Tag Archives: Deron Bilous

Through the Looking Glass – NDP cabinet ministers awkwardly join pro-pipeline, pro-UCP rally

Today’s rally at the Alberta Legislature in support of the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline was one of the strangest rallies in recent memory.

Maybe it was because the first speaker introduced himself by bragging about having confronted actor Jane Fonda in a parking lot outside a Moxie’s restaurant.

Maybe it was because in the crowd of 600 or so Albertans I was standing between one guy who kept yelling “Free Alberta from Canada!” and another who was yelling “Go back to Ottawa you Commie!”

Or maybe it was because as this was happening, there were a dozen New Democratic Party cabinet ministers and MLAs standing beside the podium, with most of the United Conservative Party caucus standing beside them.

We are through the looking glass.

Organized by the pro-pipeline Rally 4 Resources group, the event was promoted by both the NDP and UCP, and included speakers ranging from NDP cabinet minsters to UCP leader Jason Kenney to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson.

Despite the presence of senior NDP cabinet ministers and backbench MLAs, and two mass emails promoting the event sent by the NDP caucus, one from Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson and one from Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha, the crowd did not feel like an NDP friendly group. Or at least not any type of NDP-friendly group I would recognize.

Cries of “bullshit” could be heard as Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous spoke at the mic. The crowd booed, jeered and heckled federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, a popular former Edmonton city councillor, as he spoke about the Trudeau government’s commitment to the pipeline expansion.

A small group can be heard on video trying to begin a chant of “NDP, NDP, NDP” as Kenney spoke, but it didn’t catch on.

While the rally was billed as a non-partisan event, it felt like the NDP showed up to a UCP rally, or at the very least an anti-NDP rally.

Premier Rachel Notley is on a roll as Alberta’s top pipeline champion, but this rally should give the NDP pause about whether hitching the final year of their first-term as government to the pipeline issue was a smart move.

As a government in Alberta, being anything but pro-pipeline is an almost impossible option. Support of the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline in Alberta is likely somewhere near 98 percent (with a 2 percent margin of error) and I suspect many Albertans are becoming increasingly frustrated with pipeline opponents in British Columbia (where opposition to the pipeline is a valid mainstream opinion).

Supporting these rallies and escalating the war of words into drastic action against BC may play well with the Chambers of Commerce and certain Postmedia columnists, but it may fall flat among the supporters the NDP will need to activate and energize in the next 12 months.

Notley will meet with BC Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa next Sunday to discuss the pipeline dispute. If the meeting can deescalate or even resolve the pipeline dispute to end official political opposition to the pipeline in BC, then perhaps Notley’s gamble will pay off. But it not, then we may witness more pro-pipeline rallies with NDP cabinet ministers standing awkwardly in front of crowds of UCP supporters.

In Photo: Jason Luan, Mauri Stiff, Deron Bilous, Thomas Dang, Mark Smith, Marc Slingerland

Monday Night Candidate Nomination Update

Here are some of the latest updates to the list of candidates running for party nominations ahead of Alberta’s expected 2019 provincial general election:

Airdrie-Cochrane: Airdrie realtor Mauri Stiff is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination.

Banff-Kananaskis – Miranda Rosin and restaurant owner Scott Winograd are seeking the UCP nomination.

Calgary-Acadia – NDP MLA Brandy Payne announced last week that she will not be seeking re-election in 2019. Payne was first elected in 2015 when she unseated former Justice Minister Jonathan Denis. She has served as Associate Minister of Health since 2016. David Guenter is seeking the UCP nomination.

Calgary-BeddingtonRandy Kerr is seeking the UCP nomination.

Calgary-Elbow – Lawyer and former UCP leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer is seeking the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow. Schweitzer placed third in last year’s UCP leadership contest and if he wins his party’s nomination, he will face off against Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark in the next election.

Calgary-Foothills – Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jason Luan is seeking the UCP nomination. Luan served as MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood from 2012 to 2015, when he was unseated by NDP candidate Michael Connolly. The Foothills district is currently represented by UCP MLA Prasad Panda, who was first elected as a Wildrose candidate in a 2016 by-election to replace former MLA Jim Prentice.

Calgary-Hays – Two-term MLA Ric McIver is seeking re-election as the UCP candidate. McIver was elected in 2012 and 2015 as a Progressive Conservative and sought that party’s leadership in 2014.

Calgary-Klein – Two time Wildrose candidate Jeremy Nixon is seeking the UCP nomination. Nixon ran in this district under the Wildrose banner in 2012 and 2015. He is the brother of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon.

Calgary-Piegan – Andrew Griffin and Jeevan Mangat are seeking the UCP nomination. Mangat was the Wildrose Party candidate in Calgary-Fort in the 2015 election.

Calgary-West – MLA Mike Ellis is seeking re-election under the UCP banner. Ellis was elected in a 2014 by-election and the 2015 general election as a PC candidate.

Cardston-Siksika – Joseph Schow and Marc Slingerland are challenging MLA Dave Schneider for the UCP nomination in this newly redrawn southern rural district that largely covers the areas included in the current Cardston-Taber-Warner and Little Bow districts. Slingerland was a Christian Heritage Party candidate in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 federal elections and the 2015 federal by-election in Foothills.

Drayton Valley-Devon – MLA Mark Smith is seeking the UCP nomination. Smith was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose Party candidate.

Drumheller-Stettler – Nathan Horner is seeking the UCP nomination in this district, which is currently represented by UCP MLA Rick Strankman.

Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview – NDP MLA Deron Bilous is seeking his party’s nomination to run for re-election. Bilous was first elected in this district in 2012 and was re-elected in 2015. He was one of four NDP incumbents to run in the 2015 election and currently serves as Minister of Economic Development and Trade.

Edmonton-South – MLA Thomas Dang is running for the NDP nomination in this newly redrawn southwest Edmonton district. Dang was first elected as MLA for Edmonton-Southwest in 2015. Edmonton-South includes most of the east half of the district he currently represents. Running for the UCP nomination in this district is Payman Parseyan. Parseyan ran in the 2017 Edmonton municipal election in Ward 9, placing fourth with 15.3 percent of the vote.

Edmonton-WhitemudNawaz Panhwer is seeking the UCP nomination. Panhwer is Infrastructure Manager for the Town of Redwater and the former VP Finance of the PC Association in the district. His nomination is being endorsed by MPs Matt Jeneoroux, Kerry Diotte, and Michael Cooper, and former PC MLAs Naresh Bhardwaj and Sohail Quadri.

Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville – Campbell Pomeroy is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.

Leduc-Beaumont – Sharon Smith is seeking the UCP nomination. Smith ran for the Wildrose Party in this district in the 2015 election. She placed second with 29 percent of the vote.

Lethbridge-West – George Rigaux and Rick Dempsey are seek the UCP nomination. Rigaux was the chief organizer for the Reform Party in British Columbia ahead of the 1997 federal election. He is reported to have resigned from that position before the election after the media reported him making controversial comments about the role played by the Sikh community in party nominations that year.

Morinville-St. Albert – Gibbons town councillor Amber Harris has announced plans to seek the UCP nomination. Harris made news in November 2017 when she raised concerns on Facebook about the construction of gender-neutral washrooms at the Sturgeon Composite High School.

Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin – Business owner Sandra Kim has announced plans to seek the UCP nomination.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list.

Photo: Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda, Education Minister David Eggen, Premier Rachel Notley, Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Finance Minister Joe Ceci walk out of the Legislative chambers following the Speech from the Throne. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Episode 8: The Return of the Leg, Pipelines, and prep for the 2019 election

With Alberta’s Legislature back in session this week, Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman deliver their takes on the hottest issues facing MLAs, including Premier Rachel Notley’s Pipeline motion and how Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous really feels about the British Columbia government.

We also talk about the latest candidate nomination news, including David Swann’s retirement and averting a nomination contest between Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley in Calgary-Buffalo, something that UCP MLAs Scott Cyr and David Hanson have not been able to avoid in the new Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul district.

Daveberta Podcast Alberta PoliticsAlso in this episode, we talk about the return of former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt as the mosquito in Jason Kenney’s tent, and the impact of Doug Ford’s victory in the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership will have in that province’s fast approaching general election.

Ryan leads this week’s ‘So you want to be a candidate‘ segment with useful tips for Albertans wanting to run in next year’s election. And we answer some of the questions you sent us.

And we are pleased to announce that The Daveberta Podcast is now a member of the Alberta Podcast Network powered by ATB Financial. The network includes more than 30 podcasts, including one of our favourites, The Broadcast, a podcast about women and politics.

Listen and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play, and wherever you find podcasts online. It would be a big help if you could leave a review where you download this podcast and share this episode with a friend.

We’d love to hear what you think of this episode, so feel free to leave a comment on this blog, Facebook or Twitter or send us an email at podcast@daveberta.ca..

And once again, we are eternally thankful to our producer, Adam Rozenhart, for his help in making this podcast a reality.

Thank you for listening!

Photo: Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda, Education Minister David Eggen, Premier Rachel Notley, Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir and Finance Minister Joe Ceci walk out of the Legislative chambers following the Speech from the Throne. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

Alberta NDP win the Fake Trade War on the Prairies

In one of his final acts as Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall ended the brief and bizarre fake trade war his government launched against Alberta.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous

The ban on vehicles with Alberta license plates on Saskatchewan road worksites was initially framed as a retaliation for similar actions by the Alberta government. But when no evidence could be found that this was actually happening in Alberta, the ban was soon framed as a retaliation for the Alberta Government’s support of the province’s booming craft beer industry.

Anyone who pays attention to Alberta politics will know the New Democratic Party has been enthusiastic supporters of the province’s craft beer industry. Out-of-province brewers claim changes that have helped distilleries in Alberta triple from 18 in 2014 to 54 in 2017 are unconstitutional. The government does not appear to have any intention of stepping back, and Finance Minister Joe Ceci, in particular, has spent a considerable amount of time showing his support for Alberta craft beer.

While Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous tried to make sense of the Saskatchewan government’s insistence on meeting in Medicine Hat rather than Lloydminster, at lot of Albertans couldn’t help but think we might be getting punk’d. Bilous was about to inform the New West Partnership trade secretariat of the dispute when the Saskatchewan Government blinked, or backed down.

The fake trade war was seen by some political watchers as a strategic failure or a distraction from scandals and unpopular decisions that plagued Wall’s Government in its final year. But it was also consistent with Wall’s ongoing adversarial relationship with Premier Rachel Notley, and the NDP in general.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

A decade ago, Wall was the fresh face for conservatism on the prairies after he led his party to unseat a 16-year old NDP government. But after ten years in office, Wall has assumed the role as the leading voice of grumpy conservatism in Western Canada.

Wall, who continues to enjoy incredible popularity in his province and among Conservative partisans in Alberta, raised the white flag days before he is set to retire as Premier.

While New Democrats in the Alberta Legislature will be pleased to see Wall ride into the political sunset, it remains unclear whether his successor will be open to a more cordial relationship with their provincial neighbours.

Alberta’s NDP should enjoy their quick victory in the fake trade war on the prairies, but they should not lose focus as the real political battle continues to brew to the west – and that fight is about oil pipelines, not licence plates or beer.


The Saskatchewan Party will choose its next leader on Jan. 27, 2018. Candidates include former cabinet ministers Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Ken Cheveldayoff, Scott Moe, Gordon Wyant and former senior public servant Alanna Koch.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

12 Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018

Photo: Alberta MLAs to watch in 2018: Leela Aheer, Shaye Anderson, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci, Rick Fraser, Sandra Jansen, Brian Jean, Danielle Larivee, Jessica Littlewood, Shannon Phillips, David Shepherd and Richard Starke.

Despite its past reputation, Alberta politics has become extraordinarily unpredictable over the past twelve years. This makes forecasting the future a very tricky business for political pundits.

As is tradition on this blog, each year I publish a list of Alberta MLAs that I will be watching closely in the new year. Beyond the obvious choices, like Premier Rachel Notley or United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, I try to look into the government and opposition benches to see who could make the news next year.

Here are the MLAs I will be watching in 2018:

Leela Aheer (UCP – Chestermere-Rockyview): Aheer was a staunch supporter of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean during the 2017 UCP leadership race, but when the dust settled, a victorious Kenney appointed her as Deputy Leader of the UCP caucus. Her private members’ bill, Bill 206: the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement (Adoption Advertising) Amendment Act, which aimed to bring the process of adoption into the digital age by allowing prospective adoptive parents to go online through licensed adoption agencies, was passed after a remarkably civil debate in 2017.

Shaye Anderson (NDP – Leduc-Beaumont): Anderson is charming and has just the kind of average working-man appeal that the NDP government needs. Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the Municipal Affairs Minister will oversee the implementation of the new City Charters and a reformed Municipal Government Act in 2018. With talk of the AUMA and AAMDC merging and increasing pressure on the NDP to reform municipal election finance laws, Anderson’s role at the cabinet table could become more important in 2018.

Deron Bilous (NDP – Edmonton-Beverly Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Bilous has led successful trade missions to China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. With the province’s economy growing but unemployment rates remaining unchanged, he faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan is working as the provincial economy recovers from the sharp decline of international oil prices.

Joe Ceci (NDP – Calgary-Fort): With Alberta’s economy projected to have grown between 3.9 percent and 6.7 percent in 2017, the Finance Minister will implement what Notley describes as “compassionate belt-tightening.” The NDP need to present a more defined budget plan, but it should not just focus on spending. Alberta has a revenue problem and if we should have learned anything since the international price of oil collapsed in 2014, it is that we should not depend on royalty revenues from oil and gas to fund the day to day operations of our public services. And did I mention he is a champion of Alberta’s booming craft brewing industry?

Rick Fraser (Independent – Calgary-South East): The former PC MLA left the UCP caucus in September 2017, citing concerns about the party’s position on climate change and social issues. There were strong rumours that Fraser would join the Alberta Party caucus in 2017, but the resignation of Greg Clark as party leader may have put any floor-crossing plans on hold.

Sandra Jansen (NDP – Calgary-North West): Appointed to cabinet in 2017, the former PC MLA plays a big role in Notley’s charm offensive in Calgary. As Minister of Infrastructure, Jansen has a powerful spot at the cabinet table, allowing her to champion the construction of big capital projects like the new Calgary Cancer Centre and the completion of the city’s ring road. She should spend less time arguing with Conservative partisans on Twitter and more time trying to boost her government’s fortunes in Calgary.

Brian Jean (UCP – Fort McMurray-Conklin): The former leader of the Wildrose Party disappeared from public sight after losing the UCP leadership to Kenney. As the only Official Opposition MLA without a critic role, there were questions raised about whether Jean will stick around until the 2019 election or whether Albertans can expect a by-election to be held in Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018. But in a year-end interview with Fort McMurray Today, Jean says he is not planning on leaving politics in 2018.

Danielle Larivee (NDP – Lesser Slave Lake): A rising star in the Alberta cabinet, Larivee was shuffled from Municipal Affairs to Children’s Services in 2017 to quell a political scandal, which she appears to have successfully done. She launched and expanded Alberta’s $25 per day child care program, which will have a real positive impact on a lot of Alberta families.

Jessica Littlewood (NDP – Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville): Appointed as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade with responsibilities for small business, Littlewood is another rising star in the NDP caucus. With a potential cabinet shuffle ahead in 2018, I would not be surprised if she is appointed to a full cabinet position.

Shannon Phillips (NDP – Lethbridge-West): The Environment and Parks Minister continues to champion the Alberta government’s high-profile Climate Leadership Plan. The plan has led to the creation of Canada’s lowest renewable electricity rates, but a focused opposition campaign by its Conservative critics has led to mass confusion about the goal of the carbon levy. Phillips will have a big challenge ahead of her in 2018 to explain how the NDP’s plan to combat climate change will have a positive impact on individual Albertans ahead of the 2019 election.

David Shepherd (NDP – Edmonton-Centre): With 1,200 votes counted, Shepherd was chosen as the Up and Comer to Watch in 2018 in the Best of Alberta Politics 2017 Survey. He is a hard-working, well-spoken and passionate MLA who has excelled at communicating online, in-person and on the floor of the Assembly.

Richard Starke (Progressive Conservative – Vermilion-Lloydminster): The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and leadership candidate opted not to join his fellow PC MLAs when they joined the Wildrose-heavy UCP caucus in July 2017. He instead decided to remain a PC MLA in the Assembly. Like his former PC colleague Rick Fraser, there were strong rumours in 2017 that Starke could join the Alberta Party caucus.

Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 201720162015 and 2014.

Photo: Kent Hehr with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. (Photo from Kent Hehr's Facebook Page)

Mid-week Alberta Politics Roundup

Photo: Kent Hehr with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Calgary Stampede in July 2017. (Photo from Kent Hehr’s Facebook Page)

It has been a busy week for me, so without the time to write a full column-type post, here is a quick summary of what I have been watching in Alberta politics over the past few days.

Calgary MP moved in Trudeau cabinet shuffle

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr was appointed Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities this week as part of a fairly significant shuffle in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Hehr had previously served as Minister of Veterans Affairs, a post he had held since his election in 2015. Though the move is viewed as a demotion at worst or a lateral move at best, there is no indication that the shuffle was a reflection on Hehr’s performance as minister, which appeared to fulfill competently.

As a former amateur athlete and leader in the Canadian Paraplegic Association, Hehr appears to be a good fit for this role.

While the Minister of Sports is traditionally seen as a junior level position in cabinet, the prospect of Calgary bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Canada joining with the United States and Mexico in a bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup could increase its political importance.

Meanwhile, Calgary-Skyview Liberal MP Darshan Kang announced he would take a medical leave of absence due to stress caused by allegations of sexual harassment that have dogged the federal politician over the past few weeks.

Alberta MPs in Ottawa Shadow Cabinet

Following this week’s federal cabinet shuffle, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer announced a new roster of Official Opposition critics. Alberta Conservative MPs in the shadow cabinet include: International Development critic Ziad Aboultaif, Agriculture and Agri-Food critic John Barlow, Status of Women critic Rachael Harder, Science critic Matt Jeneroux, National Revenue critic Pat Kelly, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship critic Michelle Rempel, and Natural Resources critic Shannon Stubbs.

NDP Minister continues his Coal Tour

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous continues his town hall tour of Alberta’s coal communities this week. In the Town of Hanna, Bilous and mayor Chris Warwick announced $450,000 in funding create Community Action Teams led by the Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation to focus on initiatives identified in a report by the Hanna Climate Change Strategy Task Force.

While Bilous left Hanna with more questions than answers, he deserves some credit for traveling to these communities holding these town halls – something the NDP government should have done two years ago.

UCP candidate calls on Alberta to national Manitoba port

Jeff Callaway was looking to generate headlines for his United Conservative Party leadership campaign, and he succeeded with his proposal for the Alberta government to nationalize and build a pipeline to access Manitoba’s Port of Churchill. Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, who is the MP for  Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, called on the federal government to nationalize the port of Churchill in Dec. 2016.

Low federal NDP membership numbers in Alberta

Speaking of the federal NDP, the party released the breakdown of membership numbers by province ahead of its September leadership vote. Despite having one of only two NDP governments in the country, the federal NDP only recorded having 10,188 members in Alberta, compared to 52,200 in Ontario and 31,974 in British Columbia.

The low participation rate may have a lot to do with the deep political divide between the Alberta NDP and its federal and provincial counterparts over the expansion and construction of oil pipelines, which is a priority for Rachel Notley’s government. To my knowledge, no Alberta NDP MLAs have released public endorsements for any of the federal NDP leadership candidates.

Garry Keller joins the UCP caucus

Until recently he was rumoured to be eyeing the federal Conservative nomination in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election, but it was announced today that Garry Keller, a former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, would join the United Conservative caucus as a special advisor.

Alberta Politics Roundup: It rarely slows down, even in the summer

Photo: Grande Prairie-Smoky MLA Todd Loewen, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier, UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, and Little Bow MLA David Schneider. (credit: Brian Jean’s Facebook page)

It feels like politics rarely slow down in Alberta, even in the summer. Here is a quick look at some of what has been happening:

New UCP caucus has a spending problems

A day after the United Conservative Party lined up to criticize Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, it was revealed that the UCP caucus is facing a $337,000-deficit this year. The report triggered criticism of former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (pictured in the photo above) from Bonnyville-Cold Lake UCP MLA Scott Cyr and party leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer.

Cyr said Wildrose MLAs were stonewalled when they requested information about ballooning staff at the former official opposition caucus office.

Schweitzer said the new party will not be a credible voice for fiscal management if it cannot manage its own internal budget. Schweitzer has described Jean’s leadership platform as “big government” and is proposing deep cuts to the provincial budget if he becomes premier in 2019.

Bilous hosts town halls in Coal Communities

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous will be spending much of the next week visiting communities impacted by the phase-out of coal fired power plants. Bilous will be hosting town hall meetings in Hanna on August 27 and 28, Forestburg on August 28 and 29, and Leduc, Warburg and Wabamun on August 31. Bilous admitted earlier this month that the New Democratic Party government needed to improve its communications with these communities (I wrote about this in Nov. 2016).

Kenney too busy to meet with kd lang

When Jason Kenney was asked why he was not attending any Calgary Pride Week events, he initially said it was because he did not get an invitation. When he received an invitation from Alberta-born internationally successful musician kd lang to meet in person to discuss LGBTQ issues, Kenney’s spokesperson said the UCP leadership candidate was too busy. It appears as though Kenney will go to far lengths not to do anything that would alienate the social conservative supporters he hopes will help make him leader of the UCP in October 2017.

Hehr on the move

Calgary-Centre Member of Parliament Kent Hehr is expected to be shuffled from his role as Minister of Veterans Affairs as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan is moved into the role. When Hehr was appointed to cabinet in 2015, he became the first Liberal cabinet minister from Calgary since the early 1970s. It is not yet known what his new role will be.

Kang expected to be booted from Liberal caucus

The Hill Times reports that Calgary MP Darshan Kang is expected to be removed from the Liberal Caucus this week “after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by a young staffer unearthed troubling findings.” Kang was elected as the MP for Calgary-Skyview in 2015 after serving two-terms as the Liberal MLA for Calgary-McCall.

Keller out of Sturgeon River-Parkland race

Gerry Keller, the former chief of staff to Rona Ambrose, has decided not to enter the Conservative Party nomination to run in the upcoming Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election. Current candidates running for the nomination include local party organizer Jamie Mozeson, recently relocated BC-businessman Rick Peterson and political staffer Dane Lloyd.

 

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

Two years later – Notley’s NDP victory and a reminder why Elections matter

Two years ago today Albertans voted to sweep out the old Progressive Conservative government by electing Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party into government.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

It was a surreal election that topped off a tumultuous decade in Alberta politics. It used to be said that politics in our province was boring, and that may have been true at one point. But when PC Party members delivered a stunning blow to Ralph Klein in a March 2006 leadership review, politics never seemed to get dull again in Alberta. And while no one in 2006 could, or would, have predicted an NDP win in 2015, the years of PC Party infighting and corruption marked the steep decline of a once proud PC Party establishment.

The 2015 election shows more than anything else how much campaigns matter. Even though Albertans were visibly growing tired of the old establishment conservatives, the PCs were widely expected to win a 13th re-election victory. It was almost hard to imagine any other outcome.

The Wildrose Party, which was a grasp away from forming government in 2012, was decimated by floor crossings in 2014.

On May 5, 2015, the NDP did what only one week early felt unimaginable – they formed a majority government in Alberta. It was a strange and wild election campaign.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

While it looked as if the NDP might form the official opposition in that election, over the course of the election Notley chipped away at Jim Prentice’s campaign, gaining momentum through a positive and hopeful campaign that contrasted to the uninspiring institutional campaign presented by the PCs.

From Notley’s masterful performance in the televised leader’s debate to a train-wreck press conference held by four prominent CEOs, there were many key moments and events that provided a clear indication that the campaign was going well for the NDP and very, very poorly for the PCs.

I had never voted for the NDP in a provincial election until 2015. I had been a supporter of the Liberal Party led by Kevin Taft in the 2000s and was part of the group that tried to build the Alberta Party before the 2012 election. During that time, I frequently scoffed at the NDP as being merely an Edmonton-based vote-splitter and an annoying minor competitor (albeit an incredibly effective annoying competitor).

But in Notley I saw a political leader who had sparked momentum and energy in Albertans. She was progressive, urban, smart and tough – a natural replacement for a tired conservative government that had spent decades squandering and mismanaging Alberta’s energy wealth.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

As a government, the NDP faced a steep learning curve and have had their highs and lows.

Notley started off with an inexperienced small circle of cabinet minsters. She slowly expanded the cabinet with talent identified from the MLA backbenches of the new government caucus and since then many cabinet ministers have grown into their roles quite comfortably. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd, Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, and Education Minister David Eggen, to name a few, have become some of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices of Alberta’s government.

But most of all, Notley has grown into her role as Premier. She was then during the election campaign and remains now the NDP’s strongest asset in Alberta.

While they have made some embarrassing political mistakes, enflaming conservative critics along the way (while also inheriting some of the old PC government’s bad habits), Notley’s NDP government has started to catch its stride.

Danielle Larivee

Danielle Larivee

As I wrote earlier this month, the NDP subtly shifted their messaging over the past few months, focusing on launching new programs and projects that they argue will “make lives better for Albertans,” rather than trying to out-flank the conservatives on economic issues. And it is working well for the NDP.

Notley’s NDP have reshaped Alberta’s political landscape and provided a much needed breath of fresh air into the once stale conservative halls of government. While I would not place a bet on the outcome of the next election, Conservative politicians who brag about dancing a cakewalk back into government in 2019 should be reminded that it might not be that easy.

The mould was broken in the 2015 election. No party should take the votes of Albertans for granted again.

Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

A look at some of the new laws passed in Alberta in Spring 2016

The Spring session of the Alberta Legislature ended yesterday after forty-days of debate.

The evacuation of more than 88,000 Albertans sparked by the wildfires in Fort McMurray dominated the attention of our political leaders during this session. In response to the wildfire crisis, Premier Rachel Notley and Wildrose leader Brian Jean briefly put aside politics and demonstrated their strengths as political leaders. It was a refreshing break from the negative rhetoric and hyperbole that has come to dominate Alberta politics.

The legislative session produced ejections, MLA suspensions and other intrigue but amidst the budget debates and political drama the New Democratic Party government pursued a fairly ambitious legislative agenda.

Twenty-one government bill and one two private members’ bills were passed during this session.

Bill 205: Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, a private members’ bill introduced by Calgary-West Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Ellis received unanimous support from MLAs when it was passed in the Legislature. The bill restricts ownership of pill presses in response to the Fentanyl crisis.

Bill 1: Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act introduced by Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous gave the minister new powers to create programs focused on broadening the province’s industries and businesses. “Jobs” and “diversification” were key buzzwords used by NDP cabinet ministers this spring as they face an increase in unemployment and decrease in industry investment caused by the decline of the international price of oil.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services introduced by Labour Minister Christina Gray lifted the ban on strikes by all public sector employees in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015.

Bill 7: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley pushed forward the timelines to redraw the electoral boundaries before the provincial election in 2019, which could have an impact on the results of that election. The timelines as they were previously legislated were askew after the Progressive Conservatives called an election one year earlier than Alberta’s fixed-election date law in 2015.

The NDP missed an opportunity to improve the composition of the commissions, which will include five appointees (two appointed by the Government Caucus, two by the Official Opposition and one “neutral” chairperson chosen by the government). The NDP should have amended the legislation to create a non-partisan judicial commission similar to the ones appointed to redraw federal electoral boundaries.

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 10: Fiscal Statutes Amendment Act removed the 15 per cent debt-to-nominal-GDP cap implemented by the NDP in the fall session of 2015. This was a classic example of a government walking back on a law which they probably should not have passed in the first place. The Alberta government’s net-debt levels remain low enough that Albertans should not immediately be worried. But as our provincial credit ratings have been downgraded, it will be important for the current and future governments to implement policies that will actually address the government’s significant revenue shortfall and growing budget deficit.

Bill 11: Alberta Research and Innovation Amendment Act reorganized Alberta’s four “Innovates” branded research and development agencies into one agency governed by a single board and CEO. Bill 18: An Act to Ensure Independent Environmental Monitoring dissolved the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Evaluation and Reporting Agency and brought its responsibilities into the Department of Environment and Parks. Bill 11 also established the position of Chief Scientist.

Bill 15: An Act to End Predatory Lending introduced by Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean targeted the payday loan industry, bringing down the amounts paid on payday loans from $23 per $100 borrowed down to $15 per $100. Ms. McLean announced that the government is working with credit unions to offer short-term loans as an alternative to predatory loans.

Bill 19: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act injected transparency into Alberta’s byzantine system of appointed agencies, boards and commissions that had become a safe-haven for PC Party loyalists, patrons and retired MLAs during the previous government’s 44 years in power.

A long-time coming, Bill 21: Modernized Municipal Government Act, was in the works for years, but even so it was surprising that the NDP has been able to introduce it so early in their mandate. Bill 21 overhauls and updates sections of the province’s second largest piece of legislation. Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee, a rising-star in the NDP, will travel across the province this summer to consult with municipal leaders about the changes proposed in this bill, which only passed first reading during this session.

Bill 21 sets the ground for the creation of Big City Charters in the Act’s regulations, as advocated for by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The Charters are expected to be drafted by Spring 2017 and enacted by Summer 2017.

The NDP government’s flag ship piece of legislation of spring 2016 was Bill 20: Climate Leadership Implementation ActPart of the much-lauded Climate Leadership Plan, Bill 20 implements the Carbon levy and rebate program. In what is becoming a signature move of the NDP government, Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips assembled an impressive coalition of municipal, industry and environmental leaders in support of the new law.

While there are legitimate criticism of the bill, including whether the carbon levy is actually “revenue neutral,” the Wildrose Opposition failed to offer any alternative plan. The Official Opposition was knee-capped by a serious self-inflicted wound when an article signed by nine Wildrose MLAs compared carbon pricing to Holodomor, the genocide that killed an estimated 2.5–7.5 million Ukrainians in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933. Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Dave Hanson apologized for the comment but the nine MLAs avoided answering questions about the genocide comparison when asked by the media.

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is expected to reconvene on October 31, 2016 and sit until December 1, 2016.

[Note: This was just a brief description of some of the bills debated and passed during the spring session. A full list of bills debated in this session can be found here]

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley NDP

One year ago today the NDP won in Alberta. The next day hell froze over.

The attention of most Albertans this week is rightfully focused on the wildfires that are raging through northern Alberta and the more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray who have fled to safer ground in the south. It is a testament to our resilience as Canadians that a mandatory evacuation order could be carried out in a community of 80,000 people without any violence or resistance.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

Overshadowed by the wildfires, and rightfully so, is today’s anniversary of the major political earthquake that reshaped our province over the past year. On May 5, 2015, Albertans turned their backs on the Progressive Conservative regime that had governed since Peter Lougheed won in 1971 and replaced the old guard with a choice that would have been unbelievable in previous elections, the New Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always a forgone conclusion that Albertans would elect an NDP government. At points during last year’s campaign. Two polls released days before the writ was dropped showed the governing PCs and official opposition Wildrose Party in a race for first place with the NDP in a distant third. Disillusionment with an arrogant and entitled PC regime that had squandered the last oil boom and the pitch-perfect campaign led by Rachel Notley’s NDP resulted in a majority government.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

Those election results exposed a demographic shift, including a split between urban and rural Alberta. The NDP elected most of their 54 MLAs in Alberta’s fast-growing urban areas and central and northern rural Alberta. The Wildrose Party, led by former Member of Parliament Brian Jean won back most of the seats lost in the 2014 floor-crossings and made gains in rural Alberta. Jim Prentice‘s Tories earned 27 percent of the vote but fell victim to the first-past-the-post system and only elected 10 MLAs. The Alberta Party elected its first MLA, leader Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow, and the Liberals were reduced to one MLA, interim leader David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

May 5, 2015 saw the election of the a record number of women, including nearly half of the MLAs in the newly minted NDP caucus. The soon to be appointed provincial cabinet would have gender parity, a first in Canada. A contingent of under-30 MLAs were elected, bringing a new sense of diversity into the stodgy Legislative Assembly. Openly gay and lesbian MLAs were elected. And soon after, expecting and new mothers would become a common sight on the floor of the Assembly. Our Legislative Assembly felt more reflective of Alberta than it had in previous years.

The tone of government had changed.

The NDP banned corporate donations to political parties, a move that would never have happened under the corporate-donation fuelled PC Party. The new government not only admitted it believed in Climate Change, it also announced plans to do something about it. The NDP introduced a progressive income tax system and raised corporate taxes. They also reinstated funding to education, health care and post-secondary education that was cut by the PCs in their pre-election budget.

Smart, articulate, tough and quick on her feet, Ms. Notley has proven to be the government’s greatest asset. The senior cabinet ministers surrounding her, Sarah Hoffman, Danielle Larivee, Shannon Phillips, Kathleen GanleyDavid Eggen, Deron Bilous, Joe Ceci and Brian Mason, to name a few, have developed into a stronger team over the past year.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta's 2015 provincial election.

CBC National News Anchor Peter Mansbridge reacts to the results of Alberta’s 2015 provincial election.

Getting off the royalty rollercoaster’ by fixing a revenue system that was over-reliant on natural resource royalties to fund the government’s operations budget is a central theme of the new government.

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

A sharp decline in the international price of oil meant the new government faced higher private sector unemployment and decreased activity in the oil industry in our province.

The Alberta Advantage, a myth spun by conservative politicians and pundits over the past twenty years quickly turned into a disadvantage. The low taxes boasted by the previous government turned into a disadvantage when the price of oil dropped and left the province with a $10 billion shortfall in revenue.

Instead of slashing the budget, as the conservative opposition parties would have done, the NDP looked for outside advice from former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge. The budget tabled by Mr. Ceci included investments in infrastructure while keeping operating funding steady to avoid major service cuts and job losses that would increase the province’s unemployment levels.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The NDP plan focuses on stability and job creation but it is yet to be seen whether those large deficits will be embraced by Albertans at the next election. The future of this government, like the PC government before it, may ultimately depend on the international price of oil.

The optimism of the new government masked a certain naivety. Transitioning into the role of government has been challenging.

The transition from a 4-MLA opposition caucus to majority government led the NDP to import senior political staff from across Canada, including those with experience working in Ottawa and for NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

The rushed introduction of new farm safety laws made the NDP look as if they were more interested in dragging rural communities into the 21st century rather than leading them in that direction.

Like something out of the 1950s, Wildrose MLAs and conservative newspaper columnists have become prone to red-baiting, accusing Alberta’s NDP government of holding communist or socialist sympathies. While some individual NDP MLAs have self-identified as socialists, the reality is the new government has been quite moderate and even small-c conservative at times. Ms. Notley has become one of Canada’s strongest advocates for oil pipelines and the NDP even decreased the small business tax from 3 percent to 2 percent in the recent budget.

Days before last year’s election I asked the question, ‘how bad would Alberta’s conservatives need to screw up for Albertans to elect an NDP government.’ We found out on May 5, 2015.

The NDP had been elected in Alberta. Hell had frozen over.

On the morning of May 6, 2015, Albertans woke up to a new government and an unwelcome spring snowstorm. Today, as most Albertans focus on wildfires instead of politics, we can only hope for a repeat of that snowstorm to put an end to the fires ravaging Fort McMurray.


The governments of Alberta and Canada will be matching individual donations made to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal to help the people impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire. Click here to donate.

Premier Rachel Notley's expanded 17-member Alberta NDP cabinet.

Notley spreads out the workload in new expanded NDP cabinet

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew by six today as Premier Rachel Notley announced an early 2016 cabinet shuffle. These appointments bring the size of Alberta’s cabinet up to 19, which is larger than the initial 12 cabinet ministers appointed after the NDP won the 2015 election but is still the smallest Alberta cabinet in more than a decade.

It became clear in the NDP government’s first half year in office that it would be unrealistic to have such a small group be responsible for so many large government ministries. Because of this, it was widely suspected that the new government would wait until 2016 before deciding which backbench NDP MLAs were cabinet material.

Here are some of the changes made as a result of today’s cabinet shuffle.

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman retains her position as Minster of Health while also taking on the role of Deputy Premier. Ms. Hoffman has proven herself to be one of the strongest members of the provincial cabinet, so this promotion is not a surprise.

Calgary-Acadia MLA Brandy Payne will assist Ms. Hoffman as Associate Minister of Health, a position that has existed in the past.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson took a political beating during the Bill 6 farm safety law debates has been demoted from her role as Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Jobs, Skills and Labour. She is now Minister of Seniors and Housing.

Replacing Ms. Sigurdson are Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt as Minister of Advanced Education and Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray as Minister of Labour (no longer the Ministry of Jobs, Skills and Labour).

Ms. Gray is also Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, a role that coincides with her position as chairperson of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which is reviewing the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan has been appointed Minister of Indigenous Relations, which has been renamed from Aboriginal Relations.

Calgary-Cross MLA Ricardo Miranda, is now Minister of Culture and Tourism. He is also Alberta’s first openly gay cabinet minister.

Two new cabinet ministers, Ms. Payne and Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, who is Minister of Service Alberta and Status of Women, are pregnant and expecting to add new additions to their families in 2016.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier is now Deputy Government House Leader, a role he shares with Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous.

It is unclear whether Mr. Schmidt and Ms. McLean will continue in their roles from the previous Legislative session as Government Whip and Deputy Government Whip. It is expected that MLAs will choose a new Deputy Chair of Committees to replace Mr. Feehan as he moves into his new ministerial role when the Legislature returns on March 8, 2016.

A full list of the new cabinet can be found here.

New Climate Change Office

The cabinet shuffle also included the announcement that a new Climate Change Office has been created to help implement the government’s Climate Leadership Plan. The new office will report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016: Sarah Hoffman, Nathan Cooper, Deborah Drever, Greg Clark, Sandra Jansen, Deron Bilous, Danielle Larivee, Richard Starke, Shannon Phillips, and Prasad Panda.

A Rookie Crew: Eleven Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016

The past few years in Alberta politics have reminded us that politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a very tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choices of Premier Rachel Notley, Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Wildrose leader Brian Jean, here is a list of eleven Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2016.

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Deron Bilous faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan can work as the provincial economy faces declining international oil prices.

Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow): As leader of the one MLA Alberta Party opposition, Greg Clark is punching above his weight in getting media attention and working hard to position himself as a moderate conservative alternative to the NDP and Wildrose Parties. He was also the only opposition MLA to propose an alternative budget and climate change plan in 2015.

Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): With a detailed knowledge of Assembly rules and procedure, Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper will prove to be a valuable asset to the rookie Wildrose Caucus.

Deborah Drever (Calgary-Bow): Elected as a New Democrat and sent into legislative exile as an Independent after embarrassing social media posts were reported, she has been the target of relentless personal attacks by Wildrose MLAs and anonymous internet trolls. She has redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature. Expect Ms. Drever to be invited to rejoin the NDP caucus in 2016.

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): Probably the most high profile Wildrose MLA, Derek Fildebrandt is the loudest critic of the NDP government. But his hyper-partisan outbursts, including an embarassing fight with a Globe & Mail reporter and an angry tweet directed at the Assembly Speaker, are not necessarily the kind of attention his MLA colleagues are pleased to receive. Can he tone down the rhetoric and offer reasonable solutions and alternatives in 2016?

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): As Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman is well-spoken and smart as a fox. She can explain complex issues and spar with the opposition with ease. She is a contender for strongest member of Rachel Notley’s cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): Sandra Jansen is the voice of the moderate wing of the Progressive Conservative Party. She has publicly clashed with interim leader Ric McIver over his decision to endorse the federal Conservatives, and with Wildrose supporters over her decision to endorse Liberal candidates in the 2015 federal election. Her record as a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose would make her a candidate to watch in her party’s next leadership race.

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake): Appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta in a fall shuffle, Danielle Larivee has proven herself as a tough and well-spoken advocate. As one of the government’s point-people for the fumbled Bill 6 Farm Safety Bill, she demonstrated her toughness. A Registered Nurse, she is also co-chair of the government’s review of mental health services, which is expected to be released early in 2016.

Prasad Panda (Calgary-Foothills): When he won a Sept. 2015 by-election in Jim Prentice’s former constituency, he became the Wildrose Party’s only MLA from Calgary. He has been quite quiet since his win, but Mr. Panda’s performance as MLA over the coming years could determine how far his rural-based party might expand its presence in Alberta’s largest city.

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge West): Smart, passionate and a fierce partisan, Shannon Phillips impressed many with her calm and cool delivery of Alberta’s climate change plan ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference in Nov. 2015. As Environment and Parks Minister, she helped bring together oil industry leaders and environmental groups to endorse the province’s plan. Selling the plan and its carbon tax to Albertans over the next year will be a serious test of Ms. Phillips’ political skills.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): As a critic of Bill 6, Richard Starke took a more reasoned approach to criticizing the farm safety law and avoided the hysterical and negative reactions characteristic of his counterparts in the Official Opposition caucus. One of two remaining rural PC MLAs, he is said to be interested in making a bid for his party’s leadership.

Young Alberta MLA Under 30 Politics 2016

The Under 30s: Jon Carson, Michael Connolly, Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Thomas Dang, Trevor Horne, Anam Kazim, Stephanie McLean, and Graham Sucha.

The Under 30s: Another result of the massive turnover in the legislature last year was a significant drop in the average age of Alberta’s MLAs, from 53 to 40 years old. Among the newly elected younger MLAs are a handful who are under thirty-years old (including Ms. Drever, who is noted above).

While it is not uncommon to have one to two under-30s elected to the Assembly from time to time, I cannot remember a time when so many were elected at once. It is a refreshing change, as younger Albertans bring a very different perspective than the typical older, greyer elected representative.

There could be future cabinet ministers or party leaders in this group, so in 2016, I will be keeping an eye on Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Jon CarsonCalgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly, Sherwood Park-Strathcona MLA Estefania Cortes-VargasEdmonton-Southwest MLA Thomas Dang, Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Trevor HorneCalgary-Glenmore MLA Anam KazimCalgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.


Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 2015 and 2014.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci presents the Alberta NDP's first budget.

Sky does not fall as Alberta NDP presents its first budget

When Finance Minister Joe Ceci stood in the Legislature on Oct. 27 to deliver the Alberta NDP’s first budget, it marked the first time since 1972 that the budget was not tabled by a Progressive Conservative finance minister.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The first budget of Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP government includes a 15 percent increase in capital spending over the next five years, with a goal to create jobs and tackle the province’s aging and neglected hospitals, schools, roads and other public infrastructure.

The NDP budget includes modest increases and projected stable funding for health care, education, advanced education and human services – core services that Albertans depend on. This was a key component of the election platform that helped propel the NDP into government on May 5. The job creation and economic stimulus elements of the budget followed last week’s creation of an Economic Development and Trade portfolio, led by Edmonton MLA Deron Bilous.

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

Deron Bilous Edmonton Alberta MLA Minister

A projected $6.1 billion deficit in the NDP budget is larger than the $5 billion deficit presented in the Tory spring budget, which was tabled but never passed. But the Alberta government’s eighth consecutive deficit budget is “…hardly sky is falling territory,” wrote University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe in Maclean’s Magazine this week.

While not trivial, obviously, it is completely manageable. Alberta is fully able to handle it and no one need panic. It represents 1.8 per cent of the province’s GDP, which is fairly small, as far as some deficits go,” Dr. Tombe wrote.

The NDP government will borrow to pay for parts of its operations budget starting next year, which will hopefully be a short-term move. Decades of bad financial management and poor long-term planning by the previous conservative government has exacerbated the provincial government’s current fiscal situation. The PCs simply became too comfortable and dependent on unreliable revenue from natural resource royalties to fund the province’s operations budget.

Jim Prentice Alberta Premier

Jim Prentice

Mr. Ceci also announced that the government would legislate a debt ceiling of 15 percent debt-to-GDP in order to hold off a risk of credit downgrades and higher debt service costs.

Former premier Jim Prentice was correct last year when he warned about getting “off the royalty roller coaster.” The Alberta government faces serious revenue problems and moving Alberta away from its over dependence on resource revenue will be a significant test of Ms. Notley’s first term in government.

Any plan to deal with the revenue problem will likely come after the government receives a much anticipated report from the royalty review panel chaired by ATB President and CEO Dave Mowat. The panel is expected to finalize its recommendations by the end of the year. But it will not be enough to simply wait for the international price of oil to rise again. Albertans need to have a serious conversation about revenue and taxation, including the potential introduction of a provincial sales tax.

Derek Fildebrandt Alberta Taxpayers

Derek Fildebrandt

To no ones surprise, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean and finance critic Derek Fildebrandt responded to the NDP budget with outrage and a message filled with apocalyptic rhetoric.

Mr. Jean’s post-budget press conference was somewhat overshadowed by Mr. Fildebrandt’s bizarre decision to refuse to answer a question from Globe & Mail reporter Carrie Tait (see the ~8:50 mark in this video). Mr. Fildebrandt is sour from a recent interview Ms. Tait published in which she quotes him as claiming the NDP duped Alberta voters by actually implementing promises made during the election (and he later referred to Ms. Tait as a b-list reporter and accused her of auditioning for a job in the Premier’s Office – a comment he later retracted).

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A joint opinion-editorial written by Wildrose MLAs Rick Strankman (Drumheller-Stettler), Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner), and Don MacIntyre (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake) and Dave Schneider (Little Bow) and circulated to rural weekly newspapers in September 2015 provides some sense of how that party would approach provincial budgeting if elected to government:

“When governments borrow and spend, there’s no marketable asset. There’s only debt. It’s like using a credit card to buy pizza. Even when governments borrow to spend on bridges and highways rather than programs, the debt is still not connected to a marketable asset. It’s a liability. Mortgages can be liquidated. Houses can be sold. Who buys used government bridges and worn-out highways?”

This is a crude ideological approach to public governance. Using capital financing to pay for the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, bridges and roads is nothing like using a credit card to buy a pizza.

The Alberta NDP’s first provincial budget is sensible and reflects the thoughtful approach that has defined the first six months of Ms. Notley’s tenure as Alberta’s Premier. Rather than follow a disastrous road taken by some of her predecessors, and slash funding to government services while the price of oil is low, the NDP government is taking an opportunity to invest in much needed public infrastructure when the economy is slow and the price is right. It’s not a brand new approach in Alberta politics, but it is refreshing to see a government focus on building rather than tearing down.

Danielle Larivee Rachel Notley Deron Bilous

Notley creates Economic Development ministry, appoints rural Municipal Affairs minister

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew from twelve to thirteen today with the appointment of Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee to the posts of Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.

Ms. Larivee takes over those roles from Deron Bilous. Mr. Bilous, one of the four NDP MLAs elected before this year’s orange chinook swept across Alberta, is now the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, a new department created from elements of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation and International and Intergovernmental Affairs.

With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table the provincial budget in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 27, the creation of this new ministry is meant to send a message about the importance of job creation and economic diversification. It was announced today that the budget will also include an “economic development plan” that will help provide some direction for this initiative.

The provincial budget is expected to include significant investment in public infrastructure and job creation projects to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by the drop in the international price of oil.

Calgary No Longer the Centre of Alberta’s Political Universe

The appointment of a rural northern Alberta MLA to cabinet has already generated complaints from some Calgary-based pundits. Only four of thirteen cabinet ministers represent constituencies south of Edmonton, including Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Over the course of its 44 years in power, the old Progressive Conservative government was led by Calgarians for more than three decades – Premiers Peter Lougheed (1971 to 1985), Ralph Klein (1992 to 2006), Alison Redford (2011-2014) and Jim Prentice (2014-2015).

It is suspected that former Alderman Bob Hawkesworth would have been appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs if he had won a September by-election in the Calgary-Foothills riding. If this is true, Calgarians can rightfully ask why one of the other eleven NDP MLAs in Calgary wasn’t appointed to cabinet. But they would be mistaken to believe they are the only group the provincial government is trying to represent.

As an MLA representing a large rural constituency, Ms. Larivee’s appointment to the Municipal Affairs post is more likely a tip of the hat to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. An incredibly well-connected lobby group during the PC Party’s time in power, the AAMDC has found itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

The group was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many of its officials have used the group as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former cabinet minister Jack Hayden).

As a registered nurse who worked in a community health care setting, Ms. Larivee will understand some of the challenges facing the rural and remote communities represented by the AAMDC. It just so happens that Ms. Larivee’s new job starts a month before her first large event as minister – the AAMDC’s annual general meeting on November 17 and 18.


Alberta’s New Cabinet

Rachel Notley (Edmonton-Strathcona) – Premier

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) – Economic Development and Trade

Oneil Carlier (Whitecourt-Ste. Anne) – Agriculture and Forestry

Joe Ceci (Calgary-Fort) – Finance and Treasury Board President

David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) — Education and Culture and Tourism

Kathleen Ganley (Calgary-Buffalo) Justice and Aboriginal Affairs

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton Glenora)— Health and Seniors

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake) – Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta

Brian Mason (Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood) –  Infrastructure and Transportation

Margaret Mccuaig-Boyd (Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley) – Energy

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge-West) – Environment and Parks and Status of Women

Irfan Sabir (Calgary-McCall) – Human Services.

Lori Sigurdson (Edmonton-Riverview) – Advanced Education, and Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour

Deron Bilous Payday Loans Alberta

Guest Post: How the Alberta government can reform Payday Loan rules

There are differing opinions on payday loans and the government of Alberta wants to hear yours. One thing is certain though, they are extremely expensive and targeted at Albertans living in poverty.

For many Albertans who need quick cash a payday loan may appear to be the only or best option. Seldom is this the case. On the face of it, it looks like a quick way out. This is exactly how the loans are marketed: quick cash with the loan being done and over with after two weeks. In reality this is not how it works. The average borrower takes out 8 loans before exiting the cycle.

Last week Service Alberta Minister, Deron Bilous, announced a regulatory review of payday lending. The review, expected to last through the fall, has started with an online survey, available until October 28. After Service Alberta analyzes the results they will lead in person consultations with lenders, borrowers, and other stakeholders to determine the path forward for regulation.

Payday loans are loans of less than $1500 with a term of less than 62 days. The average loan is $300 over 14 days. In Alberta, lenders can charge up to $23 for every $100 borrowed over the loan period.

This may look like a 23 percent interest rate, it’s not. It’s 23 percent for that two week term. In Canada, we compare the cost of financial products through the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) or annual interest. The APR on the average payday loan? 600 percent. Compare that to your credit card at 18 percent or car loan at 5 percent. No matter how you slice it payday loans are an incredibly expensive way to borrow money.

The people who go to a payday lender are largely the working poor but many borrowers could be receiving government benefits like Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or Income Support. Bottom line: The people who can least afford credit are paying the most to access it. Income support dollars could be going to pay for payday loan interest. In Calgary, there are 82 payday loan stores, 69 of them are in high poverty areas of the city. Payday lenders know their target market.

So what can improve the regulations? Lowering the interest rates would be a start. Alberta has the second highest allowable rates in the country ($23 per $100). Manitoba charges only $17 per $100. This reduces the cost to the borrower but interest rates remain in the triple digits.

Another option is to mandate installment payments on payday loans. Currently, the full amount of the loan must be repaid in one payment. For many this means giving up the majority of their paycheque and taking out a new payday loan immediately to tide over the shortfall. Installment payments would allow for people to repay the loan over a longer period of time and so that payments take up less of their paycheque. This reduces the need for immediate re-borrowing.

What Alberta should not do is ban payday lenders outright. In the 14 American states where payday loans are illegal there is an unregulated industry of lenders who charge even higher rates. Not only this but choking off the supply of short-term, small dollar credit does not diminish the demand. Demand must also be addressed through competing products with reasonable rates of interest. This is already being done in Calgary with Momentum and First Calgary Financial offering a competing product to a payday loan, known as the Cash Crunch loan, which offers credit at a 12 percent annual interest rate.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what the provincial government can do to better protect consumers and regulate this industry. It is not only up to the provincial government to regulate this industry. Municipalities can regulate this industry through land use and licensing tools available to them. Calgary is already pursuing this, other municipalities can and have jumped on board, but not yet Edmonton.

Learn more about the high costs of payday loans, and policy options, here. Take the survey and let the Government of Alberta know what you think of payday loans.

Mike Brown is Public Policy Coordinator at Momentum, a non-profit Community Economic Development organization in Calgary. His work includes research and writing on developing a poverty reduction strategy for Alberta and research into payday loans and predatory lending reform in Alberta.