Tag Archives: Doug Griffiths

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.
Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and Jason Kenney.

A look at who is backing Jason Kenney’s bid for the PC Party leadership

Conservative Member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expected to announce his candidacy for the leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta tomorrow, July 6, in Calgary, deliver a speech in Grande Prairie that evening and then travel to Edmonton on July 7 for another speech. He was widely expected to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and only just recently began positioning himself as candidate to unite Alberta’s conservative partisans under one banner.

He would be the first candidate to officially enter the PC leadership contest, which is scheduled to be held on March 18, 2017.

  • As I explained in a column last month, Mr. Kenney could have a rough landing in Alberta politics.
  • A skilled organizer with more than 25 years of experience as a taxpayers federation lobbyist and Ottawa politician, Mr. Kenney should not be underestimated by his opponents.
  • Mr. Kenney follows in the footsteps of his former colleague, Jim Prentice, who led the PC Party from 2014 until its defeat by Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in May 2015. That election ended forty-four uninterrupted years of PC majority governments in Alberta.
  • Mr. Kenney recently purchased a membership in the PC Party, despite being widely seen as a supporter and ideological ally of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, currently led by former MP Brian Jean.
  • Perhaps anticipating a threat of takeover, the PC Party recently abandoned its one-member one-vote system of choosing its leader in favour of a closed-delegate system, which forces candidates to campaign and organize in all 87 constituencies across the province.
  • Mr. Kenney is not assured an easy victory in the PC leadership race. I spoke with CTV about some of the potential candidates who also might enter the race, including former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who Mr. Kenney once described as an “asshole,” Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, and Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen, who said she would consider leaving the PC Party if Mr. Kenney became the leader. Edmonton City Councillor Michael Oshry is also considering entering the contest and former MLA Doug Griffiths is rumoured to be interested.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kenney would resign as the MP for Calgary-Midnapore immediately or if he would keep one foot in federal politics until he secures a leadership position in a provincial party. Under provincial elections law, he does not need to resign his federal seat until he is a registered candidate in a provincial election.

Because of his track-record as a social conservative and Wildrose supporter, Mr. Kenney might not find a great deal of support among existing PC Party members, including the 1,001 who attended the party’s annual general meeting earlier this year. But two unite-the-right groups could provide him with a base with which to organize his PC leadership bid.

Mr. Kenney appears to have the support of two unite-the-right groups. The Alberta Can’t Wait group, backed by former Reform Party stalwarts Preston Manning and Cliff Fryers, lobbyist Hal Danchilla and 1980s Tory cabinet minister Rick Orman, and the Alberta Prosperity Fund, backed by former right-wing talk radio host Dave Rutherford, former MLAs Heather Forsyth and Shiraz Shariff, and former PC Party president Jim McCormick. The Alberta Prosperity Fund issued a formal endorsement of Mr. Kenney on July 5, 2016.

The Alberta Can’t Wait group was reportedly planning to hijack the Alberta Party later this summer and Prosperity Fund founder and director Barry McNamar, formerly of the Fraser Institute and Manning Centre, is reportedly suing the Wildrose Party.

The two groups are part of a burgeoning cottage industry of anti-NDP groups, including the infamous and less polished Kudatah, that have popped up since the May 2015 election. Both the Wildrose and PC Parties have publicly rejected their overtures.

Alberta’s elections laws bar political parties from merging financial assets, meaning any actual merger between conservative parties is highly unlikely. Making things more complicated was the formation of a sixth conservative party last month – the Reform Party of Alberta. It may be a more likely scenario that a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney would apply to Elections Alberta to change its name to the Conservative Party of Alberta and urge Wildrose MLAs to run under its banner in the 2019 general election.

Cast into the opposition for the first time in 44 years, Conservatives in Alberta will need to define what their vision is for the future of our province. After decades of fiscal mismanagement, much of Alberta’s current economic situation is a result of decisions made by PC Party governments. Conservatives cannot simply expect that Albertans will forgive, forget and restore the natural governing party in 2019. Those days are gone.

Aside from his politically charged rhetoric about “free enterprise” and the bogeyman ‘bohemian Marxism‘ it remains completely unclear what Mr. Kenney’s vision for Alberta would be, besides just returning Conservatives to power. I expect we will find out more in the next few days.

Alberta can’t afford to ignore the Provincial Sales Tax

rat2.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoRat-free, PST-free and Liberal-free” has been a Conservative mantra in Alberta since the reign of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But is this trifecta now in jeopardy?

The decline of government revenues caused by the drop in the price of oil has once again sparked the discussion around resource diversification and tax increases in Alberta. And with talk of economic doom and gloom, Premier Jim Prentice is managing expectations and preparing Albertans for the upcoming provincial budget and likely a Spring provincial election.

Jim Prentice Premier of Alberta

Jim Prentice

Will the budget include deep funding cuts or tax increases? Under most circumstances, deep budget cuts would be the natural choice for the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, but there is growing speculation that Mr. Prentice could be softening the ground for the introduction of a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) in Alberta.

At a 2013 provincial fiscal summit, economist Bob Ascah suggested that a 1 per cent sales tax could raise $750 million in annual revenue for the provincial government. Diversifying income sources with a five or six per cent sales tax could help soften the blow of the dreaded $7 billion gap that Mr. Prentice has warned will face the provincial budget if oil prices do not increase by next year.

Late last year, Mr. Prentice declared in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that he would not consider introducing a PST, but the Premier has changed his tune in 2015, saying that everything is on the table.

This is not the first time PST has been at the centre of discussion in Alberta. Few Albertans may know it, but Alberta did have a two per cent sales tax for a short period ending in 1937.

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

In the aftermath of the last major economic downturn in June 2008, when the price of oil dropped from a high of $145 per barrel in July to a low of $30 per barrel in December 2008, PC cabinet ministers like Doug Griffiths openly mused about PST. When prices increased, resource royalties once again poured in provincial coffers and Alberta’s political class moved away from the PST discussion.

Facing a decline in the price of oil in 1984, Premier Peter Lougheed publicly mused about introducing a sales tax, but did not act on it.

The Alberta Taxpayer Protection Act, introduced by Premier Ralph Klein in 1995, states that a referendum must be held before a Provincial Sales Tax can be introduced. The PCs have shown in the past that they have no problem sweeping away old laws like this one. In 2009, the PC government amended their much touted Fiscal Responsibility Act which prohibited deficit budgets in order to pass a deficit budget.

Relying on a boom-bust economy, a real lack of long-term financial planning has been the biggest weakness of the 43-year governing PC Party.

Ted Morton MLA

Ted Morton

The introduction of a PST would be a bold and courageous move – one that could land Mr. Prentice in Alberta’s history books beside statesmen like Mr. Lougheed and Ernest Manning. And while under normal circumstances this would be a kiss of death to a Premier’s political career, we may now be witnessing a once in a lifetime opportunity to introduce a sales tax.

The Wildrose Opposition is both leaderless and in complete disarray, and the opposition New Democrats and Liberals could have a difficult time protesting a move that could majorly diversify the government’s revenue stream. And with the departure of Derek Fildebrandt late last year, the local Tax Outrage Industry is lacking a major spokesperson.

The move also comes with the support of former Finance Minister Ted Morton, a member of the right-wing Calgary School, who recently penned an opinion-editorial in the Calgary Herald calling for a PST. And while he was teaching at the University of Alberta, Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff Mike Percy admitted that a “sales tax gives you greater stability.”

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta

Kevin Taft

As reported on David Climenhaga‘s blog, Conference Board of Canada chief economist Glen Hodgson also weighed in on Alberta’s tax dilemma: “Not having a provincial consumption or sales tax is highly popular and has been great politics, but it denies the provincial government a steady and stable source of revenue through the business cycle.”

To get a grasp of how embarrassingly low our tax rates current are in Alberta, Kevin Taft in his 2012 book, Follow the Money, says that Alberta could increase its tax rates by $11 billion and would still have the lowest tax rate in Canada.

Critics will argue that a sales tax would unfairly penalize low income Albertans, and they are right. The government should also scrap the short-sighted flat tax and return to a real progressive income tax system. Alberta is currently the only province with a Flat Tax, the odd-ball brain child of former Treasurer Stockwell Day.

While Albertans look with envy at Norway’s $900 billion petroleum fund, it could be decades before our government imposes meaningful increases in natural resource royalties. The PCs bowed to political pressure from the oil and gas industry and paid a significant political price when trying to implement meaningful increases to resource revenues in the late 2000s.

The strongest opposition to the introduction of a PST may come from inside the PC caucus. Many PC MLAs are said to be unconvinced that Albertans would support a PST, and the presence of 11 anti-tax former Wildrose MLAs in the government caucus could stiffen the opposition from within. Skeptical MLAs would probably be correct that they will receive a blowback from Albertans in the short-term, but the right decisions are not necessarily the most popular when they are initially implemented. And without a credible government-in-waiting, now could be the the only time the PCs could implement a PST.

Alberta should strive to remain rat-free forever, but on the revenue front, we need to break our dependency on resource revenues that cripple our provincial government each time there is a hiccup in the market.

Election Alert! PCs set March 15 nomination deadline!

Premier Jim Prentice Alberta PC leadership race

Jim Prentice celebrates his victory in the PC Party leadership contest on September 6, 2014.

The Progressive Conservatives gave hints today that they could be preparing for a Spring 2015 provincial election.

Reported by the Calgary Herald and confirmed by sources close to this blogger, the PC Party has set a deadline for candidates to be nominated in all 87 provincial constituencies by March 15, 2015. The Herald also reports that the PC Party has scheduled a “large number” of nominations to take place on February 21, 2015. The early nominations would put the PCs in a position to call an election in Spring 2015, and demonstrates the folly of the province’s fixed election laws.

The news of an updated nomination schedule was preceded by news that the PC Party was extending the expiry dates of all party memberships purchased in 2014 to December 31, 2015. In an email from PC Party president Terri Beaupre, party supporters were told that Wildrose supporters can now exchange their memberships for PC Party memberships. The PC Party is said to have sold just more than 40,000 memberships during its lacklustre 2014 leadership contest.

The quick nomination deadline will showcase the PC Party’s impressive organizational capacity, especially in the wake of the mass defection of Wildrose MLAs on December 17, 2014. By extending the membership expiry dates by one year, Albertans who purchased memberships last year will not need to be convinced to renew in order to vote in the 2015 candidate nomination contests.

March 15 will come quickly for some PC MLAs, especially the Wildrose floor crossers, who have barely had time to introduce themselves to their new local party members. Some new PC MLAs, like Danielle Smith, who is currently on vacation in Mexico, are expected to face strong nomination challenges from annoyed PC Party supporters in their constituencies.

The quick nomination timeline will also force some long-time PC MLAs to decide whether they are going to try and seek re-election. Lethbridge-East PC MLA Bridget Pastoor, who crossed the floor from the Liberals in 2011, announced this week that she would not seek re-election. Attention will also turn to the gang of former PC cabinet ministers who sit in the backbencher thanks to Premier Jim Prentice‘s September 2014 cabinet shuffle.

It is suspected that former cabinet ministers, such as Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths and Fred Horne, can expect to be nudged aside in order to make room for new candidates as Mr. Prentice attempts to rebrand the long-governing PC Party in his own image.

The early election call will put the opposition parties in a tough situation.

Fresh from their own leadership contest, Rachel Notley‘s New Democrats have only nominated ten candidates in 87 constituencies. The Liberals and Alberta Party have not yet started their candidate nomination process. The Liberals had originally planned to hold their first nomination meeting for January 24 in Edmonton-Mill Woods, but cancelled the event soon after it was scheduled.

Numerous Wildrose candidates have withdrawn their candidacies, leaving the party with 16 nominated candidates since the floor crossings.

The March 15 date is also perilously close to the earliest date the leaderless Wildrose Party has set to select its new leader, March 17. Rumours circulated on social media today that offensive conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders is considering running for the official opposition party’s leadership. Mr. Anders candidacy would be a blessing for the PCs and a deathblow for the Wildrose.

Financial disclosures submitted to Elections Alberta are expected to be released in the coming weeks and will reveal the financial situation of Alberta’s political parties. The Tories will report to have raised a considerable sum of money in 2014, as will the Wildrose Party, which is said to still have $300,000 in their election war chest.

With March 15 less than two months away, Mr. Prentice may seek to use the Spring provincial budget as an election platform, as the PC Party has in the past. Relying on a disorganized opposition and using hyperbole to fan fears of an economic downturn, Mr. Prentice is in a strong position to lead his party to win its 14th consecutive election.

This is a stunning turnaround from six months ago, when the PCs were rocked by an endless string of scandals and were trailing the Wildrose Party in the polls and in fundraising. The PC Party’s apparent recovery serves as an important reminder to political watchers not to underestimate the 43-year governing PC Party.

Could the Wildrose collapse mean an early 2015 election?

Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Alberta Wildrose Merger PC

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and her new boss, PC Party Premier Jim Prentice.

This week’s defection of nine Wildrose MLAs to the Progressive Conservative Caucus has drastically impacted Alberta’s electoral map. The governing PCs now hold 72 of 87 electoral constituencies with the remaining opposition consisting of 5 Wildrose MLAs, 5 Liberal MLAs, 4 New Democrats and 1 Independent MLA.

Preston Manning

Preston Manning

The mass-floor crossing, encouraged by Conservative Godfather Preston Manning, could increase the likelihood of an early 2015 general election. Now with 72 MLAs, the PCs are in a position to quickly nominate candidates across the province and take advantage of an opposition in disarray by calling a snap election early in the new year.

With Premier Jim Prentice increasingly warning of Alberta’s tough economic times, it is not far fetched to believe the PCs could seek a new mandate earlier than the 2016 fixed-election period. There is suspicion that Mr. Prentice wants to take advantage of the low price of oil in order to impose budget cuts before the price exits the “price trough” and begins to rise.

Rob Anderson MLA Airdrie PC WIldrose

Rob Anderson

NDP MLA Brian Mason and blogger David Climenhaga suggest a snap election could be called in early January 2015, but it could be more likely the Tories would wait until February or March.

In their 43 years in government, it has been common for the PCs to table a provincial budget in February or March and then immediately drop the Writ of election in order to use the budget as their de-facto campaign platform. This timeline would also allow for an early 2015 cabinet shuffle to make room for floor-crossers Danielle Smith and Rob Anderson, and allow the Tories time to build their message around a “tough economic times” budget/campaign platform.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader

Alison Redford

An early election would also allow Mr. Prentice to attract new candidates and force PC MLA’s too closely associated with former premier Alison Redford into early retirement (ie: Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Sandra JansenDoug Griffiths).

Mr. Prentice may also want to hold an election before more information is released by the R.C.M.P. regarding their investigation into Ms. Redford and her staff. The CBC reported on November 4, 2014 that a Justice Department internal review concluded Ms. Redford could face criminal charges if allegations about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The possibility of an early election should be a wake-up call for Alberta’s fractious non-conservative opposition parties, who are mostly contained within Alberta’s two largest cities. The lack of conservative vote split that the New Democrats, Liberals and Alberta Party had hoped to capitalize on may have vanished the moment Ms. Smith crossed the floor.

One potential speed bump to an early election could be dissent within the PC Caucus to the Wildrose MLA floor-crossing. I am told that more than a few PC MLAs are not pleased with their new colleagues of convenience, who have spent the past two years attacking and embarrassing them as the opposition. If Mr. Prentice suspects this internal dissent is potentially explosive, he may decide to hold off an election until tensions inside the PC Caucus cool down.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

It is yet to be seen if the hostility to the PC-Wildrose Caucus merger – including the RecallDanielle campaign – will die down or whether it will manifest itself into a real backlash at the polls. This could have a big impact on whether an early election is held. The defection has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of many Albertans, but the political maneuver removes the most likely alternative that voters had to send a message to the Tories.

Despite having the luxury of a government-in-waiting for the past two years, it appears that the PC Party are once again are on a trajectory to form another massive majority and extend the their 43-year reign.

Wildrose candidates?
Drew Barnes Wildrose MLA Cypress Medicine Hat

Drew Barnes

Before the mass floor-crossing, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party had nominated candidates in 28 constituencies. Following the leader-led defection, the number of nominated Wildrose candidates has dropped to 18.

Many of the party’s now-former MLAs were already nominated to run under the Wildrose banner in the next election. Of the five remaining Wildrose MLAs, only Drew Barnes, Pat Stier and Rick Strankman have been nominated to run in the next election.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a former five-term PC MLA who crossed the floor to the Wildrose in 2010, has announced she will not seek re-election.

Shayne Saskiw MLA Wildrose

Shayne Saskiw

And Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Shayne Saskiw‘s intentions remain unknown. It is suspected that Mr. Saskiw was waiting until after the Lakeland federal Conservative nomination to make a decision about staying in the Wildrose Caucus. His wife, past Wildrose candidate Shannon Stubbs, won the nomination late last week.

It is also likely that some of the already nominated Wildrose candidates will re-think their decision to run under that party’s banner in the next election. I am told that Edmonton Catholic School District Trustee Laura Thibert dropped out as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods earlier this month.

Jeff Wilson MLA Calgary-Shaw

Jeff Wilson

In Wetaskiwin-Camrose, nominated Wildrose candidate Gordon Hatch has dropped out of the race and endorsed incumbent PC MLA Verlyn Olson. And in Grande Prairie-Smoky, Wildrose nomination candidate Greg Tymchyna has dropped out in response of the ‘Wildrose-PC merger.’

But in Edmonton-McClung, Steve Thompson announced on his Facebook page that he would remain the Wildrose candidate and will challenge PC MLA David Xiao in the next election.

The NDP have nominated 10 candidates, not including their four MLAs and the Liberals have not yet started their candidate nomination process. Two Liberal MLAs, Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, are leaving provincial politics to run as federal Liberal candidates in next year’s federal election.

Of the floor-crossers, none have publicly declared their plans to run for re-election as PC candidates, but many will try. And despite Mr. Prentice’s promised pledge of endorsement for their candidacies, the new PC MLAs could still face nomination challenges from their former opponents on the constituency level.

In Calgary-Shaw, arch-conservative activist Craig Chandler has already announced plans to seek the PC nomination, challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Jeff Wilson.

Updated: A Timeline of Alberta’s Gay-Straight Alliance debate

Alberta Gay Straight Alliance Debate

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, Premier Jim Prentice and PC MLA Sandra Jansen

It is sometimes amazing how quickly one political issue can transform and dominate the debate. This week’s raging debate about allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Alberta schools has twisted and turned so many times, it has become difficult to figure out who is in and out of the closet on this issue.

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:

April 7, 2014: Liberal MLA Kent Hehr introduces Motion 503:

“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.

September 15, 2014: Premier Jim Prentice appoints Gordon Dirks as Education Minister. Mr. Dirks is criticized for his relationship with evangelical Christian schools in Calgary.

 October 15, 2014: Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman announces 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 18, 2014: Wildrose leader Danielle Smith says her caucus will likely support Ms. Blakeman’s private members’ bill and prominent members of Edmonton’s LGBTQ community speak in favour of the bill.

November 20, 2014: Ms. Blakeman introduces Bill 202: Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 into the Legislative Assembly. It passes first reading.

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 24, 2014: Wildrose MLAs Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan cross the floor to the PC caucus. The Wildrose Caucus defies its party’s members by issuing its own resolution on equality.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson proposes amendments to Bill 202 which would allow Catholic and other religious schools to opt-out of allowing student to form gay-straight alliances.

November 25, 2014: Mr. Prentice announces that PC MLAs will be allowed a “free vote on Bill 202. Mr. Donovan tells CBC that the PC Party is now more socially conservative than the Wildrose Party and that the GSA vote contributed to his joining the PC Party.

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 1, 2014: Mr. Dirks, Ms. Jansen and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis hold a press conference during the time originally allotted to debate Bill 202. Bill 10: An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children is introduced into the Legislature by Ms. Jansen and passes first reading. ‘We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward incrementally,‘ said Ms. Jansen on the issue of gay rights. The Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald publish editorials harshly critical of Bill 10.

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.”

Klein-era Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning condemns the PCs on Twitter for the limited time made available to debate the GSA issue in the Legislature.

Jon Cornish, a running back for the 2014 Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, criticizes Bill 10 on Twitter.

December 3, 2014: Two days after it was introduced in the Legislature, Mr. Denis announces plans to amend Bill 10. The Edmonton Youth Council votes 14-1 to pass an amendment against Bill 10.

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 Ghitter tells 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.

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 Traptow announced 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.

Tories impose a strict policy of de-Redfordization

Alison Redford Jim Prentice De Redfordization

If Alberta’s 7th PC Party Premier is successful, the record of Alberta’s 5th PC Party Premier will be far from the minds of voters when the next election is called.

The strength of any long-ruling political party is the ability to reinvent itself under new leaders and changing circumstances. After 43-years in power, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association has successfully rebranded itself under five leaders, in many cases by attacking the political record of its previous leadership.

Alberta’s seventh PC Party Premier, Jim Prentice, set about this week distancing himself from some of the more unpopular decisions made by the government when it was led by his predecessor, Alison Redford.

The process of de-Redfordization started with a cabinet shuffle that purged PC MLAs seen as being too closely tied to the previous leader. Finance minister Doug Horner, former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Health minister Fred Horne, Service Alberta minister Doug Griffiths, former Energy minister Ken Hughes and anti-bullying minister Sandra Jansen all found themselves sitting in the backbenches.

Former Premier Dave Hancock resigned from the Legislature, instead risk spending his final years in office without a seat at the cabinet tables.

Selling the fleet of government planes, a symbol of the entitlement of the previous regime, was a political no-brainer. Use of the government planes by the former Premier to fly from a vacation home Palm Springs and to long-weekends in Jasper, as well as ‘false passengers,’ shocked even the most cynical Albertans.

Forcing MLAs and government staff to use commercial airlines frees the government of reporting its own public flight logs, but does not solve the root problems of political entitlement inside the current government.

Cancelling the botched license plate redesign was an easy win. An obvious political ploy to remove the long-standing ‘Wild Rose Country‘ slogan from the back of every vehicle in Alberta, the great license plate debate was a strange distraction from the summer’s MLA travel and Skypalace scandals.

On the international front, Redford appointee Gary Mar, who was named Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong after losing the 2011 PC leadership contest, is being replaced when his contract expires next year. Career diplomat Ron Hoffman will replace him.

But despite campaigning to “end entitlements”, Mr. Prentice has chosen former Ottawa colleagues Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill as Alberta envoys abroad. Mr. Merrifield will soon be Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. and Mr. Hill, a Calgary-based lobbyist and co-chair of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign, will be Alberta’s “Senior Representative in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North and to the New West Partnership.”

Proroguing the Legislature for a new fall session of the Legislature allows for a new Speech from the Throne and provided an opportunity for the government to ditch the unpopular Bill 9 and Bill 10.

The two bills, introduced by Mr. Horner, would have imposed without consultation, an overhaul Alberta’s public sector pensions. Thousands of public sector workers rallied against the bills, making backbench Tories nervous about the next election.

Next on the list, Mr. Prentice is expected to make an announcement about the status of Red Deer’s Michener Centre today. Given the theme of this week’s announcements, it would not be surprising to hear the new leader reverse, or slow down, the facility’s closure.

Undoing some of the previous leader’s unpopular policies will steal away some of Wildrose opposition leader Danielle Smith‘s key talking points, but it will not be enough. CBC reported yesterday that Alberta’s chief medical examiner, Anny Sauvageau, is alleging political and bureaucratic interference in the independence of her office. And questions remains about irregularities in the PC leadership vote that selected Mr. Prentice on September 6.

And, despite the attempts to distance himself from the previous leader, the main thrust of Mr. Prentice’s government – promoting pipelines and the oil sands abroad – remains the same.

White-washing Ms. Redford’s time in office might be enough to help the Tories win the next election, but, like other world parties that have held near uncontested power for decades, many of the serious problems facing the PC Party and its government are deeper than any one leader.

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands

Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.

Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.

Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River

Frank Oberle

As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.

Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA

Teresa Woo-Paw

How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.

Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.

During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.

Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein

Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.

The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.

On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.

Unelected Cabinet Ministers

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.

Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skin when he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.

Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.

It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.

Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).

Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.

The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.

Tracking Alberta MLA endorsements in the PC Leadership race

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 candidates who could run for the leadership of the Alberta PC Party

With yesterday’s announcement by Premier Alison Redford that she will resign on March 23, 2014, the Progressive Conservative caucus will need to select an interim premier and the PC Party is required to hold a leadership contest to select a new leader.

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock: Interim Premier

Deputy Premier Dave Hancock and Agriculture minister Verlyn Olson have been rumoured as potential choices for interim premier until the party selects a new leader.

UPDATE: Dave Hancock is the new Premier of Alberta until the PC Party is able to hold a leadership vote. Candidates for the interim position are said to have included Doug Griffiths, Frank Oberle, and Verlyn Olson (who declined).

According to section 14.2 of the PC Party constitution, a leadership race must be held between four and six months from the time previous leader resigns. This means the vote will need to be held between July 23, 2014 and September 23, 2014.

Unlike previous PC leadership races, according to recently changed party rules, if no candidate earns a majority of votes on the first ballot, only the first and second candidate move to the second ballot vote. Previously, three candidates would move to the second ballot.

The future of the PC Party could be determined by the candidates who step forward to become its next leader and, for the time being, the next premier of Alberta. As blogger David Climenhaga writes, “[v]ery possibly the quality of the field will be a weathervane for the party’s chances of survival.”

Thomas Lukaszuk MLA Edmonton-Castle Downs

Thomas Lukaszuk

With that in mind, here are some potential candidates who could run for the leadership of Alberta’s PC Party:

Ric McIver (Calgary-Hays)
A former Calgary Alderman and mayoral candidate, Mr. McIver was first elected to the Legislature in 2012. Upon his election he immediately joined cabinet and served as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, becoming a high profile member of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. Because of his conservative political leanings, some observers were surprised when he shunned the Wildrose in favour of being a star Tory candidate in the last election.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton-Castle Downs)
Until recently, the former deputy premier had become the most recognizable face of the PC government. Serving as the unofficial premier while Ms. Redford traveled the globe on trade missions, his combativeness and growing public profile may have been the reason he was demoted to labour minister in December 2013. It has long been suspected that Mr. Lukaszuk has aspirations to occupy the premier’s office.

Jonathan Denis MLA Calgary Acadia

Jonathan Denis

Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-St. Albert)
Currently the Finance minister, Mr. Horner was first elected as MLA in 2001. He placed third in the 2011 PC leadership race and became an ally of Ms. Redford’s after the leadership race. Born into a political family, his father Hugh Horner was Lougheed-era minister, his grandfather Ralph Horner was a Senator, and three of his uncles served as Members of Parliament.

James Rajotte
Member of Parliament representing south Edmonton since 2000, Mr. Rajotte chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. He is said to be considering his options after he was once again looked over for a spot in the federal cabinet.

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity

Donna Kennedy-Glans

Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Acadia)
The current minister of Justice and Solicitor General is relatively young compared to others on this list, but Mr. Denis is a long-time politico. A lawyer and former business partner of federal Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre‎, he could earn the support of his party’s shrinking right-wing. A “Draft Jonathan Denis for Premier” Facebook page has already been created.

Donna Kennedy-Glans (Calgary-Varsity)
The first-term MLA left the PC caucus earlier this week, blasting what she described as a culture of entitlement. A former senior executive in Calgary’s corporate oil sector, Ms. Kennedy-Glans would bring business experience, deep pocketed friends and, now, an independent streak, to a candidacy for leadership.

Stephen Mandel Edmonton

Stephen Mandel

Gary Mar
The sure-bet to win the 2011 PC leadership race was quickly whisked away to Hong Kong after losing to Ms. Redford. Since then, the former cabinet minister has been far away from the lime-light while serving as Alberta’s envoy to Asia. It is unclear whether he would try a second time to win his party’s leadership.

Stephen Mandel
Oft-talked about as a potential premier, the retired mayor of Edmonton has not shown any signs he is actually interested in the job. After nine years as mayor of Alberta’s capital city, Mr. Mandel left office in October 2013 as a well-respected civic leader. He has since been critical of Ms. Redford’s government’s policies, but is is unclear why he would want to lead the deeply divided caucus.

Alberta politics 2013: Big City Mayors

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election

Don Iveson

A generational shift in Edmonton

Framed as a lacklustre and uneventful campaign, local media and many mainstream pundits missed one of the most important stories of this year’s mayoral election in Edmonton.

The city’s crusty local establishment has lamented for years about the constant stream of locally-raised young talent choosing to build their careers and start their families in other cities like Calgary, Vancouver or Toronto.

But Alberta’s booming economy and a growing sense of optimism in Edmonton has led to an increasing number of young folks choosing to stay in our city, build their careers and plan to raise their families here. This important shift is a key part of what Don Iveson represented on the campaign trail this fall.

Supported by a diverse army of young Edmontonians who want to claim this city for the next generation, Mr. Iveson proved that substance and a positive campaign – or “politics in full-sentences” – can win elections.

And despite nearly all the local media and opinion page pundits predicting a horserace until the moment the polls closed, Mr. Iveson earned a stunning 63% of the votes counted on October 21. His closest challengers, councillors Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte, earned 19% and 15% of the vote.

Nenshi versus Manning

Naheed Nenshi

Naheed Nenshi

In Calgary, a weird proxy-war between popular mayor Naheed Nenshi and conservative godfather Preston Manning dominated this year’s election campaign.

The conflict was sparked by a leaked video recording of high-powered wealthy developers – the Sprawl Cabal – explaining their plans to take over city council by funding Mr. Manning’s conservative political training centre.

Mr. Manning’s group wants to bring a libertarian brand of conservative politics to municipal government in Canada. The “Municipal Governance Project” plans to grant private-sector developers increased powers while limiting the ability of city governments to implement long-term growth plans. This directly contradicts Mr. Nenshi’s plans to address the challenges caused by Calgary’s suburban sprawl problems.

Mr. Nenshi quickly shot back at the sprawl cabal, describing their actions as “shadowy, weird and unpleasant.” The developers attack quickly turned into an election issue, with Mr. Nenshi taking aim at the subsidies granted to suburban developers. Mr. Nenshi says his long-term goal remains to eliminate the subsidy completely.

The developers howled in protest.

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Preston Manning (photo from AlbertaDiary.ca)

Mr. Nenshi was re-elected with the support of 73% of Calgary voters on October 21, 2013.

Soon after the election, Cal Wenzel, the star of the leaked video, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nenshi, claiming he defamed the businessman for political gain.

Big City challenges in 2014

Funding for infrastructure like light rail transit remains a priority for Alberta’s big city mayors, as does the promise by the provincial government to create big city charters.

The charters could give Alberta’s two largest cities new fiscal powers and responsibilities to address the growth challenges created by the province’s booming economy.

In June 2012, then-Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths signed a memorandum of understanding with Mayor Stephen Mandel of Edmonton and Mayor Nenshi to formalize their commitment to develop a big city charter.

“This charter will position our two largest cities for the future,” Premier Alison Redford said on June 18, 2012. A year and a half later, the city charters have yet to be released.

New Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes said on December 12, 2013 that the city charters are one of his priorities, which is promising indicator.

While the Redford government enjoys its focus on promoting the oilsands and pipeline projects on the international stage, the two mayors may have to remind the provincial government that it cannot ignore the growth challenges facing our two largest cities.

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.

Redford’s Christmas cabinet shuffle

Premier Alison Redford Cabinet Alberta

Premier Alison Redford announced a new cabinet late this afternoon.

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

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

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

Dave Hancock MLA Edmonton-Whitemud

Dave Hancock

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

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

Manmeet Bhullar

Manmeet Bhullar

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

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

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

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas cabinet shuffle in Alberta?

Alberta Redford Cabinet Shuffle

Premier Alison Redford and her MLA caucus.

With the Legislative Assembly’s fall sitting coming to an end, can some Progressive Conservative MLAs expect an early Christmas present from their leader, Premier Alison Redford? Nearly half-way through the PC Party’s twelfth term in office and fresh from a leadership review victory, it is expected that Ms. Redford could choose to shuffle her cabinet before Christmas. Speculation about an imminent cabinet shuffle has intensified this week.

Diana McQueen Alberta

Diana McQueen

With an increased focus on the government’s agenda to support the Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, some political watchers have suggested that calm and confident Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen could see her prominence in cabinet rise with an appointment as Deputy Premier.

Ms. McQueen has roots in rural Alberta as an MLA and mayor, both qualities the Redford Government would like to highlight in advance of the next provincial election. Her appointment as Deputy Premier could send a signal to out-of-province skeptics that Ms. Redford takes the environmental portfolio seriously (even though that is debatable from a substance standpoint).

With the intense focus on pipelines and a desire to shift attention away from this year’s more controversial budget cuts, Ms. Redford could look to replace Finance Minister Doug Horner, a former leadership rival, with Energy Minister Ken Hughes, a close confidant.

Ken Hughes

Ken Hughes

Moving Mr. Horner to the Energy portfolio would free him from the constrains of last year’s manufactured budget woes and put him in the important position of advocating for pipeline expansion to the United States and British Columbia. In Finance, Mr. Hughes would be someone the premier could rely on to present a consistent message while managing the government’s controversial and potentially dangerous push to overhaul Alberta’s public sector pension plans before the next election.

Among the political watchers I speak with, there is no concensus where current Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk could end up in a cabinet shuffle. Some believe he could be promoted to a higher profile role like Finance and others believe he could be completely stripped of his cabinet responsibilities. His confrontational and partisan style has certainly created difficulties for Ms. Redford, but he is also one of her government’s staunchest defenders.

Mr. Lukaszuk does not shy away from engaging in heated debates in the Assembly and on social media, where it is sometime difficult to distinguish confidence from arrogance. On Twitter last week, the Deputy Premier mocked opponents of Bill 45, which could infringe on free speech rights in Alberta.

Thomas Lukaszuk

Thomas Lukaszuk

Mr. Lukaszuk replaced MLA Stephen Khan as Enterprise & Advanced Education Minister earlier this year when Ms. Redford needed a heavy-hand to impose deep budget cuts on Alberta’s colleges and universities. Not only has Mr. Lukaszuk become Ms. Redford’s lieutenant, he appears to be positioning himself as premier-in-waiting. Mr. Lukaszuk is a double-edged sword for the Premier.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths is a prime candidate to be shuffled into a different cabinet position or even to the backbenches after his unimpressive performance in cabinet. Since he was first appointed to cabinet in 2011, Mr. Griffiths has stumbled through the high profile items in his portfolio, including managing to create unnecessary conflict with popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi while also alienating many rural politicians.

Mr. Griffiths caused some embarrassed for the government last month when Ms. Redford was forced to halt the passage of Bill 28 Moderinizing Regional Governance Act after rural municipal leaders protested that they had not been properly consulted before the introduction of the planning legislation. The bill has since been amended, but Mr. Griffiths remains unapologetic.

If the speculation is true, December could be a both exciting and very disappointing month for some members of Ms. Redford’s cabinet. If a cabinet shuffle is imminent, there will be PC MLAs  who return home for the Christmas break with lumps of coal and others with their arms full of holiday reading material (also known as ministerial briefing binders).

Strange claim made by PC backbencher

Filed under “strange claims made by backbenchers,” Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao claims on his official Progressive Conservative caucus website that he is the “first mainland Chinese candidate elected in Western democracy.” This claim should surprise some, including Mae Yih, born in Shanghai and elected to Oregon Legislature in 1977, and Richard Lee, born in Zhongshan and elected to the BC legislature in 2001.

Hope and Debt

Alison Redford Debt Alberta

“Debt” we can believe in?

The political battle between the Wildrose opposition and long-governing Progressive Conservatives continued today as the Legislative Assembly resumed for the fall sitting. Debt was the biggest issue of the day. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith jumped at the opportunity to make light of comments Premier Alison Redford made that compared the government’s decision to accept debt financing as “hope.”

“Let’s take some of the premier’s other quotes and sub in ‘hope’ for ‘debt’ and see if that makes sense. Alberta does not have hope, and we will not incur hope. We cannot come out the current fiscal situation with hope.”
“So to the premier, if debt is hope, when can we expect to once again be hope free?”
– Danielle Smith

After a decade of worshiping an anti-debt orthodoxy that defined former Premier Ralph Klein‘s era in Alberta politics, the natural governing party changed their tune. Abandoning the culture of “no debt” that they created has undoubtably been difficult for the PCs as they embraced a new faith in capital financing. It makes fiscal sense if you want to plan for the long-term, but in the Alberta context, it symbolizes an awkward culture shift for a political party that defined itself by this rally cry.

Cabinet shuffle rumours

If there is any truth to the cabinet shuffle rumours that have been circulating in political circles, it would not be unexpected for Ms. Redford to hit the reset button after she faces a mandatory leadership review in November (I anticipate PC activists will approve of her leadership). It may surprise Albertans to discover that twenty-seven of fifty-nine PC MLAs currently serve in some ministerial or associate ministerial role (that’s 45% of the government caucus).

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

Three cabinet ministers who have caused particular difficulty for the government  and should be candidates to be shuffled are Education minister Jeff Johnson, Municipal Affairs minister Doug Griffiths, and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Mr. Johnson has earned the distain of teachers and schools boards officials for his clumsy handling of the last year’s Alberta Teachers’ Association contract negotiations and the ensuing financial havoc wreaked on the education employers.

Mr. Griffiths has locked horns with Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi too many times to be seen as an effective minister. The election of Don Iveson as mayor of Edmonton could help convince the Premier that perhaps she needs a more effective communicators in the increasingly important municipal affairs role.

Ramming through the Redford government’s cuts to post-secondary education, the powerful Mr. Lukaszuk frequently speaks as if he leads the government, leading some conservatives to suggest he has leadership ambitions of his own. Some conservatives have begun noticing similarities between Mr. Lukaszuk and former Deputy Premier Ken Kowalski.

In the first few years of Mr. Klein’s administration, Mr. Kowalski served in a powerhouse role as Deputy Premier and the unofficial “Minister of Everything.” At the time, some Tories suggested that Mr. Kowalski was actually running the government, which raised the ire of Mr. Klein. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Kowalski was unceremoniously booted from the halls of power by Mr. Klein mid-way through his government’s first-term.

The curious case of Doug Elniski

Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber isn’t the only former Edmonton-Calder PC MLA to go rogue. Former PC MLA Doug Elniski announced days ago that he had joined the Wildrose Party and was attending that party’s policy convention last weekend. Mr. Elniski was the second PC MLAs to endorse Ms. Redford in her bid for the PC leadership and stood at her side when she spoke to the media following her win in that race. He did not seek re-election in 2012.

Showing a surprising lack of class, Ms. Redford’s communications director Stefan Baranski took to Twitter to attack the former PC MLA for controversial comments he made years ago. It appears that many of Ms. Redford’s staff spent their weekend posting juvenile and sarcastic tweets about the opposition party’s gathering. Apparently this is how senior government staff spend their weekends these days.