Tag Archives: Christy Clark

Looking past pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement looks pretty good for BC

“Mark my words, that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made.” – Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Alberta politicians, media and pundits are unsurprisingly focused on what the governing agreement between British Columbia New Democratic Party leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver will mean for the future of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The agreement would have the province’s three Green Party MLAs support the 41 NDP MLAs on confidence motions and money bills in the Legislative Assembly, allowing the NDP to form a minority government. Christy Clark‘s Liberals have 43 MLAs, one MLA short of a majority.

Aside from oil pipelines, the NDP-Green agreement commits to holding a referendum  on proportional representation in fall 2018 (though it is not clear what form of proportional representation will be proposed) and reforming BC’s wild-west election finance laws (banning corporate and union donations, placing limits on individual donations, and limiting party loans to banks and financial institutions).

The agreement also commits to appointing a commission to create a plan to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage, preserving public health care and education, and improving funding for public transit. While some of the points are intentionally vague, overall it reads like a fairly positive guide for the next BC government.

Andrew Weaver Green Party British Columbia

Andrew Weaver

But back to that pipeline from Alberta, the agreement states: “Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”

The pipeline expansion has already been approved by the federal government, but faces opposition from the public and the courts in BC. In an article earlier this month, James Wilt outlined three ways the BC government could stop or slow down the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

Political opposition to the pipeline from an Green-supported NDP government in BC could create a lot of political trouble for Rachel Notley‘s NDP government in Alberta. There is no shortage of irony that the NDP-Green agreement could create a world of political problems for the most progressive and environmentally-friendly government Alberta has ever had.

Despite the Notley government’s Climate Leadership Plan, disagreement over oil pipelines has lead to a significant split between the Alberta NDP and its counterparts outside the province.

John Horgan BC NDP Leader Premier

John Horgan

Notley has been steadfast in her support for the pipeline, and as far as Alberta politicians go, she is probably in the best position to negotiate some sort of political compromise with a future Premier Horgan. The two politicians know each other and many NDP political staffers in Edmonton have deep connections to the BC NDP. Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips even worked in the BC NDP campaign war-room in 2013.

In many ways, it would be easier for the BC NDP, and probably the federal NDP, if Alberta was governed by climate change denying conservatives. At least then they would be able to oppose these oil pipelines without the kind of complications that having an NDP government in Alberta has caused for them.

It is not clear when, or if, Horgan and Weaver will be able to enact their agreement. Clark has said she will remain in office for the time-being, likely until her Liberal Party loses a confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly. When that takes place could determine the political future of the pipeline, and who will be representing BC when the Council of the Federation meets in Edmonton from  July 17 to 19, 2017.

Schweitzer is back, again, probably

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer is not running in the PC leadership race.

Doug Schweitzer

Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who pulled the plug on his bid to leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party last September and backed Jason Kenney instead, has announced his plans to run for the currently non-existent United Conservative Party. He is the former CEO of the Manitoba PC Party and was involved in Jim Prentice‘s campaign for the Alberta PC Party leadership in 2014. He served as Kenney’s scrutineer when the ballots were counted in the 2017 PC leadership race.

Schweitzer’s candidacy is entirely dependent on whether members of the Wildrose and PC parties vote to form a new party on July 22, which I expect will happen.

Pipelines, pipelines, pipelines – An Alberta view of the BC election

British Columbia voters reduced Christy Clark’s BC Liberals to minority status in the provincial election this week. The BC Liberals, who have formed government since 2001, elected candidates in 43 of the province’s 87 legislative constituencies (pending recounts). The official opposition New Democratic Party led by John Horgan boosted their numbers by electing 41 MLAs. And the Green Party, led by climate scientist Andrew Weaver, could hold the balance of power in the minority legislature after three Green MLAs were elected on Vancouver Island.

John Horgan

John Horgan

Results of the British Columbia provincial election by political watchers and pundits in Alberta are being viewed through the same lens they have viewed the entire BC election campaign: by wondering how it will impact future construction of oil pipelines from Alberta to the West Coast.

The NDP and Greens have stated their opposition to the pipeline expansion, and the Liberals gave their support to the federally approved Trans Canada Kinder-Morgan Pipeline expansion. But given the results of yesterday’s election, it is hard to say if there is any governing scenario in BC that is ideal for Alberta’s pipeline dreams.

But just because pipelines are top of mind for many Albertans, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing our priorities were the same priorities in the minds of BC voters who cast their ballots on Tuesday. Sure, pipelines, climate change, energy, and environmental issues were likely important issues for many BC voters, but so were health care, education, housing affordability, government corruption, political financing and many other issues.

While pipeline approvals fall under federal jurisdiction, opposition by a provincial government can create significant political problems for any project and a federal government that supports it. The unanswered question now on the minds of many Albertans is how the election results will impact the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to a shipping terminal in Burnaby.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A minority government formed by Clark’s Liberals could continue to support for pipelines, but if they become dependent on the votes of the three Green MLAs to maintain their government, political necessity could change their enthusiasm for the project. An NDP government supported by the Greens could result in further opposition to pipeline expansion.

Opposition to the pipeline by the BC NDP led pro-pipeline Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley to announce in Dec. 2016 that NDP political staffers in Edmonton would be barred from working on BC NDP campaigns in this election. The divide between the two parties, and two provinces, on the pipeline issue is stark. Public support for pipelines among Albertans appears to be near unanimous, while opposition to pipelines in BC is a broad and mainstream opinion.

While the BC Liberals are considered to be a conservative party, a Clark government will not necessarily have the best interests of Albertans in mind. In reaction to American President Donald Trump imposing a tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports, Clark threatened to impose a $70 per tonne levy on thermal coal exports through BC ports. Alberta’s coal exports could be collateral damage in this move, even though Notley has questioned whether Clark actually has the constitutional authority to impose the levy.

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver

Clark has attacked the Alberta NDP in speeches before and during the campaign, and it would not be uncharacteristic of the BC Liberals to attack Alberta in order to further expose the rifts between the Notley government and Horgan NDP.

While Albertans focus on prospects for oil pipelines to the West Coast, it is important to remember that what Albertans perceive as their best interests are not necessarily the top priorities for voters and politicians in BC, and nor should they be.

Former Alberta MLA defeated on Vancouver Island

Former Alberta MLA Alana DeLong was unsuccessful in her bid for election as a Liberal candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowachin constituency on Vancouver Island. DeLong, who represented Calgary-Bow as a Progressive Conservative in the Alberta Legislature from 2001 to 2015, was defeated by incumbent New Democrat Doug Routley 10,986 votes to 6,696 votes.

Jason Kenney emerges from hiding at Conservative fundraising dinner in Vancouver

As Premier Rachel Notley returns from leading a ten-day economic trade mission to China and Japan, political watchers have been wondering where the recently elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has been? Jason Kenney appeared to go into hiding around a month ago after he sparked controversy with his comments about Gay-Straight Alliances and outing gay kids in Alberta schools during an interview with the Postmedia editorial board in Calgary.

Vancouver-based website TheBreaker reported this week that Kenney was recently spotted in British Columbia speaking at a $500-a-plate federal Conservative Party fundraising event at Hy’s Steakhouse in downtown Vancouver. Kenney tweeted that he was in Vancouver for a conference, but did not mention any other political activities the PC Party leader has been engaged in on the west coast.

The website author, journalist Bob Mackin, alleged that Kenney urged guests at the fundraising dinner to support the BC Liberal Party of Christy Clark in the province’s May 9 general election and that a new conservative  party could be formed in Alberta as soon as this weekend.

Readers will remember that a question first asked on this blog on December 5, 2016 about whether the Alberta New Democratic Party would lend a hand to their BC cousins led to a decree by Notley banning any west coast election-related travel by her government’s political staffers. The BC NDP under the leadership of John Horgan oppose the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Pipeline, a project that the Notley NDP are firmly in favour of.

According to the latest opinion poll, conducted on April 22, 2017, Horgan’s NDP leads Clark’s Liberals 44 percent to 34 percent, with an insurgent Green Party led by Andrew Weaver polling at 22 percent support.

Meanwhile, as the unite-the-right discussions continue, a new poll released by Mainstreet Research asking Albertans who they would prefer as leader of a merged Wildrose-PC party showed Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean leading Kenney with 29 percent to 24 percent support. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose “Someone Else” and 23 percent were unsure, suggesting that there could be appetite for a third or fourth candidate to enter the contest (some Conservative activists have suggested outgoing interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose could fill this void).

Jean has been criss-crossing the province holding town hall meetings ostensibly to collect feedback on the party merger, but in reality he is campaigning for the leadership of the yet-to-be-named and yet-to-be-merged Wildrose-PC party.

I am told that one of the significant issues of debate between the leadership of the two conservative parties is the timeline for a leadership vote. Jean has firmly said the leader of a new party should be chosen before October 15, 2017 while Kenney has been saying since last year that he wants a founding convention to be held in late 2017 before a leadership vote takes place in early 2018.

Jean’s preferred timeline appears to be more sensible, as it would allow a leader to hold court over a founding convention that could be unruly and filled with bozo-erruptions if a leader is not in place to keep the rowdy membership base in line. Kenney’s preference would buy him more time to compete with Jean in a leadership vote, which he might need now that he has decided to lend himself out to conservative fundraising efforts in British Columbia.

Construction of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline is expected to start in 2017.

Will the Alberta NDP lend their support to the anti-pipeline BC NDP in the next election?

Pipeline politics creates strange bedfellows in Alberta and BC

Fresh from winning the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is off to British Columbia to pitch the benefits of the pipeline.

Premier Rachel Notley Calgary Stampede Alberta

Rachel Notley

On pipelines and climate change, Alberta’s New Democratic Party appears to be more in sync with the federal Liberals than with their NDP cousins in Ottawa and Victoria.

The federal party’s flirtation with the controversial LEAP Manifesto at last year’s federal convention in Edmonton created serious strains between the two wings of the party. BC NDP leader John Horgan’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline has further divided the party and created strange political bedfellows.

Ms. Notley was in Ottawa last week as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. At the press conference, Mr. Trudeau heaped praise on Alberta’s flagship climate change policy, which includes a price on carbon.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark

Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark, leader of the conservative BC Liberals, is now touting Ms. Notley’s pipeline boosterism.

I would certainly say that Rachel Notley is very different from the leader of the NDP in B.C.,” Ms. Clark told the Vancouver Sun. “They are deeply split on the issue of Kinder Morgan and whether or not it should go ahead.”

The NDP-schism over pipelines could further complicate the inner-politics of the party.

Senior political staffers at the Alberta Legislature, including Brian Topp, the premier’s Chief of Staff, John Heaney, Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office, and ministerial chiefs of staff Jim Rutkowski and Steve Stringfellow have strong ties to the BC NDP. Mr. Topp was the BC NDP campaign manager in 2013 and Mr. Heaney served as Mr. Horgan’s Chief of Staff until he joined Ms. Notley’s office in 2015.

Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

It is well-known that the NDP operates a national network of political organizers who travel the country to work on election campaigns. This was an asset during Alberta’s 2015 election when experienced NDP campaigners from across Canada descended on our province. Some of those organizers now occupy political jobs in the Alberta government, which is now the only NDP government in Canada.

A few Alberta NDP staffers, including at least one current cabinet minister, traveled to BC to work for the NDP in the last election campaign.

John Horgan

John Horgan

But now that Mr. Horgan opposes the pipeline that Ms. Notley has staked her political future on, will the Alberta NDP lend their political staff to the BC NDP during next year’s election?

They shouldn’t.

The attack ads write themselves.

The NDP promises pipelines in Alberta but campaigns against them in BC. Whose side are they on?” an ad from Jason Kenney‘s Wildrose-PC Party might ask.

There are many New Democrats and progressive Albertans who would like to see Mr. Horgan’s NDP win the next election for reasons that go beyond pipelines (when I met Mr. Horgan in Victoria last year I found him to be quite engaging and likeable). But it would be foolish for the Alberta NDP government to allow its political staffers to campaign to elect a BC NDP government that will oppose Ms. Notley’s pipeline agenda and undermine all the work she is doing in BC this week.

Obviously Ms. Notley cannot stop individuals from campaigning on their own time, but if political staffers from Alberta are going to work against the pipelines in BC, they should not expect to have political jobs waiting for them back in Edmonton.

Alberta NDP draft outsiders from Manitoba, BC and Ottawa for Transition Team

Despite this current historic period in Alberta politics as a new party transitions into government for the first time in 44 years, almost no public focus has been directed at the team who are managing the Alberta NDP move into government.

We have heard that former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow was consulted and that other top New Democratic Party officials, including National Director Anne McGrath and party insider Kathleen Monk, have been involved in the transition process. We know that Premier-designate Rachel Notley’s Chief of Staff Brian Topp is chairing the transition team and we can expect that Deputy Chief of Staff Adrienne King is also heavily involved.

The other individuals involved in this important transition of power, by providing advice, support and research to Ms. Notley and her team of MLAs, have barely been mentioned in the mainstream media. It is no surprise that many of these individuals would come from other provinces in Canada where the NDP have experience governing. And it was probably a smart move by Ms. Notley and her team to have included experienced outsiders in the transition process, as this is the first time the Alberta NDP have formed government.

But who is on the “transition team” that is helping Alberta’s new government into office? It seems like something Albertans should know.

Here is a look at some of the individuals who are playing a role as members or support staff for the Alberta NDP ‘Transition Team’ :

Jen Anthony, Former Director of Caucus Services for the Manitoba NDP Caucus

Alissa Brandt, Former Director of the Premier’s Secretariat in Manitoba

Matt Hannah, British Columbia NDP organizer

John Heaney, Chief of Staff at the B.C. NDP Caucus

Brad Lafortune, Director of Political Action at the Alberta Federation of Labour, former Alberta NDP Caucus Communications Officer

John Michael McColl, Issue Coordinator in the Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa

Emily-Anne Paul, Regional Press Secretary for B.C. and Northern Ontario in the Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa

Anna Rothney, Former Secretary to Cabinet for Priorities and Planning in Manitoba

Michael Roy, Digital Director for the federal NDP

Jim Rutkowski, a senior account director for Hill + Knowlton in Victoria, B.C. An advisor to Brian Topp during the 2012 federal NDP leadership campaign.

Brian Stokes, Executive Director of the Alberta NDP

Kate Van Meer-Mass, BC NDP organizer, campaign manager for NDP MLA David Eby, who defeated Premier Christy Clark in Vancouver-Point Grey in 2013.

It will not be surprising if some of these individuals, with their experience working in other NDP governments across Canada, are hired to fill roles in Ministerial Offices or the Government Caucus Offices.

The NDP will officially take the reins of government on Sunday, May 24, when Ms. Notley and her 11-member cabinet are sworn-in at a public event at the Legislature Building. MLAs elected on May 5 will be sworn-in to office on June 1.

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.