Tag Archives: Don Getty

Don Getty Ray Martin Laurence Decore Alberta Family Day Debate

Repost: The Great Family Day Debate of 1989

[This post was originally published on Feb. 16, 2010]

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take for granted the holiday on the third Monday of February may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day was incredibly controversial when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

Kurt Gesell MLA Alberta

Kurt Gesell

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC MLA Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989

Don-Tannas-Alberta MLA

Don Tannas

Don Tannas (PC MLA Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

Norm-Weiss-Alberta-MLA

Norm Weiss

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP MLA Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC MLA Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie-Hewes-Alberta-MLA

Bettie Hewes

Bettie Hewes (Liberal MLA Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek-Fox-Alberta-MLA

Derek Fox

Derek Fox (NDP MLA Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Don Getty (PC MLA Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie-Laing-Alberta-MLA

Marie Laing

Marie Laing (NDP MLA Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob-Hawkesworth-Alberta-MLA

Bob Hawkesworth

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP MLA Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Mr. Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [editor’s note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

The Senate Chamber in Canada's Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

2016 will mark the end of Senate Elections in Alberta

The Senatorial Selection Act, the law that governs Alberta’s unique Senate nominee elections, expires on Dec. 31, 2016. The longstanding policy of the Alberta New Democratic Party which supports the abolition of the Canadian Senate likely means the Act will be allowed to expire, into the dust of legislative history.

Don Getty Premier of Alberta

Don Getty

Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Alberta is the only province with a general election process to select Senate nominees, which have been held in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.

The Senatorial Selection Act was introduced in 1989, in part to allow the Progressive Conservative government of Don Getty to co-opt the issue of Senate reform, which had become a powerful rallying crying of the populist Reform Party. Reform candidate Stanley Waters won the 1989 election and was appointed to the Senate in 1990 on the advice of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Stan Waters Alberta Senate

Stanley Waters

Only a handful of Alberta’s elected Senators have actually been appointed to the upper chamber, as the election process exists outside of the Constitution and can be ignored by the federal government. Current Conservative Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas, elected in 2012, and Betty Unger, elected in 2004, were appointed to the Senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

With the exception of the 1989 election, when Liberal Bill Code placed second, only the conservative Reform Party, Progressive Conservative, Alberta Alliance, Social Credit and Wildrose Party, and the environmentalist Evergreen Party have participated in the elections. Progressive candidates have also run as Independents without the backing of their political parties. In 1998, future NDP candidate Guy Desrosiers stood as an Independent Senate candidate (and placed third with 16.7% of the vote).

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

A high-level of rejected, declined and spoiled ballots in the Senate elections suggests that many Albertans are unengaged in this process. More than 178,000 ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined in the 2004 Senate election, amounting to 19 percent of Albertans who showed up to the polls. In 2012, more than 189,000 Senate election ballots were rejected, spoiled and declined, compared to only 7,822 in the provincial general election held the same day.

While the NDP have long supported the abolishment of the Senate, the idea has grown popular in conservative circles in recent years. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has echoed the NDP’s calls for Senate abolishment, and in an odd pre-election maneuver, Mr. Harper tacitly endorsed the abolishment of the Senate if it could not be reformed (this took place after he appointed more than 50 Conservatives to the Senate, including Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin).

Stephen Harper Calgary Stampede

Stephen Harper

new Senate appointment advisory board created by the federal Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the October 2015 election will review nominated Canadians who meet the criteria of demonstrating a record of leadership in community service or professional expertise, a proven record of ethics and integrity and knowledge of the Senate’s role. It is unclear whether the new advisory board will place future provincially-endorsed elected nominees in higher consideration.

The current Alberta NDP government has not officially announced it will not renew the Senatorial Selection Act, but a speech from now-Premier Rachel Notley in 2009, while she was debating amendments to extend the Act until Dec. 31, 2016, strongly suggests that it will not be renewed again this year:

“…this is a piece of legislation that we can’t support because, quite frankly, it just provides a foundation to continue with what is currently a very ineffective system on the federal level.

As has been previously stated, our view is simply that the Senate should be abolished. It is not something that reflects the democratic makeup of our country. The historical rationale behind appointing a Senate has long since dissipated in terms of sort of the historical political concerns that underlay the initial construction of the Senate. The current elements of the Senate that we would effectively be promoting and encouraging the continuation of are, in my view, quite unacceptable.

Whether we elect our Senators or whether we have elections where the government chooses to appoint our Senators, we’re still dealing with the current situation, which is that the Senate itself does not reflect the national population distribution in that, you know, Alberta has six Senate seats, and New Brunswick, with about one fifth of Alberta’s population, has 10 seats. Eligibility for appointment in the Senate is still based in part on property ownership, and once appointed, Senators just get to hang around there until 75.

Whether we have this legislation or do not have this legislation, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Having had this legislation, we’ve actually, if anything, encouraged the continuation of the Senate. We’ve encouraged buy-in to what is a fundamentally antidemocratic institution.

You know, this was something that came up originally as a means to make a political point when there were substantive discussions around Senate reform a long, long time ago. There have been no meaningful discussions around Senate reform for, I would suggest, about a decade at least.

This piece of legislation will simply give credence to what continues to be a dysfunctional system and one that is costly and one that has long since outlived its purpose. The bill has outlived the purpose, the process in Alberta has outlived the purpose, and frankly the Senate has outlived its purpose. For that reason, we cannot support the bill.”

Don Getty Ray Martin Laurence Decore Alberta Family Day Debate

Alberta’s Great Family Day Debate of 1989

[This post was originally published on Feb. 16, 2010]

The annual Family Day long-weekend is something that many Albertans look forward to. The many Albertans who take the holiday on the third Monday of February for granted may be surprised to know that the idea of creating Family Day generated some controversy when it was first introduced in 1989. It may be his greatest legacy as Premier, but when Don Getty introduced the Family Day Act on June 1, 1989, it generated some intense debate on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Here are some quotes from the debate, care of Hansard:

June 5, 1989
Laurence Decore (Liberal: Edmonton-Glengarry): “It seems to me that when your province is in difficulty, when you know that you’re going to be experiencing the lowest economic growth rate in Canada, something should be brought forward to excite and energize and stimulate Albertans. The family day Act doesn’t do that.”

June 6, 1989
Kurt Gesell (PC: Clover Bar): “The promise of the throne speech of love of family, home, community, and province facilitates these choices. The family day Act is an excellent start, and forms part of the measures stressing the importance of Alberta families. I want to applaud our Premier for the introduction of this initiative.”

June 7, 1989
Don Tannas (PC: Highwood): “Government alone cannot create a true family day. It can merely provide the opportunity for others to make it a family time, and therefore it is an important step to bring focus to the fundamental importance of the family, through family day. Many of our Christian denominations emphasize having at least one day a week devoted to family activities. A family day once a year provides an ideal opportunity for all families to focus on themselves, to look at reconciling their differences, to take joy in their common ancestry, to participate in shared activities, and to focus on all the members of their extended family on a day other than a family funeral. No, Mr. Speaker, a government cannot do it by itself. Family day must grow in the hearts and minds of all Albertans, and I’m proud that this government has taken this important step.”

June 8, 1989
Ray Martin (NDP: Edmonton-Norwood): “I’ll stand up in the Legislature and give them credit if it’s anything close to what we’re doing in Bill 201. I point out that just like your so-called family day, Mr. Speaker — I recall them running that Bill down, but then for once they did the right thing and brought it in, the midwinter holiday. So I’m hopeful after the eighth try that they might take a look at a Bill like that. Again, government members, if you don’t understand the problem and you think everything’s okay, you’re just not listening to the public.”

June 19, 1989
Norm Weiss (PC: Fort McMurray): “I hope we’d see such things as family cards for family days, as we see for Valentine Day and Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and instances like that.”

Bettie Hewes (Liberal: Edmonton-Gold Bar): “We still are beset with runaways, with dropouts, with an increase in teenage pregnancy. Yet it doesn’t seem to me our Family Day will in any way help those problems that are a consistent source of stress in family life in Alberta and an increasing source of stress. Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier and the members of the Legislature what Family Day will do to alleviate the need for respite for young families who’ve been encouraged to keep mentally or physically handicapped children at home.” … “This government’s commitment to strengthen family life has yet to materialize. With regret, Mr. Speaker, this particular family Act doesn’t accomplish it in any way.”

Derek Fox (NDP: Vegreville): “It’s not enough to pay lip service to the family in Alberta, just to say, “Well, we love the family; therefore, everything’s going to be wonderful for families in Alberta” or “We’re going to name a holiday Family Day, and everything will be wonder- ful for families in Alberta.””

Premier Don Getty (PC: Stettler): “The members opposite from the Liberal and ND parties are surely a hesitant, fearful, timid group, unable to bring themselves to look at something in a positive way. I guess they’ve been in the opposition that long that they just can’t turn around their minds in a positive, thoughtful way and think of the kinds of things they could have raised to support Family Day and talk about the exciting things that will happen in the future in Alberta on Family Day. Instead we heard a series of complaints and fears, and that’s really sad.”

“We will have this thinking of Family Day, thinking of the importance of the family. Both the NDP and the Liberal members said: will people participate; will they actually get together as families? Their view is: force them to; use state control in some way. Force litem to. Make it the law that you’ve got to get together. Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Surely that’s the kind of centralist, socialist thinking that is so wrong and the reason why they’re where they are, Mr. Speaker.”

Marie Laing (NDP: Edmonton-Avonmore): “…all too often the member of that family that is forced to work is the mother or the woman, because they are employed in the retail trade. So we have to say: what kind of a Family Day do you have when the mother has to be at work and cannot be with her family?”

August 10, 1989
Mr. Weiss: “…the proposed amendment, as introduced by the hon member, certainly would create chaos. She went on to say, and I quote how would it help battered women, those sexually abused? I would like to say to all hon members of the Assembly that I really don’t know. Does any body know? But maybe just the reality of knowing one day has been designated as Family Day will shock both sides of a broken family into the realities that there are problems in this world, and as a realist we don’t run from them, we try and work towards improving them and bettering them from all sides It’s not just “empty rhetoric” as quoted by the hon member.”

Mr. Decore: “It is that not everybody is allowed to celebrate the holiday. The moms and the dads and the grandmothers and the grandfathers and the uncles and the aunts and the children aren’t able, many of them, to come back to that family unit to participate in that Family Day. Therefore, the Act isn’t fair; it isn’t fair to the thousands of people who must work.”

Bob Hawkesworth (NDP: Calgary-Mountain View): “…it’s really a shame to me that they would miss the real opportunity that this Bill could provide to create a genuine Family Day, not just some bogus, poor substitute for something that we once had once a week in this province. It’s a shame to me and a tragedy to me that this government over the years has failed to act in this important way. I think it’s highly regrettable. Here is some small
way that they could rectify an injustice.”

August 15, 1989
Premier Getty: “…the hon. Member for Edmonton-Centre [daveberta note: the MLA at the time was William Roberts] has such a hesitant, fearful, timid view of the capacity of the people of Alberta that he would want in some way to pass legislation that forces people to do certain things. It’s the socialist, state-control thought, and it’s wrong. It has been wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now. You have to have faith in the people of the province that they will develop this family day, that they will work. The government merely provides the framework; it’s the people who do it. It’s not people against their employers. Surely they’re all the people of Alberta. They work together, and together they’re going to develop family day. I know that someday in the future that poor, timid, hesitant Edmonton-Centre MLA, wherever he will be in those days, probably . . . Well, no, I won’t even speculate, because we’d probably have to help him to the food bank.”

February 1, 1990
Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote about the first Family Day: “The premier failed to consider a few realities of modern family life – little things like children, work, school and day care. These matters refuse to vanish just because the couch potatoes in the legislature want another holiday and the premier waves his wand.”

Albertan Graffiti: Jim Prentice buys a 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti

The 1956 Ford Thunderbird is a great car and was made iconic in the film American Graffiti.

After months warning Albertans that declining oil prices will have dire consequences unless we ‘tighten their belts‘ and make ‘tough choices,” Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has made some tough decisions of his own.

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti 2

Jim Prentice, at the car auction in Arizona.

Returning home from an official government visit to Houston, Texas last week, Mr. Prentice made a side trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he bid $54,000 on a classic 1956 Ford Thunderbird at a Barrett Jackson auction. It must have been a day of tough choices, but through persistence and determination Mr. Prentice walked away as the proud owner of this classic American car.

You can probably detect a hint of sarcasm by now. And as you can imagine, the optics and timing of Mr. Prentice’s new purchase are not great.

Jim Prentice Ford Thunderbird 1956 Albertan Grafitti 1

A 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Some people will argue what Mr. Prentice does in his personal time is his business. I have nothing against a hard working private citizen, or wealthy bank vice-president, who decides to purchase classic cars as a hobby. But Mr. Prentice is not a private citizen, he is the Premier of Alberta. And when his recreational activities and personal purchases contrast what he is saying in public, then Albertans deserve to know.

Only ten days ago, Mr. Prentice told reporters that Alberta could be facing its worst economic situation in 25 or 50 years and signalled that he may look to public sector workers for cuts or salary freezes. Why there is some hyperbole to his messaging (politicians always claim Alberta is in tough economic times), it is mind boggling that Mr. Prentice would not have the political sense to postpone this personal purchase. After nearly 30 years in politics, it is hard to believe he would not recognize how bad the optics could look.

It is also notable that the trip from Houston to Arizona was not included in Mr. Prentice’s official itinerary. It is common for “private time” to be listed on a public itinerary when the premier or a cabinet minister decides to assume personal cost to take a day or two as personal time during official travel outside the country. It is perfectly reasonable for Mr. Prentice to have taken this private time, so why was the side trip to Arizona not listed on his public itinerary?

In his short time as Premier, Mr. Prentice has proven himself to be a shrewd and skilled politician. A boost in the polls and the mass-floor crossing of Wildrose MLAs demonstrate that he has strong appeal among conservatives in this province. Just as frequent visits to the golf club undid Don Getty and a taste for overseas travel and luxury penthouses helped undo Alison Redford, it would not take much to undo Mr. Prentice’s image as Alberta’s competent “new management.”

As Premier, he needs to lead by example. And if we are indeed facing tough economic times, this $54,000 purchase in Arizona definitely sends the wrong message.

Alberta is always in Tough Economic Times

“They don’t know what to do with tough economic times. It was easy enough to govern when the money was flowing in, when things were going well. They took all the credit for it at that time. It’s much harder to govern, and the mark of a good government is how they handle it, when times get difficult.” – Ray Martin, Leader of the Official Opposition (June 13, 1986)

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Despite Alberta’s prosperity, Premier Jim Prentice is warning we could be heading into tough economic times. The decline in the world price of oil has spooked the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative establishment and the corporate elites in downtown Calgary.

The perilous “price trough” has led Mr. Prentice to warn of a potential $7 billion revenue shortfall if oil prices remain at lower than expected levels for the entire 2015/2016 fiscal year. According to a government spokesperson, some of the missing $7 billion could come from revenue streams such as land leases, but at this point the number is largely based in speculation and politically spin.

Mr. Prentice’s prophetic $7 billion shortfall becomes more startling when learning the Alberta Government is projected to collect only $7.5 billion in crude oil and bitumen royalty revenue in the 2014/2015 budget year. This projected revenue is based on the price of Western Canada Select (WCS) oil remaining at $77.18 per barrel. Although the yearly average price is $84.02 per barrel the current price of WCS  has dropped to $48.44 per barrel.

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta

Ray Martin

If the “tough economics times” message sounds vaguely familiar, that is because it is. In oil-rich Alberta, we hear a lot from our political leaders about tough economic times, even when times are prosperous. In most cases, our politicians are managing voters’ expectations and positioning themselves to take credit as ‘prudent fiscal managers’ when the world-wide price of oil inevitably increases.

Meeting the Challenge of Tough Times” was the name of the three-year economic plan launched by Premier Ed Stelmach’s PC government in 2009.

Bitumen Bubble Alberta

Bitumen Bubble

The sharp decline of natural gas royalty revenue and that year’s world-wide recession, which felt more like a mild economic pause in Alberta, even convinced the Tories to amend the Klein-era Fiscal Responsibility Act to allow the government to pass deficit budgets.

And in January 2013, Premier Alison Redford used a televised address to warn Albertans that a $8 billion shortfall in the provincial budget was being caused by an ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford’s bubble was then used as justification to slash funding to colleges and universities by 7% in that year’s budget.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert

Ron Liepert

But the PCs have not always predicted “tough economic times.” In 2012, then-finance minister Ron Liepert told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to expect $16 billion in projected resource revenues by 2015. A huge jump in revenue would certainly increase the likelihood of Mr. Prentice calling a provincial election in early 2015.

Alberta’s government has heavily depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for decades. After years of unrestrained growth, no one should be surprised that Alberta’s economy could slow down.

The question is how we respond to actual tough economic times in Alberta. Was NDP Official Opposition Leader Ray Martin correct in 1986 when he said that “they don’t know what to do with tough economic times”?

While some right-wing think tanks call for a return to brutal slash and burn fiscal policies, the implementation of real long-term financial planning would probably be a more mature solution.

Alberta Norway Oil Fund Money Savings

Comparing Alberta’s Heritage Fund and Norway’s Petroleum Savings Fund.

Norway, a country with 5.1 million people, invests oil revenues into the Government Pension Fund Global and contains more than $857 billion. The fund was established in 1990 to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices. Oil-rich jurisdictions like Norway prove that economies can be both economically prosperous and environmentally green.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

Alberta, a province of 3.6 million people, launched the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund in 1976. Under the leadership of Peter Lougheed, the Heritage Fund initially received 30% of government resource revenues and was worth $12.7 billion in 1986. The Heritage Fund is now worth only $17.4 billion.

Facing tough economic times in 1987, the PC government of Don Getty halted all transfers to the Heritage Fund. Zero deposits were made between 1987 and 2004.

This week, PC MLAs passed Bill 11: Savings Management Repeal Act, which repealed the Savings Management Act, which was enthusiastically passed by the same group of PC MLAs in March 2014. The earlier bill would have diverted resource revenue to the newly created Alberta Future Fund, Social Innovation Endowment account and Agriculture and Food Innovation Endowment. The bill passed this week eliminates those new funds.

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta

Kevin Taft

Despite talk of revenue diversification, it is questionable whether the governing PCs would seriously consider increasing resource royalties, reinstating a progressive taxation system or introducing a provincial sales tax.

While many politicians view tax increases as politically unpalatable, a slight tax increase would not destroy the our province’s economy. “If Alberta increased its tax rates by $11 billion our province would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada,” Kevin Taft wrote in his 2012 book, Follow the Money.

Dr. Taft’s book breaks down government spending patterns over the past 30 years and details how corporate profits have skyrocketed in Alberta at the same time the PC Government has struggled with deficit budgets.

As a province with decades worth of dependence on revenues from natural resource royalties, it should not be a shock that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Maybe our only problem is not our over reliance on cyclical natural resources revenues, but that the Progressive Conservatives are just bad fiscal managers.


Primetime Politics this week…
On this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel, I joined Rob Breakenridge, Roberto Noce and host Michael Higgins to discuss the Gay-Straight Alliance debate, Moe Amery‘s texting-while-driving-demerits bill, and Bill 2: Alberta Accountability Act.

 

Coming Soon: Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections

Calgary Elbow Map By-Election

The Wildrose Party has described the Calgary-Elbow by-election as “ground zero.”

With provincial by-elections in Alberta’s two biggest cities expected to be called soon, opposition parties are gearing up to challenge two unelected cabinet ministers running under the Progressive Conservative banner.

Dates for the by-election votes have not been scheduled and a third by-election for Premier Jim Prentice is also expected to take place. Mr. Prentice is expected to run in the Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill constituency.

By-elections are risky for incumbent governments, as they give voters an opportunity to send a message without changing government. These votes will provide the first indications whether Albertans are satisfied with Mr. Prentice’s ability to rebrand the scandal-plagued 43-year old PC Party Government.

Calgary-Elbow

Calgary-Elbow Alberta MLA Map By-Election

The results of election and by-elections held in Calgary-Elbow since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 and 2007 votes).

Trigged by the resignation of former Premier Alison Redford, this by-election has been described as “ground zero” by the opposition Wildrose Party. Many of the neighbourhoods in this constituency were devastated by last year’s floods and I am told that many locals remain disappointed with the provincial government’s response in repairing the damage. Not surprisingly, many residents also remain very disappointed with the performance of their former PC MLA.

Newly appointed Education Minister Gordon Dirks, 67, has been acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Mr. Dirks is a former Calgary school trustee and Saskatchewan PC MLA. His appointment to cabinet was a surprise to most political watchers.

Conservative activist Pat Walsh had announced plans to seek the PC nomination, but stepped aside last week to clear the way for Mr. Dirks’ acclamation. But this week, in a strange move, Mr. Walsh has endorsed Wildrose candidate John Fletcher.

Mr. Fletcher is a retired Canadian Forces Colonel and is a candidate the Wildrose believes can defeat the unelected Education minister.

The Liberals are looking to candidate Susan Wright to regain some of their former support in Calgary-Elbow. The Liberals won the constituency in a 2007 by-election to replace Mr. Klein, but lost it Ms. Redford the following year. While the Liberals have had a strong base of support in the constituency in previous elections, the party’s support plummeted in 2012. This by-election will test whether Dr. Raj Sherman’s Liberals are a viable political force in Calgary.

This will be Alberta Party leader Greg Clark’s second time running as a candidate in Calgary-Elbow, but this time he will have the support of celebrity political strategist Stephen Carter (formerly of the PC Party) and former Liberal Party campaign manager Corey Hogan. The Alberta Party briefly held a seat in the Assembly before the 2012 election, when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor, who represented the neighbouring Calgary-Currie, joined their ranks. Mr. Clark hopes that he can become his party’s second-ever MLA.

The NDP have nominated lawyer Stephanie McLean as their candidate. Both of the MLAs in the NDP leadership contest – Rachel Notley and David Eggen – have said that expanding their party’s support in Calgary is key to success. Here is their opportunity to start earning votes.

Sure to cause a stir among die-hard New Democrats is Ms. McLean’s endorsement of popular Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s campaign to become the federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre.

I am told that the Green Party of Alberta has decided not to run a candidate in this by-election. It is unclear why they are sitting it out.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Calgary-Elbow, 2013
Progressive Conservative: $207,972.97
Wildrose: $72,625.47
Liberals: $540.79
NDP – $0
Alberta Party: $2,465.16

Edmonton-Whitemud

Edmonton Whitemud Map By-Election

A map of the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency.

The PC Party’s longest-held constituency in Edmonton, Edmonton-Whitemud was represented by former Premier Dave Hancock from 1997 until his resignation last week.

Newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel, 69, has been acclaimed as the PC candidate. The former three-term Edmonton Mayor remains popular among many Edmontonians and it is unclear whether he will face any serious challengers.

So far, the only candidate to step up to challenge him is Alberta Party President Will Munsey. An amiable character, Mr. Munsey ran under his party’s banner in the Leduc-Beaumont constituency in the last provincial election and as a Green Party candidate in Vegreville-Wainwright in the 2011 federal election.

Edmonton-Whitemud By-Election

The results of election and by-elections held in Edmonton-Whitemud since 2004 (four main parties included, with the Alberta Alliance counted as the Wildrose Party in the 2004 vote).

The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate, but I am told that the party is working hard to recruit a former Edmonton Liberal MLA to run in the by-election. Similar to Elbow, the Whitemud by-election will test whether Dr. Sherman’s Liberals can regain their former strength in Edmonton.

As far as I am aware, no candidates have publicly declared their intentions to seek the Wildrose or NDP nominations at the time this column was published.

UPDATE: In the comment section of this blog, Dr. Bob Turner announced that he will be the NDP candidate in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election.

Constituency Association Net Assets, Edmonton-Whitemud, 2013
PC = $32,366.72
Wildrose: $4,486.82
Liberal – $1,528.40
NDP – $286.77
Alberta Party: $1,171.76

Alberta politics fact: While located in two different cities, the constituencies of Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud both include some of Alberta’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. Both have also been represented by two Premiers (Elbow by Ralph Klein and Ms. Redford, and Whitemud by Don Getty and Mr. Hancock).

When is the next Alberta election?

Alberta Legislature 2014

With the governing Progressive Conservatives selecting their new leader in September 2014, there is growing suspicion that Albertans could be going to polls sooner than expected. While Alberta’s next strange “three-month fixed election period” is not until 2016, a loosely written law may allow the next premier to trigger an early election.

According to Section 38.01(2) of the Elections Act, the next election should take place between March 1 and May 31, 2016, but under 38.01(1), the Lieutenant Governor retains the authority to dissolve the assembly and call an election when he sees fit. This would typically occur when a government loses confidence of the Assembly or when the leader of the government asks him to do so (it would be highly irregular for the Lieutenant Governor to deny this request).

By my reading, what the Elections Act really says is that the next election must be held by May 31, 2016, but it could easily be held before that date. And I bet it will be.

An election in 2015

An early election would allow the next PC Party leader to seek a new mandate from Albertans, highlight new candidates and purge his caucus of deadwood and troublesome MLAs. With expected growth in resource revenues next year, it will be very tempting for the PCs to call an election after tabling a cash-rich provincial budget in Spring 2015.

An early provincial election could also conveniently rid the PCs of three potentially embarrassing by-elections in constituencies soon-to-be vacated by MLAs seeking federal party nominations (these MLAs are Len Webber in Calgary-Foothills, David Xiao in Edmonton-McClung, and Darshan Kang in Calgary-McCall).

A Jim Prentice By-Election

If the next PC leader is Jim Prentice, who currently has endorsements from 45 of 58 PC MLAs, a by-election would need to be held to provide the new Premier with a seat in the Assembly. In the past, when a party leader does not have a seat in the Assembly, a sitting MLA has resigned in order to trigger a by-election.

When Premier Don Getty was chosen as PC leader in October 1985, Edmonton-Whitemud PC MLA Robert Alexander resigned so that the new premier would win a by-election in December 1985. Mr. Getty later won a May 1989 by-election after he was unseated in the March 1989 General Election.

The Social Credit Party formed government in August 1935 without its leader on any ballot. Seatless Premier William Aberhart ran and won a by-election in November 1935.

Wild rumours suggest that Mr. Prentice could wait until the next election to win a seat, perhaps running against popular Liberal MLA David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View (where Mr. Prentice was defeated in the 1986 election). But it is unlikely that he would wait that long or risk challenging a popular incumbent.

It is more likely that Mr. Prentice would follow tradition and quickly seek to run in a by-election. It is plausible that former Premier Alison Redford would resign as MLA to trigger a by-election in Calgary-Elbow.

Opposition Parties gearing up

The Wildrose Party already has candidates preparing to contest nominations across the province. The party has attracted an early high profile candidate in Sherwood Park, where former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk has announced she will seek the Wildrose nomination. In anticipation of an upcoming by-election, retired Colonel John Fletcher is seeking the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Elbow.

The NDP will nominate candidates Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West and Chris Nielsen in Edmonton-Decore on June 17, 2014. The NDP was the first party to nominate a candidate for the next election months ago when Lori Sigurdson was chosen in Edmonton-Riverview.

While no Liberal candidates have been officially nominated, MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Kent Hehr and Mr. Swann have all indicated they plan on running in the next election.

To keep track of party nominations, I have compiled a list of official and unofficial candidates planning to stand in Alberta’s next provincial election. Please feel free to contact me 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.

Tories hope for a Hancockian era of stability

Alison Redford Dave Hancock Alberta Premier

Outgoing Premier Alison Redford with incoming Premier Dave Hancock.

On March 20, 1989, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a majority government but Premier Don Getty was defeated by voters in his Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. It was a stunning embarrassment for the then 18-year governing PC Party.

Alberta Premier Don Getty

Don Getty

Twenty-five years later, on March 20, 2014, Alberta’s still-governing PCs selected Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock to serve as Premier of Alberta until a replacement could be chosen for the embattled departing Premier Alison Redford.

Mr. Hancock was president of PC Party during the dying days of Mr. Getty’s premiership, when it appeared as though the Tories would be defeated by the Liberals led popular former mayor Laurence Decore.

Mr. Getty’s resigned in 1992 after being dragged down by low public approval ratings and a disgruntled caucus. A divisive leadership race chose his successor, Ralph Klein, who soon after led the Tories to win a majority government in the 1993 election. Tory partisans of a certain age fondly refer to this period as “the miracle on the prairies.”

Mr. Hancock’s experience as party president during the early 1990s and his 43 years of involvement in the province’s natural governing party could help him calm the dissent in the unwieldy PC caucus.

Facing increased pressure from the opposition Wildrose Party, the next four to six months will be an incredibly important time for the Tories, as the upcoming leadership race will define the PC Party in advance of a fast approaching 2016 election.

The parallels between the early 1990s and today are not perfect, and perhaps not even fair, but they serve as a reminder about the ability of the PC Party to reinvent itself. Even at its most damaged and divided, as it appeared to be this week, the PC Party remains a political force to be reckoned with.

Neala Barton Redford Press Secretary

Neala Barton

Redford press secretary returns to Toronto

Ms. Redford’s resignation has  resulted in the departure of many of her senior staff from the Legislature. The now-former press secretary to the premier, Neala Barton, appears to have already landed a new communications job in Toronto with the scandal plagued Pan Am Games Committee. Before joining Ms. Redford’s staff last year, Ms. Barton had previously served as press secretary for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

FAQ: Alison Redford faces PC Party leadership review

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Alison Redford

Hundreds of supporters of the long-governing Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta will gather in Red Deer on November 22 and 23, 2013 to attend to the business of their annual general meeting and conduct a review of Premier Alison Redford leadership.

Why does a leader who nineteen months ago led her party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory have to face a leadership review?

Because it’s mandatory.

Article 15.1 of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta constitution states “At the second Annual General Meeting of the Association following a Provincial General Election where the Party forms the Government or at the first Annual General Meeting of the Association following a Provincial General Election where the Party does not form the Government, a secret ballot on leadership review shall be held.”

Who gets to vote?

Members in good standing of the PC Party and duly registered delegates who fall into one of the following categories:
– members of the PC Party Board of Directors
– 15 delegates from each of the 87 PC Party constituency associations (which must include a minimum of 3 youth delegates between the ages of 14 and the end of the calendar year in which they reach 26 years old)
– 20 youth delegates appointed by the Progressive Conservative Youth of Alberta, and 2 youth delegates who are full-time students from every accredited post-secondary education institution on which a PC campus club exists,
– current and past PC Members of the Legislative Assembly,
– PC candidates nominated to run in an upcoming provincial election,
– past presidents of the PC Party,
– 5 directors and up to 30 deputy directors of the PC Alberta Fund,
– PC Senators and Senators-in-Waiting,
– Conservative Party of Canada Members of Parliament from Alberta.

Why are Conservative Party of Canada MPs invited to vote in the leadership review?

This appears to be a constitutional remnant of a time when the provincial PC Party was officially tied to Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The federal PC Party merged with the Canadian Alliance in 2003 to create the Conservative Party of Canada.

At the PC Party’s 2012 annual general meeting, delegates voted on a constitutional amendment to remove the automatic privileges of federal Conservative Party MPs and party activists at participate in provincial PC annual meetings. While the two parties have unofficial connections, friction over federal Conservative support of the Wildrose Party in the last election created a rift between the two parties. The amendment was partially approved, with Conservative MPs still being automatically invited to attend but the automatic invitation for federal Conservative riding associations to each send 15 delegates to the PC Party AGM was removed from the constitution.

What are delegates being asked to vote on?

Article 15.4 of the PC Party constitution states that the ballot shall contain the question: “Do you wish a Provincial Leadership Election to be called?”

What happens if delegates vote for a leadership review?

If a majority of ballots are marked in the affirmative, the PC Party Board of Directors shall proceed to call a provincial leadership election.

How would a new leader be chosen?

According to Article 14 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership election must be held not sooner than four months and not later than six months from the date of the leadership review.

Members in good standing of the PC Party who are Canadian citizens, at least 14 years of age and residents of Alberta for at least 6 consecutive months immediately prior to the leadership election are eligible to vote.

When the leadership election is held, the candidate who receives more than half the total valid ballots cast shall be declared the leader. If no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot, a second ballot will be held with the two candidates who received the most votes. This is different from previous PC leadership votes where the three candidates with the most votes moved the the second ballot. This created situations where, in 1992, 2006, and 2011, the candidate with the most votes on the first ballot did not win on the second ballot.

Will Ms. Redford survive the leadership review?

While Ms. Redford has her detractors in her party and caucus, I believe the prospect of a majority of delegates voting for a formal leadership race is unlikely. As far as I am aware, no leader of a major Canadian political party has earned less than a majority vote in an internal leadership review (please correct me if I am wrong). But if a leadership race is called for, it would certainly be interesting to see if Ms. Redford followed her in the footsteps political mentor, Joe Clark, in contesting a leadership race.

After more than 40 years as the governing party in Alberta, the PC Party has proven its ruthlessness towards its leaders. Remember that even Premier Ed Stelmach won a resoundingly strong endorsement from his party membership after the 2008 election. But when the party establishment sensed his leadership could hurt the party’s electoral fortunes, he was challenged from within and he quickly announced his departure in 2011. Premier Ralph Klein‘s 13 year tenure as leader of the PC Party came to an abrupt end when he received a shockingly low 55.4% support in that party’s 2006 leadership review. And in 1992, Premier Don Getty chose retirement before he was forced to face any large scale internal dissent in his party and caucus ranks.

Peter Lougheed appears to be the only leader of the PC Party in Alberta who has retired from politics on his own accord since that party first formed government in 1971.

A weak endorsement of the current leadership would certainly be good news for the tire kickers in the PC Party who would like to see Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk or Finance Minister Doug Horner have an opportunity to lead. But if delegates endorse the current leadership, as most political watchers are predicting, the potential challengers may have to cool their heels for at least the next few years.

Twenty years since Alberta’s epic 1993 election.

Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Colleen and Ralph Klein (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Alberta’s 1993 election, known in Tory political circles as “the miracle on the Prairies” and to others as the election that interrupted the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals (in which the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings). This election was Alberta’s most competitive in decades and saw the 22 year governing Progressive Conservatives led by former Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein face-off against the reenergized Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore.

The Tories emerged as the victors of the closely fought election, successfully distancing themselves from the unpopular former Premier Don Getty, who Premier Klein had only replaced the year before the election. Significant retirements of long-time Tory MLAs brought a new batch of candidates on “Ralph’s Team” to compete with an impressive and well-funded slate of Liberal candidates.

Hoping to ride the wave of electoral discontent that the Reform Party would ride in the federal election later that year, the Liberals challenged the Tories on many traditional conservative issues and attracted some social conservative candidates who might not find a natural home in the Liberal Party. A few of these successful social conservative Liberal candidates, including Edmonton’s Julius Yankowsky, would later cross the floor to the Tories.

With both the PCs and Liberals campaigning on fiscal conservative platforms geared toward eliminating budget deficits and paying down debts, there may have been less policy difference between the two parties than could normally be expected.

Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Laurence Decore (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Similar to last year’s provincial election, where a “Lake of Fire” helped cost Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party more than a few votes in  closely fought campaign, a controversial social issue played a defining role in the 1993 election. Political scientist Peter McCormick wrote in the Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs, 1995, “…it was generally agreed the Liberal leader Laurence Decore’s causal raising of the abortion issue was one of the reasons his party lost the 1993 provincial election.”

On June 15, 1993, Premier Klein’s PC Party was re-elected with 51 seats out of 83 and 44% of the provincial vote. Premier Klein would lead his party through three more election victories before he retired in 2006. Winning every seat in Edmonton and a handful in rural Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge, the Liberals elected 32 MLAs and earned 39% of the provincial vote.

A number of Tory stalwarts, including Bonnyville‘s Ernie Isley, Leduc‘s Donald Sparrow and St. Albert’s Dick Fowler were unseated by Liberal candidates. A Liberal candidate was even successful in capturing Calgary-West, the coveted constituency represented by Premier Peter Lougheed from 1967 to 1986. The Liberals have never again come this close to forming government in Alberta.

Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Ray Martin (screenshot from CBC news archive)

Led by Edmonton-Norwood MLA Ray Martin, the official opposition New Democrats lost the 16 seats they had won in the previous election. Electoral boundary redistribution, retiring incumbents, and the defection of Stony Plain NDP MLA Stan Woloshyn to the Tories did not help. With a rise of support for the Liberals in Edmonton and the Tory’s new popular leader Premier Klein, the NDP were abandoned by many of their traditional supporters in this election.

Watch this archived CBC news report on the 1993 election (points to anyone who can name the journalist narrating the CBC report).

The confusing reinvention of Alberta’s Natural Governing Party.

Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk and Premier Alison Redford at Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton.

Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk and Premier Alison Redford at Duchess Bakeshop in Edmonton.

Success comes with challenges, and for Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives, forty-two years of electoral success has come with its own unique set of challenges.

One of the PC Party’s biggest successes has been its ability to reinvent itself over its more than four decades in power. It is sometimes difficult to explain to someone from outside Alberta how the same party has been led by the very different leadership styles of Peter Lougheed, Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and now Premier Alison Redford.

What does today’s version of the PC Party stand for? I am not sure its leaders have a clear idea what the latest reinvention embodies.

Alberta's new political map after the 2012 election (map from Wikipedia).

Alberta’s new political map after the 2012 election (map from Wikipedia).

While Premier Redford’s clear focus has been on the international stage, her government has presented a confusing domestic agenda.

The PC Party under Premier Redford claims to be progressive (though it fights with unions, and has made deep funding cuts to post-secondary education and support for persons with developmental disabilities). The PC Party under Premier Redford also claims to be conservative (despite running deficit budgets).

Confusion appears to be another challenge of being the Natural Governing Party.

The PC Party is also less of a real political party and more of an amorphous blob that exists to sustain power.

Recognizing the need to connect with its base of activists ahead of November’s leadership review vote, Premier Redford announced at last weekend’s party policy conference in Edmonton the formation of new committees that will help connect party policy with the government’s agenda. This is a tricky goal to accomplish, as the PC Government is expected to represent all Albertans, not just those who hold a membership with the Premier’s political party.

This is also not the first time the PC Party has boldly attempted to make party membership relevant outside of leadership races or nomination contests. In the early 2000’s, Premier Klein commissioned numerous initiatives with his party’s base of activists to try to reengage with them. The success of those particular initiatives was questionable.

Following last year’s election, the latest reinvention of the PC Party is largely urban-based and faces a rural-based official opposition. The PC Party’s recent attacks on the Wildrose Party’s more extreme social conservative-base, which until recently played a significant role in the governing coalition, have demonstrated that Alberta’s Natural Governing Party might not be sure what its latest reinvention is, it is starting to show what it does not want to be.

ralph klein is alberta’s sad story.

Ralph Klein

Ralph Klein

I was born in Edmonton in 1983 and the first Premier I remember being aware of was Ralph Klein.

Having grown up during the Klein-era, I have a different perspective of those years than most mainstream political pundits and their baby boomer cohort. I have mixed feelings about the announcement today that the former Premier will be receiving the Order of Canada, the highest honour in the land.

There is no argument against his ability as a politician to appeal to an incredibly broad cross-section of society in Alberta. He led the Progressive Conservatives to win four back-to-back majority governments and reached his political pinnacle in 2001 by winning 74 of 83 constituencies and 61% of the popular vote. He was beloved by many Albertans, but he was a larger than life personality that even he was not able to live up to in the end.

Perhaps helping shape some of my own political orientations, my formative memories of Premier Klein were not positive. I remember listening to my parents and grandparents (who are retired teachers) talk about the short-sightedness of Premier Klein’s decision to lay-off tens of thousands of public servants, nurses, and teachers across the province. As a politically interested kid, I remember watching the television and seeing a jovial political leader. I would wonder, “how could he be so bad?

At the time Conservatives and many Liberals rallied against the perceived excesses of previous PC governments and jubilantly cheered the cuts. Over time, it would become apparent that Premier Klein’s tenancy to lead the populist mob translated into very poor long-term planning. Walk through any hospital today and you will almost immediately become aware of an incredible generational gap in the nursing profession in Alberta. An entire generation of health care and education professionals were told that Alberta was not the place for them.

In 2001, I graduated from high school and soon began my post-secondary career. Over the years, I sat in many dark and dingy Arts lecture theatres that had suffered from many years of deferred maintenance and cutbacks at the University of Alberta. Overcrowded classrooms, less one-on-one time with instructors, and increasing tuition – it was clear that the financial cost and quality of my post-secondary education were not connected. Despite this, I carried on and my academic career was strengthened and enriched by a handful of hard-working and dedicated professors.

While my classmates and I worked part-time jobs and accepted the necessity of student debt while continuing our studies, Premier Klein was accused of having plagiarized large portions of an essay written for a distance learning course through Athabasca University. Despite absolute irrefutable evidence that he had copied sections of the essay directly from the Internet, Premier Klein was cleared of the accusations and received a mark of 77% from the University. The Presidents of the Universities of Alberta and Calgary even wrote letters to the editors of the province’s major daily newspapers defending the Premier. I doubt either of them would have jumped to my defence had I attempted to plagiarize an essay.

While his tendency to overindulge in alcoholic beverages was well-known, and treated as a joke among Albertans, the ugly side of Premier Klein’s substance abuse problem reared its head in 2001. Intoxicated, the Premier had his driver stop at an inner city men’s shelter in Edmonton where he berated a homeless man. He held a sober media conference the next day and promised to clean up his ways.

In 2006, Premier Klein only narrowly won a leadership vote by members of his party. An endorsement of only 55% was a stunning blow to the once seemingly invincible politician. PC Party members sent a clear message that King Ralph had outstayed his welcome. When Ed Stelmach was selected as leader of the PC Party later that year, Premier Klein left the crowd of PC Party members in attendance with only a few flat and unceremonious words that seemed to only take 30 seconds to deliver. That was it. He had entered the Premier’s Office with a bang and left with a whimper.

I am not completely sure what he did when he left politics in 2007. I know he was hired as a business advisor at a law firm, was a one-time gameshow host and a some-time journalism instructor. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, he did not have a career or a profession to return to.

He is now suffering from a severe form of dementia.

His supporters will praise the myth of the man, but when you take a closer look at Ralph Klein’s time as Premier, his quickly becomes a sad story.

forty years of political hegemony over alberta.

Calgary Herald August 31, 1971 Peter Lougheed Alberta Election Now

The cover of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.

Forty years ago today, Albertans voted to end the 36 year rule of the Social Credit League and let the light shine as Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives scored their first majority election victory and Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Savings Time.

The August 30, 1971 election saw the Lougheed Tories edge out Premier Harry Strom‘s Social Credit by a narrow vote (296,934 votes to 262,953 votes) that was not reflected in the number of MLAs each party elected (49 PC MLAs and 25 Social Credit MLAs). The NDP also landed their first solid beachhead in the Assembly with the election of leader Grant Notley in the northern Spirit River-Fairview constituency. The only party leader to not win a seat in the Assembly was Liberal leader Bob Russell, who placed third in St. Albert.

Since that day forty years ago, the PC Party has won nearly every general election with ease. With the exception of the 1993 election, where the Liberals led by former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against rookie Premier Ralph Klein, the PCs have thrown every opposition leader into a meat grinder.

The PCs have not survived as one of the most successful political organizations in Canada by being nice guys. While driven by a vague set of principles, Alberta’s natural governing entity is essentially an amorphous blob on the subject of policy, following trends and public opinion – straddling the ideological centre while appeasing the various corners of its very large political tent. This positioning has allowed the PC Party to appeal to a wide-range of Albertans, who already largely self-identify as “conservative.” Being the sure bet for an election win has also helped the PC Party recruit talented candidates from across the political spectrum and build strong (and well-funded) local organizations across the province.

The PC Party is also ruthless on the subject of keeping its hold on power. As PC members vote select a new leader on September 17, 2011 it may be smart for the leadership candidates to reflect on the historical fact that only one PC leader, Premier Lougheed, was allowed to leave gracefully on his own time. Each leader following Premier Lougheed – Don Getty, Ralph Klein, and Ed Stelmach – were in one way or another shown the door when they appeared to be a threat to the PC Party’s continued political success.

albertan gothic: ed stelmach’s resignation: the morning after.

Albertan Gothic: Premier Ed Stelmach and his wife, Marie, at yesterday's media conference.

It has been fascinating to watch Premier Ed Stelmach‘s career as Premier culminate towards yesterday’s announcement that he will not lead his party into the next provincial general election. As someone who was too young to remember Don Getty‘s resignation and Ralph Klein‘s accession to the throne, it was certainly an interesting political experience for me to see the entire political life of a Premier for the first time.

It is not a secret that since entering the Office, Premier Stelmach struggled to define his leadership style. Under his Premiership, the general policy direction of his government sometimes appeared to be drifting towards numerous locations at the same time. The Progressive Conservatives have been in office for nearly 40 years and have become a natural governing party that in many ways creates and adopts policy as would a an amorphous blob.

With both his party’s popularity and personal approval rating having drastically dropped since the 2008 election, it would not be surprising to learn that more than a few PC MLAs and cabinet ministers were planning not to seek re-election if there was not a change in leadership. I have also heard that tension between the Premier and Finance Minister Ted Morton, and MLAs and the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Ron Glen, also heavily contributed to yesterday’s announcement.

Malcolm Mayes' Edmonton Journal political cartoon in January 2008 (I'm the Mac).

I had a special relationship with the Premier that began in December 2007 when his lawyers threatened to sue me over my ownership of the URL edstelmach.ca. After forwarding the URL to the wikipedia entry of the last Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, I received a threatening letter from the Premier’s lawyer demanding that I cease and desist (and govern myself accordingly). The Premier may have been insistent that his name was his name, but when push came to shove they backed down (and helped me increase this blog’s readership by at least 500%). Without malice three years later, it turns out that I was closer than I thought with my Premier Strom comparison.

Likeness to Premier Strom aside, it would be unfair to say that Premier Stelmach has not achieved anything while occupying his current office. Always a class act, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it well in an interview with the Calgary Herald yesterday:

“Right now I think it’s not time to think about politics. It is time to think about Premier Stelmach’s legacy as a really decent human being and a really dedicated public servant.”

He promised and implemented the long-awaited Lobbyist Registry. His 2010 budget provided a five year commitment to stable funding for Health Care and Education, two departments that had felt the brunt of the budget cuts in the 1990s. His government established the Capital Regional Board, which started a long-overdue armistice that ended the regional turf wars between municipalities in the Edmonton region. His personal commitment to ending homelessness should also not be forgotten, as his government has supported the development and funding of municipal 10 year plans to end homelessness.

Many of these accomplishments have been overshadowed by the decision to raise and then again tinker with the natural resource royalties collected by the provincial government, which angered many in Calgary’s energy sector. The downturn in the economy and the return to deficit budgets also changed how many Albertans viewed the PC government, after years of being told that “deficit budgets were illegal” during Premier Klein’s tenure. The forced merger of the province’s nine regional health authorities into one mega-health authority known as Alberta Health Services also raised serious questions about proper planning and the value of centralization in Health Care. His government’s decision to challenge rural landowners over property rights and the construction of high powered electrical transmission lines also created conflict in areas of the province that had been PC strongholds for decades.

Premier Stelmach’s eventual departure does not automatically save the PC Party from their low support in the polls. The party now needs to select a new leader while facing an organized and well-funded opposition in the form of the Wildrose Alliance, who have leaned heavily on federal Conservative Party organizers to build their party machinery. The Liberals and New Democrats remain competitive in some Edmonton and Calgary ridings and the new Alberta Party announced this week that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor had become their first MLA.

Although Premier Stelmach will remain leader of the government to oversee the next provincial budget, attention will now be turned toward his potential successors. Finance Minister Morton appears to be the early favourite and could even soon resign his cabinet post to focus on a leadership bid. An immediate Morton coronation could be postponed by the entrance of candidates such as former federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner, Justice Minister Alison Redford, or Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove. It would also be interesting to see some younger talent, like Housing Minister Jonathan Denis or Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths throw their names in the race.

Regardless of Premier Stelmach’s departure and the leader the members of that Party chooses in the upcoming leadership contest, the big question is whether the PCs be able to redefine themselves as they approach 40 years as our province’s governing party? Will a new PC Party leader be able to satisfy Albertans’ new found appetite for political change?