Tag Archives: Calgary Herald

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background.

Former Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has died at age 70. The “Wizard of Zwoz” started as a Liberal and became the PC Party’s charm machine.

Gene Zwozdesky, the former Speaker of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, has died of cancer at the age of 70.

Known for being incredibly approachable and having the ability to lay-on the political charm in a grand way, Zwozdesky became known in the latter part of his time in elected office as the “Wizard of Zwoz” for his seeming ability to reverse unpopular decisions made by his cabinet predecessors. But while Zwozdesky is known to many Alberta political watchers from his time in the Progressive Conservative cabinet and later as Speaker of the Assembly, he started his political career in the opposition benches as a Liberal.

Gene Zwozdesky Alberta MLA

Gene Zwozdesky’s official MLA portrait photo in 1997.

A teacher and champion of Alberta’s Ukrainian musical and cultural heritage, Zwozdesky was first elected to the Legislature in 1993 as Liberal in Edmonton-Avonmore.

Zwozdesky defeated five other candidates to win the Liberal Party nomination that year, taking the nomination on the fifth ballot with 660 votes out of 757 votes castLed by former mayor Laurence Decore, Zwozdesky easily unseated two-term New Democratic Party MLA Marie Laing as the Liberals swept the capital city.

He was easily re-elected in the renamed Edmonton-Mill Creek district in 1997, holding his vote share in an election that saw Liberal vote decline from its high-water mark in the previous election.

Respected by his opposition colleagues for his work as treasury critic, community development critic, caucus whip, and co-chair of the party’s outreach committee, Zwozdesky was seen as a contender for the party leadership to succeed Decore in 1994 and Grant Mitchell in 1998, but chose to decline the leadership on both occasions.

In 1997, Zwozdesky was briefly a candidate in the Speaker election following Stan Schumacher‘s retirement but was convinced by his caucus colleagues to withdraw from the contest. It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Barrhead-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski’s win over Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice, Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.

In 1998, he left the Liberal caucus and crossed the floor to the PC caucus less than one month later. The official reason for his departure was said to be a disagreement with new party leader Nancy MacBeth over fiscal policy, but it was widely suspected that Klein had been personally trying to recruit Zwozdesky. He was appointed to cabinet as Associate Minister of Health and Wellness in 1999, a shrewd political move to create a foil to counter opposition criticism of the PC government’s Bill 11: Health Care Protection Act, a bill that opponents argued would have increased the privatization of Alberta’s public health care system.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Gene Zwozdesky (second from the left) with PC candidates Carl Benito, TJ Keil and Naresh Bhardwaj, and Premier Ed Stelmach at a Feb. 2008 campaign event at Jackie Parker Park.

Zwozdesky was re-elected as a PC candidate in Edmonton-Mill Creek in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012. He served as Minister of Community Development from 2001 to 2004, Minister of Education from 2004 to 2006, Associate Minister of Infrastructure from 2007 to 2008, Minister of Aboriginal Relations from 2008 to 2010, and Minister of Health & Wellness from 2010 to 2011. In his roles as Minister of Education and Minster of Health, he was generally seen as a calming force appointed for the purpose of providing stability in the wake of a disruptive predecessor.

As Health & Wellness Minister, Zwozdesky was given the nickname “the Wizard of Zwoz” by the media after he entered the role with a full-court charm offensive. 

Only three weeks into the job he’s the Wizard of Zwoz, a minister who can reverse unpopular health-care policy with a wave of his BlackBerry,” wrote the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid in February 2010.

In this role, Zwozdesky was responsible for mending the fences smashed by his combative predecessor, Ron Liepert. While he was only in the role for a short period and largely continued to support the PC government’s ideological creep towards privatization in health care, he did oversee important labour negotiations and the swift departure of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett following the “cookie” controversy.

He was dropped from cabinet when Alison Redford became premier in 2011 and following Kowalski’s retirement in 2012, Zwozdesky was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. His only challenger in that contest was Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who was a rookie in the Liberal caucus when Zwozdesky mounted his first campaign for the Speakership in 1997.

While generally seen as a fair Speaker of the Assembly, Zwozdesky had some partisan blindspots, most notably when he ruled that Redford did not mislead the Assembly over the tobacco-gate scandal. He was highly criticized for that decision. 

He served as Speaker until his defeat in the 2015 general election to New Democrat Denise Woollard.

Although it had become clear by the final week of the last election that a giant NDP wave was going to splash through Edmonton, it was difficult to believe that Zwozdesky would lose re-election. But when the votes were counted in Edmonton-Mill Creek, the six-term MLA fell 5,174 votes behind Woollard, ending his 22 year career in Alberta politics.

Following the 2015 election, Zwozdesky helped the new class of NDP and Wildrose Party MLAs transition into the Assembly and then gracefully stepped away from the political spotlight following the election of Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner as Speaker. And while a political comeback was unlikely for Zwozdesky after 2015, he continued to stay connected to his political past, being elected as President of the Alberta Association of Former MLAs in 2018.

Photo: Gene Zwozdesky speaks to Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in the Legislature Rotunda in 2011. MLA Dave Taylor is seen in the background. (Photo source: Dave Cournoyer)

Jason Kenney

Pride, Prejudice and Swastikas: UCP bozo-eruptions continue to dog Jason Kenney

The latest bozo-eruption to burst from the United Conservative Party membership continues to hound party leader Jason Kenney

Last weekend, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms president John Carpay told a crowd at a gathering of conservative activists in Calgary: How do we defeat today’s totalitarianism? Again, you’ve got to think about the common characteristics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it’s the swastika for Nazi Germany or whether it’s a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility towards individual freedoms.

Carpay quickly apologized for the comments, but drawing the connection between the rainbow pride flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and LGBTQ social movements, and the hammer and sickle and swastika flags, symbols of oppressive and totalitarian regimes, was a step too far.

Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote in the Calgary Herald that Carpay’s comments were “disgusting, demeaning and dangerous.”

This is not the first bozo-eruption to dog the UCP leader, but it appears to be the first made by someone with strong political ties to Kenney. The UCP leader spoke at a JCCF event in 2017 where he is reported to have compared Carpay’s work to that of civil-rights activist Rosa Parks.

Carpay and Kenney are social conservative activists from Calgary and have been in the same political circles for decades. Carpay is known for staking out controversial positions popular among social conservatives, whether it be in opposition to abortion or gay rights or, more recently, to student-led anti-bullying clubs known as Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools.

As a delegate at the UCP’s policy conference earlier this year he spoke in support of a policy that would allow teachers to inform parents when students participate in GSAs, a policy that would out some students to their parents. “This is about parental rights. The only societies and governments that trample on parental rights are totalitarian ones,” Carpay was reported to have said at the May 2018 UCP policy meeting.

This most recent bozo-eruption comes on the heels of Kenney announcing that the UCP will build a database to track and purge political extremists from the party’s membership. Kenney announced the creation of the extremists database after spending a week dodging questions about former campaign worker Adam Strashok, who is alleged to have ties to white nationalist and anti-Semitic groups online.

Kenney was quick to pounce on Strashok, declaring that he had ordered party officials to cancel his membership. But Kenney appears to be less eager to dish out a similar fate to Carpay.

The UCP leader’s soft-peddling in response to Carpay is puzzling to many UCP supporters, including some who attended today’s sold-out Edmonton Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Kenney spoke to a packed ballroom. Speaking to attendees before and after Kenney’s speech, I have the impression that while the UCP’s economic message resonated with the crowd there was an unease and discomfort with Kenney’s social conservative baggage.

Attendees to today’s luncheon may not be alone in their unease. A recent survey released by Abacus Data shows Kenney’s approval ratings are far below support for the party he leads, suggesting that many Albertans like the idea of a UCP government much more than they like the idea of Premier Jason Kenney.

Kenney’s slow response to the most recent bozo-eruption is likely because social conservative activists, like those who support anti-abortion groups Right Now and the Wilberforce Project, anti-GSA Parents for Choice in Education, and Carpay’s JCCF, are key players in the political coalition that Kenney has built during his almost three decades in politics.

Kenney has never hesitated to take hard-line stances against opponents like Premier Rachel Notley, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, environmentalists Tzeporah Berman and David Suzuki, and even actor Jane Fonda. It is now time for Kenney to prove to Albertans that he can also take an equally hard-line against the social conservative forces that are embarrassing his own party.

Leela Aheer and Brian Jean

Death threats and restraining orders – What the heck is happening to the UCP in Chestermere-Strathmore?

Photo: Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer and former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, who she endorsed in the 2017 UCP leadership contest (source: Facebook)

The contest for the United Conservative Party nomination in the new Chestermere-Strathmore district turned nasty this week when it was revealed that MLA and UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer attempted to seek a restraining order against one of her opponents.

David Campbell UCP Chestermere-Strathmore

David Campbell (source: Facebook)

The Calgary Herald reported that Aheer discontinued the action against David Campbell the day before the application was to be heard in court. The dispute was apparently the result of a confrontation between Aheer and Campbell at a June 14 meeting of the local UCP association. The application had asked for a court order keeping Campbell 200 metres away from her and her home.

The Calgary Sun later reported that Campbell was in Court of Queen’s Bench seeking legal costs in the case he described as an effort to shut him out of the nomination process.

Aheer was first elected as Wildrose Party MLA for Chesteremere-Rockyview in 2015 and was a strong supporter of former WIldrose leader Brian Jean in the 2017 UCP leadership contest. Earlier this year, she spoke out against a motion at the UCP founding convention that would out students who join gay-straight alliances, a move that Campbell criticized her for.

In a Facebook post published on June 18, 2018, Campbell wrote that “the amalgamation of the legacy parties has failed to get rid of the internal rot, stench and elitism that plagued them both.”

In actual fact, “win at all cost” cronyism may be worse today than in the past, led disappointingly by former Wildrosers who are close to smelling the sweet scent of leadership, influence, and authority,” Campbell wrote.

Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrant, a former UCP MLA who now sits as an Independent Conservative and was barred by Jason Kenney from running in the new district against Aheer, posted on Facebook that “insider-party elites refuse to allow the people of Chestermere-Strathmore an open, free & fair nomination of their UCP candidate.”

Fildebrandt went even further by posting allegations on his Facebook page that Aheer’s husband had “threatened to murder” him a year and a half ago (see screenshot below).

Derek Fildebrandt's Facebook comment on June 26, 2018.

Derek Fildebrandt’s Facebook comment on June 26, 2018.

Fildebrandt’s serious allegation is unproven, but this entire embarrassing political mess demonstrates the level of nastiness the UCP nomination contest has reached in Chestermere-Strathmore.

The current situation overshadows some of the controversy that marred the Progressive Conservative nomination contest in Chestermere-Rockyview ahead of the 2015 election. That race saw one disqualified candidate release a series of embarrassing text messages from party official related to his disqualification.

The UCP has set June 28 as the deadline for candidates to enter the nomination contest in Chestermere-Strathmore. A nomination meeting has been scheduled for July 19, 2018. Declared candidates include Aheer, Campbell, Mark Giesbrecht, and Pamela Hilton.

Amid political gong-show, Postmedia shuts down local newspaper 

And as real political news worth reporting is happening in their community, it was announced today that the Strathmore Standard is one of the latest victims of Postmedia’s budget axe. The Standard was founded in 1909 and its departure will leave a big gap in news coverage in the community of more than 13,000 residents east of Calgary.

Also being shuttered by Postmedia is the Camrose Canadian, which first started publishing in 1908. The High River Times will now publish one edition per week, down from twice weekly.

United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney

Read the nearly 800 policy proposals from United Conservative Party members

You might have read about them in Don Braid’s Postmedia column today, but if you want to take a deeper look, here are the full list of draft policy proposals submitted by United Conservative Party members for debate at the party’s founding convention on May 4, 5 and 6, 2018 in Red Deer.

The documents mostly include generic and predictable partisan conservative policy proposals with a focus on repealing many of the laws and policies implemented by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government since 2015. But not surprisingly, a number of policies submitted from the right-wing fringe of the UCP make it into this list.

Introduction of more private schools and increased parental control in education (code for undermining student-led Gay-Straight Alliances), removing funding for abortion services, cutting the size of the public service and public sector employee pay, allowing MLA recall votes, and defining family as the union of a man, a woman and their offspring are among the controversial proposals included in the list submitted by UCP members.

While many of the policies included in this document will not actually become official party policy, the list of proposed policies provides a glimpse into the priorities of the UCP membership in 2018. As noted in Braid’s column, a “final list of resolutions, about 250, won’t be disclosed until members and journalists get their convention packages on Friday.” Those policies will be debated by members at this weekend’s UCP meeting.

UCP member proposed policies:

United Conservative Party Constitutional Document 2 – Member Policy Declaration – V2.0 (Member Proposal Con… by davecournoyer on Scribd

UCP member proposed amendments to the party’s Statement of Principles

United Conservative Party Constitutional Document 1 – Statement of Principles – V2.0 (Member Proposal Conso… by davecournoyer on Scribd

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.