Tag Archives: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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

Wildrose Shuffles Critics, Fildebrandt no longer Public Accounts Committee Chairman

Outspoken Wildrose Party MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who finds himself frequently at odds with leader Brian Jean, remains in his high-profile role as Official Opposition Finance & Treasury critic after a shuffle of critic portfolios in the Wildrose caucus this week.

Brian Jean

But according to the MLA committee membership list released on Dec. 13, 2016, Fildebrandt is no longer Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, a role he has filled since June 2015. The chair of the financial oversight committee is traditionally filled by an MLA from the Official Opposition. Fildebrandt has been replaced by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.

While relinquishing the chair role could be seen as a demotion caused by conflict with his party’s leadership, it likely means that Fildebrandt, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and aggressive critic of the NDP, can now play a more active and vocal role on the committee.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

The Wildrose shuffle included new assignments for Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes as Energy critic, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao as Health critic, Chestermere-Rockyview MLA Leela Aheer as Education Critic, Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt as Justice & Solicitor General critic, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken as Jobs & Labour critic, and Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider as Agriculture critic. The capable and quick on his feet Nathan Cooper remains House Leader. (See a full list here)

The Wildrose caucus also shuffled their MLA committee membership:

  • Prasad Panda replaces Grant Hunter as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
  • Glenn van Dijken replaces Dave Schneider as Deputy Chair of the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future.
  • Leela Aheer replaces Ron Orr as a member of the Standing Committee on Families and Communities
  • Angela Pitt replaces Nathan Cooper as a member of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices
  • Nathan Cooper replaces Derek Fildebrandt as a member of the Standing Committee on Members’ Services
  • Todd Loewen replaces Leela Aheer as a member of the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship
  • Angela Pitt and Glenn van Dijken become members of the Select Special Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner Search Committee.
Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

In or Out? Jason Kenney could have a rough landing into Alberta politics

CBC reports that after 19 years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, 48, is considering entering provincial politics in Alberta. Postmedia’s Jen Gerson writes that he will not confirm whether this is true.

It was a prediction first made by Postmedia’s Graham Thomson in January 2016.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

Mr. Kenney is reportedly backed by a cadre of federal Conservative strategists and insiders, including former Reform Party and Wildrose Party campaign strategist Tom Flanagan, who told CBC that the group discussed whether “he could win the PC leadership then negotiate a merger [with Wildrose].

So, Mr. Kenney, who just this week was appointed to the parliamentary committee studying electoral reform, could be abandoning plans to replace Rona Ambrose as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and setting his sights on uniting-the-right and challenging Rachel Notley‘s moderate New Democratic Party government in 2019. If Mr. Kenney is going to enter Alberta politics, he will need to decide quick because the Progressive Conservative Party will be choosing its new leader before April 30, 2017.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Mr. Kenney is a skilled politician, but he would ominously follow in the footsteps of another former federal Conservative cabinet minister, Jim Prentice, who jumped into provincial politics in 2014 before leading the 44-year old PC government to defeat in May 2015.

New rules approved by the PC Party at its recent annual general meeting could make a leadership bid challenging for an outsider candidate. The PCs replaced the one-member one-vote system that existed from 1992 to 2014 with a new closed delegate system. This will require candidates to build broad support in 87 constituencies across the province, rather than relying on the ability to sign up large groups of voters in concentrated regions.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

If federal Conservative MPs decided to back Mr. Kenney’s bid, an orchestrated takeover could be possible, but there is significant animosity among rank and file PC members to a merger with the more hard-line Wildrose Party. And he would undoubtedly face a strong challenge from the moderate wing of the PC Party, most vocally represented by Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke.

Mr. Kenney’s supporters may have been connected to a recent attempt by a conservative lobby group to hijack the one-MLA Alberta Party. The takeover was thwarted when the party’s executive quickly rescheduled its annual general meeting to an earlier date. It is likely that the marauding band of conservatives were coveting the party’s brand name rather than its moderate-conservative platform.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A bid for the PC Party or the Alberta Party leadership might seem odd for Mr. Kenney, who is likely more comfortable in the social conservative wing of the Wildrose Party and with his former colleagues at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The historical success of the PC Party in Alberta between 1971 and 2015 was not based on adherence to conservative ideology but on the ability of its leaders to build a big blue tent of conservative, moderate and liberal voters.

Despite strong support for sending federal Conservatives to Ottawa, Alberta is now a much more progressive and moderate province than it was 20 years ago, when a young Mr. Kenney was roaming the halls of the Legislature as the spokesperson for the taxpayers federation.

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

Mr. Kenney is not well-known for his conciliatory approach to Alberta politics. In 2015, he argued that “people like” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi were to blame for the politicization of the niqab ban instituted by the federal Conservative government. In 2014, he engaged in a  public spat with Ron Liepert when the former finance minister defeated long-time MP Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. And in 2012, Mr. Kenney’s true feelings about then-deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk were made known in a leaked reply-all email.

There is also the inconvenient fact that Alberta’s elections laws make it impossible to actually merge the financial assets of the two political parties. Those laws also make it unlikely that the Wildrose Party could change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta. This does not mean that there could not be one dominant conservative party to face the NDP in the next election, it just means that any sort of actual merger of parties is unlikely to happen.

It should be noted that the last time an attempt was made to unite-the-right in Alberta, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning (pictured above with Mr. Kenney) was forced to apologize for his role in nudging 9 Wildrose MLAs across the floor to the PCs. That was in December 2014.

There is also the question of how his former federal colleague Brian Jean, now leader of the official opposition Wildrose Party, will feel about Mr. Kenney stealing the spotlight, and potentially his leadership. Despite being constantly undermined by internal party disputes and self-inflicted embarrassment, Mr. Jean deserves credit for leading his party from the brink of extinction to 22 MLAs in 2015. The inconvenient truth that his party still only sits at 35 percent in the latest public opinion poll could add momentum to those pushing to replace the Wildrose leader.

The decision by Mr. Prentice, Mr. Jean and now maybe Mr. Kenney, gives the impression that Conservative party politics in Alberta is becoming a grazing plot for Conservative politicians whose careers in Ottawa have stalled. It was widely believed that Mr. Prentice was using his job as premier to springboard into a future bid for the federal Conservative leadership. I expect the same would be suspected about Mr. Kenney, if he does actually jump into provincial politics in Alberta.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

For Wildrose, “Mr. Wynne” Facebook comment was last straw for Derek Fildebrandt

A statement released late on Friday night announced that Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean had suspended Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition Caucus.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga wrote on Friday night:

A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”

Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized but the flippant Facebook comment about Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality too clearly crossed the line. Remember that it was only four short years ago that a statement claiming gays and lesbians would burn in a Lake of Fire cost the Wildrose a shot at forming government in Alberta. Since then the rural-based party has done its best to avoid discussing social issues that could hurt its public image.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.

Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.

The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his antics sometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.

As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.

Notley NDP make pigs fly again with support for Climate Leadership Plan

When the Alberta government released its Climate Leadership plan in November 2015, I said that Premier Rachel Notley and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips had made pigs fly by uniting a coalition of industry leaders and environmental leaders in our province.

Defying expectations, or making pigs fly, might be a strength of Ms. Phillips. Today she brought together another impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders to support Bill 20: The Climate Leadership Implementation Act (see list below).

Bill 20 would legislate Alberta’s carbon levy and carbon levy rebate, ensure revenue from the carbon levy is invested in addressing climate change, and establish Energy Efficiency Alberta. As economist and Climate Change Panel chairman Andrew Leach pointed out on Twitter today, carbon pricing has wide support from economists from N. Gregory Mankiw to Paul Krugman.

Since the Climate Leadership Plan was released last year, we have seen groups like Norquest College and non-profits like Iron & Earth step up to help with the transition to renewable energy.

After years of inaction by the old Progressive Conservative government, it is refreshing to have a government that believes in climate change and has actually presented a policy to address it.

The Alberta NDP’s climate change plan defies supporters of the much-maligned LEAP Manifesto, which was spearheaded by more radical elements of the federal NDP at that party’s recent convention in Edmonton. By defying the LEAPers, Ms. Phillips and Ms. Notley are demonstrating a clear difference between an NDP government that takes action and an NDP opposition that just talks big.

Bill 20 will spark some interesting debate on the floor of the Alberta Legislature.

Ms. Notley has fended off the radical environmentalists in her party and presented a sensible policy and bill. How will the opposition respond?

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark responded with a list of questions that I expect he will ask Ms. Phillips during debate.

Wildrose Party finance critic Derek Fildebrandt fell into predictable Canadian Taxpayer Federation hysteria, describing the carbon levy as “an assault on taxpayers and families.”

Wildrose MLAs will likely focus their energy attacking the carbon levy and calling for more oil pipelines, but will the official opposition defy the radical climate change deniers in their own ranks and present a policy alternative to the NDP’s Climate Leadership Plan? Will Brian Jean‘s Wildrose Party join the debate with a policy alternative beyond ‘we will repeal whatever the NDP does on climate change‘?

The NDP have told their radicals to take a hike. Can the Wildrose do the same?


List of supporters of Bill 20: The Climate Leadership Implementation Act

•Karen Sorensen, Mayor, Town of Banff

•John Borrowman, Mayor, Town of Canmore

•Don Iveson, Mayor, City of Edmonton

•Jesse Row, Executive Director, Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance

•Mark Ramsankar, President, Alberta Teachers’ Association

•Scott Thon, President and CEO, AltaLink

•Peter Tertzakian, Chief Energy Economist & Managing Director, ARC Financial Corporation

•Grant Arnold, President and CEO, BluEarth Renewables

•Joe Vipond, Physician, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

•Robert Hornung, President, Canadian Wind Energy Association

•Michael McSweeney, President and CEO, Cement Association of Canada

•Brian Ferguson, President and CEO, Cenovus

•Kathy Bardswick, President and CEO, The Co-Operators

•Ross Hornby, Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, GE Canada

•Cory Basil, Vice-President of Development, EDF EN Canada Inc.

•Kevin Lecht, Business Manager, The International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers local 110 (Alberta)

•Robert Walker Vice-President, ESG Services & Ethical Funds, NEI Investments

•Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute

•Rob Harlan, Executive Director, Solar Energy Society of Alberta

•Sean Collins, Co-Founder, Student Energy

•Steve Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Suncor

Who will stand up for Alberta’s persecuted billionaire community?

A billionaire is moving away from Calgary and we should all be worried, the newspapers tell us. Postmedia newspapers reported recently that nameless sources are saying oil billionaire and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards is “switching his residency to the U.K. for tax reasons.”

Postmedia headlines and columns have characterized Mr. Edwards as a “tax-climate refugee” but it does not appear that anyone from the media has actually spoken with him about his move.

Alberta has some of the lowest taxes in Canada and remains the only province without a sales tax. It has been speculated that a billionaire like Mr. Edwards would only pay about 3 percent less tax in the United Kingdom. But the billionaire’s alleged economic refugee status fits nicely into the editorial narrative of the Postmedia newspapers and the political agenda of the Wildrose Party opposition, who immediately blamed Alberta’s New Democratic Party government for Mr. Edward’s relocation.

In May 2015, Albertans elected an NDP government that ran on a platform clearly stating that billionaires should not be in the same tax bracket as average Alberta taxpayers. Even the party that earned the second most votes in last year’s election, the former governing Progressive Conservatives, planned to cancel the 10 percent flat tax and increase taxes for high income earners up to 12 percent if they were re-elected.

Wildrose Party MLA and former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman Derek Fildebrandt appears to be leading the charge in defence of the rights of billionaires to be in a low tax bracket.

One of the first laws the NDP passed after it formed government scrapped the flat tax that the PC government introduced in the early 2000s. Personal income tax rates for high income earners, like billionaires, were increased to 15 percent for annual income above $300,000.

We continue to hear plenty of rhetoric about the decline of the “Alberta Advantage” but the reality is the biggest economic and financial advantage our province has only exists when the international price of oil is high. When oil prices drop and natural resource royalties are low, our artificially low tax rates are unrealistic if we want to sustain the public services that contribute to the high quality of life we enjoy in Alberta.

The government needed to generate revenue and increasing personal income tax rates is a basic way to do that, though it still remains unclear if anyone in government or opposition has a plan to actually get Alberta off the oil roller coaster.

But enough about Alberta. Back to the billionaire.

No offence, Calgary, but it could be that as a billionaire Mr. Edwards wants to live in a large international city like London that is home to a large billionaire community. While being a billionaire in London comes with billionaire-specific problems, I imagine a major European city can offer a lifestyle that a city in western Canada cannot.

There could be private personal motivations for the move. Until the media actually speaks with him about his move, all coverage is just speculation.

If he is indeed relocating, I hope Mr. Edwards enjoys his stay in London. I might even join him there if I one day become a billionaire. And if I do, it probably would have less to do with the taxes and more to do with London being a great city to live in, especially for billionaires.

Tax Increases no longer Political Kryptonite in Canadian Elections

It’s been a rough year for Conservatives in Canada as two major elections in six months have resulted in major blows for Conservative parties in Alberta and Ottawa.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

In May 2015, former federal cabinet minister and bank vice-president Jim Prentice, a political moderate and patrician of the province’s Conservative establishment, led the 44-year long governing Progressive Conservatives to a stunning defeat by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives were swept from office by Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal Party.

These two major election defeats shattered many common beliefs about politics in Alberta and Canada. In both cases, Conservative parties were defeated by parties promising moderate progressive platforms that included tax increases and significant increases to public infrastructure investment and explicit commitments to run deficit budgets, for at least the short-term period in the case of the NDP. In Alberta, both the PC Party and NDP promised various tax increases.

On the final Sunday of the federal election campaign, Mr. Trudeau spoke to an energetic crowd of more than 2,000 supporters in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding, home of now elected Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi. During his speech, he explained to the crowd that if the Liberals were elected on Oct. 19, that they would raise taxes by asking Canada’s wealthiest income earners “to pay just a little bit more.”

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

If these words sounded familiar to anyone in the crowd, it’s because they might have heard Ms. Notley deliver nearly the exact same message five months earlier when speaking to similarly energized crowds during the provincial election. And they in both cases, the message resonated with the crowd, and on election day with voters.

This new reality will certainly come to a shock to those gathering at Preston Manning‘s institute on Oct. 22 to watch the Canadian Taxpayers Federation present former Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day with a “TaxFighter Award” for his role in implementing Canada’s first 10 percent flat-rate personal income tax in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is the same flat-tax that Ms. Notley’s NDP replaced with a progressive income tax system only a few short months ago.

These tax increases and other changes brought in by the NDP have not been without their critics, some more vocal and violent than others. But perhaps the biggest irony of these criticisms is that even with the tax increases brought in by Ms. Notley’s NDP, corporate and small business tax rates are still lower than they were when Mr. Day served in Premier Ralph Klein‘s cabinet.

While taxes might not have been the only issue that drove voters to the polls, it didn’t drive them away. These two elections have shattered the myth cultivated by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, think tanks and lobby groups for decades that promising to increase taxes is political kryptonite.

As Rachel Notley proved on May 5 and Justin Trudeau showed on Oct. 19, voters in 2015 are willing to reward political leaders who present smart, sensible and responsible plans for increased taxation and government revenue.

Source: MLA Kent Hehr to run for Trudeau Liberals in Calgary-Centre

Kent Hehr Matt Grant Calgary Liberal

Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr (right) with nominated Calgary-Confederation Liberal candidate Matt Grant.

Political Calgary is abuzz with rumours that popular MLA Kent Hehr will seek the Liberal nomination in the federal riding of Calgary-Centre. Reliable sources say that Mr. Hehr has gone so far as to request nomination forms to become an official nomination candidate for the federal Liberals.

Joan Crockatt

Joan Crockatt

Mr. Hehr would be a star candidate for the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals in Alberta, who see an opportunity to unseat Conservative Member of Parliament Joan Crockatt in the next election. Ms. Crockatt placed a narrow 1,158 votes ahead of Liberal challenger Harvey Locke in a November 2012 by-election. That by-election took place one year after former Conservative MP Lee Richardson defeated his closest challenger with a 19,770 vote margin of victory in the 2011 federal election.

A well-respected lawyer before he entered politics, the likeable Mr. Hehr has represented the downtown Calgary-Buffalo constituency as a Liberal since the 2008 election. The Liberal Finance and Energy critic briefly ran for mayor in 2010, bowing out and endorsing Naheed Nenshi before nomination day. Mr. Nenshi’s campaign manager in that election and now his chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim also managed Mr. Hehr’s first election campaign in 2008 (Mr. Nkemdirim has also has been rumoured as a potential Liberal candidate in the same riding).

In December 2012, Mr. Hehr stirred up some controversy within his party when he wrote a guest post on this blog suggesting that the narrow Conservative win in the Calgary-Centre by-election should send a wake up call to Liberals, NDP and Greens in this province.

Darshan Kang Liberal MLA Calgary Skyview

Darshan Kang

As an MLA, Mr. Hehr has been a thorough opposition critic and a champion of LGBTQ issues, introducing Motion 503 supporting Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools (the motion was voted down by a coalition of 22 Progressive Conservative and 9 Wildrose MLAs).

Perhaps trying to appeal to a more conservative base of supporters, Mr. Hehr was pictured alongside Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson this week signing a “no-debt” pledge from the Tea Party-lite Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

He would not be the only Liberal MLA planning to jump into federal politics in the next election. Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang was recently nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in the north east Calgary’s new Calgary-Skyview riding. If both Liberal MLAs are nominated, they would each be required to resign as MLAs when a federal election is called, leaving the Liberals with only three MLAs in the Assembly (and for the first time since before  the 1993 election, with less MLAs than the New Democratic Party, which currently has four MLAs).

Other MLAs running for federal nominations are Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao, who is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in the new Edmonton-West riding, and Independent Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, who is running for the Conservative nomination in the new Calgary-Confederation riding.

Attempts were made to contact Mr. Hehr in order to confirm and comment on the rumours of his potential candidacy in Calgary-Centre. No response had been received at the time this post was published.

UPDATE (July 17, 2014): As predicted in this post, Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr has announced he will run for the federal Liberal nomination in Calgary-Centre.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre Liberal

Johnson, Anglin, Nenshi and Butler. Who said Alberta politics is dull in the summer?

Justin Trudeau Naheed Nenshi Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede begins this week, drawing politicians from across the land and from all stripes. In this photo, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi poses with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his children (photo from @JustinTrudeau).

Premier Dave Hancock is standing behind Jeff Johnson, even after the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that the embattled education minister broke Alberta’s privacy laws by sending a direct message to the personal email addresses of thousands of teachers during their contract negotiations.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA

Jeff Johnson

In any other job, breaking the law would likely be cause for dismissal, but this does not appear to be the case if you are a cabinet minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government.

NDP leadership candidate MLA David Eggen, himself a teacher, chimed in on Mr. Johnson’s actions, saying “(It) shows a lack of respect for the teachers and a lack of respect for the law.”

Mr. Johnson, who appears to be intent on dragging the professional credibility of Alberta educators through the mud, also turned his attention to school board administrators this week by demanding they hand over all complaints against teachers from the past ten years. Tory MLAs are expected to discuss Mr. Johnson’s reign of terror at this week’s annual “Stampede Caucus Meeting” in Calgary.

Joe Anglin unleashed
Rabble-rouser MLA Joe Anglin was defeated in his bid to be a Wildrose candidate in the next election. The first-term MLA was defeated by local constituency president Jason Nixon in a controversy-ridden party nomination contest in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. Mr. Nixon’s brother, Jeremy Nixon, is the nominated Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Klein.

Mr. Anglin now has some decisions to make before the next election. He could quietly complete his term as a Wildrose MLA and retire at the next election, or he could run for another party or as an Independent candidate (given his style, this may be the likely option). A property rights activist and former leader of the Alberta Greens, Mr. Anglin sparked a political wildfire in central Alberta before the 2012 election over widespread opposition to electrical transmission line construction.

Mike Butler Alberta LIberal Party

Mike Butler

Nenshi calls out paid political agitator
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called out the untransparent Canadian Taxpayers Federation after its spokesperson was invited to speak at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference. Mr. Nenshi has been in a prolonged public feud with the special interest group’s paid political agitator, Derek Fildebrandt. While the Taxpayers Federation preaches transparency for government, it refuses to make public a list of its own financial backers.

Liberal VP jumps to the Alberta Party
Mike Butler
, the vice-president communications of the Alberta Liberal Party, announced on his Facebook page this week that he has quit Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals and joined the Alberta Party. In his open-letter, Mr. Butler said that “…I am no longer surrounded by those who stand for democracy and fair debate.

This is at least the second time Mr. Butler has switched parties in recent years. Before joining the Liberals, he ran as an NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford in the 2008 provincial election and in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2008 federal election. He was the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont in the 2011 federal election and in Edmonton-Mill Creek in the 2012 provincial election.

Where are the ideas? PC leadership race lacking meaningful policy debate

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel endorsed Jim Prentice for PC leader last week.

The race is still in its early stages, but Albertans hoping the Progressive Conservatives leadership contest would spark a great policy debate about the future of our province are so far disappointed. The most notable news so far from this race has been the growing number of endorsements collected by front-runner Jim Prentice.

While 45 of 58 PC MLAs lending their names to his campaign, Mr. Prentice has only released five priority statements. Although few will doubt his competence or intelligence, it remains unclear where Mr. Prentice stands on many important issues facing Albertans.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

What is Mr. Prentice’s position on the increasing privatization of seniors care in Alberta? What does he think about proper funding for our fast-growing municipalities? What are his thoughts on the impact oil sands pipelines will have on northern Alberta’s caribou herds? What about poverty? Does he believe locally elected school boards have a meaningful future? What about the future of Alberta Health Services?

Without policy or ideas to discuss, Mr. Prentice’s past has become one of the issues of the campaign.

Friends of Medicare raised concerns about Mr. Prentice’s recent role on the board of a company that owns an exclusive private boutique health clinic in Calgary. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a conservative lobby group which keeps its own financial backers secret, took a cheap shot at Mr. Prentice because the federal government has no copies of expense claims he filed before he left his job as a minister in Ottawa four years ago.

PC leadership candidate and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk is attempting to downplay his high-profile role in Premier Alison Redford’s cabinet. In an interview with the University of Calgary’s student newspaper, the Gauntlet, Mr. Lukaszuk claims he is not responsible for deep budget cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, because he was only appointed to the position in early 2013.

Ric McIver Alberta PC leadership candidate Calgary MLA

Ric McIver

While it is true that Mr. Lukaszuk was only appointed into that role shortly before the provincial budget cuts were announced, he accepted the job to become the public face of the PC Government’s cuts to post-secondary education. Mr. Lukaszuk is a political bulldog and his attempts to dress himself as a political lamb are unconvincing.

Meanwhile, former Tory campaign manager Susan Elliott does not want anyone to underestimate candidate Ric McIver’s in this contest.

As most Tories are struggling to pretend this is a competitive race, I tend agree with Ms. Elliott. Serving his first-term as an MLA, former Calgary Alderman Mr. McIver is the only candidate of the three who can convincingly argue he is an outsider to PC establishment politics (Mr. Lukaszuk has been an MLA for 13 years and Mr. Prentice has been involved in PC Party politics since the 1980s).

And while Mr. Prentice’s polished-style and well-tailored suits give him the resemblance of a “full bodied, oak aged Chardonnay, grilled veal chops with mushrooms, red peppers and butternut squash conservative,” Mr. McIver’s presents the image of a less sophisticated “meat and potatoes conservative.” Because of this, I have no doubt that Mr. McIver will appeal to many PC supporters looking for a more populist and less polished candidate for leader.

Mr. McIver’s campaign has drawn the support of long-time conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool and Hill & Knowlton consultant Kristen Lawson.

The opposition parties are taking advantage of the lack of  meaningful policy discussion in the PC leadership race. Last week,  Wildrose leader Danielle Smith released the first section of her party’s platform for the next provincial election, promising more funding for light-rail transit and public transit in Calgary and Edmonton, and loosened rules around water supply in smaller communities.

When (or if) PC leadership candidates finally choose to have a meaningful policy debate during this contest, they will not only be competing  with each other for attention, but also with the opposition parties they will be competing with in the next general election.

Redford’s top advisor earns more than Obama’s top advisor, claims Wildrose

Leo McGarry West Wing Alison Redford Farouk Adatia Salary Pay

“Mr. President, I think we need to renegotiate my salary,” said West Wing chief of staff Leo McGarry upon discovering he earns less than Alison Redford’s chief of staff.

Premier Alison Redford‘s chief of staff earns a bigger salary than his counterpart in the West Wing, claimed the official opposition Wildrose in a press release yesterday.

As the salary disclosure “sunshine list” of Alberta’s senior public servants who earn more than $100,000 annually was released late last week, opposition critics honed in on Ms. Redford’s senior staff. The Wildrose opposition targeted the salary of chief of staff Farouk Adatia, whose annual salary was $316,274.69 in 2013, according to the disclosure list.

Wildrose Alberta West Wing

The infographic released by the Wildrose Official Opposition caucus.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith trotted out  numbers showing that Mr. Adatia is paid nearly double the salary of American President Barack Obama‘s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who earned $172,200 in 2013. In Mr. McDonough’s defence, this is a pitifully low salary for someone in such a senior government role.

Also on the Wildrose hit list was Ms. Redford’s director of communications, Stefan Baranski, who earned $207,829 in 2013, compared to the $179,311 earned by his predecessor in 2012.

While Mr. Adatia and Mr. Baranski may have fairly negotiated their salaries and benefits, it adds to the growing public perception that Ms. Redford is woefully out of touch with the reality faced by ordinary Albertans.

These salary increases in Ms. Redford’s inner circle occurred at the same time as the government is negotiating forcing pay freezes on many frontline public sector employees. The same frontline workers are facing government-imposed changes to their pension plans, which could drastically impact their retirement security.

A political response to a political problem
The government’s salary disclosure list is a political response to last year’s outcry over the more than $2,000,000 in severance packages that had been paid to former senior staff in Ms. Redford’s office, including  $130,000 in severance paid to former chief of staff, Stephen Carter (Mr. Carter released the amount in a tweet after Ms. Redford refused to answer media question about his severance package).

Sunshine on the CTF
The “sunshine list” has been long advocated for by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose Alberta director, Derek Fildebrandt, was somewhat ironically quoted alongside transparency minister Don Scott in the original government press release announcing the salary disclosure. The CTF is an organization that could use a sunshine of its own. While always available for a snappy quote or photo-worthy media stunt, the six-member lobby group  closely guards its own list of financial bankrollers, which continues to remain secret.