Tag Archives: Brian Mulroney

The Senate Chamber in Canada's Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

2016 will mark the end of Senate Elections in Alberta

The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.

Don Getty Premier of Alberta

Don Getty

Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Alberta is the only province with a general election process to select Senate nominees, which have been held in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

The Senatorial Selection Act was introduced in 1989, in part to allow the Progressive Conservative government of Don Getty to co-opt the issue of Senate reform, which had become a powerful rallying crying of the populist Reform Party. Reform candidate Stanley Waters won the 1989 election and was appointed to the Senate in 1990 on the advice of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Stan Waters Alberta Senate

Stanley Waters

Only a handful of Alberta’s elected Senators have actually been appointed to the upper chamber, as the election process exists outside of the Constitution and can be ignored by the federal government. Current Conservative Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas, elected in 2012, and Betty Unger, elected in 2004, were appointed to the Senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

With the exception of the 1989 election, when Liberal Bill Code placed second, only the conservative Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Alberta Alliance, Social Credit and Wildrose Party, and the environmentalist Evergreen Party have participated in the elections. Progressive candidates have also run as Independents without the backing of their political parties. In 1998, future NDP candidate Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A high-level of rejected, declined and spoiled ballots in the Senate elections suggests that many Albertans are unengaged in this process. More than 178,000 ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined in the 2004 Senate election, amounting to 19 percent of Albertans who showed up to the polls. In 2012, more than 189,000 Senate election ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined, compared to only 7,822 in the provincial general election held the same day.

While the NDP have long supported the abolishment of the Senate, the idea has grown popular in conservative circles in recent years. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has echoed the NDP’s calls for Senate abolishment, and in an odd pre-election maneuver, Mr. Harper tacitly endorsed the abolishment of the Senate if it could not be reformed (this took place after he appointed more than 50 Conservatives to the Senate, including Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin).

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

new Senate appointment advisory board created by the federal Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October 2015 election will review nominated Canadians who meet the criteria of demonstrating a record of leadership in community service or professional expertise, a proven record of ethics and integrity and knowledge of the Senate’s role. It is unclear whether the new advisory board will place future provincially-endorsed elected nominees in higher consideration.

The current Alberta NDP government has not officially announced it will not renew the Senatorial Selection Act, but a speech from now-Premier Rachel Notley in 2009, while she was debating amendments to extend the Act until Dec. 31, 2016, strongly suggests that it will not be renewed again this year:

“…this is a piece of legislation that we can’t support because, quite frankly, it just provides a foundation to continue with what is currently a very ineffective system on the federal level.

As has been previously stated, our view is simply that the Senate should be abolished. It is not something that reflects the democratic makeup of our country. The historical rationale behind appointing a Senate has long since dissipated in terms of sort of the historical political concerns that underlay the initial construction of the Senate. The current elements of the Senate that we would effectively be promoting and encouraging the continuation of are, in my view, quite unacceptable.

Whether we elect our Senators or whether we have elections where the government chooses to appoint our Senators, we’re still dealing with the current situation, which is that the Senate itself does not reflect the national population distribution in that, you know, Alberta has six Senate seats, and New Brunswick, with about one fifth of Alberta’s population, has 10 seats. Eligibility for appointment in the Senate is still based in part on property ownership, and once appointed, Senators just get to hang around there until 75.

Whether we have this legislation or do not have this legislation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Having had this legislation, we’ve actually, if anything, encouraged the continuation of the Senate. We’ve encouraged buy-in to what is a fundamentally antidemocratic institution.

You know, this was something that came up originally as a means to make a political point when there were substantive discussions around Senate reform a long, long time ago. There have been no meaningful discussions around Senate reform for, I would suggest, about a decade at least.

This piece of legislation will simply give credence to what continues to be a dysfunctional system and one that is costly and one that has long since outlived its purpose. The bill has outlived the purpose, the process in Alberta has outlived the purpose, and frankly the Senate has outlived its purpose. For that reason, we cannot support the bill.”

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands

Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.

Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.

Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River

Frank Oberle

As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.

Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA

Teresa Woo-Paw

How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.

During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.

Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein

Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.

The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.

On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.

Unelected Cabinet Ministers

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.

Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skin when he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.

Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.

Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).

Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.

The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.

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.

A History of recent Federal By-Elections in Alberta.

The November 26 by-election in Calgary-Centre will be the fourth federal by-election held in Alberta in the past twenty-six years. In that time, only one of the by-elections saw the election of a candidate not from the incumbent political party. All three by-elections were won by candidates representing conservative parties.

Walter Van De Walle

Walter Van De Walle

Pembina By-election
(September 29, 1986)
Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Elzinga jumped into provincial politics and was elected as an MLA that year, vacating the riding he had represented since 1974. Longtime Sturgeon County councillor and reeve Walter Van De Walle faced a high-profile main competitor, New Democrat Ivor Dent, in a closely fought by-election. Mr. Dent had served as Mayor of Edmonton from 1968 to 1974.

When the votes were counted, Mr. Van De Walle defeated Mr. Dent by a narrow margin of 274 votes. Although Mr. Dent did not win the by-election, the strong showing for the NDP foreshadowed that party’s first federal electoral win in Alberta two year’s later when Ross Harvey was elected in Edmonton-East.

Deborah Grey Beaver River MP

Deborah Grey

Beaver River By-election
(March 13, 1989)
Tory MP John Dahmer died five days after he was elected in the November 21, 1988 election, triggering a by-election in this safe Tory riding. Reform Party candidate Deborah Grey earned a distant 4th place finish in the 1988 general election and carried the young protest party’s banner in the by-election only months later.

Riding a wave of western Canadian discontent with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney‘s PCs, Ms. Grey surprised the nation when she defeated PC candidate Dave Broda by 18%, becoming the first Reform Party MP. (Mr. Broda would later serve as the PC MLA for Redwater from 1997 to 2004). Ms. Grey was re-elected with 58% of the vote in the 1993 election along with 51 other Reform Party candidates.

Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper

Calgary-Southwest By-election
(May 13, 2002)
While he served as the Reform Party MP for Calgary-West from 1993 to 1997, Stephen Harper was not a sitting MP when he replaced Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. With a by-election expected in the riding vacated by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, Mr. Harper managed to convince a reluctant Ezra Levant to step aside as his party’s already nominated candidate.

Mr. Harper was elected with 71% of the vote, more than 10,000 votes ahead of United Church Minister Bill Phipps, his NDP challenger. The Liberal Party declined to run a candidate in order to not oppose the new party leader’s entry into the House of Commons.

Can a ‘progressive’ win in Calgary-Centre? It is not impossible, but it might not be very likely.

1CalgaryCentre

1 Calgary Centre

Can the online campaign 1 Calgary Centre succeed in its goal to unite (or crowd-surf) progressive voters behind one candidate in the impending Calgary-Centre by-election? It is not impossible, but it is improbable.

The existence of a Naheed Nenshi, Linda Duncan, or Chima Nkemdirim style of candidate who progressive voters could unite behind could make Conservative organizers lose some sleep, but that candidate has yet to emerge and the December 4 deadline for the by-election to be called is quickly approaching. Much like the failure of the Democratic Renewal Project to unite parties on the provincial level, the reality of deep-rooted partisan associations driven by personalities who are committed to both brand and ideological are large challenges facing any group wanting to unite non-Conservative voters in this country.

Joe Clark Calgary-Centre MP

Joe Clark

Some supporters of the online 1 Calgary Centre movement have looked past the large plurality of votes earned by Conservative candidates in recent elections and point to the unlikely election of Joe Clark in the 2000 federal election. Keep in mind that Mr. Clark was no ordinary candidate. Mr. Clark was a former Prime Minister, senior cabinet minister, leader of the national Progressive Conservative Party, and he benefited from national profile, a televised leaders’ debate, and broad and diverse team of organizers in Calgary-Centre. Even with all this, he still only barely unseated Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament Eric Lowther. Mr. Clark was also a Conservative.

So perhaps Mr. Clark is not the best example. Of course, the by-election campaign has yet to officially begin and the final decision remains in the hands of voters in Calgary-Centre.

Now let us take a look at the candidates.

Joan Crockatt

Joan Crockatt

Blogger David Climenhaga published a witty retort of Catherine Ford‘s criticisms that Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt was largely to blame for the ugly labour dispute at the Calgary Herald in 1999.

As the Conservative candidate in a riding that has only elected Conservative MPs since 1965, Ms. Crockatt is the safe bet to win (former Mayor Harry Hays was elected as a Liberal in 1963 when this riding was part of the larger Calgary-South riding). But being the safe bet does not always ensure a smooth road to victory, especially when said candidate has a somewhat controversial political past.

A number of provincial PC supporters have voiced frustration with Mr. Crockatt’s politics and her tacit support of Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party in the recent provincial election. A number of prominent provincial PCs, including Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli, campaigned for Ms. Crockatt’s challengers in the Conservative nomination contest.

On September 22, the Liberal Party will be holding its nomination meeting to select a by-election candidate. The three approved candidates seeking this nomination are educator and TEDxCalgary co-founder Rahim Sajan, lawyer and conservationist Harvey Locke, and businessman Drew Atkins. A fourth candidate, who I understand has yet to be approved by party central, is Steve Turner.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

According to Liberal blogger Vincent St. Pierre, Mr. Locke’s campaign has attracted the support of high-profile Liberal Party organizer Donn Lovett. Mr. Lovett is known for his involvement successful election campaigns of Gary Dickson, Dave TaylorCraig Cheffins, and Mr. Clark. More recently, he managed the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of Barb Higgins, in which Ms. Crockatt was the media spokesperson.

Chatter on Twitter last week suggested that political spin-master Stephen Carter was involved in the campaign of Mr. Atkins, which turned out to be a false rumours. Both Mr. Lovett and Mr. Carter were involved in Mr. Clark’s successful Calgary-Centre campaign in 2000.

Chris Turner Green Party Calgary Centre

Chris Turner

Green Party leader Elizabeth May was in Calgary earlier this month to congratulate popular local author Chris Turner on his acclamation as the Green Party candidate. An award-winning author, Mr. Turner is the co-founder of CivicCamp and was a board member of Sustainable Calgary from 2008 to 2011. Oil City might not seem like prosperous territory for the Green Party, but I would not be surprised to see Mr. Turner do well when the ballots are counted.

Past provincial New Democrat candidate Brian Malkinson is the first candidate to publicly announce he is seeking the yet to be scheduled federal NDP nomination. Running as the NDP candidate in Calgary-North West in the 2012 provincial election, Mr. Malkinson earned 3.17% of the vote. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was expected to attend an NDP fundraiser in Calgary on September 21, but the event has been postponed. He will be in Edmonton this weekend for the annual conference of provincial New Democrats.

Occupy Calgary activist Ben Christiensen has been confirmed as the Progressive Canadian Party candidate. Obscure party launched after the 2003 merger between the federal PC and Canadian Alliance parties. This party is led by Brian Mulroney-era cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens.

leaky pipeline gives slick impression of alberta oil.

Alberta Oil Pipeline Leak Red Deer

A pipeline leak spews oil into a central Alberta lake (photo from @tedgbauer at https://twitter.com/tedgbauer/status/211154927446278144/photo/1)

When word first broke that a leaky pipeline near the central Alberta town of Sundre had poured an estimated 1000 to 3000 barrels of oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, Premier Alison Redford was quick to respond. That afternoon, the Premier, flanked by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and local Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, held a media conference near the location of the spill.

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Premier Alison Redford

Despite the quick response, which is a change from the days when it felt like these types of leaks were publicly ignored by our political leaders, Premier Redford’s media conference cannot change the fact that oil spills and leaking pipelines have already become a regularly reported occurrence in Alberta. The latest leak comes at a crucial time when the Government of Alberta and Enbridge Inc are pushing the construction of a new oil pipeline that would travel through Alberta and British Columbia to the port at Kitimat.

As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has pointed out, the latest leak only confirms the suspicions and fears that some British Columbians have about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline:

B.C. will only agree to the pipeline if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risk. That is an argument the Alberta government has not managed to put forward.

Political support for the project is also in question. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a vocal supporter of the pipeline, has somewhat moderated her tone as her party’s electoral fortunes continue to slip further in the public opinion polls (the BC Liberals have been trailing the NDP in the polls since September 2011). The BC Conservative Party, led by septuagenarian former Member of Parliament John Cummins, are competing with Premier Clark’s Liberals for second place, and have come out in favour of the pipeline.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix

Adrian Dix (photo from @terminator on Flickr)

Taking advantage of the unease about the environmental impact of the pipeline, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix launched a petition against the construction of the pipeline which respond to legitimate concerns about the navigation of oil-filled supertankers through the narrow Douglas Channel.

In the land of political spin, Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway claimed last week that the company had secured the support for the pipeline from 60% of First Nations communities along the proposed corridor. The Coastal First Nations group disputed that number, accusing Enbridge of expanding its corridor by 80 kilometres to boost the number of supporters. The group claimed many of the First Nations listed by Enbridge as supporters are located outside of any area that could be impacted by a potential spill.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark (photo from @bcgovphotos on Flickr)

Readers of this blog may remember Mr. Stanway from his previous roles as columnist and publisher at the Edmonton Sun and communications director to former Premier Ed Stelmach from 2007 until 2010.

Although the next federal election could be nearly three years away, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is capitalizing on the concerns central Canadian and British Columbian voters about the effect of oilsands development on the environment and its effects on traditional manufacturing industries (a la Dutch Disease). Everyone from former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have chimed in to criticize Mr. Mulcair.

There is irony in Mr. Mulroney shaming Mr. Mulcair for playing regions against each other, considering that some of Mr. Mulroney’s more unpopular policies led to the divisive regionalization of Canadian politics following the 1993 election.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives have proven numerous times over the past nine years, leveraging social and regional wedge issues can lead to great electoral success. Mr. Mulcair would be foolish not to take a page from Prime Minister Harper’s book. While conservative pundits and politicians denounced Mr. Mulcair’s criticisms, the political strategy, at least in the short-term, does not appear to have hurt NDP chances in voter-rich regions outside the prairie provinces. A recent poll showed the federal NDP in a statistical tie with the governing Ottawa Conservatives.

[updated] lee richardson resigns, calgary-centre by-election could be a conservative proxy war.

Lee Richardson MP Calgary-Centre

Recently resigned MP Lee Richardson, soon to be Principal Secretary to Premier Alison Redford. (Photo from 5of7 on Flickr)

After a bitterly fought provincial election campaign drove a deep rift into Alberta’s conservative movement between the moderate institutional Progressive Conservatives and the ideologically-driven Wildrose Party, a federal by-election in Calgary may be the first real test of how united supporters of the federal Conservative Party supporters are in Alberta.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Lee Richardson announced today that he is leaving Ottawa to become Principal Secretary to PC Premier Alison Redford in Edmonton. Mr. Richardson’s decision will boost Premier Redford’s credentials among federal Conservative supporters, many of whom were openly supportive of Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith in the recent election.

As a senior political advisor, Mr. Richardson is an old pro. From 1979 to 1983, Mr. Richardson was Chief of Staff to Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and later served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In last year’s PC leadership contest, Mr. Richardson supported candidate Rick Orman, who he worked with at the Legislative Assembly before he was first elected as a PC MP in Calgary-Southeast in 1988. He served until his defeat by Reform Party candidate Jan Brown in 1993. He re-entered federal politics as the Conservative MP for Calgary-Centre in 2004.

Triggering a by-election that will occur in the next six months, the contest for the Conservative Party nomination in this constituency could expose some uncomfortable cleavages between moderate and ideologically conservatives in Alberta.

Ezra Levant

Ezra Levant

A Twitter account supporting the possible candidacy of right-wing talk show host Ezra Levant was created within a hour of Mr. Richardson’s announcement. Many Albertans may remember Mr. Levant as the Wildrose Party’s biggest cheerleader on his cable news program during the recent provincial election. In 2002, he stepped down as the Canadian Alliance candidate in Calgary-Southwest to allow Stephen Harper to win a seat in the House of Commons.

Also rumoured as a potential candidates are Calgary Alderman John Mar, who has close connections to PC Party organizers, and recent Calgary-Klein Wildrose Party candidate Jeremy Nixon. Mr. Nixon placed second with more than 34% of the vote in the recent election. Although unlikely in my mind, one Conservative supporter emailed me this evening to name former Calgary-Glenmore Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman as a potential candidate.

Of course, the Conservatives could avoid a nasty nomination battle and simply acclaim a candidate, as they did to party organizer Michelle Rempel after cabinet minister Jim Prentice resigned as MP for Calgary-Centre North in 2010.

The Liberals earned respectable second-place votes in this constituency under its former boundaries in the 1990s, but have fallen further behind the Conservatives in recent elections.

In the 2011 federal election, Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock placed second with 17% of the vote, a full 40% behind Mr. Richardson. Edmontonian parachute candidate Donna Montgomery earned 14% for the NDP.

While some sort of centre-left coalition could place a respectable second in the imminent Calgary-Centre by-election, it seems unlikely that anyone other a Conservative would win this vote.

UPDATE: Mr. Levant has declared he will not seek the nomination. Alderman Mar is considering running for the nomination.

alberta election: the leaders’ debate will matter.

In a typical provincial election in Alberta, the televised Leaders’ debate is a mere formality in a process that would inevitably lead to the election of another massive Progressive Conservative majority government. Even when the perceived winner of the debate is the leader of an opposition party, the effects on the governing party have been relatively minimal. In the last election, expectations were set so low for Premier Ed Stelmach that his satisfactory performance was seen as a big win for the soft-spoken and stuttering communicator.

The only televised Leader’s Debate during Alberta’s 2012 will be held on April 12 and it could be a spectacle not seen in this province in decades (CBC is hosting a Leaders’ forum, which will be broadcast on radio and live-streamed on the internet). It will be the first time that Premier Alison Redford and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith will debate each other face-to-face and also the first Leaders’ debate for three of the four main party leaders (it is Liberal leader Raj Sherman‘s first televised debate).

All eyes will be on Premier Redford and Ms. Smith.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

The debate will be Premier Redford’s opportunity to turn the tide that has swept her 41-year governing Progressive Conservative Party into contention for official opposition status. Unlike her recent predecessors, she has the unfortunate task of having to answer for every misstep taken by her governing party for the past four decades.

This will be Premier Redford’s big opportunity to deliver a pitch to moderate conservatives, liberals, and undecided voters that voting for the more conservative and untested Wildrose Party just is not worth the risk. Despite a rough six months as Premier, she is a skilled debater.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith

Calm and confident, Ms. Smith has been preparing for this debate for years. Despite having never been elected as an MLA or faced any of her political opponents on the floor of the Assembly, Ms. Smith has honed her political debating skills on and off television as a columnist with the Calgary Herald, a brief stint as a school trustee, a director of a right-wing lobby group, and party leader since 2009.

With Ms. Smith’s party riding high in the polls, creating the real possibility that she could be our province’s next Premier, expectations will be set high for her to perform well in this debate. I would be surprised if she does not meet these expectations, but the other leaders will be marking targets on her party’s more controversial positions on conscience rights, de-listing abortion, attacking reporters, and privatizing health care. So far, the Wildrose leader has tried to avoid even commenting on most these issues, sticking to her highly disciplined and controlled campaign messaging.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader 2012 Election

Brian Mason

Entering his third election as leader of Alberta’s NDP, Brian Mason has an opportunity to present Albertans with a clear alternative to the two leading conservative parties.

Following Ms. Smith’s announcement that her party would introduce more privatization into Alberta’s health care system, Mr. Mason jumped at the opportunity to get into the debate. With Edmonton-Calder candidate David Eggen by his side, Mr. Mason launched a campaign to “Save Public Health Care.” The NDP are polling well in Edmonton, with a recent Leger survey showing them with 20% support in the provincial capital, which has always been the centre of NDP support in Alberta.

Raj Sherman Liberal leader 2012 Alberta Election

Raj Sherman

For Dr. Sherman, who left the Tory backbenches in 2010 and now leads the official opposition Liberal Party, the debate will be his biggest opportunity to save his party from third party status or even being completely shut out of the Assembly. The Liberals became the official opposition in 1993 and since then their support has steadily declined (with the notable exception of the 2004 election when Kevin Taft led the party to double its seats in the Assembly).

Health care has been a key focus of Dr. Sherman’s campaign, and despite his professional expertise working in the Emergency Rooms of Edmonton’s hospitals, the Liberals have not been able to turn this strength into growth in the polls. Having earned a reputation for being sporadic when put on the spot, Dr. Sherman will be the wild-card in the April 12 debate.

Searching for the knock-out punch

The most interesting aspect of televised leaders’ debates, especially in elections where the results are not evident from the day the Writ is dropped, is that one misspeak or surprise Academy Award winning performance could potentially change the outcome on election day.

Most people will refer to Brian Mulroney‘s performance in the the 1984 federal election as the perfect example of a “knock-out punch“, but this clip from the 1991 British Columbia provincial election remains one of my favourite. Watch as Liberal leader Gordon Wilson delivers the most famous soundbite of that election, which helped take his party from zero seats in the Assembly to seventeen.

(Thanks to Colby Cosh, whose tweets inspired this post)

redford’s ‘change from within’ is a nice slogan, but when you take a closer look…

Alison Redford Ed Stelmach Change

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss ..." Was Pete Townshend on to something?

Despite the narrative of “change from within” that was made popular after the October 1 leadership vote, the wave of change has not spilled far into the Progressive Conservative ranks since Alison Redford was elected into her new role one month ago.

– The Globe & Mail is reporting that the controversial Kelley Charlebois is expected to be appointed as the next Executive Director of the Alberta PC Party this week. Albertans may remember Mr. Charlebois as the owner of the company that was awarded $390,000 worth of controversial contracts to consult with with then-Health Minister Gary Mar between 2002 and 2004. During the recent PC leadership contest, Mr. Charlebois claimed that he was being unfairly targeted by the media.

– Long-time Tory strategist Susan Elliott has been appointed as the Progressive Conservative Party campaign manager for the next election. Along with 2008 campaign manager Randy Dawson, Ms. Elliott played a central role in Premier Ed Stelmach‘s election campaign.

– While Premier Redford did make a showing of dumping long-time Tory stalwarts from the provincial cabinet, many of the key ministers in her first cabinet are politicians played a central role in Premier Stelmach’s administration. Energy Minister Ted Morton, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, Finance Minister Ron Liepert, Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk, Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, and Deputy Premier Doug Horner were all key players in Premier Stelmach’s final cabinet.

– Shortly after being sworn-in office, Premier Redford appointed leadership opponent Mr. Mar as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong. Mr. Mar’s leadership campaign manager Elan McDonald soon found her way back into the Premier’s office as Advisor to the Premier and Legislative Affairs. She had previously worked in Premier Stelmach’s office.

– It is unclear what his official title will be, but leadership opponent and former cabinet minister Rick Orman is expected to be appointed by Premier Redford to work on a northern Alberta development strategy.

– When entering office, Premier Redford’s transition team also included some old-time Tory connectors, including current Alberta Health Services Chairman Ken Hughes, who was a Tory Member of Parliament under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Nearly all incumbent PC MLA’s who have already been nominated for the next election have been acclaimed and of those who faced nomination challenges only one was defeated (and he is now seeking a nomination in a neighbouring constituency).

City of Leduc Alderman Dominic Mishio unsuccessfully challenged two-term backbencher George Rogers in Leduc-Beaumont, Lars Lehmann unsuccessfully challenged three-term backbencher Alana DeLong in Calgary-Bow, and Rick Fraser defeated three-term backbencher Art Johnston in Calgary-South East. Now the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier, Mr. Johnston recently announced that he will be seeking nomination in a different constituency (his current constituency is being redistributed in the next election). Jeff Wedman is standing for the PC nomination in St. Albert, though there is some talk that current PC MLA Ken Allred will retire before the next election.

‘Change from within’ is a nice slogan, but when you take a closer look, it looks awfully close to what things look liked before.