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Alberta Politics Calgary Politics Edmonton Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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.

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Alberta Politics

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.

 

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Alberta Politics

Wildrose can grow from Tory seeds of doubt

Do you drain a Lake of Fire or do you dam it?

Danielle Smith
Danielle Smith

Whatever it takes, Wildrose Party activists are expected to moderate the tone of their policies at their weekend policy convention in the booming central Alberta city of Red Deer. A delicate and sometimes shaky coalition of libertarians and social conservatives (among other groups), Alberta’s official opposition party will learn from the mistakes they made in the 2012 election. On the cusp of victory, offensive remarks made by social conservative candidates in Calgary and Edmonton scared many moderate Albertans to support the long-governing Progressive Conservatives at the ballot box.

Since forming the official opposition with 17 MLAs, Ms. Smith has led a disciplined front-bench that has in many cases driven the government’s agenda, or at the least frustrated government ministers unaccustomed to their aggressive style. Implementing tactics used by the Ottawa Conservatives, the Wildrose have been relentless in their opposition to the forty-two year old governing PC Party.

Fighting back against the Wildrose, or at least trying to, Tory environment minister Diana McQueen emerged from her legislature office yesterday to attack Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s position on climate change. While Ms. Smith’s party is undoubtably weak on environmental issues, especially on the important climate change file, the Tory government’s environmental record is not much better. While the Alberta government is doing more on this file than it has in a decade, its plan appears to be propped up by snippets of truth and focus group tested sound bites.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

The Wildrose are looking for second chances and there is opportunity for them. With drastic cuts to education and post-secondary education, constant political meddling in the health care system and fears that public sector pension changes may negatively impact the retirement prospects of hundreds of thousands of Albertans, Alison Redford’s Tories threaten to alienate the electoral coalition of moderate voters (including many former Liberal voters) who helped them narrowly win re-election. Shooting from their hips (and frequently missing their targets), cabinet ministers Thomas Lukaszuk, Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, and Doug Griffiths often confuse their own confidence with arrogance. The Tories do not give any impression that they were humbled by their near-defeat in last year’s election.

Some Tories may point to the electoral success of Premier Ralph Klein following his drastic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but this is a very different political environment, and I am sure that most Albertans would agree that Ms. Redford is no Mr. Klein.

A recent poll from Leger Marketing, for what it’s worth three years before the next election, shows Ms. Redford’s and Ms. Smith’s parties competing with mid-30 percent range support. The poll also shows that more than half of Albertans disagree with the government’s performance, but the Wildrose’s support in the polls suggests voters have not settled on an alternative.

Brad Wall
Brad Wall

This weekend and over the next three years, the Wildrose Party could look to Saskatchewan for inspiration. Stalled for years in the opposition benches, the conservative Saskatchewan Party undertook a move to modernize its image and policies when Brad Wall became the party leader in 2004. The unruly coalition of Tories and Liberals led by a former Reform Party MP had been unable to defeat the institutionalized New Democrats, who dominated in that province’s major cities. Under the smart and savvy Mr. Wall, the Sask Party modernized, and slowly began to encroach into NDP held urban constituencies.

After his party finally defeated in NDP in 2007, the conservative Mr. Wall has become one of Canada’s most popular provincial leaders. Like the NDP did to the Sask Party, and the Tories did to the Wildrose in 2012, Albertans can expect to be berated by rounds of “ooga booga, the Wildrose is scary” ads in the next election. The part that will be missing from those ads is that many, if not most, current Wildrose supporters were sitting comfortably in the Tory camp until about three years ago.

Wildrose success is not entirely about policy. Planting the seeds of doubt in Ms. Redford’s ability to run an honest government will also be key to the Wildrose Party’s success in the next election. Ms. Redford’s tendency to avoid controversy by hiding the truth or bending the facts is something that many political watchers have noted. Her office’s decision to block requests to release details of more than $2 million in severance packages given to former premier’s office staffers planted one seed of doubt. Her actions, her words, and people she surrounds herself have planted others. Two bad seeds that might not go away, controversial former PC MLAs Mike Allen and Peter Sandhu, are expected to apply for re-entry into the Government Caucus.

And the Wildrose do not just need Tory voters to vote for them, they also need former New Democrat and Liberal voters to return to their prior allegiances (a key reason behind Ms. Smith’s province-wide debate tour with NDP leader Brian Mason).

So, it’s clear the Wildrose needs to moderate the tone of their policies to attract new voters, but they can also benefit greatly from the seeds of doubt that the Redford Tories appear to be planting each week.

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Alberta Politics

The new (and old) faces of municipal elections in Alberta

Tomorrow is election day and in counties, municipal districts, villages, towns, and cities across the province, Albertans will cast their votes for mayors, reeves, councillors, aldermen, and school trustees.

Naheed Nenshi
Naheed Nenshi

In Calgary, uber-popular mayor Naheed Nenshi is expected to crush his opponents, including former Progressive Conservative MLA Jon Lord and a cast of challengers from the political fringe. This election also marks a change of title for Calgary city council members, from “Alderman” to “Councillor.”

With voters in Alberta’s second, third, and fourth largest cities – Edmonton, Red Deer, and Lethbridge – selecting new mayors, there could be a shift in how municipalities interact with the provincial government. With the ongoing war of words between Mayor Nenshi and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, a cast of new mayors could create a new dynamic in municipal-provincial relations in Alberta.

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election
Don Iveson

In Edmonton, I am supporting for Don Iveson for Mayor. But don’t take my word for it. Check out Don Iveson’s ideas for our city and be sure to take a look at what the other candidates are offering. With 6 city councillors not seeking re-election and at least one incumbent in a vulnerable position, there will be some new faces on Edmonton City Council.

While there will be many new faces on municipal councils after the votes are counted, there could be some familiar characters returning to the fray. Observers of provincial politics in Alberta will recognize some of these candidates.

Fallen Tory titan Ray Danyluk is challenging incumbent Steve Upham to become the next Reeve of the County of St. Paul.  Since the former cabinet minister was unseated by Wildroser Shayne Saskiw in the 2012 election, he has become the unofficial government representative in northeast Alberta, hosting traveling cabinet ministers at events and town hall meetings.

Alberta PC MLA Ray Danyluk
Ray Danyluk

In Fort McMurray, former PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier is running for a councillor position on Wood Buffalo’s municipal council, a place where he served as mayor before entering provincial politics in 1997. In Edmonton, former MLA Edmonton-Mill Woods Liberal MLA Weslyn Mather and former Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Ray Martin could be elected as trustees on Edmonton’s Public School Board.

In St. Albert, where anonymous smear groups run rampant, former Alberta Liberal Party leader Bob Russell is aiming for a political comeback. While he was never elected to the Assembly, Mr. Russell served as Liberal Party leader from 1971 to 1974. He later served as an alderman in St. Albert from 1989 to 1992 and 1995 to 2001.

In the Village of Wabamum, former Stony Plain Tory MLA Fred Lindsay is running as part of a 3-candidate slate. Running for re-election to Wabamum village council, but not on Mr. Lindsay’s slate, is Bill Purdy, who served as the PC MLA for Stony Plain from 1971 to 1986.

Familial relations also cross municipal-provincial lines. Judy Hehr, mother of Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr is running for a spot on the Calgary Board of Education. Strathcona-Sherwood Park PC MLA Dave Quest‘s wife, Fiona Beland-Quest, is running to become a councillor in Strathcona County. Lethbridge mayoral candidate Bridget Mearns is the daughter of Lethbridge-East‘s Liberal-turned-PC MLA Bridget Pastoor. And in Edmonton, Ward 8 councillor Ben Henderson is running for re-election. Mr. Henderson is married to Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

In the City of Airdrie, Jane Anderson, the mother of Airdrie Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson is running for a spot on city council as part of the Airdrie United slate. Mr. Anderson’s brother, Nathan Anderson, is running for re-election as mayor of the town of Crossfield.

The appearance of municipal slates in Airdrie and Red Deer could signal the return of partisan style politics in municipal government (slates were common in Alberta’s larger cities until the 1970s and 1980s).

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Alberta Politics

PC Party tries to use mayor candidates as headliners for fundraiser

A screenshot from the Edmonton-Riverview PC Party website.
A screenshot from the Edmonton-Riverview PC Party website.

In a strange departure from the non-partisan politics of civic elections, it appeared for a moment today that three main candidates in Edmonton’s mayoral election were headlining a fundraiser for a Progressive Conservative Party constituency association. Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths was even slated as its host.

Once the event came to the attention of the general public, it appears to have fallen apart.

First, Mr. Griffiths withdrew from hosting the event, probably a wise move for a minister who will have to work with whichever candidate is elected. Then, mayoral candidate Don Iveson announced on Twitter that he was withdrawing from the forum. An organizer inside the Iveson campaign said a miscommunication led them to believe the candidate forum would  be separate of the fundraising program for the evening.

According to the Edmonton-Riverview PC Party website (see above for screenshot), mayoral candidates Kerry Diotte, Karen Leibovici and Mr. Iveson were to participate in a forum as part of a $150 per ticket fundraiser for the local PC Party association at the posh Mayfair Golf & Country Club on October 9. Visitors to the website are invited to fill out an online form to purchase tickets and receive a tax receipt for their political donation.

At the fundraiser candidates would be asked “How will the new Mayor get along with Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government?”

Outgoing mayor Stephen Mandel was critical of Premier Alison Redford‘s Tories after they implemented deep budget cuts to post-secondary institutions in this year’s provincial budget. The 2013/2014 provincial budget cut cut $147 million in funding to Alberta’s post-secondary education system. The budget cuts have forced colleges and universities across Alberta to cut staff, programs, and enrolment in order to deal with the financial shortfall.

Edmonton-Riverview is currently represented by PC MLA and Government Whip Steve Young, who was elected in last year’s election. The University of Alberta exists within the boundaries of Edmonton-Riverview and many academic staff live in the constituency.

It seems unusual that the candidates would agree to step into a partisan event in the middle of a non-partisan election campaign, but it may speak to how far each of the main three mayoral contenders  are willing to go to seek out potential voters.

Still, it is concerning to this political watcher that  the three candidates would be willing to have their names used as a  pitch for a provincial political party event. And not just any political party, the governing party.

While this could certainly raise the ire of partisans affiliated with the Wildrose, New Democrats and Liberals, after more than forty years on continuous PC Party majority governments, there is a reality that whoever gets elected will have to work with them for at least the next three years.

The Progressive Conservatives earned 40% of the vote in Edmonton and hold twelve of the capital city’s nineteen provincial constituencies (one former Tory, Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu, now sits as an Independent). 

Update: Mr. Young announces the mayoral forum is now cancelled:

Ms. Leibovici’s campaign released the following, awkwardly worded, statement:

The only reason that we agreed to participate it because our opponents agreed to. We’re not participating. We will debate our opponents on the issues anywhere, anytime on any subject. We have more experience than they have because this election matters.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta politics last week

After spending some much needed time relaxing in beautiful British Columbia, I returned to Alberta this week and noticed some of the political stories that occurred during my absence. Here are some of the top political stories from last week that caught my attention:

Political games in High River
Buckling under the pressure of constant opposition criticism, rookie Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths lost his cool this week when responding to Wildrose leader Danielle Smith‘s latest salvo. Ms. Smith, the MLA for the High River area, has taken advantage of allegations that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police overstepped their authority by removing privately-owned firearms from private residences during the High River flood evacuation earlier this year. As masters of wedge-issue politics in Alberta, the Wildrose Party appears to be using every political tool they can to solidify Ms. Smith’s base in that area by wedging voters away from the Tories.

Another Alberta Health Services shake-up
David Climenhaga has an excellent analysis of the political implications of Health Minister Fred Horne‘s recent changes to Alberta Health Services executive structure, Janet Davidson‘s appointment as Deputy Minister of Health and whether this actually constitutes a significant change.

Alberta Party leadership race
Two candidates – Greg Clark and Troy Millington – have stepped forward to contest the Alberta Party leadership selection being held on September 21, 2013 in Red Deer. Although the party experienced a significant amount of growth before the 2012 provincial election, including gaining an MLA in former Calgary-Currie Liberal Dave Taylor, the party was unable to elect any candidates to the Assembly on Election Day. The contest is being held to replace former party leader Glenn Taylor, who stepped down shortly after last year’s election.

Sex and the suburbs…
Two-term Strathcona County Councillor Jason Gariepy made national headlines this week when he publicly announced that someone was trying to blackmail him with explicit photos and emails collected during an illicit online relationship. No stranger to controversy, Councillor Gariepy was the centre of attention in the 2010 election when he claimed an email critical of the provincial government was the reason county administrators removed his Blackberry and computer privileges. In 2011, Councillor Gariepy made an unsuccessful bid for the Wildrose Party nomination in Strathcona-Sherwood Park.

Lordly, lordly…
Former Progressive Conservative MLA Jon Lord announced his plans to challenge mayor Naheed Nenshi in Calgary’s upcoming municipal elections. Mr. Lord, also a former Alderman, most recently challenged Joan Crockatt for the federal Conservative nomination in last year’s Calgary-Centre by-election. Unscientific polls show Mayor Nenshi holds 99.6% support among Calgarians.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Councillor Linda Sloan not seeking re-election

Councillor Linda Sloan
Councillor Linda Sloan

To the surprise of many political watchers, Councillor Linda Sloan announced in a press release this morning that she will not seek re-election to Edmonton City Council in Ward 1. She had previously announced on June 28, 2013 that she would seek re-election.

A former president of the now-defunct Staff Nurses Association of Alberta, Councillor Sloan entered politics in 1997 when she was elected as the Liberal MLA in Edmonton-Riverview. She ran unsuccessfully for the Alberta Liberal Party leadership in 1998 against victor Nancy MacBeth, Lethbridge MLA Ken Nicol, and current mayoral candidate Karen Leibovici. She did not seek re-election to the Legislative Assembly in 2001.

Councillor Sloan, along with Councillors Leibovici and Ed Gibbons, are three former Liberal MLAs who were elected to city council following that party’s disastrous 2001 election results.

In 2004, Councillor Sloan was briefly nominated as the Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Meadowlark before choosing to run for City Council, to which she was elected and re-elected in 2007 and 2010.

As President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, Councillor Sloan publicly sparred with Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths over provincial funding to municipalities.

With Councillor Sloan’s departure, the only candidate currently running in Ward 1 is Andrew Knack. UPDATE: That was quick. Within hours of Councillor Sloan’s announcement, candidate Sharon Maclise has abandoned her candidacy in the crowded Ward 6 race to now run in Ward 1.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Doug Griffiths leads unconvincing charge against *scary* Wildrose robocalls.

Wildrose Alberta Robocall
Are the Wildrose robocalls really that scary?

Swinging at the chance to bloody their opposition, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives are trying to make a connection in Albertans minds between automated robocalls made on behalf of the Wildrose Party and controversial robocalls made by Conservative Party organizers in Ontario.

It’s a stretch.

Last week the Wildrose Party was fined $90,000 by the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission for breaking regulatory rules around automated robocalls made during last year’s provincial election. According to the CRTC, the Wildrose Party failed properly identifying themselves when the robocalls were made (they were push-polls).

Doug Griffiths
Doug Griffiths

Unlike the controversial robocalls from Ontario, there is no indication that the Wildrose robocalls were intended to suppress or misdirect voters from their polling stations.

This difference does not seem to matter to Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, who has led his party’s charge, calling on Elections Alberta to investigate the Wildrose robocalls. So far, Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party has admitted to making the calls, paid the fine in its entirety, and has released the script of the robocall in question.

As the National Post’s Jen Gerson wrote, “[o]ne can hardly fault Alberta’s besieged Progressive Conservatives for trying to squeeze the ruling  for all it’s worth.” After three years of being harassed from scandal to scandal by the Wildrose, the Tories see an opportunity to strike-back against their relentlessly aggressive opponents. And this is becoming a trend.

This new offensive strategy appears to have started with Premier Redford’s unfortunately hyper-partisan speech to a group of school children at a government press conference last month.

Manmeet Bhullar
Manmeet Bhullar

Online, ministerial press secretaries have become partisan mini-celebrities by spending their days locked in heated political arguments with Wildrose Caucus staffers on Twitter. Long-gone are the days when ministerial spokespeople at least pretended to be non-partisan.

Last week, Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar accused the Wildrose of bigotry for failing to promptly remove racist comments from their Facebook Page (a Wildrose staffer was quick to point out racist comments that had not been removed from Premier Alison Redford‘s Facebook Page). Minister Bhullar’s accusation sends a message to moderate voters, who might be unhappy with the PC Party’s deep funding cuts to post-secondary education and cuts to support for persons with developmental disabilities, that their only alternative is still scary.

The robocall accusations against the Wildrose remain thin, even the Tories use robocalls – because it is an effective campaign tool. But this is payback and we should not expect the Tories to be nice about it.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Bad planning: Edmonton Arena funding and Calgary urban sprawl.

Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.
Top Priority: The Wayne Gretzky statue.

While too much media attention was focused this week on the fate of a statue of a hockey player who left Edmonton twenty-five years ago for sunny southern California (and piles of money), City Council desperately tried to draw up a Plan B (or Plan C) to fund the proposed downtown arena.

The unrealistic Plan A, a financial framework approved by City Council and billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz‘s company months ago, included a large funding gap of $114 million that Mayor Stephen Mandel was adamant that the provincial government would fill.

Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affair Minister Doug Griffiths have been clear that no direct funding for the arena is coming. Ever. And after Mayor Mandel’s harsh-criticisms of the province’s cuts to post-secondary education, it now seems even more unlikely that the provincial politicians would be willing to kowtow to the Mayor’s desperate demands.

Two weeks ago, a split council vote decided that the city would borrow $45 million against expected future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding, meant for public infrastructure construction and maintenance, to put towards the arena. This still leaves a $55 million gap that the provincial government has said it is not interested in filling.

As Councillors scramble to find a solution to a problem they should have solved months ago, it is now being suggested that more funds from the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) be directed toward the arena, looting funds already promised for other downtown projects.

Sprawl Cabal Cal Wenzel
Cal Wenzel

Meanwhile in Calgary, an awkwardly long press conference was held by the Sprawl Cabal’s Cal Wenzel to respond to accusations that wealthy developers are aiming to unseat aldermen who believe urban planning is better than the current near-unrestrained urban sprawl.

Despite being caught in a leaked video plotting to use Preston Manning‘s Calgary-based Municipal Governance Project to free city council from “the dark side,” Mr. Wenzel uncomfortably tried to downplay the evidence exposed by Global Calgary this week.

As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, Mr. Wenzel “would have been better to say: ‘You’ve seen the tape. Judge for yourself what I meant. Now get lost!'”

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Alberta Politics

Tories versus Wildrose: Year One in Alberta’s new political game.

Alison Redford Campaign Bus
Premier Alison Redford hops of her campaign bus onto Edmonton’s 124 Street during the 2012 election.

On April 23, 2012, Alberta’s most hotly contested election in decades culminated with the re-election of the twelfth consecutive Progressive Conservative majority government since 1971. Despite holding the large majority elected MLAs, the popular vote showed Albertans were closely divided between Alison Redford‘s Tories who finished with 44% compared to an impressive 34% showing for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta
Danielle Smith

The first year of Premier Redford’s mandate has been rough for her governing party. Scandals bubbling up from now-defunct health authorities, accusations of a personal conflict-of-interest, and allegations that her party accepted up to $400,000 in illegal campaign donations from billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz have dogged her government.

Despite being branded as a policy-wonk, Premier Redford’s cabinet has implemented a confused domestic agenda that has resulted in public spats with popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Stephen Mandel and unnecessary conflicts with teachers and doctors. Recent budget cuts, blamed on a deflating bitumen bubble, also threaten to unravel the coalition of moderate voters who carried her party to victory one year ago.

The mixed bag that is Premier Redford’s cabinet could help explain some of this confusion. Younger cabinet ministers, like Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Education Minister Jeff Johnson and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, constantly talk off the cuff and appear to sometimes be making government policy on the fly. Other ministers, like Finance Minister Doug Horner, Health Minister Fred Horne and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, have shown restraint and maturity that comes with years of cabinet experience.

Doug Horner
Doug Horner

Premier Redford has been exceedingly strong on the national and international stage as she has travelled extensively over the past year lobbying for a Canadian Energy Strategy, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to open new markets for Alberta’s oil sands. She appears to be less interested or willing to play the political game, which will become increasingly difficult in the face of an aggressive official opposition.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith could have been celebrating her first year as Premier had it not been for late election bozo-erruptions that exposed an offensive social conservative element in her party. Comments about caucasian advantages and a Lake of Fire drove many moderate conservatives, liberals, and even some New Democrats, to vote PC in last year’s election.

Despite the disappointment of not defeating Alberta’s long-governing PC dynasty, Ms. Smith has grown into her role as Leader of the Official Opposition. Borrowing aggressive tactics from the federal Conservatives in Ottawa, who are organizationally tied at the hip with the Wildrose, Ms. Smith’s party is leading the most aggressive and partisan official opposition in recent memory. Her party has groomed a front-bench that dominate the media and have, in many cases, driven the government agenda from across the aisle. Rarely a week goes by where Ms. Smith, Rob Anderson, Shayne Saskiw, Kerry Towle, Bruce McAllister, or Heather Forsyth have not grabbed a headline or a prime time news story.

The Liberals, still led by former Tory MLA Raj Sherman, are still adjusting to their new role as the third-party in the Assembly after being bumped out of Official Opposition by the Wildrose. Accustomed to stealing the spotlight from the now-former Official Opposition Liberals, the four-MLA New Democrat caucus spent the past year figuring out how to play the same tricks on the Wildrose. Acclimatizing to the new political environment, Brian Mason’s NDP were overshadowed by Ms. Smith’s new team for most of last year. With some of the ‘progressive’ shine coming off Premier Redford’s Tories, the NDP are starting to find their footing again.

The Tories have broken more than a few election promises in the first year of this mandate, including pledges to balance the budget and provide stable funding for health, education, and municipalities. Despite the rough first year, Premier Redford’s Tories still have at least three years left until the next election to fulfill the promises made and mend fences with the bloc of moderate voters who saved their party from defeat one year ago today.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Funding Edmonton’s Downtown Arena, the strange comedy of errors continues.

The strange comedy of errors that has become Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project continued this week as City Council scrambled to fill a $100 million gap in a funding plan they approved months ago.

Stephen Mandel
Stephen Mandel

Despite repeated claims by Mayor Stephen Mandel that provincial government money would fill the $100 million gap, anyone who has paid any attention over the past year will know the province had no plans to provide funding for Edmonton’s Downtown Arena project. Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths have been consistent in their public comments on the topic: “no.”

In response to the lack of never-promised funding in last month’s provincial budget, the Mayor and seven Councillors voted to withdraw a $45 million loan to be paid back through future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding that the city could receive over the next twenty-years. In response to the decision, Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons reminded her readers this week, “[t]he clear intent of the original council resolution was that no deal would go ahead without $100 million in new provincial money.”

Daryl-Katz
Daryl Katz

In a display of common sense against what has become Mayor Mandel’s increasingly embarrassing obsession, five Councillors – Don IvesonBen HendersonLinda SloanKerry Diotte, and Tony Caterina – voted against the motion to dedicate future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds to the proposed Arena.

Problematic for many reasons, this decision still leaves a $55 million gap in funding and Daryl Katz – the billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers – said he is not interested in renegotiating the financial arrangement agreed to months ago. Mayor Mandel claims this loan will convince the provincial to fill a smaller $55 million funding gap – something the province has said it has no interest in doing.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative was created by Premier Ed Stelmach’s government in 2007 to provide funding to municipalities for public infrastructure projects. Municipalities have discretion over how this provincial money is spent and they have typically been used to fund public transit, libraries, community halls and utility infrastructure. Using these funds to build a new hockey arena to house a privately-owned business like the Edmonton Oilers would use funds that could be used for other much-needed community infrastructure projects.

A concern for City Councillors should be that, like all funding transfers from other levels of government, there is no assurance that the Municipal Sustainability Initiative will exist over the next twenty-years. Its continued existence is based on three factors the City of Edmonton has no control over: population growth, provincial revenue, and the continued desire of provincial politicians to continue the program.

Will the provincial government change its tune and provide $55 million in direct funding? Not very likely. Mayor Mandel’s warpath against post-secondary funding cuts will have left many already unsympathetic provincial politicians now even less-willing to contribute to the project.

Also problematic for the provincial government is the ongoing is the investigation by Alberta’s Chief Elections Officer into allegations that Mr. Katz violated the Elections Finances Act by donating more than $400,000 to the Progressive Conservative Party in the 2012 provincial election (the individual donation limit is $30,000).

Categories
Alberta Politics

Rural Albertans supporting lazy high-rise condo dwelling urbanites, says Griffiths.

Doug Griffiths
Doug Griffiths

Fresh from a war of words with popular Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths responded the a question from Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman with this poorly thought-out retort in Question Period today:

“It could be asked by rural Albertans why 17 per cent of the population that lives in rural Alberta that has all the oil and gas revenue, does all the work, all the farms, all the agriculture and everything associated with it, goes to support urban Albertans who sit in high-rise condos and don’t necessarily contribute to the grassroots of this economy”.

There is a lot wrong with Minister Griffiths’ statement, but to start, he should take a closer look at the urban landscape the next time he drives through one of Alberta’s cities. Most urban Albertans are likely living in single-family detached houses in suburbs, not in high-rise condos downtown (this is probably something, as the Minister of Municipal Affairs, that he should be aware of).

I wonder if he would also agree with Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman that urban Albertans also lack common sense?