Calgary-Rocky Ridge: Qamar Khan will be challenging former CBC news anchor Nirmala Naidoo for the Liberal Party nomination in this new northwest Calgary constituency. The nomination meeting is scheduled to take place on Dec. 16, 2014.
Calgary-Shepard: Dany Allard is expected to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate at a Dec. 15, 2014 nomination meeting. Mr. Allard will face nominated Conservative candidate Tom Kmiec.
Foothills: Artist and businessperson Romy Tittel was nominated as the Green Party candidate.
Lakeland: Past Wildrose Party candidate Shannon Stubbs and former constituency president Terry James are seeking the Conservative nomination in this sprawling rural riding. Ms. Stubbs is married to Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw. She was the Wildrose candidate in Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville in the 2012 election and the Progressive Conservative candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2004 provincial election.
Red Deer-Lacombe: Jeffery Rock has announced plans to seek the Liberal Party nomination. Mr. Rock is the Minister at Gaetz Memorial United Church in Red Deer.
Yellowhead: Two recent by-elections candidates have announced plans to run in the next general election. Hinton town councillor Ryan Maguhn is seeking the Liberal nomination on Dec. 19, 2014 and Cory Lystang has been nominated as the Libertarian candidate. Mr. Maguhn earned 19.9% of the vote in the recent by-election.
Wikipedia defines a Gay-Straight Alliance as student-led organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that Canadian schools with GSAs may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students.
Here is a simple timeline following the ongoing provincial debate around these student clubs in Alberta schools:
“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.”
A coalition of 31 Progressive Conservative and Wildrose MLAs vote down Motion 503. Nineteen Liberal, NDP and PC MLAs, including PC anti-bullying Minister Sandra Jansen vote in favour of the motion.
October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakemanannounces plans to introduce a private members’ bill to mandate school boards to develop policies to support students who start a gay-straight alliance in their schools by offering meeting space and benefits given to other clubs.
November 15, 2014: At the party’s annual policy convention, Wildrose members reject a ‘definitive’ statement on equality. Party members voted against adopting as policy a statement affirming the rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences.
November 22, 2014: Attending the annual Gay-Straight Alliances conference at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson speaks in favour of Bill 202. “People don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes, colours and genders so it is important that a space everyone is compelled to go to as part of their education makes space for everyone,” Mr. Iveson told reporters.
November 27, 2014: At a hastily called press conference, Mr. Prentice declares that Ms. Blakeman’s bill was no longer needed because he plans to introduce his own bill dealing with Gay-Straight Alliances. Arguing in favour of ‘parental rights,’ Mr. Prentice says his bill will allow school boards to decide whether GSAs should be allowed. If students are turned down, Mr. Prentice says they can take legal action against their school boards. It is suspected that Mr. Prentice’s bill was not yet written at this time.
December 2, 2014: Bill 10 passes second reading and procedurally removes Bill 202 from the legislative order paper. Forty-two PC and Wildrose MLAs vote in favour and 9 opposition MLAs, including Ms. Blakeman, Ms.Smith, NDP leader Rachel Notley and Liberal leader Raj Sherman, vote against the bill.
Only one PC MLA, Thomas Lukaszuk, votes against it. “I simply do not believe in incremental granting of human rights,” Mr. Lukaszuk told the media. “We didn’t give women half a vote, we gave them a full vote during the suffrage debate.”
Ms. Jansen introduces an amendment that opposition parties say will simply segregate gay students and move their support groups out of schools entirely. “That student now does not have to go to the court, they come to the Alberta ministry of education and we provide that GSA for them, and hopefully within the school environment,” Jansen said in the Assembly. “But if that is impossible, we’ll make sure they get that GSA regardless.” Education Minister Mr. Dirks was silent during this debate and Mr. Prentice was not in attendance.
The amendment passes with the support of 38 PC MLAs, including Mr. Dirks. PC MLAs Doug Griffiths, Mr. Donovan and Mr. Lukaszuk join with 14 opposition MLAs and vote against the amendment. PC MLA Jason Luan spoke against Bill 10, but was absent during the vote on the amendment.
December 4, 2014: Former PC MLA and Senator Ron Ghittertells the Calgary Herald he is disappointed in the “backwards” legislation put forward by Mr. Prentice’s government to deal with the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools.
BT Edmonton host Ryan Jespersen uses his platform on the popular morning television program to castigate PC MLAs for their support of Bill 10.
Popular artists Tegan and Sarah published a post on their blog against Bill 10 and well-known Canadian entertainer Rick Mercer also takes aim at Mr. Prentice’s Bill 10 and his position on gay rights.
“Rights are never absolute,” Prentice told reporters. Nice ring to it Jim maybe that should be on the licence plate. #Bill10#cdnpoli
A number of PC Party members announce their resignations from positions in their party in opposition to Bill 10. Calgary-Bow PC association President Josh Traptowannounced he resigned in order to speak out against Bill 10. Former Calgary City Council candidate Chris Harper announced on Twitter that he left the PC Party and resigned from his local PC constituency association. And Brenda Meneghetti, campaign manager for former leadership candidate Ken Hughes, announced she has left the PC Party because of Bill 10.
After facing four-days of widespread opposition and condemnation, Mr. Prentice announces at a hastily arranged press conference that he is putting Bill 10 on hold and that is postponing the third reading vote on the controversial bill.
“Bill 10 has added to, rather than resolved these divisions, and I accept personal responsibility for that as the premier,” Mr. Prentice told reporters. Following Mr. Prentice’s backtrack on Bill 10, Ms. Blakeman announced plans to ask the Legislature to resurrect her original Bill 202.
The numbers in the report are depressing but important to recognize. According to the report, the percentage of Alberta children living in poverty is essentially unchanged since Mr. Broadbent’s motion was passed in 1989.
Unemployment is not necessarily the main cause of child poverty in Alberta. The report shows that in 2011, a record high of 59.2% of children in poverty lived in a household where one or more persons were working full-time job.
According to the report, Alberta’s income inequality has increased faster than the national average, with the top 1% of earners seeing real income increases of over 60% since 1982 while the bottom half of income earners only saw a small increase of 3.4%.
The report also shows that in March 2014, more than forty-nine thousand Albertans accessed food banks, an increase of 2.3% from 2013 and 48.2% higher than in 2008.
The recent Homeless Count found 2,252 people without a home in Edmonton, an increase of 3.5% from 2012. The number of youth increased by 17% from 481 to 562. Of all those counted in the survey (including non-youth), 47% identified as being of Aboriginal heritage.
But despite an intense political focus in Alberta on low taxes and oil pipeline expansion, the discussion around income-inequality and eliminating poverty has gained some attention in recent years.
“There are over 100,000 Edmontonians living below the poverty line, 30,000 of whom are children. For me, that is not acceptable,” Mr. Iveson said in a press release earlier this year.
Speaking to a group of Edmontonians during a break from budget hearings last week, Mr. Iveson explained some of the ways Edmonton can help contribute to the reduction of child poverty through public library education programs and reduced-fee transit passes for low-income parents.
“Poverty elimination will be the result of good prevention,” Mr. Iveson said, as he explained the need for a renewed focus on the social determinants of health.
“If we don’t deal with some of those things proactively they can become policing challenges, which is the most expensive thing we do,” he said.
As city governments are limited in their resources compared to provincial and federal governments, he spoke to the need for municipalities to pressure MLAs to make much needed funding increases to Family and Community Support Services.
It is shameful that child poverty in Canada still exits in 2014, twenty-five years after every Member of Parliament stood and committed to eliminating it by 2000. And in a wealthy and prosperous jurisdiction like Alberta, where we have the financial means and ingenuity to ensure every resident can live outside of poverty, there is no excuse why child poverty still exists.
On Monday, Mr. Prentice promised the construction of four mini “starter-schools” in Calgary to provide relief to overflowing suburban schools. While the new mini-schools are a good temporary solution, it was almost comical to hear another government promise to build schools. During Ms. Redford’s time as premier, promises of new schools were announced, renounced and then renounced again.
And despite delays even then, Education Minister Jeff Johnson offered a “Rock of Gibraltar“ solid guarantee that 50 new schools and 70 building renovations would be ready by 2016. Mr. Johnson’s “rock,” which had a been a key promise in the 2012 PC Party election platform, has since crumbled (and Mr. Johnson is now the Minister of Seniors).
The starter-schools are a good short-term solution, but they will not solve the larger issue: the provincial government’s relationship with school boards and municipal governments.
The root of the crowded school problem is that municipalities, school boards and the provincial government do a poor job communicating and coordinating growth. As zoning has allowed for suburban sprawl in our cities, cash-strapped school boards have scrambled to respond to a massive spike in student population on the outskirts of our municipalities.
Dependent on provincial funding, schools boards have abandoned already existing (and now underused) infrastructure in central neighbourhoods to focus on building, staffing and maintaining new schools around the city’s edge.
Long-term infrastructure planning in our education system was severely lacking for many years as the provincial leadership recklessly focused on the ideological goal of debt-repayment at any cost (it turns out, it actually cost more in the long-term).
But this is unlikely to change, because provincial politicians enjoy the political cover that schools board trustees provide.
When unpopular decisions need to be made, like closing schools or cancelling programs, then the provincial politicians are more than happy to let the school board trustees take the blame. And when new schools are opened, MLAs and cabinet ministers are eager to cut ribbons and pose for photos.
“We need to have a grown-up conversation that acknowledges the complex and sophisticated work we are already doing as a local government, and then we need to be crystal clear about the work local governments do on behalf of the province and the country,” Mr. Iveson wrote.
While Mr. Iveson’s comments refer specifically to municipalities, the need for these grown-up conversations also applies to the school boards responsible for administering our education system (I will have more to say about municipalities and Big City Charters in an upcoming column).
If Mr. Prentice is serious about truly breaking from the past and proving his party is better than Mr. Redford, he should start by having some meaningful grown-up conversations with municipal and school board leaders in our province.
“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.
Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.
The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.
If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote and PC MLA David Xiao’s ties to the government-grant funded yet allegedly non-existent “McClung Family Association.”
Cabinet Shuffle next week
Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.
As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.
It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.
As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.
While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.
New Senior Staff
Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutkawill be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.
Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.
Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.
Spending a few days in another province can sometimes give you a different perspective on important national issues. Spending the last week in British Columbia served as a good reminder to this political watcher about how emotional the debate around pipelines and the Oilsands are in Alberta’s neighbouring province.
While I am sure opinion is divided in B.C., I lost count of how many times I spotted “Stop the Pipelines” spray painted across concrete walls or embankments in Vancouver. And it was not just graffiti, the neighbours in the respectable neighbourhood I called home for the weekend even had anti-pipeline signs planted on their front lawns.
Back to Alberta politics, Mr. Prentice announced that his leadership campaign raised $1.8 million, which should not be too surprising. As favourite son of downtown Calgary and the front-runner in this contest, Mr. Prentice was expected to bring in the corporate dollars.
Earlier this year, Mr. Prentice warmed up his campaign as the committee chair for the PC Party’s Calgary fundraising dinner in May 2014. The PC Party has never really had trouble raising money, their biggest challenge is that the opposition Wildrose Party is raising just as much (and mostly in small donations from individuals, rather than large corporate donations).
Former deputy premier and PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk has had a rough week. First, he changed his tune on a $20,000 cell phone bill racked up while he was on vacation in Poland and Israel, now saying that he was taking an emergency call from a cabinet minister, who was in the midst of family dispute. Then, it was revealed that Mr. Lukaszuk had quietly reimbursed the government for $1,400 worth of flights on the government planes in which he brought his daughter.
Mr. Lukaszuk was a harsh critic of former Premier Alison Redford when it was revealed she had misused government planes, including taking her daughter on flights.
Human Services minister Manmeet Bhullardenied allegations that he offered “dirt” on Mr. Lukaszuk to the opposition parties and that he was the source of the leak. Mr. Bhullar is co-chairing Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign and is expected to earn a big cabinet promotion if his candidate wins the leadership race on September 6.
Meanwhile, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson says that time is long overdue for the big cities and the provincial government to have a “grown-up conversation” about funding how we build our cities. In Calgary, popular mayor Naheed Nenshihas given Mr. Prentice, Mr. Lukaszuk and Ric McIver low grades on municipal issues, saying that none of the PC leadership candidate have outlined any significant vision for Alberta’s cities.
The Wildrose Party is trying to distance itself from offensive Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders. The party is denying it issued an endorsement after a robocall broadcast to Conservative supporters in the Bow River riding included an endorsement from former Wildrose leader and MLA Paul Hinman.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Jason Hale issued statements late last week denying any connections to Mr. Anders’ campaign. Here is Ms. Smith’s statement:
“While individual Wildrose members may choose to support individual nomination contestants for federal Conservative nominations, Wildrose as a party is neither endorsing nor assisting any nomination contestant in the Bow River electoral district.
No nomination contestant in Bow River can claim the official or unofficial endorsement of the Wildrose Party.
We encourage Albertans who are interested in politics to inform themselves about party nominations and participate in democracy and we wish all the nomination contestants the best of luck.”
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.
With a less efficient dollar-to-vote ratio was Ms. Leibovici, who earned 41,182 votes (19% of the total vote) while outspending Mr. Iveson by more than $237,500 and declaring a steep $142,415.27 campaign deficit.
Released last week, the financial disclosures for Edmonton’s 2013 Mayoral and City Council elections detail how much each mayoral and councillor candidate raised and expensed during the campaign. Below is the breakdown for the top three mayoral candidates.
With Ms. Redford’s resignation sparking a leadership vacuum at the provincial level, Albertans in Edmonton and Calgary have confidence in the leadership of their mayors and councils. The poll also showed 58% percent approved or strongly approved of Edmonton City Council and, in Calgary, 60% approved or strongly approved of their City Council.
Leading Calgary through the largest flood in recent memory, Mr. Nenshi has helped redefine what it means to be a big city mayor. And he is no slouch. He has remained focused on creating a balanced approach to dealing with the city’s growth challenges while taking on wealthy suburban developers, who declared war on him before his landslide re-election.
The two mayors have many common interests and their cities are facing many of the same growth challenges, but Calgary, Edmonton and Alberta’s other cities are very different political environments. Urban Alberta is not a monolith.
As the Progressive Conservatives scramble to choose a new leader, Mr. Iveson and Mr. Nenshi are well-positioned to drive an urban agenda for Alberta. Their political strength and high approval ratings will make it difficult for the next PC leader and whoever becomes the premier after the next election to ignore the concerns of urban Albertans.
The survey was conducted from March 10 to 16 though ThinkHQ’s Voice of Alberta and Vision Critical online research panel. The sample size included 534 Calgarians and 405 Edmontonians with a margin of error of +/- 4.2% and 4.9%.
Surrounded by city councillors and local Progressive Conservative MLAs, and awkwardly crammed into the narrowest section of the Churchill LRT concourse, Premier Alison Redford, Mayor Don Iveson and Mr. Horner announced the details of the the provincial government’s committment:
- up to $250 million under GreenTRIP over three years beginning in 2016-17 upon approval under the second call for GreenTRIP projects.
– up to $150 million in matching provincial funding if the federal government approves this project under the new Building Canada Fund beginning in 2016-17.
– up to $200 million in an interest-free loan to be repaid by the city over 10 years, fully backed by the Alberta Capital Finance Authority.
The announcement followed months of lobbying and public advocacy by Mr. Iveson, councillor Amarjeet Sohi and council members who unanimously made LRT expansion their first priority when they took office last October.
This is exciting news for Edmonton, as the City will now tender contracts and begin construction on the new LRT line next year. When it is completed in 2020, the Valley Line expansion through the south east into Mill Woods will provide LRT service to hundreds of thousands of Edmontonians.
It is, perhaps, not unintentional that much of the funding announced yesterday will be included in a budget that will be tabled immediately before the 2016 election. That budget, and this announcement, will play a defining role in the PC Party’s campaign for re-election.
Amid rumours of caucus dissent, the latest accusations that Ms. Redford used a government plane to attend a PC Party fundraiser and recent polling showing her approval ratings in the 20 percent range, the governing Tories are in desperate need of a public relations win.
Funding for LRT expansion is a big win for Edmonton, but the announcement alone might not be enough to convince Albertans to forgive the scandals that continue to dog the premier and her government.