Tag Archives: Christy Clark

And then there were three (white men)

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver
Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

As the deadline for candidates to enter their names (and $50,000 fee) in the contest to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association came to a close yesterday, three politicians have put forward their names – bank vice-president and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former provincial cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

A quick glance at the names of the three candidates confirms that no women or visible minorities have entered the race to fill the position vacated by Alberta’s first woman premier, Alison Redford, who was pushed out of office only a few short months ago. A few woman candidates were rumoured to be interested, but the most high profile of those rumoured, Energy minister Diana McQueen, declined to run, choosing instead to endorse Mr. Prentice.

While Canada reached a high-water mark in recent years, with women occupying the premiers office in six provinces and territories, the number has plummeted after recent elections. Today, only British Columbia and Ontario have women premiers (and Ontario voters will decide the fate of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals on June 12, 2014).

Alberta could once again enter this category if Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith leads her Wildrose Party to win the next election. Edmonton MLA Rachel Notley is said to be considering a run for the Alberta NDP leadership and some say she would become an instant front-runner if she enters the race.

All three PC leadership candidates have cut their political teeth in Alberta’s largest cities. Mr. Prentice was the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre North from 2004 to 2010, Mr. McIver as a Calgary MLA, former Alderman and mayoral candidate, and Mr. Lukaszuk as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs since 2001.

The presence of three urban candidates signals both the growing political importance of the province’s two largest cities (and the urban agenda’s put forward by popular mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi) and the PC Party’s weakness in rural Alberta.

Not having a candidate from rural Alberta is embarrassing for the 43-year governing party. Once almost universally dominated by PC MLAs, the Tories have seen their support plummet in rural and small-town Alberta over the past four years. In the last election, many PC MLAs, including a some senior cabinet ministers, were handily defeated by Wildrose candidates in rural constituencies that had voted enmasse for the PC Party for more than three decades.

This is also the smallest number of candidates to participate in a PC leadership race since the party chose Don Getty as leader in 1985. In 1992, there were 9 candidates; in 2006 there were 8 and the 2011 leadership race attracted 6 candidates.

The small-number of candidates is a testament of the internal turmoil in the PC Party following the coup d’etat that caused Ms. Redford’s departure and the strength of Mr. Prentice’s campaign. Whether it is perceived or real, the ‘Team Prentice’ brand quickly drew the support of more than twenty PC MLAs and an army of party insiders and political consultants.

Unlike the deflated front-runners in previous PC leadership campaigns – Jim Dinning and Gary Mar – Mr. Prentice has succeeded in scaring away most of his credible potential challengers. Whether he suffers the same fate as these former ‘front-runners’, who were later defeated by underdogs, is yet to be seen.

The challenge for the three candidates will be to generate interest in a campaign that already feels like it is a forgone conclusion (a victory by Mr. Prentice). A big question is whether the any of the candidates in this race will be compelling enough to convince those thousands of ‘two-minute Tories‘ to lend them their votes.

The All-Calgarian PC Party leadership race

Ric McIver Alberta PC Leadership Race
Ric McIver

Another Calgarian has entered what has been, at least so far, an all-Calgarian Progressive Conservative leadership race.

Announcing his candidacy in the contest to become the next PC Party leader and premier, former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver declared he would bring a “common-sense new approach to replace insider, establishment thinking, with new common-sense thinking.”

The first-term MLA and former three-term Calgary Alderman brandishes a rhetorical brand of meat and potatoes conservative populism not seen in a PC Party leadership race for some time. Mr. McIver’s style may be reminiscent of former Premier Ralph Klein, but can the dated “common-sense conservative” message resonate with PC Party members in 2014?

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

Despite serving as a senior cabinet minister in Premier Alison Redford’s government for two years, he appears to be running against the controversial record of the previous premier. This is probably not a bad strategy for a party with a track record of denying victories to candidates seen as too close to the “party establishment.”

Mr. McIver has tapped Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool as his campaign manager. Mr. Boessenkool is the former chief of staff to British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark and briefly served as the spokesperson for the “Alberta Blue Committee.”

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership
Jim Prentice

Unanswered questions remain about Mr. McIver’s role in the Skypalace – a penthouse suite that was secretly being constructed for Ms. Redford in the Federal Building. Mr. McIver claims he cancelled the construction project, but the same claim was made by his predecessor, Wayne Drysdale.

Meanwhile, front-runner Jim Prentice has yet to officially announce he will be entering the race and is already gaining support among PC MLAs. Mr. Prentice has the endorsements of Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar, Education minister Jeff Johnson, Flood Recovery minister Kyle Fawcett, Municipal Affairs minister Greg Weadick and backbench MLA Neil Brown. It is rumoured that he could soon receive the endorsement of Finance minister Doug Horner, who will make clear his own political intentions on Friday.

Former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes was the first Calgarian to enter the race. Non-Calgarians, including Labour minister Thomas Luksazuk (from Edmonton) and Energy minister Diana McQueen (from Drayton Valley) are also rumoured to considering their entry into the contest.

While rivalries between regions in Alberta are less relevant than they were twenty or thirty years ago, a leadership race gives a political party an opportunity to demonstrate its strength and support across the entire province. After losing ground in its traditional rural strongholds in the last election, a lack of regional diversity among the candidates would present a challenge to a PC Party struggling with internal strife and Alberta’s growing population.

BC approves the Alberta pipeline to China

Pacific Shipping Lanes Alberta to ChinaPremier Alison Redford can celebrate a victory today as her Canadian Energy Strategy earned the public support of British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. Only mere hours after cancelling a meeting that had been arranged to discuss the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to BC, the two premiers announced that they had agreed on a framework for the pipeline that would allow for the easier sea export of unrefined Canadian oil to countries in Asia, including China. This does not mean the pipeline is approved, but it does signal that Ms. Clark is unlikely to be a roadblock.

An agreement to open “new markets” satisfies four of Ms. Clark’s five requirements for BC to consider support for heavy oil pipelines to be approved. A press release issued by the Ms. Redford’s office reported that to reach Ms. Clark’s fifth condition, that BC recieve a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of the proposed pipeline, ‘Alberta agrees that B.C. has a right to negotiate with industry on appropriate economic benefits.’ The release also stated that both governments ‘reaffirmed that Alberta’s royalties are not on the table for negotiation.’ The results of this agreement shifts the pressure to the energy companies to provide a satisfactory fiscal and economic compensation to the BC government.

In May 2013, the BC government’s submission to the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel on the Northern Gateway Project claimed that it could not support the pipeline because Enbridge had “presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill.” While the National Energy Board, not the BC government, is responsible for environmental assessment of the project, it remains unclear what convinced Ms. Clark to change her mind.

The two premiers had publicly quarrelled over the pipeline project and Ms. Clark made the five requirements a key part of her Liberal Party’s campaign platform in the recent provincial election. While her party won re-election and the opposition NDP are choosing a new leader, it would be foolish to expect there will be no opposition to the pipeline in BC. Many northern communities, First Nations, and environmental groups in BC have pledged to stall the construction of the pipeline to the Pacific coast.

EcoJustice is raising concerns about how increased oil tanker traffic caused by the Northern Gateway Pipeline could impact a new Humpback whale recovery strategy and four critical habitats that have been identified for protection. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans currently lists the Humpback Whale as a species at risk in the northern Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, questions have also been raised about the role that China’s state-owned oil companies could play in the construction of the project. While the state-owned PetroChina initially withdrew from the proposed project in 2007, the corporation announced in 2012 that it would bid to build the pipeline once the project was approved by regulatory authorities.

Looking southward, Ms. Redford and International Affairs Minister Cal Dallas are returning to Washington D.C. to lobby United States Senators, Representatives, and the State Department to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

A Government of Alberta press release announcing the trip quoted North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who welcomes Ms. Redford visit to Washington D.C. This is at least the fifteenth trip made by Alberta government ministers to the American capital since Ms. Redford became Premier in 2012.

Burying the ghosts of the dreaded National Energy Program, Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau surprised many political watchers last month with his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mr. Trudeau voiced his support for the project while speaking on a panel that included former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the Centre for American Progress.

Breaking: Premiers declare victory after national meeting

Provincial Premiers met last week at the Council of the Federation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Provincial Premiers met last week at the Council of the Federation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

“Over the past few days at the annual Council of the Federation meeting, we made a great deal of progress on a number of critically important issues to Albertans,” said Premier Alison Redford in a July 26, 2013 media release.

It would be surprising if Canada’s premiers did not claim victory after gathering in cozy and picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake last week for their annual Council of the Federation meeting. While they may not have accomplished all they had aspired to, you will not have seen any of the provincial leaders return home trumpeting a disappointing failure.

The reality is, with the federal government missing from the national discussion, there is little ground available for the premiers to move forward on a pan-Canadian agenda. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has only met with the premiers once since the Conservative Party formed government in 2006 and has refused to renegotiate any of the important interprovincial agreements achieved under previous Liberal governments, such as the Health Accord (which expires in 2014).

While leadership in absentia leads to lack of national focus, it is hard to expect the Prime Minister to willingly show up to be publicly berated by mere provincial politicians. While past Prime Ministers would attend these types of conferences, this may become a thing of the past, even after Prime Minister Harper leaves office. The current Prime Minister operates in a command and control mould, or, as columnist John Ivison writes, “Stephen Harper operates on transmit, not receive.”

In this current reality, how successful can Premier Alison Redford expect her still vague Canada Energy Strategy to be? Despite failing to sell her counterparts on her vision for a national energy plan, Premier Alison Redford – unsurprisingly – claimed victory in last week’s media release.

On the issue of pipelines, Premier Christy Clark and Redford agreed to appoint senior civil servants to find common ground where the two provinces can approach the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. With Premier Clark’s opposition to the pipeline project having played a significant role in this year’s British Columbia election a resolution to the dispute might not be easily achieved in the traditional political arena. Allowing senior public servants to work out the more contentious issues in an environment removed from the the political spotlight may allow the two provinces to find common ground to move forward.

Premier Redford skipped last Wednesday’s meetings with First Nations leaders to meet with representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada in Toronto. After last month’s flooding in southern Alberta, the decision to meet with the insurance industry should be popular at home, though questions being raised about buyouts and controversial flood maps could cause political problems for the premier.

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Meanwhile, Premier Redford announced through a press release that Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen has been appointed Associate Minister of Family and Community Safety. The press release stated that the new associate minister will tackle “bullying, cyber-bullying, violence against women and sexual and child exploitation.” As the new position does not direct a ministry, it is unclear what role Minister Jansen will play in the government.

Pipelines before persons with developmental disabilities?

Alison Redford Christy Clark
Alberta Premier Alison Redford and BC Premier Christy Clark in October, 2011. Photo: PremierofAlberta via Flickr.

Fresh from a surprise election win, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark‘s government formally announced its opposition this week to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat. A controversial issue during the heated election campaign, BC Environment Minister Terry Lake told the media that evidence supporting the pipeline “simply is insufficient for us to think it should go forward.”

Perhaps sending a political message to her western counterpart, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is flying to New Brunswick this week, hoping to use Premier David Alward‘s idea of an eastbound pipeline to kickstart her still undefined National Energy Strategy.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

Maintaining a presence on the national and international stage appear to be continuing priorities for Premier Redford. The Premier has recently travelled twice to Washington D.C. to advocate for the construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline and numerous cabinet ministers have been scouting the globe in name of the PC Government’s new slogan – “Building Markets.” Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk is currently travelling in Europe, and Finance Minister Doug Horner and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olsen recently returned from trips to China and Kazakhstan.

There is certainly value in government leaders travelling internationally, but in Alberta’s case, the perception has become that the Premier is more comfortable travelling outside of Alberta than dealing with the day-to-day domestic issues in the province.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

For example, a week after the Premier re-announced plans to open five new international trade offices, hundreds of Albertans with developmental disabilities and their families rallied at the Legislature and outside Premier Redford’s Calgary-Elbow constituency office to protest deep cuts to service providers.

The minister responsible for explaining the cuts, Peace River‘s mild-mannered MLA Frank Oberle, has been tongue-tied and delivering confusing diversionary messages to Albertans.

While Minister Oberle correctly states that the entire budget of his department is increasing, he has yet to convincingly explain why $42 million is being cut from programs designed to help the province’s most vulnerable citizens become more employable.

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.

Alberta has a revenue problem and a pipeline problem.

Photo of the Keystone XL Pipeline protest on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco (photo by Steve Rhodes - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
From the Keystone XL Pipeline protest on February 17, 2013 in San Francisco (photo by Steve Rhodes – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One month ago, Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the revenue problem, or ‘bitumen bubble‘, the government will face in the 2013 provincial budget. The Premier cited the lack of pipelines pumping bitumen from our oilsands to external markets as a reason for the low price of Alberta oil and her government’s lack of resource revenues. Alberta had a revenue problem.

Premier Alison Redford
Premier Alison Redford

For the first time in recent memory, Alberta’s revenue problem was at the top of political discourse in our province. The government held a symposium to hear from experts about Alberta’s fiscal framework, but at the same time ruled out the return of health premiums and denied any rumours of a provincial sales tax (which, in fairness, would have been as popular as introducing rats into the province).

Two reasonable solutions that did not get enough attention were to increase the revenues from natural resources and to replace the Klein-era ‘flat-tax’ with a progressive taxation system that could collect more revenue without penalizing low- and middle-income Albertans.

It is hard not to point out that the group of individuals currently in a position to solve this problem are also the architects of our government’s short-sighted fiscal planning: Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

But late last week, before the Premier flew to the United States in a last ditch attempt to lobby politicians to approve the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, she turned her government’s spin machine in a new direction, claiming Alberta now has a “spending problem.”

It is likely this is still part of the ongoing public relations campaign to manage Albertans expectations before the March 7 provincial budget.

Now let us shift to the pipeline debate and what the Premer says is the source of our (now former?) revenue problem: Alberta’s pipeline problem.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix
Adrian Dix (photo from @taminator on Flickr)

After years of campaigns targeting Alberta’s tarsands as a major contributor to climate change, our oilsands are an easy political target for opponents of two major pipelines. Large protests across the United States last week have put the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline in question and a near political consensus in British Columbia against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline suggests a pipeline through that province is unlikely to be built anytime in the near future.

Both Liberal Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix have adopted positions against the Northern Gateway Pipeline project in advance of the May 14, 2013 elections. A recent poll from Angus-Reid shows the BC NDP with 47% support compared to 31% for the BC Liberals.

Premier Redford’s cause is not without political allies south of the border. The Keystone XL Pipeline has the support of a dozen United States Governors and TransCanada claims the southern section of the pipeline, through Texas and Oklahoma, is already half-complete.

Many critics of the Keystone XL pipeline have focused on climate change, raised legitimate concerns about the devastating environmental impact of pipelines leaks, and poked holes in the number of jobs pipeline proponents have promised to create.

Even notorious Australian-American news media owner Rupert Murdoch railed against the pipeline on Twitter.

Representing more than eleven million American workers, the AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is backing the pipeline, pitting the labour movement against environmental groups, like the Sierra Club (executive director Michael Brune was arrested at last week’s protests).

It has been speculated that having these two large and influential constituent groups on opposite sides of this debate could make it increasingly difficult for President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline’s construction over the American border with Canada.

Waiting for Christy Clark to go away. Will the BC NDP warm up to the pipelines?

BC NDP Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline
The BC NDP oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline now, but will their position change if they form government? (Image from the BC NDP website)

Frosty” was the word used to describe the meeting between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in Calgary this week. The two provincial Premiers have spent the summer months clashing over the proposed construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Premier Redford supports the pipeline, Premier Clark opposes it.

I have two thoughts this week about Premier Clark’s visit to Calgary and the continued debate around the pipeline:

1) Reacting to the BC Liberals drop in the polls, Premier Clark was speaking to British Columbians as she visited Calgary. She is standing up to those oil-thirsty Albertans by waving the BC flag in Calgary. If she is re-elected, I would not be surprised to see Premier Clark return to her free-market principles and support the pipeline.

2) The BC New Democrats have already firmly claimed the anti-pipeline territory that Premier Clark is now trying to claim. This does not necessarily mean a future government led by NDP leader Adrian Dix will not be open to negotiating a better deal or alternative route for the Northern Gateway Pipeline in the future.

While I am an outside observer to BC politics, I would not be shocked to see an NDP government support a future deal for the Northern Gateway Pipeline that they could trumpet as a job creator and celebrate as better deal than the previous BC Liberal government could negotiate.

As noted by Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid and Victoria Report’s David Heyman, Mr. Dix recently hosted a Vancouver fundraiser which was attended by representatives from large energy companies Encana, Suncor, and Canadian Natural Resources. Tickets for the NDP fundraiser cost $3,000 a plate and $5,000 for two.

It would appear that the both the BC NDP and the energy industry, which have significant investments in Alberta’s oil sands, are interested in improving their working relationship in the event Mr. Dix becomes Premier of BC after next year’s election.

As I wrote earlier this week, Premier Redford may have to wait for an NDP Premier to be elected in BC before a more pragmatic discussion around the Northern Gateway Pipeline can occur.

Christy Clark is coming to Calgary. Is she looking for common ground on the Northern Gateway Pipeline or is it a pre-election ploy?

Alison Redford Christy Clark
Alberta Premier Alison Redford and BC Premier Christy Clark in October, 2011. Photo: PremierofAlberta via Flickr.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark sent Alberta Premier Alison Redford an email yesterday asking if they could meet in Calgary next weekend. While they appear to be cut from similar ideological cloth, the two conservative Premiers have clashed in the media over the construction of the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. If built, the pipeline would ship raw bitumen from Alberta to the BC port of Kitimat where it would be shipped to China for processing.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix
Adrian Dix (photo from @terminator on Flickr)

Under past Premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and Gordon Campbell, the conservative governments of Canada’s two western-most provinces enjoyed very friendly relationships. Vocal opposition to the pipeline, largely based around concerns about environmental impact and the transit of large oil tankers through the narrow Douglas Straight, has pushed the normally free-market loving BC Liberals away from the project. Premier Clark is also facing a strong NDP opposition. According to the latest poll, Adrian Dix‘s NDP sits 17% ahead of the BC Liberals.

As some political observers have mentioned, Premier Clark may use her time shaking some fundraising money from corporate Calgary in advance of next year’s provincial election.

With the next BC provincial election set for May 14, 2013, Premier Redford may want to start outreaching to Mr. Dix in hopes that his party might take a pragmatic approach and soften its stance on the Northern Gateway Pipeline if it forms government.

Or perhaps the re-election of President Barack Obama in November’s American elections will once again shift focus to the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta to Texas? Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith might have some insight to share on this topic. Ms. Smith is currently in the middle of a three-week trip of the United States to meet with political and policy leaders.

Stranger things have happened.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

Meanwhile, expatriate Albertan Ken Boessenkool was dismissed this week from his role as Premier Clark’s Chief of Staff after he was involved in an incident where he acted inappropriately.

Mr. Boessenkool, who has strong-ties to Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s office and was a signatory of the infamous “Alberta Firewall” letter, briefly managed Premier Clark’s leadership campaign in 2011 before a decree from the Conservative Party of Canada forbid its officials from participating in the contest.

Earlier this year, Mr. Boessenkool left his job at the public relations and lobbyist company Hill & Knowlton and his position with the newly formed ‘Alberta Blue Committee‘ to run the Premier’s Office in Victoria.

what happens after prime minister harper? prime minister redford? prime minister mulcair?

Premier Alison Redford, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Premier Alison Redford, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Prime Minister Stephen Harper

With the start of Stampede season came the latest round of gossip and predictions about what the future might hold for Calgary MLA and Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford. Earlier this week in a column in the Edmonton Journal, Graham Thomson speculated that Premier Redford’s next political challenge could be the biggest in the land – Prime Minister of Canada.

I have no reason to doubt Premier Redford’s political acumen or capability. Having only become Premier of Alberta eight months ago, she has hardly had an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on the national stage.

The upcoming Premiers’ conference, hosted by Premier Darrell Dexter from July 25 to 27 in Halifax, might give Albertans, and Canadians, an opportunity to watch Premier Redford demonstrate her leadership skills on a national level.

The issue of oil exports and pipeline construction, which will certainly be a topic of conversation at the Premiers’ meeting, became more complicated this week as American National Transportation Safe Board investigators criticized Enbridge for its slow response to a major pipeline leak in Michigan in 2010. Supported by the Government of Alberta, Enbridge wants to begin construction of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. Adding another roadblock to the pipeline’s construction is BC Premier Christy Clark, who called Enbridge’s response to the Michigan spill disgraceful.

Closer to home, more than 50 organizations are calling on the Alberta Government to review the safety standards of the province’s aging pipelines.

Premier Redford has an opportunity to lead, and distinguish herself from her federal counterparts, by taking a positive lead on the renewal of the Canada Health Accord. The Accord, which was signed 10 years ago and expires in 2014, gave the provinces a significant monetary transfer for health care funding. The previous incarnation had little strings attached and the success of a future accord would benefit Canadians if more accountability were attached to the federal transfer.

Premier Redford’s road to 24 Sussex Drive is also complicated by another major factor. Only six years in to the job and still a young 53 years old, there is no indication that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be retiring in the near future.

Relations with Premier Redford’s Progressive Conservatives is cool to cold in some, or perhaps even most most, federal Conservative circles. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney‘s recent reply-all email describing Deputy Premier Thomas Lukazsuk as a “complete and utter asshole” serves as a reminder of how strained the relations are between some federal and provincial Conservatives. In the recent election, a significant number of Conservative Members of Parliament supported Danielle Smith‘s upstart Wildrose Party.

Two years ago it would have seemed impossible, but current federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair may actually have a shot at 24 Sussex Drive after the next federal election. The NDP are tied or leading in the polls and while there is three years until the next election (aka an eternity in politics when anything could happen), Mr. Mulcair appears to be the first Leader of the Official Opposition to take an aggressive offensive position against Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives.

Earlier this week, the NDP released an attack ad against Prime Minister Harper, giving the federal Conservatives a taste of their own medicine. If anything, the ads demonstrate that Mr. Mulcair’s NDP are not afraid to use the same tactics that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party used to destroy the political careers of weak former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.