Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past decade. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits. As is tradition on this blog, each December I sit down by the open fire and pen a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or Finance Minister Joe Ceci, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.
Here is my list of MLAs to watch in 2017:
Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West): The implementation of Alberta’s much lauded and much derided Climate Leadership Plan will be central to the government’s agenda in 2017. Navigating attacks against the incoming carbon tax, which led to the approval of two oil pipelines, will be critical to the success of the plan. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will also have to navigate the politics of replacing Alberta’s dirty coal fired power plants with renewable electricity generation, which could include potentially controversial hydro electric dam projects in northern Alberta.
Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): Now as Alberta’s Deputy Premier, Sarah Hoffman continues to prove that she is one of the toughest MLAs in the government benches. She has managed to navigate her role as Health Minister, a large and challenging department, and continue to serve as Ms. Notley’s chief political lieutenant. As I noted in last year’s list, she is a contender for strongest member of cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.
Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister who crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016 could find herself with a cabinet post in 2017. Speculation is rampant that Ms. Notley could shuffle the cabinet early next year. Appointing Ms. Jansen as Minister of Energy could help shore up NDP support in Calgary, especially with the recent approval of two oil pipelines. Or perhaps she could replace embattled Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir?
Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): The outspoken attack dog of the Official Opposition is unleashed, as was demonstrated by his rant against “political correctness” at a recent event organized by Ezra Levant’s fringe advocacy group. After being muzzled by Wildrose leader Brian Jean in early 2016, Mr. Fildebrandt is already feeling empowered in 2017 by the rise of Jason Kenney in Alberta’s Conservative movement. Like Mr. Kenney, he is a former Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a rigid conservative ideologue. Expect Mr. Fildebrandt to be one of Mr. Kenney’s chief lieutenants in his bid to merge the PC Party with the Wildrose Party in 2017.
Brian Jean (Fort McMurray-Conklin): What lies ahead for the leader of the Wildrose Party? After Mr. Kenney succeeds in his hostile takeover of the PC Party leadership in May 2017, Mr. Jean might be the only obstacle standing in the way of the two parties merging. He saved his party from the electoral abyss in 2015, but the well-meaning Fort McMurray politician will face significant pressure from his party and the federal Conservatives to step aside to let Mr. Kenney take over. It seems unlikely that his leadership will survive 2017.
Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): If PC Party members want to preserve their party, rallying behind the MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster might be their only, and last, chance. Standing in opposition to Mr. Kenney’s hostile takeover, Mr. Starke appears to understand that his party’s success over the past four decades was not based in rigid ideology but in the ability to build a big tent that invited conservatives, moderates and liberals to the table. If he cannot win, then 2017 will be the final year for the PC Party in Alberta.
Thomas Dang (Edmonton-South West): Alberta’s youngest MLA could become known as the Daylight Saving Time Slayer in 2017. He announced this week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill in the spring session of Assembly that would abolish the unpopular annual time-shift.
Christina Gray (Edmonton-Mill Woods): Labour Minister Christina Gray is not the most high profile cabinet minister but she is charged with steering some of the NDP government’s important policy changes. This fall she introduced reforms to Alberta’s electoral finance laws, and next year she will face the government’s much-needed review of the Workers’ Compensation Board, expected changes to the Labour Relations Code and implementation of Occupational Health & Safety rules under the controversial Bill 6 farm safety law.
Jessica Littlewood (Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): She had a rough time while serving as chair of the Special Select Committee on Ethics and Accountability, but the trial by fire was more than most of her rookie MLA colleagues have experienced. Despite the committee fumble, Ms. Littlewood stands out as a well-spoken and articulate member of the NDP caucus. A junior cabinet position could be in her future.
David Swann (Calgary-Mountain View): The ernest and hardworking interim leader of the Liberal Party will step down from that role in June 2017. It is not clear who will succeed Dr. Swann, who is currently Alberta’s only Liberal MLA (he is serving his fourth-term as MLA for Calgary-Mountain View), which makes it difficult to predict what his role will be in a Liberal Party led by someone from outside the Legislature.