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Alberta Politics

tories would love to put opposition-held ridings on the chopping block.

Edmonton-Riverview under the electoral boundaries created in 2003.

I was not surprised to hear rumours that Edmonton-Riverview might be on the chopping block when the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission is released in July (the interim report had kept Riverview largely intact). The Tories have been trying and have been incredibly unsuccessful in capturing enough support to elect an MLA in Riverview since it was created in 1997. With decisive margins, Liberal MLAs Linda Sloan and Kevin Taft have been successful in holding off Tory challengers including Gwen Harris, City Councillor Wendy Kinsella, Fred Horne, and local president Wendy Andrews. I have read and heard many arguments in favour of disassembling Riverview, the largest being that it does not make sense for a riding to span across the North Saskatchewan River, which should act as a natural boundary (under the current boundaries, three Edmonton ridings cross the River). It is silly to argue that an urban MLA cannot represent a riding divided by a river when many rural MLAs represent ridings that span across the province.

With three appointees on the five-member Electoral Boundaries Commission, the PCs may finally get their chance to put Riverview on the chopping block.

Large-scale changes to Riverview were not included in the Commission’s interim report, but there were large changes to other opposition held ridings. Much of Edmonton-Cadler may merge with Edmonton-Glenora, a change that could pit former Calder NDP MLA David Eggen against Glenora PC MLA Heather Klimchuk in a riding that also has a tradition of electing Liberal MLAs.

Edmonton boundary changes proposed in Electoral Commission's interim report with poll-by-poll results from the 2008 election.

In Edmonton-Gold Bar, proposed changes in the interim report would give four-term Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald an 8-vote margin, compared to a 1,018 margin of victory under the current boundaries in 2008. While sometimes overly-eccentric, Mr. MacDonald is one of the hardest working Opposition MLAs in the Assembly. It should not be surprising that the PCs have their eyes on Gold Bar, a riding that has elected Liberal MLAs since 1986.

The changes proposed in the interim report are not entirely unkind to the opposition when looking at the 2008 election results. The interim boundaries reduce PC MLA Tony Vandermeer‘s margin of victory in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 337 votes to 101 votes. Nominated New Democrat Deron Bilous is already gunning for Mr. Vandermeer’s job. The interim boundaries would have also helped Calgary-Elbow Liberal MLA Craig Cheffins defeat now-Justice Minister Alison Redford by 272 votes (instead, Mr. Cheffins was unseated by 419 votes in the current boundaries).

They are the most politically organized force province-wide, but it is understated how much of an advantage their 2006 leadership selection gave the PCs in 2008. Just over a year after their intensely competitive leadership race, large and fresh membership lists have the PCs a large advantage over their opponents, who had not developed these kind of large-scale lists.

The next election will present Albertans with new electoral boundaries and also a new political environment. The PC Party’s popularity has significantly dropped in the polls since the last election and its caucus has shrunk by a by-election defeat and MLA floor-crossingsDavid Swann is the first Liberal leader from Calgary since the 1970s and his party is nearly debt-free. The Wildrose Alliance is on its way to becoming well-organized and well-funded under the leadership of the politically-savvy Danielle Smith. The existence of the new Alberta Party is drawing support from many centrist and progressive political organizers. There is a general unhappiness and unease among Albertans with how the politics of governance is being operated in Alberta.

Even if some opposition-held ridings do get chopped and diced, the shifts in the political environment since the last election could make the could make any gerrymandering near irrelevant.

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alberta politics: 3 things more important than hal walker that happened today.

Today’s much hyped Wildrose Alliance news conference in Calgary did not live up to expectations. When announced yesterday that leader Danielle Smith would “be making an important political announcement” about the her party, the speculation was rampant. Was Preston Manning signing his endorsement pledge? Was Tom Flanagan going be their campaign manager? Was Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth going to step down to let Ms. Smith to run in a by-election? Were more PC MLAs going to cross the floor?

The news turned out to be ever so underwhelming. Party president Jeff Calloway has stepped down to allow disenchanted former Ralph Klein advisor Hal Walker to enter the role. Last September, Mr. Walker let it be known to the world that he strongly disliked Premier Ed Stelmach when he widely circulated an email that oozed the with entitlement of a longtime-insder who no longer had the ear of the powerful. The underwhelming announcement sparked a some very entertaining social media satire from the political crowd on Twitter this afternoon (follow #waptopstory to see what I mean).

While the underwhelming story of Mr. Walker and the hilarious online reaction grabbed headlines, do not be convinced that nothing important happened today in Alberta politics. Here are three things that you should be paying attention to:

1) Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has announced the start of consultations for a new Alberta Health Act. The Act would seek to merge currently existing health care laws under one piece of mega-legislation. As was the case when the PCs created the Post-secondary Learning Act in 2003, the devil will be in the details of what is left in legislation and what will be moved into regulation (or just left out). In a media release, Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen said: “The Alberta Hospitals Act, and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act both provide core legal underpinnings for our public system. If they are repealed and not strengthened under the new legislation, it could open the doors wide for a full two-tiered, parallel private health market in the province immediately.”

2) Premier Stelmach announced on the Rutherford Show this morning that Alberta will not be holding a Senate election anytime soon. The terms of Alberta’s current three Senators-in-Waiting will expire in November 2010, but instead of holding an election to replace them, Premier Stelmach and his cabinet will decide in a closed door cabinet meeting to extend their terms. Aside from being anti-democratic, the move also undercuts the opposition parties who were preparing for a Senate election to coincide with the October municipal elections. The Wildrose Alliance began seeking Senate candidates last week and I am told that the new Alberta Party was also organizing a campaign to support a candidate this fall. At this point, Premier Stelmach might as well appoint the Senators-in-Waiting.

3) Alberta’s new Mental Health Patient Advocate is longtime PC-insider Fay Orr. Ms. Orr worked as a media relation advisor to now Senator Elaine McCoy in the early 1990s and in the 1993 election she was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Norwood (she placed third behind Liberal Andrew Beniuk and New Democrat Ray Martin). Following the election, she served as Premier Klein’s spokesperson and was appointed as managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau in 2000 (a position where current PAB Director of New Media and Internet Communications Tom Olsen described her as ‘the chief of all Alberta government talking heads‘). Soon after that, Ms. Orr served as Deputy Minister for a number of Departments, including Community Development; and Government Services, and until today, the Department of Children and Youth Services.

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democratic renewal project letter to david eggen.

The Democratic Renewal Project (DRP) has sent a letter to former Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggen urging him to not seek the NDP nomination in new Edmonton-Glenora (Read: DRP letter to David Eggen re Glenora vs Northwest).

The DRP believe that a “united alternative” to the governing PCs should take place not in the formation of a new united party but through a “non-competition agreement” between the already existing Liberal Party and NDP. The letter suggests that Mr. Eggen should seek election in the new Edmonton-Northwest constituency to avoid splitting the vote in the formerly Liberal-held Glenora constituency (under the new boundaries, Calder will be dissolved, leaving Mr. Eggen’s home in the new Glenora).

The DRPs argument in Glenora is that a strong NDP candidate will split the vote with the Liberals and allow PC MLA Heather Klimchuk to be re-elected. There is little evidence to support this argument in Glenora, as in 2004 Liberal Bruce Miller was elected with 4,604 votes over second place New Democrat Larry Booi who earned 4,052 votes. With a low profile NDP candidate placing a distant third in 2008, Mr. Miller should have been re-elected with a 2,600 vote margin according to DRP logic. Instead, Mr. Booi’s votes from 2004 did not go to Mr. Miller and he was defeated by 130 votes.

Despite the hard work of their dedicated supporters, neither the Liberals or the NDP have proven that their parties have the ability to connect with Albertans outside of their already supportive urban enclaves. Perhaps the problem is not the competition for votes between the already existing parties, but that neither of the two parties are seen as viable alternatives to the governing PCs?

With declining voter turnout and a growing disconnect between citizens and the democratic process the solution should be to provide more opportunities for meaningful engagement. Decreasing choice of candidates is not a smart solution and neither is limiting the opportunity for already engaged citizens to participate in the democratic system by running as candidates in their communities.

David Eggen should run in Edmonton-Glenora because he is an engaged citizen and a good candidate. Voters in that constituency are smart enough to decide who their representative will be.

(I have already written two posts on battleground Glenora here and here.)

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liberals organizing in glenora.

“rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated”
Dr. David Swann (borrowed from Mark Twain)

Trying to gauge how rough this last week was for the Liberal Party in Alberta, I attended last night’s Town Hall meeting hosted by the Edmonton-Glenora Liberal Association at Robertson-Wesley United Church (which is actually in Edmonton-Centre). It was a fairly typical political gathering, with most of the around 50 attendees in the +50 age range, but there were some interesting parts of the evening.

– The hot topic of the week was barely even mentioned and did not appear to be on anyone’s radar. See Maurice Tougas‘ SEE Magazine column.

– Former Glenora MLA Bruce Miller was there, as was current Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft, and former MLAs Weslyn Mather and Jack Flaherty.

– The Liberals will roll out five new policy positions over the next six months focusing on health, economy, environment, and clean government.

– After the Reverend Miller’s narrow defeat to Tory Heather Klimchuk in the 2008 election, the Glenora Liberal Association went dormant. I am told that many of the constituency organizers who had been around since Howard Sapers was first elected in 1993 were burnt out and moved on. More recently, the constituency executive has been reborn and reorganized by a group of young professionals who have begun hosting meetings, fundraising, and growing the local membership.

– There was a lot of talk about vote-splitting and the announcement by former Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen that he will be seek the NDP nomination in the newly redrawn Glenora constituency. Supporters of the Democratic Renewal Project were present and spoke for the need for Liberals to work with the NDP so not to split the vote. Though there were some sympathetic ears in the room, the majority of the attendees appeared to oppose the idea (not surprising for a room full of partisans).

Glenora is shaping up to be a battleground in the next election. Elections in Glenora have been fierce since 2001, with each election since then being decided by less than 500 votes. Dr. Swann told the crowd that it was a priority that the Liberals elect an MLA for Glenora in 2012 – “We must win Glenora back!”

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electoral battleground: edmonton-glenora.

The new Edmonton-Glenora under the proposed electoral boundaries.

Former MLA David Eggen has declared his intention to seek the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Glenora for the next provincial election. Mr. Eggen was first elected as the MLA for Edmonton-Calder in 2004 and served as the NDPs environment critic. In 2008, he was narrowly defeated in a close race with PC candidate Doug Elniski. Since then, he has served as Executive Director of the Friends of Medicare.

Mr. Eggen will likely face off with Service Alberta Minister Heather Klimchuk (if she seeks re-election). Minister Klimchuk was elected in 2008 when she defeated Liberal MLA Reverend Bruce Miller in a hotly contested race. The Liberals have yet to announce their Glenora candidate, but have elected MLAs in the riding from 1993 to 2001 and 2004 to 2008.

Since 2001, each election in Glenora and Calder has been decided by less than 500 votes. Here are the combined results for the new Glenora boundaries from the past two provincial elections (see the picture above for the new boundaries with the poll-by-poll results from 2008):

2008 Election
PC: 4,738
Lib 4,405
ND: 2,677
Grn: 477
WR: 219

2004 Election
Lib: 4,875
NDP: 4,521
PC: 3,989
AA: 371
Grn: 231
SC: 88

In 2008, the vote turnout in the two constituencies were 40% in Calder and 42% in Glenora. Both the Liberals and PCs have held solid bases of support in Glenora for decades and the NDP had been less of a factor until the two recent elections.

In 2004, the NDP focused their resources behind Mr. Eggen in Calder and former Alberta Teachers’ Association President Larry Booi in Glenora. While Mr. Eggen was elected in a close race with PC MLA Brent Rathgeber, Mr. Booi placed second in a tight three-way race between PC MLA Drew Hutton and Reverend Miller. In 2008, the NDP focused less resources on Glenora in 2008 and fell to third place.

With a strong candidate like Mr. Eggen and two years to campaign before the next election, the NDP could be back in contention for this riding in the next election. In a province-wide election that could be dominated by the PCs and Wildrose Alliance, this riding could be only one of the handful that the NDP are seriously in competition for.

Welcome to battleground Edmonton-Glenora.

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Danielle Smith David Akin Doug Horner Link Byfield Stephen Duckett Tommy Banks

alberta politics notes 4/07/2010

David Akin recently sat down with Liberal Senator Tommy Banks for a chat on Senate reform.
– Alberta has held Senate elections in 1989, 1998, and 2004, and is expected to hold a Senate election in the next two years to fill upcoming vacancies. Senator-in-Waiting Link Byfield has declared his intentions to seek the Wildrose Alliance nomination.
– Alberta will be getting five new federal ridings if new legislation is passed in Ottawa.
– The provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission will be starting their second round of public hearings on April 12 in Calgary.
– After originally being lukewarm to the idea of an urban riding for Grande Prairie as proposed in the Boundaries Commission’s interim report, City Councillors have decided to support the two existing ‘rurban’ ridings of Grande Prairie-Smoky and Grande Prairie-Wapiti.
– Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Stephen Duckett was given failing grades from employees and physicians this week. Friends of Medicare executive director David Eggen told the Edmonton Journal that the survey points to the need for new leadership: “To make a fresh start, I think it’s important to make significant changes in senior leadership. This is a back-to-Australia kind of performance indicator.”
– Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner caved to the wishes of the University Administrations by allowing them to increase their base tuition rates beyond what is currently allowed under Alberta’s tuition policy for six programs. I wrote some background on the Universities quest for tuition hikes in November 2009.
– Premier Ed Stelmach will be speaking at the University of Alberta tomorrow at an event hosted by the campus Conservative club. The same club hosted an event with Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith last month.
– From Capital Notebook, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development paid $33,963 to a company called Borat High Five Consulting Ltd. between April 2008 and October 2009. This gives me a good excuse to post my favourite Borat clip…

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Brian Mason David Eggen Deron Bilous Lewis Cardinal Linda Duncan Rachel Notley

notes from the alberta ndp convention.

After spending one evening this week at the Wildrose Alliance leadership forum, I’ve spent a good part of this weekend at the other end of the political spectrum as a media observer at the 43rd annual Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton. I will post some more detailed thoughts soon, but until then, here are some notes from the convention:

Nova Scotia NDP campaign manager Matt Hebb spoke on Friday evening about the electoral situation that led to the current NDP majority government led by Premier Darrell Dexter. I took some notes from Hebb’s talk and will include my thoughts in a future post.

– The Democratic Renewal Project has made their presence known at the convention. A policy resolution directing the party leader to initiative public negotiations with the leaders of the Alberta Liberals and Green Party to conclude a tactical electoral alliance has proposed by the Edmonton-Rutherford and Edmonton-Whitemud NDP Associations. It will be debated on Sunday morning and will likely be defeated.

– Leader Brian Mason took a direct shot at the DRP in his Saturday afternoon speech to delegates by challenging the assumption that vote splitting is not the reason the NDP does not have more MLAs in the Legislature. Mason announced intentions for the NDP to run a full slate of candidates and a plan to target resources on 12 ridings between now and the next election.

– Mason also announced the NDPs plans to hold a number of health care forums across Alberta starting on September 29 in Calgary and September 30 in Lethbridge. Other forums are expected to be held in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray.

Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan spoke about NGOs, the environment, and partisan politics at the Olga Blogheim luncheon this afternoon. Attendees included Mason, MLA Rachel Notley, former MLA David Eggen, federal candidate Lewis Cardinal, and provincial candidate Deron Bilous.

– According to delegates I’ve spoken to (and blogs I’ve read) there seems to be little movement behind a twitter account and blog supporting Notley to become NDP leader.