Tag Archives: Diana McQueen

Ghosts of the Progressive Conservative Party's 44-year long reign continue to haunt Alberta politics.

7 Conservatives scandals that still haunt Alberta politics

After forty-four years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, it still feels surreal to believe that another party has been elected into government. Two and a half months after the NDP victory, Premier Rachel Notley is putting her stamp on Alberta politics. But Alberta’s new government is left to deal with some of the more unhelpful legacies created by the previous government. Here is a look at a few of the Progressive Conservative scandals that continue to haunt Alberta politics.

Funeral Homes

CBC reports that it has obtained documents showing how the Alberta Funeral Service Association pressured former minister Jonathan Denis and the Department of Justice to reopen a contract and abandon earlier efforts to control spending. CBC reports the contract was reopened and revised against the advice of a government lawyer and chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau.

Kananaskis Golf Course

Alberta’s auditor general is reviewing a controversial contract between the government and a private company operating a publicly-owned Kananaskis golf course. During this year’s election, NDP MLA Brian Mason asked the auditor general to investigate why the government paid $9.3 million to the company, which is known to have connections to the PC Party. The golf course has been closed since the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who chairs the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, has said he hopes to compel former PC cabinet ministers, including Diana McQueen, to appear at a committee meeting. Critics have criticized the 1983 contract as a “sweetheart deal.”

Airplane sale

The rushed sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes led to a $5 million loss for Albertans. This contradicts claims by former PC premier Jim Prentice that the sale of the planes netted $6.1 million for the government. The planes were sold after Ms. Redford and PC MLAs faced harsh criticism for alleged misuse of the government air fleet for personal and partisan activities.

Public Sector Pensions

Alberta public sector pension liabilities dropped by more than $400 million last year, suggesting evidence that changes planned to the funds by former premier Alison Redford and finance minister Doug Horner were not necessary. The attacks on public sector pensions alienated thousands of public sector workers in Alberta, many who voted for Ms. Redford’s PC Party in the 2012 election. The PC government’s planned changes to the pension plan were scrapped after Ms. Redford resigned as premier in early 2014.

Cowboy welfare

The auditor general reported that the government has been forgoing an estimated $25 million in annual revenue by not limiting surface rights compensation paid by the energy companies to holders of provincial grazing leases. The report states the province does not track which leases have oil and gas activity on them or how much was paid to the leaseholders for access to the natural resources.

“Current legislation allows an unquantified amount of personal financial benefit to some leaseholders over and above the benefits of grazing livestock on public land,” the report says.

Previous attempts to change the law governing the leases met fierce opposition from rural leaseholders, including a posse of sixty cowboys on horseback who tried to block premier Ralph Klein from visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 1999.

Carbon Capture and Storage

The government’s large investments in carbon capture and storage development has not paid off, according to a July 2014 report from the auditor general. Marketed as a key piece of the PC government’s climate change plan, the auditor general reported that “with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.”

The NDP pledged to end the carbon capture contracts and instead reinvest hundreds of millions of dollars into public transit programs, but high cost of cancelling binding contracts with private sector corporations developing the projects could solidify this PC legacy.

Heritage Fund

When premier Peter Lougheed created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976, the government dedicated 30% of annual revenues into the rainy day fund “to save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy, and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.” The PC government halted non-renewable resource transfers to the fund in 1987, when it was worth $12.7 billion. Investments into the fund were only started again in 2004.

Despite Alberta’s immense natural wealth, the fund is now only worth an estimated $17.4 billion.

Alberta Politics Roundup – Eve of Fall Sitting

Alberta Legislative Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta Tories hold the World’s Most Boring Leadership Race

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver

Yaaawwwnn… Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

In 53 days, members of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party will vote to choose their next leader and the next Premier of Alberta.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, where Albertans of all political-inclinations were excited to participate in the vote to directly choose the next Leader of the Natural Governing Party, there does not appear to be any sign of overwhelming interest in 2014. This year’s PC leadership race, held less than three years since the last one, appears to be far away from the minds of most Albertans.

The overwhelming perception that former federal politician and bank executive Jim Prentice is the sure-bet in the race has certainly contributed to the disinterest. Mr. Prentice’s campaign has the backing of the party’s powerful establishment and boasts a long-list of MLA endorsements – 49 of 59 PC MLAs, including recent additions St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan, Tourism minister Richard Starke and Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen.

With their party lagging behind the Wildrose (and the NDP) in some polls, PC MLAs are nervous that a divisive leadership race will further damage their party.

Mr. Prentice’s campaign succeeded early in the race in chasing away his most serious potential rivals, like Finance minister Doug Horner, current Energy minister Diana McQueen and former Energy minister Ken Hughes, out of the race. He now faces former cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk, who have no support in the caucus (other than themselves).

On the ideas front, there has not been much to discuss. Two months after Mr. Prentice entered the leadership race, it still remains unclear what he stands for. He speaks in vague generalizations about “keeping Alberta strong,” “pursuing commons sense policies,” “global markets and long-term capital investment” and “an end to sweet heart government contracts for political staff,” but provides little detail.

Unlike the 2011 leadership contest, during which the PC Party organized public forums in each region of the province, there are no public debates scheduled for this contest. The lack of public venues for the candidates to engage with each other has made Mr. Prentice’s low-risk front-runner campaign hard to beat.

And without any public debates, there is little opportunity for PC Party members or any interested members of the general public to challenge the candidates into providing more details about what they would do as premier.

While two years of embarrassment and scandal have seriously damaged the reputation of the 43-year old government, the PC Party is still the party in power and will sell a lot of memberships. But the key number will be how many of these members actually vote in the leadership selection (144,289 voted in 2006 and 78,176 voted in 2011).

Unlike previous races, where anyone could show up on the day of the vote and buy a membership, this year’s vote will be held online and memberships sales will be cut off 36 hours before the vote is held.

Any voter apathy around Mr. Prentice’s front-runner status could help his opponents. However unlikely, it is not impossible to foresee a scenario where one of his opponents could capitalize on perception that Mr. Prentice’s win is a forgone conclusion. A low-voter turnout on the September 6 first ballot vote could actually help another candidate with a more motivated base of support.

Mr. McIver’s reputation as Calgary’s Dr. No still carries some cache among Calgary conservatives. And, despite condemnations from media columnists and liberals, his association with Calgary Street Church and the March for Jesus could have actually solidified his support among social conservatives (who have the motivation to vote).

Some political watchers suspect that the PC Party is purposely downplaying the leadership race, and there may be truth to this. The establishment of the long-governing party is eager to avoid any controversy that would result in the defeat of the establishment’s chosen candidate, like happened in 1992, 2006 and 2011.

So, while we may spend the next 53 days watching a leadership race devoid of excitement and substance, we can only hope that this boring leadership race produce some interesting results.

Tories invite Mike Allen back in, Wildrose show Joe Anglin the door

Mike Allen Jim Prentice Fort McMurray MLA

Alberta PC MLAs voted to invite Independent MLA Mike Allen back into the government caucus after a year in the opposition benches.

Progressive Conservative MLAs have voted to extend an invitation to Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen to rejoin their caucus. A relatively popular first-term politician in his constituency who many watchers believe will still do well in the next election (as an PC or an Independent), Mr. Allen left the PC caucus after he was arrested while trying to hire two prostitutes in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Mr. Allen, the prostitutes happened to be police officers.

Police said he answered an online ad placed by undercover police, agreeing to pay two women $200 for sex. He was arrested and charged with a gross misdemeanour but pleaded guilty in December to a lesser misdemeanour of trying to hire prostitutes. He was fined $500, ordered to pay another $500 in court fees and sentenced to one-year of probation. His probation expires Dec. 18. (Edmonton Journal)

From a jail cell in Minnesota in July 2013 Mr. Allen did not deny the allegations, he admitted to his mistakes and voluntarily resigned from the PC caucus. As for his readmission into government, perhaps the MLAs in the PC caucus believe that one-year banishment into the opposition benches was punishment enough for Mr. Allen’s indiscretions.

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Joe Anglin

Joe Anglin Out
What is Joe Anglin to do? After losing the Wildrose Party nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre last weekend, some political watchers have speculated that he might join the Alberta Party, others believe he could run as an Independent candidate in the next election. He has yet to let his intentions known.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith cheekily suggested he should run in Edmonton, which would be akin to Stephen Harper saying Rob Anders should run for re-election in Toronto. A one man wolf pack, Mr. Anglin is a liability for any party in the rigid system of party discipline that exists in our political system. And the closer a party gets to power, like the Wildrose is, the more rigid they become with their MLAs and candidates.

Is it uncommon for incumbent politicians to lose party nomination races? In Alberta, yes. In fact, there are only a handful of examples I can remember from recent history in Alberta politics:

Carl Benito MLA Edmonton Mill Woods

Carl Benito

– First-term MLA Carl Benito was defeated by Sohail Quadri in the Progressive Conservative nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods in 2012, Mr. Benito ran as an Independent in that year’s election. He placed fifth of six candidates with 480 votes (3.9%).

– PC MLA Art Johnston lost two nominations in advance of the 2012 election – to Rick Fraser in Calgary-South East and Ric McIver in Calgary-Hays. Mr. Johnston retired from politics after the election was held.

– Then-Leduc mayor George Rogers upset two-term MLA Albert Klapstein in the PC nomination in Leduc before the 2004 election. Mr. Klapstein retired from politics after the election was held.

– Two-term MLA Tony Abbott was defeated for the PC nomination in Drayton Valley-Calmar by then-Drayton Valley mayor Diana McQueen before the 2008 election. Mr. Abbott retired rather than run for another party or as an Independent.

New Licence Plates
Albertans are living with flooding hospitals, overcrowded schools and a cash-strapped legal aid system, but a new licence plate design is a government priority? Premier Dave Hancock announced changes to Alberta’s licence plates at a press conference today, including the removal of the long-time slogan ‘Wild Rose Country‘ from the plates. Recent polls suggest that the current slogan is accurate.

Anglin for a fight (and more nomination updates)

Joe Anglin

Joe Anglin

Alleged death threats, implied bribes, constituency association ambushes and supposed Progressive Conservative Party skulduggery,” is how a Red Deer Advocate report described the unexpectedly interesting Wildrose Party nomination in the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency.

First-term MLA Joe Anglin is being challenged for his nomination by former local Wildrose president Jason Nixon.

Mr. Anglin is long-time rabble-rouser who set the political landscape on fire by organizing mass opposition to the construction of electrical transmission lines through vast swaths of central Alberta. Briefly the leader of Alberta’s Greens, he grabbed the Wildrose nomination before the 2012 election and unseated six-term PC MLA Ty Lund, who was first elected to political office in the region in 1980.

The story was  first reported by AlbertaDiary.ca and the Rimbey Review.

Twelve of the Wildrose Party’s seventeen MLAs have been nominated as candidates in the next election and a handful of 2012 Wildrose candidates were also nominated: Richard Jones in Calgary-Acadia, Jeremy Nixon in Calgary-Klein, Wayne Anderson in Calgary-Hays, and Kelly Hudson in Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley.

Jackie Lovely Wildrose Leduc Beaumnot

Jackie Lovely

Leduc-Beaumont
The Wildrose nomination in the riding immediately south of Edmonton is shaping up to be a race. The contest already has attracted three candidates and more are expected to enter the race.

First to enter the race is Patrick Kobly, son of former Beaumont mayor Ken Kobly and fiancee of Nicky Walker, chief of staff to Independent MLAs Mike Allen and Len Webber.

Jackie Lovely, a former Wildrose Caucus staffer and past president of the Summerside Community League, is also seeking the nomination in Leduc-Beaumont. Ms. Lovely ran for the Wildrose Party in Edmonton-Ellerslie in the 2012 election, placing second behind PC MLA Naresh Bhardwaj, earning 3,249 votes (24% of the vote).

Ironworker Joel Hamilton is running for the Wildrose nomination in Leduc-Beaumont and has declared on his Facebook page that he “will fight Edmonton’s Annexation of Nisku, the Airport and of the Beaumont expansion area.”

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP

Rod Loyola

Calgary-Elbow
Retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Elbow. It is expected that current Progressive Conservative MLA and former Premier Alison Redford could resign to allow Jim Prentice to run in a by-election shortly after he wins the PC leadership race in September.

Drayton Valley-Devon
Daniel Walton, owner of the Easyford meat packing company, is seeking the Wildrose nomination. This was one of the few rural constituencies where the PC candidate earned a majority of the votes cast in the 2012 election. PC MLA Diana McQueen was elected for a second term with 51.6% of the vote.

Edmonton-Ellerslie
Rod Loyola was nominated as the NDP candidate in this southeast Edmonton constituency. Mr. Loyola is the president of the University of Alberta Non-Academic Staff Association and was the 2012 NDP candidate in this riding. He earned 2,115 votes (16%) in that election.

Laura Thibert Wildrose Edmonton Mill Woods

Laura Thibert

Edmonton-Mill Woods
Laura Thibert, Edmonton Catholic School District trustee announced on Twitter that she will seek the Wildrose nomination in Edmonton-Mill Woods. Ms. Thibert was first elected in 2010 and was re-elected in 2013 with 47% of the vote.

Edmonton-South West
Tim Grover is seeking the Wildrose nomination. A business consultant, Mr. Grover was the Get Out The Vote chairman for Karen Leibovici’s mayoral campaign in 2013.

Lethbridge-West
The NDP nominated researcher Shannon Phillips as their candidate in Lethbridge-West. The NDP hope that with some hard work Ms. Phillips can build on her 2012 results, when she boosted her party’s support to 29%, up from 10% in the 2008 election. Those 2012 results placed Ms. Phillips ahead of the Wildrose candidate and just over 1,000 votes behind PC MLA Greg Weadick.

Sherwood Park
Former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk was nominated as the Wildrose candidate in Sherwood Park. Ms. Osinchuk was first elected mayor in 2010, defeating incumbent mayor Cathy Oleson, who is now the PC MLA for Sherwood Park.

I am maintaining an updated list of candidates seeking party nominations to stand in Alberta’s next provincial election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if there are additions to the list.

And then there were three (white men)

2014 PC Leadership Race Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk Jim Prentice Ric McIver

Alberta PC Party leadership candidates Thomas Luksazuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice.

As the deadline for candidates to enter their names (and $50,000 fee) in the contest to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association came to a close yesterday, three politicians have put forward their names – bank vice-president and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and former provincial cabinet ministers Ric McIver and Thomas Lukaszuk.

A quick glance at the names of the three candidates confirms that no women or visible minorities have entered the race to fill the position vacated by Alberta’s first woman premier, Alison Redford, who was pushed out of office only a few short months ago. A few woman candidates were rumoured to be interested, but the most high profile of those rumoured, Energy minister Diana McQueen, declined to run, choosing instead to endorse Mr. Prentice.

While Canada reached a high-water mark in recent years, with women occupying the premiers office in six provinces and territories, the number has plummeted after recent elections. Today, only British Columbia and Ontario have women premiers (and Ontario voters will decide the fate of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals on June 12, 2014).

Alberta could once again enter this category if Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith leads her Wildrose Party to win the next election. Edmonton MLA Rachel Notley is said to be considering a run for the Alberta NDP leadership and some say she would become an instant front-runner if she enters the race.

All three PC leadership candidates have cut their political teeth in Alberta’s largest cities. Mr. Prentice was the Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre North from 2004 to 2010, Mr. McIver as a Calgary MLA, former Alderman and mayoral candidate, and Mr. Lukaszuk as the MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs since 2001.

The presence of three urban candidates signals both the growing political importance of the province’s two largest cities (and the urban agenda’s put forward by popular mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi) and the PC Party’s weakness in rural Alberta.

Not having a candidate from rural Alberta is embarrassing for the 43-year governing party. Once almost universally dominated by PC MLAs, the Tories have seen their support plummet in rural and small-town Alberta over the past four years. In the last election, many PC MLAs, including a some senior cabinet ministers, were handily defeated by Wildrose candidates in rural constituencies that had voted enmasse for the PC Party for more than three decades.

This is also the smallest number of candidates to participate in a PC leadership race since the party chose Don Getty as leader in 1985. In 1992, there were 9 candidates; in 2006 there were 8 and the 2011 leadership race attracted 6 candidates.

The small-number of candidates is a testament of the internal turmoil in the PC Party following the coup d’etat that caused Ms. Redford’s departure and the strength of Mr. Prentice’s campaign. Whether it is perceived or real, the ‘Team Prentice’ brand quickly drew the support of more than twenty PC MLAs and an army of party insiders and political consultants.

Unlike the deflated front-runners in previous PC leadership campaigns – Jim Dinning and Gary Mar – Mr. Prentice has succeeded in scaring away most of his credible potential challengers. Whether he suffers the same fate as these former ‘front-runners’, who were later defeated by underdogs, is yet to be seen.

The challenge for the three candidates will be to generate interest in a campaign that already feels like it is a forgone conclusion (a victory by Mr. Prentice). A big question is whether the any of the candidates in this race will be compelling enough to convince those thousands of ‘two-minute Tories‘ to lend them their votes.

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

MLA endorsements in the 2014 Alberta PC leadership race. Blue: Jim Prentice; Red: Ric McIver; White: No endorsement; Grey: Opposition-held riding

In party leadership races, endorsements by sitting MLAs can be a double-edged sword. Endorsements can lend credibility to candidates and individual MLAs own local political networks to the campaign. Large numbers of endorsements can also signal to rank and file party members where their party’s establishment is lining up.

But MLA endorsements are not always a solid indicator of who will win a party leadership vote. In 2006, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning had the support of the majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Ed Stelmach. In 2011, Gary Mar had the support of a majority of PC MLAs, but he was defeated by Alison Redford.

In this year’s Alberta PC Party leadership race, bank vice-president Jim Prentice has the overwhelming lead in MLA endorsements. As of today, I count at least 15 PC MLAs who have lent their names to support his campaign to become their leader. More are expected to endorse Mr. Prentice:

MLA’s endorsing Mr. Prentice’s bid for the PC leadership are Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway), Neil Brown (Calgary-Nose Hill), Robin Campbell (West Yellowhead), Alana DeLong (Calgary-Bow), Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia), David Dorward (Edmonton-Gold Bar), Kyle Fawcett (Calgary-Klein), Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright), Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford) Ken Hughes (Calgary-West), Jeff Johnson (Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater), Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon), Dave Rodney (Calgary-Lougheed), George Rogers (Leduc-Beaumont), Greg Weadick (Lethbridge-West).

The only other candidate to enter the leadership race, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, has no declared support from inside the PC caucus. Thomas Lukaszuk, who is expected to enter the contest, also has yet to receive any MLA endorsements.

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan and Banff-Cochrane MLA Ron Casey endorsed the short-lived leadership campaign of Ken Hughes, who is now endorsing Mr. Prentice.

I will be tracking the list of PC MLA endorsements on the 2014 Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest page.

Is the Jim Prentice Juggernaut unstoppable?

Jim Prentice Alberta Juggernaut

Is Jim Prentice’s campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives unstoppable?

He is a leadership candidate backed by long-governing party establishment. He has chased away his potential rivals. He has experience in both the federal cabinet and the corporate sector. He is a respected party insider. He has a track record as a moderate conservative and can raise significant amounts of money for his party. The establishment sees him as the only person who can lead them to electoral victory against their aggressive opposition challengers.

His name is Paul Martin and it’s 2003.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership

Jim Prentice

It has become inreasingly easy to draw parallels between the ill-fated Dauphin of the federal Liberal Party and expected coronation of Jim Prentice in September’s Progressive Conservative leadership vote.

Like Mr. Martin, expectations for Mr. Prentice among the PC establishment are very high. And without having even officially entered the contest or releasing any policy positions or vision for Alberta, his strange shadow campaign has succeeded in chasing away some of his strongest potential rivals by giving the impression that he too strong to fail.

Cabinet ministers Doug Horner, Diana McQueen, Jonathan Denis and retired Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel have all decided against running. And Ken Hughes, who only entered the race a short time ago, has already dropped out and endorsed the front-runner.

Paul Martin Jim Prentice Alberta

Paul Martin

Challenger Ric McIver claims that Mr. Prentice’s supporters have urged him to drop out of the race, but insists he will remain the fray. Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as Alison Redford’s deputy premier and budget slashing minister of Advanced Education, remains rumoured to be mulling a run for the leadership.

Pressure from Mr. Prentice’s campaign, the steep $50,000 entry fee and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to run a leadership campaign have likely scared away potential serious candidates.

Curse of the front-runner
An advantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. A disadvantage of being a frontrunner is that it becomes easy to collect endorsements. As PC MLAs trip over themselves in their rush to endorse Mr. Prentice, it will become increasingly difficult for the new leader to weed out the incompetent or redundant members of his caucus in the next election.

If he becomes leader, one of Mr. Prentice’s biggest challenges will be to increase the PC caucus bench strength by recruiting competent and credible candidates to run. This will require significant retirements, resignations, or nomination battles before the next election.

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

Prentice Money
Like Mr. Martin, Mr. Prentice has proven he can raise a lot of money and fill a hall with people whose companies are willing to spend $500 a ticket to influence government, but can he resonate among regular voters? Raising money has never been a serious long-term problem for the PC Party. Their problem has become the existence of another party who can raise the same or more money than they can.

Prentice Co-Chairs
It was announced this week that former British Columbia Member of Parliament Jay Hill, Edmonton campaign strategist Patricia Mitsuka, and Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar will serve as Mr. Prentice’s three campaign co-chairs. A fourth co-chair is expected to be announced at a later date.

Prentice stumbles to “unite the right” fight
Strange moves to unite the right, as Wildrose leader Danielle Smith claims she or one of her staffers were contacted by someone from Mr. Prentice’s campaign to discuss a merger. A spokesperson for Mr. Prentice’s not yet official campaign denies Ms. Smith’s claims, but it is difficult to believe the Wildrose leader is simply making this up.

If this is true, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Prentice’s campaign would make such a move. While his supporters see him as a White Knight, he will be inheriting a long-governing political party that is mired in controversy. Perhaps this move is a glimpse of how concerned the PC establishment is about the very real threat of defeat by the Wildrose in the next election?

Nominations open today
Starting today, PC Party leadership candidates can pick up their nomination forms and pay the $20,000 of their $50,000 entry fee. The candidates will need to submit their completed nomination forms on May 30 along with the remaining $30,000 entry fee. The approved candidates will be showcased at a $75 per ticket PC Party fundraiser on June 2 in Edmonton.

The All-Calgarian PC Party leadership race

Ric McIver Alberta PC Leadership Race

Ric McIver

Another Calgarian has entered what has been, at least so far, an all-Calgarian Progressive Conservative leadership race.

Announcing his candidacy in the contest to become the next PC Party leader and premier, former Infrastructure minister Ric McIver declared he would bring a “common-sense new approach to replace insider, establishment thinking, with new common-sense thinking.”

The first-term MLA and former three-term Calgary Alderman brandishes a rhetorical brand of meat and potatoes conservative populism not seen in a PC Party leadership race for some time. Mr. McIver’s style may be reminiscent of former Premier Ralph Klein, but can the dated “common-sense conservative” message resonate with PC Party members in 2014?

Ken Boessenkool

Ken Boessenkool

Despite serving as a senior cabinet minister in Premier Alison Redford’s government for two years, he appears to be running against the controversial record of the previous premier. This is probably not a bad strategy for a party with a track record of denying victories to candidates seen as too close to the “party establishment.”

Mr. McIver has tapped Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool as his campaign manager. Mr. Boessenkool is the former chief of staff to British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark and briefly served as the spokesperson for the “Alberta Blue Committee.”

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership

Jim Prentice

Unanswered questions remain about Mr. McIver’s role in the Skypalace – a penthouse suite that was secretly being constructed for Ms. Redford in the Federal Building. Mr. McIver claims he cancelled the construction project, but the same claim was made by his predecessor, Wayne Drysdale.

Meanwhile, front-runner Jim Prentice has yet to officially announce he will be entering the race and is already gaining support among PC MLAs. Mr. Prentice has the endorsements of Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullar, Education minister Jeff Johnson, Flood Recovery minister Kyle Fawcett, Municipal Affairs minister Greg Weadick and backbench MLA Neil Brown. It is rumoured that he could soon receive the endorsement of Finance minister Doug Horner, who will make clear his own political intentions on Friday.

Former Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes was the first Calgarian to enter the race. Non-Calgarians, including Labour minister Thomas Luksazuk (from Edmonton) and Energy minister Diana McQueen (from Drayton Valley) are also rumoured to considering their entry into the contest.

While rivalries between regions in Alberta are less relevant than they were twenty or thirty years ago, a leadership race gives a political party an opportunity to demonstrate its strength and support across the entire province. After losing ground in its traditional rural strongholds in the last election, a lack of regional diversity among the candidates would present a challenge to a PC Party struggling with internal strife and Alberta’s growing population.

Insiders will pretend to be outsiders in the PC leadership race

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is not running for the PC Party leadership

Former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel announced yesterday that he will not run for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. Mr. Mandel was seen as a great hope by many Edmonton Tories, who believed him to be the outsider who could breath some fresh air into the stuffy corridors of the Alberta Legislature. Mr. Mandel would have been 70-years old by the time the next election would be called.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Leadership

Jim Prentice

Former cabinet minister Gary Mar has ruled himself out as a candidate, as has former Finance minister Jim Dinning. Conservative MP James Rajotte is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but it seems unlikely. Senator Scott Tannas briefly expressed interest, but has since declined.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice is frequently mention as a contender, but is he willing to abandon his high-paying job on Bay Street, and a chance at becoming Prime Minister? Why would Mr. Prentice want lead a provincial political party that is scandal-ridden and behind the times on fundamental social policy issues?

With the obvious outsiders sitting out, this leadership race could end up being a contest defined by insiders pretending they are outsiders.

Announcing his bid last week, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes is the first candidate to enter the contest. He launched his campaign by positioning himself as a political outsider, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

The former MP and chairman of Alberta Health Services served on Premier Alison Redford‘s transition team before he jumped back into electoral politics in 2011. Running for the PC nomination in Calgary-West, Mr. Hughes lost and then won a subsequent vote against former MLA Shiraz Shariff. Upon his election, he was immediately appointed Minister of Energy, one of the most coveted positions in cabinet.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

If Finance minister Doug Horner is going to run for the leadership, which may not a certainty, he is expected to wait until after the provincial budget is passed before resigning from cabinet. Mr. Horner’s support for controversial changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plan, which could negatively impact the retirement security of more than 300,000 Albertans, will certainly dog him during the campaign.

Currently scheduled to break on June 5, Premier Dave Hancock suggested this week the spring session of the Assembly might be cut short before May 15. That also happens to be the first day that candidates for the PC Party leadership can pick up their nomination packages and pay $20,000 of the $50,000 entry fee. Nominations close on May 30 and accepted nominees will be announced at a party event on June 2.

Ending the session early would also save the Tories from an embarrassing two weeks of having to dodge tough questions from the Wildrose Party about Ms. Redford’s travel expenses and Alberta Health Services’ $1 billion in untendered sole source contracts. Other than Mr. Horner’s provincial budget and two pension bills, the PCs have brought almost no substance to this session.

Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be preparing a run for the leadership include Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Energy minister Diana McQueen, and Infrastructure minister Ric McIver. Of this group, perhaps only Mr. McIver, a first-term MLA and former Calgary alderman, could realistically argue he is an outsider.

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Union donations in Alberta
Labour unions traditionally make up a small percentage of donors to Alberta’s political parties, and when they donate, it is typically to one party in particular.

According to financial disclosures from Elections Alberta, the large majority of political donations made by trade unions in the first quarter of 2014 were made to the Progressive Conservatives, with more than $18,000. The province’s social democratic NDP, the traditional party of organized labour, collected slightly more $6,100 in union donations in the same period.

Rejection of Gay-Straight Alliances motion shows some Alberta MLAs need a reality check

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

It was a simple motion introduced on the floor of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on April 7, 2014 that would help create safer environments for students in schools. Nineteen Liberal, New Democrat, and Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the motion, but it failed after 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs stood up and voted against it.

Kent Hehr MLA Calgary-Buffalo

Kent Hehr

Motion 503, introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was not a piece of binding legislation, it was a symbolic message of that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, can be welcomed and accepted in Alberta’s education system.

Creating safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGBTQ youth who may face discrimination in and outside of school, should be something that is encouraged by MLAs.

Mr. Hehr’s motion undoubtably would have made some social conservatives uncomfortable, but it would have ultimately helped drag some of Alberta’s more stodgy school boards into the 21st century. The motion would not have forced any school board to form student-led gay-straight alliances, but it would have compelled the elected boards to accept the existence of the groups if students in their schools chose to organize them.

Alberta MLA Vote Gay Straight Alliances Vote Motion 503

A map showing the constituencies represented by MLAs who voted in favour (blue) and against (red) Motion 503. White indicates MLAs who were not present for the vote. (Click to enlarge)

Passage of this motion would have sent a strong message that tolerance and acceptance are priorities Alberta’s provincial legislators.

Anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen voted in favour but Education minister Jeff Johnson voted against it.

Missing from the vote were Premier Dave Hancock and NDP leader Brian Mason, who both later said they would have voted in favour had they been in the Assembly. Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith was not present for the vote and it is not clear if she would have voted differently than her party’s MLAs.

The divided PC government caucus also missed an opportunity to send a clear message that they embrace 21st century values by singling out the opposition Wildrose as the only party to unanimously vote against the motion – and remind Albertans of the infamous Lake of Fire.  And for the Wildrose, a vote for the motion, even by one or two of that party’s MLAs, would have done a lot of demonstrate the party is more moderate on social issues than its opponents claim.

In total, 36 MLAs were absent from the vote (minus the Speaker, who abstains from votes of the Assembly).

Voted in Favour: 19
Deron Bilous (NDP)
Laurie Blakeman (LIB)
Neil Brown (PC)
Pearl Calahasen (PC)
Cal Dallas (PC)
Alana DeLong (PC)
David Eggen (NDP)
Kyle Fawcett (PC)
Kent Hehr (LIB)
Ken Hughes (PC)
Sandra Jansen (PC)
Heather Klimchuk (PC)
Jason Luan (PC)
Thomas Luksazuk (PC)
Rachel Notley (NDP)
Don Scott (PC)
Raj Sherman (LIB)
David Swann (LIB)
Teresa Woo-Paw (PC)
Voted against: 31
Moe Amery (PC)
Rob Anderson (WR)
Drew Barnes (WR)
Gary Bikman (WR)
Robin Campbell (PC)
Ron Casey (PC)
Christine Cusanelli (PC)
Ian Donovan (WR)
David Dorward (PC)
Wayne Drysdale (PC)
Jacquie Fenske (PC)
Rick Fraser (PC)
Yvonne Fritz (PC)
Hector Goudreau (PC)
Jeff Johnson (PC)
Linda Johnson (PC)
Maureen Kubinec (PC)
Genia Leskiw (PC)
Bruce McAllister (WR)
Everett McDonald (PC)
Diana McQueen (PC)
Frank Oberle (PC)
Bridget Pastoor (PC)
Dave Rodney (PC)
Bruce Rowe (WR)
Shayne Saskiw (WR)
Richard Starke (PC)
Rick Strankman (WR)
Kerry Towle (WR)
George VanderBurg (PC)
Greg Weadick (PC)

PC Party leadership race off to a very slow start

Ken Hughes MLA PC leadership Race Calgary

Ken Hughes has resigned from cabinet, but has yet to announce he is running for leader of the PC Party.

Nineteen days have passed since former Premier Alison Redford announced her resignation and not one candidate has officially announced their intentions to enter the race to become the next leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.

But there is at least one unofficial candidate, maybe. Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes made the strange move of resigning from cabinet yesterday, but would not yet say whether he would enter the race. Mr. Hughes’ recently announced he would launch an “exploratory committee” to gauge support for a leadership bid.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

A handful of other cabinet ministers are said to be interested in running, including Justice minister Jonathan Denis, Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Energy minister Diana McQueen, Infrastructure minister Ric McIver and Finance minister Doug Horner.

Aside from Mr. Horner, whose political family dynasty stands on its own, most of the potential candidates are tied to the legacy and culture of entitlement that forced Ms. Redford to resign.

And unlike previous PC leadership races, which were billed by the establishment as the “real election,” because the next leader was virtually guaranteed to be the premier after the next election, this race cannot provide that guarantee.

There has been talk of potential outsiders interested in the race.

Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice would be a strong candidate, but most political watchers suspect has loftier ambitions to become the next resident of 24 Sussex Drive when Prime Minister Stephen Harper retires. His entry into the race would also force him to leave a very lucrative job as a vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

All about the numbers

Over the course of its 43 years in government, the PC Party has shown a remarkable ability to survive and reinvent itself. But can Alberta’s natural governing party survive a lacklustre or uninspiring leadership race?

Regardless of how many candidates enter, there will be comparisons drawn from previous contests. If the race fails to inspire widespread interest, membership sales could be lower than previous races that drew large sales of memberships.

In 2006, 144,289 PC Party members voted in the second ballot of the leadership vote that was won by Ed Stelmach.

Five years later in 2011, 78,176 PC Party members voted in the second ballot of the contest that selected Ms. Redford as leader.

PC Party opts for a short and expensive leadership campaign

Ken Hughes MLA PC leadership Race Calgary

Cabinet minister Ken Hughes has launched an “exploratory committee” to investigate a leadership bid.

In 2006, it was $15,000, in 2011, it was $40,000, and in 2014, the fee to become a candidate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race is $50,000.

Senior officials from Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party gathered in Red Deer last night to discuss timelines, entry fees and the rules that will help shape their party’s 2014 leadership race.

The first ballot vote will be held on September 6, 2014 and, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on that ballot, the top two candidates will compete on a second ballot held on September 20, 2014.

The combination of a short campaign period (5 months and 18 days) and a high entry fee could limit the number of candidates able to enter the race.

Gary Mar Alberta Representative to Asia

Gary Mar’s campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million in his 2011 bid for the PC leadership.

In order to run a campaign, candidates will need to raise significant amounts of funds in a very short period in addition to the cost of the entry fee. In 2011, Gary Mar‘s frontrunner campaign reportedly spent $2.7 million on his leadership bid (collecting more than $200,000 in debt). Alison Redford‘s campaign spent $1.3 million.

It is not known whether the PCs will limit the amounts that individual campaigns are allowed to spend or if they will require the disclosure of financial donors to the leadership campaigns.

The practical reality for the PC Party is that they needed to consider high entry fees in order to help finance the organization and promotion of the leadership campaign. As leadership candidates  sap funds that would normally fill party coffers, the party needs to quickly recuperate the costs of the leadership race after in order to prepare for a general election in 2016 (or sooner).

Leadership candidates emerge, kind of…

Defying expectations that cabinet ministers should resign their posts when running in a party leadership race, Municipal Affairs minister Ken Hughes, 60, launched a public “exploratory committee” website at a press conference yesterday. A “serious” person, according to quotes on his website, Mr. Hughes does not appear to be serious about whether he should be a candidate in this race.

Other cabinet ministers, including Thomas Lukaszuk, Jonathan Denis, Doug Horner and Diana McQueen are rumoured to be considering leadership bids.

A website was launched yesterday to draft Senator Scott Tannas into the PC leadership race. Mr. Tannas is the founder of Western Financial Group and the son of Klein-era MLA Don Tannas. He was involved in a minor scandal related to $24,000 in questionable travel expenses as a Senator, which may turn off a few PC Party members still recovering from Ms. Redford’s travel expense scandals.

On the peripheries of public attention, it appears as though Stephen Mandel, 68, could be preparing to come out of retirement. The recently retired three-term mayor of Edmonton is rumoured to be preparing a campaign team to test the waters. Mr. Mandel will be 70 years-old by the time the next election is called.

Also said to be interested in mounting a leadership bid is former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice. The former Calgary Member of Parliament is currently serving as a Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He recently accepted a role as Enbridge’s envoy to northern British Columbia’s First Nations communities in their bid to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat.

Liberal leader makes fundraising pitch

Raj Sherman 2010

Raj Sherman

In a fundraising email sent yesterday, the Liberal Party announced that leader Raj Sherman will match all donations made to the party before March 31, 2014. According to Alberta’s political finance laws, individuals can only donate a maximum of $15,000 each year.

As a physician, Dr. Sherman has also frequently made donations to the Liberal Party through his professional corporation, raising his limit to $30,000. And as the Daryl Katz-PC Party donation fiasco taught us in 2012, you can always depend on family members or employees to make donations as well.

The Liberals fell behind the other major parties in fundraising in 2013, only raising a small $339,540 (the NDP raised $623,763 in the same period).

A dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2014

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2014: Manmeet Bhullar, Deron Bilous, Kent Hehr, Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes, Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Len Webber, Steve Youg.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2014: Manmeet Bhullar, Deron Bilous, Kent Hehr, Fred Horne, Doug Horner, Ken Hughes, Thomas Lukaszuk, Diana McQueen, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Len Webber, Steve Young.

Because politics are unpredictable, forecasting the future can be a tricky business for pundits, but here is a list of a dozen Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2014.

Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary-Greenway): An up and comer in the PC ranks, Mr. Bhullar was rewarded for his time as the competent Service Alberta minister with an appointment as the minister of the downsized Human Services department. Tasked with the difficult challenge of spinning hundreds of foster care deaths into a positive story for the government, Mr. Bhuller is already on his way to becoming a media darling.

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): A rising star in the 4 member NDP caucus, the 38 year old first-term MLA has proven himself to be a well-spoken addition to the opposition benches. Entering his second year in the Assembly, Mr. Bilous could become a more prominent public face for his party. It is no surprise that he is continually named by New Democrats as a future leader of Alberta’s tiny and scrappy social democratic party.

Kent Hehr (Calgary-Buffalo): Serving his second-term as the MLA representing downtown Calgary, the talented Mr. Hehr is faced with a difficult question: are his political talents best served by sticking with the stuck-in-the-mud Liberal Party? His 2012 guest post on this blog supporting cooperation by centre-left parties caused a stir but was quickly shot down by his party’s leadership. With Alberta’s five Liberal MLAs acting more like a group of independents who share office space than representatives of a unified political movement, I wouldn’t be shocked if Mr. Hehr considers his alternatives in 2014.

Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert): As Alberta’s Finance minister, Mr. Horner is tasked to deliver the Redford Government’s 2014 budget. An already expected budget deficit will be intensified as the government directs billions of dollars towards fixing the damage caused by last summer’s floods in southern Alberta. His future leadership aspirations could be at risk as he tries to balance funding for public programs with pressure from the conservative right to cut spending in Canada’s wealthiest province.

Fred Horne (Edmonton-Rutherford): As Health minister, Mr. Horne has imposed drastic administrative changes in Alberta Health Services, including firing the entire AHS board of directors and overseeing the departure of two consecutive AHS CEOs. Confusion inside the health care system has intensified as he continues to assert more political control over the province-wide health authority. It remains unclear what Mr. Horne’s new political control means for AHS. Maybe Albertans will find out in 2014?

Ken Hughes (Calgary-West): A close confident of Alison Redford, the former Energy minister was shuffled to Municipal Affairs to quell conflict created by the previous minister with rural leaders and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. Having returned to electoral politics in 2012 after a 19 year hiatus (he served as the PC MP for Macleod from 1988 to 1993), he faces the challenge of fulfilling the province’s promise to create special big city charters for Calgary and Edmonton.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs): As deputy premier and Advanced Education minister during last year’s budget cuts, Mr. Lukaszuk became the Redford government’s most recognizable face in the media. Now as Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, he occupies a role that will see him undoubtably clash with the province’s public service unions. Two unions have already launched court challenges against the province’s new anti-labour laws. This likely will not stop the rumours that Mr. Lukaszuk hopes to one day become his party’s next leader and the next Premier of Alberta.

Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Devon): After serving as Alberta’s Environment minister (also known as the junior Energy minister), Ms. McQueen should be well versed in the portfolio she was appointed to in December’s cabinet shuffle. Some political watchers are skeptical of her ability to handle the all-important energy file and face upcoming debates on climate change and oilsands pipelines. Can she handle the pressure?

Shayne Saskiw (Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills): Rising star in the Wildrose official opposition and a potential future leader if Danielle Smith does not lead her party to victory in 2016. The young lawyer from rural Alberta is articulate and partisan, which I anticipate will lead him to play an even more prominent role in the opposition over the next year.

Kerry Towle (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake): A tough and outspoken critic of the government, Ms. Towle has become a familiar face of the Wildrose official opposition. As human services critic, she will face-off against Mr. Bhullar in the next session of the Assembly, which could be an entertaining pairing to watch.  A good spokesperson and only one of three women in her party’s 17 MLA caucus, she could play a key role in softening her party’s hard-edged conservative reputation.

Len Webber (Calgary-Foothills): The former cabinet minister was shuffled to the backbenches after Ms. Redford became leader of the PC Party. With half of his PC MLA colleagues now sitting in some type of cabinet seat, you have to wonder what Mr. Webber did to deserve his permanent banishment. The government praised his private members bill to create an agency to coordinate organ and tissue donations, but will that be enough to keep him in the PC fold? Rumour has it that he is eyeing a federal Conservative nomination for the 2015 election.

Steve Young (Edmonton-Riverview): Wronged by the premier and cast to the backbenches before he could officially enter a cabinet position he had been promised, Mr. Young’s future role in the PC caucus could be interesting. As a member of the conservative wing of the PC Party, he could cause trouble for the PC establishment in the backbenches. Elected to represent a traditionally Liberal-voting constituency that has been hit hard by university budget cuts, he could be vulnerable in the next election, which is why I don’t expect him to sit quietly for the next two years.

(This post was inspired by A dozen federal MPs worth watching in 2014, published by the Canadian Press)

Redford’s Christmas cabinet shuffle

Premier Alison Redford Cabinet Alberta

Premier Alison Redford announced a new cabinet late this afternoon.

As reported yesterday on this blog, rumours that Ms. Redford would shuffle her cabinet before the Christmas break began to intensify this week. Today, those rumours proved to be true.

Built around the government’s “Building Alberta” slogan, today’s Government of Alberta press release boasts a new cabinet that will focus on “innovation and economic growth.” And it signals a growth in numbers of Ms. Redford’s cabinet as well. The size of the cabinet will now be 30 MLAs, up from 27 MLAs in the previous cabinet. There are a total of 59 MLAs in the Progressive Conservative caucus.

Here is a description of some major changes in Alberta’s provincial cabinet:

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

Dave Hancock: Appointed Deputy Premier and moved from Human Services to Innovation and Advanced Education. Moving Mr. Hancock back to the Advanced Education portfolio he filled from 2004 to 2006 likely signals that Ms. Redford recognizes the need to repair the damage done to Alberta’s colleges and universities under its previous minister. The deep budget cuts imposed by Ms. Redford’s government in 2012 damaged both the post-secondary education system and the government’s relationship the leaders in that system. A well-known policy wonk and party loyalist, Mr. Hancock will be tasked with smoothing over those hard feelings.

Thomas Lukaszuk: The bull-dog of the Progressive Conservative caucus lost his Deputy Premier title and is moved from Enterprise & Advanced Education to a new Jobs, Skills, Training, and Labour portfolio. As Ms. Redford’s ‘heavy-hand’ in cabinet, it is likely that Mr. Lukaszuk will be tasked with imposing controversial new laws on Alberta’s public sector unions.

Manmeet Bhullar

Manmeet Bhullar

Manmeet Bhullar: Moved from Service Alberta to Human Services. This is a big promotion, as Human Services is a large ministry that represents a multitude of components of government services. Mr. Bhullar performed well as Minister of Service Alberta, but this portfolio will present a significant challenge to the new minister.

Diana McQueen: Moved from Environment & Sustainable Resource Development to Energy. With an increased focus on the government’s agenda to support the Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, the capable Ms. McQueen is well-armed with arguments to use in advocating for these projects in Canada and the United States.

Robin Campbell: Moved from Aboriginal Relations to Environment & Sustainable Resource Development, a high-profile position which is closely linked with the Energy portfolio. He is also now the Government House leader, a role that has been filled by Mr. Hancock for quite some time.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths: Demoted from Municipal Affairs to Service Alberta. As Municipal Affairs Minister, Mr. Griffiths stumbled through the high profile items in his portfolio, making his demotion almost inevitable. As minister of the tiny Service Alberta department, Mr. Griffiths will have less chance to embarrass the government and an opportunity to redeem himself in cabinet.

Ken Hughes: Moved from Energy to Municipal Affairs. While this move could easily be seen as a demotion, Mr. Hughes, a trusted confident of Ms. Redford’s, will have an important role in repairing the provincial government’s strained relationship with its municipal leaders – both in the large cities and rural municipalities.

Frank Oberle: Promoted from Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities to a full-cabinet position as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Mr. Oberle previously served as Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security and Minister of Sustainable Resource Development.

Wayne Drysdale: Moved from Infrastructure to Transportation, replacing Ric McIver.

Ric McIver: Moved from Transportation to Infrastructure, replacing Wayne Drysdale.

Steve Young: Left his position as Government Whip to become Associate Minister of Public Safety, a new position.

Donna Kennedy-Glans: Departed the backbenchers to become Associate Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy, a new position.

George VanderBurg: Appointed the Government Whip. Lost his position as Associate Minister of Seniors. Mr. VanderBurg had previously served as Minister of Government Services, Minister of Seniors, and Acting Minister of Innovation and Science.

A curious addition to the list of cabinet positions in the press release included the Progressive Conservative Caucus Chair, Maureen Kubinec. This appears to be a new addition to the cabinet, though the release was unclear what role this MLA will have at the cabinet table, as there now only remain 29 PC MLAs not included in the list of cabinet positions.