Tag Archives: Charles Rusnell

Why none of Alberta’s 87 MLAs deserved to be listed as a Top MLA of 2013.

Do any of the MLAs working in this building deserve to be named a Top MLA of 2013?

Do any of the MLAs working in this building deserve to be named a Top MLA of 2013?

It has become tradition on this blog at the end of each year that I publish a list of Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta who have been the best and most notable of the past year.

This year was the first time I struggled to compile a list. In the nine-years since I began writing this blog, 2013 felt like a low-point for our provincial MLAs.

The mindless hyper-partisanship of some MLAs on the floor of the Assembly, as well as the near-complete irrelevance of government backbench MLAs, made it a disappointing year in Alberta politics. While this behaviour is not new, it felt magnified this year.

On social media, most Progressive Conservative MLAs now have a lower-profile than their press secretaries and chiefs of staff, who have become mini-celebrities by spending their days locking-horns with opposition staffers in never-ending partisan arguments on Twitter.

Although there are many MLAs who work hard at the constituency level in their communities and through committee work, the degree of under-achievement on the Assembly floor left much to be desired. When it comes to their elected provincial representatives, there is little for Albertans to be proud of.

Because of this, none of Alberta’s 87 MLAs deserve to be listed as a top MLA of the year for 2013.

Notable mentions

Highwood MLA and Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith is sounding and acting more like a Premier-in-waiting each day. Ms. Smith is preparing for the 2016 election and her performance over the next year will demonstrate that.

First-term Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous is a bright-star for the provincial New Democrats. The well-spoken and youthful Mr. Bilous is growing into a viable option to become his party’s next leader.

Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber deserves credit for his private members bill that establishes a single agency to co-ordinate organ and tissue donations in Alberta, and creates a consent-to-donate registry.

And honourable mentions go to CBC Edmonton’s investigative journalist Charles Rusnell and associate producer Jennie Russell. Through their methodical investigations and reporting, these two journalists have impacted the provincial debate and become the most effective critics of the long-governing PC Party.

Previous Top MLA lists
Top MLA’s 2012
Top MLA’s 2011
Top MLA’s 2010

CBC investigation, Wildrose aggressiveness real reasons Peter Sandhu quit Tories.

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory: Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu has resigned from the Progressive Conservative Caucus after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. The report, by investigative reporter Charles Rusnell, also found that Mr. Sandhu made a false statement in a sworn affidavit.

It is not uncommon for Tory MLAs to face investigations by the ethics commissioner, but it is uncommon for Tory MLAs to actually resign from the Government caucus because of these investigations.

Mr. Sandhu’s resignation shows how different Alberta’s political environment has become in recent years. The Wildrose Official Opposition is waging a permanent aggressive campaign against the Tories, something the long-governing party is not accustomed to. And with Premier Alison Redford facing an internal party leadership review in November, the Tories are desperately trying to avoid the kind of embarrassing controversies that dominated the political narrative in 2012.

As far as I can recollect, the last Tory MLA to resign because of an ethics scandal was in 2001, when former cabinet minister Robert “Butch” Fischer quit as the MLA for Wainwright after being investigated for a breach of ethics regarding a private business deal.

Mr. Sandhu was first elected in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, defeating Independent MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus in 2006 (Mr. Backs challenged Mr. Sandhu, and was defeated, in the PC nomination contest).

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Westward, support for Premier Christy Clark‘s Liberal Party surged in yesterday’s British Columbia provincial election, leaving Adrian Dix‘s New Democrats in the dust. Long expected to form government in this year’s vote, the NDP were only able to elect 33 MLAs, compared to 50 for the Liberals. The only win the NDP are likely to celebrate is the defeat of Premier Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey constituency against newly elected NDP MLA David Eby.

Scandal, controversy, and electoral fortunes? What does 2013 hold for Alberta politics?

Alberta Politics in 2013

Alberta Politics in 2013

What does 2013 hold for Alberta’s political leaders? Do their performances in 2012 shed any light on how the next year will play out?

Saved from defeat by controversial comments made by social conservative elements of the Wildrose Party, Premier Alison Redford led the Progressive Conservative Party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory since 1971. Under her leadership, the Tories have sent signals suggesting their intention to build a new electoral coalition centred around moderate conservatives and liberals, a response to the loss of their hard-conservative base to the Wildrose Party.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Redford Tories have been consistently slow in responding to emerging political crises and scandals, giving the opposition Wildrose Party the opportunity to define the media narrative each time. The Tories will need to shed their geriatric reflexes and become quicker at managing crisis communications less they be defined as old, tired, and corrupt over the next three years.

On the horizon, an expected sixth consecutive provincial budget deficit and tension with Doctors’ and Teachers’ unions could be the defining political issues of the next few months. The election of an NDP government in British Columbia could also reopen discussions around the development of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Bruderheim to Kitimat.

Old and corrupt is exactly what Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith wants the Tories to look like in 2013.

In advance of the April 2012 election, the Wildrose was at its strongest in the public opinion polls when the newspaper headlines trumpeted tales of Tory corruption. Her new 17 MLA caucus, which has now faced against the Tories on the floor of the Assembly,  is battle ready to continue its permanent negative campaign against the Tories in 2013.

The question is whether the Wildrose Party can transform itself into more than just a conservative political war machine. Can the Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith transform itself into a government-in-waiting?

Optimists in the Liberal Party will tell you that the fact their party won any seats in the 2012 election is proof that Raj Sherman has earned the right to remain party leader. The Liberals did survive the election with five MLAs, but the former Tory MLA led the party to its worst electoral showing in more than twenty-five years.

Deprived of its long-held official opposition status, the newly rebranded Liberalberta Party now faces the difficult challenge of figuring out where it fits in Alberta’s new political landscape. Popular Calgary MLA Kent Hehr and party president Todd Van Vliet clashed earlier this month over what the future direction of the Liberal Party should be. The next year will show indications whether Dr. Sherman’s rag-tag caucus can survive the three years until the next election.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason wants to build a bigger tent. The NDP, electorally stuck within Edmonton city limits for the past twenty-years, is hoping to take advantage of the electoral decline of the Liberal Party to expand his own party’s base of support. While the NDP is expected to form government in British Columbia and is on an electoral upswing in Ontario, Alberta has historically not been fertile soil for even moderate versions of the social democratic party.

Currently the longest-serving party leader, Mr. Mason told the Calgary Herald in a year-end interview that he plans to lead his party into the next election in 2016. The next election would be Mr. Mason’s fourth election as party leader and will mark his twenty-seventh year as an elected politician.

While experience is important, and sometimes irreplaceable, party supporters will need to ask themselves whether Mr. Mason is the leader who can bring the NDP to the next level in Alberta. With a newly expanded and younger caucus, New Democrats will be forgiven if they look to Rachel Notley, David Eggen, or rising star Deron Bilous, to be a fresh face for their party in the next election. An inspiring leadership race with a new generation of candidates could give the NDP a significant boost in Conservative-dominated Alberta.

The next 365 days could be interesting for Alberta’s political scene.

Happy New Year!

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There is little doubt in my mind that the title for story-maker of the year on Alberta’s political scene in 2012 is held by CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell. A serious investigative journalist, Mr. Rusnell uncovered some of the defining political stories of the year from Allaudin Meralli‘s and Lynn Redford‘s expense claims to the unfortunately named “Tobaccogate“. These stories shaped the political debate in Alberta at critical moments in 2012. (EDIT: I mistakenly gave credit to Mr. Rusnell for uncovering the controversial payments to MLAs for serving on a committee that rarely met. Credit for this story belongs to Scott Hennig).

Wildrose MLAs stage walk out during dramatic tobacco conflict.

Question Period at Alberta's Legislative Assembly

Another hour of Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Another circus event for political watchers.

Theatric and dramatic antics dominated this afternoon’s hour-long Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

To start the drama, the official opposition Wildrose Caucus raised a point of personal privilege claiming that Premier Alison Redford misled the Assembly by claiming she did not choose the law firm involved in a $10 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry (the Premier’s ex-husband is a partner at a law firm awarded a government contract in the lawsuit).

Soon after raising the point of privilage, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky overruled and denied Danielle Smith and her Wildrose MLAs an opportunity to ask any questions related to the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest in the tobacco lawsuit. In response, most of the 17 MLA Wildrose caucus stormed out of the Assembly Chamber in protest (the dramatic effect was lessened when a number of Wildrose MLAs quickly returned to their seats in order to ask questions not related to the tobacco conflict claims).

In a bizarre twist, Speaker Zwozdesky held up a Government of Alberta press release as evidence that the Premier did not mislead the Assembly because the final decision to select the law firm was signed by her successor, then-Justice Minister and current Agriculture Minster Verlyn Olson. The Speaker then declared that it matters not whether the Premier selected the law firm, she did not mislead the Assembly because her successor signed the contract.

(I just had a Bill Clinton flashback).

Gary Bikman Shill

Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman’s handmade signage.

Taking full advantage of the attention of the Twittersphere and the Press Gallery, the Wildrose Party cried foul and complained that the ruling was an affront to democracy (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman wrote “SHILL” on the back of his notebook, leaving political watchers to suspect the message was directed at Speaker Zwozdesky). Tories claimed the rookie Wildrose MLAs simply did not understand the rules of Westminster-style parliamentary procedure.

Meanwhile, New Democrat leader Brian Mason escalated his party’s call for Premier Redford to step down (a demand which she is unlikely to acquiesce). Liberal leader Raj Sherman clumsily attempted to tie the Premier’s decision not to step down with the suspension of Gary Mar, Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong, earlier this year. Premier Redford suspended Mr. Mar from his duties overseas after allegations that former Tory leadership candidate used his title to raise money to pay-off his political debts (he was reinstated after the election).

Since entering office, Premier Redford has tended to initially respond slowly to political crises confronting her party and respond decisively once the issue has become a political problem. Whether it be the infamous No-Meet Committee, the never ending MLA pay issues, the Allaudin Merali expense fiasco, the Tories default strategy appears to be to ignore the issue in hopes that it will disappear.

It has been five days since CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell first reported on the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest and the Tories are still stumbling through a public relations debacle that should have been easy to resolve.

Whether or not Premier Redford is in an actual conflict of interest, the Tories are doing a good job looking guilty and the opposition is only happy to help them on their way.

A smoking gun? Premier Redford accused of conflict in tobacco case.

An exclusive story from CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell:

Premier Alison Redford, while justice minister, personally chose her ex-husband’s law firm for a government tobacco-litigation contract worth potentially tens of millions of dollars in contingency fees, a CBC News investigation has found.

One of Canada’s top experts in conflict of interest says Redford was in a clear conflict and should have not made that decision.

Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, says Alison Redford should have recused herself from the decision-making process in the awarding of a contract to her ex-husband’s law firm while she was justice minister. (CBC)

As CBC News first revealed in May, the Redford government awarded the tobacco litigation contract — at $10 billion, the largest legal action in Alberta’s history — to International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, a consortium of law firms from Florida, Ontario and Alberta.

The consortium includes the Calgary firms of Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes (JSS) and Cuming & Gillespie. The two firms have close personal and political ties to both Redford and the Progressive Conservative Party.

Redford’s former husband is Robert Hawkes, a partner in JSS, who served as her transition team leader after she won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race in 2011 and ascended to the premier’s office. Read more…

Something was rotten in the former Calgary Health Region.

Tory Party Calgary Health Region Fundraising

A PC Party fundraiser mourns the loss of the Calgary Health Region.

Intrepid CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell has uncovered another swath of illegal political donations made to Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party:

Lynn Redford, sister of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, attended Progressive Conservative party events at public expense and helped organize an annual Tory barbeque while she was a senior executive at the Calgary Health Region.

Expense-claim records, obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information, show Redford attended a Conservative party annual general meeting in Edmonton, and several fundraisers, including premier’s dinners and a golf tournament fundraiser for Tory MLA Dave Coutts.

The documents show she attended these functions, all, or in part, at the health region’s expense, claiming fundraiser tickets, travel costs, mileage, hotel rooms and even more than $200 for liquor for a Tory barbeque.

Redford also expensed a breakfast with her sister Alison, a couple months after she was first elected in 2008.

Under Alberta law, it is illegal for publicly-funded institutions, including the Calgary Health Region, to make political donations.

As I wrote on August 23 2012, for many years, the Calgary Health Region benefited from political proximity to both Premier Ralph Klein, and former Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning, who later served as chairman of the health region’s board of directors. Numerous political archetypes with close connections to the PC Party were appointed by the government to serve on the health authority’s board of directors.

This summer, following the implementation of an audit to investigate allegations of misspending by an executive of the former Capital Health Region, the government and Alberta Health Services initially resisted expanding an audit to other former regional health authorities.

Limiting the investigation to the former Edmonton health executives fuelled speculation that executives of the former Calgary Health Region, now comfortably occupying senior positions at AHS, were campaigning to discredit the work done by executives of Edmonton’s former Capital Health Region.

Following the expense claims controversy, current AHS President and CEO Chris Eagle, a former Calgary Health Region executive, reimbursed the provincial health authority for expenses including airfare and liquor.

It is suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO and Klein-loyalist Jack Davis. As the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit, Mr. Davis went public to get more money from Premier Ed Stelmach’s government before the 2008 election, which threatened to make it an campaign issue.

Soon after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, the remaining regional health authorities were dissolved and Alberta Health Services was created.