Tag Archives: Chris O’Halloran

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

Partying like it’s 2016! A look ahead at next weekend’s Alberta NDP convention in Calgary

In the past, the media and political watchers would pay little attention to a provincial convention held by Alberta’s New Democratic Party. It is expected that all media and political watchers will be paying close attention to the debate at the NDP’s convention in Calgary next weekend.

Back in 2009, during a stint as a freelance writer, I covered the NDP convention for the now-defunct alt-weekly known as SEE Magazine. I may have been the only media representative actually in attendance at the convention.

That weekend in 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project. The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.

The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates. Seven years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral agreements. They are holding their first convention as Alberta’s governing party after their win in the 2015 provincial election.

Instead of a dingy hotel in downtown Edmonton, this year’s convention will be held on June 10, 11 and 12, 2016 at the swanky Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Along with 54 NDP MLAs in attendance, the convention will feature keynote speeches from the Edmonton Oilers‘ Andrew Ference on Jobs and Diversification, Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham on Climate Leadership, Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh on Diversity and Reducing Inequality, and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Labour issues.

This will be the first NDP convention in recent memory that the mainstream media will pay much attention to and with that in mind, the party’s leadership will do their best to turn the weekend into a celebration of the NDP’s 2015 election win and accomplishments in its first year of government. The weekend includes a $200 a plate banquet and a party at the Glenbow Museum featuring Scenic Route to Alaska, The Northwest Passage and Los Moreno’s.

It feels far from the dim-lit windowless hotel ballroom in downtown Edmonton but that does not mean it will be without its acrimonious moments.

A group of party activists unhappy with NDP MLA’s support of a Wildrose Party motion calling on the federal government to scrap a planned moratorium on tankers on Canada’s Pacific coastal waters are expected to spearhead a debate on whether the motion goes against against a party policy opposing the Enbridge Corporation’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passed at a previous convention.

There may also be debate about changing the role of organizational affiliates in the NDP. Unlike other provincial political parties, the NDP allows organizations to affiliate with their party in order to have a greater say in their leadership votes and at conventions.

These affiliates are almost always labour unions but as unions are no longer allowed to donate to political parties or pay for delegates to attend conventions, the previous existing advantages for the party and affiliate no longer exists. I am told that before the NDP banned corporate and union donations in the first law they passed in 2015, affiliated unions donated 15-cents per member per-month to the party.

Delegates will also be voting in elections for the party’s provincial executive. For some reason that is unknown and puzzling, the NDP is the only provincial political party in Alberta that does not list the names of its executive or board of directors on its website. Perhaps this will change now that the NDP is the province’s governing party.

Here is a list of who is running for the party’s four table officer positions:

President: Teacher and president of the party’s Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview constituency association Peggy Wright is the only candidate to have entered the presidential election. The position was made vacant when former president Chris O’Halloran, who had served as president since 2013, stepped down to start a job in the Premier’s Southern Alberta office at the McDougall Centre in Calgary.

First Vice-President: Two candidates are running for this position: labour activist and United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Officer Jason Rockwell and lawyer and past candidate Anne Wilson. Mr. Rockwell ran as an NDP candidate in the 2006 federal election in the Edmonton-Spruce Grove riding. Ms. Wilson ran as a provincial NDP candidate in 2008 in Banff-Cochrane and 2015 in Calgary-Foothills (against Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice). In July 2015 she ran for the NDP nomination for the Calgary-Foothills by-election but was defeated by former alderman Bob Hawkesworth.

[Note: I work with Jason Rockwell in my day job as Communications Advisor with United Nurses of Alberta. I am not an NDP member, but if I were he would certainly get my vote at this convention.]

Second Vice-President: It appears that Lou Arab may be acclaimed in his bid for re-election. Mr. Arab is a near-legendary campaign manager in NDP circles for his role in the election campaigns of Marlin Schmidt in 2012 and 2015 and Sarah Hoffman in 2010. He is a Communications Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Alberta and also happens to be the husband of Premier Rachel Notley.

Treasurer: Siobhan Vipond, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL, is running for re-election and does not appear to be facing any challengers at this time.

I am told that more than 500 delegates have registered to attend the Calgary convention.

News from parties not named PC or Wildrose

With Alberta’s daily political scene dominated by the loud and partisan voices of the governing Progressive Conservatives and the official opposition Wildrose, it has become easy to miss what is happening in Alberta’s other political parties. Here is a quick look at some news from the other parties represented in the Legislative Assembly – the Liberals and NDP – and the parties sitting outside the dome – the Alberta Party,  Green Party, and Social Credit Party.

Alberta Liberals

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman's partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede.

Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman (right), Justin Trudeau (centre), and Sherman’s partner Sharon (left) at the Calgary Stampede. (Photo from Raj Sherman’s Facebook Page).

At a recent annual meeting, the Alberta Liberals abandoned their controversial “supporter” category of party involvement. Described by some Liberals as groundbreaking, gargantuanreal renewal, and politics re-imagined when the party first adopted the new category in May 2011, the idea remained controversial among party loyalists. Some long-time Liberals believed the creation of a “free” category opening leadership selections to non-members gave former Tory MLA Raj Sherman an advantage over loyalist favourite Hugh MacDonald  in the party’s 2011 vote.

According to the Edmonton Journal, the Liberal Party current has about 1,200 registered members, compared to about 3,500 members in August 2011. While the party signed up 27,000 members and supporters in the 2011 leadership race, only 8,900 voted.

A surprise win by past candidate Mike Butler in the party’s vice-president (communications) contest surprised many Liberals at the annual meeting. Mr. Butler is a supporter of cooperation with other parties like the NDP, Alberta Party and Greens, and has helped organize ‘soapbox’ events in Edmonton to promote cross-party dialogue.

The cooperation debate has been heated among Liberals. Last year, party president Todd Van Vliet publicly rebuked Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr for a guest post published on this blog promoting the idea of cooperation.

Alberta NDP

Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley's Facebook page).

Alberta NDP MLAs Deron Bilous, Brian Mason, David Eggen, and Rachel Notley (photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook page).

The Alberta NDP will  hold their annual conference in Lethbridge in November, hoping to build on recent gains in the southern Alberta city. The NDP have seen significant growth in Lethbridge, with both federal candidate Mark Sandilands and provincial candidate Shannon Phillips significantly increasing their party’s support in recent elections.

NDP executive member Chris O’Halloran was chosen to serve as the interim president following Nancy Furlong‘s departure to accept a new job in Ontario. A new president will be selected at the November annual meeting.

Alberta Party

Following the resignation of leader Glenn Taylor after the last election, the Alberta Party  set September 21, 2013 as the date it will choose their next leader. Calgary businessman Greg Clark is so far the only candidate to step into the race to lead the party.

Not unfamiliar with Alberta politics, Mr. Clark worked as a spokesperson for the Liberal Caucus in the mid-1990s after that party first formed official opposition under Laurence Decore. He ran against Premier Alison Redford in Calgary-Elbow during last year’s election, placing 6th 5th with 518 votes.

Green Party

Reformed after a divisive internal party split and poor party financial audits led to the dissolution of the former Alberta Greens and the creation of the Evergreen Party, the newly renamed Green Party of Alberta is now led by Calgary-based civil liberties advocate Janet Keeping.

Social Credit

In April, the Social Credit Party held a policy convention in Innisfail where members of the small party affirmed policies that support human rights of the preborn, disallowing casino gambling and no sales tax. The Socreds also pledge to make the Alberta Treasury Branch the “economic engine of Alberta.”

Leader Len Skowronski ran in Calgary-Hawkwood in the last election, placing 7th out of 8 candidates with 105 votes. The Social Credit Party ran 3 candidates in the 2012 election.