Tag Archives: David Climenhaga

Premier Rachel Notley rallies her NDP Caucus MLAs before the start of the fall legislative sitting on Oct. 30, 2017. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta Flickr)

A wild first week back at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Photo: Premier Rachel Notley rallies her NDP Caucus MLAs before the start of the fall legislative sitting on Oct. 30, 2017. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta Flickr)

NDP focus their attacks on Kenney

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

A first-time visitor to the Assembly this week could have confused Premier Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats with the Official Opposition as backbencher after backbencher asked government ministers to explain the damage that new UCP leader Jason Kenney would do to Alberta. The NDP even released a handful of attack ads on Facebook, targeting Kenney’s comments about outing students who join Gay-Straight Alliances.

The NDP want to define Kenney and the UCP early in his mandate and are eager to respond to the vicious attacks targeted at them by the Wildrose Party, Kenney’s supporters, and now the UCP since the 2015 election. But this week’s opening shots were over-kill.

We cannot expect political parties to avoid playing politics, especially as we approach the next provincial election. The NDP have every right to challenge Kenney on his controversial statements but the government should carry itself with a little more dignity than it did this week with it’s staged criticisms of the new UCP leader in the Assembly.

New GSA and anti-age discrimination laws

Kathleen Ganley Alberta MLA

Kathleen Ganley

Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, which provides legal protections for students wanting to form anti-bullying clubs in Alberta schools and prevents administrators from outing students to their parents.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley tabled Bill 23: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, which adds “age” as a prohibited ground of discrimination in cases of tenancy, goods, services and accommodation. The bill puts an end to adults-only apartment buildings as of Jan. 1, 2018 and gives condo owners a 15-year grace period to implement the new rules. Seniors-only housing is exempt.

UCP trying to tie Notley to Trudeau

United Conservative Party leader in the Legislature Jason Nixon started Question Period each day this week with a question to the Premier about oil pipelines and the relationship between Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As I wrote earlier this week, the UCP clearly sees a political advantage in trying to tie the Notley government to the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa.

The National Post’s Stuart Thomson has written an exceedingly good article that focuses on Kenney’s political views and the influence of the Calgary School on his version of Conservative ideology.

David Khan Alberta Liberal Party Leader

David Khan

Ottawa comes to the UCP Caucus

Following Kenney’s victory in last weekend’s UCP leadership race, more than 20 UCP Caucus staffers, mostly former Wildrose Caucus staff, lost their jobs at the Legislative Assembly.

According to AlbertaPolitics.ca writer David Climenhaga, Kenney has hired a handful of his close advisors, many from his years in Ottawa, to run the UCP Caucus: Chief of Staff Nick Koolsbergen, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf, Calgary Office Manager Blaise Boehmer, Communications Director Annie Dormuth, Director of Operations Jamie Mozeson, Daniel Williams, Peter Bissonnette and Andrew Griffin.

Liberals get traction on PAC Attack

Constant criticism from Liberal Party leader David Khan and David Swann, his party’s lone MLA, appears to be generating results in their crusade against Political Action Committees. Khan made PACs a big issue following his win in the party’s leadership race earlier this year. Notley has said new laws governing PACs will be introduced soon, most likely in the Spring of 2018.

Alberta Party should get Official Status

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA

Greg Clark

Now with two MLAs in the Alberta Party Caucus, the third largest caucus in the Assembly wants to be granted official party status, which would give Greg Clark and Karen McPherson increased resources and a more prominent role in daily Question Period.

Section 42 of the Legislative Assembly Act states that “recognized party status” shall be granted to a caucus with at least 4 MLAs and a party that received at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent election.

Clark has pointed out that the NDP were granted official party status when only two of the party’s MLAs were elected in 1997, 2001 and 2008. But in each of those elections, the NDP met the second criteria of earning more than 5 percent of the vote. The Alberta Party currently meets neither of these criteria, having only earned 2.8 percent of the province-wide vote in 2015.

New Democrats who might oppose granting the Alberta Party official status should be reminded of their own party’s situation 35 years ago, when first-term Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin introduced a private members bill that would have lowered the threshold of recognized party status to one MLA. At the time, huge Progressive Conservative majorities were the norm, and in the 1982 election the only elected opposition consisted of two New Democrats and two Independent MLAs (both former Social Credit MLAs who would later form the Representative Party of Alberta).

The four-MLA threshold is arbitrary and the vote results from the previous election should be irrelevant in recognizing the creation of new caucuses. The Alberta Party should be granted recognized party status, provided with additional resources and given a more prominent role in Question Period now that their caucus has doubled.

The big revenue problem facing Alberta that none of our politicians want to talk about

As the Alberta New Democratic Party passes the half way mark of their first four-year term in office and the United Conservative Party chooses its next leader, a big question that remains unanswered in Alberta politics today is how, in the long-term, the Alberta government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil.

Premier Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

After decades of rich oil and gas royalties pouring into public coffers, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old Progressive Conservative government led by Ralph Klein used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but fiscally irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue that the PCs were depending on.

After their election in 2015, Rachel Notley‘s NDP took steps to diversify government revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes. Even after those increases, Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada and those increases were nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall.

Jason Kenney Calgary Stampede Alberta

Jason Kenney

The positive news is that Alberta’s economy is recovering, but unless the international price of oil recovers, the government will remain in a deficit situation for the foreseeable future.

While I support Notley’s smart choice to continue investing in public services and capital infrastructure projects during the course of the economic recession, it is not clear that the NDP have a real plan to deal with Alberta’s revenue challenges in the long-term.

It is unlikely that the government will revisit Alberta’s comparatively low royalty rates anytime soon, and the NDP appear unwilling to start a discussion about introducing a provincial sales tax, at least until after the next election. A sales tax could help alleviate the government revenue problems and would be smart move for the province in the long-term.

It is an odd sight to read Finance Department documents that both lament a large budget deficit and boast about low taxes. The NDP inherited one big bad habit from the old PC government and have been unable to break from it.

Brian Jean Calgary Stampede AlbertaBut if you think the candidates for the leadership of the new United Conservative Party are coming up with new, bright ideas for Alberta’s long-term future, think again. Political rhetoric about returning to the mythical “Alberta Advantage” and calls for drastic cuts to both government spending and revenue are mostly what Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Doug Schweitzer have proposed.

It is meat for the party base, but not exactly inspiring plans for Alberta’s future.

I get the impression that while they are playing from different sides of the political spectrum, both the NDP and the UCP’s prospective leaders are praying that oil prices recover enough to avoid having to raise taxes or slash the budget to shreds.

Alberta has a revenue problem. And the sooner someone is willing to “take the tax bull by the horns,” as my colleague David Climenhaga wrote, and begin planning for a more sustainable government revenue stream, the better off future generations of Albertans will be.


Schweitzer wants to lower the minimum wage

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative

Doug Schweitzer

Doug Schweitzer says he would cut Alberta’s minimum wage from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour, because it is “right choice for Albertans whose livelihoods count on it the most.”

While he is likely referring to the livelihoods of business owners, it would be the wrong choice for the people impacted the most – the lowest wage working Albertans who would have their wages cut from $15 per hour to $12.20 per hour.

It is safe to say that Schweitzer has earned much, much more than $12.20 per hour at his downtown Calgary job as a partner at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

Not many surprises in Alberta’s stay the course budget

There were few surprises when Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood to table the New Democratic Party’s third budget since forming government in 2015.

What I expect were strategic leaks over the past week revealed some popular highlights included in the budget, giving the government some positive media in the days before the budget was released. The construction, revitalization and renovation of schools and funding for a new hospital in south Edmonton were two of the most notable tidbits to be released in advance of yesterday’s budget speech.

If the leaks were indeed intentional, it was not a bad communications strategy considering the government’s current financial situation. It created a positive distraction from two big numbers that the conservative opposition parties want to focus on – total budget spending and the budget deficit.

But when the budget was tabled yesterday, neither of these numbers were really a surprise. We knew the NDP was not planning to make deep cuts to provincial program spending in this budget. And we knew from Ceci’s third-quarter update from the last fiscal year that the deficit would likely remain over $10 billion – it is projected to be $10.3 billion, down around $500 million from $10.8 billion last year.

The conservative opposition attacked the budget, which was also something we knew would happen. A Wildrose opposition press released called the budget a “a debt-fueled disaster” and the Progressive Conservatives claimed it took Alberta over a “fiscal cliff.” A press release from Alberta Party leader Greg Clark claimed the budget was “uninspired, irresponsible and focused only on the short term.”

Also not surprising was the response from Liberal leader David Swann, who took a more reasoned approach by applauding the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, and then pointing out where the budget failed.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga writes in detail, Rachel Notley‘s NDP government rejected the kinds of conservative fiscal policies that created the infrastructure deficit Alberta has today.

The government continues to make significant investment in public infrastructure, which is long overdue in Alberta. Along with a new hospital in Edmonton, the budget includes funding for renovations at the Misericordia Hospital and new construction at the Royal Alexandra and Glenrose hospitals (which was not previously announced, so that was a surprise).

One question that remains unanswered is how, in the long-term, the government plans to deal with the revenue shortfall created by the drop in the international price of oil. For many years, the Alberta government became over-dependent on oil and natural gas royalties to pay for a large portion of the daily operations of government.

The old PC government used those high royalty revenues to subsidize corporate and personal tax cuts, which proved politically popular in the short-term but financial irresponsible in the long-term. When the international price of oil dropped in 2014, so did about $10 billion worth of expected government revenue.

The NDP took some steps to diversify revenue with moderate increases to corporate and personal taxes after they were first elected 2015 but it was nowhere enough to fill the revenue shortfall (Albertans still pay some of the lowest taxes in Canada). The positive news is that Alberta still has the advantage of having a low debt-to-GDP ratio, which means at least in the short-term our province should be able to deal with being in a deficit situation.

Overall, I am not surprised about what is and is not included in the 2017 provincial budget. I am encouraged that the NDP is not heeding the calls of the conservative opposition parties to make deep funding cuts to public services and infrastructure investments, which would be detrimental to Albertans’ quality of life during this economic downturn.

Setting the stage for Wildrose 2.0: Moderates need not apply

“We must also ensure that a new, united party will be built on a solid foundation of conservative principles and policy. The left-liberal clique that managed to slowly highjack the PC Party must never again be allowed to seize control of Alberta’s conservative movement.”

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

This call for ideological purity came from Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt in an opinion-editorial published by Postmedia earlier this week. Fildebrandt, who sounds as if he is preparing his own leadership bid, has been a vocal supporter of Jason Kenney’s bid to “unite” the Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party to form a new consertvative party before the next election.

Fildebrandt’s manifesto reads like a call to create a rebranded Wildrose Party without the moderates, centrists and liberals who once found a home in the old PC Party. Driving this ideological agenda, Fildebrandt would undoubtably be a prominent leader in the new Conservative Party, one that a province-builder like Peter Lougheed might not even recognize.

Sandra Jansen

Sandra Jansen

Kenney’s hostile takeover of the PC Party appears unstoppable at this time. Along with support from former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Manning Centre, and Wildrose Party members, he appears to have secured a majority in the leadership delegate count.

Kenney’s supporters have succeeded in driving out a number of high profile political moderates from the party.

Former cabinet minister Sandra Jansen quit the leadership race after being harassed and threatened with violence. She later joined the NDP and is expected to be appointed to cabinet sometime this year.

Former MLA Stephen Khan told Postmedia columnist Paula Simons last week that he quit the PC leadership race last week after an ugly race where he was the target of racist and Islamaphobic emails from new party members supporting Kenney.

Stephen Khan

Stephen Khan

When AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga, well-known for his progressive views, asked him about his political future, Khan replied “I have as much interest in joining the Wildrose 2.0 Party as you do.

Party president Katherine O’Neill has done an admirable and thankless job trying to lead the PCs through the turbulent period. Under siege from conservative hard-liners and Kenney supporters, O’Neill represents urban, centrist and moderate views that could lead to a PC Party revival. Too bad she is not a candidate for the leadership.

One year and eight months after losing the election, the big blue tent that led the PC Party to 44 years of electoral success has collapsed but not folded. The party was ripe for Kenney’s hostile takeover but any plans to dissolve the party will have to address  vendor contracts, party constitutional issues, local and provincial board approvals, legalities around fundraising and bank accounts, and fairly strict legal parameters. Despite his campaign to “unite” the two political parties, it is legally impossible to merge political parties in Alberta.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

All this is occurring at the same time as Rachel Notley’s NDP government looks more moderate and centrist by the day. And with pipeline approvals and some projections of a recovering economy, the NDP might be the sensible option on Albertans’ ballots in 2019. But attacks on the NDP, and on Notley personally, will be harsh.

Last week marked six years since Ed Stelmach announced he would step down as Premier of Alberta. Faced with a revolt by right-wing cabinet ministers and the rise of an insurgent Wildrose Party, Stelmach surprised the province at a Jan. 2011 press conference, where he issued a stern warning about the direction and tone of politics in our province, which is shockingly relevant to today:

“There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and US style negative, attack politics that is directed at me personally.

The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focussing on personality – on me personally.

This type of U.S. style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril.”

Stelmach was a few years early, but he was right.

A rally held in the Calgary-Varisty constituency for NDP leader Rachel Notley attracted hundreds of Calgarians on May 2, 2015.

Powerful NDP fundraising machine, Kenney implodes the Tories, Liberals launch leadership campaign

The Alberta New Democratic Party raised more than the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties combined in the final quarter of 2016 and more than any other party over the entire year, according to financial disclosures published by Elections Alberta.

The NDP finished their fourth quarter fundraising drive with $798,165, compared to $511,667 for the Wildrose Party, $218,792 for the PCs, $85,930 for the Liberals and $32,612 for the Alberta Party.

This was the second consecutive quarter where the NDP raised more than the opposition Wildrose. Over the course of 2016, the NDP raised $1,985,271 in donations from individual Albertans, more than then $1,758,377 raised by the Wildrose Party.

THE INCREDIBLE IMPLODING TORIES

Alan Hallman

Alan Hallman

Despite lawsuits, fines, complaints by former MLAs, and having a campaign strategist kicked out of the party, Jason Kenney’s single-focused campaign to dissolve the PC Party and merge it with the Wildrose Party appears to be on track to win a landslide at the party’s delegate convention on March 18.

And despite claims that the party remains viable, and that its constituency associations hold more than $1.7 million in the bank, none of the three candidates claiming to support the “renewal” of the current party appear to be contenders.

Jason Kenney

Jason Kenney

The latest explosion in the PC Party leadership race occurred over the weekend as the party executive voted to suspend the membership of long-time organizer Alan Hallman over an inappropriate tweet. Hallman, who had announced plans to sue Stephen Carter late last year, was serving a strategist, or “field organizer,” for Kenney’s campaign.

In a bombshell rebuke to the party’s elected executive, interim party leader Ric McIver publicly defended Hallman and some members of the party’s youth wing publicly appointed him as their honorary chairman the day after he was suspended. At least three members of the youth wing executive – Sierra Garner, Kyle Hoyda and Natalie Warren – tweeted they were not informed of the decision to give Hallman the honorary chairmanship before it was announced (I am told this is also a violation of the PC Party’s rules, as Hallman is no longer a party member).

It is unclear whether the blowback from McIver and Kenney’s supporters in the youth wing will convince the party executive to rescind the suspension order.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

Less than two years after being reduced to third place in the last provincial election, the party that led Alberta for almost forty-four uninterrupted years feels like a shell of its once mighty self. Once Kenney wins the leadership, there might not be anything left to merge with the Wildrose Party. Maybe that was the plan?

LIBERALS LOOKING FOR A NEW LEADER

Karen Sevcik

Karen Sevcik

The Alberta Liberals launched their leadership race over the weekend.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga notes, potential candidates to replace interim leader David Swann include include outgoing St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, former Calgary broadcaster Nirmala Naidoo, and Calgary lawyer David Khan.

“There’s an opportunity right now in the middle of that political spectrum for a kind of common sense, pragmatic solution to some of the challenges we’re facing right now,” party President Karen Sevcik told CBC Edmonton. “We think there’s some room, there’s opportunity, there’s change, and when there’s change, there’s opportunity.”

The party will hold leadership debates in Calgary on April 8 and Edmonton on May 6. Party members will announce its new leader on June 4, 2017.

Audreys Books Edmonton Best-Seller list to appear here and on AlbertaPolitics.ca

Elimination of local arts news coverage in Edmonton means the Audreys Books weekly bestseller list has found itself without a home.

As a result, my colleague David Climenhaga at AlbertaPolitics.ca and I were delighted to offer Audreys Books and the Book Publishers Association of Alberta a home on our blogs for the weekly Edmonton Bestseller List, so that this important information will continue to be provided to Edmonton readers.

Here is the first instalment, compiled on December 14, showing the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold in Edmonton the previous week.

EDMONTON FICTION BESTSELLERS

  1. Almost a Full Moon (Children’s) – Hawksley Workman, Jensine Eckwall
  2. Wenjack – Joseph Boyden
  3. The Darkest Dark (Children’s) – Chris Hadfield, Kate Fillion, Eric Fan, Terry Fan
  4. A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne *
  5. Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien
  6. A Still and Bitter Grave – Ann Marston *
  7. The Tattooed Queen: #3 of The Tattooed Witch Trilogy – Susan MacGregor *
  8. The Break – Katherena Vermette
  9. Art Lessons – Katherine Koller *
  10. The Spawning Grounds – Gail Anderson-Dargatz

EDMONTON NON-FICTION BESTSELLERS

  1. Edmonton Cooks: Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Chefs –
    Leanne Brown, * Tina Faiz *
  2. Colouring It Forward: Discover Blackfoot Nation Art and Wisdom – Diana Frost *
  3. Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country – Don Braid, * Sydney Sharpe *
  4. Secret Path – Gord Downie, Jeff Lemire
  5. The Valiant Nellie McClung: Selected Writings by Canada’s Most Famous Suffragist – Barbara Smith *
  6. The McDavid Effect: Connor McDavid and the New Hope for Hockey – Marty Klinkenberg *
  7. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World – Peter Wohlleben
  8. Behind the Kitchen Stove – Ella Drobot *
  9. Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky: A Modern Baker’s Guide to Old-
    Fashioned Desserts  – Karlynn Johnston *
  10. Testimony: A Memoir – Robbie Robertson

*  Alberta Author

Premier Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of 700 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in downtown Calgary earlier this week.

PCs don’t need the Wildrose to win, NDP should watch their Liberal flank

Uneventful weeks have become rare in Alberta politics and this week in particular has been uniquely interesting.

We started with the release of political party fundraising data from Elections Alberta showing the NDP raised more funds in the last quarter than any of the conservative parties combined, a first. This news was followed by a State of the Province address from Premier Rachel Notley and an oddly curious poll showing the Progressive Conservatives with a 13 point lead in support ahead of the NDP and the Wildrose Party.

The telephone poll conducted by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, which was in the field from from October 1 to 8, 2016, showed the formerly governing PCs with 38.4 percent support. The survey showed the Wildrose Party in second place with 25.7 percent and the NDP in a distant third-place with 19.7 percent. It is important to look at polls with a grain of salt, especially ones which deviate dramatically from other polls, but it is important to recognize that polls can be indicative of trends.

Here are a few thoughts and observations:

1) NDP electoral coalition is fraying
We are still two or three years away from the next election so the NDP are smart to avoid focusing on any horse race polls but they should be concerned.

There are signs that moderate voters, who were a key part of the NDP’s winning coalition in 2015, are migrating to the PCs and Liberal parties. The NDP need to ask themselves why, only 17 months after their election, they appear to have lost nearly half their supporters.

Ms. Notley tried to bolster support for her government’s agenda through the State of the Province Address delivered to a crowd of 700 at downtown Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall. She used the opportunity to reiterated her commitment not to make the sort of funding cuts to health care and education that Albertans could expect her Conservative opponents to make if they were in government.

The NDP need to take a hard look at why key elements of their government agenda, including some of their flagship policies, might not be resonating with the Albertans who voted them into office. This may require a more thoughtful and aggressive communications strategy and putting Ms. Notley front and centre is a good start to remind Albertans why they voted NDP. She is their greatest asset.

2) PCs don’t need to merge with the Wildrose Party to win the next election 

Having the NDP drop into third place in the polls weakens the argument promoted by Jason Kenney and groups like the Manning Centre that the PC and Wildrose parties need to merge in order to defeat the NDP in the next election.

It is probably more true that the Wildrose Party needs to merge with the PC Party in order to break the ceiling it has reached under Brian Jean’s leadership. But this poll would suggest that the PCs do not need to merge with the Wildrose Party in order to win the next election.

Despite both parties being conservative in philosophy, the PCs and Wildrose hold fundamentally different views on issues ranging from climate change to social issues to education and health care. The strength of the PC Party during its 44 years as government was its ability to attract a broad coalition of conservative, moderate and liberal voters. Everything the Wildrose Party has done over the past 17 months indicates the leadership of that party is not interested in building a broad coalition of Albertans.

We should expect support for the PCs and Wildrose Party to fluctuate over the next few months as the PCs choose their next leader. If the PCs anoint a more right-wing social conservative leader on March 18, 2017, they could drive moderate voters back into the NDP coalition.

3) Watch out for the Liberals

An unexpected result of a decline in NDP support could be a resurgence in support for the Alberta Liberal Party, which will be choosing a new leader in early 2017. According to the survey, Liberal support is at 9 percent up from an abysmal 4 percent in the May 2015 election. The popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely part of the provincial Liberal Party’s small boost, which saw the party’s candidate place a close third in a by-election earlier this year.

A significant part of the NDP’s winning coalition from the 2015 election was made up of former Liberal voters who abandoned their party in favour of the PCs in the 2012 election (in order to stop a Wildrose victory). It appears that many of those moderate voters may have become disenchanted with the NDP and have migrated back to the Liberals, and the PCs, for the time being.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga wrote earlier this week, the loss of this vote may signal to the NDP that “[m]aybe it’s time to start talking about uniting the left again.


Speaking of Liberals, it was announced today that Edmonton lawyer Kevin Feehan has been appointed as a Judge on the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. Mr. Feehan was serving as co-chair of the Alberta Liberal Party’s leadership selection process, a position he will likely have to vacate due to his judicial appointment. Mr. Feehan is the brother of Richard Feehan, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford and Minister of Indigenous Relations.

The Liberals replaced Calgary leadership co-chair Nirmala Naidoo last month when she resigned to join the campaign team trying to elect Sandra Jansen to the leadership of the PC Party.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley marches in the 2016 Calgary Pride Parade with MLAs Estefania Cortes-Vargas (left) and Ricardo Miranda (right). (Photo from Rachel Notley's Facebook Page)

Two snapshots show how Alberta politics have changed

Alberta’s Premier marches in Calgary’s Pride Parade on one day and then flips and serves burgers for unemployed and underemployed Albertans at a union-sponsored Labour Day BBQ in central Edmonton on the next day.

Rachel Notley poses for a photo at the Edmonton & District Labour Council BBQ on Labour Day in Edmonton.

Alongside federal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi, Rachel Notley poses for a photo at the Edmonton & District Labour Council BBQ on Labour Day in Edmonton. (Photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page)

Those two days provide some powerful symbolism of how Alberta’s politics have changed, and become a little more progressive, over the past few years. (I like this new Alberta)


I will be taking a short break from writing about politics over the next few days. Please feel free to visit David Climenhaga‘s excellent AlbertaPolitics.ca blog during my absence.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt faced a bizarre 72 hour suspension from the Official Opposition caucus this week.

A Timeline of Derek Fildebrandt’s bizarre “suspension” from Wildrose

The Wildrose Party was not one big happy family this week. Albertans might be confused about what exactly happened between Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and Finance critic Derek Fildebrandt.

It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.

Brian Jean

Brian Jean

Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.

An outspoken critic and a fierce partisan, Mr. Fildebrandt has been a opponent of nearly everything the New Democratic Party government has proposed since it formed government in 2015. But the second highest profile MLA in the opposition benches has also attracted his share of controversy.

Here’s the timeline of what has become a fascinating internal struggle for power inside Alberta’s Wildrose Party:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was a guest at Alberta’s Legislative Assembly, Official Opposition Finance critic Mr. Fildebrandt attacked her record as premier as she sat in the Speaker’s Gallery. In reference to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall,  Mr. Fildebrandt shouted “Invite Premier Wall here! Invite Premier Wall at Premier Rachel Notley as she tried to answer a question during Question Period. Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Ms. Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper

Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”  Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.

Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne

Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ronda Klemmensen, President of Mr.Fildebrandt’s Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose constituency association spoke out against the suspension. Ms. Klemmensen was backed by the Drumheller-Stettler Wildrose constituency association and at least five other associations that wrote letters in support of Mr. Fildebrandt. Lakeland Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs posts a comment on Facebook in support of Mr. Fildebrandt.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calgary-Shepard Conservative MP Tom Kmeic tweeted his support for Mr. Fildebrandt.

CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.

Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.

The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.

Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley saidwith respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”

AlbertaPolitics.ca blogger David Climenhaga suggested that Mr. Jean may have violated the Wildrose Party constitution by how Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean (right) and Strathmore-Brooks candidate Derek Fildebrandt use a comically large arrow to point out tax increases to alcohol included in the PC Party's recent provincial budget.

For Wildrose, “Mr. Wynne” Facebook comment was last straw for Derek Fildebrandt

A statement released late on Friday night announced that Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean had suspended Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt from the Official Opposition Caucus.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca author David Climenhaga wrote on Friday night:

A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”

Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized but the flippant Facebook comment about Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality too clearly crossed the line. Remember that it was only four short years ago that a statement claiming gays and lesbians would burn in a Lake of Fire cost the Wildrose a shot at forming government in Alberta. Since then the rural-based party has done its best to avoid discussing social issues that could hurt its public image.

Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.

Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”

Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.

The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his antics sometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.

As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.

from left to right VP Fundraising John Roggeveen, Secretary Alyssa Moore,Treasurer Greg Springate, President Karen Sevcik, Leader David Swann, Executive Vice-President Dave Khan, VP Policy David Gamble, and VP Constituencies Dan MacLennan.

Former AUPE president Dan MacLennan now an Alberta Liberal VP

The Alberta Liberal Party held its annual general meeting in Red Deer this weekend where the party elected its executive officers, including a name that will be familiar to government-watchers in Alberta.

While many union leaders have lined up to support the governing New Democratic Party, according to the Liberal Party’s Facebook page former President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Dan MacLennan has been elected as the party’s new Vice-President Constituencies.

Known as ‘Buff‘ by those in the labour movement, the former jail guard served as president of Alberta’s largest union from 1997 to 2006. He led AUPE’s recovery from the brutal public sector job cuts of the mid-1990s and doubled the union’s membership over the course of his nine years as president.

Popular with members and the media and infamous for his friendly relationship with premier Ralph Klein, Mr. MacLennan’s time as president was not without controversy. Raids against other unions led to AUPE’s suspension from the National Union of Public and General Employees in March 2001. The union formally split from the mainstream labour movement in 2006 when it disaffiliated with NUPGE and by association the Canadian Labour Congress and the Alberta Federation of Labour.

In 2009, Mr. MacLennan was one of the eight members of the Progressive Conservative government’s advisory committee on health care policy and, in 2011, it was speculated on David Climenhaga‘s excellent AlbertaPolitics.ca blog that he might be a possible candidate for the Alberta Liberal leadership (he did not run in that year’s race).

Also elected to the Liberal Party executive board were Karen Sevcik as President, David Khan as Executive Vice-President, John Roggeveen as Vice-President Fundraising, Alyssa Moore as Secretary, Greg Springate as Treasurer, and David Gamble as Vice-President Policy.

The Liberals will choose a new leader in 2017 to replace interim leader David Swann, who is currently the party’s only MLA. Province-wide support for the Liberals plummeted to 4.1 percent in the 2015 Alberta election but a strong showing in the Calgary-Greenway by-election and the 2015 federal election has given party loyalists some hope for the future.


Firefighters join the AFL
In other Alberta labour movement related news, the International Association of Fire Fighters and five of its Alberta locals voted last week to join the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Journalism degrees or degrees of journalism

This week’s kerfuffle over the Rebel Media website’s fight with the Government of Alberta has dominated the news cycle, demonstrating the lack of experience of an NDP government still in their first year in government. Here is a quick summary of what I understand happened:

  1. Rebel freelancer Holly Nicholas attended a technical briefing meeting for media before the release of the Royalty Review Panel report on Jan. 29, 2016. She says that she was asked to leave after being in the room for most of the meeting. It is not clear why she would have been asked to leave.
  2. Rebel freelancer Sheila Gunn Reid was denied entry into a technical briefing meeting for stakeholders before the release of the Royalty Review Panel report which was being held on the same day as the technical briefing meeting for media. It is my understating that no media were allowed entry into this meeting.
  3. Ms. Gunn Reid was not allowed entry into the Alberta Legislature on Feb. 3, 2016 to attend a joint press conference held by Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Neither was I, or was blogger David Climenhaga. On that day, I was informed by the Premier’s Communications Office that this was a decision made by the Prime Minster’s Communications Office.
  4. In response to a letter sent by Rebel’s lawyer Fred Kozak on Feb. 8, 2016, a letter from a government lawyer on Feb. 12, 2016 stated the government believes that Rebel and those identifying as being connected to the website are not journalists and not entitled to access media lock-ups or other events.

The fourth point in the most mind-boggling. The Government of Alberta does not have the authority to decide who is and who is not a “journalist.” I cannot understand how someone in government thought that response would be a good idea. It makes the NDP look heavy-handed and is a good example of what the right-wing fringe means when it uses the phrase ‘nanny-state.”

Founded by former lobbyist and Sun TV host Ezra Levant, the Rebel website speaks to Alberta’s right-wing fringe and essentially operates with the characteristics of an opposition group. I find much of their coverage distasteful and intentionally provocative, but they should be allowed to attend government media events, just as other media and opposition groups would be allowed.

As Warren Kinsella and Jason Markusoff pointed out, this is exactly the reaction that Mr. Levant and his crew wanted. And even though the NDP backed down from the ban today, they have already delivered Mr. Levant the attention he sought.

Heather Boyd, the former western bureau director for Canadian Press, has been recruited by the government to recommend new rules for media access. It would be a step backward for media in Alberta if new rules restrict access and participation of new online media.

Ms. Boyd’s recommendations will be submitted to the government in two or three weeks, which means this issue will become a topic of media coverage as MLAs return for the spring session of the Legislative Assembly and the government presents a Speech from the Throne.

A changing media landscape means there will be more online media with employees and freelancers who may not fall under the traditional description of “journalist.” As the large media corporations slash staff and cut back on local content, there is still a public demand for news. Citizens are turning online for their news sources, something that most of these news companies already recognize.

As the corporate media cuts back, I expect some newly unemployed journalists to start their own innovative online news companies. New trusted sources for political information will continue to sprout up online – this cannot be stopped by the government or the already established media companies.

Oil Pipeline still King in Notley’s Interprovincial Agenda

Three years ago this week, Conservative Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford warned that a pipeline bottleneck and a dramatic drop in the price of oil would rob the provincial government of up to $6 billion in natural resource revenue.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Ms. Redford spent much of her two and a half years in office focusing on pipelines, as did her successor Jim Prentice during his short eight months in the Premier’s Office.

One of the jobs Mr. Prentice left when he decided to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 2014 was as liaison between the (now moribundEnbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and First Nations in northern British Columbia. Despite this experience, there was little evidence of pipeline advancement during his brief time as premier before the PCs were defeated in the May 2015 election.

Kathleen Wynne

The politics of pipelines continue to dominate Alberta’s interprovincial agenda under Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party government. Riding the success of the National Energy Strategy accepted at the Premier’s Meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer, Ms. Notley secured the tentative approval from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline.

As AlbertaPolitics.ca publisher David Climenhaga noted last week, “Premier Rachel Notley, after less than nine months in office, secured the tentative approval of the premier of Ontario and the enthusiastic endorsement of the prime minister of Canada, both members of a different political party than hers, for a pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for refining.”

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

What we are witnessing is unfamiliar: an NDP Premier advocating for this approval of a privately-owned, privately-operated pipeline that would ship oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a privately-owned and privately-operated refinery in New Brunswick. This is hardly characteristic of the radical marxist socialist extremist that Ms. Notley’s more fanatical critics claim she is.

This pipeline will not save the Alberta government from the revenue shortfall caused by the drop in the international price of oil, which is intensified due as a result of poor long-term planning during the previous 44 years of conservative governments. But it could narrow the price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select and provide a new point of export for Canadian oil while also keeping refinery jobs in Canada rather than exporting jobs to refineries overseas.

Denis Coderre

Denis Coderre

The decision to approve this pipeline will be up to the federal Liberal government, which includes strong representation from Alberta Members of Parliament.

Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault reiterated his support for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline last week. “Our government is committed to ensuring our natural resources have access to market.  This process will include a credible environmental assessment process based on science, facts and evidence,” Mr. Boissonneault said in a statement.

Randy-Boissonnault Edmonton Centre Liberals

Randy Boissonnault

Building a national consensus around climate change and the transportation and export of Canada’s oil will be helpful for future projects. It also gives Ms. Notley an opportunity to highlight her government’s climate change plan, which includes the phasing out of dirty coal fired power plants by 2030, a move that could significantly reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions.

While Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jean squabbles with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre over the municipal politician’s opposition to the pipeline, it would appear that Ms. Notley’s quiet diplomacy might be showing results. These type of public spats distract from the reality that Mr. Jean supports TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline but would cheer if Ms. Notley’s bid fails.

If TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline is approved before the 2019 Alberta election, Ms. Notley will be able to make the claim that an NDP Premier was able to accomplish something her conservative predecessors could not: get a new pipeline built from the oil sands to an ocean port.

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Breaking: Alberta’s Tories Poised to Sweep Election in Spring 2016

December 17, 2015

By: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Calgary Sunherald

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

One year after nearly the entire official opposition crossed the floor to join Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, the 44 year long governing party is expected to sweep the province for a record thirteenth election victory. Premier Jim Prentice is said to be preparing his party and its candidates for an early spring 2016 election.

According to Alberta’s fixed election date law, a provincial election must be called between March 31 and May 1, 2016.

The Wildrose MLA floor crossings on December 17, 2014 hurt the PCs in the polls in the first half of 2015. But after the Tories began to recover in the polls a fall cabinet shuffle brought two former Wildrose MLAs, Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, into Prentice’s cabinet as Finance Minister and Justice Minister.

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

Public opinion polls now suggest most Albertans have embraced the Prentice Tories once again. The PCs now have the support of 77 percent of Albertans, according to the most recent Western Insite poll.

“A few months ago it looked like the Tories had a real fight on their hands but today they are back on top,” said Jake Randall, vice-president of Western Insite Inc. “Prentice really didn’t start resonating with Albertans until after May 2015,” he said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior official in the PC Party admitted they were glad the provincial election wasn’t called in early 2015, as some party insiders had pushed for.

“We simply weren’t prepared to go to the polls in spring 2015,” the source said.

“We would have got smoked, boy, it would have been the end of us,” they said.

David Climenhaga

David Climenhaga

The hopes of New Democratic Party supporters were boosted when David Climenhaga defied expectations with a 67 percent landslide win for the NDP in a May 5, 2015 by-election in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert constituency.

Liberal MLAs Laurie Blakeman and David Swann added to the orange momentum on May 6 when they joined the NDP caucus, creating speculation that Rachel Notley‘s NDP could pose a serious challenge to the Tories in the next election.

But with recent polls showing the NDP back in their traditional range of 10 percent support, Albertans may never know what an NDP government looks like.

The Wildrose Party has wilted, with most of its support relegated to a handful of rural southern Alberta constituencies.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

Wildrose leader Derek Fildebrandt remains a harsh critic of the PCs and is in talks to create a ‘real conservative alternative’ by merging his party with the right-wing Social Credit and Alberta First parties.

“Most Albertans are moderates and are very suspicious and uncomfortable with the kind of social conservative politics inside the Wildrose Party,” said Darlene Sinclair, professor of political science at Vermilion River University in Lloydminster.

Sinclair predicted that the PCs had successfully built a coalition of moderate and progressive minded urbanites that could keep the Tories in government for many decades to come. But she warned that even with high polling numbers, the Prentice government faces serious challenges.

Tory supporters are quick to defend Prentice from criticisms about the job losses caused by a downturn in the economy, tax increases and his refusal to make deep funding cuts to public programs.

Former Conservative MP Brian Jean, who will be running for the Tories in the Fort McMurray-Conklin constituency, said that Prentice is not to blame for job losses in the oil patch.

“It would be silly to believe that any Premier of Alberta, even Jim Prentice, has the power to control the international price of oil,” Jean said.

“It just doesn’t work like that, ” he said.

(Note: This article is a satirical take on what might have happened if the PC Party had waited until Alberta’s 2016 fixed election date to call the most recent provincial election. In reality, the PCs called the election one year early and Albertans elected Notley’s NDP with a majority government on May 5, 2015).

This Week in Alberta Politics

Here are a few items to watch out for in Alberta politics this week:

  • Which of the four Liberal Members of Parliament will be appointed to the federal cabinet on Nov. 4, 2015? Most speculation points toward newly elected Calgary-Centre MP Kent Hehr being given a cabinet spot. Mr. Hehr, along with Calgary-Skyview MP Darshan Kang, were the first federal Liberals to be elected in Calgary since 1968. But will one of the two Liberal MPs from Edmonton – Amarjeet Sohi and Randy Boissonnault – get a cabinet spot? If not, it would mark the first time since before Jim Edwards was appointed as President of the Treasury Board in 1993 that Edmonton has not had representation in the federal cabinet.
  • Two Conservative MPs from Alberta – Edmonton-Wetaskiwin MP Mike Lake and Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Rona Ambrose – have joined four other Conservative MPs with bids to become the interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. That party has only had one permanent leader, Calgary MP Stephen Harper, since the party was formed in 2003 and is expected to choose a new permanent leader next year.
  • Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci will continue their sales pitch for the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget this week. The NDP budget received some sensible and encouraging reviews when it was released from Calgary Economic Development and the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.
  • Overshadowing debate about the Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget last week was the Wildrose Party Finance critic Derek Fildebrant‘s war with a Globe & Mail reporter and House leader Nathan Cooper‘s war against a 9:00 a.m. start time for the Legislative sitting. Will the Wildrose Official Opposition be able to move on to actual issues of substance in the second week of the fall session?
  • It was always expected that uniting the Wildrose and PC parties will be tough. Richard Starke, the PC MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, had some choice words for his Wildrose counterparts in the Legislature last week: “…the Official Opposition rather reminds me of the chippy hockey player that hacks and slashes in the corner and then, as soon as something similar happens back to them, goes running to the referee.”

I will be taking a short break from blogging this week. In my absence, check out David Climenhaga‘s informative and entertaining AlbertaPolitics.ca blog.