Tag Archives: Danielle Smith

The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase
Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA
Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

Wildrose wilts as Danielle Smith joins the PC Party

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith introduces candidate Tim Grover during the September 2014 Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

For four years, Progressive Conservatives told Albertans not to trust those kooky and scary Wildrosers. At the same time, the Wildrosers told Albertans not to trust those crooked and corrupt PCs. Today, it now appears that the leaders of the two parties have now put the past four years behind them and are joining forces.

Following a Tuesday, Dec. 16 caucus meeting, it is being reported that six of the Wildrose Official Opposition’s 14 MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, have decided to leave their party to join the 43-year governing PC. Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported yesterday that PC leader Jim Prentice offered a “Reunification Agreement” as incentive to his opposition colleagues.

CBC is reporting that the six MLAs include:
Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Blake Pederson (Medicine Hat)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)

The governing PC Caucus will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 17 and are expected to discuss the acceptance of the six MLAs into their ranks. The addition of the six would bring the total number of Tories to 69 of 87 MLAs in the Assembly. The remaining eight Wildrose MLAs would remain Official Opposition.

The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson reports that a cabinet shuffle could happen as early as Thursday to make room for the new MLAs.

Some sources say that Ms. Smith could become Mr. Prentice’s Deputy Premier and Mr. Anderson, a former PC MLA who joined the Wildrose in 2010, could be appointed to a senior ministry. Another potential cabinet appointment could be former Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who crossed the floor earlier this month.

Once source speculated that current PC ministers like Kyle Fawcett or Maureen Kubinec could be shuffled out of cabinet to make room for their new caucus-mates.

The phenomonally rapid collapse of the Wildrose Party raises questions about the unstable foundation of the party. Splits in the party became public after the loss of four by-elections and as Ms. Smith battled with party’s activists over an equality motion and her position in the Gay-Straight Alliances debate.

Just six months ago, the Wildrose Party was out-fundraising and outpolling the 43-year governing PCs. Only three months since becoming PC leader, Mr. Prentice has been able to demoralize, destabilize and now co-opt his main opposition.

The departure of the six could damage the Wildrose Party beyond repair and remove it as a viable political force in Alberta, at least in the short-term. Whatever your opinion of the party, the floor crossings are certainly a betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast a ballot for Wildrose candidates in order to send the PCs a message.

Wildrose Party activists are pledging to fight any formal merger between the two parties, but the loss of high-profile leader Ms. Smith is a death-blow to the party.

The loss of Ms. Smith to the government benches and the crippling of her soon to be former party is also a blow to democracy in Alberta. After coming very close to winning the 2012 election, the Wildrose have been the most effective and aggressive opposition parties in recent memory. Their work exposed corruption and cronyism in the government and ended the careers of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

It is unclear who will replace Ms. Smith as leader of the Official Opposition, but candidates could include Shayne Saskiw or Drew Barnes. Neither have the provincial profile of their predecessor.

While the blow to the Wildrose could rob the non-conservative opposition parties of a conservative vote split in the next election, the decline of the Wildrose creates opportunities for other opposition leaders. This is especially true for new NDP leader Rachel Notley and Alberta Party leader Greg Clark, who now have an opportunity to present an alternative vision to Mr. Prentice’s (and Ms. Smith’s) 43-year governing PC Party.


2014CWA-secondAwards…
I was pleased to discover that daveberta.ca earned second place in the 2014 Canadian Weblog Awards in the Politics category.

Congratulations to Gender Focus for their first place finish and John Ibbitson for placing third. Thank you to everyone who continues reading, commenting, contributing and sharing this blog.

Is the Wildrose Caucus about to merge with the PC Caucus?

Wildrose MLA Caucus Alberta Danielle Smith

Are more Wildrose MLAs preparing to cross the floor to the Progressives Conservatives? Independent MLA Joe Anglin has told reporters that Danielle Smith‘s 14 MLA Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus will vote on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 on whether to join the governing PC Caucus.

Rob Anderson Wildrose MLA
Rob Anderson

Mr. Anglin’s comments, claims published on an anonymously blog and tweets from conservative activists fuelled the rumours of the Wildrose Party’s demise on social media last night.

The sources of the rumours are questionable, but the curious silence of official Wildrose Party social media accounts suggests that the merger of the two caucuses could indeed be on the table when Wildrose MLAs meet on Dec. 16.

The loudest rumours point to Wildrose MLAs Rob Anderson and Shayne Saskiw crossing the floor, a claim Mr. Saskiw quickly denied on Twitter.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose
Shayne Saskiw

More reliable sources say that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Saskiw will make a presentation to their fellow MLAs on Dec. 16 detailing an offer extended by Mr. Prentice to Wildrose MLAs to join the PC Caucus. [Update: The Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell has obtained a copy of the “Reunification Agreement.”]

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes also tweeted his commitment to the Wildrose Party in response to the rumours.

This is not the first time we have heard rumours of a merger. In May 2014, Ms. Smith told reporters that then-PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice had proposed a merger of the two conservative parties. At the time, Premier Dave Hancock denied the claims, but it was clear that Mr. Prentice was reaching out to Wildrose MLAs.

Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat
Drew Barnes

Since becoming Premier, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of its most effective talking points by committing to focus on property rights and reversing many of former premier Alison Redford‘s most unpopular decisions. In some ways, it is now difficult to tell what differentiates the Wildrose Party from Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

Last month, Wildrose MLAs Ian Donovan and Kerry Towle, crossed the floor to the PC Caucus. And only weeks before that, Mr. Anglin left the Wildrose Caucus, claiming that a ‘civil war‘ was being waged within the party.

After losing four by-elections in October 2014 and losing three MLAs since then, the normally loud Wildrosers have toned down, and in some cases struck a more conciliatory tone with the governing PCs.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Even normally hyper-partisan Justice Minister Jonathan Denis tweeted about working with Mr. Anderson on a Wildrose Caucus amendment to Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act. If that does not signal a warming of relations between the two caucuses, I’m not sure what else would.

But despite the party’s recent poor showing, a Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith could still remain competitive going into the next election.

The party has collected an impressive war chest and has nominated candidates in more than a quarter of Alberta’s constituencies. Recent polls show the party sitting at 29% support, only five points behind Mr. Prentice’s PCs.

The question is whether the change in tone signals a new strategy or preparation for a merger with the 43-year governing PC Party? If there is truth to the merger rumours, the departure of more Wildrose MLAs (including Ms. Smith) would be a death blow to that party.

What would a Wildrose-PC Caucus merger mean?
Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

MLAs crossing the floor is a fairly common occurrence in Alberta and Canadian politics, but I cannot think of any time when an Official Opposition Caucus has voted to merger with a governing caucus.

Unlike the merger of the federal Canadian Alliance and PC Party that created the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003, there is little to no chance another party will form government in the next election (in the context of 2003, a PC-Wildrose merger would be more like Stephen Harper‘s Canadian Alliance joining Paul Martin‘s Liberal Party).

In a scenario where nearly all the Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to the PC Party, Raj Sherman‘s five MLA Liberal Caucus could regain its role as the Official Opposition. But the Liberals would only hold that title until MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang resigned to run in the October 2015 federal election. Upon their resignations, Rachel Notley‘s four MLA NDP Caucus could become the Official Opposition.

Updated: A Timeline of Alberta’s Gay-Straight Alliance debate

Alberta Gay Straight Alliance Debate
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, Premier Jim Prentice and PC MLA Sandra Jansen

It is sometimes amazing how quickly one political issue can transform and dominate the debate. This week’s raging debate about allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Alberta schools has twisted and turned so many times, it has become difficult to figure out who is in and out of the closet on this issue.

Wikipedia defines a Gay-Straight Alliance as student-led organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

Here is a simple timeline following the ongoing provincial debate around these student clubs in Alberta schools:

April 7, 2014: Liberal MLA Kent Hehr introduces Motion 503:

“Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to introduce legislation, like Manitoba’s and Ontario’s, requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations, using any name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

A coalition of 31 Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs vote down Motion 503. Nineteen Liberal, NDP and PC MLAs, including PC anti-bullying Minister Sandra Jansen vote in favour of the motion.

September 15, 2014: Premier Jim Prentice appoints Gordon Dirks as Education Minister. Mr. Dirks is criticized for his relationship with evangelical Christian schools in Calgary.

 October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman announces plans to introduce a private members’ bill to mandate school boards to develop policies to support students who start a gay-straight alliance in their schools by offering meeting space and benefits given to other clubs.

November 15, 2014: At the party’s annual policy convention, Wildrose members reject a ‘definitive’ statement on equality. Party members voted against adopting as policy a statement affirming the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.

November 18, 2014: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith says her caucus will likely support Ms. Blakeman’s private members’ bill and prominent members of Edmonton’s LGBTQ community speak in favour of the bill.

November 20, 2014: Ms. Blakeman introduces Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 into the Legislative Assembly. It passes first reading.

November 22, 2014: Attending the annual Gay-Straight Alliances conference at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson speaks in favour of Bill 202. “People don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes, colours and genders so it is important that a space everyone is compelled to go to as part of their education makes space for everyone,” Mr. Iveson told reporters.

November 24, 2014: Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan cross the floor to the PC caucus. The Wildrose Caucus defies its party’s members by issuing its own resolution on equality.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson proposes amendments to Bill 202 which would allow Catholic and other religious schools to opt-out of allowing student to form gay-straight alliances.

November 25, 2014: Mr. Prentice announces that PC MLAs will be allowed a “free vote on Bill 202. Mr. Donovan tells CBC that the PC Party is now more socially conservative than the Wildrose Party and that the GSA vote contributed to his joining the PC Party.

November 27, 2014: At a hastily called press conference, Mr. Prentice declares that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he plans to introduce his own bill dealing with Gay-Straight Alliances. Arguing in favour of ‘parental rights,’ Mr. Prentice says his bill will allow school boards to decide whether GSAs should be allowed. If students are turned down, Mr. Prentice says they can take legal action against their school boards. It is suspected that Mr. Prentice’s bill was not yet written at this time.

December 1, 2014: Mr. Dirks, Ms. Jansen and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis hold a press conference during the time originally allotted to debate Bill 202. Bill 10: An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children is introduced into the Legislature by Ms. Jansen and passes first reading. ‘We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward incrementally,‘ said Ms. Jansen on the issue of gay rights. The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald publish editorials harshly critical of Bill 10.

December 2, 2014: Bill 10 passes second reading and procedurally removes Bill 202 from the legislative order paper. Forty-two PC and Wildrose MLAs vote in favour and 9 opposition MLAs, including Ms. Blakeman, Ms. Smith, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman, vote against the bill.

Only one PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, votes against it. “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights,” Mr. Lukaszuk told the media. “We didn’t give women half a vote, we gave them a full vote during the suffrage debate.”

Klein-era Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning condemns the PCs on Twitter for the limited time made available to debate the GSA issue in the Legislature.

Jon Cornish, a running back for the 2014 Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, criticizes Bill 10 on Twitter.

December 3, 2014: Two days after it was introduced in the Legislature, Mr. Denis announces plans to amend Bill 10. The Edmonton Youth Council votes 14-1 to pass an amendment against Bill 10.

Ms. Jansen introduces an amendment that opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students and move their support groups out of schools entirely. “That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment,” Jansen said in the Assembly. “But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless.” Education Minister Mr. Dirks was silent during this debate and Mr. Prentice was not in attendance.

The amendment passes with the support of 38 PC MLAs, including Mr. Dirks. PC MLAs Doug Griffiths, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Lukaszuk join with 14 opposition MLAs and vote against the amendment. PC MLA Jason Luan spoke against Bill 10, but was absent during the vote on the amendment.

December 4, 2014: Former PC MLA and Senator Ron Ghitter tells the Calgary Herald he is disappointed in the “backwards” legislation put forward by Mr. Prentice’s government to deal with the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools.

BT Edmonton host Ryan Jespersen uses his platform on the popular morning television program to castigate PC MLAs for their support of Bill 10.

Popular artists Tegan and Sarah published a post on their blog against Bill 10 and well-known Canadian entertainer Rick Mercer also takes aim at Mr. Prentice’s Bill 10 and his position on gay rights.

A number of PC Party members announce their resignations from positions in their party in opposition to Bill 10. Calgary-Bow PC association President Josh Traptow announced he resigned in order to speak out against Bill 10. Former Calgary City Council candidate Chris Harper announced on Twitter that he left the PC Party and resigned from his local PC constituency association. And Brenda Meneghetti, campaign manager for former leadership candidate Ken Hughes, announced she has left the PC Party because of Bill 10.

After facing four-days of widespread opposition and condemnation, Mr. Prentice announces at a hastily arranged press conference that he is putting Bill 10 on hold and that is postponing the third reading vote on the controversial bill.

Bill 10 has added to, rather than resolved these divisions, and I accept personal responsibility for that as the premier,” Mr. Prentice told reporters. Following Mr. Prentice’s backtrack on Bill 10, Ms. Blakeman announced plans to ask the Legislature to resurrect her original Bill 202.

What if politicians could stop school kids from starting clubs?

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman (second from the left) introduced a private members’ bill that would stop school boards from blocking the student-led creation of Gay-Straight Alliances.

What does it look like when a politician tries to build his credibility among social conservative voters? We found out this week when Premier Jim Prentice sideswiped Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private members’ bill – Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 – that would allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta
Jim Prentice

A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.

Although Mr. Prentice initially said Progressive Conservative MLAs would be allowed a ‘free vote’ on Bill 202, he changed his mind late this week.

At a hastily called press conference held on Nov. 27, Mr. Prentice declared that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he was going to introduce his own bill.

Under the guise of protecting school board rights, Mr. Prentice’s soon to be introduced bill would add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Alberta Bill of Rights while continuing to allow individual school boards to decide whether the student GSA clubs can exist.

Gordon Dirks Education Minister Alberta MLA
Gordon Dirks

This would allow publicly funded religious schools, like Catholic school boards, the power to deny students the ability to create safer and more welcoming environments for their sexual minority classmates. Essentially, if a school board votes to discriminate against students for religious reasons, it is okay.

Although Mr. Prentice’s bill has not yet been made public, it is expected to allow some recourse for students. If students feel their attempts to create GSAs were unjustly blocked, they can take legal action against the school boards. That is correct, Mr. Prentice’s bill could force schools kids to hire lawyers to fight school board decisions.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of outrage on social media against Mr. Prentice’s bill. But Ms. Blakeman’s bill was never likely going to pass in the first place.

Kent Hehr Calgary Centre MLA Liberals
Kent Hehr

Earlier this year, a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs voted against a similar private members’ motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr. Only a handful of PC MLAs, including then anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen, voted with the Liberal and NDP MLAs in favour of the motion.

It is not hard to see what Mr. Prentice is doing. He is a shrewd politician and he is trying to play both sides of the debate with the next election in mind. On one side, he cannot afford to allow Ms. Blakeman to make his party look like a group of backward social conservatives by not supporting her bill. At the same time, he is trying to appeal to those same backward social conservatives who want him to oppose her bill.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith may have created an opening for Mr. Prentice to appeal to these social conservative voters when she openly suggested her party’s MLAs would vote in favour of Ms. Blakeman’s bill.

Ian Donovan Wildrose
Ian Donovan

Before the Premier’s announcement, Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson had introduced a series of amendments to the Liberal bill that would have watered down sections considered the most offensive to social conservatives.

Speaking to CBCLittle Bow MLA Ian Donovan, who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the Progressive Conservatives this week, told host Mark Connolly that the PCs are now more social conservative than the Wildrose.

Education Minister Gordon Dirks, who is also the former chair of the Calgary Board of Education, has remained noticeably silent during this debate. Having faced criticism during his recent by-election about his relationship with evangelical religious schools in Calgary, perhaps it is not surprising that he is not Mr. Prentice’s spokesperson on the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools

After you wade through the politics on all sides of this issue, it is important to remember what this debate is really about: whether individual students can, without interference from narrow-minded school administrators, board politicians or parents, create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.

Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus?

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

A short few months ago, it almost felt inevitable that the Wildrose Party would sweep into a majority government at the next election. Their support in the polls was skyrocketing and the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives looked corrupt, broken and battered. But over the past few weeks, it appears the Official Opposition is stumbling into disarray.

Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to reenergize her party after its four recent by-election loses were sabotaged by social conservative party activists who rallied to reject a motion in support of equality at the party’s recent annual meeting. The defeated motion would have pledged the Wildrose to defend the rights of all people, “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” The vote has cast a shadow over the party.

After spending two years trying to distance herself from the “Lake of Fire” comments that cost the Wildrose its chance of winning the last election, it appears that Ms. Smith is back to square one.

Chris Bataluk Wildrose Edmonton Decore
Chris Bataluk

The defeat of the motion led Terrence Lo, the party’s vice-president in Calgary-Glenmore, to publicly resign.

“This vote confirmed to me that the misguided angry beliefs of a minority of the rank and file holds actual sway in party policy,” Mr. Lo wrote on his blog.

Lawyer Chris Bataluk, who ran for the Wildrose in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election, posted a stinging critique of his now former party on Facebook today.

“At this point I feel that the Wildrose Party was a noble but failed experiment,” Mr. Bataluk wrote. “It is of little joy to participate in a party that allows itself to be branded as the party of backward homophobes.”

Mr. Bataluk also noted that he did not renewed his party membership when it expired in August 2014.

Ian Donovan Wildrose
Ian Donovan

Mr. Bataluk’s Facebook post was notably “liked” by Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s colleague, Joe Anglin, recently left the Wildrose Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA, citing an internal civil war.

The opposition party’s sudden turn is an important reminder of how quickly a party, or a leader’s, political fortunes can turn from good to worse.

Ms. Smith still has time to turn her party’s fortunes around, but the Wildrose Party is increasingly beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The party has a dedicated base of supporters and has shown its ability to raise significant amounts of money, but it now struggles to find relevance in a post-Alison Redford political environment. Can the Wildrose Party be more than a protest party?

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

While PC Premier Jim Prentice is still surrounded by many of the MLAs and party activists who stood loyally with Ms. Redford until her spectacular end, he has skillfully distanced himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The PC Party is once again masterfully attempting to reinvent itself in the image of its new leader.

After 43 years in power, it seems that anytime an opposition party gets close to defeating the PCs, they soon get knocked out. Not long after Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party to near victory in 1993, infighting and floor crossing destroyed any opportunity of a second chance at unseating the PCs.

Perhaps a sign of the PC Party’s versatility are two key players from Mr. Decore’s 1993 surge who now sit comfortably in the government ranks. Former Liberal MLA Mike Percy is now Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff and Gene Zwozdesky, first elected as a Liberal MLA, is now a PC MLA and the Speaker of the Assembly.

While the Wildrose Party has proven itself to be a tough and aggressive opposition, it is very much a party of disgruntled former PC supporters. While the party’s roots can be traced back to Alberta Alliance formed by former Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson in 2002, the Wildrose Party did not begin to gain real support until it started attracting former PC members like Ms. Smith, Shayne Saskiw, Shannon Stubbs, Rob Anderson, Guy Boutilier, and Heather Forsyth.

Those disenchanted Tories took a big political risk when they stepped out of line with Alberta’s Natural Governing Party to help start the Wildrose. The dangerous question for Ms. Smith is whether they are beginning to regret making that choice?

The least interesting part of Legislative Session: The Throne Speech

Alberta's Legislature
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Every year, political watchers gather at the Alberta Legislature for the pomp and circumstance of the Speech from the Throne, hoping to get a glimpse of a political agenda. And every year they are sorely disappointed at the Throne Speech’s lack of detail.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Yesterday’s Throne Speech, delivered by elderly Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, was unremarkable, but it was never meant to be more than predictable motherhood and apple pie.

On a year to year basis, it is actually difficult to identify much difference in Throne Speeches. It is perhaps more interesting to identify the promises made that never became reality, like the PC Government’s much talked about but never implemented plan to reduce carbon emissions.

A quick read of the text of this year’s speech will reveal that it was little more than a lengthened version of talking points that we have heard from Premier Jim Prentice since he launched his campaign to become Progressive Conservative Party leader last summer.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

The real political agenda was revealed after the Lieutenant Governor left the Assembly chambers. Mr. Prentice revealed his first piece of legislation as Premier will remove another bill passed by PC MLAs in 2009. Bill 1, the Respecting Property Rights Act, is a one-page  bill that rescinds the unpopular Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was passed in 2009 and amended in 2011, but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

In 2011, then-Infrastructure Minister Jeff Johnson praised amendments to the original law, saying it would “give more power to landowners.” Yet the law remained unproclaimed.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA
Jeff Johnson

Stemming from widespread opposition to the construction of electrical transmission lines, property rights became a volatile issue that cost the PCs support in rural central and southern Alberta over the past five years. The lack of understanding shown by rural PC MLAs on this issue was mind-boggling. It provided a clear demonstration that the PCs had forgotten how to speak to their loyal base of rural voters. And it cost them in the last election.

The Wildrose Party, with the help of rural rabble-rousers Keith Wilson and Joe Anglin, were able to take advantage of this disenchantment and translate it into electoral wins in long-time Tory strongholds. With his bill, Mr. Prentice hopes to remove the lightening rod that cost his party its rural strongholds.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

The Tories are giddy with the decision by Wildrose Party activists to defeat a definitive statement supporting equality at their recent annual meeting in Red Deer. Despite attempts at rebranding as a softer ‘Mildrose’ party, leader Danielle Smith scrambled to explain her party’s position after the vote was held.

But the PC Party’s giddiness may be short-lived. Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is reviving the debate around Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools. A similar motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr to create more safe and welcoming environments for all students in schools was soundly defeated earlier this year by a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs, including then-Education Minister Mr. Johnson.

While some PC MLAs may cringe at the idea of schools that embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth, Mr. Prentice now has an opportunity to show that his party is clearly different that the Wildrosers. By supporting Ms. Blakeman’s motion, the Premier can send a message to progressive-minded urban voters that the PCs have fully embraced 21st century social values.

If Mr. Prentice’s first few months as Premier have demonstrated anything, it is that he and his staff are skilled at controlling and shaping political narratives. I have little doubt that he will skillfully navigate these and other hot button issues that come his way. The new Premier’s big challenge will be to demonstrate that the PC Government under his leadership is more than just talking points in a Throne Speech.


Federal Tories win in Tory stronghold…
To no one’s surprise, the Conservative candidate coasted to victory in the by-election held in the federal riding of Yellowhead yesterday. Tory Jim Eglinski, a retired RCMP officer and former B.C. mayor, won with 62% of the vote. His main opponent, Liberal Ryan Maguhn, improved party’s standing by earning 20%, up from 2% in 2011. New Democrat Eric Rosendahl placed third with 9%. Unofficial results show that voter turnout was a measly 16%.

 

Alberta Politics Roundup – Eve of Fall Sitting

Alberta Legislative Assembly
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will begin the fall session on Monday, November 17, 2014.

Fall Legislative Session
November 17, 2014 will mark the start of the first legislative session for new Premier Jim Prentice, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks. The 43-year old governing Progressive Conservatives have promised to introduce new laws focusing on property rights and ‘ending entitlements’ for their MLAs.

This will be Rachel Notley’s first session as leader of the NDP Caucus. And Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman will introduce a private members’ bill supporting students who want to create Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. Newly Independent MLA Joe Anglin is also expected to introduce a private members’ bill.

With the price of oil declining to the mid-$70 range and next year’s budget being prepared, Jonathan Teghtmeyer has shared 9 ways that Alberta could better manage our resources.

Constitutional Property Rights
Flanked by Lethbridge Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced her plans to introduce a motion calling on property rights to be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Wildrose motion will likely call for stronger action than will be included in Mr. Prentice’s flagship property rights bill. Also, it is almost politically impossible to amend the Canadian Constitution.

Wildrose in Red Deer
The Wildrose Party is holding its annual convention in Red Deer on November 14 and 15 (the PCs will meet in Banff). Sparks are expected to fly as activists vent their frustration about the party’s poor showing in four recent by-elections.

The departure of Mr. Anglin, a cancelled leadership review and a controversial motion to take away the ability of MLAs to remove their leader and the leader’s staff are also expected to fuel intense debate.

Government House leader
CBC reporter John Archer tweeted news that Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has replaced Municipal Affairs Minister Diana McQueen as Government House leader. Ms. McQueen was appointed to the position two months ago.

Tobacco
Mr. Mandel has announced plans to make it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children and ban flavoured tobacco, but not menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are said to be favoured by seniors, who also tend to vote in larger numbers.

In 2012, Liberal leader Raj Sherman introduced the Tobacco Reduction (Protection of Children in Vehicles) Amendment Act, which would have made it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children. Dr. Sherman’s bill was passed but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

Tailing Ponds
It has been one year since a breach of a containment pond at the Obed Mine spilled 670 million litres of toxic tailings into the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

The Alberta Wilderness AssociationMikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations  and other groups are criticizing the federal and provincial governments for laying charges against the mine’s former owners, Sherritt International, or new owners, Westmoreland Coal Company.

Pro-pipeline Democrats force Keystone XL Vote
Hoping to stave off defeat in a December 6, 2014 runoff vote, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is trying to force the United States Senate to vote on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline before the end of 2014. Approval of the pipeline’s crossing the US-Canada border ultimately rests in the hands of President Barack Obama.

Yellowhead by-election
Voters in the Yellowhead federal riding will cast ballots in a by-election on Monday, November 17, 2014. Although Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski is expecting an easy victory, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited the constituency to campaign with candidate Ryan Mahugn last week.

Calgary Liberals
November 28. Kent Hehr expected to be acclaimed as federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre. The popular MLA was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2008. It is unclear if Mr. Hehr and fellow Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Skyview will resign their provincial positions before the next federal election.

Borderlands By-election
Voters on the Saskatchewan side of the divided city of Lloydminster elected a new MLA in a by-election held yesterday. Saskatchewan Party candidate Colleen Young was elected with 64% of the vote, defeating second place New Democrat Wayne Byers, who earned 29%. It is almost impossible to image an NDP candidate receiving that much support on the Alberta side of Lloydminster.  

Ms. Young replaces former Rural and Remote Health Minister Tim McMillan, who resigned in September to become the President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

A plug…
I had the pleasure of joining the good folks at The Unknown Studio podcast to chat about Alberta politics this week. I also appeared on this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel with Edmonton lawyer Roberto Noce and Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams.

Limping Alberta Liberals face more financial troubles

Alberta Liberal Party Fundraising
Tracking Alberta Liberal Party fundraising from 2004 to 2014.
Did Liberal leader Raj Sherman break Alberta’s political donations limits when making donations to his own party?
Raj Sherman MLA
Raj Sherman

The Calgary Herald is reporting that Dr. Sherman may have exceeded the $15,000 limit for donations three times in the past four years and donated double the limit this year through corporations he controls.

The questionable donations were first noticed by former New Democratic Party staffer Tony Clark, who brought them to the attention of Glen Resler, Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer.

And it is not just the money given which is a potential issue, because Dr. Sherman and his corporations would have also received tax credits in return for those donations. Dr. Sherman claims he did not deliberately break the rules, but this could still cause lasting damage to his troubled party’s credibility.

Rachel Notley Edmonton MLA Strathcona NDP
Rachel Notley

Fundraising has always been a challenge for the Liberals and starting in 2009, the party struggled to compete with the fundraising dollars captured by Danielle Smith’s rising Wildrose Party. Lately, Dr. Sherman’s party has struggled to compete with the NDP, now led by Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley.

In the first three quarters of 2014, Elections Alberta financial disclosures show the Liberals raised $242,499.16, close to half of the $474,306.85 raised by the NDP in the same period.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton Centre Liberal
Laurie Blakeman

It is hard to write about the Alberta Liberal Party these days without feeling as if I am kicking a wounded animal. The once confident official opposition party has now dwindled down to a group of MLAs who more closely resemble a coalition of independents than a united front.

Over the past two years, Dr. Sherman’s Liberals have undergone a strange brand transformation, first abandoning the traditional Liberal red for a green Liberalberta brand, and then sixteen months later back to red.

The Liberals will soon lose Calgary MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang to federal political ambitions, and when that happens, the 3 MLA caucus will face the threat of losing official party status, and funding, in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberal Party’s poor showing in four October 27 by-elections also does not give the party much to build upon.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View
David Swann

But the party’s bleak prospects do not mean that individual MLAs are not doing good work. Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, will continue the good work started by soon-departing Mr. Hehr with her private members bill to create safer environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth in Alberta schools.

A similar bill introduced by Mr. Hehr in spring 2013 was defeated by a coalition of Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs.

Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann continues to defend the rights of farm workers, who find themselves without access to workers rights and occupational health and safety standards.

A strong argument can be made that the five Liberal MLAs who were re-elected in the 2012 election did so on their own merits as strong local representatives and despite the weakness of their party brand.

If Dr. Sherman’s party continues to limp in obscurity, the Liberal MLAs facing re-election in 2016 may have to determine whether their own hard work, rather than their current party brand, will be enough to win them their jobs back for another four years.

Look who’s running in 2016: Alberta Election nominations

With the four provincial by-elections over, the focus will soon turn back to nominating candidates to stand in Alberta’s next general election. The next election is scheduled to be held sometime between March 1 and May 31, 2016, but can be called earlier if premier requests the Lieutenant Governor to issue a writ of election.

The Wildrose Party and the New Democrats are the first out of the starting gate with the most nominated candidates and nomination contests currently underway.

Jack Hayden PC Drumheller Stettler
Jack Hayden

Blast from the past?
Two defeated Progressive Conservatives MLAs are not ruling out a return to politics in the next election. Former Cypress-Medicine Hat PC MLA Len Mitzel, who was defeated by Wildrose candidate Drew Barnes in 2012, told the Medicine Hat News he has not ruled out a comeback in 2016. And in Drumheller-Stettler, former Infrastructure Minister and registered lobbyist Jack Hayden is said to be mulling a 2016 bid. Mr. Hayden was unseated by Wildroser Rick Strankman in 2012.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake
Accountant Scott Cyr and architect Dixie Dahlstedt are facing off for the Wildrose Party nomination. Ms. Dahlstedt is a Daughter of the American Revolution who recently returned from a career in New York City to raise quarter-horses near Therrien, Alberta.

Dixie Dahlstedt Wildrose Bonnyville Cold Lake
Dixie Dahlstedt

Calgary-Bow
The Wildrose nomination in this west Calgary constituency has been set aside as a open spot for a candidate to be appointed by leader Danielle Smith. Rumours have been circulating for some time that Ms. Smith is working hard to recruit Canadian Taxpayer Federation spokesperson Derek Fildebrandt as the Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Bow. Mr. Fildebrandt is an outspoken critic of the PC Government and has targeted Premier Jim Prentice with FOIP requests dating back to his time in Ottawa.

Calgary-Elbow
Both Alberta Party leader Greg Clark and Liberal candidate Susan Wright have declared their intentions to seek their parties nominations to run in the next provincial election. In the recent by-election held on Oct. 27, Mr. Clark placed a close second with 26.94% of the vote. Ms. Wright placed fourth with 11.99%.

Heather Sweet NDP Edmonton-Manning
Heather Sweet

Edmonton-Manning
On September 30, Heather Sweet was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in this northeast Edmonton constituency. Ms. Sweet is a registered social worker working in child protection and is member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ Committee On Political Action.

Edmonton-Rutherford
The NDP are holding a nomination meeting on November 5, 2014 in this southwest Edmonton constituency. Former City Council candidate and social work instructor Richard Feehan and 2012 candidate Melanie Samaroden are running for the nomination.

Grande Prairie-Smoky
Construction company manager Greg Tymchyna is seeking the Wildrose Party nomination in this northwest Alberta constituency. Now living in Grande Prairie, Mr. Tymchyna is also a homeowner in High River, where he is part of a legal battle seeking more compensation from the provincial government for flood damaged homes.

Kris Hodgson NDP Lethbridge East
Kris Hodgson

Lesser Slave Lake
Registered Nurse Danielle Larivee has been nominated as the NDP candidate in this rural northern Alberta constituency. Ms. Larivee is the President of the United Nurses of Alberta Local in Slave Lake.

Lethbridge-East
Kris Hodgson has tweeted his plans to seek the New Democratic Party nomination in this southern Alberta urban constituency. Mr. Hodgson is a Lethbridge College journalism instructor and president of Allied Arts Council. Earlier in the summer, Lethbridge College political scientist and former city councillor Faron Ellis declared his candidacy for the Wildrose Party nomination.

Medicine Hat
The NDP are holding a nomination meeting on November 12, 2014. Paramedic Jason Soklofske is expected to be acclaimed. Mr. Soklofske is a southern representative with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and, according to his online biography, chairs that union’s political action committee.

Brian Tiessen Wildrose Sherwood Park Strathcona
Brian Tiessen

Sherwood Park-Strathcona
Businessman Brian Tiessen defeated Strathcona County Councillor Vic Bidzinski to become the Wildrose Party candidate in this constituency east of Edmonton. Mr. Bidzinski’s political past, as a Liberal candidate in the 1997 federal election, drew confused reactions from some local Wildrose supporters.

West Yellowhead
Stuart Taylor was acclaimed as the Wildrose Party candidate in West Yellowhead. As the party’s candidate in the 2012 election, Mr. Taylor placed second with 26.91%. The constituency is currently represented by Finance Minister Robin Campbell, who was first elected in 2008.