Tag Archives: Brian Mason

Nomination update: Yellowhead by-election, Bow River Tories vote, and Anybody but Xiao

Rob Merrifield Alberta Washington DC
Former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s new representative in Washington D.C.

Premier Jim Prentice announced this week that five-term Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield would be appointed as Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Mr. Merrifield’s resignation from the House of Commons means that a federal by-election will need to be called in the Yellowhead riding by March 17, 2015. This would be the fourth federal by-election in Alberta since the 2011 general election.

Yellowhead County mayor Gerald Soroka is the first to announce he will seek the Conservative nomination in this riding. Mr. Soroka was first elected mayor in 2007. Mr. Merrifield earned 77% of the vote in the 2011 election, so this is widely considered a safe riding for the Conseravtives.

Rob Anders Bow River Conservative MP
Rob Anders

Bow River
Conservative Party members in southern Alberta’s new Bow River riding are voting today to choose their next candidate.

UPDATE: Rob Anders has lost the Conservative nomination in Bow River. Brooks mayor Martin Shields will be the Conservative candidate in the next election.

On July 31, 2014, this website was the first to report that controversial Calgary MP Rob Anders would seek the nomination in this riding following his defeat in Calgary-Signal Hill. Outsider Mr. Anders is facing challenges from local municipal politicians Martin Shields and Rolly Ashdown, and Mount Royal University economics lecturer Gerard Lucyshyn.

Media have been banned from attending the forums of the Conservative nomination forums in the Bow River riding. This is no doubt to spare the Conservative Party of the embarrassment of having Mr. Anders on their ballot in that riding.

Last week, the Medicine Hat News reported an embarrassing exchange at a forum in that riding’s nomination contest which saw two social conservative candidates debating gay-rights and women’s access to abortion.

Local Conservative member Brian De Jon told the Brooks Bulletin that there has been “no substance” at the Bow River forums anyway.

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

Edmonton-West
An “Anybody But Xiao” (ABX) campaign is heating up in this new west Edmonton riding. With candidate Brad Rutherford dropping out and throwing his support behind Kelly McCauley, a group of local Conservatives are trying to prevent Edmonton-McClung Progressive Conservative MLA David Xiao from winning the nomination.

Mr. McCauley, a local innkeeper, has the support of most Conservative MPs and the party establishment and is seen as having the best chance of defeating the local MLA. Mr. Xiao’s hefty public expenses and history in a past federal nomination campaign against Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn are said to have left a bad memories in the minds of local Tories.

But Mr. Xiao has his supporters. Former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed provincial health minister Stephen Mandel, former Premier Ed Stelmach, Justice minister Jonathan Denis and Infrastructure minister Manmeet Bhullar have all pledged their endorsements to Mr. Xiao.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Calgary-Centre
Conservative candidate Joan Crockett sent a shot across the bow of popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign last week. In a column in the Calgary Herald, Ms. Crockatt claimed that Mr. Hehr has done little as an MLA to help with flood recovery in Calgary’s central neighbourhoods (also naming him in the same sentence as disgraced former Premier Alison Redford).

Mr. Hehr, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding told the told Herald reporter James Wood that “it’s politics.” “Joan and I are going to have a lot of time to discuss the issues and she’s just getting an early jump on it,” Mr. Hehr said.

Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner
On the topic of controversial debates, Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer defeated Dan Hein to become the Consevative candidate in this new southern Alberta riding. The Cardston Temple City Star reported that just under 1,400 votes were cast over the three day selection period.

Janis Irwin Megan Leslie NDP Edmonton Griesbach Halifax
NDP MP Megan Leslie (L) with local candidate Janis Irwin (R)

Edmonton-Griesbach
Most Edmontonians probably would not have noticed when Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair and 96 New Democratic Party MPs descended on the city for their caucus meeting earlier this month. But while the NDP MPs did appear to spend most of their time behind closed doors, they did take a notable break to help out a local candidate in east Edmonton’s new Griesbach riding.

NDP MPs Libby Davies, Megan Leslie , Dany Morin and Ruth Ellen Brosseau hit the doors with candidate Janis Irwin and Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason. The NDP are hoping they can turn their 37% showing in 2011 into a win in 2015.

Confirming what many believed to be inevitable, six-term Conservative MP Peter Goldring announced that he will not seek re-election. Mr. Goldring has endorsed Omar Tarchichi over former mayoral candidate Kerry Diotte in the nomination contest to replace him. Curiously, for a governing party’s candidate, Mr. Tarchichi’s campaign has chosen “Rise Up” as its slogan. It is unclear what Mr. Tarchichi plans to rise up against.

Shannon Stubbs Lakeland Conservative Nomination
Shannon Stubbs

Lakeland
Two candidates have stepped forward to run for the Conservative nomination in the new Lakeland riding after three-term backbencher Brian Storseth announced he was retiring from federal politics.

Shannon Stubbs is a former Wildrose caucus staffer and ran for the party in the 2012 provincial election (collecting 5,800 votes in the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville riding). She is also the wife of popular Lac La Biche-Two Hills-St. Paul Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw (they were married today – congratulations!)

Ms. Stubbs will face Lewis Semashkewich, an Aspen View Public School Board trustee. The Athabasca Advocate reported that Mr. Semashkewich is calling for the construction of a new oil refinery in that corner of the province.

Edmonton-Riverbend
Lawyer Tom O’Leary is seeking the Liberal nomination in the new Edmonton-Riverbend riding.

Edmonton-Strathcona
Len Thom will carry the Conservative banner against NDP MP Linda Duncan in the next election. The lawyer of and provincial PC Party constituency president was acclaimed at a nomination meeting this week.

An updated list of federal candidate nominations in Alberta can be found here.

A closer look at 20 years of by-elections in Alberta

Traditionally safe for incumbent parties, the latest by-elections have been risky business for the Tories
Jim Prentice Alberta Premier
Jim Prentice was selected as leader of Alberta’s PC Party and the next Premier of Alberta on September 6, 2014.

As newly selected Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice begins his transition into the Premier’s Office (having just named his transition team), attention will soon turn to a provincial by-election that will allow the new premier an opportunity to be elected as an MLA.

In advance of the impending by-election (or by-elections), I have taken a look at the nine provincial by-elections that have been held over the past twenty-years in Alberta.

Alberta Provincial By-Elections Results 1995 - 2009

Only two of the nine by-elections have resulted in constituencies changing hands between different political parties. Those two by-elections, Calgary-Elbow in 2007 (won by Liberal Craig Cheffins) and Calgary-Glenmore in 2009 (won by the Wildroser Paul Hinman), were followed by general elections which resulted in PC candidates recapturing the seats for their party.

With the exception of Edmonton-Highlands, which elected current NDP leader Brian Mason in a 2000 by-election, PC candidates were elected in each of the other eight constituencies in the following general election.

In the six by-elections where there had previously been a PC MLA, the governing party saw its percentage of the vote decline. This occurred most drastically in the 2009 Calgary-Glenmore by-election, where the PC candidate support dropped by 24.7% compared to the previous general election (the Wildrose saw its share of support increase by 28.8% in that by-election).

Voter turnout ranged from a low of 20.4% in the 2000 Red Deer-North by-election, held to replace PC MLA Stockwell Day who resigned to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, to 45.5% in the 1996 Redwater by-election, held to replace Liberal MLA Nick Taylor who had been appointed to the Canadian Senate.

Mr. Prentice has publicly said that he plans to run in a by-election in his home city of Calgary, but not in former Premier Alison Redford‘s now unrepresented Calgary-Elbow constituency. Third-term PC MLA Neil Brown has said that he would resign to allow the new premier to run in a by-election in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

There has also been some speculation that Calgary-Klein MLA Kyle Fawcett could resign to allow Mr. Prentice to run in a constituency overlapped by his former federal riding of Calgary-Centre North.

Tiny Alberta Progressive Parties need to get their act together

Alberta Progressive PartyWhat do the Alberta Liberals, New Democrats, Alberta Party and Green Party have in common?

None of these parties will form government after the next election.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

As Albertans prepare for another electoral showdown between two conservative parties – the long-governing Progressive Conservatives and the opposition Wildrose Party – many non-conservative voters and voters looking for an alternative are left confused and frustrated about their options.

If you are lucky enough to live in one of the nine constituencies already represented by a Liberal or New Democrat MLA, or the small handful of other constituencies they have a realistic shot at winning, your ballot options may be simpler. But if you live in a constituency where the two parties are competing for the same small pool of votes, or more likely their support is almost non-existent, you may not be looking forward to the next election.

Hordes of traditional Liberal and NDP voters became ‘two-minute Tories’ when they joined the PC Party to vote for Alison Redford in that party’s leadership race in 2011. Many of these temporary Tories then helped save the PC Party from electoral defeat in the 2012 election by stopping the right-wing Wildrose from forming government.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo
Kent Hehr

The big-tent PC Party rewarded their new electoral coalition of progressive voters by turning on the issues dear to them – slashing funding to colleges and universities, passing drastic anti-labour laws and attacking front-line public sector workers. Since the last election, through their actions or their silence, PC MLAs have done near everything in their power to alienate the very people who saved their political dynasty.

So, unless you are the type of progressive voter who enjoys being punished for your vote, your realistic options for the next election may feel limited. Other than swallowing your pride and voting for the Wildrose Party, what are the options for progressive voters?

The NDP are in the midst of a leadership race to replace outgoing leader Brian Mason. The Liberals are feeling good after their weekend annual general meeting and selection of new president, Shelley Wark-Martyn (who was a cabinet minister in Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government in the early 1990s). Alberta Party leader Greg Clark penned an open letter to the Liberals, asking them to join his party.

Janet Keeping Alberta Green Party
Janet Keeping

But regardless of the good feelings and potential for minor electoral gains, none of these parties are in a position to form government in the next election. And this is a big problem. While the moderate and progressive opposition parties compete in a handful of constituencies in Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton, the two conservative parties are competing in a province-wide campaign.

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr‘s  proposed a party merger in December 2012 and was quickly dismissed by Liberal and NDP stalwarts. A new party could provide an attractive home for long-time PC voters looking for a less conservative alternative to the Wildrose Party. Although this may sound like a sensible option, personality conflicts remain to largest roadblock to a merger.

Some parties have already proposed ideas to help progressive candidates win. Green Party leader Janet Keeping has decided to run in Calgary-Fort rather than challenge Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View in the next election. This argument assumes that support between parties will automatically carry over to a single candidate, which is not always the case.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View
David Swann

It seems that a bigger problem is our winner-takes all first-past-the-post electoral system that creates results that are not a fair reflection of how Albertans voted. For example, in the last election, PC MLA David Dorward was elected in Edmonton-Gold Bar with only 33% of the votes cast in that constituency (49% of the voters in Gold Bar voted NDP or Liberal).

For now, we are stuck with the current system, but change the system to single-transferable vote or proportional representation system and we might not be having this same conversation.

In a province as young, dynamic and prosperous as Alberta, there is little excuse for not having a progressive party able to compete on a province-wide level – for government! If progressive voters cannot rely on the small opposition parties to figure it out on their own, they need to begin demanding an alternative from the parties and their stalwarts who are standing in the way of real progress.

Who wants to be leader of the Alberta NDP?

NDP-Edmonton-Folk-Fest-Ad
The Alberta NDP will hold a leadership vote in October 2014. Photo from the NDP ad in the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival program.

While most political chatter in Alberta is focused on how big Jim Prentice’s victory will be on the first ballot of the Progressive Conservative leadership vote on September 6, there is another race about to begin – the race to become the leader of the Alberta NDP.

Brian Mason
Brian Mason

At his press conference announcing departure, outgoing NDP leader Brian Mason told the media he has asked the NDP provincial executive to hold a leadership vote on or near the weekend of October 19. The party is expected to announce official rules or timelines for the leadership vote in the coming months.

No candidates have declared their plans to enter the race, but if more than one does, it would be the Alberta NDP’s first contested leadership race since 1996, when the feisty Pam Barrett was selected to replace former Member of Parliament Ross Harvey. A contested race would help generate interest and boost their membership numbers across the province.

While there is an opportunity for the NDP to make modest gains in the next election, their next leader will face some serious challenges. One will be to expand their party outside of its traditional base in Edmonton. This will require good candidates, good organization, and, of course, money.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

The NDP have not won a seat outside of Edmonton since the 1989 election. Some NDP supporters hope the division of conservative voters and the final demise of the drifting Liberal Party led by Raj Sherman could help bolster their chances of expansion.

Perhaps the most thankless part of the job will be to try and convince Albertans that the NDP is not opposed to the province’s energy industry. While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair‘s ‘Dutch Disease‘ comments were not helpful, observers of Alberta politics will have noticed the NDP softening their language around Alberta’s chief industry in recent years, replacing ‘tarsands’ with ‘oilsands’ and focusing on other big polluters, like the province’s dirty coal industry.

David Eggen
David Eggen

While there are rumours of potential outside candidates, there is a possibility that the party’s three remaining MLAs could throw their hats into the ring.

Deron Bilous
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2008 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview in 2012. Before his election, he taught at Edmonton’s Inner City High School. Considered rising star in the NDP, the 38-year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken and hard-working addition to the opposition benches.

David Eggen
A teacher, he first ran for the NDP in Edmonton-Centre in 2001 and was elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004, unseating PC MLA Brent Rathgeber. He was defeated in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he served as executive director of the Friends of Medicare, an advocacy group promoting public health care in Alberta.

Deron Bilous MLA Edmonton Beverly Clareview NDP
Deron Bilous

Mr. Eggen is well-known as a hard-working MLA who is scrappy critic in the Legislature and rarely takes a break from door-knocking in his constituency between elections. Now as the NDP Health critic, he is an outspoken critic of privatization in Alberta’s health care system.

A phone poll conducted in February 2014, and captured on this blog, suggests that Mr. Eggen or his supporters have been preparing for a leadership campaign for months.

Rachel Notley
First elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, Ms. Notley is an outstanding parliamentarian. Her knowledge of Assembly procedure has helped keep the NDP effective at blocking or slowing down PC legislation on more than a few occasions. Educated in law at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, she worked as a staffer in British Columbia NDP government and was a Labour Relations Officer with the United Nurses of Alberta.

She is also the daughter of Grant Notley, a well-respected NDP leader and northern Alberta MLA from 1971 to 1984. Her supporters have already launched a Ready for Rachel Facebook page, which now has more than 550 Likes.


Aging Long-Shot ‘Blockhead’ candidate knocks off huge Journal Political Team to capture Yeggie Political Category Award

Congratulations to my blogger-in-arms David Climenhaga who walked away with the Best in Political and Current Affairs award at last night’s Yeggies gala in Edmonton. Mr. Climenhaga faced a handful of worthy contenders, including the Edmonton Journal‘s entire political reporting team.

Scrappy and strong-willed, Brian Mason punches above his weight

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason
Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason announced this week that he will be retiring as leader of his party in October 2014.

Back in the mid-2000s, when I worked for the Alberta Liberals, Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason was a constant source of frustration for my colleagues and I. Each week, I was amazed at how the leader of the tiny perfect NDP could consistently earn so much press and scoop away the media attention deserved by of my party’s Official Opposition MLAs (of course, there were a few other contributing factors at play).

At the time, I had a professional respect for Mr. Mason and, since stepping back from the world of partisan politics and having engaged with him in more informal settings, I now have a personal respect for him (he is also my MLA).

Scrappy and strong willed, Mr. Mason has always punched above his weight with ease, putting even the most confident Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers on edge.

This week, after ten years in the job, Mr. Mason announced his plans to step down as leader of the NDP after his party holds a leadership vote in October 2014. As he departs, it is important to reflect on how far the NDP has come overt he past decade.

Ten years ago, the NDP had two MLAs in Alberta, no sign of life outside of central Edmonton and a dozen Members of Parliament in Ottawa (none from Alberta).

Today, the NDP is now the Official Opposition in Ottawa (with one MP from Alberta), are back up to four MLAs in Alberta, their vote has grown in Edmonton and they now have a beachhead of support in Lethbridge.

While the NDP is a long way from being a competitive alternative to the two Conservative parties in this province, the next two years present the new NDP leader with a unique opportunity to speak with voters searching for an alternative (I will write more on this later).

While it would be unfair to solely credit Mr. Mason for the change over the past decade, in many ways, he will leave the Alberta NDP in a better shape than it was the day he started the job.

Rejection of Gay-Straight Alliances motion shows some Alberta MLAs need a reality check

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo
Kent Hehr

Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.

Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.

Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.

Alberta MLA Vote Gay Straight Alliances Vote Motion 503
A map showing the constituencies represented by MLAs who voted in favour (blue) and against (red) Motion 503. White indicates MLAs who were not present for the vote. (Click to enlarge)

Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.

Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen voted in favour but Education minister Jeff Johnson voted against it.

Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.

The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire.  And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.

In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).

Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)

Should the Alberta NDP accept corporate donations?

Alberta NDP MLA Caucus
The Alberta NDP MLAs Brian Mason, David Eggen, Rachel Notley, and Deron Bilous in last year’s Edmonton Folk Music Festival program book.

With vibrant progressive campaigns winning on the municipal-level in Calgary and Edmonton, it is difficult to understand why there is not be a progressive party, or even a non-conservative party, able to compete on the provincial-level in Alberta.

Alberta’s progressive political parties are being left in the dust by the large fundraising machines of the province’s two main conservative parties, according to Elections Alberta reports.

The Alberta NDP declared $775,152 in revenue in 2013, roughly $2.2 million less than the Wildrose Party. Most of the NDP donations came from that party’s impressive individual donor base, and less than 10% from labour unions. The NDP accepted a small amount of donations from small-businesses, but shies away from larger corporate donors.

With the conservative parties eagerly tapping into a wealth of corporation donors in Alberta, is the NDP handicapping itself by refusing to accept larger corporate donations?

Party purists would argue that the NDP should stick to its social democratic principles by not accepting corporate donations, which would corrupt the party’s morals. Many of the same purists would argue that principles alone win elections. The Alberta NDP’s historically small real-estate in the opposition benches would suggest this is not a winning strategy.

If a party is not seeing consistent growth in funds and votes, then it should change tactics.

In other provinces, like British Columbia, the provincial NDP accepted $2.1 million in corporate donations during last year’s election. While that party did not win that election, it has formed government in the past and remains competitive on a provincial level.

A political party cannot be effective in the long-run if it is not  competitive in fundraising. In Alberta, the NDP is falling short of being able to raise the funds  necessary to compete with the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party on a province-wide level.

The next provincial election presents a very real opportunity for a progressive political party to make gains by providing an alternative to the two main conservative parties. That progressive party would also need the funds and resources to compete on a province-wide level, which would require more money than the NDP appears able to raise without accepting corporate donations.

Phone poll asks: would you vote for the NDP led by David Eggen?

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
NDP MLA David Eggen (right) helping out first-term Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan (left) at one of his colleague’s first protest rallies as an MLA.

Is there an undeclared race underway to become leader of the Alberta NDP?

An interactive voice response poll calling Albertans on February 11 suggests there just might be. The automated phone poll conducted by the Toronto-based Research House began with innocuous questions aimed at gauging opinions about the current Progressive Conservative government and other political party leaders, but it soon shifted toward questions about the NDP leadership.

First asking for the approval or disapproval ratings of Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley and Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggenthe auto-pollster then questioned whether they would vote for an NDP led by Mr. Eggen.

Here is the audio of the question:

It has been suspected for months that current NDP leader Brian Mason could retire before the next election (he has served as leader since 2004), but, if this is a legitimate poll, this may be the first public evidence we have that his potential successors are testing the waters… or kicking-tires.

A teacher and public health care advocate, Mr. Eggen served his first-term as MLA from 2004 to 2008 and returned for a second term in 2012. Both Mr. Eggen and Ms. Notley are experienced opposition MLAs and would be formidable candidates for their party’s leadership. The NDP last held a contested leadership race in the mid-1990s.

What a year 2014 has been in Alberta politics!

Alberta Legislature 2014

This year was a tumultuous time in Alberta politics. What does 2015 have in store for Albertans?

December 20, 2014

Story by: Dirk Pranter, Edmonton Journal-Sun

Building the next Alberta

With the new year just weeks away, speculation is rampant Albertans could go to the polls early next year, less than four years after the last provincial election.

Premier Alison Redford returned to Alberta this week between stops in Washington D.C. and Beijing, fuelling the rumours of the impending election. While in the province, she joined Deputy Premier Mike Allen in announcing the construction of new schools in Airdrie, Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Grimshaw, and High River.

It is the sixth new school announced this month by Redford’s government as part of a promise to build 50 schools and modernize 70 more by 2016.

The schools announcement coincided with the launch of a new government advertising campaign titled “Building the Next Alberta.”

“Building the Next Alberta is different than Building Alberta,” a Redford spokesperson said, “it’s about Building the Next Alberta.”

When asked why the blue and orange colour patterns on the government billboards spell the words ‘re – elect,’ the spokesperson would only say that “a limited colour pallette” was responsible for the design.

Wildrose on the rise

Concluding another year of incredible fundraising returns, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith is hoping for good tidings in the new year. Recent polls show the official opposition party in a dead heat with the PCs in Calgary and rural Alberta.

In anticipation of an early election the Wildrose campaign bus rolled into Edmonton this week without incident.

University of Red Deer professor of political science Rick Dunderland believes the early launch sends a message that the Wildrose war chest is overflowing with cash from this past year’s fundraising efforts.

“With such successful fundraising this year, the Wildrose has decided not to wait for the Redford Tories to call the election,” Dunderland said.

Shermanmania?

Interim leader Laurie Blakeman took up the reigns of the Liberal Party since Raj Sherman announced he will run for the federal Liberals in the Edmonton-West riding.

Hoping that Justin Trudeaumania with also translate into Raj Shermanmania, Sherman said his experience as an Emergency Room Doctor will make him a strong voice for Edmonton in Ottawa.

After a surprise surge in support in this year’s federal by-election in southern Alberta’s Macleod riding, the Liberals are hoping to make gains in Alberta.

Meanwhile, merger negotiations are underway between the provincial Liberals, the Alberta Party, and the Green Party to run a joint slate of candidates in the next election. Sources indicate the slate could be called “the Green Liberalbertans.”

NDP now pro-pipeline

Planning to spend more time in the Okanagan with his wife and family, NDP leader Brian Mason announced his retirement from politics after serving twenty-five years in provincial and municipal elected office. The NDP leadership vote, scheduled for early 2015 has attracted the interest of the party’s three other MLAs and a handful of outsiders. No candidates have officially entered the race.

Many Alberta New Democrats were shocked at their federal leader’s sudden change of heart on pipeline development this month. With Thomas Mulcair’s NDP poised to form government in next year’s federal election, the federal NDP released a new pro-pipeline policy book.

“The difference now is that, instead of just saying what we don’t like about the old pipelines, we’re also saying why we’re in favour of more pipelines,” Mulcair told reporters in a year end press conference.

As the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline moves forward at a brisk pace, energy industry experts are relieved that the project’s future is not likely to be threatened with a change of government in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesperson called the ploy a cynical move. “No one supports pipelines more than strong, stable, majority Conservative governments in Ottawa,” she said.

Alberta politics 2013: The NDP Wildrose alliance

NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith
NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith spar at a University of Alberta debate.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected developments in Alberta politics in 2013 was the emergence of the informal alliance between the New Democratic Party and the Wildrose Official Opposition.

It was not uncommon in 2013 to see NDP and Wildrose MLAs working together, or tackling the same issues during Question Period on the floor of the Assembly, but the informal alliance existed outside the Dome.

NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith toured the province holding one-on-one policy debates in college and university campus lecture theatres. The debates were very well attended, and they were certainly more entertaining and informative than a mid-election leaders debates. I cannot remember when two party leaders last debated in this type of public forum. It was refreshing.

Last year, the NDP struggled to find their footing in the new political environment created by the 2012 election. Accustomed to running circles around the Liberal official opposition, the NDP were not yet accustomed to competing with the more conservative Wildrose official opposition. With this informal alliance, and a consistent message, the NDP found their footing in 2013. They may not be on the cusp of forming government, but they are receiving much more media coverage and public attention than they were in 2012.

Although the two parties worship different ideologies, there is a kind of mutual respect between the two groups because of their defining ideologies (example: social democracy and libertarianism). There also exists a mutual distaste of the wishy-washy moderate politics of the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.

Most recently, the Wildrose and NDP (and Liberals) stood together in opposition to Premier Alison Redford‘s hastily introduced Bill 45 and Bill 46, which stripped away collective bargaining rights of public sector workers and attacked free speech rights of ordinary Albertans. It was a strange sight to see the Wildrose defending the rights of public sector workers. But their opposition to the anti-labour laws was not a show of support for organized labour, but a reflection of their libertarian values around freedom of speech and expression.

And, not unexpectedly, there is an electoral strategy element to this informal coalition.

If the Wildrose is to defeat the PCs in the next election, they need to win votes away from the governing party and they need other parties to do so as well. As the Wildrose does not have a strong base of support in Edmonton,  the NDP are well-positioned to steal votes away from the Tories in the provincial capital.

Will the NDP Wildrose alliance survive 2014?

As with any alliance of convenience, the effort will succeed as long as the groups involved are able to work together to achieve similar aims. Like the informal alliance between Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives and Jack Layton‘s  NDP before the 2006 election that toppled Paul Martin Liberals, I expect the two groups will continue down this path until the ballots cast in the next provincial election are counted. After that, all bets are off.