require compensation disclosure for certain employees who work for agencies, boards and commissions, public post-secondary institutions, Offices of the Legislature and provincial health authorities.
(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.
This is a perennial pledge made by opposition politicians that in practice is difficult to prove when the party forms government. When the NDP won a majority government on May 5, 2015, they also won a majority majorities on the all-party committees of the Legislature. Like all majority governments, they are using their majority to push forward their agenda at the committee level.
As long as our legislative system is dominated by the government leadership it is unlikely that MLAs committees will actually be independent of influence from the Premier’s Office. There is little evidence to suggest that MLA committees are now controlled any more or any less than they were under the previous PC Party government.
Funding for the eight Offices of the Legislature has decreased by $26,300,000 from $152,407,000 in 2015-2016 to $126,107,000 in 2016-2017, largely due to a decrease in funding for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (because the next election is not expected to be held until 2019).
Ethics Commissioner Complaints
Responding to a request by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler investigated allegations that two fundraisers attended by Ms. Notley were in violation of the Conflicts of Interest Act. Ms. Trussler’s report concluded that Ms. Notley was not in breach of the act with respect to either of Mr. Nixon’s complaints.
The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.
It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Twopolls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.
Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.
May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.
The tone of government had changed.
The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.
CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.
‘Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.
A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.
The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.
Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.
The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.
The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.
The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.
Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.
Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.
The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.
On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.
The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.
Considering the incredible political change that has taken place in Alberta in the past few years, it is almost difficult to believe that it has only been four years since Alberta’s political parties were rolling out their campaigns on the first day of the 2012 provincial election.
Like most campaigns, the issue that defined the first week of the campaign was old news by the end of the campaign. By day 28 of the campaign, most Albertans had stopped paying attention to Tory corruption and incompetence, and instead were focusing on the bozo-eruptions coming from the Wildrose Party’s social conservative base.
When the votes were counted, Fortress Rural Alberta, a key part of the PC Party’s governing coalition since the 1975 election, was firmly occupied by the Wildrose Party. But Alberta’s urban centres, shocked by the Wildrose Party’s social conservative streak, flocked to the PCs. Ms. Redford’s message of ‘no tax increases and no service cuts‘ resonated among liberals and moderate conservatives but it was a promise the PCs could not deliver.
The PCs would form their final consecutive majority government since 1971 with 61 seats in the Legislature. The Wildrose Party formed Official Opposition for the first time by electing 17 MLAs. The Liberals lost Official Opposition status for the first time since 1993 after only five MLAs were elected. The NDP doubled their opposition caucus with four MLAs. The Alberta Party had hoped to make a breakthrough in that election but would have to wait until 2015 to elect its first MLA.
Four years later, each of Alberta’s major political parties from that election have undergone a leadership change. Where are those former leaders now?
Raj Sherman is practicing family medicine at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, according to his listing on the College of Physicians and Surgeons website. Dr. Sherman stepped down as Liberal Party leader in January 2015 and did not run for re-election. He instead served as his party’s campaign manager in the 2015 election.
Brian Mason is the only one of the four who is still an MLA. Mr. Mason is Alberta’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation and Government House Leader in the Legislative Assembly. The feisty opposition MLA led the New Democratic Party from 2004 until 2014, when he was succeeded by Rachel Notley. Ms. Notley would soon after lead her party to form its first ever majority government in May 2015.
Glenn Taylor stepped down as leader of the Alberta Party in late 2012. Mr. Taylor previously served as Mayor of the Town of Hinton from 2004 to 2012.
PC leader Alison Redford kicked-off her party’s 2012 re-election campaign outside of Heather Klimchuk‘s campaign office in the Edmonton-Glenora constituency. Here is video of her speech from that event:
Over the course of the 2012 campaign, Alberta NDP staffer John Alan Ashton produced a series of amusing YouTube video interviews with party notables. Here is his interview with leader Brian Mason on March 31, 2012:
School board representatives could face another round of debate about protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and staff. The Edmonton Public School Board will introduce a motion at the meeting for the ASBA to create a policy that protects all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities.
“I think tone at the top is very important, and it is important for the Alberta School Boards Association to take an active stance against the bullying and marginalization of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students. I think this will send a very important signal across school boards that we do support inclusion, we do want to support our students,” EPSB chairperson Michael Janz told the Edmonton Sun.
The motion has been proposed as emergent by EPSB and will be introduced on the first full day of the meeting. Delegates will be asked whether it should be added to agenda and debated at the meeting.
Debate at the ASBA’s general meeting in 2012 attracted national attention when 62 percent of the delegates voted down a proposal to protect gay students and staff from discrimination, similar to a policy passed by EPSB in 2011.
Recent debates at the Edmonton Catholic School District about creating safe environments for transgender students have degenerated into public scenes of crying and shouting. “I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic,” Education Minister David Eggen said following the debates.
Mr. Eggen has directed all Alberta school boards to have a policy supporting LGBTQ students in place by March 31, 2016. It has been reported that only 13 out of 61 school boards currently have stand alone policies protecting rights of LGBTQ students and staff.
The result of the debate about whether to adopt a policy protecting all students, staff and families who identify as sexual or gender minorities will likely set the tone for an important breakfast event being held for trustees and MLAs on the final day of the meeting. Twenty-eight NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs are scheduled to attend the breakfast, including cabinet ministers Brian Mason, Joe Ceci, and Oneil Carlier. Mr. Eggen scheduled to deliver an address at the breakfast.
What the Education Minister has to say in his address will likely depend on if Alberta’s elected school trustees choose to rise above the closed mindedness and ignorance that has dominated these debates in past years. Protecting students and staff is not optional.
Here is the motion that the EPSB plans to introduce:
That the Alberta School Boards Association support its members school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and genders minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.
EPSB rationale for the motion:
Issues with regard to publicly funded education and supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity students, staff and families have been in the news this year. The ASBA has been silent on these issues, both in policy and presence. It is proposed by the Committee that we take a second attempt at moving forward the 2012 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy to the ASBA.
The Committee believes it is important for the ASBA to clearly take a policy position in support of students, staff, and families in alignment with provincial legislation and our Strategic Plan outcome to provide welcoming, inclusive, safe caring and healthy learning and work environments. Research has shown that sexual minority youth experience more bullying, harassment, alienation, and suicide ideation than do their heterosexual peers and; therefore, boards are encouraged to counter pervasive cultural biases against sexual minorities through proactive and specific policy and regulation to ensure that all sexual orientation and gender identity minority individuals are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in all of their schools.
Previous ASBA fall general meetings have been webcast. I will post a link to the website once I have confirmed this meeting will be live streamed online.