Political strategist Corey Hogan has been hired as the government’s new managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau. He replaces Mark Wells, who announced last week that he was leaving after a year in the job. Mr. Wells previously served as director of communications with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the province’s largest public sector union.
Corey Hogan has more than a decade of experience in communications, advertising and engagement. Most recently he served as the Chief Strategy Officer at Northweather, a digital communications consultancy based in Calgary.
Not always a backroom strategist, Mr. Hogan aspired for public office in 2009 when he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Liberal Party nomination ahead of the Calgary-Glenmore by-election. That campaign saw former Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman eke out a narrow win over Liberal Avalon Roberts, providing a spark that helped propel the then-fledgeling fringe party to Official Opposition in 2012.
He was spotted earlier this year attending the NDP’s convention in Calgary and was jokingly referred to as “the Orange apologist” by podcast co-contributors Zain Veljiand Stephen Carter for his progressive views on The Strategists podcast.
I admit to being initially surprised when I heard that Mr. Hogan was hired for this role. This is not because I do not believe he is capable, I expect he is, but I half expected that the new managing director would be a former NDP staffer from Manitoba, Ontario or British Columbia, where many of this government’s top political talent hails from. Mr. Hogan is a smart political operator, comes from outside the traditional NDP establishment, and has experience in Alberta politics.
As a progressive Calgarian, he will bring a different perspective into the halls of government in Edmonton and a new focus on digital communications that past Public Affairs Bureau directors may not have had. He recently launched the Canada15 online campaign, which asked the question: why can’t the federal government bring in $15 national minimum wage in every province all across Canada?
Clear and strategic communications has been a source of weakness for Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP since it formed government in 2015. Significant communications failures around issues such as changes to farm safety legislation and a court challenge to power purchase agreements have caused the government embarrassment and cost the NDP support in the polls.
Mr. Hogan is joining a government that must simultaneously climb a steep hill and fight an uphill battle if it wants to successfully convince Albertans to embrace and accept the long list of aggressive policy changes, including the NDP’s flagship Climate Leadership Plan.
The NDP have hired a smart and strategic political operator in Corey Hogan. Now they would do well to listen to his advice.
Days after the Alberta New Democratic Party was elected with a majority government in 2015, I wrote a column outlining the promises made in the party’s election platform to improve ethics in government. One year later, here is a look at those six platform points and whether the NDP have kept their promises to implement them.
(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.
(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.
A promise made by Premier Rachel Notley at a campaign stop in Calgary on April 17, 2015. An NDP press release at the time said that “[t]he list will indicate how projects are prioritized, including the standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”
Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said in July 2015 that a list would be released soon but by November 2015 he told reporters that an “artificial order” of priority might create too much animosity between municipalities. The NDP still have until 2019 to implement this promise but I suspect they have decided the political blowback from municipal governments and school boards would cause more trouble than it is worth for the provincial government.
(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.
This could be included in the Special Select Committee for Ethics and Accountability recommendations expected to be completed in September 2016. A private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose MLA Rick Strankmanin 2016 that would ban government advertising during election periods was referred to this committee.
(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.
Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act was introduced by Ms. Ganley on November 5, 2015 and came into effect on December 11, 2015. This bill extended the sunshine list to require compensation disclosure for certain employees who work for agencies, boards and commissions, public post-secondary institutions, Offices of the Legislature and provincial health authorities.
(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.
This is a perennial pledge made by opposition politicians that in practice is difficult to prove when the party forms government. When the NDP won a majority government on May 5, 2015, they also won a majority majorities on the all-party committees of the Legislature. Like all majority governments, they are using their majority to push forward their agenda at the committee level.
As long as our legislative system is dominated by the government leadership it is unlikely that MLAs committees will actually be independent of influence from the Premier’s Office. There is little evidence to suggest that MLA committees are now controlled any more or any less than they were under the previous PC Party government.
Funding for the eight Offices of the Legislature has decreased by $26,300,000 from $152,407,000 in 2015-2016 to $126,107,000 in 2016-2017, largely due to a decrease in funding for the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (because the next election is not expected to be held until 2019).
Ethics Commissioner Complaints
Responding to a request by Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler investigated allegations that two fundraisers attended by Ms. Notley were in violation of the Conflicts of Interest Act. Ms. Trussler’s report concluded that Ms. Notley was not in breach of the act with respect to either of Mr. Nixon’s complaints.
According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data, when Albertans were asked whether they consider themselves to be progressive, 59 percent answered yes. It appears that although we identify our province as being conservative, a significantly larger group of Albertans identify as being moderate or progressive.
“Urbanization, in-migration, and generational change are all shifting the province’s political attitudes and behavior,” Abacus Data’s David Coletto said in a press release today.
The survey also shows strong support for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, and support for raising personal income taxes on high income earners and the introduction of a carbon tax.
As shown in the graphs below, where Albertans place themselves and where they believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum is quiet different.
The results of the survey are not surprising to anyone who has been paying close attention to Alberta politics, as I have over the past ten years. While there are a large number of self-identified conservatives in our province, Alberta’s electorate has always been more populist than conservative.
The great success of the old Progressive Conservative government, starting under the leadership of Peter Lougheed in 1971, was forged with the creation of a broad political coalition that appealed to conservative, moderate and progressive voters in Alberta. And at the height of the Ralph Klein-era in Alberta politics, the Liberals and NDP were still able to garner between 30 and 40 percent of the province-wide vote.
This is why I am hesitant to predict the death of the PC Party in Alberta, even in its current weakened state.
The right-wing Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean continues to mount a campaign to take over the PC Party. At meetings across the province, Wildrose Party members are being encouraged to purchase PC Party memberships in order to push the merger agenda at constituency associations and other internal party levels.
Proponents of the take over characterize it as a merger but it is likely that the Wildrose needs the PCs more than the PCs need the Wildrose and the limited appeal of the ideological social conservatism that much of its membership base represents. The PCs won 12 elections from 1971 to 2012 by raising a big tent centrist party, not by just uniting conservatives under one conservative party banner, as Mr. Jean and MLAs like Derek Fildebrandt appear to be proposing.
Many members of the PC Party, including Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen remain opposed to merging with the Wildrose, which could drag the PCs further to the political right and away from where most Albertans stand, near the moderate centre. With the right leader, the PCs may be able to regain the trust of voters lost in 2015.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Wildrose Party’s strategy is to eliminate the PC Party as an alternative while continuing to brand the NDP government as “risky”, “extreme” and “ideological,” despite no real evidence supporting those claims.
The success of Rachel Notley‘s NDP in 2015 was based on her appeal to moderate and progressive voters. It is not surprising that during last year’s election campaign Ms. Notley frequently invoked the memory of Mr. Lougheed, who was seen by many Albertans as the embodiment of a progressive and forward-looking leader.
The success of the NDP in the 2019 election could be based on their ability to remain appealing to that coalition of moderate and progressive voters. This will require Ms. Notley to keep the balance and moderation that was promised in her party’s election platform and not veer too far left to appease her party’s fringe.
This is only one poll and is not an indicator of how Albertans will vote in future elections but it does provide some valuable information about the values held by many voters in our province. It is encouraging that groups like Progress Alberta are being formed to ensure that issues important to progressive Albertans are publicly discussed in a province dominated by conservative commentators and pundits.
I am pleased to be contributing to Progress Alberta as a member of their advisory board. See the full list of advisory board members here.
The survey informing this study was conducted online with 1,000 Albertans aged 18 and older from December 2 to 7, 2015. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Albertans recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading providers of online research samples.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
Ms. Notley proved to be a smart, likeable and charismatic leader on the campaign trail. I would argue that she was then and remains now her party’s greatest asset.
Voters opted for wholesale change by choosing 75 new MLAs, a huge turnover, to serve in Alberta’s 87 seat Legislative Assembly. The NDP started the election with 4 seats and ended it with 54 seats, including every seat in Edmonton, 15 seats in Calgary, seats in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer, and a handful in rural Alberta.
The PCs lost a total of 60 seats and were relegated to third place with 10 MLAs (9 after leader Jim Prentice resigned on election night) and the official opposition Wildrose won 21 seats, four more than the party won in 2012.
A record number of women were elected to the Legislature, including 26 in the 54 MLA NDP caucus and 7 of 13 cabinet ministers.
Thomas Dang, age 20, became the youngest MLA in Alberta history.
Optimism was in the air as thousands of Albertans showed up to the Legislature Grounds to watch the new Premier and cabinet be sworn-in to office.
In their first session as government, the NDP banned corporate and union donations, restored $1 billion in health care, education and human services funding cuts made by the PCs, increased Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent and announced a phased in $15 per hour minimum wage by 2018.
Ms. Notley demonstrated an ability to reach outside NDP circles for expert advice by appointing Alberta Treasury Branches President & CEO Dave Mowat to lead a Royalty Review Panel, respected economics professor Andrew Leach to lead a Climate Change Panel, and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge to provide advice on infrastructure investment. Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann was asked to co-chair a review of the province’s mental health services and Joseph Doucet, Dean of the University of Alberta’s School of Business, was tapped to chair the Premier’s Advisory Committee on the Economy.
The PC Party patronage machine ground to a halt. University and college boards of governors are still dominated with well-connected conservatives, but some high-profile appointees have been replaced. For example, Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. Rob Merrifield, a former Conservative MP, was replaced by Gitane De Silva, a former Deputy Minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Canadian Consul General to Chicago.
On the financial front, the NDP government faces serious problems inherited from the old PC government.
After years of poor long-term planning and over-reliance on royalty revenues to fund the province’s operations budget, the sharp decline in the international price of oil had a huge impact on the government’s coffers. The drop in the price of oil has also led to significant job losses in Calgary and northern Alberta, which have impacted tens of thousands of Albertans.
Instead of dealing with the drop in revenue by cutting budget funding and slashing public sector jobs, like the Wildrose and PC parties proposed, the NDP have decided to invest in public infrastructure, such as highway, school and hospital construction.
As well as keeping many Albertans in the construction industry employed during the economic downturn, investing in building public infrastructure now means the government will spend less time playing catch up when the next oil boom arrives. Ironically, this is similar to what Wildrose leader Brian Jeanargued in favour of when he resigned as Fort McMurray’s MP in January 2014.
Despite a constant barrage of criticism from conservative critics, who claim the NDP election win was simply a fluke, a recent poll showed the NDP with a narrow lead in Calgary and a wide lead in Edmonton. The poll was not fantastic news for the governing party, but it undermines the argument that the NDP were elected by accident. The NDP appear to be developing a solid base of support among moderate and progressive voters in urban Alberta.
This election was a reminder that Alberta has defied its stodgy political stereotype and has rapidly become a young and urban province.
The city of Calgary, long known for its conservative political roots, has now elected progressive politicians in the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, something that would have been unheard of in past years.
According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift that has and will continue to impact our political map for decades to come.
The year’s election was a rejection of establishment politics and a reminder that Albertans are largely politically moderate and more populist than conservative, which is an important distinction that the ruling PCs forgot after 44 years in power. It was also a reminder of how dramatically voters can abandon their traditional patterns of voting and embrace change.
This year was filled with many exciting firsts for progressive politics in Alberta. And while it is impossible to tell what the next year will bring in Alberta politics it is clear that our province changed in a significant way in 2015.
I had the pleasure of joining Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED on Dec. 16, 2015 to talk about the past year in Alberta politics. Take a listen and let me know what you think about what happened in 2015.
One of the things that has changed over the past ten years is the proliferation of podcasts available on almost any topic. On Karen’s podcast, I recommended a handful of podcasts that I listen to on a weekly basis. Here is an expanded list of podcasts that I would give my seal of approval:
The Expats: This great podcast launched by local bon-vivant Adam Rozenhart features interviews with Canadians expatriates about their experiences living overseas. Their latest episode about the limitations on expat voting is particularity timely ahead of the October 19 federal election.
Radiolab: This podcast is a longtime favourite of mine. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab focuses on topics of a scientific and philosophical nature. This podcast is a pleasure to listen to.
An investigation into former Premier Alison Redford‘s use of government airplanes has been closed and no charges will be laid, the RCMP announced yesterday. In 2014, Premier Dave Hancock and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis asked the RCMP to investigate findings made by the Auditor General that Ms. Redford and her staff had misused government aircraft.
Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the Progressive Conservatives in March 2014 after facing a caucus and party revolt against her scandal-plagued administration.
Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party
The never-ending dance between the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta Party continued last week as party leader Greg Clark presented another “cooperation” offer to the Liberal Party. Not surprisingly the offer was declined by interim Liberal leader David Swann, who was chosen by his party’s executive because he did not share MLA Laurie Blakeman‘s pro-cooperation stance.
The Alberta Party is hosting its Annual General Meeting this weekend, an event that will feature guest speakers Stephen Carter and Dave Taylor (former Liberal and Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Currie from 2004 to 2012).
Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by former Liberal Party executive director Corey Hogan shows that both parties could be shut out of Calgary’s inner-city constituencies in the next election. If defeat is not a powerful motivator to cooperate, I do not know what else would be.
NDP nab a big candidate in Calgary
Rachel Notley‘s NDP have grabbed their biggest name candidate in decades – former five-term Alderman and Homeless advocate Joe Ceci announced this week that he will seek the NDP nomination in Calgary-Fort. Mr. Ceci supported the Liberal Party when it was led by Kevin Taft and endorsed Mr. Swann when he ran for the party’s leadership in 2008.
Calgary-Fort has been represented by PC MLA Wayne Cao since 1997. Mr. Cao is not seeking re-election.
Mr. Aftergood recently appealed to the CBC Ombudsman for the removal of an article reporting his jail sentencing in 2007 for improper handling of ballots in the 2004 Calgary municipal election. According to the CBC, Mr. Aftergood was sentenced to 14 days in jail in May 2007 but never served out the sentence, because upon appeal, he was granted a new trial and the charge against him was stayed in January 2010.
Much of the area was represented by NDP MLA Barry Pashak from 1986 to 1993. The NDP have not elected an MLA in Calgary since 1989, but Ms. Notley has said she hopes her party can increase its support in the next election.
The Progressive Conservatives will be holding candidate nomination contests today in Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Calgary-Fish Creek, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-North West, Medicine Hat, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and Spruce Grove-St. Albert.
#ABvote Google Hangout
With a provincial election expected in the coming month, we kicked off the first #AbVote Google Hangout last night. Watch the archived version online at abvote.ca.
Can the opposition parties win any of the four provincial by-elections being held on October 27, 2014?
The by-election votes will take place in four urban constituencies that were considered safe for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2012 election. With a change in provincial leadership and a volatile political environment, these by-elections do provide opportunities for the opposition parties to make gains.
In Calgary-Elbow, Wildrose candidate John Fletcherappears to be PC candidate and appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks‘ main conservative challenger and challenges from two other liberal-leaning candidates could create an interesting result in Calgary-Elbow.
Liberal Susan Wright and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark are running strong campaigns competing for the same liberal and moderate voters that Mr. Dirks will need to win against his more conservative opponent. Mr. Clark has gained the support of 2012 PC Party campaign strategist Stephen Carter and 2012 Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan, who are both heavily involved in his campaign.
Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins was able to win this constituency in a 2007 by-election at a time when the Liberals were Official Opposition and the Tories were led by new PC leader Ed Stelmach, who was unfamiliar to most Calgary voters at the time. In 2014, the field of candidates and parties is much more crowded and unpredictable.
Retired popular Edmonton Mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel is widely expected to glide to victory in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election (his predecessor, Dave Hancock was re-elected with 60% of the vote in 2012).
Mr. Mandel’s vocal opponents are trying to make health care and the provincial government’s lack of long-term infrastructure planning the big issues of the by-election campaign.
Both Dr. Turner and Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson have made south west Edmonton’s aging and overcrowded Misericordia Hospital a focus of their campaigns. Dr. Wilson held a press conference outside the Misericordia Hospital yesterday and today the NDP will hold a lunch-hour rally outside the facility.
Statistician Eric Grenier predicts Wildrose candidate Sheila Taylorcould win the Calgary-West by-election. Ms. Taylor, a now former trustee on the Calgary Board of Education, is a star candidate for the Wildrose in Calgary. She is facing Calgary police officer Mike Ellis, who unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination before the 2012 election.
Premier Jim Prentice‘s recent announcement to build an additional 55 new schools and renovate another 20 is certainly meant to boost Mr. Dirks’ and weaken Ms. Taylor’s candidacy. Quick to respond, Mr. Clark’s campaign set up a website detailing the schools Mr. Dirks voted to close during his time on the Calgary Board of Education.
Running as a candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election, Mr. Prentice faces his main challenge from Wildrose candidate Kathy Macdonald, a 20-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service. Foothills has voted solidly PC since 1967 and while it is easy to assume that Mr. Prentice’s job as Premier makes him a shoe-in, he should not take voters for granted. Mr. Grenier has classified Foothills are a “tossup” between the PCs and Wildrose.
There is nothing more the opposition parties would love than to see a sitting Premier defeated in his own constituency. A loss in Foothills might be unlikely, but a loss of even one of the four by-elections would be a sign that the PCs, even under “new management,” remain politically vulnerable. By-elections can be risky for incumbent governments, especially when voters are eager to use their votes to send a message.
Upcoming all-candidates forums
Calgary-Foothills all-candidates forum: October 15, 8:30pm at the Edgemont Community Association (33 Edgevalley Circle NW).
With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.
Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.
By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.
Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.
Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.
Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.
Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.
The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.
This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.
Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.
I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013 Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97 Wildrose: $72,625.47 Liberals: $540.79 NDP – $0 Alberta Party: $2,465.16
The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.
Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.
So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.
The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.
As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.
UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.
Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013 PC = $32,366.72
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76
Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).
After an extensive national search that saw more than 20 people apply for the position, Van Vliet said he’s confident that Gerald has the experience, the skills and the enthusiasm to lead the Party organization forward as we all support Raj Sherman’s four-year plan to win the hearts and minds of Albertans.
Gerald comes to us via Northern Ontario and lately from New Brunswick. His career is both rich and varied: he has been a strategic consultant, a business developer for towns, businesses and NGOs and the owner of a marketing and communications firm.
He has been an active Liberal for many years, both in New Brunswick and in Ontario. Gerald has also been a dedicated volunteer board member for several social, historical and arts organizations.
“At year’s end there is a saying, “Out with the old and in with the new”
“Unfortunately, this does not apply to your St. Albert Provincial Liberal Constituency Association. The reality of our situation is that “The old is not out and the new is the same old.”
A letter sent to current and past Alberta Liberal Party supporters in the St. Albert constituency gives a glimpse into how disorganized and far-behind the Liberal Party is in preparing for the next provincial election in some constituencies.
The letter, signed by local activist Wilf Borgstede and constituency association president and former MLA Jack Flaherty, outlines the trouble that the Liberals have had in recruiting a candidate to run in that constituency in the upcoming provincial election.
The letter makes reference to two prospective candidates who showed interest in running, but declined because of the lack of support the local organization would be able to provide them during the election campaign.
According to the letter, the last Annual General Meeting was held in 2008, the year which Mr. Flaherty was defeated. The letter suggests that despite a brief boost in interest in the party during the recent leadership contest and when former Tory MLA Raj Sherman was chosen as leader, that interest has since disbursed.
When contacted about this letter, Liberal Party campaign chairman Corey Hogan, always an optimist, wrote via email that “I suspect the launch of our platform on the 6th will further invigorate members and supporters in St. Albert and elsewhere as we get prepared for the coming contest.”
The letter may be symptomatic of broader problems facing the Liberal Party. Two staffers who recently left the Liberal Caucus Office have landed in the PC camp. Former Liberal Researcher Kyle Olsen recently left the Caucus for a job as a researcher at the PC Caucus and former public relations coordinator Andrew Fisher is now supporting Edmonton-Centre PC candidate Akash Kokhar‘s campaign.
The offer was made over the phone earlier this week. Sources say that Mr. Walters, the nominated Alberta Party candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, was also offered a candidate nomination in the constituency of his choice if he would join the Liberals.
Sources say that the offer was sweetened when it was strongly implied that the Liberals would reopen the nomination process in Edmonton-Rutherford, to allow Mr. Walters to compete against already nominated candidate and former Liberal MLA Rick Miller.
When contacted by this blogger, Mr. Walters, the former lead organizer for the Greater Edmonton Alliance, said that he declined both offers and remains committed to the Alberta Party.
Kent Hehr is new deputy leader
New leader Raj Sherman is attempting to shake-up his eight MLA Liberal Caucus. One of his first moves was to appoint Calgary-Buffalo MLAKent Hehr as the party’s Deputy Leader, a position recently held by Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman. Mr. Hehr is a strong MLA and a rising star in the opposition benches, but the job of deputy leader is a minor-lead in a caucus of nine MLAs.
Also emerging from the Liberal ranks is speculation that long-time MLA Hugh MacDonald might not seek re-election when the writ is dropped for the next provincial general election. Mr. MacDonald has represented Edmonton-Gold Bar since 1997 and placed second to Dr. Sherman in his party’s recent leadership contest.
It is also being reported that two other Liberals may sit out the next election. In Edmonton-Ellerslie, former MLA and nominated candidate Bharat Agnihotri and in Calgary, past federal Liberal candidate Josipa Petrunic, may take a pass in the next campaign if it interferes with approaching commitments in their personal and professional lives.
Sherman – energetic, intelligent, charismatic – could prove to be a political white knight riding to the Liberals’ rescue. Or Sherman – inexperienced, mercurial, impetuous – could yet prove to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.
Simply put, Dr. Sherman is a mixed-bag. (Don Braid, David Climenhaga, and Maurice Tougas have all penned opinions on what Dr. Sherman’s acendency to the leadership might mean for Alberta’s Official Opposition party).
Former Tory MLA Dr. Sherman will walk into his new office as the Leader of the Official Opposition this week surrounded by an eight MLA Liberal caucus, which has had a tense relationship with its leaders since the 2008 general election. The caucus includes two of his leadership competitors (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman and Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald) and two of the party’s former leaders (Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft). Of the group of eight, two (Dr. Taft and Calgary-Varsity MLA Harry Chase) are planning to retire at the next election.
The Big Four
It is my experience that the Chief of Staff, Caucus Communications Director, Party President, and Party Executive Director are four key positions that a Liberal party leader needs support from in order to successfully command the leadership of the party. Two of these positions are about to be vacated.
As noted in a recently Globe & Mail article, Erick Ambtman has resigned as President. Corey Hogan, executive director since 2009, has announced his plans to move on to future challenges. Chief of Staff Rick Miller, a former MLA and nominated candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford, may want to focus his energies on his election campaign. In his short time in the job, Communications Director Brian Leadbetter has proven to be an effective communication manager in a position that has turned into a rotating door over the past few years.
The Liberals need a ground game
While only around a paltry 8,600 out of almost 27,000 eligible voters actually participated in the leadership vote, the party is still left with a vast list of almost 30,000 potential volunteers, sign locations, and voters to help them in the next provincial election. One of the areas that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Payne stressed during the leadership campaign was the need for the Liberals to build their strength on the ground.
Currently, the Liberals do not have functional organizations in most constituencies across the province, including in constituencies that they held up until the 2008 election. The lack of local organization and funds will pose a challenge in finding credible candidates to run in an expected fall 2011 or spring 2012 general election.
A significant number of the party’s staunch loyalists supported Mr. MacDonald’s candidacy and his criticisms of the open voting leadership process. Many of these Liberals were furious at former leader Dr. Swann’s attempts to cooperate with other opposition parties in response to his party’s shrinking political fortunes. Dr. Sherman will need to mend fences with this sometimes unreasonable group of stalwarts while cementing his own activists into the party ranks.
It will also be interesting to see if right-wing leadership candidate Bill Harvey remains in the Liberal Party (it is suspected that he may join the Wildrose Party). The two-time candidate, who was supported by right-wing agitator Craig Chandler, earned 7% of the vote in this contest.
Of interesting note, party Vice-President (Policy) Debbie Cavaliere challenged Dr. Sherman for the PC nomination in 2007 and later ran as the Liberal candidate against him in the 2008 general election.
The Progressive Conservatives will be voting for the first ballot in their leadership contest on September 17. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then a second ballot with the top three candidates will be held on October 1. The victor of that leadership contest will determine the tone and calendar of the next provincial election, which many political watchers are expecting to be held later this fall or early next spring.
Since 2010, the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith have moved into second place in the polls, with the NDP led by Brian Mason are competing with the Liberals for third place. The question is whether Dr. Sherman’s star power can write the Liberals back into the political narrative they have been largely absent from over the past two years.
There is also the question of what effect Dr. Sherman’s victory will have on the new Alberta Party, which continues to organize, but has dropped to a lower-profile since Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor was chosen as its leader earlier this year.
Mr. MacDonald’s entry into the Liberal contest comes only weeks after the party faced some serious divisions at its Board of Directors meeting in Red Deer on May 7. At the meeting, a raucous discussion was held about the timing of the leadership contest.
A number of Liberal members approached this blogger after the May 7 Board meeting, venting their frustration after former leader and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft (who did not attend the meeting) wrote an email in which he raised concerns about the party being behind on election preparedness. Mr. MacDonald read the letter at the Board meeting in Dr. Taft’s absence.
I am told that Dr. Taft’s letter set the stage for a raucous discussion about moving the leadership vote from September 10, 2011 to early July 2011 in order to allow more time to prepare for the next general election, which is expected as early as November 2011. I am told that the early date was supported by Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, who is also seeking the party leadership.
According to people at the meeting, PC MLA turned Liberal leadership candidate Raj Shermansupported the September 2011 date, noting the challenges of trying to hold a leadership convention on the same weekend as the Calgary Stampede.
Also supporting the September date was nominated Calgary-Varsity candidate Bruce Payne, who is expected to enter the leadership contest. Mr. Payne is said to have delivered a speech about how summer is the greatest time for the three contenders to “storm the province and create excitement.”
In the end, the political veterans defeated and it was decided that the vote be held on September 10.
When contacted by this blogger, Liberal Party Executive Director Corey Hogan said via email that while he is obviously “not happy using 2008 as a benchmarkh”, his Party is in similar financial and organizational position to where it was a month before the last provincial election.
The Liberal Party is facing some awkward timing. Many frustrated Liberals I have spoken with now admit that it was a strategic error to hold a leadership contest in December 2008, so soon after that Party lost half its MLAs in that year’s election. Had waited longer they may have attracted a more diverse field of candidates than they did that year.
Unlike 2008, when they held the contest too soon when the party had plenty of time, in 2011 that Party is now holding a leadership contest late when it is does not have the luxury of having plenty of time on its side.
Dave Taylor, the party’s former deputy leader, the Calgary MLA many Liberals wanted as their top gun 16 months ago, will sit as an independent beginning Monday.
He is fed up with the Liberals as the main opposition on paper but nowhere near that in performance.
“We just don’t have a position that’s obvious to anybody on most things. I’m sorry, but we don’t. For two years now, we haven’t really stood for anything, with a few notable exceptions,” says Taylor, who spearheaded the party’s oilpatch-friendly policy on royalties.
“The Liberals are pretty much off the radar. We’re not talking about or standing for things in a way that translates to Albertans. Most Albertans have passed the Liberals by. People aren’t even politely curious.”
“I don’t think I can serve my constituents or other Albertans in the way they deserved to be served within the Liberals. They’re just too unfocused, too lacking in the ability to connect with the people of Alberta.”
“I just don’t see things happening. I feel I’ve tried.”
Mr. Taylor was first elected in 2004, defeating PC MLA Jon Lord in a high profile race. He served as Deputy Leader during Kevin Taft‘s time as Leader of the Official Opposition and ran for the party leadership following Dr. Taft’s resignation in 2008. Only attracting 1,616 votes, Mr. Taylor placed second to Calgary-Mountain ViewMLA David Swann. His defection from the Liberal caucus should not come as a surprise to many, as these rumours have been swirling around since the Liberals lost ground to the PCs in the last election. Liberal sources have told me that over the past year, caucus meetings have become especially heated between Mr. Taylor and other MLAs, leading to a dysfunctional team environment in the Official Opposition caucus. In January 2010, Mr. Taylor was given the opportunity to step into the spotlight when he announced the Liberal Party’s new energy policy, which was supposed to signal “a dramatic shift and tone” for the Liberals. In recent months, it has been rumoured that Mr. Taylor was investigating a run for Mayor of Calgary, though these now appear to be unsubstantiated.
As an Independent, Mr. Taylor would be in a good position to accept woos from both the Progressive Conservatives (who are in desperate need for some personality and could undercut the Liberals further by appointing him to cabinet) or the Wildrose Alliance (who could use a prominent opposition voice like Mr. Taylor’s to moderate their public face).
If Mr. Taylor does indeed announce his departure from the Liberal caucus today, these effects could be devastating to the Liberal Party – both Liberal Party President Tony Sansotta and Executive Director Corey Hogan were heavily involved in Mr. Taylor’s leadership campaign. His departure will also bring the Liberal caucus down to 8 MLAs from the 9 elected in 2008. While this initially does not look good for Dr. Swann, it could lead the Liberal caucus to become a more cohesive unit (strength in the face of destruction) – or it could lead to more internal criticism of his low-key style of leadership.
UPDATE: Both David Swann and Dave Taylor have released statements to the media. I attended Dr. Swann’s media conference at the Legislature this morning and will have some photos up later today. In a display of caucus solidarity, Dr. Swann was joined by 6 of the remaining 8 members of the Liberal caucus (Calgary-McCall MLA Darshan Kang is in India on family matters). Dr. Swann told the media that he knew Mr. Taylor had not been happy inside the Liberal caucus since he was defeated in the 2008 leadership campaign.
Word on the street is that Alberta NDP Executive Director Sandra Houston is resigning to pursue an job in Islamabad, Pakistan involving women and democracy. Ms. Houston has held the position for a couple of years and is considered a close ally of leader Brian Mason, something that has frustrated many reform-minded New Democrats that I have spoken with.