Tag Archives: Donald Ethell

NDP leader Rachel Notley speaks to a crowd of more than 2,000 Albertans at a May 4 election rally in Edmonton.

List: What’s happened since Alberta’s historic election and what lies ahead

It has been an incredible 15 days since Alberta’s historic 2015 election. Here is a quick look back at what has happened in the past two weeks and what will happen in the months ahead.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

May 5: Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party won Alberta’s provincial election and formed a majority government with 53 MLAs. The Wildrose Party formed Official Opposition with 21 MLAs and the Progressive Conservative Party, which had formed government since 1971, was reduced to 10 MLAs. Alberta Party leader Greg Clark was elected in Calgary-Elbow and Liberal David Swann is re-elected in Calgary-Mountain View. One race, in Calgary-Glenmore, was tied. Premier Jim Prentice announced his resignation as PC Party leader and as MLA for Calgary-Foothills.

May 6: In her first press conference since the election, Premier-designate Notley reassures business and energy industry leaders of her intentions to work collaboratively with them as Premier of Alberta.

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary ElbowGreg Clark Alberta Party MLA Calgary Elbow

Greg Clark

May 7: Ms. Notley meets with Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell and asks for permission to form a government. The process of transitioning a new party into government in Alberta begins for the first time since 1971.

May 8: Mr. Clark announced he would submit a series of requests under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to ensure sensitive documents are not destroyed before the transition to a new government. Mr. Jean also calls on the outgoing government to stop all shredding of documents during the transition. The University of Alberta Board of Governors voted to keep Doug Goss as chairman in spite of his participation in a disasterous press conference in the last week of the election where he and three other CEOs urged Edmontonians to vote PC and described the NDP as amateurs.

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

May 9: The NDP Government caucus meets for the first time at Government House in Edmonton. “Albertans voted for change and they asked our team of new MLAs to do important work, the work of restoring honesty and integrity and trust to government,” Ms. Notley told reporters at a morning press conference.

May 11: Wildrose leader Brian Jean announced six senior Official Opposition critic roles and caucus officers. Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver is appointed interim leader of the PC opposition caucus.

May 12: Ms. Notley met with outgoing Premier Prentice and asked that the outgoing Government of Alberta extend the school budget deadline to the end of June. She also announced she had hired Brian Topp as her Chief of Staff and Adrienne King as Deputy Chief of Staff. Richard Dicerni remains Deputy Minister for Executive Council.

Brian Topp Alberta Premier Chief of Staff

Brian Topp

May 13: The Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Public Interest Commissioner opened a joint investigation into the alleged improper destruction of records by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Ms. Notley ordered all government departments to halt document destruction.

May 14: At the PC Party Calgary leader’s dinner, Mr. Prentice made his first public statement since the party’s electoral defeat and his surprise resignation on election night.

May 15: A recount of a tied election in Calgary-Glenmore resulted in a 6-vote win for NDP candidate Anam Kazim over PC candidate Linda Johnson. Ms. Johnson has until May 25 to request a judicial recount. The PC Party laid off 11 of its staff and announces plans to close its offices in Calgary and Edmonton.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

May 16: Speaking to a meeting of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Edmonton-Glenora NDP MLA-elect Sarah Hoffman reached out to educators by telling them that the new government will be a better partner.

May 20: Ms. Notley held a press conference where she announces the dates of the cabinet swearing-in ceremony, the size of the new cabinet and timelines for a new provincial budget. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces that Calgary businessperson Lois Mitchell will replace Mr. Ethell as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

May 24: Ms. Notley and 11 NDP cabinet ministers will be sworn-in to office at 2:00 p.m. on the north steps of the Alberta Legislature Building.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View

David Swann

May 27 and 28: The new NDP cabinet will hold its first meetings in Calgary.

May 30: The Alberta Liberal Party annual general meeting will be held at the Chateau Nova Hotel in Edmonton.

June 1: Candidates elected on May 5 will officially be sworn-in as MLAs.

June 11: MLAs will meet to elect a new Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Current Speaker Gene Zwozdesky continues this role until a new Speaker is chosen.

June 15: A Speech from the Throne will be delivered. The NDP Government will ask the Legislature to approve an Interim Supply Bill to finance the operations of government until the fall.

July 15-17: Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis will host Canada’s Premiers and their delegations for the 2015 Council of the Federation. The meeting will take place in St. John’s.

Fall 2015: A new provincial budget will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly.

October 19: The scheduled date of Canada’s 42nd federal election.

November 5: The latest date according to the PC Party constitution at which a new leader must be selected.

November 13: The Wildrose Party will hold its annual general meeting at the Sheraton Cavalier Calgary Hotel in Calgary.

November 15: The six month deadline for a by-election to be held in Calgary-Foothills (assuming that Mr. Prentice’s resignation as MLA was accepted when the official count was released on May 15, 2015).

When is Alberta Election 2015? What We Know versus Speculation

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice on December 17, 2014.

What we know:

The last provincial General Election was held 2 years, 9 months and 3 days ago on April 23, 2012.

The Election Amendment Act introduced by Wetaskiwin-Camrose Progressive Conservative MLA Verlyn Olson and passed on December 6, 2011 legislated that a General Election would be held between March 1 and May 31, 2012, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, 2016.

In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Election Amendment Act also stated that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever he is asked to do so by Premier Jim Prentice. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.

Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.”

March 10 is when the Legislative Assembly is scheduled to reconvene for the spring sitting according to the sessional calendarMarch 15 is the PC Party deadline to have candidates nominated in all 87 constituencies. “…by the end of March” is when Justice Minister Jonathan Denis announced the 2015-2016 provincial budget would be tabled in the Assembly. The last four provincial budgets have been tabled on Thursdays. If this trend continues, the budget would be tabled on March 19 or 26, 2015. From March 30 to April 12 the Assembly pauses and MLAs return home for a “constituency break.” May 18 is Victoria Day, a statutory holiday.

Speculation:

The nomination of PC candidates in all 87 constituencies by March 15 suggests the governing PC Party is preparing for an election this spring. Elections Alberta financial disclosure reports show the PC Party raised more than $1.3 million in the final quarter of 2014, meaning the the party has a substantial more funds available than any of the opposition parties.

On January 16, 2015, the Calgary Herald reported that Mr. Prentice said he intends to seek “a clear mandate from the people” to deal with the provincial government’s revenue shortfall. It is hard to speculate this means anything but calling a spring election with the budget as the defacto PC Party platform.

In his media statement on January 15, Mr. Denis said that the “government will present a spring legislative agenda,” which would suggest the Assembly would be required the Assembly to sit for at least two or three weeks to pass new laws before dissolving for an election. Bill 10, the controversial Gay-Straight Alliance law, is the only piece of government legislation remaining from the fall session.

A big question is how soon the PCs will wait after tabling the budget to call an election. In 1997 and 2008, the PCs called an election soon after tabling the budget in the Assembly and used the provincial budget as a defacto campaign platform.

The constituency break from March 30 to April 12 would allow PC MLAs and cabinet ministers to travel the province on government business to test reaction to the budget. The extra few weeks would also allow PC candidates to get organized and allow cabinet ministers to join them at events in their constituencies.

An spring election would also take place before the Official Opposition Wildrose Party is able to choose their new leader. The Wildrose Party has scheduled their leadership vote for June 6, 2015. This means that the Official Opposition Party may not have a permanent leader during the next election (interim leader Heather Forsyth is retiring from politics).

If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 19, the election would be held on Thursday, April 16. If an election is called after a budget is tabled on Thursday, March 26, the election would be held on Thursday, April 23. And if the election is called after MLAs return from their “constituency week,” on Monday, April 13, then an election would be held on Monday, May 11.

But until we know for sure, it is all speculation.

The least interesting part of Legislative Session: The Throne Speech

Alberta's Legislature

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly

Every year, political watchers gather at the Alberta Legislature for the pomp and circumstance of the Speech from the Throne, hoping to get a glimpse of a political agenda. And every year they are sorely disappointed at the Throne Speech’s lack of detail.

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta

Jim Prentice

Yesterday’s Throne Speech, delivered by elderly Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, was unremarkable, but it was never meant to be more than predictable motherhood and apple pie.

On a year to year basis, it is actually difficult to identify much difference in Throne Speeches. It is perhaps more interesting to identify the promises made that never became reality, like the PC Government’s much talked about but never implemented plan to reduce carbon emissions.

A quick read of the text of this year’s speech will reveal that it was little more than a lengthened version of talking points that we have heard from Premier Jim Prentice since he launched his campaign to become Progressive Conservative Party leader last summer.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta

Danielle Smith

The real political agenda was revealed after the Lieutenant Governor left the Assembly chambers. Mr. Prentice revealed his first piece of legislation as Premier will remove another bill passed by PC MLAs in 2009. Bill 1, the Respecting Property Rights Act, is a one-page  bill that rescinds the unpopular Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was passed in 2009 and amended in 2011, but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

In 2011, then-Infrastructure Minister Jeff Johnson praised amendments to the original law, saying it would “give more power to landowners.” Yet the law remained unproclaimed.

Jeff Johnson Alberta Education Minister MLA

Jeff Johnson

Stemming from widespread opposition to the construction of electrical transmission lines, property rights became a volatile issue that cost the PCs support in rural central and southern Alberta over the past five years. The lack of understanding shown by rural PC MLAs on this issue was mind-boggling. It provided a clear demonstration that the PCs had forgotten how to speak to their loyal base of rural voters. And it cost them in the last election.

The Wildrose Party, with the help of rural rabble-rousers Keith Wilson and Joe Anglin, were able to take advantage of this disenchantment and translate it into electoral wins in long-time Tory strongholds. With his bill, Mr. Prentice hopes to remove the lightening rod that cost his party its rural strongholds.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

The Tories are giddy with the decision by Wildrose Party activists to defeat a definitive statement supporting equality at their recent annual meeting in Red Deer. Despite attempts at rebranding as a softer ‘Mildrose’ party, leader Danielle Smith scrambled to explain her party’s position after the vote was held.

But the PC Party’s giddiness may be short-lived. Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is reviving the debate around Gay-Straight Alliances in Alberta schools. A similar motion introduced by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr to create more safe and welcoming environments for all students in schools was soundly defeated earlier this year by a coalition of 31 PC and Wildrose MLAs, including then-Education Minister Mr. Johnson.

While some PC MLAs may cringe at the idea of schools that embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth, Mr. Prentice now has an opportunity to show that his party is clearly different that the Wildrosers. By supporting Ms. Blakeman’s motion, the Premier can send a message to progressive-minded urban voters that the PCs have fully embraced 21st century social values.

If Mr. Prentice’s first few months as Premier have demonstrated anything, it is that he and his staff are skilled at controlling and shaping political narratives. I have little doubt that he will skillfully navigate these and other hot button issues that come his way. The new Premier’s big challenge will be to demonstrate that the PC Government under his leadership is more than just talking points in a Throne Speech.


Federal Tories win in Tory stronghold…
To no one’s surprise, the Conservative candidate coasted to victory in the by-election held in the federal riding of Yellowhead yesterday. Tory Jim Eglinski, a retired RCMP officer and former B.C. mayor, won with 62% of the vote. His main opponent, Liberal Ryan Maguhn, improved party’s standing by earning 20%, up from 2% in 2011. New Democrat Eric Rosendahl placed third with 9%. Unofficial results show that voter turnout was a measly 16%.

 

Today in History: Alison Redford sworn-in as Premier of Alberta

Alison Redford Premier Alberta

Alison Redford is sworn-in as Premier of Alberta on October 7, 2011. Lt. Governor Donald Ethell stands to the right.

On October 7, 2011, Alison Merrilla Redford stood in front of a large crowd of her peers and power-brokers in the Legislature Rotunda as she was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th Premier.

Having won the October 1, 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest with 37,101 votes to 35,491 for second-place Gary Mar, Ms. Redford became Alberta’s first woman Premier and fifth consecutive PC Party Premier. Leadership candidate Doug Horner, who would serve as her Finance Minister, played a large role in directing his supporters to vote for Ms. Redford on the final ballot vote.

There is little doubt that October 7, 2011 was a proud day for Alberta and one that, for many Albertans, represented hope for positive change in our province’s politics. We were told to expect immediate action on critical and a new style of government from the long-governing PC Party.

Alison Redford Premier of Alberta resigns 1

Alison Redford resigned as Premier of Alberta on March 23, 2014.

What a difference 2 years and 167 days can make.

Amid scandal, broken promises and a caucus revolt, Ms. Redford resigned as Premier and leader of the PC Party on March 23, 2014 and as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow on August 6, 2014. She was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, who served until Jim Prentice was selected as PC Party leader on September 6, 2014.


Liberals announce by-election candidates

In more recent news, the Liberal Party announced its candidates in two Alberta by-elections. Robert Prcic will be that party’s candidate in the Calgary-Foothills by-election and David Khan in the Calgary-West by-election. Mr. Prcic was his party’s 2012 election candidate in Calgary-North West, where he earned 6% of the total vote.

A recent email from the Liberal Party revealed the party was prioritizing their resources behind candidates in two other by-elections – Susan Wright in Calgary-Elbow and Donna Wilson in Edmonton-Whitemud.

For more, see the full list of candidates in the by-elections and nominated to run in the next Alberta General Election.

Where will Jim Prentice run in a by-election?

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Alberta’s new Premier Jim Prentice, does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Three weeks after being selected as leader of the governing Progressive Conservative Party, Premier Jim Prentice still does not have a seat in the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Premier Alison Redford

Alison Redford

Although his party has already nominated candidates to run in the impending Calgary-Elbow and Edmonton-Whitemud by-elections, Mr. Prentice remains coy about where, and when, a third by-election will be held.

On August 26, Mr. Prentice told the Edmonton Journal he would call a by-election immediately after he became PC Party leader. He was elected PC Party leader on September 6 and sworn-in as premier on September 15.

It appears likely that Mr. Prentice might announce which constituency he will run in on the day the writ of by-election is signed by Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Using all the advantages of an incumbent government, it appears he is trying to give the opposition parties the least time possible to prepare candidates to run against him.

Neil Brown

Neil Brown

The “announcement-a-day keeps the memory of Alison Redford away” strategy has kept Mr. Prentice’s name in the news headlines, and has allowed him to create a two-week long list of talking points with which to campaign.

It is widely believed that Mr. Prentice will run in Calgary-Nose Hill-Mackay, where current PC MLA Neil Brown has publicly offered to resign.

There is also speculation that he could also choose to run in another north Calgary constituency – like Calgary-Foothills – currently represented by Independent MLA Len Webber. Mr. Webber is seeking the federal Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confederation (he left the PC caucus in May 2014, after describing Ms. Redford as a “bully”).

Update: Len Webber has won the Conservative nomination in Calgary-Confedertation. 

The tight-lipped preparations have led many political watchers to believe that the Tories remain worried that Albertans may choose to punish the new Premier for the misdeeds and broken promises of Ms. Redford and the PC caucus over the past two years.

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Prentice would easily be elected, but by-elections are risky for incumbent parties because they give voters an opportunity to voice their disapproval without changing a government.

Jennifer Burgess Calgary-Prentice NDP by-election

Jennifer Burgess, the NDP candidate in the “Calgary-Prentice” by-election.

But whichever constituency he decides to run in, one party is ready  with a candidate in the wings. Calgary writer Jennifer Burgess has said she will run for the New Democratic Party in any by-election Mr. Prentice chooses to run in. Her website cleverly describes herself as the NDP candidate in the Calgary-Prentice constituency.

Edmonton-Whitemud by-election

The NDP and Wildrose Party announced their candidates in the Edmonton-Whitemud by-election. Dr. Bob Turner, a well-spoken doctor from Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, has decided to run against former Edmonton mayor and newly appointed Health Minister Stephen Mandel.

Flanked by Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and a handful of supporters and Wildrose MLAs, Tim Grover announced his plans to challenge Mr. Mandel. Mr. Grover was already nominated to run for the Wildrose Party in the Edmonton-South West constituency. He was also the ‘Get Out the Vote’ chairman for Karen Leibovici‘s 2013 mayoral campaign.

Alberta Party President William Munsey is running under his party’s banner.

Alberta politics this week

Alison Redford Joe Clark Nelson Mandela Alberta Funeral

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark and Premier Alison Redford at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa this week (photo from Premier Alison Redford’s Facebook Page)

A new provincial cabinet was sworn-in this morning, one a week after the cabinet shuffle was announced. The original announcement, made by press release at the unusual time of 4:45pm on Friday, December 6, was typical of a tactic used by government when it wants a story to be underreported.

After facing a week of stories about unreported deaths in the foster care system and introducing arguably unconstitutional anti-labour laws, it appeared that Premier Alison Redford‘s government was looking to quietly reshuffle the cast of characters involved in those stories. But the week-long delay was caused by Ms. Redford’s trip to South Africa to attend the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela. Upon her return, the new cabinet was sworn-in.

In response to the cabinet shuffle, the Wildrose Official Opposition announced minor adjustments to its critic roster.

Young dropped from cabinet at the last minute

CBC reports that Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA Steve Young has been abruptly dropped from the provincial cabinet over undisclosed allegations dating back to his time as a police officer in Edmonton. In last Friday’s government press release, Mr. Young was announced to become the Associate Minister of Public Safety in Ms. Redford’s cabinet. He previously served as Whip of the PC caucus. Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser was appointed as Associate Minister of Public Safety instead.

Ken Hughes Don Iveson Mayor Edmonton Alberta

Ken Hughes and Don Iveson (photo from Twitter at @kenhughesMLA)

A provincial-municipal detente?

Some cabinet ministers did not wait for the cabinet changes to occur before tackling their new portfolios. In a move of detente to Alberta’s civic leaders, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes met this week with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson , Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and Association of Municipal Districts and County president Bob Barss before he had transitioned out of the Energy portfolio. Tensions rose high between municipalities and the provincial government during former minister Doug Griffiths time in the post.

Edmonton’s Mr. Iveson announced this week that expansion of the city’s Light Rail Transit system is the top infrastructure priority for the newly elected City Council. The City is searching for the additional $515 million needed to build the southeast Valley Line to Mill Woods.

Following the cabinet shuffle, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale is Transportation Minister and Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver is Infrastructure Minister.

AUPE launches court challenge of Bill 46

Not long after controversial Bill 45 and Bill 46 received royal assent from Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell this week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees submitted a statement of claim against Bill 46 laws to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Sandhu rejoins the Tories

Controversial Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu was allowed to rejoin the Progressive Conservative caucus this week after sitting as an independent MLA for seven months. The second-term MLA resigned from the governing caucus in May 2013 after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. While Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson cleared Mr. Sandhu of conflict-of-interest charges, the MLA’s creditors beg to differ.

Former NDP MPP now on Liberal Party executive

Shelley Wark-Martyn is now the secretary of the Alberta Liberal Party. Ms. Wark-Martyn was the Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Port Arthur from 1990 to 1995 during which time she served as Minister of Revenue and the junior minister for health and education in Premier Bob Rae‘s cabinet.

PC MLAs vote for Bill 45, but law limiting free speech is ripe for a constitutional challenge

Despite a united front from opposition parties, days of large protests by public sector unions, and calls by constitutional experts that the law would be ripe for a Supreme Court challenge, 33 of Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservative MLAs voted tonight in favour of passing Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act into law. Eight opposition MLAs were present in the Assembly to vote against the bill’s passage in third reading.

As I wrote earlier this week, under sections 4(4) and 18(d) of Bill 45, any “person” who suggests that public sector employees strike or threaten to strike could be fined $500 and prosecuted within one year. The bill vaguely defines a “person” as someone who is not a government employee or trade union official, meaning that the $500 fine and prosecution could arguably apply to newspaper reporters, columnists, bloggers, or just ordinary Albertans who publicly suggest that unionized government employees participate in an illegal strike or consider taking illegal strike action.

The addition of the term”strike threat,” a new concept introduced in this bill, is both vague and open to interpretation and it is not unimaginable that the government could use the clause to punish public sector unions in the event of conflict or disagreement.

Once Bill 45 receives Royal Assent from Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, it will become law in Alberta. But, as one constitutional law expert told the National Post, this law is “ripe for challenge” to the Supreme Court of Canada. Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson suggests that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Albertans can now expect that the Redford Government will be forced to spend significant public dollars defending this unjust and irresponsible law in the courts.

What to expect in the spring sitting? Dirt, mud, and more dirt.

Alberta Legislative Assembly Building

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly Building (sans covered dome).

After a three-month break, Members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will gather today in Edmonton to start the spring sitting.

The commencement of this year’s first sitting will be unusual in that it will lack the traditional pomp and circumstance that comes with a Speech from the Throne. Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell will not be invited to deliver a traditional Speech from the Throne today. The lack of Throne Speech or accompanying flagship legislation will mean a focus on the provincial budget, to be tabled on March 7. This, of course, is a deliberate move by the Tories.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

Finance Minister Doug Horner will table the provincial government’s 2013/2014 budget on Thursday, and many political watchers are wondering what the document will include.

Over the past two months, Minister Horner and Premier Alison Redford have managed to communicate that Alberta has a revenue problem, a pipeline problem (also known as the unfortunately named ‘Bitumen Bubble’), and finally a spending problem.

Over the past week, numerous groups, including the Parkland Institute, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, have released reports and survey’s demonstrating the need to reform Alberta’s revenue system.

The Premier mused about tax increases, and then ruled them out. All these mixed signals will make this week’s budget announcement a highly watched spectacle.

The continuation of the sitting also means that a handful of private members bills left over from last year’s sitting will return to the Assembly floor for debate this spring. These bills were introduced last year by opposition and backbench government MLAs.

Gene Zwozdesky

Gene Zwozdesky

This will be the second sitting of the Assembly since Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky was selected as Speaker by his peers. While generally seen as a fair chairman of the Assembly, Speaker Zwozdesky was highly criticized for ruling that Premier Redford did not mislead the Assembly over last year’s tobacco-gate scandal.

Watch Premier Redford focus on her strengths, like advocating on the national stage for a Canadian energy plan and for opening new markets for Alberta’s oil – like the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. As demonstrated throughout her first year in office, Premier Redford is much more effective at being a provincial advocate than being a provincial politician.

Do not expect to hear cabinet ministers or government MLAs make many comments about the fiascos that wreaked havoc for the Tories last fall. Ongoing investigations by Chief Elections Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim, retired Justice John Vertes, ethics commissioner Neil Wilksonson, and Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton will give the Tories a legitimate excuse to say “no comment.”

Will the Wildrose drive the agenda?

Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Party leader Election 2012

Danielle Smith

In the fall sitting of the Assembly, the newly minted Wildrose Official Opposition ran circles around the large Tory majority. It seemed like every day Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson would have a new scandal or leaked documents to throw at the Tories like a live grenade.

Mirroring the tactics of the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, the Wildrose have brought a more aggressive and hyper-partisan approach than Albertans are used to from their opposition parties.

The official opposition launched a new website and series of radio ads to coincide with the budget debate, asking for Albertans feedback on the fiscal situation. While it is hard to fault the official opposition for their outreach, it is difficult to imagine the Wildrose will change their conservative ideological bent based on this mini-public relations campaign.

Three years ahead of the next election, a new online poll released by ThinkHQ shows the Wildrose leading the Tories 36% to 28%. The New Democrats and Liberals were distant from the pack at 16% and 13%. While the poll should be taken with a grain of salt, the mixed messages about provincial finances, recent conflict with Alberta’s teachers and uber-popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi are not likely working to help the Tories’ cause.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader Election 2012

Brian Mason

Lost in the fray during the fall sitting, these two parties need to remind Albertans that they are still there. Can the New Democrats and former official opposition Liberals succeed in reasserting themselves in the Assembly? I would not count them out.

The four-MLA NDP caucus just finished their province-wide “Broken Promises Tour”, highlighting what leader Brian Mason claims are a string of broken promises from the Tories since last year’s election. Liberal leader Raj Sherman has come out with a string of media releases criticizing the Tories.

Both parties hope that a provincial budget harsh on public services will remind Albertans of the differences between their parities and the governing Tories. The centre-rightish Liberal Party saw a mass exodus of supporters vote for Premier Redford’s Tories in last year’s election to block the Wildrose from forming government. It worked too well for the Tories, leaving the Liberals with a small five MLA caucus.

Last fall, the Wildrose Official Opposition danced circles around the governing Tories. Daily attacks from the Wildrose left the Tories stumbling and stammering to respond. New faces in the Premier’s Communications Office have already brought a more aggressive and partisan tone to their media releases and responses to opposition criticism online. This sitting, expect to see the Tories to counter the Wildrose attacks by taking a more aggressive approach to defending Premier Redford’s political agenda. That means dirt, mud, and more dirt.

Alberta MLAs return to Edmonton next week for the first real sitting of 2012.

Alberta Legislative Assembly Building

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly Building

The fall sitting of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly begins on October 23 and indications suggest that it will be a different than recent sittings. Aside from the brief sitting held in the spring with the almost sole purpose of ejecting retired MLA Ken Kowalski from his long-held spot in Speaker’s Chair, the newly elected Wildrose Official Opposition has had little opportunity to spar with government ministers in a formal setting.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012

Danielle Smith

The Wildrose Party’s gains in the April 23, 2012 election marked the first time since before the 1975 election that Alberta’s official opposition composed of mostly MLAs representing rural Alberta constituencies. Between 1986 and 2008, most opposition MLAs were elected to represent constituencies within Edmonton city limits. Due to floor crossings and a by-election, more opposition MLAs resided in Calgary between the 2008 and 2012 elections.

This scenario is new for the Progressive Conservatives, who spent 37 years dominating rural Alberta and is certainly new for the 17 MLA Wildrose opposition, which includes 15 rookie MLAs. While leader Danielle Smith has received some criticism for her three-week absence to the United States, she and MLAs Rob Anderson, Kerry Towle, Ian Donovan, and Shayne Saskiw have been some of the more prominent Wildrose media spokesmen over the course of the summer.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

Over the course of the summer, Premier Alison Redford‘s PCs stumbled over issues in rural Alberta which in previous years would have been solved in a closed-door Tory caucus meeting. The closure of the fully-functional Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in Carmangay made the Tories look vengeful towards voters who abandoned their party and the cancellation of funding for the Fort Macleod police training centre made the Tories look foolish for ever approving the porkbarrel project in the first place.

The confusion around what exactly happened at the XL Foods meat packing plant in Brooks, the slow reaction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to the E.coli outbreak, and the late reaction of the slaughterhouse owners will certainly be an issue the opposition will use to tackle the government during the fall sitting. Criticisms of cabinet minster international travel and expense claims will undoubtably be met by the Tories retort that Wildrose caucus has yet to release expense claims they committed to release over the summer.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

Due to a lack of traditional organized conservative political opposition outside the PC Party, it has been an odd and sometimes humorous sight to watch rookie Wildrose MLA’s stand side-by-side with New Democratic Party MLAs at protest rallies over the course of the summer. While some of Wildrose MLAs first appeared awkward and uncomfortable gripping a megaphone, some of them looked like they were getting the hang of it by summer’s end. In the past, the Liberal and NDP opposition have leaned on groups like the Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta to rally supporters outside the Assembly, but the main conservative voices, like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, have tended to rely on press conferences and media releases rather than rallies on the steps of the Legislature Building.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The legislative agenda presented by the government during this fall sitting will also give Premier Redford an opportunity to shape her defining narrative, which has been absent since she was elected Premier earlier this year. The government will return to its only bill introduced in the short spring sitting, the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, to provide additional support to police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and peace officers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths is expected to introduce amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act, which would extend terms for municipal elected officials from three years to four years. Eduction Minister Jeff Johnson could introduce an Education Act, which would mark the third time the Tories have attempted to introduce a consolidated piece of education legislation in the past few years.

Raj Sherman Liberal Party leader Election 2012

Raj Sherman

Finance Minister Doug Horner will face criticism over Auditor General Merwan Saher‘s investigation into whether the government violated the Government Accountability Act by releasing shortened versions of financials documents during the 1st quarter update of the provincial budget this summer. Minister Horner was criticized by journalists and lobbyists for not releasing more detailed documents.

The decision to not release detailed documents could signal a desire for the government to shift away from the public quarterly budget updates, which are meaningless in terms of fiscal planning due to the province’s dependence on fluctuating natural resource commodity prices and have become little more than public relations exercises for the government over the past two decades.

While his party has not had much to celebrate over the past year, Liberal leader Raj Sherman earned a small victory this week. Health Minister Fred Horne announced that the anti-smoking bill introduced by Dr. Sherman and passed before the last election will be proclaimed into law by the Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell. Dr. Sherman’s bill would ban adults from smoking in vehicles where children under the age of 18 are present.

photos: alison redford sworn-in as alberta’s 14th premier.

Premier Alison Redford at her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford hugs Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell at her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford at her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford and Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell.

Premier Alison Redford at her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford recites the oath of office.

Premier Alison Redford at her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford signs her official documentation of her oath of office.

Premier Alison Redford following her swearing-in ceremony on October 7, 2011.

Premier Alison Redford mingles among the crowd of people packed into the Legislature building to witness her swearing-in ceremony.


See more photos of Premier Alison Redford’s swearing-in ceremony on Flickr.

 

legislative agenda a side-show. leadership contests the only show in town.

Amid all the regal pomp and ceremony we could spare ahead of Wills & Kate’s expected visit this Summer, Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell delivered his first Speech from the Throne today.

PC leadership candidate Alison Redford

An annual event, politicos patiently lined up to listen to the Queen’s representative sit on a throne and read a speech (and then afterward network at a giant cocktail party under the Rotunda’s giant marble dome).

Typically, these speeches are used to present vague feel-good messages about the government’s legislative agenda during that session of the Assembly. With Premier Ed Stelmach having announced that he will resign in September 2011, there is little doubt that most of the real political action overt the next eight months will take place outside the Assembly. As the experience in the provincial cabinet was parred down with the departure of leadership candidates Ted Morton, Doug Horner, and Alison Redford, this government’s Legislative Agenda is appears to be as decisive as a lame-duck. Its only saving grace may be the Provincial Budget, to be presented by Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove on Thursday, February 24.

PC leadership candidate Ted Morton.

The government legislation prepared for the Spring Session (announced via media release last week) presents a mostly light agenda, including house-keeping amendments in the Livestock Industry Diversification Amendment Act, Alberta Investment Management Corporation Amendment Act, Securities Amendment Act, Rules of Court Statutes Amendment Act, Corrections Amendment Act, and the Victims of Crime Amendment Act.

Justice Minister Verlyn Olson

Bill 1: The Asia Advisory Council Act,, tabled immediately following today’s Throne Speech, proposes to create what its title suggests, a council to advise on Asian trade. A watered down Education Act is expected to be tabled during the spring sitting and debate on the Bill is not expected to be concluded until the Fall sitting, when a new PC leader/Premier will decide its fate.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky

The most interesting piece of legislation presented by the government in this session may be the Alberta Land Stewardship Amendment Act, which the government hopes will quell dissent by rural landowners concerned that government is encroaching on their property rights. The property rights issue, spurned by the development of transmission line corridors and the passage of Bills 19, 23, 30, and 50, has drawn thousands of rural Albertans to town hall meetings over the past four years. The Liberals and NDP have tried to hone in on the issue, but the Wildrose Alliance appears to have shown some short-term success in making it one of their key political wedge issues.

PC leadership candidate Doug Griffiths (right) and his wife Sue (left) with a supporter.

Health care was the issue that defined the 2010 fall sitting of the Assembly which ended last November. Emergency debates, the ejection from the PC caucus of outspoken Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman, the allegations of a smear campaign started by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and the forced resignation of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett made for some of the most exciting political Albertans had seen until Premier Ed Stelmach’s resignation announcement in February 2011.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will do his best to keep the health care file under control during this political season. He has started off fairly well with the announcement that the provincial budget, to be tabled on February 24, will include the promised 6% increase in health care funding. He has also deflected some criticism of the AHS Board of Directors by appointing five new members, including former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill, who all seem like appropriate choices. His biggest challenge will to actually prove that patient care can be improved under his guidance.

On the surface, the governing PCs will be talking about a Legislative agenda, but in reality their attention will be focused on choosing a new leader. It may be the hottest leadership contest in the province, but they are not the only party having to face the reality of a fairly fluid political environment.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

The Liberal Party and Alberta Party are also in the midst of their own leadership contests. Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has non-chalantly mused that he may seek the leadership of a political party, but that he is not yet sure which one (Watch the video of Dr. Sherman’s interview with CHAT TV) and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman defused rumours that she was crossing the floor to the Alberta Party by announcing that she will seek the leadership of the Liberal Party.

With leadership contests in full-swing until Fall 2011 in three of the province’s five main political parties, Albertans may have to wait until 2012 to see another solid Legislative hit the floor of their Assembly.

See more photos from today’s Speech from the Throne.

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col. donald ethell is alberta’s new lieutenant governor.

Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong‘s replacement is expected to be announced this afternoon in Ottawa:

“CALGARY – Decorated Canadian peacekeeper Col. Donald Ethell will be named Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor this afternoon.

The veteran of 14 international peacekeeping missions, including Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Balkans, was leader of Canadian peacekeeping operations from 1987 until 1990. He also served as deputy force commander of multinational forces during the 1990 Persian Gulf War and went on to his final assignment in Yugoslavia before retiring in July 1993.

Col. Ethell was also deployed by the United Nations to provide reconnaissance for the Arias Peace Plan covering five Central America countries. His operational plan for the UN Force in Central America was tabled in the House of Commons.

He’s now familiar to Canadians as a defence analyst on the CBC and other media. Col. Ethell will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his Ottawa office where his appointment will be formally announced later today. 

Here is a July 2008 video interview of Col. Ethell used in the promotion of National Peacekeepers Day (h/t Joey Oberhoffner):

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