Following former prime minister Stephen Harper’s resignation last week, a by-election must be called in the Calgary-Heritage riding by February 25, 2017. Two candidates have already entered the Conservative nomination race to succeed Mr. Harper in Calgary-Heritage.
The Calgary-Heritage federal riding (image from Wikipedia)
Local Conservative Party activist Bob Benzen was the first to announce his candidacy for the nomination. His website states that he is the co-founder of the Decade of Excellence Committee, which paid for large billboards thanking Mr. Harper for his service in office after the Liberal Party’s victory in the October 2015 election.
Calgary lawyer Paul Frank is the second candidate to join the nomination contest. He previously ran in the 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election and as a candidate for the Conservative Party nomination in Calgary-Rocky Ridge in 2014.
Local Liberals have been actively campaigning in Calgary-Heritage in anticipation of Mr. Harper’s resignation (and the neighbouring Calgary-Midnapore in anticipation of Jason Kenney’s resignation on October 1, 2016).
Mr. Harper was re-elected in October 2015 with 63 percent of the vote, ahead of Liberal Dr. Miles with 25 percent, New Democrat Matt Masters with 8 percent and Green Kelly Christie with 2 percent.
Before the 2015 election, the riding was known as Calgary-Southwest and had been represented by Mr. Harper since 2002. The riding was previously represented by Reform Party leader Preston Manning from 1993 to 2002.
With less than two days left in Alberta’s mini-election, voters will head to the polls on the morning of October 27, 2014 to cast their ballots in by-elections being held in Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, Calgary-West and Edmonton-Whitemud. As these mid-term elections approach, what is at stake for Alberta’s political parties?
In a normal general election, the PC Party would easily elect candidates in all four of these constituencies, as they did in the 2012 election. In three of the by-elections, the PC Party benefits from having three high-profile candidates – Premier Jim Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud and Education Minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.
Not wanting to expose themselves to criticism, the PC candidates have faced criticism for skipping all-candidates forums in their constituencies. But despite shying away from debating their opponents, the PC Party has not shied away from using the leavers of government power to keep their candidates front and centre in the news during the by-election campaigns.
My general impression is that many Albertans want to give Mr. Prentice a chance as Premier, despite their disapproval of his recent predecessor, Alison Redford. PC victories in all four by-elections would not come as a surprise, but a loss in one or more would be a warning sign to the PC Party. A personal loss for Mr. Prentice or one of his cabinet ministers would be a significant blow to the 43-year long governing PC Party.
From the beginning of the by-election campaign, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has been managing expectations and downplaying her party’s chances of winning in these strong-PC voting constituencies. But that does not mean the Wildrose should be underestimated, because they are in it to win.
The official opposition party has released a series of television and radios ads during the by-elections praising their leader and attacking Mr. Prentice as being “the same” as Ms. Redford.
The Wildrose has focused on areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak – trust and fiscal responsibility – and hope that the memory of Ms. Redford has not faded in the minds of Albertans.
As the official opposition, the Wildrose needs to win at least one of the four by-elections to show it still has the strength to compete with the Tories in the next election.
The Wildrose likely has its best shot in Calgary-West, where public school trustee Sheila Taylor is running against PC candidate Mike Ellis, a Calgary police officer. The Wildrose are running former police officer Kathy Macdonald against Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and John Fletcher in Calgary-Elbow, where Ms. Redford is the former MLA.
Despite historical PC strength in the four constituencies, four losses by the Wildrose could force Ms. Smith to have to defend her leadership going into the party’s annual meeting later this year.
Also running for the Wildrose is Tim Grover in Edmonton-Whitemud.
New Democratic Party
An NDP pamphlet used in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.
Not really a contender in the three Calgary by-elections, the Alberta NDP has focused their resources in Edmonton-Whitemud where Dr. Bob Turner has run an aggressive campaign against Health Minister Mandel, attacking him for his lack of knowledge of the health care system. Dr. Turner, or “Dr. Bob” as he is affectionately known as by NDP supporters, has punched above his party’s weight in this by-election by dominating media coverage of the Whitemud by-election.
A win in Whitemud would be a spectacular victory for the NDP, but a strong second or third place showing is more likely. If the NDP places ahead of the former official opposition Liberals, it will strengthen the party’s argument that the Rachel Notley-led party is now the official progressive opposition to the PCs and Wildrose in Edmonton.
A Greg Clark self with his supporters on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow.
With no seats in the Assembly, the stakes are low for the Alberta Party. With leader Greg Clark as their candidate, Calgary-Elbow has been a fertile sandbox for the Alberta Party to focus on and try out new strategies.
Focusing on hot-button locals issues like local school closures and flood mitigation, Mr. Clark’s campaign appears to have spooked the PC Party, who are hoping Mr. Dirks’ candidacy will mitigate any lingering embarrassment voters feel from Ms. Redford’s time as the local MLA.
Despite having solid candidates in Calgary-Elbow (Susan Wright) and Edmonton-Whitemud (Donna Wilson), expectations are not high for the Liberal Party in these four by-elections.
The Liberals have raised questions about Mr. Mandel’s connections to tobacco industry lobbyists and focused on health care issues in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. But it is difficult to tell if the party has gained much traction in these by-elections.
Unlike its popular federal cousins, the provincial Liberal Party has become a sort of political sideshow, continuing to suffer a slow decline since losing official opposition status in the last election.
These by-elections will determine whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are still a relevant force in Alberta politics.
The Green Party of Alberta has put forward candidates in two of the four by-elections. Polly Knowlton Cockett in Calgary-Foothills and Rene Malenfant in Edmonton-Whitemud. The Green Party holds no seats in the Assembly and, while they have good intentions, it is unlikely that they will be competitive in the Oct. 27, 2014 votes.
Where to vote?
Eligible voters living in these four constituencies can vote in the by-election on Oct. 27, 2014 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Visit the Elections Alberta website to find your voting station.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the Conservative candidate chosen and widely expected to win the upcoming by-election, attention will now shift to the opposition party candidates. The New Democrats have yet to select a candidate and no prospective candidates have made their intentions public. Past candidate William Hamilton has announced his intentions to seek the Green Party nomination and popular local writer Chris Turner has expressed interest in that party’s nomination.
This is reminiscent of the Calgary-Centre Liberal nomination before the 2004 election, when local lawyer Julia Turnbull, who had been campaigning for the nomination, was nearly pushed out of the race in favour of former Calgary police chief Christine Silverberg, who the central party had hoped to appoint as the candidate.
A new group, calling themselves 1 Calgary Centre, has formed in hopes of mobilizing progressive voters within Calgary-Centre to support and elect a consensus candidate in the upcoming by-election.
It is really unfair to say that the Alberta Party ever occupied the limelight. It would probably be more accurate to describe it as having visited the limelight for a few short months.
As a card carrying member of the Alberta Party, I have had mixed feelings about the path the organization has taken over the past year. I joined that party late last year largely because the outstanding group of people it had attracted and the positive energy they beamed with. In November 2010, I delivered the closing remarks to that party’s Policy Meeting and I walked away from the meeting feeling positive about the people involved and the direction that the party was going. Being involved in the Alberta Party did not make me feel bad about politics in our province, which was nice for a change.
I believe that there was real momentum in the Alberta Party a year ago, and that a few factors have helped slow down that momentum.
The election of Naheed Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary was a great move forward for our province’s largest city, but I also suspect that it created an unexpected energy drain on the Alberta Party. Chima Nkemdirim, a driving force behind in Alberta Party, was heavily involved in Mr. Nenshi’s election campaign and soon became the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.
A young, dynamic, well-spoken, and thoughtful individual, Mr. Nkemdirim embodies the future of politics in Alberta. The Alberta Party would have benefited greatly if he had run for the leadership and won, as I suspect he would have. I do not begrudge him for not running. As Mayor Nenshi’s Chief of Staff, he is helping move Calgary forward in a way that he would not be able to as a the leader of a party with only one MLA in the Assembly.
Unfortunately, I believe Mr. Nkemdirim’s choice not to run, and the decision by other leading Alberta Party organizers to sit out the contest, contributed to a vacuum of talent in the leadership contest held in early 2011. All four of the candidates for leader had their own strengths and weaknesses, but none were going to be the next Premier of Alberta. The eventual winner, Town of Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, entered the role with a hint of opportunity as a well-spoken municipal leader. Since then, he has not been as publicly visible as his party has needed him to be.
Reflecting on another missed opportunity of sorts, I am reminded of a phone conversation I had with Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in February 2011. A frustrated Ms. Blakeman called me looking for information about how she could join the Alberta Party. I will not disclose any of the details of our conversation that are not already in the public domain (no super secret cabals were involved), but she sounded both fed up with her own party and frustrated with the reception she had recieved when she contacted Alberta Party officials. A few days later she decided to stick with the Liberals, but it was clear that the night she called me she was looking for a political life-boat.
Where does the Alberta Party go from here?
The next provincial election will be a tough slog for the Alberta Party. Expected to run no more than 40 candidates in the next election, it is likely that Mr. Taylor may face a tough fight to convince the television networks to let him join the leaders debate. Whether we like to admit it or not, many Albertans will base their vote on how they perceive the party leaders. Not having a leader in the debates poses an incredible challenge.
I have been told that the party’s board of directors passed a motion last month endorsing a strategy to focus resources on six target constituencies in the next election. I would suggest focusing on 1 to 3 constituencies would be a more reasonable target, but I am not going to argue over this point with a group of optimists.
Michael Walters, Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford
The Alberta Party does not have ground game province-wide, but areas where they do have ground game is where the party’s candidates have an opportunity to excel. Two ridings that immediately come to mind are Edmonton-Glenora where former school trustee Sue Huff is running, and Edmonton-Rutherford where community organizer Michael Walters has been running for months. Both Ms. Huff and Mr. Walters would be exceptional MLAs and both have the ability to mount strong local campaigns in their constituencies.
In the end, the Alberta Party’s biggest advantage may be that expectations for its success are so low that even electing one MLA in next year’s provincial election would be a seen as a major win for the party. Withpolls suggesting the Tories could be steamrolling towards another huge majority government, lowering expectations might not be a bad strategy for all of Alberta’s opposition parties.
Alberta Party leadership candidates Tammy Maloney, Lee Easton, Randy Royer, and Glenn Taylor at MacEwan University.
A small crowd of around 80 interested Edmontonians gathered to hear the candidates seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party this week at MacEwan University in downtown Edmonton. It is a low-key contest that will culminate this weekend at a leadership convention at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. The forum could be described as tame and respectful, and the absence of major policy differences between the candidates meant that the audience had an opportunity to observe the differing leadership styles of the candidates.
Tammy Maloney stressed her experience as a social entrepreneur, as a past director of the Clinton Foundation in Nigeria, and as connecter. Ms. Maloney has the biggest heart of the four candidates in this contest, and she is driven by it.
Tammy Maloney and Lee Easton
Lee Easton was the most articulate of the candidates. The Mount Royal University English Professor speaks in an articulate and perfunctory tone about the challenges facing our province and what needs to change. He has some of the same characteristics of what I like about former Liberal leader Kevin Taft, but in the same breath I wonder about his ability to promote the party in non-academic language. I wonder if he can successfully play the game of retail politics.
Randy Royer needs to work on his elevator pitch. His introduction focused on his experiences as a Liberal Party of Canada member in the 1980s and having dinner with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where he told the audience he advocated against Ottawa’s policies that hurt Canada’s western provinces. Over the course of the evening, only one thing became clear to me: that he would not be getting my vote.
Glenn Taylor appears to be the clear front-runner in this contest. Mayor Taylor is a retail politician and is the only candidate in this race with actual governing experience, having been elected three times as Mayor of Hinton. Over the past week Alberta Party activists like Chima Nkemdirim, Michael Brechtel, and Don Schurman have piled their endorsements behind Mayor Taylor. Experience has taught me to be cautious of candidates who receive too much support from party intelligentsia.
Mayor Taylor is also the only candidate in this contest not from Calgary, and if selected as leader would be expected to run as a candidate in the West Yellowhead constituency.
The candidates answered at least twenty questions from a panel and the audience. The most pointed question of the evening came from an audience member who asked about the challenge of articulating how the Alberta Party is developing its policy and the perception that it is just another populist political party.
The candidates struggled to answer this question.
The short answer is that the process is very focused on sharing ideas.
The Alberta Party's new logo.
The longer answer is that The Big Listen process, which is how the party has been developing its policy positions, starts with a series of small meetings (usually held over coffee or in a living room) where participants are encouraged to share their stories, hopes, and aspirations for Alberta. The information collected from these Big Listens is then discerned into themes by the meeting organizers and passed on to an issue-specific policy team that summarizes the collected feedback, does research, and develops policies. The members of the issue-specific policy committees are people with backgrounds in those fields, be it professional, educational, or voluntary. The policy recommendations are then put to the membership for approval. At a policy convention or by using online tools, members are able to view the policy goals, contribute their input, and provide support for the policy goals. It is very process focused and driven by values and principles that the party was founded upon.
The leadership forum reminded me why I dislike the personality politics of leadership races and the cult of personality that perennially envelops partisans. There are politicians that I like, and have put my support behind. I had the pleasure of working with Kevin Taft when he was leader of the Liberal Party and I have enjoyed volunteering for Councillor Don Iveson‘s campaigns at the municipal level in Edmonton. While all the candidates seem to be nice people, some who would also do a decent job as leader, there is no candidate in this contest that I am excited about.
For many Alberta Party members I have spoken with, the leadership question has been almost an afterthought, with members instead focused on building policy and constituency organizations across the province.
As was wisely pointed out in an editorial in this week’s final edition of SEE Magazine
“the PCs and Alberta Liberals are leader-dominated parties, where the party’s identity is closely associated with the leader. The Alberta Party won’t be going that route, either by design or by default.”
Whether by design or by default, the Alberta Party’s low-profile leadership contest is not as crowded as the PC leadership race or oddly casted as the Liberal leadership.
In a political environment where a party leader almost always overshadows their team as the centre of attention (walk down the street and ask a random person how many MLAs they can name), it will be interesting to see whether the Alberta Party can break the growing trend towards the cult of leadership personality. Perhaps that is why, in spite of my general frustration with political parties, I have remained a member of the Alberta Party.
With only 2000 memberships sold in this leadership contest, the Alberta Party has both proven how far it has gone in the past year and how much work still lies ahead for its members and, after this weekend, new leader.
Former MLA supports Raj for Liberal leader
Conservative MLA turned Liberal leadership hopeful Dr. Raj Sherman has the support of at least one former Liberal MLA. Bharat Agnihotri, who served as MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie from 2004 to 2008, left a gushing endorsement on Dr. Sherman’s Facebook wall.
The Calgary-Foothills Wildrose nomination has attracted two candidates, Dustin Nau and Walter Wakula. Foothills is represented by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Len Webber, who has also been nominated as his party candidate for the next election. Said Abdulbaki will seek the Wildrose nomination against Chestermere Town Councillor Heather Davies in Chestermere-Rockyview. John Hilton-O’Brien in Calgary-Bow. Mr. Hilton-O’Brien will be facing Tim Dyck in his party’s nomination contest. Bow is represented by backbench PC MLA Alana DeLong, who was first elected in 2001. Beiseker Mayor Bruce Rowe has announced his intentions to seek the Wildrose nomination in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.
The Liberals will nominate candidates in Calgary-Foothills on April 8 and Edmonton-Riverview on April 15 , where Arif Khan is the only declared candidate.
Maybe it is something about Battle River-Wainwright, because this is not the first time an idea coming from that constituency was shot down by the political establishment. At the 2008 PC policy convention, that constituency association brought forward a motion supporting fixed elections dates. The motion passed at the policy convention and was soon after introduced as a private members bill (Bill 203: Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates)) in the Assembly by St. Albert PC MLA Ken Allred.
Mr. Allred’s private members bill was attacked by Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills PC MLA Richard Marz, who claimed that the creation of fixed election dates would allow public sector unions to schedule strikes near election dates (because as all Albertans know, it is those evil public sector Unions who have been standing in between the PC Party and majority governments for the past forty years… oh wait…). The fixed election dates bill was tabled to be discussed six months later. Two years later, the bill remains tabled and there is no sign that any debate will reassume.
On a similar note, Edmonton-McClung PC MLA David Xiao hopes to start a discussion on mandatory voting in Alberta. While the idea probably has enough merit to deserve the opportunity to be debated and fully discussed, it is likely doomed to reach the waste bin of ideas to combat electoral disinterest.
Liberal Environment Policy Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman released the Liberal Caucus environment policy yesterday, which includes a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions by 2017 and a provincial groundwater inventory and water quality monitoring program.
As part of a country-wide speaking tour, Council of Canadian chairperson Maude Barlow was in Edmonton in October and warned against the creation of water markets that could open the sale fresh water from Alberta to corporations and overseas markets. Ms. Barlow believes that water should be held in a public trust and has outlined her beliefs in a new book, Blue Covenant: The Global The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly resumes for Fall Sitting in a constantly changing political environment.
As the leaves fall and winter approaches, so does the resumption of the venerable institution known as the Alberta Legislative Assembly. Much has changed since last year’s Fall Sitting in Edmonton.
When MLAs return to the Assembly next Monday, they will have a few unfinished business to continue. The summer months have been far from quiet on Alberta’s political landscape. Premier Ed Stelmach has focused on promoting the oilsands to both audiences internationally and at home, including a tour with Hollywood Film Director James Cameron.
Premier Ed Stelmach at his Summer BBQ at the Alberta Legislature.
The Alberta Health Act will likely be the most contentious piece of legislation introduced in this sitting of the Assembly. Originally framed as a replacement for already existing pieces of health care legislation, the PC Government has since backed off after receiving an earful from Albertans in province-wide consultation meetings. The previously expected Alberta Health Act may be a shell of what it was envisioned to be when it is introduced in the next few weeks, but it could leave the door open for further legislative reforms (after the next election?).
At a media conference yesterday, Minister Gene Zwozdesky accepted recommendations from the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health, led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne, but used his time to take a defensive stance against his critics. Minister Zwozdesky and Mr. Horne were also unable to fully explain the purpose of their proposed non-legally-binding Health Charter when questioned by reporters. The purpose of the new Alberta Health Act was challenged by Edmonton-Riverview MLA and Liberal Health Critic Kevin Taft, who labelled the Health Charter idea as “vacant” and predicted that the new Act “will be filled with platitudes that have no legal standing and have no recourse.”
Wildrose Alliance MLAs Paul Hinman, Heather Forsyth, and Rob Anderson with their party leader Danielle Smith.
I fully expect a continuation of the blood fued between the Wildrose Caucus and Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski to continue over the next session. Since the Wildrose Caucus grew to three MLAs with the floor-crossing of Mr. Anderson and Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth in January 2010, Speaker Kowalski has used his power on the Members’ Services Committee to block any further increases in funding to the now third party caucus (the two MLA NDP Caucus still receives more funding that the 3 MLA Wildrose Caucus) and even demand that Danielle Smith‘s name be removed from media releases. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Alliance Party in June 2010, but has remained as an Independent MLA in order to secure more research and communications funding (when he officially joins the Wildrose Caucus next week, their combined funding will decrease).
Since last session, the Wildrose have declared war on Speaker Kowalski outside the Assembly by nominating Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield as their candidate in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock. Speaker Kowalski has represented variations of that constituency since 1979. Mr. Byfield has been endorsed by former Conservative Members of Parliament John Williams and David Chatters.
Not to be outdone by the insurgent Wildrosers, the PC Party will be holding their Annual Convention in Calgary on October 29 and 30. I am told by a number of sources that the Convention will also serve as the kickoff for a series of “discussion sessions” with PC Party members billed as Speak Easies which will attempt to reconnect the party leadership with an increasingly disillusioned voter-base in the year before the party celebrates its fortieth year in government.
Liberal leader David Swann.
After a brutal Spring sitting that included the high-profile departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor from the Official Opposition Caucus, Liberal Opposition leader David Swann is looking to improve his party’s position this Fall. Dr. Swann is attempting to hitch his horse close to the Reboot Alberta group, which has attracted many partisan and non-partisan activists to its ranks during its two previous gatherings. In an email sent out today from his Calgary-Mountain View constituency office email, Dr. Swann implored his supporters to join him in attending the next Reboot Alberta meeting in Edmonton on November 5 and 6.
The NDP Caucus is probably feeling rightfully jubilant for the election of their Director of Research, Sarah Hoffman, to the Edmonton Public School Board, but those feeling of excitement may be tempered as they enter the Fall Sitting short-staffed. In early October, Communications Director Brookes Merritt left the NDP Caucus to accept a job with the Government of Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau. Until they find a replacement, Chief of Staff Jim Gurnett is covering the Communications portfolio.
Outside the dome of the Assembly Building, there are some very real political changes happening. The new Alberta Party held its Annual General Meeting in Red Deer at the beginning of October and after months of touring the province holding Big Listen events, that party will hold their first policy convention in the same city on November 13.
The Alberta Party Annual General Meeting.
The new Alberta Party has also moved forward with the hiring of their provincial organizer Michael Walters. The party will also undoubtedly benefit from having many of its members involved in recent municipal election campaigns, including Alberta Party Vice-President Chima Nkemdirim, who was the Campaign Director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful Mayoral campaign in Calgary. Mr. Walters was also heavily involved in the Election Day get out the vote organization that helped get Mayor Stephen Mandel re-elected in Edmonton.
Also not to be ignored is the role that the Wildrose Alliance played in recent municipal elections in the province’s two largest cities. The party has already hired organizers and been nominating candidates for the next provincial election, but leader Danielle Smith’s foray into the City Centre Airport issue in Edmonton and the Airport Tunnel issue in Calgary should not be ignored. Many Wildrose organizers active in the campaigns of Calgary Mayor candidate Ric McIver and Edmonton Mayor candidate David Dorward. While they may not walk away with voters lists, it is clear that they are taking advantage of any opportunity to get an organizational edge over the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
A lot of attention has been paid to Mayor-elect Nenshi’s victory in the Calgary Mayoral contest (and rightfully so), but he was not the only new Mayor elected on October 18. Seven of Alberta’s medium sized municipalities also elected new Mayor’s this week. In the north west city of Grande Prairie, Bill Given unseated Mayor Dwight Logan. East of Edmonton, Linda Osinchuk unseated Mayor Cathy Olesen to become Mayor of Strathcona County, Rajko Dodic was elected as the new Mayor of Lethbridge. Along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary, Jeff Mulligan defeated incumbent Mayor Ken Baker in the City of Lloydminster. In the City of Wetaskiwin, Bill Elliot defeated incumbent Mayor Don Montgomery. In Airdrie, Peter Brown defeated incumbent Mayor Linda Bruce. In Alberta’s newest City, Steve Christie was elected Mayor of Lacombe, replacing the retiring Mayor Judy Gordon (who also served as the PC MLA for Lacombe-Stettler from 1993 to 2004). There was a lot of political change happening across Alberta on October 18, 2010. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether this will foreshadow a provincial election expected in March 2012.
The Fall Sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will likely open with a low level of substantive legislation and legislative debate, but outside the Dome there will be no shortage of new characters and exciting politics.
I have travelled across a lot of Canada and while I have experienced some amazing scenery, in my mind little compares with a Fall drive down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway through central Alberta. The colours of the leaves are changing, the farmers are harvesting their crops, and a new season is just around the corner. This was the drive I took this weekend on my way to Red Deer to observe the Annual General Meeting of the Alberta Party.
Around fifty members of the Alberta Party crowded a meeting room at the Holiday Inn to participate in their party’s Annual General Meeting. It was a typical hotel conference room, but the crowd was different. Where most traditional partisans could easily be characterized by their greying hair or balding heads, this crowd was much more generationally diverse than I have seen at other political meetings.
I arrived at noon and was told that I had missed a series of small fireworks set off by some of the old guard of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party was formed in the 1980s and existed as a Reform Party-esq fringe party until earlier this year when a new group of mainly rural Party members joined forces with the largely urban Renew Alberta group. I was told that some of these older party members felt that the influx of new members and new constitutional changes were changing the party too quickly. After a thorough debate, all the constitutional changes and motions were approved.
Not being able to piggyback on the resources of federal political cousins or traditional party establishments, members of the new Alberta Party have focused on building their party and policy infrastructure through hundreds of “Big Listen” meetings held across the province. The ideas and feedback generated through these living-room and coffee meetings were used in Saturday afternoon’s Road to Policy session to determine the general areas of discussion that will be proposed at the Alberta Party’s Policy Convention in November.
It was my observation that ideas generated from the Big Listens that were discussed this weekend were not extreme or ideological driven. The ideas were moderate and likely reflective of the views of most Albertans. It felt that one of the biggest differences between this party and the traditional establishment parties is not necessarily policy, but the tone of discussions that are shaping that party.
While some political leaders talk about doing politics differently, the Alberta Party is actually doing politics differently. What I witnessed this weekend did not feel like a political party event, it felt like a real collaborative process.
Some criticism levelled at the Alberta Party since they launched their Big Listen campaign has been that they do nothing but listen. A few months ago, I might have been more sympathetic to these criticisms, but I now understand the process that the party is following. Laying a strong foundation of organization and ideas is not something that can be created overnight and it is critical for the survival of a new political party.
One of the big news items of the day was the announcement by Leader Edwin Erickson that he will resign from his position at the November Policy Convention. At that convention an interim leader will be appointed and an open leadership contest will begin.
The thing that impresses me the most about the new Alberta Party is the group of credible and politically savvy people who have joined its ranks over the past ten months.
New Party President Chris Labossiere was previously involved with the Edmonton-Whitemud Progressive Conservatives and played a key role in Dave Hancock‘s re-election campaign in 2008. Vice-President Chima Nkemderim is the campaign director for Naheed Nenshi‘s Calgary Mayoral campaign and managed MLA Kent Hehr‘s 2008 campaign in Calgary-Buffalo. Their Board of Directors includes former Education Minister David King and Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff. At the end of the day, the newly elected Alberta Party Board of Directors consisted of 11 women and 14 men from across the province.
Some people have asked me “why I bother writing about the Alberta Party” and why I do not focus on helping get the established opposition parties elected. The truth is I have a difficult time not getting frustrated when writing about the sorry state of Alberta’s traditional establishment opposition parties.
To me, the characteristics that differentiate what I experienced this weekend from what I have experienced at other political meetings is the optimism of the people in the room. The people I spoke with at the AGM are not driven with a singular desire to destroy the PCs or gain power, but are driven with an optimism to change the culture of politics in this province.
The Alberta Party has proven to me that they can attract competent people and actually understand the meaning of practicing politics differently. Their big challenge will be to translate this into support outside their already politically active communities and into the next provincial election.
The Alberta Party's Chima Nkemdirim, moderator Nicole Martel, and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith.
Intervivos organized a great event this evening at the Billiards Club on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton featuring two guest speakers – the Alberta Party‘s Chima Nkemdirim and Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith. It was refreshing to see two political representatives engage and interact in such a respectful and civil way. New Kids on the Political Block was a fun and engaging evening that attracted a good cross-section of politically engaged and interested people from across the political spectrum.