Tag Archives: Ed Stelmach

The Great Betrayal – what happened to the Wildrose Party?

Mass MLA defection cripples Alberta’s Official Opposition
Jim Prentice Danielle Smith Staircase
Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice make a grande entrance at yesterday’s press conference at Government House.

Anyone already cynical about politics in Alberta will have their views reinforced with yesterday’s announcement that Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight of her party’s MLAs have abandoned their role as the Official Opposition and joined the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives.

Danielle Smith Wildrose PC MLA
Danielle Smith

After a five hour meeting of the PC Caucus at Government House, Premier Jim Prentice and Ms. Smith walked side-by-side down the staircase to announce news that nine Wildrose MLAs had been accepted into the government caucus.

It was a shrewd move that could be a decisive win for Mr. Prentice in the Conservative Civil War that the two parties have waged against each other since the mid-2000s. But what led to this mass exodus of Wildrose MLAs?

Many political watchers, including myself, have pointed to Mr. Prentice’s leadership or the September 2014 by-election losses as catalysts for today’s news, but one long-time reader and observer of Alberta politics shared a different view:

“The Wildrose was not founded on political principles, like the fiscal conservatism of the Progressive Conservatives, or the social democracy of the New Democrats – but rather it was created, out of nothing, for the sole purpose of exerting political pressure on the PC government.”

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since the disappearance of the Social Credit Party in the 1970s, Alberta has seen its share of conservative fringe parties, usually based in central or southern rural Alberta – including the Western Canadian Concept, the Representative Party, a short-lived SocCred revival in the mid-1990s and the Alberta First Party. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Alliance Party, transformed itself into something different.

While the Wildrose Party was founded on a social conservative base, the purpose of the party was to pull the meandering centrist Tories back to their conservative political roots. Over the past four years the Wildrose has excelled at using wedge issues like oil and gas royalties and property rights to drive the political agenda in Alberta.

Premier Ed Stelmach‘s meddling with natural resource royalties led the oil industry to quickly begin funnelling donations to the Wildrose, then led by a photogenic former school trustee named Danielle Smith. When the PCs abandoned plans to raise royalties, the Wildrose honed in on property rights and stirred up a considerable amount of fear and resentment among rural landowners, who were mostly traditional PC voters.

The nutty social conservatives proved to be the Wildrose’s greatest weakness in the 2012 election, costing the party a chance at forming government. But the many blunders of Alison Redford’s embarrassing government gave the Wildrose a renewed lease on life.

And now, with Mr. Prentice as leader of the PC Party, it has become difficult to point out significant policy differences between the two parties. By refusing to meddle in the marketplace, halting the poorly written Bill 10 and pledging to protect property rights, Mr. Prentice has robbed the Wildrose of their most effective critiques of the PC Party.

The Wildrose Party still exists with a significant campaign war chest and a membership role of 23,000. But it now lacks a leader, which the party executive says it will soon begin a search for. The steps taken by the party over the coming weeks could determine whether it can actually recover or whether it will join the list of conservative fringe parties after the next election.

Despite Ms. Smith’s agreement with new premier, the departure of the nine MLAs is a betrayal of the party’s hundreds of volunteers and donors and the more than 440,000 Albertans who voted Wildrose in the last election.

Life as an opposition MLA in Alberta is not glamorous, but as the Official Opposition, those nine MLAs played a critically important role in our parliamentary democracy. The timing and nature of the floor crossing reeks of political opportunism. And the quality of our democratic system will be weaker tomorrow with the loss of these nine opposition MLAs into the government backbenches.

The five remaining Wildrose MLAs will technically form the Official Opposition, but with their party in disarray, many political observers are watching to see if another political leader -NDP leader Rachel Notley – is able to form an effective opposition to the 43-year governing PC Party.


The nine Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the PCs are:

Danielle Smith (Highwood)
Rob Anderson (Airdrie)
Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner)
Rod Fox (Lacombe-Ponoka)
Jason Hale (Strathmore-Brooks)
Bruce McAllister (Chestermere-Rocky View)
Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat)
Bruce Rowe (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills)
Jeff Wilson (Calgary-Shaw)


I joined Ryan Jespersen on BT Edmonton this morning to talk about the Wildrose defections:

Alberta is always in Tough Economic Times

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

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

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

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

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

Ray Martin NDP MLA School Trustee Edmonton Alberta
Ray Martin

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

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

Bitumen Bubble Alberta
Bitumen Bubble

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

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

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert
Ron Liepert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed

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

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

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

Kevin Taft Liberal Party MLA Alberta
Kevin Taft

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

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

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

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


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

 

Conservatives approach a full-slate of nominated candidates in Alberta

With the next federal election less than one year away, the Conservative Party of Canada is close to nominating a full slate of candidates in Alberta’s 34 newly redrawn ridings. By my count, Calgary Rocky Ridge, Edmonton-Griesbach, Edmonton-RiverbendLakeland and Peace River-Westlock are the only ridings without nominated Conservative candidates in this province.  The other parties lag behind, with the Liberals only having nominated eleven candidates, the NDP four and the Green Party only two.

Nirmala Naidoo Liberal Calgary Rocky Ridge
Nirmala Naidoo

Calgary-Rocky Ridge
The Liberals rolled out a high-profile nominee in this northwest Calgary constituency. Former CBC News anchor Nirmala Naidoo has announced her plans to seek the Liberal nomination, scheduled for December 16, 2014.

Five candidates are contesting the Conservative nomination in this constituency. Party activist Gord Elliott has collected endorsements from Nova Scotia MP Scott Armstrong and Manitoba Senator Donald Plett. City of Calgary lawyer Paul Frank also ran in Alberta’s 2012 Senator-in-Waiting election. Patrick Kelly is a Conservative Party volunteer and former Real Estate Board member. Teacher and homebuilder Dan Morrison was a third candidate in his party’s painful Calgary-Signal Hill nomination. And Arnie Stephens is a retired oil and gas business executive with the endorsement of former MP Eric Lowther, who had initially announced plans to run in this nomination contest.

Michael Cooper Conservative Edmonton St Albert
Michael Cooper

St. Albert-Edmonton
Long-time partisan activist and lawyer Michael Cooper defeated past Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Ryan Hastman to become the next Conservative candidate in this suburban riding.

Mr. Cooper is known in political circles for his hard-line conservative positions and has been involved in politics since he was a teenaged national director of the Canadian Alliance Party. His previously electoral experience includes running a generously self-financed campaign for St. Albert City Council at the age of 19 (he was unsuccessful in that bid).

Mr. Cooper will face incumbent Independent Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber. Mr. Rathgeber has been harshly critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper since he resigned from the Conservative caucus in 2013.

Terry Hogan Conservative Peace River Westlock
Terry Hogan

Peace River – Westlock
Former Member of Parliament Albert Cooper is looking to make a political comeback. The Progressive Conservative MP for the former Peace River riding from 1980 to 1993 faces school principal Terry Hogan for the Conservative nomination.

Calgary-Centre
Popular Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr was nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in this hotly contested riding on Nov. 28. First elected to the provincial assembly in 2008, Mr. Hehr will face off against Conservative incumbent Joan Crockatt. Ms. Crockatt was narrowly elected in a 2012 by-election that saw her party’s share of the vote drop by 18,210 votes. Only a sharp vote split between Liberal Harvey Locke and Green Chris Turner ensured a Conservative win.

Kerry Diotte Edmonton Mayor Election
Kerry Diotte

Edmonton-Griesbach
On Dec. 6, former city councillor Kerry Diotte and party organizer Omar Tarchichi will face off for the Conservative nomination in this redrawn east Edmonton riding.

The current Edmonton-East riding is represented by MP body-cam advocate Peter Goldring, who plans to retire after 18 years in Ottawa. Mr. Tarchichi has received Mr. Goldring’s endorsement and both candidates have been endorsed by former premier Ed Stelmach. Mr. Diotte’s former council colleague Tony Caterina has endorsed Mr. Tarchichi.

Sherwood Park – Fort Saskatchewan
Past Wildrose candidate Garnett Genuis defeated three competitors one competitor to win the Conservative nomination in this new riding east of Edmonton. In the 2012 provincial election, Mr. Genuis ran as the Wildrose candidate in the Sherwood Park constituency, placing second behind PC candidate Cathy Olesen.

The Liberals nominated lawyer Rodney Frank on Nov. 25. A Liberal press release describes Mr. Frank has working in the “telecommunications industry” and specializing “in competition and antitrust law.”


I am maintaining a list of candidates who have announced their intentions to seek nominations and run in the next federal election in Alberta ridings. Please contact me at david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com for additions or updates related to candidate nominations in Alberta.

As 2 more Wildrose MLAs leave, can Danielle Smith’s leadership survive?

Alberta Wildrose Caucus MLA
After three departures in the past month, the Wildrose Caucus is now down to 14 MLAs,

Last week, the wheels were falling off the Wildrose bus. This week, the passengers have flung open the emergency exits and started leaping out into traffic.

The Wildrose Official Opposition started the month of November with 17 MLAs and might be ending it with only fourteen. Today, Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, flanked by Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle, announced at an afternoon press conference that the two Wildrose MLAs were joining the PC Government Caucus.

Ian Donovan David Eggen MLA
Ian Donovan and NDP MLA David Eggen protesting the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre at a rally in front of Alison Redford’s constituency office on August 14, 2012.

Even though he led the fight against the closure of the Little Bow Health Centre in Carmangay in 2012, Mr. Donovan’s departure did not come as a complete surprise (as was noted in my previous post). Ms. Towle’s departure was tougher to predict, as she had been one of the loudest Wildrose critics of the PC Party since she unseated cabinet minister Luke Ouellette in the 2012 election.

The floor-crossings come at the end of a tumultuous month for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began with the sting of defeat in four by-elections and the departure of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Joe Anglin, who now sits as an Independent MLA.

Kerry Towle
Kerry Towle

Ms. Smith tried to demonstrate her party had modernized at its recent annual meeting but was sideswiped by angry conservative activists, who voted down a motion recognizing equality for specific minority groups and then blamed the media for the party’s poor reputation.

The loss of three MLAs in such a short period of time raises questions about Ms. Smith’s future as leader. As the party’s most recognizable face, she is one of her party’s strongest assets. But if more MLAs decide to leave her caucus and the internal turmoil continues, will her leadership survive until the next general election?

Jim Prentice Premier Alberta
Jim Prentice

Since becoming PC Party leader in September, Mr. Prentice has strived to distance his party from the toxic memory of Alison Redford and Ed Stelmach. He has skillfully robbed the Wildrose of its strongest talking points by proposing the repeal of unpopular property rights laws, stalling the closure of the Michener Centre, announcing the sale of the government’s fleet of airplanes, firing cabinet ministers too closely associated with the previous leader and a handful of other lightening rod issues.

He also has deep roots in Canada’s Conservative establishment, serving as a federal cabinet minister in Ottawa and as a bank executive on Bay Street. And the PCs are using Mr. Prentice’s Tory credibility to invite former Tory supporters in the Wildrose party back under their big tent.

Mr. Prentice has started strong and still has plenty of time to stumble, especially with the prospect of declining natural resource revenues, which leads me to believe a provincial election may come sooner than the fixed date of Spring 2016.

Ken Boessenkool
Ken Boessenkool

The temptation to take advantage of a crumbling official opposition, which could lead to a lack of vote splitting among conservative voters might be too appealing to resist (a bad sign for the NDP, Alberta Party and Liberals). If there is one thing that is true of Alberta politics, it is that the PC Party knows how to consolidate and preserve its own power.

As Ms. Smith’s party struggles through a tough month, they need to figure out what fundementally differentiates them from the PC Party led by Mr. Prentice. One conservative strategist – Ken Boessenkool – has once again raised the idea of a potential merger of the two parties to create the “Conservative Party of Alberta.”

Despite its bleak prospects in the immediate future, political fortunes can shift quickly. But if the party’s fortunes do not improve soon, more MLA floor-crossings may follow.

Wildrose knows about floor-crossing

Danielle Smith Rob Anderson Heather Forsyth Wildrose
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith (centre) with MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson in 2010.

Floor-crossing is a familiar activity for the Wildrose Party, but they are used to it going the other way. In 2010, the Wildrose received a big boost when then-PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth left Mr. Stelmach’s PC Party to join Ms. Smith’s upstart party. Not long afterward, they were joined by former PC MLA Guy Boutilier, who had been sitting as an Independent MLA.

Over the course of its 43 years of uninterrupted power, one of the great successes of the PC Party has been its ability to build a big tent that includes individuals of all sorts of political persuasions. The two former Wildrose MLAs will now find themselves in the same caucus as two former Liberal MLAs who also crossed the floor to the PCs – Speaker Gene Zwozdesky and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a total of six Liberal MLAs, one Representative Party MLA and one New Democrat MLA who have crossed the floor to the PCs. The lone NDP floor-crosser, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn, made himself comfortable in the Tory Party ranks as a Ralph Klein-era cabinet minister.

Should floor-crossing be illegal?

Thomas Lukaszuk
Thomas Lukaszuk

In 2010, following Mr. Anderson and Ms. Forsyth’s departure from the PC Caucus, Edmonton-Castle Downs PC MLA Thomas Lukaszuk declared that floor crossing should be banned. PC MLA Jonathan Denis responded to the defections by telling Sun Media that “[t]he Wildrose talks about parliamentary recall — why not initiate that and run in a byelection?”

Manitoba is the only province that currently prohibits MLAs from crossing the floor. If an MLA wishes to leave their party, they must step down and run in a by-election or sit as an Independent MLA until the next election.

Wildrose leader faces Rocky [Mountain House] challenges and leadership review

Tim Grover Danielle Smith Edmonton-Whitemud by-election 2014 1
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith at the launch of Edmonton-Whitemud candidate Tim Grover’s by-election campaign in October 2014.

Reacting to her party’s poor results in four provincial by-elections held this week, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced that she will face a leadership review at her party’s annual convention on November 14 and 15, 2014 in Red Deer.

Premier Alison Redford
Alison Redford

This is a smart move by the official opposition leader, as a solid approval rating could silence her detractors inside the party and mute Progressive Conservative activists who have been using social media to vocally call for her resignation after this week’s by-election votes.

It is not hard to imagine Ms. Smith doing well in the review. She earned 90% support in a leadership review following the 2012 election.

Ms. Smith has also publicly recognized that her party’s strategy of attack in the by-elections fell flat. And on a conference call with constituency presidents last night, Ms. Smith said she would not accept party strategist Vitor Marciano‘s resignation offer in wake of the by-election results. Mr. Marciano also serves as Ms. Smith’s press secretary and is a former member of the Conservative Party of Canada National Council.

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

But the move to reaffirm her leadership in advance of the 2016 election also comes with risks if her opponents inside the party do decide to strike.

And as we know from recent PC Party leadership reviews, who is able to vote is highly controlled and the results have limited meaning. In 2009 and 2013, PC leaders Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford earned 77% approval from party loyalists. But within months of the both votes, the leaders were drummed out of office by caucus and party revolts (a real revolt in Ms. Redford’s case and a threatened one in Mr. Stelmach’s case).

Wildrose Party members would be foolish to remove Ms. Smith as their leader before the next election. She is smart, media savvy and has grown into her role as official opposition leader since taking over the party in 2009. Removing her as leader would be a death knell for the party.

Trouble in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Joe Anglin

Aside from a leadership review, Ms. Smith may have to deal with growing unrest in one of her party’s rural constituency associations. The Wildrose Party executive committee has appointed a special subcommittee to investigate an ongoing dispute within the party’s Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association.

The controversy centres around a heated vote for a  new board of directors at an October 15, 2014 annual general meeting. A new board of directors is believed to have been elected, but is disputed by the previous board of directors, who claim that the meeting had officially adjourned before the new board could be elected.

Jason Nixon Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre
Jason Nixon

The President of the new board of directors is Edwin Erickson, a former leader of the Alberta Party and former deputy leader of the Alberta Greens during Mr. Anglin’s time as that party’s leader from 2008 to 2009.

These allegations have led the new board, which is operating as the official board, to retain the services of Toronto lawyer Donald Bur to represent them in any legal disputes.

According to the Rimbey Review, Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin did not attend the meeting and claims he heard a tape recording that proves the motion to adjourn was “soundly defeated.”

Much of the tension appears to stem from a recent nomination contest that was wrought with controversy and accusations. During the July 2014 contest, Mr. Anglin, an outspoken property rights activist, publicly accused the Wildrose Party executive committee of failing to enforce the party’s own nomination rules. When the votes were counted, Mr. Anglin was defeated by Jason Nixon.

Following Mr. Anglin’s nomination loss, Ms. Smith suggested that he might consider running in an Edmonton constituency in the next election.

Sources: MLA David Xiao disqualified from federal Conservative nomination

David Xiao MLA Edmonton West
David Xiao

A Progressive Conservative MLA is appealing a decision by a Conservative Party of Canada committee to disqualify him as a nomination candidate in the newly created Edmonton-West federal riding, according to reliable sources.

(see updates below)

It remains unclear why the committee chose to disqualify Edmonton-McClung MLA David Xiao, who announced his entry into the contest in March 2014.

If Mr. Xiao’s disqualification is upheld by the Conservative Party National Council, it is expected that Edmonton hotel manager Kelly McCauley will be acclaimed as the party’s candidate for the next federal election.

Kelly McCauley Edmonton-West Conservative
Kelly McCauley

Mr. Xiao’s candidacy has been endorsed by provincial Health Minister and Edmonton-Whitemud by-election candidate Stephen Mandel, former premier Ed Stelmach and provincial cabinet ministers Jonathan Denis and Manmeet Bhullar.

Since his election in 2008, Mr. Xiao has served as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Energy, Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Employment and Immigration. He faced public criticism after claiming travel expenses of nearly $35,000 in 2012, even though his constituency is located in Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital.

The Conservative Party is expected to respond to Mr. Xiao’s appeal this week.


Contributing to more potential controversy, a lawyer representing Mr. Xiao recently informed Wildrose Official Opposition leader Danielle Smith and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle that he planned to issue notices under Alberta’s Defamation Act.

Potentially connected to the legal threats, Mr. Xiao publicly denied statements made by the Wildrose opposition about his relationship with the McClung Family Association.

UPDATE (October 15, 2014): Mr. Xiao has released a statement confirming he is appealing his disqualification as a nomination candidate by the Conservative Party in Edmonton-West.

UPDATE (October 16, 2014): According to reliable sources, Mr. Xiao’s appeal has been rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada National Council. Mr. McCauley is expected to be acclaimed as the candidate in Edmonton-West.

The magic of Tory reinvention. A new era for Alberta.

Social-Credit-A-new-Kind-of-leader-1971-1
“A new kind of leader,” an advertisement from the Social Credit Party published in the Calgary Herald in 1971.

As the Progressive Conservatives brandish their new slogan, “A new era for Alberta,” many Albertans might be confused about which political party has been in power for the past 43 years.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an era as “a long and distinct period of history.”

If we were to apply the geological time scale of the Earth to Alberta politics, we would now find ourselves in the Honeymoon Period of the Prentice Era of the Progressive Conservative Eon (I will resist the temptation to name any political dinosaurs).

Alison Redford Not Your Father's PC Party
A PC Party election ad used during the 2012 election.

And despite the PC Party Eon having stretched more than four decades, PC Party candidates in four Alberta by-elections being held on October 27 are not running on their party’s record as the government since 1971. They are running on their party’s record since Jim Prentice became leader of the PC Party on September 6, 2014.

And it is too early to tell whether Mr. Prentice will oversee “a long and distinct period.” His two most recent predecessors each lasted less than five years in office.

The PC Party’s “new era” slogan is somewhat reminiscent of another slogan used by Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party as the 36 year old governing party tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to win re-election in 1971. But, unlike the Socreds in the 1970s, the PC Party has become masterful at reinvention, consistently rebranding their party since Peter Lougheed retired in 1984.

Unlike Mr. Strom, who was overshadowed by his popular and larger than life predecessor, Ernest Manning, Mr. Prentice would never be caught in public uttering the words “Alison” or “Redford.” But while the PC Party tries to put their recently departed leader’s legacy behind them, the opposition parties and candidates will eagerly remind voters about the past two years of PC government.

Just two years ago, the PC Party led by Alison Redford were re-elected in a hotly contested campaign under the slogan “Real life leadership” (see the campaign advertisement above). This slogan was a reference to both Ms. Redford’s time spent overseas as a United Nations lawyer and provided contrast with her predecessor, Ed Stelmach, and the perceived inexperience of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

During the 2012 election campaign, a controversial advertisement published in some urban newspapers featured the slogan “Not your father’s PC Party,” which suggested to younger and more liberal-minded Albertans that the PC Party had entered a new era (and again provided a contrast to the perceived social conservative values of the Wildrose Party).

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach

Six years ago, borrowing from the success of Barack Obama‘s “Change we can believe in” slogan, the PC Party led by Mr. Stelmach chose “Change that works for Albertans” as their slogan in the 2008 election. The slogan suggested that Mr. Stelmach’s main opposition, the Liberals, would provide change that would not work for Albertans.

Like his successors, the PC Party under Mr. Stelmach worked hard to distance itself from the legacy of his predecessor, Ralph Klein.

In the four by-elections being held at the end of October 2014, the opposition parties are also using new slogans to help brand their campaigns. “Send the PCs a message” is a slogan being used by the Wildrose Party, and it is meant to remind Albertans that by-elections are an opportunity to show dissatisfaction with the PC Party’s past two years of scandal and misdeeds.

The NDP are using the slogan “Albertans deserve better,” which is a true statement, but it seems unlikely that most Albertans outside Edmonton city limits are about to look to the NDP as a better choice.

While slogans alone will not win or lose an election campaign, they can cleverly help define the narrative each party or candidate is advancing and can serve as a rallying cry for or against voters choosing change at the ballot box.

If you have a few moments after reading this post, I encourage you to take a glance at the extensive ‘List of Political Slogans‘ page on Wikipedia.

Prentice term-limit idea is gimmicky and probably unconstitutional

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Jim Prentice with former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel on June 10, 2014 in Edmonton.

You are Jim Prentice. You have the podium and the attention of Alberta’s media. You are the next Premier of Alberta. You can dream big. You could promise to replace all of Alberta’s aging hospitals by 2020, to build a high-speed railway from Calgary to Edmonton, to forge a new relationship with municipalities through Big City Charters, or reinvent the way Alberta is governed. Heck, you could even promise to implement your party’s long-list of unfulfilled promises from the last election.

But what is your big promise? Term-limits for MLAs.

Today, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Mr. Prentice pledged to limit future Premiers to two-terms and  MLAs to three-terms in office. It was a strange announcement. And it is gimmicky.

As someone who practices the law, Mr. Prentice should understand that term-limits are likely unconstitutional and, unlike a presidential republic like the United States of America, the concept of term limits does not fit in Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy.

While many Albertans will probably support the idea of term-limits for their elected officials, from a practical standpoint it does not appear that a lack of term-limits are a real problem in Alberta politics. By my count, 80% of Alberta’s 86 current MLAs were elected within the last ten years and the last two Premiers – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – did not survive two terms in office.

The most recent notable exception was Ken Kowalski, who retired before the last election after 33 years as a PC MLA (and his three decade long political career in provincial politics is very uncommon). The current longest serving MLA is Pearl Calahasen, who has represented Lesser Slave Lake since 1989.

Promises of term-limits are also not a new issue in Alberta politics. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in 2012 that, if elected, she would only serve two-terms as Premier (her party constitution had it enshrined until it was removed in 2013). And, in 2011, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton proposed term-limits for Premiers.

Despite Mr. Prentice’s announcement, not long ago, the PC Party mocked and demonized their opponents for proposing term-limits for MLAs and the Premier. In a 2010 newsletter, the party he wants to lead compared MLA term-limits to “the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.”

The timing of this announcement is notable. On August 23, 2014, Alberta’s PC Party will become Canada’s longest-serving governing party ever (beating the record of the Nova Scotia Liberals, who governed that province from 1882 to 1925).  And August 30, 2014 will mark 43 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971. Perhaps term-limits for parties in government is a more worthwhile idea (but probably just as hard to implement).

It is hard to see Mr. Prentice’s term-limit pledge as anything but an attempt to distract Albertans from lacklustre leadership contest and the ongoing government spending and airplane scandals (and the PC government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions).

Mr. Prentice’s front-runner campaign is appearing less dynamic and more vulnerable each day and rumours continue to circulate that less than 30,000 PC Party memberships have been sold, compared to more than 100,000 that were sold in that party’s 2011 contest.

With two weeks left before PC members vote to choose their next leader, Mr. Prentice’s campaign is desperately trying to spark some excitement in the minds of its supporters. With today’s term-limit announcement, they appear to have missed the mark, by a long-shot.

Alberta’s billion dollar failed Carbon Capture “science experiment”

Carbon Capture and Storage Alberta Oil Sands
Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Government has committed to spend billions of dollars on unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

A report from Auditor General Merwan Saher released this week found no evidence that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has properly monitored the performance of the PC Government’s climate change strategy which was first implemented in 2008. The report also uncovered serious problems with the province’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy.

Since it was first announced in 2008, the PC government has committed to hand over more than a billion public dollars to the world’s largest energy companies, including Shell, to develop ways to bottle carbon dioxide deep in the ground.

Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jim Prentice dismissed the provincial government’s expensive Carbon Capture and Storage strategy, saying he would move away from the unproven technology. This echoes what the former federal minister told the Globe & Mail editorial board in 2009: “CCS is not the silver bullet in the oil sands.”

Mr. Prentice characterized the project a “science experiment,” which is a generous description (I refer to it as unicorn science).

“It was apparent to the department that the expected reductions from carbon capture and storage will not be achieved. Carbon capture and storage in the 2008 strategy represents the majority of forecasted emission reductions. However, with only two carbon capture and storage projects planned, the total emissions reductions are expected to be less than 10% of what was originally anticipated.” – Auditor General’s report on Alberta’s Climate Change strategy, July 2014 (Page 39)

Not surprisingly, the Auditor General also reports that Alberta is unlikely to meet its 2020 targets to reduce carbon emissions.

I am not sure what is worse: being a climate change denier or believing in climate change but not seriously doing anything to stop it?

Under Premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and now Dave Hancock, the PC government used funding unproven Carbon Capture and Storage technology to convince the international community and investors that Alberta can ‘green’ the oil sands. While the oil sands represents the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada, some of Alberta’s largest emissions result from of our large coal burning industry.

But it was not as if no one saw this coming. In 2008, a leaked government memo from a University of Calgary researcher suggested that Carbon Capture and Storage would do little to reduce carbon emissions emanating from Alberta’s oil sands. The report by researcher Dr. David Keith wrote that not enough of the oil sands carbon dioxide could be captured because most emissions are not concentrated enough.

A report by the Munk School of Global Affairs released in 2009 described the Carbon Capture and Storage plan as “sheer folly.” At the same time, Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr characterized Carbon Capture and Storage as an expensive “experiment” and the Wildrose opposition has said many times that it would cancel the project outright (although any government would likely be contractually obligated to complete some of the project funding already committed – or spend funds on legal bills resulting from broken contracts).

PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as a senior cabinet minister from 2010 to 2014, told the media that he continues to support the project.

As a public relations exercise, Carbon Capture and Storage has come with a high price. Allocated more intelligently, the hundreds of millions of public dollars spent on Carbon Capture and Storage could have helped Alberta become a world leader in smart innovation and research and development of renewable energy or sustainable transportation.

These billions of dollars are emblematic of the problem with the current government – while aged hospitals flood, public schools overcrowd and the legal-aid system buckles, the PCs spend mountains of Albertans resource revenues on a flimsy “science experiment.”

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.